Allan Palmer's History of Streatham Ice Hockey.
This is not, nor is it intended to be, an official history of Streatham Ice Hockey Club. What you find between the covers of this book will be personal recollections of a time, many years ago, when the life and times of our nation, of London and, indeed, of Streatham were vastly different from today and a time when hockey in Britain compared favourably with that played in minor pro and major junior leagues in North America. During that time many fine hockey players plied their trade in Britain and a goodly number wore the Red, White and Blue of Streatham. Streatham is unashamedly the focus of this book, but I have also tried to give fair appraisals of the other teams in our league at that time and the fine players who wore their colours. Thus, I hope that this book will find a wider audience than just those fans who remember the fine Streatham team of that age but also fans who look back with affection to those now, alas, far off days which ever team they supported.
Amid this nostalgia I must not, of course, forget todays hockey fans for whom the name of Streatham means nothing more than a south London suburb where once, so rumour has it, hockey was played at a time when girls wore crinolines and fans went home by gas-light. Of course, Streatham was not at all like that in the late 40s. True, the war had been over for a few years but signs of the conflict still abounded and the nation was gripped with austerity. But, for all that, Streatham was a good and, plainly, affluent place to live and afforded plenty of entertainment for the young emerging from their rights-of-passage awkwardness or older folk only too keen to be entertained after the long years of war. There were three major cinema groups, the Streatham Hill Theatre, two swimming pools (one a lido at Tooting Bec), two large commons to hone whatever skills we had at cricket or football, an athletics track, the Locarno and, of course, the famous Streatham Ice rink. The young author of this history had no doubt that the ice rink afforded more opportunities to meet members of the opposite gender than the Locarno and, thus, as unlikely as it seemed then, skating joined an interest in more conventional sports. However, before long, it emerged that a game called “ice hockey” was played at Streatham and after an initial taster in October 1947, I was hooked. As will be seen, Streatham Ice Hockey club flourished for a number of years after this but major league hockey ceased during the 1960’s sometimes re-emerging at “intermediate” level (sometimes involving Streatham) whilst, today, a league more comparable with that of the immediate post-war years has emerged but not involving Streatham. Of the teams from that era only Nottingham Panthers survive today.
So, just how good was Streatham back in those far off days and how can we relate their performance to todays fare? The straight answer is...you can’t. The coaching, the training, the kit and the remuneration mean that today we live in a different sporting world and, sadly, we will never know how well Denis Compton would have dealt with Shane Warne or Len Hutton with Curtley Ambrose. How Stanley Matthews would have coped with hard tackling athletes like Ashley Cole or, internationally, with the Italian Gattuso. All that one can say, by way of a guide, is to tell you that, in those days, the NHL comprised six teams...the fabled “original six”. Today it comprises more than thirty teams. This means that, with (say) thirty player rosters, there are more than 900 players in the NHL today...and about 180 in (say) 1950. Even if you eliminate 300 of the additional NHL players because they are European imports, it means that there are between 300 and 400 more Canadian and American players in the NHL today than in yesteryear. The question then arises...where did all those guys play their hockey back in the 50’s? The answer is that they played in the minor pro/major junior leagues that were the “scouting grounds” for the English and Scottish teams of that era. This being so, it does not stretch the imagination too much to realise that, in those days, we had many a player, in the prime of his career, playing in the UK who would today be an NHL star. You want names? OK! How about Streatham’s Art Hodgins, without question the finest defender to play over here since WW2 and, according to my late friend Phil Drackett, among the top three or four all-time, including the golden era before the last war? There are, of course, others and we shall certainly discuss these great players as this story unfolds.
At Streatham alone I could name Davey, Stinchcombe, Stapleford, Brodrick, Yaschuk, Maisoneuve, Betker, Robertson, Knutson and....well, a lot more very fine players. As they ponder this parade of exceptional players, those former fans of Streatham Ice Hockey Club who, alas, today have no Elite League team to follow in their arena, might do well to consider that what was achieved once can be achieved again. It wasn't all plain sailing for the club that joined the English National League in 1934. After an early success in winning the National League in 1935, hockey was dominated over the following years up to the war by the "big rink" clubs. And, to some extent this continued when hockey resumed after the conflict. But proving that men of destiny can mould events Streatham had the inestimable good fortune to be guided at this time by probably the greatest manager/coach ever seen in the British game...Harvey "Red" Stapleford. Of course, "Red" Stapleford's don't grow on trees but, somewhere in their midst, the folks of Streatham may have a man of vision and destiny who can turn the trick. Between the time when Streatham last won the British League (1960) and now I would remind soccer fans among readers that Liverpool were once at the wrong end of the old Second Division of the Football League. They were brought from obscurity to the position of being one of Europe’s premier clubs by the vision, skill and downright genius of one man...Bill Shankly. No cause is lost if the determination is there to achieve an aim. No-one says it is easy; it wasn't then and it wouldn't be now. But if this small tribute to a great hockey club fires the imagination of todays custodians of that club’s future, such that they might be girded into action by the re-telling of their predecessors exploits, then this book will have achieved one of it's aims. Another aim is simply to give hockey fans "a good read". Yes, it dwells somewhat on nostalgia but I hope that it is, also, an historical document that adds to the body of the history of hockey in Britain.
If this brief history of Streatham Ice Hockey club during the "Golden Era" succeeds on any of these levels I shall be more than pleased. I would agree with those who question the wisdom of looking back if all we do is wallow in the past. But history can tell us many things; of things done well that we would do well to repeat or of things done less well that we should guard against. On whatever level you read this book I hope that you will find the history, the anecdotes, the pen pictures and photos from hockeys past interesting.
Allan Palmer - January 2000, updated August 2007, April 2009.
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