The Hardest Decision

A personal article by Paul Balm explaining how he’s come to the end of his tether with this Panthers team and how he has to make a decision regarding next season.

My wife has (to me at least) got a very irritating habit. She is a huge fan of TV singing competitions like The X Factor or The Voice and will watch individual performances over and over again without ever seeming to get bored of them. Once is always enough for me but she always seems to be watching one performance or another whenever she’s got five minutes. I keep threatening that I’m going to do the same thing with the 2013 play-off final, watching Jordan Fox’s game winner over and over again. The thing is I don’t want to.

I don’t want to watch that game because it would only depress me. Watching that game would only make me yearn for that season, highlighting the stark contrasts between that team and the group of players we have now. They were a team, the Nottingham Panthers this year aren’t. The thing is that 2012-13 was the peak of the Nottingham Panthers in the modern era (even I’m not old enough to remember the old days). I clearly remember saying at the time that it was never going to be as good as this again. I never expected to be as right as I am now.

If that season was the zenith then this year has to be as close to the nadir as I can remember. There have probably been seasons that were worse than this but I’m really struggling to work out which ones they were. The ice hockey on display has a lot of the time been poor. We’ve let in five or more goals 17 times so far and we haven’t won away from home in 2017, a streak that currently stands at ten games. Add to that the fact that neither of our special teams are in the top half of the tables and you’ve got to say that for what we were told by Neil Black was the most expensive Panthers team ever, we’re all getting a pretty poor return for our money.

If I hadn’t already paid for the last three home games of the season then I don’t think I would be going. I’ve reached that point with this team. I don’t care about them anymore. I’ve given up on them. That sounds like a terrible thing to say about the team that I have followed for the last 37-ish years of my life. I suppose it is. I’ve seen this club go through highs and lows without ever once thinking of walking away. I’ve seen us lose countless games knowing I’d definitely be back the week after to probably watch them suffer the same fate. So what’s different about this season?

If I’m honest I don’t know. If anything it’s been caused by two things. The way the team have played and the way the club either don’t want to acknowledge it or are trying to brush it under the carpet and concentrate on the few positives. Paul Adey said at a Cats Whiskers Q&A a couple of years ago that any season that sees your team win a trophy should be seen as a success. Can we say that this season has been successful simply because we won the Continental Cup? For me I don’t think we can. I don’t think it’s as simplistic as that. I think you have to take both sides of the coin into consideration before you can make a statement like that. The best thing I’ve probably ever done happened in the same year that I went through the worst thing that ever happened to me. Could I see that year as a good one? No. I’ve had to split the two parts from one another. The good was great but it can’t outweigh the bad. Of course, it could be that I’m being influenced by how badly I’ve watched us play this season that has seemingly diminished the Continental Cup but what else was I going to do. I am going to be influenced by what I’ve seen, what else am I supposed to base my opinion on? So, I do think Paul Adey was wrong or at least being a little simplistic.

This team simply isn’t good enough, something that has been proved time and time again over the course of the last six and a half months. We took a team that finished fifth last season, re-signed half of it and then didn’t really improve, or in some cases worsened, on the players that had to be replaced. Should we be surprised that our team is in fifth again? There have been too many lackluster performances, too many “I’m very angry etc” reactions from the coach who signed the players who gave the lackluster performances. I’m getting tired of banging on about injuries but do you think some of the players who started this season and are still here would have been looking for other employment if we weren’t so plagued by those injuries? I do. Actually I’m not so sure given how hard we seem to find signing players.

So, over the summer I’ve got some thinking to do. I’ve never felt as close to walking away as I do now. I never thought it would come to this. We all get disillusioned from time to time but this feels worse, this feels deeper. There was a time in my life where I couldn’t wait for the weekend because that meant ice hockey. I craved the chance to go to games. At times it was all I could think about and all I could talk about. Things are different now, there are times when I’m almost going to games by default. It’s Saturday (insert other days here as applicable) night so I go to the game, that’s it. I forget that the team are playing away games until I read that the first period is half way done on Twitter. I take no interest in a lot of the team’s media output. I used to check the website or the Cage Forum three or four times a day to get the latest news and opinion but now I’m lucky (if that’s the right word) if I check it once a week and then I usually don’t believe or agree with most of what I read.

Do I really want to spend my money on a season ticket again? Do I want to put myself through all this again? These are the questions I’ve got to answer. I could do something else with my money, I could go to the cinema more often. I sometimes think to myself “Why couldn’t I have become hooked on going to the pictures?” Life would have been so much easier if I had, you don’t need to invest as much emotionally in cinema, at least over a long period of time. You might invest in a film but if you don’t like a particular actor or director you can simply not watch any more of their movies. You don’t get dragged in by the idea that next time maybe different, you don’t feel the need to go back to someone’s films despite all the others you’ve seen being awful. That’s what sport does to you. It sucks you in and makes it hard for you to leave.

I’ll make my choice over the summer months but I think, deep down, I already know what that decision will be. Read the article again (if you can stomach it obviously), look at the phrasing when I talk about the Nottingham Panthers. Notice anything? It’s not “them” and “they” it’s “us” and “we”. That’s the level of investment I’m talking about right there and despite everything, despite all I’ve said so far about how unhappy and disillusioned I am about my team they’re still my team and I’m still talking about them in that way. In a way that angers and depresses me. I’m trapped here or that’s how it feels at times. Even if I decided to walk away I’m not sure I could do it. My team has been my team for three quarters of my life and I can’t see that changing. I might want to but I can’t see it happening.

You can follow Paul on Twitter @NotMrBalm

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