Most followers of local sport know about the success of Whitley Bay Football Club – Wembley winners of the FA Vase for the past three years. Fewer will be aware of their ice hockey-playing neighbours, Whitley Warriors – a short slapshot across Hillheads at Whitley Bay Ice Rink. In retaining the English National League North title last season, the Warriors became the first club to achieve back-to-back league and play-off trophy successes.
To watch a Sunday tea time game on the ice at Hillheads is an experience of contrasts – the translation of one of North America’s and Canada’s main winter sports into a local niche. The ageing indoor arena; the illumination of the ice; the refrigerated chill and the slide, slap and crack of this most onomatopoeic of sports creates a theatrical atmosphere. Most games attract a few hundred animated and partisan spectators of all ages.
Ice hockey is a game of perpetual pace and motion. The change from defence to attack of the seemingly impossibly small goals happens in an instant. There are seldom shortages of opportunity for players and interest for spectators – Whitley recently scored three goals in 63 seconds to defeat Blackburn Hawks.
The sport also has an inescapable reputation for physical confrontation captured by American comedian, Rodney Dangerfield – ‘I went to a fight the other night and an ice hockey game broke out’. Ice hockey has its own glossary of foul play – high sticking, tripping, slashing, spearing, charging, hooking, interference. In this season’s match with Nottingham Lions, two opposing players set about one another whilst the officials and players on the ice gathered round and looked on.
In football or rugby, both players would have been dismissed from the field of play and banned for several weeks. After some deliberation amongst the match officials and to an ironic blast on the PA of Edwin Starr’s ‘War! What is it good for? Absolutely nothing’, the offending players were sent to the penalty box for ‘roughing’ – a euphemistically understated term – for two and four minutes respectively. Both reappeared on the ice later in the same period.
Warriors operate a squad of just over twenty players led by Head Coach Garry Dowd. Usually playing twice a weekend – away on Saturdays as far afield as Solihull and Telford; returning home to play again on Sunday – requires a great deal of commitment. “It takes up so much personal time that it has to be a sport you love playing. You need to be on the ice three times a week. I also cycle ten miles between eight and ten times a week,” says 26 year old forward, Daniel DJ Good, Warriors’ number 9 and one of their most exciting and experienced players.
At the time of writing, a third of the way through the current season, the Warriors sit third in National League North Division 1 with six wins from ten matches. “We are back to playing the traditional Whitley way – playing tough and with passion,” says Good. “The fans see competitive games each week – players who have pride in their local team.”
Why not get yourself down to Whitley Bay Ice Rink and see for yourself?
by David Tickner © 2011
David Tickner is an English teacher in the independent sector and an aspiring writer. He has a fascination with all sports and a particular love for Gillingham FC! David and his family have lived in Tynemouth for the past five years. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.