The Weekend That Was…….Again!

Once again Paul Balm gives his own beautifully written interpretation of the Play-Off Weekend……..

It’s Monday night, I’m still tired, I’m a bit fatter than I was on Saturday morning and to be honest I’m still buzzing. My whole body is telling me I should be asleep but I want to try and get this down before I forget too much about the weekend we’ve just been through. I didn’t think I’d being doing one of these this year, I thought I’d said all there is to say about my particular play-off experience but Jono must have liked last year’s as he’s asked me to try again. I think he wants me to try harder this time or something this time around.

Saturday morning before the semis has to be one of the best times of the whole weekend. Not only are you getting up to go straight to the pub for (at least in my case) about the only time in the whole year but the pubs are so full of expectation. No one’s weekend has been spoiled yet, every fan of a team in the final four still has something to look forward to. You could tell the place was in high spirits when someone knocking their first pint of the weekend on the floor was greeted with rapturous cheers and applause from all that heard it.

It did teach us one thing though. He’s very handy with a dustpan and brush although I was slightly worried about what he might see as he ferreted the last bits of glass from under the man on the right’s kilt. Fortunately the long handle meant he didn’t need to get on his hands and knees.

Variety is never a bad thing in life and Hull’s appearance in the semis added a new dimension to the mix. They may not have got the result they were after on the Saturday night but if they keep coming up with t-shirts like a lot of them were wearing then they should be given a bye into the semi-finals every year (I would suggest that they get Sheffield’s place but half of them have already got their knickers in a twist over the Play-Off EP and our “obsession” with them).

After the first semi-final we had a change of venue but no change of diet as we headed up to the Old Angel for our traditional pint and Jagermeister chaser. We’re a traditional bunch really and that’s never more evident than at the play-offs. That’s great, I love the fact that we do the same things at the same time every year but it does make writing an article like this year on year quite difficult. There was a change from other years though, we were joined by a lone Braehead fan who was in Nottingham for the first time and, unless I’ve got this wrong, worried about getting stabbed or shot or something. Being the good Nottinghamians we are he was welcome to join us after we’d emptied his wallet and stolen his mobile phone. I’m joking, we didn’t want the Scottish bank notes. I won’t go on about it now because I want to talk about it later but that’s what makes the play-offs so great – the fact that you get to mix with people from all over the place.

After our small contribution to the German alcohol industry and an ill-advised second pint it was back to the arena and the ascent Mount Everest that is the trip to row U. Like the previous game the boys behind us were in fine voice. I have to admit to starting a couple of chants but I simply don’t have the same variety as them. I am, however, blaming them for the state my throat is now in. I will forgive them if my interview for a job voicing movie trailers tomorrow is successful.

The conclusion of the second semi simply means two things, food and beer in that order. A stroll to the Lace Market chippy for deep fried strips of potato and processed meat products was followed by a return to the Castle for what turned into a fairly quite, reflective evening spent, in the main sat on a pool table. If you’re wondering it was surprisingly comfortable. If I’m honest I don’t really remember much of the conversation, there’ll have been some anti-Steelers jokes (obsessed!), some jibes at each other and the rest will have been the usual inconsequential ramblings that only a day of drinking can bring. I did find something out though – one of the people I was with can do the splits and they proved it. I’d have had a go but I didn’t have the right trousers on and they’d have had to have left me there if I’d tried.

After a day like that you’d expect me to be dead to the world come Sunday morning but I was up at the crack of dawn (OK half eight but that’s what it felt like) not particularly bright eyed, nowhere near bushy tailed but unable to sleep. The time between getting up and leaving the house dragged but when it finally came round I was out the house like a shot to do the same things all over again. I said we’re a bunch of traditionalists but we kept getting echoes of the Sunday from last year. Obviously we went to the same places but we kept bumping into the same people, the only difference this year was that Jono didn’t have to go running after Tom Darnell.

I learnt a skill in the Kean’s Head – how to nurse a pint. I managed to drink a pint and a half in two hours. I must have looked like one of those old blokes who can sit in the corner of your local in the seat he’s always had and make a single pint of mild last all night. I just wasn’t up for it though. I’d like to put it down to nerves but I didn’t feel that nervous, I simply wasn’t in the mood to drink! It must be my age or something.

Going in to the final I wasn’t feeling nervous and after a desperate attempt to spoil someone’s photo by jumping across the shot on Bolero Square it was time to don the oxygen tanks for the return to row U. Jono and plenty of others will cover the details of the final but from where I was sitting it was tense. I said to myself (I wasn’t going to jinx it by saying it out loud) that one goal would win it and I was right. By the second interval I felt like I just had to get away for a while so I tried to go for a walk. The concourse width stopped me from going very far so I just kept myself to myself for 15 minutes. If you know me and saw me and I blanked you I’m sorry, I just didn’t want to talk to anyone.

I’m not sure I can remember celebrating a goal as much as we did when DAB slipped the puck past Lyle. I probably have, but I’m not sure when. There was such a release of tension that we simply went wild, shouting, clapping, hugging like mad things. I had Jono in a headlock at one point, I have no idea why. I moved at least three or four seats along the aisle at one point and nearly three rows forward due to some over-exuberant bouncing.

