BLOG: History matters – let’s celebrate it

I’ve got a friend who a few years ago always wore a little pin badge that said ‘History Matters’ on his Nottingham Panthers shirt.

It was just a little, circular white badge with black lettering on it, probably picked up free from some BBC event or something similar, but it meant something to him.

He wore it as a statement against the Panthers and how they seem to have little regard for their history, particularly the pre-Arena era.

There seems to be little interest from the club in promoting or acknowledging the club’s rich history. It hasn’t always been successful, quite the opposite at times, but to just ignore it almost feels like a crime.

You don’t necessarily notice any of Panthers’ history when you walk in the National Ice Centre.

There’s only a single shirt in a frame tucked away in a corner by one set of doors, a couple of entries on the boards by the others and an (admittedly massive) abstract photo on the wall of Casson Masters (hardly the first player any Panthers fan would want to immortalise) hanging high above the fans. It’s something, but it doesn’t feel like there’s much of the past on show.

It’s the same in the bowl – there’s the one big banner at the stage end, but where are the banners for all the honours? There should be individual banners for every single trophy that the team has won or, failing that, a banner listing the years for each trophy.

The question has been asked before and we were told that it wasn’t possible as the NIC is a multi-purpose arena and they couldn’t have banners hanging down all the time. I’m sorry, but that answer is rubbish.

The club hire the arena just like anyone else, they pay for how it is set up. Part of that set up could be the hanging of banners from the rafters, but I guess that the hanging, removal and probably storage of those banners would all cost money and that is where I think the root of the issue lies.

In a way though I’m glad there are no banners. Panthers don’t do anything without it being sponsored. Everything is in ‘association with company X’ or ‘brought to you by company Y’.

I don’t want to see the 1989 Wembley play-off championship banner sponsored by some company. It wouldn’t seem right. Some things should be allowed to stand on their own unsullied by a connection to a company.

All this means that the NIC just doesn’t feel like home in the way that the old Ice Stadium it replaced did. It might be the rose-tinted spectacles of nostalgia that make the Ice Stadium seem like such a hockey nirvana.

It had its faults and flaws – the seats were uncomfortable and in the days before the smoking ban walking along the corridor below the stands could feel like a night time stroll through a Victorian pea-souper, but they now feel like part of the charm instead of problems.

The idea that Panthers have been playing for 17 years at the NIC got me thinking about how many games they’d played in the ‘modern era’. I figured it had to be over a thousand.

Thirty-seven seasons surely meant that such a milestone had been reached and yet I couldn’t remember Panthers marking the occasion.

I don’t suppose that should have surprised me given how little I felt Panthers regarded their own past but I still wanted to know when it was, for my own curiosity if nothing else.

The first place I looked, more in hope than expectation was the Panthers’ website. If the information was going to be anywhere, I thought, it would be there. It wasn’t.

There’s a brief history of the club that doesn’t look like it has been updated for at least a couple of years and a list of retired shirts and legends. Now I know that the subject of retired shirts can be a thorny one but, from reading that page, it strikes me that there are two glaring omissions from the 1950s – Les Strongman and Chick Zamick.

When asked back in 2013 in an interview for Cats Whiskers TV about retiring Strongman’s number, he stated that it wasn’t possible as he wore two different numbers and they didn’t know which of the two to use. There’s a very simple way of solving that conundrum – ask him. It’s that simple.

Unfortunately it’s too late to ask Zamick but there’s no need, he wore 10. If we asked they’d probably tell us that it couldn’t be retired because it already has been (correctly) for Randall Weber. Surely they can honour two people for one number?

And don’t get me started on why Terry Kurtenbach’s number isn’t up there.

Everything else on the website was current and that’s fair enough. Sport is all about the here and now. You don’t get any extra points for having a longer history than other teams.

Fife don’t get a better play-off place for having a museum (oh, you don’t know how much I wish Panthers had one of those, but, thinking about it if you’ve read this far you probably do). None of that matters in league tables, it’s just the result that counts.

Ask Claudio Ranieri if you don’t believe me. So, if sport is all about the next game is what I’m talking about totally irrelevant? I don’t think so.

