The Giants Panther

Kim Williams (Kim the Panther), writes about the possible impact in the Panthers/Giants rivalry now Nottingham Panthers legend Paul Adey has become the new Belfast coach.

On 26 October 2002, a brawl erupted during the handshakes after a Panthers defeat in Belfast. It was the season of Nieckar, Wood and Allison, and one of the greatest examples of their on ice antics which still sharply divides Panthers supporters even today. The incident has led to a lasting legacy of bitterness towards the Panthers among the Giants fan base, who regularly use the term ‘never forget’ when discussing the event. Unfortunately for them, the incident has never inspired the same level of feeling among the Panthers fan base and, rather than ‘never forgetting’, we have largely forgotten. It is emblematic of what has long been the league’s most one-sided rivalry.

In fairness to Giants fans, it was always going to be difficult for the incident to pass easily into Panthers fans’ long-term consciousness. For one thing, there wouldn’t have been more than a handful of our supporters there to see it happen. Secondly, we were probably much too busy arguing among ourselves about whether that team was hugely entertaining or a huge embarrassment to really pay attention to what other fans thought of it. If a Giants supporter were to mention what happened that night to a Panthers fan, they might be talking to someone who would passionately defend that team. They might just as easily be talking to a Panthers fan who simply wouldn’t try to defend them. It is hard to stoke up a rivalry with a fan base that is fairly divided on the other fan base’s sore point. A third point is that many Panthers fans have only started following the club in the EIHL era, and so are completely unaware that 26/10/02 even happened. There hasn’t really been any sustained controversies with the Giants to fuel a feeling of rivalry in Nottingham.

I mention all this because last week the Giants appointed Paul Adey as their new coach. Not only is he a Panthers legend, he was the Panthers coach responsible for putting the Nieckar, Wood and Allison team together and so bears some of the responsibility for the ugly scenes in Belfast a decade ago. It has not been a universally popular appointment, and some Giants fans don’t like the principle of having someone they’ve rallied against for so long leading their team. I can understand that, but there is a further point of contention about the appointment which has interested me – the idea that by appointing a man whose number has been retired by the Panthers organisation, the Giants are somehow cosying up to us and completely disregarding how many of their fans feel towards us. I guess it can’t have helped that news of the appointment was greeted by many Panthers fans expressing their pleasure at seeing him back in the EIHL, commenting on what a good appointment it was and wishing him luck. But wishing one of our heroes well does not now mean that the Giants are now all our second team. If anything, appointing Paul Adey has far greater potential for building a proper rivalry between the Panthers and Giants than a brawl which took place over a decade ago, the prime actors having long since gone.

When the Giants come to the NIC for the first time next season, we will be facing a team coached by one of our all-time greats. Our record goals, assists and points getter is coming to the NIC to try and beat us. That’s a great story before a puck has even been dropped. In Nottingham, the game suddenly has much more resonance to it than a simple game against a likely title rival. Admittedly, Giants fans probably aren’t going to get too excited by that, but I think there’s something in it for them as well.

In 2005, Adey was given a public ultimatum by Neil Black to win or get sacked. It was all quite unnecessary, and despite a great run in the playoffs, where Panthers took the Blaze all the way to overtime despite having a stupidly long injury list and needing to ice kids, Paul was shown the door at the end of the season. It was a sad end to his Nottingham career. Does he feel he has a point to prove? I suspect he probably does. He has done reasonably well coaching on the continent, and I’m sure he’d love to show the Panthers how long wrong we were to let him go. I don’t think Giants fans have sentimentality to worry about – Paul will want to beat the Panthers and beat us good. Who knows, he might even goon it up a little.

Rivalries are built up a lot of things. Our rivalry with the Steelers is built on a history of controversies, cup finals and other big games. Some of the great stories from that rivalry have also centred round the personal stories of some of the players involved – players who have signed for one club then earned the ire of that club’s supporters by going to the other. The potential for rivalry with Giants is building. We are finally meeting each other regularly in cup finals, after inexplicably managing not to for the first decade. Just a few weeks ago we ended the championship drought on Odyssey ice. Now #22 is one of the men who will try and wrestle it back from us. I don’t know about anyone else, but I find the prospect of that very exciting.

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