It’s a good job I remembered to set the Tivo box to record the game as I have no recollection whatsoever of how the team celebrated, none. I was too consumed with releasing that pent-up energy to notice. We were within touching distance of the trophy again and I could barely believe it.

As we kept the Devils at bay for that last seven minutes something struck me (and it wasn’t Jono getting revenge for the headlock). There’s a Panthers fan who has been at all four (four!, crikey) of our modern era play-off wins and he hasn’t been able to celebrate with the rest of the fans at the end of the game and that’s “Stef” Lichfield. Like every Panthers’ home game the play-offs wouldn’t be the same without his soothing dulcet tones announcing the goals, penalties etc. As the clock counted down to zero I looked first at K-Wall to see what he’d do and then across the arena at Stef who just seemed to be going about his business as though it was another day in the office. What thoughts must have been going through his mind?

Did any Panthers fan want to leave the arena bowl as the first wave of celebrations started winding down? I know I didn’t. I could have stayed there all night watching them celebrate. Bolero Square was packed by the time we got there but we took our place amongst the throng and waited. Every twitch of the blinds or half seen shadow had people craning their necks to work out who it was. It felt at times that an arena cleaner with the right frame could have got a cheer. The players came and went, K-Wall managed to drop a can (the only thing he did all night thankfully) and the Panthersnation (should that have a hashtag in front of it?) filled the square once again. I hate to think what 2,000 people impersonating a moose must have looked like to anyone driving past.

The end of the celebrations meant only one thing, the start of the celebrations and it was back to the Castle again. By the time I’d made a couple of phone calls, got something to eat and convinced a couple of fellow Panthers fans they could climb the pub’s back wall because tonight we could do anything (I didn’t try it) the place was heaving and noisy and I loved it.
Anyone who has been in the Castle on the Sunday night knows how noisy it gets with all the singing, cheering etc. Last night there was something slightly different about it. It was still noisy but it was quieter, not so much subdued more controlled. The atmosphere in 2007 and 2011 was far wilder, almost, at times, animalistic in our excitement. It took me a while to pin it down but yesterday last night it felt, I still can’t pin it down exactly, but sort of satisfying. You wanted to sort of smile, nod your head and say yeah, we did that, we can be a successful team.

The evening wore on and the singing started, as it always does and then started to fade as people started to drift away some back to their hotels, some to the welcome of their own beds and some like us to the Bunkers Hill Inn. If the Castle had been quieter than normal it was probably because the singers were all in the Bunkers. OK, they were singing anti-Panthers songs most of the time but let them, last night they could sing what they wanted (or as the guys behind us would have put it: “sing what you want, you can sing what you want, we won the play-offs, you can sing what you want”).

I mentioned earlier about fans mingling at the play-offs and it hit me as I stood outside Bunkers that I could see fans of about half a dozen different teams just standing about talking. It’s how life should be, ice hockey brings us together, it’s only accidents of geography that mean we end up supporting different teams. Take our group, we were five Panthers and two Steelers but over the course of the weekend we were joined by a couple of great people from Braehead who I hope we helped enjoy their first play-off experience. We’re from Nottingham and they’re from Glasgow but there was so much that we agreed on including the fact that time travel has been invented, it’s called going to Murrayfield.

The witching hour came and went and Sunday became a Bank Holiday Monday and the party in Bunkers showed no signs of stopping. By about one I think they were trying to get people to leave and we took that as our cue to leave. We said our farewells and made the blessedly short journey home. Weekends like the play-offs are great but you can’t beat the feeling of your own bed.

I didn’t expect this to be as long as it’s turned out to be, I didn’t think that much had happened. Was the weekend improved by us winning it? Obviously. Would it have been great if we hadn’t? Yes, apart from a slight dip at some point in the weekend. Is it expensive? Yes, but you know when it’ll be so start saving now! Can I wait until next year? No, but my liver can.

I just want to thank a few people before I go for making the weekend what it was: Jono, Helen, Adam, Ian, Emma, Richard, Scooby, Christine, Kirsty, Ted, Muzzy, Turny (who still hasn’t bought a round) and everybody else no matter where you came from or where you ended up. It was brilliant.

Finally, there’s two last things that the play-offs taught me this year –

1) Play-offs the musical was a really stupid idea and,
2) Skinology Deep Action Exfoliating Facial Wash (available from all good Tesco stores) is really good for removing permanent marker “tattoos” from your arms.

Thanks for reading this and I hope you had as much fun as we did.

2 Responses to “The Weekend That Was…….Again!”

  1. 1 ianbraisby April 10, 2012 at 9:40 am

    Great round-up Paul. Pretty much captures the essence of it. I guess one of your final 2 points means we won’t be talking in song when we meet for Mark’s birthday this Saturday? My liver is quivering just thinking about another afternoon in the pub.

  2. 2 Steelerian April 12, 2012 at 12:45 am

    Great read. I miss playoff weekend soooo much.

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