After another Nottingham Panthers league campaign ends empty handed Paul Balm asks if the club have their priorities right?
And so with more of a whimper than a bang Panthers’ league title chase was over for another year. Except it wasn’t really. It had realistically been over for a few weeks if not months. We were probably out of it by the end of December last year. We haven’t looked or played like a league winning team since then and it was only the fact that other teams were also stumbling around us that kept us in the mathematical running for so long. I’ve thought for a while now that Panthers title hopes were like one of those trick birthday candles that reignites when you blow it out. Our hopes would be extinguished only for other teams to lose and all of a sudden the flame is burning again. It’s OK for a while but eventually it gets a bit irritating and you want to see it burn permanently or stuck in a bucket of water. Yet again this year we got the bucket of water and, if I’m honest, it’s starting to make me ask some questions about the team that I support.
If you were one of the few people who hung about after Saturday night’s debacle then you’ll have witnessed another. The cup and medals presentation showed two things. Firstly, if you’re going to hand out medals for winning a trophy do it at the time, not a week later and particularly after you have lost to your closest (geographically) rivals. Some of the players looked dejected as they were called individually to collect their medals. These moments should one of pride and elation not an afterthought. Now, of course it might be that the need to give the medals out a week later was not the Panthers fault. I’m almost certain it wasn’t given the somewhat shambolic feel that the whole Challenge Cup final presentation had but maybe it would have been better to give the medals to the players in private and just paraded the cup for all to see before the game.
The second thing it showed for me (and it is linked into what I have already said about the medal presentation) is that we, as a club, have our priorities all wrong. I thought people signing contracts in the middle of an arena floor only happened in the WWE. I was half expecting Randy Orton to appear (out of nowhere obviously) and RKO Andy Worth from the GMB before dumping him through the table. It’s the whole “oh dear, never mind, we lost but hey everyone have a bunch of flowers (if you’re sat in the front three rows)” that really gets to me. It almost feels like the barrage of photos of people posing with their flowers you get on Twitter after Saturday night game are being used as a smokescreen to hide another under par performance. Didn’t win tonight? Played like we’d never met before? Don’t worry, here’s a picture of Pamela with a bunch of flowers that a player who did little else all night gave to her to make you feel better. The problem is that it doesn’t, not really. Now don’t get me wrong, any sponsorship is a two-way street and sponsors need to see something for their investment but maybe a little bit of time could elapse before we have these things rubbed in our face. I also fully appreciate that we cannot function as a club without the money that these sponsors put in but there seems to be more of an emphasis placed on their input than what is happening on the ice. The club need to remember that if the game wasn’t happening on the ice we wouldn’t exist and there wouldn’t be any need for sponsors.
As a club we need to look at where our priorities lie. Look at Sheffield. I described them earlier as out closest geographical rivals for a reason. I think, without that short distance up the M1 (or down depending on how you look at it) that there wouldn’t be much of a rivalry now. They’re in with a chance of winning their second league title in as many seasons this weekend and they haven’t got there by accident. The club has a will to win going through it that I just don’t feel we have in Nottingham. Don’t get me wrong they’re not perfect and there are times when their PR is as embarrassing and cringeworthy as ours but as a club they know how to keep grinding out the victories. Do you think they’ll be that bothered about losing the Challenge Cup semi-final if they win the league? I can’t see it somehow. You can win cup competitions on a bit of luck or the form of an individual player but you can’t do that with the league. If you win it you were the most consistent team that season.
It’s ironic that I’m writing this on the third anniversary of when we actually managed to win the league title. As great as that was it was also a massive opportunity that was missed by miles. It should have been used as a stepping stone to create a dynasty or at least to make a statement to the rest of the league. We didn’t. We sat back on it and we’ve not got anywhere near those heights since.
So what needs to be done? How do we change this? There needs to be a massive sea change in how the club views its priorities. The coach, whoever, that may be, has to be put at the very heart of the club and given the resources to mount a serious title charge. We have the resources, it’s time for them to be used. It’s also time to stop treating the fans like idiots. We’re not going to be appeased by bunches of flowers or pictures of their winners. No one turns up to get a bunch of flowers, they can do that for a lot less at Tesco. We’re here to see a team give everything every night, to challenge every for every puck and if we don’t get that we want to feel that the club is bothered about that. And when it all goes wrong we don’t want excuses.
It’s not too much to ask is it?