Europe – The (Super) Final Countdown

This week Paul Balm gets all 1980’s power rock on us as he looks ahead to the Continental Cup final (mullet optional)

There can be few songs that have been played more at ice hockey games than the Final Countdown by Europe. It’s one of the greatest clichés of what I call hockey rock that it has been rolled out before possibly every final since it was released back in 1986. Surely, only the Eye of the Tiger can rival it for the number of plays at ice hockey games. It makes you wonder whether Joey Tempest (amazingly not his real name) was thinking of ice hockey when he wrote it. Don’t get me wrong, I might have heard the song hundreds of times (mainly in ice rinks) but I still like it one heck of a lot more than… oh , I don’t know… Just Can’t Get Enough by Depeche Mode. I wasn’t a massive fan of that 35 years ago and time and multiple regurgitations at every home game these days hasn’t really made it grow on me.

I have to admit though that the same can’t be said about the Continental Cup. In fact, the opposite would be true. When it was announced that Panthers were entering the Continental Cup I have to say I wasn’t all that bothered. That’s probably a bit of an understatement. I couldn’t have cared less and I was fairly anti the whole thing particularly when it looked as though the club were putting a lot of emphasis into winning it. It seemed to me that there were other, more important, things to be won, like the league and that should have been the priority. I still think that but as the Super Final (why does it have to have the word super in it? Is just being the final not enough?) quickly approaches my opinion has started to soften towards it a bit.

I think that this has been caused by the fact that we’re in the Super Final (I find it works best if you say it in a Brian Blessed style of voice with plenty of echo. We’re now almost close enough to touch the trophy and what started the season feeling like at best a distraction and at worst a fixture clogging injury invitation has become a far better chance of winning silverware than the league is.

You can’t underestimate what a big thing the fact that we’re in the Super Final is (it’s the Clark Kent of all finals). Panthers are only the fourth UK team to get there. OK, you can argue that the competition isn’t what it was, the bigger and better teams and Sheffield are in the Champions Hockey League but so what? Would the fact that Chelsea are in the Champions League stop West Ham fans celebrating if they won the Europa League? Of course not. Panthers can only play the teams that are put up against them and if by some miracle (I’ve seen officials in Italy before) we come out on top then it will be a massive achievement. So massive that I might even consider handing over my cold hard cash to get a picture of me and the trophy (come on! You know they’ll do it).

I know there were plenty of people who, like me had or still have their reservations about this but the time to voice them has gone. Now is the time to get behind the team and savour what is ahead of us. National leagues are fairly mundane by their very nature, there’s not much room for the exotic so you’ve got to make the best of the chances you do get.

Amazingly, we do have a chance to savour this weekend as well. When I say I, obviously, mean the vast majority of us who can’t (or can’t afford) to go to Ritten this weekend. I did look into it but, given my views on flying, would probably have had to set off this before I started writing this to get there on time. It wasn’t as many trains as it would have taken to get to Odense (that was 10) but I gave up when the whole thing passed 24 hours and I was only just across the Italian border. I know you don’t care how I was going to get there but I’m waffling because I can’t believe what I’m about to say. Panthers are providing a webcast. That’s right, you read that right. There will be a webcast. This isn’t a joke, I haven’t started writing fiction, the team that doesn’t provide webcasts(the one against Sheffield doesn’t count) are flying people out to provide a webcast for those of us not able to attend. That weird juddering you just felt was the Earth shifting, ever so slightly, on its axis. I have to say I have my concerns. We’ve all seen webcasts that haven’t been quite up to scratch in the past and Panthers have only been given assurances that what is available in terms of bandwidth etc. in Ritten will be sufficient. There’s also the question of who will be doing the commentary. I think we can all make a pretty good guess about who it will be. Maybe the best solution will be to turn the TV down, have the radio coverage turned up and hope and pray that the two synchronise. These are all small things though in the grand scheme, we should be glad that this has been made available to us and at the fairly reasonable price of £10 a pop or £20 for all three (see http://nottinghampanthers.tv to book).

All this talk of webcasts has got me wondering what is going on at the Nottingham Panthers. There seems to have been some sort of revolution in their fan interaction. If the webcast wasn’t enough there’s the free bus from Ritten to Bolzano on the Sunday night. In a time when the words “cash cows” are thrown about to describe us fans so often this is a truly incredible gesture (OK, you can argue that the webcast will more than pay for the bus hire but that would be churlish). I even heard a rumour about someone getting a reply to an email and we’ve all seen the replies to tweets on Twitter. I have a few ideas about why this has come to pass but as this is over a thousand words already I’ll possibly save them for another day. Suffice to say I think the club may finally be starting to listen to what is being said. I doubt it’ll be a smooth ride and it might not end well but maybe, just maybe, in its own way that would be almost as big as Panthers lifting the trophy on Sunday.

I guess we’ll see.

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