Allan Palmer's History of Streatham Ice Hockey.

Eat 'em Raw

“2 -4 - 6 - 8, who do we appreciate”?



And then it happened.

“Eat ‘em Raw - aaggghhhhhh”!!

“What was that”, I asked my companion?

“What was what”, he replied?

“What did they say after the 2 - 4 - 6 - 8 bit”, I asked?

“Oh, that. They said “eat ‘em raw”…you know; eat them raw“, this time enunciated with full grammar school diction.

With this I had been initiated into Streatham Ice Hockey club folklore. Eat ‘em Raw was our battle-cry and it closed every chant that our supporters shouted up until the close of the 1959 / 60 season when the club bowed out of senior hockey…sadly, probably, for good. It never returned in the Intermediate years of the 1980’s presumably because the missing of a generation erased it from our consciousness. It was a little blood-thirst and it might be suggested that the gap meant we lived in more tranquil times in the 1980‘s compared with the 50‘s…but somehow I think this unlikely!

The occasion for my initiation into Streatham folklore was the opening game of the 1947 / 48 season. My colleague on that fateful night was a neighbour and school friend in Gleneldon Road, Streatham; his name was George Grant, sadly no longer with us, who had spent some time trying to persuade me to join him at an ice hockey match. He was already a regular and he couldn’t understand my diffidence because I was interested in most other sports and represented my school at both football and cricket. I suppose it was that the sport was a night-time sport and what with homework &etc., I just could not get interested. But George was persistent and eventually I agreed to go. It is amazing that from so an unpropitious a start a lifetime of interest should spring.

The origin of the chant was shrouded in mystery.
The match in question was between Streatham and an aggregation labelled “The London All Stars” a team that, with more experience of the game, I soon learned was a collection of London based hockey players who were free for the evening and agreed to play to get some “ice time” into close season legs. In later years I would go to such matches with no great anticipation but, more, to run my eye over the rookies and get my “eat ‘em raw” voice in shape. However, on this night, I had no such thoughts; I simply wanted to see what George was going on about and watch this “new fangled sport”! To be honest, I cannot recall very much of my introduction to ice hockey. I remember that George Steele (of Wembley) broke his stick, threw it over the barrier, whereupon several boys appeared from nowhere to collected the splintered hickory. Apparently, these were like gold-dust because boys used the sticks for made-up versions of their own game. Being a cricketer I was astonished by the catching ability of the net minders because the speed of the puck made their achievements every bit as impressive a any slip fielders. But most of all, even to this day, I recall the atmosphere; the dimmed lights as we entered the rink, the shimmering ice, the hubbub of the growing crowd. And then the arena lights would go up, the band would strike up “Happy Days Are Here Again” from their balcony bandstand at the High Street end and colourfully uniformed players would take to the ice. It was pure theatre and this thrill attended me at every match I went to over the years.

As already mentioned in passing, as a player of pedestrian sports one of the things that drew me to hockey was the incredible ability of players who performed their feats on skates; there seemed to be no limitations imposed by the fact that the players were performing on skates rather than terra firma. It was even more impressive that, in addition to their skating ability they also played hockey! The skill level, the pace, the ever changing fortunes of the game, the sheer theatre of the match were things that made an immediate impression and live with me now, 60 years on. However, I have to say that this is always given that the players stick to playing hockey and are not intent with bringing the movie “Rollerball” to life! It always seems a shame to me that a game with so much else to commend it should, sometimes…but not too often in the British game - descend to that level. I have seen such games - sometimes caused by Streatham players - but happily not so often as to deter my instinctive love of the sport.

Odd as it may seem, my first match at Streatham in 1947 was the first and last time that I attended a match with George Grant. He was a little older than me, had his own friends and me mine and it was with this latter group (largely from Battersea Grammar School in Abbotswood Road…now a girls school, incidentally) that I now began to follow Streatham. It was a very odd Wednesday that did not see most of my friends and I standing in line at The Rink to get in to see our favourites and, later, we were to visit places like Harringay Arena, the Empire Pool & Sports Arena at Wembley and Empress Hall, Earl’s Court with as many as fifty of us there to see Streatham. We also made the occasional trip to Brighton as well so there was no doubting our fervour. One of our number, Stu Richardson, was also Streatham stick boy…although I do not recall that having someone in the camp afforded us any particular privileges, other than the odd tid-bit about the availability of this player or that one. Having said that, I do remember Stu (also a pupil at BGS) telling me that even among the 9000 plus horde of Harringay supporters he could still hear his mates in the crowd! On one occasion, we got ourselves in the newspaper because, among our number were members of the BGS Corps of Drums and a bugler from that august group, John Speller, played “The Last Post” as, for once, Streatham colours were lowered!

