Paul Balm wonders if Panthers will ever come out of their ‘Groundhog Day’ league campaigns
If you’re clever enough, you learn from the lessons that life teaches you. You tell yourself that if that happens to me again I’ll do something different to try and make sure that the same thing doesn’t happen again. You might not know what to do instead but that’s not the point, learning that what you did to come to that conclusion is the main thing. These lessons tend to vary in importance but they’re all valid if you think about them. Treading in dog mess or putting tomato ketchup on your cornflakes might not seem as important as sending your life savings to the widow of an oil magnate in Nigeria on the promise of a percentage of the money that will be released and they’re not, but they are all things you won’t want to do again and you learn from that.
What if you don’t though? What if you keep making the same mistakes again and again? Well, you shouldn’t be surprised that the result is the same should you. I think, and you’d probably guessed this by now, that Nottingham Panthers are guilty of making the same mistakes season after season and guess what? They get the same results.
League positions don’t lie. The team that finishes at the top is the one that has been the best over the course of the season. There might be teams that are close but overall the best team wins. We saw a team on Saturday night that could get that accolade this season. Cardiff might have stumbled of late but they showed the Panthers what is needed to take a game that they needed to take. They had the ability at 3-1 down to say “hang on, we’re not going to lose this” and they found that extra gear and took the game. I’ve got no problem with the way the Panthers played in that game. It was a great game and with a bit of luck and better refereeing the result could have been a little different but that’s sport. I know that makes me sound like a Panthers press release but that’s how I saw it. What I also saw is that Cardiff, along with Belfast and Sheffield have that instinct, that ability, that Panthers are lacking. Again.
I sat in the Bunkers Hill Saturday night after the game and I felt so dejected, so hollow, almost bereft. It wasn’t because we’d lost. Thirty six years of being a Panthers fan prepares you for that, it wasn’t the referee who, quite frankly, was abysmal (but probably had very little effect on the outcome) and it certainly wasn’t the performance. We showed how we could play for a large portion of that game so what was it? I’m still not entirely sure and I’ve still not entirely shaken it off. The closest I can come is disappointment that I’ve witnessed another season where we’ve been outdone by our competitors. It’s Groundhog Day again. I’ve talked about this time and time again, I know that, but the Panthers don’t seem to learn or don’t want to and I know which of those is worse. It isn’t a mistake if you don’t see it as that. Treading in dog dirt is OK if you don’t clean your own shoes isn’t it?
If who wins the league is no fluke then neither are the other places and the Panthers were a fifth placed team last season and looked like it throughout. What did the Panthers do to change that? Nothing, they brought a large number of the same players back and, in the main, in my opinion, failed to replace those that didn’t return with improvements. There are players on this team that I like but I like them for their effort not necessarily for their ability. There seemed to be a recruitment policy built around a player that is now potentially being cited by his coach as not wanting to play for his employers. It’s not good is it?
We’ve witnessed the same delays in the recruitment of replacements as last season when the injury blight returned for the third year running? Why do we have to wait for so long for a replacement to arrive? If they arrive at all. OK, I know we brought in Kalus and Kudroc and for various reasons that didn’t work out but how long were Dimmen and Waugh out for without any replacement when Kudroc had to leave in such unfortunate circumstances? I don’t see the teams we were supposed to be competing with for the league title taking so long? If Tyler Mosienko had left the Panthers how long do you think we would have been waiting to see a replacement? Steelers had a player announced within a week (and I know they’d have known Mosienko’s decision a long time ahead of the announcement but still…). And why do Panthers get so many injuries anyway? One season is unfortunate, two could be seen in the same way but questions should have been asked, but three? I’m sorry but it isn’t good enough, it has been going on too long to just be bad luck but what has the club done about it?
The question has to be why hasn’t anything been done? I don’t know. I honestly don’t. I wish I did because maybe just maybe knowing why might help me make some sense of why nothing seems to change. One theory I’ve heard is that the team are given a budget and that’s that. It has to cover all expenses, wages etc and when the pot is empty that’s it. It certainly makes a certain amount of sense and in my opinion there’s probably a lot of truth in it. It does feel a little galling in the context of the Panthers’ increased crowds (unless someone has had the Vymura out again) though, like we’re just back to being the cash cows lining someone’s pockets.
If that theory is true then you have to wonder whether any adjustments were made for the Continental Cup. You’d have to hope so but the at the same time the seeming emphasis on winning the Continental Cup victory feels a bit like Robb Stark heading south to try and become the undisputed king of Westeros (or whatever he was doing, it confuses me) and leaving Winterfell virtually unguarded allowing first the Greyjoy’s and then the Bolton’s to come in and pillage the castle taking what they wanted. The Continental Cup remains an incredible achievement but has that emphasis been to the detriment of everything else. Looking at the Panthers’ form since you’ve got to think so.
In a way I’m worried about the rest of the season. The Challenge Cup semi-final hangs in the balance with Sheffield having the upper hand, the play-offs feel a very long way away and if Sheffield do win the semi we’ll have to endure a lot of games that are fairly irrelevant in the grand scheme of things. Add to that the fact that we’re already been told by our coach in the Post that we’ll have to get used to the team playing short and the next couple of months… well let’s just say that this season feels like another where the end will seem like a blessing rather than a curse.
If nothing else this has article can probably be held up as proof that you shouldn’t write when you feel an emotion but sometimes you have to say what you have to say. I remember seeing a picture of London from above the clouds on a foggy day and the only thing visible above the fog bank is the top of the Shard. If I think back to that Continental Cup win that’s what springs to my mind at the moment. That saddens me, maybe that’s the defining emotion I couldn’t pin down whilst I sat, almost mute, in the pub Saturday night. Saddened that we’re here again, saddened that the lessons that are obvious over the last few years, the lessons that teams like Cardiff taught us Saturday have not been learned from or worse, ignored.