This book reveals for the first time the remarkable story of how Canadian players came to Sussex on the south coast of England in the mid-1930s - in the midst of the Depression in Canada - and formed the Brighton Tigers, one of the founder members of the English National League, the country's first pro hockey circuit.
The Tigers drew packed crowds to the 3,000-capacity Sports Stadium on West Street, Brighton, about an hour south of London, and started a 30-year love affair between the sport and fans who had never seen the game before. Their great hero was a charismatic Montrealer, Bobby Lee, who was the driving force behind their back-to-back league title campaigns. He had a cup of coffee with the NHL's Canadiens in 1942‑43.
Their hour of glory came in December 1957 when they beat the mighty Soviet Union national squad, whose roster included many of the players who had recently upset the hockey world by winning gold in the 1956 Winter Olympics.
So was popular was hockey in Brighton before World War Two that in 1938 the Sports Stadium hosted a game between the NHL's Detroit Redwings and Montreal Canadiens. The book has a rare photo of the Canadiens team lined up outside the rink.
The book records tales of the league that unexpectedly flourished in the football-crazy nation during the years either side of World War Two. Based around three London arenas, each holding 10,000 fans and sometimes icing two teams, the league's clubs paid some Canadians more than the stars of soccer received.
The league's surprising origins in intimate venues like the upmarket Grosvenor House Hotel in swish Park Lane are described, as is its unfortunate early demise. This was due partly to the enormous popularity of spectacular ice shows and partly to the changes in the economy which swung in North America's favour. By the late 1950s Canadian players could earn higher wages at home.
The Sports Stadium stayed open throughout the war years and many Canadian servicemen played there in a specially created league. There is a photo of 'Monty' - Field-Marshall Montgomery, the great war-time leader - presenting a trophy to the winning team. (Episode four of the documentary 'Hockey: A People's History' showed some clips of war-time games in Britain, including one in the Sports Stadium.) Many of the players remained in the Old Country after the war and some signed for the Tigers.
Brighton survived the league's collapse, continuing to attract full houses when the club was staffed by home‑grown players. But they couldn't overcome the Brits' general indifference to the sport. In the mid-1960s, despite the fans' protests, the art deco Sports Stadium was pulled down to make way for a shopping mall.
The book's 265 pages are fully illustrated with several photos in colour. Every season has a team photo and there's a complete Player Register as well as biographies of the star players. The cover price is £18.95 sterling and is available on Amazon here - https://www.amazon.com/Brighton-Tigers-story-sporting-passion/dp/1527255638
Book extract: Ice hockey comes to Brighton
The swift, rough and tumble sport of ice hockey was a good fit for the colourful, restless town. The game was part of the craze for ice which swept the country in the 1930s and was then all the rage among the smart set. Played mainly in London and the suburbs, the teams were heavily dominated by expatriate Canadians, often students from Oxford and Cambridge, and the few Englishmen whose parents were wealthy enough to indulge young Johnny in his sporting passion. Some of these lucky fellows had even gone to Switzerland to learn how to play ‘the fastest game in the world’.
The fans were the after-dinner crowds who enjoyed the helter-skelter speed and skill being exhibited on ice pads in Hammersmith, Golders Green, Grosvenor House Hotel in Park Lane, Queen’s in Bayswater, down the A23 in Purley and in nearby Hove. Many of the rinks were small, often with room for only a few dozen spectators but they attracted some important and influential people.
Among the regular spectators at the rink in the basement of the Grosvenor House Hotel was Claude Langdon, a well-known showman of his day. Langdon owned the Hammersmith rink (sometime home of the famed Palais dance hall) where he had first discovered the attraction of ice hockey. He was impressed by the fact that the man behind the Grosvenor House team, Canadian businessman Freddie Summerhayes, paid his fellow countrymen to play, one of the very first British teams to do so. Summerhayes’ team, the Canadians, duly won the league in 1933-34.
An impresario with a knack for knowing what the public wants, Langdon was sure that ice hockey had a big future here and was keen to see more rinks built and have the game promoted professionally. He began by arranging for a new refrigeration plant to be installed at the Richmond rink, which had been closed for two years, and forming another hockey team, the Hawks.
This was only the start of his great plans to promote the sport. It was he who invited Wembley’s Arthur Elvin to see his first ice hockey match, which led to the building of the Empire Pool and Sports Arena (now the SSE Arena Wembley). When Brighton’s Swimming Stadium ran into trouble, he was quick to spot the game’s potential in the town and he joined the board when it was agreed that the S.S. would be turned into a rink. Eventually he became the top man at Earl’s Court where he iced two more teams.
Stewart Roberts produced The Ice Hockey Annual, the yearbook of the sport in the UK, between 1975 and 2016. A former press officer for the governing British Ice Hockey Association and secretary of the British Ice Hockey Writers Association, he has reported on club and Great Britain games for several national newspapers, and also helped to run area hockey associations.
His interest in the game began when he was about ten-years-old playing roller hockey on the sea-front of his home town of Worthing, Sussex, a few miles along the south coast from Brighton where the Tigers played. He soon became an avid ice hockey fan, never missing a game from his first visit to the Sports Stadium until the team's untimely demise.
Kevin Wilsher, Stewart's co-author and publisher, has always been interested in Brighton's local history, sport and architecture, and he kept hearing people mention the Brighton Tigers and their experiences at the Sports Stadium decades ago. The fact that people were still passionate about the team (and still angry at its demise in some cases) made him realise that this was an important part of the City of Brighton and Hove’s history that someone should record. He found plenty of fans and some ex‑players who were only too happy to talk about their memories of the Tigers, and discovered in the city's archives 25 boxes of Tigers and Sports Stadium photos, reports, programmes and other memorabilia. He was then put in touch with Stewart, who had the writing skills and first‑hand knowledge that he lacked. It turned out to be an ideal partnership for the project.