The Sports Stadium Brighton closed down in 1965. Wembley Arena was lost to regular ice hockey, with the exception of a brief period in 1974–75, after the Wembley Lions played their final game in 1968. The only rink from the professional era which continued to host ice hockey during the period of the Panthers’ dormancy was Streatham, who adopted the Redskins nickname during the 1970s. Nottingham Ice Stadium remained open during this period, but there seemed little inclination to revive the Panthers.

The collapse of the British National League led to ice hockey’s almost complete collapse. Where the game continued, it was played by individuals out of their love of the sport rather than their skillful qualities. The sports fan base was, with one or two exceptions, largely confined to the families and friends of those playing the game. There didn’t seem to be much of a capacity for the sport to be revived.

One of those amateur clubs was the Sheffield Lancers. Playing from the small Queens Road Ice Rink close to Sheffield United’s football ground, the Lancers were one of the leading teams in the English League North, one of the numerous regional leagues that existed at the time. One family involved in the running of the Lancers was the Keward family; Gary, Dwayne and Chris. Gary Keward had been a fan of the Panthers during their original era, before emigrating to Canada. Upon his return to England, he became involved in the Lancers so that his sons could continue playing the game.

Keward soon began pestering the management of the Ice Stadium to give ice hockey a second chance and revive the city’s famous old club. However, the Directors were not receptive to the idea. Keward’s only ally within the rink management was Charles Walker, but many were insistent that nobody in Nottingham wanted to watch ice hockey again.

Finally, however, Keward and Walker got their way, and the Board of Directors gave their permission for ice hockey to return. Two decades after disappearing so abruptly, Nottingham Panthers were back. Many of the players and officials from the Lancers were convinced to move down the M1 and on 20 September 1980, the modern Panthers made their debut, defeating Solihull Barons 7–4 at the Ice Stadium.

Around 850 people attended the first home match. The second was witnessed by 1,400. By their sixth home game, the sell out signs were put up for the first time, rarely to come down over the next twenty years. Few had expected such an explosion of interest in the most minor of minority sports, particularly at a time when the city was home to the twice defending European football champions, but the Nottingham public had proved the doubters wrong and quickly embraced their revived team.

There were many fans from the old days, their families who’d grown up hearing the stories of the Panthers, the curious ones who wanted to see what all the fuss was about and the fans who’d stumbled by the sport completely by accident, arriving at the Stadium for the general skating session and instead being treated to the hockey. The level of support the Panthers quickly found was so great that they could attract larger attendances in single games than many of their rivals could muster over an entire season. Those Directors who’d opposed the return of ice hockey must surely have wondered what they’d been thinking.

The Panthers were a breath of fresh air but their return did not go down too well in certain quarters. More than once during those first few years, the club would play a team, and a particular opposition player would be so enamoured by the experience of playing before the Ice Stadium crowd that they would sign for the Panthers on the spot. There was little that the clubs could do about it.

The Streatham Redskins were another team that didn’t take an immediate liking to the Panthers. Here was a club that looked like it had a reasonable chance of breaking Streatham’s hegemony in the south of England. The two sides quickly developed a rivalry that would endure for much of the decade, but unfortunately the Panthers were very much at the wrong end of it for most of that time. In Panthers’ second season after reforming, they had to settle for second place in the English National League, Southern Cup and Southern Cup playoff; on all three occasions to the Redskins. They failed to beat their rival once.

The first two seasons were played in a rather disorganised manner, with numerous competitions, tournaments and challenge games making up the schedule. Partly due to the popularity that the Panthers had attained since reforming, in 1982 moves began to be made towards the re-establishment of a national league. The Panthers became part of the new British Hockey League and, although it originally continued on a regionalised basis, the club were now competing in the same competition as some of the leading sides of the time. Unfortunately this meant restrictions, as the clubs of the establishment sought to retain the balance of power for themselves. There were accusations that rules had been specifically tailored to prevent the Panthers from becoming successful, and it became apparent that the club would have to develop its own junior system to get anywhere.

In 1983, after a third season in which little of note was achieved, the Panthers became one of the nine founding members of the Premier Division. They have been a member of the top flight since then, having the notable distinction of having contested each season where a British league has operated. Unfortunately the first season of Premier Division hockey was an unmitigated disaster for the Panthers. Of their 32 games, fifteen ended with the team having conceded ten or more goals. Only nine wins meant the Panthers finished next to bottom, with the ineptitude of Cleveland Bombers sparing them the embarrassment of a wooden spoon. In the penultimate game of the season, the club travelled to Durham Wasps, returning on the wrong end of a 20–1 score line.

If 1983–84 was bad, then 1984–85 was equally so. The club repeated an eighth place finish and provided little challenge to the leading sides of the league. The season is best remembered for events off the ice, however. On 3 February 1985 the Panthers travelled to Southampton. The Vikings had not won all season, and were certainties for the drop into the First Division. With fourteen minutes of the game remaining, Panthers led 2–0 and looked on course for a win. Somehow they contrived to lose, and the Vikings picked up their first two points of the season with a 3–2 win. An angry Gary Keward demanded his team get on the coach and return home without post match drinks.

One player was left behind. He apparently refused to follow Keward’s orders, instead travelling home with supporters. In the days following the match, Keward resigned, taking with him club chairman Charles Walker and son Chris with allegations of “player power” being the primary motive. Though it was the end of the modern club’s founder’s involvement in the Panthers, it would eventually lead to the arrival of Alex Dampier, and a dramatic improvement in the club’s fortunes.

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