Paul Balm Column 8th December

Well, I’m back so the response for last week’s article can’t have been too bad or the lynch mob hasn’t worked out where I live yet, I don’t know. I guess I’ll just have to press on for now. I was amazed at some of the positive feedback I’ve got over the last week but I think that was probably something to do with me not being Allan Decker or Greg Mitchell, I might be wrong and time will tell. Having said all that I want to start this week on their familiar territory with a complaint.

Jono’s short introduction last week said I would be imparting my 30+ years of wisdom upon you all. The thing is that I whilst this month will mark the 31st anniversary of me watching the Panthers I’m not really sure that I’ve learned all that much. I can tell a good team or player from a bad one and I know what I like to see in a player but that’s about it. I’m not one of these people who start guessing what the lines will be after we’ve signed a single player, I’ve not really got much idea about systems, tactics or anything like that. I don’t sit there shouting shoot all the time but I know when to pull the keeper and that’s about it. So, basically, what I’m trying to say that if you’re here for some sort of deep insight you’re a) in the wrong place and b) going to be disappointed. Sorry.

What I think I’ve taken more of from the last 31 years is a sense of the people and the place. I can wax lyrical for far too long about the positional skill of Terry Kurtenbach, the night Mike Rowe got talked into fighting Selmar Odelein or the time the supporters club ran a train (yep, a train) to Blackpool. I could do that here but I’ve already written one article about old rinks (which was twisted and misused) – it’s somewhere over on the right hand side – Things the Arena Generation Won’t Understand or something like that. Hockey is a completely different game to the one I started to watch in some senses, the places where it’s played (I might waffle on about the pigeons in Whitley or the state of the ceiling tiles in Durham but do I really want to swap them for the NIC? You guess), the style of play (goalies kicking pucks like footballs?) but most of all the quality is different. I loved Terry Kurtenbach when I was a teenager but is he as good Corey Neilson? Probably not, you can’t compare the two, they played in vastly different circumstances at vastly different levels. It doesn’t matter though, it’s how they compare against those they played against that counts.

I think what I’m trying to say there about quality is pretty important at the moment. I’m not going to talk about the problems in Cardiff and Coventry, Jono’s already done that far better than I could and I’d only end up retreading the same ground. These events have triggered an inevitable discussion about changing import levels, both in terms of quality and cost (which end up sort of being the same thing). A few people said they would walk away if there was a significant decrease in the quality of player on show. I can sort of see where they’re coming from but I think they might be cutting their noses off to spite their faces.

I believe that quality does not necessarily mean excitement. It can, and often does but to me that’s more about the nature of the game we love. Over the years I’ve seen games at all manner of different levels – some good, some bad and I’ve seen fast exciting play at all those levels. Now, I’m the first to admit (like anyone who has seen the Panthers v Murrayfield game on YouTube) that in hindsight the quality wasn’t there but that didn’t detract from the thrill of the game. It didn’t matter that Brian Cox wasn’t Craig Kowalski because Moray Hanson couldn’t catch a beach ball in the wind at the other end either. If anyone is thinking that I’m spoiling my own point by only talking about an old game I’ve another example. A few years ago (but not that many) I saw some of a cracking game of hockey in Romford as the Raiders took on Peterborough Phantoms (I think that’s what they were called that season). There was a fair bit of history between the two teams and they didn’t disappoint. The standard of hockey wasn’t great by any means but two teams giving their all and a partisan crowd the like of which hasn’t been seen in Nottingham for many a year made for a cracking experience.

Don’t get me wrong I’m not advocating a reduction in standard for its own sake and I don’t think it’s the best way out of this mess our sport continually finds itself in, I just don’t think it would be the total disaster some think it would be. If it did happen, the biggest problem I believe teams would have is the fact once you’ve had something you miss it. Back in the 80s we’d never seen hockey like we see today so we didn’t miss it, now it would be a lot different. Having said that how many out there remember the ISL? Was the drop to the EIHL standard really so bad?

