The Numbers Game

Paul Balm looks at the often controversial issue of retiring shirts.

I don’t know, I have a week’s holiday and we go and sign two players (I came back before Martin Tuma was signed). This might not bode well. The last two players we signed when I was on holiday were Duncan Paterson and Scott Allison and look how they turned out! David Ling’s signing means that we won’t see David–Alexander Beauregard back in a Panthers shirt which I’m pretty gutted about, but I don’t think it’s time to get the vinyl numbers out to add the number nine to the banner at the stage end of the rink. Or is it?

With the exception of Braehead and maybe a couple of others (I can’t be bothered to look, lazy I know) pretty much every team in this league has retired the numbers of some of their greatest servants. You’ve all seen the numbers hanging at the stage end and I can’t really argue with the numbers that are there, but there are a few omissions which I believe should be addressed, but that’s not the biggest problem.

That accolade goes to the way in which the likes of Adey, Weber, Hadden and Rippingale are commemorated. Go to any other rink and their retired shirts all have their own, individual banner hanging from the rafters rather than being lumped in with a crowd shot on one large backdrop. There might be a perfectly good reason for doing this, I can’t think of one but there might be a reason why. It might be that we’re in a multi-purpose arena – so are Sheffield. It might be because the NIC don’t want to hang them up for each game – they have to hang the banner up.

Even if those aren’t the reasons I’m not sure I can trust the Panthers management to do it right. I’m fully aware of the need to generate as much money as possible and the sponsorship of everything from yearbooks to supporters club nights out has to be applauded, but there are certain things that should transcend money and your retired shirts should be one of those. You retire a shirt because there was something special about that player (I’ll get on to this later when I talk about the omissions), something that makes them stand above the rest of the people who have pulled on your jersey. You shouldn’t need to get their banner sponsored, I’m sure you could but ask yourself which sounds better: No 10 Randall Weber or No 10 Randall Weber sponsored by Coopers Creosote of Little Ottle for all you fence painting needs?

I think, personally, that the NIC needs those banners and also banners to commemorate our trophy successes. Sticking four stars on a shirt is all well and good (it’s not really, it looks a bit rubbish) but having those banners hanging from the rafters or even the same lighting rig the current banner hangs from would give the NIC the one thing that it is currently missing – a sense of identity. It simply doesn’t feel like home to me in the same way that the old Ice Stadium did. This isn’t simply a case of rose-tinted nostalgia, there simply isn’t anything apart from that banner at one end of the arena that tells you where you are. I appreciate that the NIC is a multi-purpose arena and your average concert goer couldn’t give a monkeys about whether we won the play-offs back in 1989 or not, but I believe that the NIC should give a greater acknowledgement to their most regular tenants.

I mentioned earlier that there were omissions to the list and that’s another debate that could rage for days. I won’t bore you with the people that I think should be added. Instead I’ll tell you what I believe the main criteria should be and let you have your own discussion. Firstly, I think the main consideration has to be time spent in the shirt. We’ve had players come and go over the years and some of them have had stellar seasons, but they don’t have the longevity and I think that’s extremely important. I saw someone calling for DAB’s shirt to be retired but two seasons simply isn’t long enough. You’ve got to be looking at four or five or maybe even more. Apart from longevity I think if you’re going to retire a number the player you are honouring needs to have had a certain spark about him. There needs, for want of a better phrase, an X factor about the player. Take Geoff Woolhouse, Geoff played seven seasons for the Panthers but would anyone seriously like to see his shirt retired?

There may be other criteria that you’d include but I think it’s very important that they exist and the more the better. You can’t simply go retiring numbers left, right and centre as you still need some available for your current players. Panthers also have the issue that some of the numbers that should have been retired (one in particular) have been used since by players who, in all fairness, shouldn’t be retired. So what should they do? I think for instances like this they either wait for the current player to leave and retire the shirt then or do what Toronto Maple Leafs do and have honoured shirts. The number remains in circulation but the name & number combination is honoured and hoisted to the rafters. The latter would probably suit Panthers best given the length of time they’ve been playing.

Oh, I know I wasn’t going to do this and then I realised I more or less did it right at the start of the issue so here goes. Number nine should have been retired years ago for Terry Kurtenbach. I’ll let you debate the others. Honest.

P.S. am I the only one who think it’s vaguely ironic that Panthers have issued a press release (or at least a statement on their website) about the EIHL’s new social media policy?

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