Jamie Black – February 2011

Jamie Black is the son of Nottingham Panthers owner Neil Black. He spent three years at the University of Nottingham, where he watched Panthers’ home games and worked on a number of projects for the club. Jamie now studies at the University of Cambridge but still maintains his interest in the Panthers and UK Ice Hockey.
Jamie spoke with TCW’s Jono Bullard via e-mail.

You’re aware of Elliott Stanley’s petition to your father asking for changes within in the Nottingham Panthers. What is your opinion of it with respect to Gary Moran?

This nonsense about Gary Moran must stop – it’s ridiculous. It sounds like a bitter divorcee irrationally agonising over her ex.
The traditional argument is that Gary interferes with the Coach, but this is not the case so allow me to clarify the management structure at the club. Neil sets the corporate strategy, makes the long-term decisions and handles external affairs. Gary is the General Manager and is responsible for the day-to-day off-ice business of the club, although this does not include the shop that is run by the NIC. Importantly, there is a clear distinction between on and off ice management, whereby the Coach is set a budget and given full autonomy.
Although Elliot’s argument is quite different, he argues that Gary indirectly, rather than directly, harms the team’s performance through setting a ‘tone’ and generating a ‘culture’, which are antithetical to winning. For the record, I do agree the website should be more objective, with improved spelling and that we should better utilise social networking websites. However, these factors wont really have any affect on the ‘culture’ that has developed over 60 years, let alone the team’s performance.
Elliot touches on, but does not fully develop the concept of club culture. Our failure to win the league may be a result of the collective desire to play uber attractive and attacking hockey. Panthers are expected to win and win in style. A bit like my beloved Spurs, this is why we have historically performed stronger in the cup than the league. Playing an attacking style it’s more difficult to be consistent and grind out results, especially in small rinks with poor ice. Let’s stop conspiracy theorising and have a serious dialogue about this.

With regards to serious dialogue, what form do you see this taking and with whom?

Through oral and written debate within the fans internally and between the fans and the management. In general I think there should be more interaction between the fans and the management. We do a supporters club meeting, which I’ve been to in the past, but this is not enough and we need to widen participation. I like the idea of a fans forum, which would ultimately allow the organisation to better understand its loyal customers. I’m also an advocate of using focus groups to gage opinion specifically on off-ice issues, such as the website and the match-night show. However, ironically, the main obstacle to these initiatives is the kind of anti-Gary discourse that I mentioned before. This is why it must stop. I think most of the fans would like a serious discussion and it’s a shame that a minority is preventing it.

With respect to Corey Neilson, Mick Holland of the Nottingham Evening Post wrote an article last Saturday asking the fans to ‘tough it out.’ Do you agree?

No I don’t. Holland asserts that supporters of the petition have ‘already written off Panthers’ season’, but this is untrue. I believe the immediate appointment of a new coach, or perhaps Rick Strachan, would increase the chances of success in the Challenge Cup and the Play-Offs.
The two shoot-out victories last weekend are not evidence of any fundamental change. Our problem isn’t an ability to win, but win consistently and convincingly. Have you ever heard of a team win 15-0, having lost to the same team four days earlier and then lose a week later?
A further problem is the chronic last minute choke, due to tactics and confidence. We need a fresh start through a change in coach, although clearly Mick and Neil think differently.

Regardless of who is coach and who is on the roster, Panthers always seem to start the season well before falling back and are, with the odd exception, out of the title race shortly after Christmas. Do you concur with this view and what do you feel are the reasons?

I can’t really disagree with the factual element of the question – unfortunately! People can highlight the management as a factor, but personally I don’t see any causality. We are the best-managed club in the league – that is a fact.
It’s not because other clubs cheat, although clearly they do, and I don’t think its fair that Sheffield have gained significant advantage in past years through alleged tax avoidance. Can allegedly spending money on players instead of VAT and then liquidating the company be classified as anything other than cheating? I’m still outraged, because all the trophies Sheffield won under Bob Philips are essentially illegitimate in my opinion. Nothing can be done now, but we were potentially robbed of silverware. They don’t call them the Steelers for nothing! Although if they were a cat like us, they would definitely be a Cheetah.
Dave Simms wrote last year that it’s a ‘curse’, but I think we need to consider the notion that we haven’t been a big club for that long. Having said that the league title is still long overdue and it’s frustrating for everyone – but our time will come. People used to say that golfer Phil Mickleson couldn’t win a major, but now he’s won four. Maybe, like Phil, we should become a little bit more defensive, but not too much.

Your father has spoken this week about a proposal to extend the Elite League season and other innovations and ideas about the future of the sport. How do you feel it has been received?

I don’t really know how it has been received, but can comment on my position. There are a number of advantages to extending the season, including a significant reduction or even elimination of the midweek games and it would allow greater opportunity for new competitions. Most fans would welcome an increase in the variety of opposition, both foreign and domestic. Although, I fear the EPL teams will not welcome the idea of an ‘FA Cup’, due to politics, but think that ties with Europe should be strengthened.

What opportunities to you feel stronger ties with Europe would yield for both Panthers and the Elite League?

Already mentioned that it would be great for the EIHL fans to see wider variety of teams and playing styles. European competitions raise the profile of the league within the Ice Hockey community and will help the league to attract better players. It’s a win-win. With the changes in immigration law it’s a necessity that we have more EU nationals playing the league.
For us, there has been talk of moving to a European league, but I think we will continue focus on building domestically, rather than looking outwards. Although a pre-season tour of Europe would not go amiss. Anyone up for that?

The Cat’s Whiskers would like to thank Jamie for his time. All constructive comments and feedback regarding the interview are welcome.

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