It goes almost without saying that our “Wednesday group” at Streatham had long secured their position at The Rink where we stood for many seasons. Mind you, we had to arrive early to achieve this; we started to queue at 5:30 for a game that started at 7:45 and, on a cold winter’s night, this sometimes seemed a very long time indeed. But we always had something to talk about, be it hockey or school, then there was the latest edition of the “Ice Hockey World” and, of course the inevitable joy of watching one of Europe’s premier hockey teams. In the early days the ice surface at Streatham was the largest indoor pad in Europe but a crowd capacity of only 2000. Later the ice pad was reduced in order to install 500 more seats but Streatham was so successful that this made little impact on the need to queue or the problem of obtaining tickets. Once inside the arena we would race round the rink to get to “our” spot on the right-hand side of the arena on the Blue Line at the cafeteria end of the rink. Then the teams would appear, the preliminaries concluded and we were away! Time for a quick “Eat ’em Raw” and some wag shouting (after about twenty seconds) “Come on Streatham; haven’t you scored yet”? Sometimes he was too late; the fastest goal I saw scored at Streatham was scored after 6 seconds!

Streatham supporter Mrs North, whose hockey memories go back many years before the war,
presents goalminder Ron Kilby with the "Ice Hockey World" "Rookie of the Year" trophy for
1953-54. Ron also received a clock from the Streatham Supporters' Club as the team's
"Most Popular Player". Runner-up Gene Miller was given a tankard and Ray
Maisonville a cup to commemorate his 296th goal.
I am not sure, at a distance of sixty years, whether it was the overall fervour of our support or the addition of the “Eat ‘em Raw” chant that made us seen as a little more boisterous than the fans of other clubs. I feel that, as a London club, we were in the same city as “big rink” clubs at Empress Hall, Harringay Arena and Wembley whereas we were undeniably a “small rink” and maybe we felt a bit under privileged when compared with our “big” neighbours. Whatever the reason, we rarely had little need to feel like “poor relations” because our team was usually the equal of any team and more often than not their betters. Then again, our feeling of being “put upon” may have stemmed from a pre-war situation when Streatham fans felt that they had been hard-done-by by the game’s governing body, the BIHA. It is true that Streatham had some fiery players, not least Louis St Denis, their net minder, and when St Denis together with “Toots” Day and Jules Blais were suspended after a couple of incidents in matches with Wembley Monarchs and Harringay Racers. Streatham felt aggrieved that no player from our (big rink) opponents had been censured in the same way (particularly in the case of Hazen McAndrew of Harringay in the latter game). Unfortunately, these suspension coincided with several injuries to other players and, with a game versus Brighton Tigers pending, the club sought permission from the BIHA to defer the suspensions. This was refused…so Streatham played their three suspended players anyway. Not only did this incur the wrath of the BIHA, in their next match (versus Wembley Monarchs) Streatham not only ignored the suspensions again but, in an overflow from their earlier encounter with Monarchs, yet another situation developed resulting in Streatham’s Bob Woodward attacking the referee! The BIHA felt that they had no alternative but to ban Woodward and to eject Streatham from the league. Streatham’s view of this was that, had the BIHA acted in a more conciliatory manner when reviewing the club’s case vis--vis their injury list, none of the subsequent events would have occurred. Furthermore, they argued, turning up at Brighton with a depleted team was hardly fair on the public. An objective view of the latter point 60 years on is that it is also hardly fair on the public to turn hockey into a three-ring-circus. Eventually, tempers cooled and Streatham returned to the fold where, particularly after the war, they were to play such an important role in producing hockey of international standards…see Chapter 5, “Them and Us”.

