Can I Criticise My Team? Please?

Long time Panthers fan Ian Braisby writes about how he should be entitled to criticise the team

There’s no getting around it, the Panthers’ recent form has been dreadful. The reasons for the slump are many and varied, and are being widely discussed on Internet forums, social media and between fans face to face. Criticism of team, coaches, management and individual players is rife and there are some strong opinions doing the rounds on all sides. Some people are extremely critical and want wholesale changes from the owner to the person who washes the kit, while others are totally unprepared to listen to any criticism of their team. While I enjoy debate and discussion and think it’s part of being a fan, there is one opinion I see expressed online quite often that makes me so frustrated I want to bang my head against a brick wall. The opinion in question is this – “You couldn’t do any better so you can’t criticise”. If that is someone’s genuine view, they are entitled to it, but I think it’s flawed on so many levels. At heart, I think it reveals a lack of understanding about what it means to be a fan of a team and essentially is an admission that actually you know the team or player does deserve criticism (otherwise you would be able to defend them with genuine, logical counter arguments) but you just don’t want to say it or even hear it.

Let me draw a few lines in the sand at this point. Firstly I think personal attacks, insults and the like against players, coaches etc. are unacceptable. I also think expecting Panthers to beat every team they face is unreasonable. What I am talking about is criticism of team or individual performances, in specific games or over a period of time. So with that in mind, here’s my look at the key issues.

Is the customer always right?
Maybe not always right, but most people are fairly comfortable with the concept that paying for something entitles you to express an opinion on its quality. We leave reviews of things we buy all the time and look at other people’s reviews before buying something. If I pay to stay in a hotel and the staff are inefficient and rude I don’t think many people would have a problem with me giving it a bad review on TripAdvisor. So why can I not do the same when it comes to hockey? People pay a lot of money to watch the Panthers, I think they are entitled to express an opinion (positive or negative) on the quality of performance they believe they have got from the team.

Do you have to have played to have an opinion?
Strangely, I have only ever heard this view expressed when people criticise. Apparently, not having played does not prevent you appreciating good play or coaching. Strange that. Anyway, my point here very much follows on from the point above. If we are perfectly happy to read reviews of films, concerts, books etc. in magazines and online, why is it such a problem in hockey? Critics in all those areas have probably never won an Oscar, had a number one hit or won a Booker prize but their views – and most importantly their right to express them – are accepted. I do not understand why people think I am not entitled to do the same when I’ve watched Panthers. While I haven’t played or coached, I have been watching the game for 35 years (since before all the current roster were born in fact) and, although I’d never claim to be an expert on tactics etc., I like to think I have seen enough hockey and certainly enough Panthers hockey to be able to form a valid opinion on what makes a good coach, player, team or performance. Disagree with me by all means, but not by telling me I don’t have the right to my view.

Would the Panthers be better with me on the first line?
I don’t think anybody (especially people who know me) will be surprised to hear me admit that I do not claim to be able to play or coach hockey better than the people currently employed by the Panthers. But if you want to use this fact to tell me I can’t criticise the team you are missing the point by as much as a Panthers powerplay. The people employed by the Panthers are professional players and coaches (not translators and tour guides like me) and, as such, we should be able to expect them to do that job well – especially as our hard-earned cash is at least partly paying their wages. I run a business and I would certainly expect my customers to judge the quality of my work, and to let me know, and probably tell others, in no uncertain terms if it was not up to scratch. I doubt that telling them they weren’t entitled to do that unless they could do the job better themselves would not be a good response for me to try. I suspect that most of you would also be expected to do the jobs you are qualified for to a certain level of competence, and to put in a certain level of effort and performance. And that you’d expect some kind of comeback from your boss or your customers if you didn’t. So when it comes to hockey players, whether I can do their job better is irrelevant. What matters is whether they could do the job better – or whether someone else could be found to do it better. It really is that simple.

Does it make you less of a fan if you criticise?
I think this is behind a lot of the “could you do better?” arguments to be honest. People are reluctant to criticise their team and players because they feel it is disloyal and somehow makes you less of a fan. But as long as you don’t go too far, I totally reject this kind of accusation. Supporting a team does not mean you unquestioningly accept everything they say and do. I’d use the analogy of a marriage. I love my wife dearly (even more than my hockey team, although I think she has questioned that on a few occasions) but, trust me, I do not think everything she does is fantastic and everything she says is right. She doesn’t think those things about me either (sensible lady). But it doesn’t mean our relationship is under strain, or that we care less about each other. In fact, being able to point things out and suggest changes or improvements is part of any relationship – family, friends, partners – and I put fan/team in that category of importance.

I’d actually make the argument that as fans we have a duty to criticise our team where they are falling short of reasonable expectations. If we truly care about our team being the best and most successful it possibly can, we should encourage excellence not blindly accept substandard performance and mediocrity. We should always remember that criticising a player, coach or even an entire season’s roster is not disloyalty to the club – the Nottingham Panthers have been around since before any of its current employees were alive and will be around long after. As will its true fans, the ones who are there over the years supporting the club, but being prepared to hold it to account when things are not right.

For me, discussing performances both positive and negative is an essential part of the fan experience. Hockey is a passionate game and it provokes strong emotions when you win and when you lose. People can have different views, even if they sit in adjacent seats in the arena, and they all have a right to express them. Whether they tend to be over-critical or much less so, they are all doing it because they care about the Panthers and wanting them to win things.

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