Chris Matthews remembers Panthers v Hamburg, the sad demise of the Freezers and how it links to the Supporters Trust.
The Panthers became part of my life around a decade ago when I started regularly visiting the NIC after a day of revising for exams. It gave me that feeling of having done something during a day that was otherwise spent stuck on my own. From there I met my now wife and the pair of us had been season ticket holders for five years until the start of this term.
This time watching the team has seen us experience many highs and equally many lows. The highest point for me was that night at home to Hamburg. While not a full house by any stretch the atmosphere was incredible with the players responding and showing just what potential there was at our club and ice hockey in the UK. We had not only competed with, but beaten a team playing in a league and with a budget that we could only dream of.
For some that may be where your memory of the Hamburg Freezers may end. For others there was an amazing trip in early October 2014 where as a group of visiting supporters we were made to feel so welcome by our much more illustrious counterparts.
Those that went to Hamburg will have stories of a fantastic modern arena, large noisy fan base along with a pretty decent team on the ice as it turned out. The Freezers finished that season fourth in the DEL having played in front of an average crowd of 8,907 people.
Hamburg finished the 2015/16 campaign just outside the playoffs with an average attendance in excess of 9,000 fans and it is here where their story ends.
The Freezers ceased operations on 24 May 2016 when the then owners felt it was no longer viable to own two teams in the same league. The group that owned Hamburg also owned the Eisbaeren Berlin franchise and elected to dump the Freezers literally out in the cold. The supporters and players were unable to muster the financial support required to retain their DEL licence the team disbanded with Hamburg no longer having a top flight Hockey team.
Here is where a Supporters Trust becomes so important. Ask any Portsmouth FC supporter. At a time of crisis, a well organised, dedicated Supporters Trust was able to raise sufficient capital in order to save the club from liquidation. While they have suffered several relegations the club still exists and now play their games out in front of 16,000 people in the fourth tier. It will take time but that club will return back up the pyramid thanks to the dedication of the supporters that are its heartbeat.
It’s that example that leaves you thinking, can we afford not to have a Supporters Trust in Nottingham?
Having recently seen Hull Stingrays and Newcastle Vipers pass by the wayside it strikes me as paramount that we are in a position to save our club should it ever need saving. With an ownership structure similar to that of Berlin and Hamburg you never quite know when someone will take a business decision about our club.
Clearly the situation at Portsmouth and Hamburg is fairly extreme so the role of the Supporters Trust in Nottingham should be different. With what seems a strong commercial standing in Nottingham at the moment the Supporters Trust should be a sounding board for the club rather than a lifeline. We hope that with positive engagement between the fans and the club we can all drive the Nottingham Panthers forward to be the envy of other sides in the league.