If the Panthers’ website wasn’t any use, then I was going to have to do it myself. Fortunately, I had some help. Without the sterling work of Mick Chambers and Mark Whatling I wouldn’t have got anywhere near the answer as I did.

Mick’s books and the spreadsheets Mark provided me with are obviously both labours of love that must have taken months to complete. To me they were invaluable.

They allowed me to piece together the information I required, the number of home games every season from September 1980 onwards. I was getting closer to my goal.

It was like looking through old photo albums or a box of records long since consigned to a corner of the attic. Forgotten games brought to mind.

It had slipped my mind that Panthers had played a Tesla Pardubice side that named a young Dominik Hasek in its ranks (he didn’t play), but there is it was laid out before me.

It wasn’t just games though, there were whole leagues and competitions that I’d forgotten. If you watch Panthers’ intro video for this season (it’s better than last season’s, but then again what isn’t?) you get a few pictures and then a list of silverware that, for some reason starts in 2010.

It has irritated me all season that nothing before that date is mentioned. Okay, the pictures of previous triumphs are there for blink and you miss it flashes, but they’re not explicitly listed. I don’t get why not.

Cynically I think it has got something to do with the fact that those trophies from 2010 onwards mark the Corey Neilson era – he’s also, incidentally, the player that gets the longest write-up on the ‘Retired Shirts and Legends page’.

Are those trophies worth more than those that went before? Is everything but the last seven years to be ignored? Or could it, just be, as it was suggested to me, that the intro would just take too long if everything was listed. I don’t THINK they were being arrogant.

That silverware listed on the intro video falls into three categories – League, Challenge Cup and Play-offs. Things weren’t that simple in the 1980s. Panthers played in competitions like the Midlands Radio Cup, the Inter City League, Southern Cup and the Icy Smith Cup to name but a few.

Add to that challenge games like the Walker Cup (Panthers’ rink trophy in the days when everyone had a rink trophy) and you’ve got a myriad of different cups, competitions and challenges mixed in between a more normal looking schedule of league games.

After a while as I waded through the swathes of information I started to have a certain amount of sympathy for the Panthers. Is it really any wonder that they didn’t celebrate that 1,000th game?

I think, eventually, I’ve pinned down a date but I’m just not sure that I’m right. It’s not that I don’t trust the figures, I do, it’s more that I don’t trust myself.

It’s okay if I get it wrong, but if Panthers did that would be pretty embarrassing. In the end I decided to limit my calculations to just include competitive matches.

The pre-season games went out the window, the Walker Cup games, the games against touring sides like Don Mills Comets and the international challenges (are there many teams in this country who can say they’ve played the Romanian and Ukranian national sides?) were laid to one side.

That still left me with a quandary – what constituted a competitive game? I can barely remember what the Icy Smith Cup was. It had something to do with filling the void left by a team folding but how competitive was it?

Does the Charity Cheeseboard count? There was a trophy at the end of it but it doesn’t even make the Panthers Wikipedia page, so I decided no it doesn’t.

I have to say that the decision I ended up making and the criteria I used felt a little arbitrary, but I’m not sure I could have done it any other way. I decided that anything that felt like a challenge game was left out and the rest could stay.

Is that decision right? I honestly don’t know but it’s the closest I can get to a definitive decision. There are people who could make a better estimate than me (Mick and Mark spring to mind) but that’s what, for me, it would also be – an estimate.

So, when was that 1,000th competitive home game?

Well, if I’m right (and if I’ve learnt anything from this it’s that this date is almost certainly wrong) then it was this season. I think it was the 8-5 win over Manchester Storm on 1st October last year.

I’d honestly expected it to have been an ignominious capitulation to Sheffield but there you go. I also expected it to be earlier if I’m honest. If you include all the games I discounted, then it was some time during the 2012/13 season, which feels a bit more appropriate but there you go.

So history isn’t easy. It’s illuminating, nostalgic and sometimes really not that great, but keeping up with it is not easy. That doesn’t mean it should be ignored.

Our history, good, (mainly) bad or indifferent is what we are. It shapes how we see the world and the sport. If I’d seen Panthers win the league as many times as Steelers’ fans have seen their team do it, I doubt I’d be as cynical about my team.

I probably would though.

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