Big rinks, big crowds, imported players—hockey is booming in Britain
Ice Hockey, By Jove!
Big rinks, big crowds, imported players—hockey is booming in Britain
THE SCENE is the Wembley Sports Arena, eight miles from the centre of London; the time, October, 1934; the occasion, the first ice hockey game ever to be played there.
Ten thousand seats surround the ice—9,000 of them are empty.
A year later, and the scene is once again the Wembley Arena; the occasion, the opening game of the present season.
Ten thousand seats surround the ice—and every one of them is filled. That is the difference one short year has made there. And, outside, there are nearly 2,000 people gazing at signs bearing that most mournful of inscriptions, “All Seats Sold.”
That isn’t the beginning of the story, however. To appreciate what is really happening in England it is necessary to go back to the skating craze in the already dim late ’twenties.
The first promoter who built a rink in London about that time to provide skating at popular prices, scratched his head in amazement as he watched the crowds pour in night after night. And, as he raked in the money, he listened to the gentle blast of sceptics which went something like this: "Just a craze. It can’t last. You will be mined.”
It was the sceptics, as usual, who were wrong. The collapse never came; instead, other promoters summoned up their courage and their bank balances and plunged right in. Soon there were half a dozen rinks scattered in and around London, and a few more in the provinces, charging an average of fifty cents for a few hours skating, and nearly all turning money away.
It should be said here and now that the promoters were as shortsighted as a blind man on a foggy night, for their rinks were skating rinks, pure and simple. There was a big ice surface, a promenade round it that would hold two rows of seats, and a balcony with room for two more rows of seats, so that, including standees, only about 2,500 spectators at most could be shoehomed in.
That was how little they thought of hockey then !
A few games were played by teams composed of home
talent without exciting any great enthusiasm, and then something happened: The Canadian teams passing
through London on their way to the Continent for the international championships, started playing games against English sides. What came next made the promoters’ eyes goggle, for the crowds, seeing the “England vs. Canada” bills outside, jammed the doors. At one rink alone 1,500 people were turned away. The rest was easy. Gradually players came over from Canada, teams wen^| formed, and a regular schedule of games started.
For good games the spectators were packed in until th hung, literally at one rink, from the rafters. There was uniy one fly in the promoters’ ointment—the good money ¡ were forced to turn away because they had been fj enough to build their rinks for skating only, and if hockey. «7
It was at this point that the astute Mr. A. J. Elvin turned up. Mr. Elvin, who had been a concessionairt4«t the Wembley Exhibition ten years ago, was suddenly&truck by the fact that London’s ten million people j|fed no up-to-date sports arena, and he thereupon proceed to build one. Üp went the anvil chorus: “It won’t «y. It won’t pay. You’re only throwing your money awal” All Elvin did was to thank them for their advice and gtlphead with the Empire Pool and Sports Arena at Wembky—-a huge concrete building 300 feet long and 240 feetNyide internally, with not a single column to obscure the vie\\tf the 10,000 people it will comfortably hold.
Here was hockey’s first real test in England as a spectacle. To fill a skating rink holding a little more than 2,000 people was one thing; to fill an arena holding 10,000 was distinctly another. The first game opened to 1,000 people—almost an empty house—but the attendances crept steadily up until, before the season was over, the visiting Winnipeg Monarchs played their first game there to an absolutely full house.
The hint was not lost on other promoters. On the site of the old Earlscourt Exhibition last winter was a derelict exhibition hall. It was stripped to its shell, and inside seven months there was a $500,000 rink holding over 8,000 people in operation there. Brighton. England’s biggest seaside resort, had a huge indoor swimming pool. That became a hockey rink this winter, and 3,000 people were turned away on the opening night.
The result is that if you get a hockey promoter in a comer nowadays he will talk optimistically of a chain of a dozen rinks—plans for some of which are already being prepared —each holding 8,000 to 10.000 people, spread all over London within a few years time. No use telling him
he is irj~ilging in a pipe-dream. "That's what they told the \V~wh1ey people," he will answer.
No we telling him, either, that there are not enough playe to go round. He just puts on a wise grin and says, "Ca a."
A on that one word the whole future of hockey in En~nd depends. There have been Canadian hockey
Continued on page 48
Continued from page 14
players in England for four years now, but the big invasion only started last season, and it hasn’t ended yet. Without Canadian players hockey in England cannot live, and the promoters are only too acutely aware of it.
They know, too, that England is not going to produce hockey players, for with natural ice as rare as snow in June and very few practice facilities at the rinks, the would-be English player has a hard time getting anywhere. You can’t blame Mr. Promoter for not fostering English hockey by allowing practice on his tx¡autiful ice surface more than he does at present— that ice surface is quite comfortably filled by cash customers who are paying good money to him just for the privilege of skating round and round.
Why, even the teams have to be on the ice for practice at 8 o’clock in the morning !
Thus; what with money pouring into the box-office from skaters during the day and from hockey fans during the evening, the promoters have struck a little bonanza. Their teams, you see, are made up of amateurs.
