This Is My Club

Ian Braisby with a very personal article about Nottingham Panthers play-off exit and his perception of the club

Another Nottingham Panthers season has ended. My 35th. Apart from “why haven’t I got more grey hairs than I have after so long supporting Panthers?”, the biggest question on my lips – like so many of my fellow Panthers fans – is what next for the club? While we’ve had plenty of poor years in the past, there is definitely an “end of an era” feeling about the damp squib that was the finale to our 2014-15 season. People are hugely disappointed, angry, frustrated and looking for answers as to why we fell away so badly. And how, rather than the Grand Slam season just two years ago being a springboard, it has turned out to be a pinnacle and we’ve declined rapidly since.

Pretty much everything about the club has been questioned in recent days, from the players to the coach to the management to the ownership. As I wrote about in a previous article, I welcome this as I think every fan has the right, even a duty, to question and to demand the best. But what I’ve also seen is fans questioning whether or not they are still going to be around next season. And I find this harder to get my head around. I understand that everyone has their own ideas, priorities, financial and family circumstances that I don’t know details of. I appreciate that everyone has a choice how to spend their time and money and some may be just too frustrated with the current Panthers setup no matter how much the club means to them. But it’s not something I would personally choose to do.

This is my club and while it’s every other fan’s club too I won’t be going anywhere in a hurry. Some might say that makes me a mug, who will keep handing over season ticket cash year in year out regardless of performances and maybe that’s true to some extent. But I definitely won’t be satisfied with any old performances, as I think anyone who knows me or reads my contributions on online forums, social media and this blog would agree. And my ticket money is pretty much all they get off me. I don’t go home with bags full of merchandise (a replica shirt every couple of years if I like the design, that’s about it), I don’t sponsor players or bits of them or their equipment, I don’t attend fan nights etc. So I certainly don’t see myself as an unquestioning cash cow for the organisation. Just as someone for whom hockey and my club is too deeply embedded in my life and identity to walk away from.

Of course I am feeling all those emotions I mentioned about the past season. I desperately want the Panthers to be successful, to continue the relatively golden period we have enjoyed in recent years. I don’t want to see us meekly give up a trophy we have almost made our own and I certainly don’t want to see my team playing a playoff quarter final with the level of intensity you more usually witness in a testimonial. I one hundred percent believe that changes are needed, not just in playing personnel but maybe in coaching and certainly in the direction the club is heading and, most important, in the way it relates to its fans. I feel that sense of disconnection acutely, and I would dearly love to re-establish that close bond we once had in Nottingham, that feeling of all belonging together – players, coaches, managers and fans. I would love to see fans treated as a resource, not just a financial one, but a pool of goodwill, ideas and skills that the club can tap into. I want to see those things happening, I want to be a part of it but – crucially – I will still be there if they don’t happen right away. Because this is my club. And I think long-term fans are crucial in bad and good times. If I were to walk away, the Panthers might be able to replace me. They could probably find another bum to sit on my seat, they might even bring their kids (I don’t have any), they might spend more on merchandise, they might be sponsors, and they might be willing to fork out more than my monthly income for a game worn shirt in some hideous colour. But will they be there at the end of their 35th season? I don’t know if anyone from the Panthers organisation reads this site, but if you do I tell you this now – you might not like the criticism you get from fans like me at times but I promise you this, we will be there not just when the trophies are passed around but when the buckets are passed around to keep the club afloat too. And fans who care enough to suffer the bad years and demand honesty, dedication and professionalism from managers, coaching staff and players are what will keep the club going.

It ultimately comes down to this. To paraphrase the greatest hockey film of all time, Slapshot, “Who own da Panthers?” (and I am chuckling now, knowing that several fans of my acquaintance will have read what I just wrote and be going “Owns, owns”. You know who you are). So who does own the Panthers?

Obviously in a purely financial sense, Neil Black (or at least his company) does. He’s the one who stepped up to the plate to save the club, for which I am eternally grateful, and who has provided the backing for our recent success. But is financial backing really the same as ownership? There are those who think (and even come up with elaborate conspiracies) that the management own the club. Sure they set the current direction and are responsible for its day-to-day running, but is responsibility the same as ownership? How about the coaches and players? No chance, they come and go on a regular basis. They are the team, not the club, and I have discovered on various occasions over the past 35 years that you can dislike the team while still being a passionate supporter of the club. What about the fans? Not in any real way and not with any real power of course, but in terms of being the lifeblood of the organisation, the people who keep its spirit alive, the people who are always there through changes of owner, manager, coach and players? Absolutely they do. I truly believe that, and you can call me naïve if you want.

I’ll tell you who owns the Panthers. I do. A little kid standing in the corridor outside the dressing room, hoping for a pat on the head or a fist bump from one of those giant heroes with skates and sticks, a teenager whose bedroom wall was covered not with posters of film and music stars but with pages from Panthers programmes, someone who has learned about very important emotions – frustration, gut wrenching disappointment, complete and utter ecstasy – from watching their team, someone who has stood in a stadium for a minute’s silence or applause in memory of someone they knew more times than they’ve actually been to funerals, someone who has made some of their closest and most important friendships through a shared dedication to a team. After our first few months watching the Panthers, my late father said to me “The team are not very good, they don’t win much, do you still want to carry on going?” I looked up at him as if he had gone mad, there was no chance even then of poor results putting me off. I guess I feel him standing there asking that question at times like these, and my answer is the same as it was. This is my club. But not just mine – all of us who have the Panthers in our hearts, our souls and – knowing how many people share their hockey devotion with other generations of their families – in our blood. This is our club, no matter what happens on the ice, behind the bench or in the boardroom. I believe the club should celebrate and welcome the sense of ownership its fans have, and build on that shared ownership and the interest we all share in Panthers being successful.

Enjoy the playoff weekend, have a great summer, and see you in the arena next season. And the next 35 seasons after that.


1 Response to “This Is My Club”

  1. 1 martin April 2, 2015 at 5:24 pm

    Superb read gave me goose bumps, I feel exactly the same I would be lost without this club I love them they are my first true love I am black and gold through and through win lose or draw, trophy or no trophy this is my club I will defend it forever. I will be there next year as I have for 27 year’s from when I waited outside the dressing room waiting for that fist pump or hello from a hero to this season yes I was frustrated as I know we are better than that but I’m a panther and always will believe my team is the best in the world!!

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