Up until 1954, British ice hockey was organised at the English and Scottish level. Games between clubs north and south of the border did take place, but only as challenge matches. However, by the mid 50s the sport was beginning to decline in England. Earls Court Rangers were disbanded following the 1950–51 season and both Wembley and Harringay had lost one of their two teams as arena management sought income from other sources and time for hockey evaporated. The 1953–54 season had been contested by five clubs.

The story in Scotland was different. Clubs were more abundant, and it was decided that the English and Scottish leagues would be combined into one from the 1954–55 season. This did not bring the success that would have been hoped. England’s representation was only four teams due to the refusal of Streatham to take part in the new league. Although they initially participated, Dunfermline soon found their position untenable and withdrew. By season end six of the seven remaining Scottish teams had pulled out, leaving the British league with the same number of teams that had contested the final season of English competition. Amidst all this chaos, Zamick led the Panthers to a credible second place league finish.

In 1955–56 the original Nottingham Panthers reached their zenith. No Panthers side since has reached the heights attained by Zamick’s men, and the quest to emulate the team of that season is something which continues to dominate the psyche of the Panthers support to this day. Unfortunately much of what took place that season is subject to hearsay, which only adds to the level of interest.

The season began in commanding fashion. The Autumn Cup was won by a convincing seven point margin, the first time the Panthers had taken the early season honours. The league proved to be a much tighter affair. Come season end, only eight points separated first place from last, the margin of error was that fine. The title could have gone anywhere, with Nottingham, Paisley and Wembley narrowly edging the race.
One of the best know games of the original era was a match against Paisley Pirates which descended into a brawl that rivals the famous Sheffield bench clearance of 2001. It was maybe more extraordinary for the fact that the fighting we associate with the game now wasn’t nearly as prevalent back then. There are numerous accounts of how exactly the events of that evening unfolded and whether or not the crowd became involved, but consensus seems to suggest that, after returning to the ice to save a beleaguered team-mate from the wrath of the Pirates, the Panthers lined up on one side of the ice, selected a single opponent and began an enormous scrap. The fall out of this incident led some to suggest that the game had no future.

The league title was eventually won by the narrowest of margins. Nottingham’s last two games were home and away to the Harringay Racers and, with 7–6 and 11–10 victories, Panthers claimed what remains their last championship by virtue of goal average. The season ended with several feats having been achieved. Zamick scored his 600th Nottingham Panthers goal and the club achieved an early version of what would now be termed a Grand Slam in winning the league and Autumn Cup double. Yet again the Panthers seemed to have begun something special.
But, yet again, the season after championship glory would see the Panthers slump to the bottom of the rankings. This time in both the Autumn Cup and league. The previous season had seen a slender gap between first and last, but Panthers collected the wooden spoon finishing some seventeen points off the lead. The club improved mildly in 1957–58 by returning to second place, however, the most significant event of that season took place at its close.

For eleven seasons Chick Zamick had been the star of the Nottingham Panthers. In that time, he had scored 774 goals and 638 points in 624 games. These records have now been surpassed, by Paul Adey and Randal Weber respectively, but in an era when the British leagues were the leading leagues and Europe and clubs imported most of their teams from Canada, those statistics are particularly remarkable. In addition to his scoring exploits, Zamick had won numerous awards and accolades from ice hockey’s authorities and the local media. He’d even appeared in a cinema advertisement for John Players cigarettes. Now, offered the position of coach at Geneva, Zamick was finally departing.

The British National League was on its last legs by 1958. Losing many of the stars that had sustained it and its predecessors, it was also dealt the bitter blow of the closure of Harringay Arena and the subsequent demise of the Racers. With just four teams remaining, the future of professional hockey in the United Kingdom was looking bleak. The Panthers couldn’t provide any relief at this situation to their supporters, the season ending with another wooden spoon.

The league saw a small piece of positive news in 1959–60, with Streatham finally joining and giving it five members. They would instantly top the league, with Panthers finishing a distant second. Another change introduced by the league saw the return of post season playoffs, the first time such an event had taken place since the 1940s, and the first time it had taken place on a UK-wide scale since 1930. After dispatching of the league champions in the semi finals, the Panthers faced Brighton Tigers for the right to become British champions. The first leg ended in a 3–2 loss.

The second leg in Nottingham brought exactly the opposite result. A 3–2 victory saw Panthers force an overtime period, something relatively unique to the game in the United Kingdom at the time. This continued for nearly 7 minutes, before Brighton scored to claim the championship at Nottingham’s expense. Such an abrupt halt to proceedings was perhaps an apt way to end the original era. The news reports seem to show no inclination that the Panthers had played their final game and it seems few, if any, people expected that the end was nigh.

With the cost of players escalating, crowds dwindling and teams few and far between, authorities pulled the plug on the British National League. While teams such as Brighton opted to continue without an organised league to play in, Nottingham opted to fold. The curtain had been brought down on a club that had entertained thousands over a period of fourteen seasons. During the 1960s and 1970s, the Panthers were romanticised as part of a golden era of Nottingham sport. Few believed that the Panthers would ever be more than a memory again.


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