I have reviewed the above events in some detail because I felt it right to review the history of Streatham Ice Hockey club “warts & all”. But, in addition to this it may also go some way to understanding the view within the club, certainly at fan level, that we were a small rink club and were treated as such by the authorities and other fans alike. So, no win was sweeter to a Streatham fan than those at Wembley or Harringay. But having said that, it was reported in the Streatham programme of 29th December 1948 that the naissance of our “Eat ‘em Raw” battle cry was at the sea-side rink of Brighton Tigers in the season 1935/36...a fellow small rink club! My view is that eat ‘em raw was simply a smart Streathamite seeking to juxtapose the fact that we were playing the Tigers and it had little to do with other matters. Still, once it was felt that we were being put-upon, “Eat ‘em Raw” was deemed to be a reasonable battle cry to vent our spleen.

As often happens, though, “Eat ‘em Raw” ,as a full stop to our chants, became more to represent the attitude of our club, our fans and our playing style than merely a means of bolstering our small rink image. Streatham became a team whose long-suit was team-work and fighting spirit. Streatham could always by relied upon to fight for every puck and never to concede defeat until the final whistle. For a fan, such things are important and fans will cheer on a team that is plainly trying even in an average season. Happily this reasoning was not put to the test too often and Streatham were, in the main, a winning team. Having said that, this could be because of the very traits mentioned and when, to these, was added the enormous skill of many of the players who came to Streatham you have a powerful team. These all-encompassing qualities also happened to be high on the CV of Streatham’s great coach and mentor, Harvey “Red” Stapleford. Streatham Ice Hockey Club was the product of their environment and their coach and the fans a product of their team…and, to some extent, vice versa. “Eat ‘em Raw” was our chant; it defined us and it defined our team. It just had to be a Streatham chant; in the mouths of other fans it would have been incongruous. Who could imagine a Wembley fan saying eat’em raw?

From the time that my parents moved their family back to war-torn London and Streatham in 1942 until I left on my wedding day in 1967 Streatham meant so much to me; Sunnyhill Road School followed by a short sojourn at Dunraven in Mount Earl Gardens thence to Battersea Grammar School in Abbotswood Road…all would define the eventual “me”. Endless days, summer or winter, on Streatham Common developing what sporting skills BGS could ultimately work on…followed by days in the sun at Burntwood Lane, Tooting where I became skipper of BGS Old Boys, the Old Grammarians. A girl from Killieser Avenue who I loved and lost to the USA; dear friends from school, sport and work and the dazzling array of entertainments that Streatham afforded not to mention the access to the great city that became an ever growing attraction as I grew older and secured a job in London‘s West End. The Astoria, The Regal and the Gaumont (that eventually became a bowling alley). The Locarno and Streatham Hill Theatre. The tailor, George Dixon, almost next door to the barbers, Salingers. Cordeau’s and the smell of newly ground coffee from that shop along “The High”. The Coffee Cabin, where us youngsters hung out. All are etched into my mind but among my recollections and memories Streatham Ice Rink, and the hockey that I saw there, looms as large as any of them. My neighbour in Gleneldon Road, George Grant, did me a greater favour than either of us recognised when his perseverance paid off with my first visit to Streatham Ice Rink on Wednesday 1st October 1947 to see ice hockey…copy of programme team-sheet earlier in this chapter. It started me on a passion for a sport that, even today, still excites me although, sad to say, not because of any exploits by Streatham. But, even now, should I hear the refrain “Happy Day Are Here Again” I see, in my mind’s eye, Streatham take the ice from the High Road end of the rink as Stan Pearce and “the boys” play from their bandstand on the balcony. Through the slight haze of tobacco smoke and the cold of the ice meeting the warmth of crowd and lights I see that Streatham have a face-off at the far end of the ice. Naturally, “Stu” wins it and finesses a pass to the great Art Hodgins. He slips a gift of a pass to Kreky. The net bulges and those large “dinner plate” size goal lights that Streatham had announces another goal for the red, white & blues. At our end, Earl bangs his pads the way goalers do. Andre, “Stu”, Art and Big Bill offer perfunctory congratulations to Vic…what’s new? Like shelling peas! The dream fades and I know that it could well have happened like that but it was never that easy. There were some great players in our league and they formed great clubs. Even if, in my dream, Streatham never lose, this is not arrogance; it comes from an experience that saw me watching many more winning than losing games and this came about because Streatham were more often than not that good. But then, they had to be; other great clubs opposed them. My memories of those great days and great players (some of whom, even today, are email friends) will never die and one of the purposes of this book is to ensure that they don’t die in Streatham’s history either.


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