Ask any Canadian player what there is in it for him, and you will get a diffident grin and, ‘‘Aw, we just get our expenses.” And he is right; he is an amateur in good standing, a "tourist” in England and, as such, is entitled to “expenses.” Which malves it nice for everybody.
It was left to the Ministry of Labor, whose motto is "British jobs for Britishers,” to throw a little light on the subject. It happened like this: Shortly after the season started the Ministry warned three American players on the Kensington Corinthians team that they must stop playing for the side or their permits to remain in the country might be withdrawn.
"They are not paid for playing, but only get their expenses,” protested a Corinth official.
That didn’t get very far with the Ministry, which announced: "We have
discovered that they are playing ice hockey under circumstances which, we consider, constitute them professionals in employment. As for the matter of amateur status, we would not necessarily accept the decision of the (British) Ice Hockey Association. We understand the men’s expenses are such that they might be considered as constituting remuneration for employment.”
The three men, incidentally, are no longer on the Corinthians team.
There are, of course, some Canadians in England, mostly students of one kind and another, to whom hockey is not the be-all and end-all of their existence, but the others . . . Well, a man has got to live.
And let it be said that, “expenses” or no "expenses,” the players deserve all they get, for they do twice as much as any player in Canada, amateur or professional. If any player back home doubts this statement He is invited to try a schedule of approximately sixty league and twenty challenge games in one season.
When Play is Work
NOBODY pretends that the matches are as strenuous as those played in the senior Canadian leagues, but they are no love feasts and there is plenty of work for everybody. The British Ice Hockey Association limits the number of players on each team to ten. and of these two must have been bom in the Old Country or have resided here for five years. A weak English player—and, naturally, some of them are not up to the Canadian standard—means more work for the other players on the team. Hence the still unsatisfied demand for British-born Canadian-trained players that exists at present.
Let us take the case of Jack Canuck who arrived in London to play hockey this season. He found his team in the Na-
tional League with seven others, each playing two home and two away matches against each other. They were also in the London Cup, with five other teams, each playing one home and one away game all round. That isn’t all; there are a couple of first-class teams in Paris—Français Volants and Stade Français. With the leading English teams these two play in the International Club Tournament, two pools of four teams each, playing two home and two away against each other, and play-offs.
And, on top of all this, there are about twenty challenge games and “England vs. Canada” test matches and the like. Can you wonder that the boys get a little leg-weary at the end of the season?
Not that the players grumble about it, as witness the remark of a veteran of the English game, Mr. Glenn Morrison, formerly of Winnipeg, and now a shining light with the Wembley Lions. "Sure, I like it fine. I’ve been over here four seasons now.”
Anybody who braves four London winters must like it.
Apart from the climate, there is no reason why they shouldn’t. They are welltreated by the managements, by the coaches, and by the crowds —especially by the crowds, who will put up with a losing streak without a murmur. The fans even allowed that eminent goalminder, Mr. Art Childs, formerly of Guelph, Ontario, to grow a beard without making any comment. The “raspberry,” incidentally, is unknown in England.
No Fighting Allowed
THE CAME itself? Well, already there are differences springing up between the game as played in Canada and in England. When Mr. Jack Canuck went on the ice for the first time here and toppled his immediate opponent over with quite a fair body-check, he found himself in the cooler for two minutes. The B.I.H.A. does not like body-checking ! And when he started to talk back to the referee who sent him there, he was surprised to hear an awed remonstrance from a fellow' player.
And it will be more than Jack Canuck’s place is worth if he gets into a fighting mood on the ice. The first fight will be followed by a letter from the B.I.H.A. telling him how sorry they are that he can’t control his temper. The second fight will eam a suspension, and the third—well, let one of the players make his own comment; “He’ll be on the next cattle-boat home.”
On the other hand, the things that lead to fighting, slashing and butt-ending and other little tricks like that, seem to be regarded as lesser evils. That, at least, is a player’s own comment. From a spectator’s point of view, play of that kind is rare.
The future? Everybody is agreed that hockey is here to stay and that there won’t be any professional leagues for at least seven years, but already they are beginning to wonder how the supply of players can be maintained, and whether it won’t soon come to a fight between Canada and England for first-class amateur talent.
There are about seventy Canadian players in England and other parts of Europe now and, if the game booms as the optimists predict, there will be room for more than twice that number. Together w’ith the demand for quantity will be the demand for quality, for better and better players. The English crowds are growing hockey wise; a play that would have brought a cheer four years ago only gets a laugh now.
Already the boys claim that a team picked from Canadians now' on this side of the Atlantic could beat any Canadian amateur team. That may be a boast, but think how good a team would be that included such players as Jimmy Foster, Roger Gaudette, Frank Currie, Albert
and Tony Lemay/and Johnny Wilkinson.
“Isn’t Canadian hockey going to be affected in the end?” is the stock question in English hockey circles just now. Take players like this from the game in Canada and what happens to it there? Can Canada stand the loss—and it will be an everincreasing loss—and still maintain its own
hockey standards? Will it affect play there? And, a not unimportant consideration, will it affect the box-office?
Work it out for yourself—your guess is as good as anybody’s—but, remember, the game has gone from nothing to a milliondollar business in four short years over here, and it is still booming!
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.