Adam Reddish has been a Panthers fan since his teenage years and has seen a number of changes in his 20+ years watching the various teams that have played in both the old rink and the National Ice Centre. As the team launches into the 2022/23 pre-season schedule, Adam’s focus is on the difference made by a notable off-ice appointment.
It is actually quite a daunting task to encapsulate the scale of change that has occurred at the Nottingham Panthers over the last few months. I’m sure most fans agreed that changes were long overdue with the club seemingly in a state of paralysis throughout a forgettable 2021-22 season. It was sad to see, but perhaps more importantly, sad to feel the staleness that had firmly taken root throughout virtually every aspect of the organisation. Home games were simply awful things to experience despite MC Ken Feast’s commendable efforts to lighten an ever-darkening atmosphere.
Ask most Panthers supporters where the club’s direction of travel was heading prior to last season ending and there was only one realistic answer – backwards, and fast. The need for change was desperately required to shake away the deep-set malaise that had embedded itself at the Nottingham Panthers. Noises from owner Neil Black in the days following Panthers unsurprising exit from the Play-Offs at the hands of Guildford suggested things were afoot. However, it’s arguable that what we have seen since then has been more akin to a revolution than merely a cosmetic re-set and rebranding exercise.
The appointment of Omar Pacha as GM has been widely acclaimed by the club’s supporters. Having now had the opportunity to get his feet under the table and make himself at home since his arrival in the city, the early signs of what he’s attempting to achieve here in Nottingham are promising to say the least. Characteristics I have always associated with Pacha, wherever he has featured in UK ice hockey circles, are positivity and honesty – something the Panthers badly needed some sizeable doses of thanks to the ever-deepening and often unedifying rifts openly surfacing between elements of the club’s fanbase on its various social media platforms.
Looking from a longer-term fan’s perspective, the ‘Pacha revolution’ has been a breath of fresh air. A club that seemed resistant at every given opportunity to embracing change and the exploration of new ideas has all of a sudden had a massive shot in the arm – creating the type of ‘can do’ mentality that successful organisations thrive from. The famous cautionary quote about Rome not being built in a day certainly springs to mind, and given what he inherited, the Panthers new GM still has much to do in dusting down and rebuilding a hockey and commercial operation that had badly lost its way in recent years. However, the scale of change already evident has been staggering when you take a minute or two to sit down and reflect what has happened over recent weeks.
Of all these Pacha initiated changes, the most vital one has surely been the restoration of mutual trust and respect between the club and its supporters. It is clichéd I know, but a sports club is nothing without those who follow them week in, week out – despite this becoming such an exhausting (some might even say arduous) activity in recent times. My thoughts on the Panthers media output in recent years are well documented, and my numerous Tweets and Facebook posts despairing at how Panthers seemed to be authoring the book on how not to do social media are out there for all to see. So, amongst all the critical on-ice decisions such as the recruitment of a new Head Coach to change the hockey playing philosophy, it is arguable that gaining the backing of a disillusioned fanbase arguably had to be Pacha’s #1 priority.
As part of this, the recent unveiling of a new Panthers media team is particularly welcome and long overdue. It is refreshing to see talented, and in many cases, fans who care about the club now in place to drive that side of the organisation forwards. Whether we like it or not, communication is critical for any business who are rightly judged on how effective their contact with fans and sponsors is from the tone of message. Panthers had a hell of a lot to learn, consistently being at the bottom of the pile in how to get their message across – and usually in ways that left you with your head in your hands. Let’s hope things take a turn for the better with the input of new individuals and fresh ideas.
I could talk about many other aspects of the club that seem to have been given an overhaul in recent months, but I wanted to keep things focused on the culture of excellence that is being embedded at the club. It is this that allows all other aspects of progress to occur and in Omar Pacha, it would appear that the Nottingham Panthers have recruited a young, hungry and talented individual who is relishing the opportunity to build something special.
It is however still very early to judge any aspect of the club’s advancement. The current ‘buzz’ around the Panthers is refreshing and the mood amongst the supporters seems to be one of pure positivity. That is a huge achievement in itself. Nevertheless, advancements off the ice do have to be matched with progress on it. Actions do always speak louder than words. Most rational, realistic fans will hopefully understand that a first-year coach to the UK will take a little time to calibrate with the hockey landscape and environment here. I certainly fall into the camp of giving Coach Graham some latitude at the onset of his UK coaching career. On paper, some of the roster deficiencies have been addressed by GG which augers well for better performances and greater competitiveness. However, there is pressure (and rightly so) at Nottingham to challenge for titles. The infrastructure is all set up to be repeat contenders for trophies, so whilst there should naturally be some slack cut in the event of a slow start, fan expectations will always be there. It’ll be interesting to see how the GM deals with this in the event of a disappointing start – but I’m confident he’ll back his Head Coach to deliver the goods in the long term.
What seems like a good way to conclude this article is to actually give some praise to the club’s long-time owner Neil Black. Knives were certainly out last season with calls, including from myself, for new ownership of the Panthers. With the appointment of Omar Pacha, it seems Black has reaffirmed his financial commitment to the organisation, whilst providing the much-needed fresh start that fans were becoming increasingly desperate for. A win-win?
Anyway, here’s to a more exciting 2022-23 campaign for the Nottingham Panthers. Not everything will be perfect and they’ll be teething problems along the way as is often the case when a new direction is pursued. But isn’t it fantastic to have a smidgeon of positivity heading into a new season and for that alone we have Omar Pacha to thank!