Paul Balm compares The Smiths to the Supporters Trust, wonders what Paul Thompson is moaning about and looks forward to the New Year

It’ll come as no surprise to anyone who has read any of these articles or listened to me on the podcasts that I like The Smiths. There’s something in their songs of unchained bicycles on hillsides desolate that strikes a chord with me and has done since the eighties. Now, interesting as it is, you’re probably wondering why I’m telling you of my love for a group of dour Northern music deities especially at this time of year when we should be full of glad tidings, and not thoughts of unrequited love amidst a bleak industrial landscape of windswept moors and dark satanic mills. I wouldn’t blame you if you were. Well, I was thinking about the Nottingham Panthers Supporters Trust and totally unbidden the image from the inside cover (ah! gatefold vinyl!) of Rank by The Smiths. It shows a group of Smiths fans in the front row of a convention in what was the G-Mex in Manchester fighting over one of Morrissey’s old shirts. The shirt is being stretched taut as it is being pulled in multiple as each of those five or six people tries to wrest control of it from the others. Judging by the picture the most likely event is that the shirt will end up in tattered ruins, useless to all of them.

Now I may be a bit of a pessimist (it would probably explain the Smiths fixation) but I can see the Supporters Trust ending up like that shirt if we’re not all very careful. We’ve had a couple of good wins in the last couple of days (I’m writing this on the 28th of December) and results like that, especially over your rivals, have a tendency to mollify the ill feeling that can rise up amongst a fan base towards a club that hasn’t been doing very well. Whether it should or not is as much a discussion point as a whether that ill feeling should be there in the first place but that’s not for now, let’s just say that it happens and leave it at that. The thing is that the club hasn’t been doing very well of late in a lot of ways, you only have to look at the last couple of weeks to see that. We’ve had two almighty cock-ups regarding face-offs with the “change” to the face off time on the 2nd that was by public demand one minute and then should always have been at 4:00 p.m. the next. If that wasn’t bad enough it was followed up with an email that was sent out with the wrong face off time for the 27th in it. It’s utterly unprofessional and downright embarrassing, particularly the about face performed by the Panthers on why the times for the 2nd was changed. It’s OK apologising (if they do apologise) or trying to explain why something was done wrong but there comes a point where you have to say that the mistakes must stop. Apologising can only last so long without it becoming as bad as the original mistake.

I’m digressing but I’m also proving the point I’m trying to make. Those PR disasters (and many more before) at times have got me as angry as some of the on ice performances and the way injured players aren’t replaced, even temporarily, and the team is allowed to slide. Now, given how angry they make me I could turn up at the Supporters Trust meeting on the 2nd with a real axe to grind about it and want the Trust to make getting something done about it their top priority. My point, though, is that if I did that then I could quite easily expect everyone at the meeting to do the same thing and at that point the whole Supporters Trust ends up like that shirt I was talking about at the start of the article. The Trust can’t become a bunch of tatters caused by people wanting to make it their own personal soap box.

None of this means that I want to see the Trust fail, I don’t, quite the opposite. This could be the best opportunity that we, as fans, have of saying to the club that there are things that we could help to improve through the creation of a dialogue. I don’t think it will be an easy process, we are talking about a club that is seen by many in its fan base as aloof and uncaring. That doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t try though and that is why I would urge everyone who can to go to the meeting on the 2nd (it’s upstairs at Bunkers Hill approximately 30 minutes after the game has finished). Go there with an open mind, put your axes away and think about what you can do to help support this idea. We all care about the club, regardless of how we express it and here’s a chance to do something positive about it.

If we’ve had a good Christmas so far (it’s the 28th can we say Christmas is over now? What do we call this passage of days before new year? The Merryneum? Twixtmas?) then you’d have say that one person who hasn’t is Paul Thompson. Two defeats to your local rivals that seem to have left him ranting and raving left right and centre to anyone that will listen. The thing is, and I can only go by what I saw last night as I wasn’t in Sheffield (I gave Mark Thomas £20 to get me some 50/50 tickets, anyone know how he got on? He’s not answering my calls anymore) but his team really only had themselves to blame. I can only assume Stefan Hogarth forgot to send him a Christmas card or something because I saw little in his performance that warranted the Steelers coach’s ire. In fact, there were occasions (I’m thinking about the way one of his players impeded Lacho from the bench as he shot on the empty net in the dying seconds) when you could have said that we had cause to complain. It does make you wonder what he has to do to get another fine though (he might be getting one, ignore this if it is announced after this is published).

Well, the new year is approaching and that means that we’ve entered that period of reflection and hope that always surrounds the upcoming celebrations. I’m sure there are plenty of words that have been written about 2016. It’s been a pretty strange year what with Brexit, Trump becoming president and what not, particularly at the moment, feels like a news item a day about another celebrity that has died. It’s been a pretty strange year for a Panthers fan as well. There have been a few good days for the Panthers but it feels like there have been a heck of a lot more that felt pretty dark and dismal but you know that’s what being a sports fan is all about, you have to hang on to the good stuff to get you through the bad. We’re sports fans and one way or another we live in hope, we have to. The only thing that sets us apart from all the other revellers as midnight on the 31st approaches and all the bad of the last year is put behind us in favour of a fresh new start is that deep down we know that our new year doesn’t start in January, it starts in September.

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