Paul Balm with a bonus weekly column which looks at the Panthers v Steelers Challenge Cup scheduling debacle
Here we go again. It’s Panthers v Steelers in the Challenge Cup semi-finals and as ever that means that the circus is coming to town except this time it appears to have arrived early and I’ve got a terrible feeling that the ringmaster, clowns and juggling acts are going to be with us for the duration.
I don’t think many people could have predicted what happened yesterday but I have to admit that I’m not surprised. There’s been a certain amount of inevitability to the whole thing since the semi-final draw back in mid-December.
Remember that draw with two Sheffields (and Flyers)? I don’t want to go over it now but can I have been the only person who thought it was convenient that a potential Panthers v Steelers match up came out the carrier bag again? Quite what the sporting world, if they noticed, thought of a draw with five objects for four teams/ties I shudder to think but the draw stood and there was always a fair chance that we’d end up with the semi-final we’ve now got. Hopefully the league will have learned lessons from this but let’s face it the odds aren’t that great.
Anyway, skip forward to this week and the inevitable happens, Steelers had already beaten Flyers and Panthers beat the Clan to set up the next instalment in the biggest rivalry in European ice hockey. Only this time there’s a twist. Something has happened, we’re not entirely sure what but it appears that the Panthers have been “obstructive” over the dates of the games. Cue much huffing and puffing over social media from the Steelers laying the blame squarely at the Panthers’ door. Panthers do what they normally do and maintain a dignified silence.
The crux of the matter appears to be that due to the Panthers intransigence over the fact that they’ve got the right to the second game the first leg will have to be played at Ice Sheffield, which will obviously mean that Sheffield will get a far smaller attendance and with it less gate money etc.
I don’t think I’d be very happy about that either. They must have looked at the draw and thought there’s a fair chance we’ll get another nice big pay against our nearest and dearest but it hasn’t worked out like that.
The thing I wonder about is why Steelers immediately took to the moral high ground branding Panthers as the villains of the piece and themselves as the poor, sweet, innocent victims. The only thing missing was the pianist playing an accompaniment as Gary Moran tied them to the railway lines and sat twirling his waxed moustache as he waited for the imminent train. Now, that might all be true, it might be that Panthers are to blame here but one the one hand no one said Panthers have to help Sheffield do whatever it is they want to do, other teams have agendas as big as their own, that’s what negotiations are for and we don’t know exactly what happened, we only have one version of the truth which might be correct or it might not, we don’t know.
That’s the problem with silence, dignified or not. Now, don’t get me wrong I’m all for it, there’s too much noise for noise’s sake in today’s society, but sometimes you have to say something or people start to believe the one side they’ve been told (which, like I said could be the right thing to do) or they judge silence as guilt. With that in mind it’s nice to see that Panthers have made a short, simple statement stating their side of the story. Now I’m trying to remain unbiased whilst I write this and I’ll admit it’s difficult but taken at face value what the Panthers have said makes sense. Regardless of whether it‘s true or not the thing that probably impresses me most is the tone. It’s a matter of fact statement of the Panthers side of the truth. No name calling, no finger pointing, just their version of the truth. It could still be complete rubbish but at least now we have both sides of the story and we can make our own mind up.
Talking about wrong doing, if we were, if Panthers have done something wrong then surely the Steelers should complain to the league chairman (it’s not like they’d have to go far to do it) and if their complaints were upheld then this state of affairs would not have been allowed to happen. Now I know that’s a fairly romantic and simplistic view of how things work in this league but I can dream once in a while can’t I? I’m also assuming that the Steelers would already have done this so given it looks like the fixtures are set surely this means that Panthers have done nothing wrong? Romantic and simplistic again I know.
So there we have it. The first leg is at Ice Sheffield, it will be almost impossible for any Panthers fans to get tickets after a set of rules were put in place that doesn’t make it much easier for Sheffied fans to get theirs to be honest. There’s not likely to be a webcast which seems a bit like cutting your nose off to spite your face to me but I’m sure there are reasons. Unless there are technical reasons why it can’t happen then all that’s really happening is that the club are short changing themselves by missing out on the money from fans of BOTH sides that can’t go/get in.
Sadly, the one thing that is certain is that this will continue to rumble on. It makes you want to sit under a rock and wait for it all to blow over or at least wish that either Clan or Flyers got through. Me? I’m actually thinking about going away for a few days just to miss it. The whole thing, regardless of who started it, who bleated about it, who escalated it just makes this league look worse and worse in the eyes of the world. Maybe that should be pointed out to those involved, I wouldn’t hold my breath though.