One final word and then I’m back into my lead-lined bunker. I said I wasn’t going to say much about the Coventry situation and I’m not, but if we continue to lose teams the only person who will benefit is Simon Cowell!


3 Responses to “Paul Balm Column 8th December”

  1. 1 James December 8, 2011 at 8:30 pm


    As one of those people who has stated that if the standard dropped they would probably walk away can I just add the bit that I and others on ‘that’ forum stated alongside such comments,

    “……..and the prices didn’t drop to reflect lower standard……”

    Its not a case of cutting off one’s nose to spite their face at all, its a question of value for money.

    Whilst we can all wax lyrical about the occasional fantastic lower league game, such as the Romford/Peterborough game you mention, surely you understand the spectacle provided that night is not the rule? That is a game between two teams with history, strong rivalries that provide an extra edge. What about their league’s version of a mid-week Panthers/Capitals game? Does it have the same bite and passion? Would such quality be worth what we currently pay?

    If the prices were cut though could the arena teams afford it? Whilst Sheffield can shuffle off to Ice Sheffield what about Braehead, Belfast and our very own Nottingham? If prices were dropped towards EPL prices to reflect a more EPL-esque quality (say Gold £13, Silver £11.50, Bronze£10.50) would that cover the cost of using the NIC (as well as everything else) at current attendance figures? What if people deicide its not just a question of price but quality too and attendance figures drop anyway?

    I know there is no easy answer but a hasty call to “cut the imports” could cause more problems than it solves, especially if no controls are put in place to restrict the inevitable bidding war that will occur over the few import quality Brits. What controls could be effectively put in place by a toothless league management over teams whose owners control the league is the question though. I doubt any of the bigger teams would accept a straight cap to a level the smallest of teams could afford but could a ‘soft cap’ with a premium on wages over this level being paid into a ‘hardship fund’ be the answer? Link this to a strict ‘expenditure tied to income’ policy and the rampant over-spending that has been the bane of the EIHL becomes manageable. If you market your team well and want to blow the cap then by doing so you help those who can’t afford to. If you can’t handle the basic business end of running a team then you can’t dig yourself into an even deeper hole trying to buy instant success (something done too often by certain EIHL teams) but never fear, the hardship fund will keep you ticking over until you get your ducks in a line.

  2. 2 PaddyS December 10, 2011 at 7:12 pm

    James, Paul

    You both have good points. Yes I have been watching hockey for more years than I haven’t but I have enjoyed all the hockey I have watched. Going back to the old days in the barn watching TK together with the brits (I’m not quite old enough to remember the Oledin vs Rowe match-up) but I can remember Waggy putting Rowe over the boards and trapping him against the netting… But then moving to Durham and watching both the final year of the Wasps and then the Kids in ED1 the following year – going to cold dark and wet arenas and seeing people have to skate up-hill at billingham or freezing my extremities off in Blackburn… The moving to Hull and seeing the likes of Ash and Jono giving everything at the time when the ISL was floundering. All good fun and despite the different standards it has an appeal.

    We can look to move down to a lesser standard and to a degree if the sport is competitive and the presentation is professional then there shouldn’t be an issue. The problem as you say is going to be for the area teams. People won’t pay the same money to watch a 3 import (or even 5 or 6) which means unless you can pack the place to the rafters every week Panthers are going to be in trouble. Not sure what the solution is… not sure we can compete with the football on the wrong days and certainly in these days of financial struggles for all we won’t get the same families in week on week that we have for the last few years…. So unless the arena can afford to drop the rents (is having half the money better than the place being shut) can the panthers really afford to drop the costs to match the prices paid in the leagues below???

  3. 3 Kurtenbach December 10, 2011 at 9:26 pm

    Kurtenbach not as good as Neilson. Maybe not, but TK never coughed up on his own blue line

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