End of an era sees Streatham Redskins put on ice

Another local amenity closed down last week, after 80 years of delighting the people of Croydon, whether they enjoyed ice skating or seeing what was once Britain’s leading ice hockey team. ANDREW PELLING witnessed a piece of sad history

Another local amenity was shut down for the final time last week, almost unnoticed and virtually unreported by Croydon’s press, the latest victim of a supermarket megastore development, and with it came to an end one of London’s longest standing sporting franchises.

The Silver Blades, more recently re-branded the Streatham Ice Arena, just a short bus ride up the Brighton road from Norbury and Thornton Heath, has closed to be bulldozed to make way for a massive branch of Tesco’s.

There were interventions by the local MP and protests at the rink, but the Arena has seen its last. And with it, so the Streatham Redskins, with a history stretching back 80 years, have played their last competitive game locally for some time, possibly forever.

Bottom of the table Streatham Redskins managed to secure a rare win at the sadly dilapidated rink, out-scoring MK Thunder 10-3 last Saturday.

The Streatham ice hockey team from the 1930s, the previous Great Depression. Note the packed audience in the galleries above the rink. The team largely comprised emigre Canadians, who dominated domestic ice hockey for a decade and often provided many members of the Great Britain Olympic team

The place has seen much grander days in its nine decades. An ice hockey game at Streatham, even until relatively recently, would draw a crowd of ardent enthusiasts in their hundreds, who would enjoy all the trappings of an NHL game played in Montreal or New York, with the loud organ music during breaks in the game and flamboyant announcers.

In recent years, with the Tesco planning application hanging over the future of the rink and the neighbouring swimming pool, little if any maintenance or repair work has been done to these once impressive civic buildings. In the end, the pool had to be closed down as an unsafe structure when parts of the roof started to fall in.

Most of the rink’s original Art Deco features have long ago been lost. In 1931, 3,000 people came to the opening ceremony, during another time of austerity. The local paper of the time boasted that the winter facilities were among the best in the world, claiming, “Don’t go to Switzerland, come to Streatham.”

The original rink was larger than it is today, exceeding international standards as they exist now.

The early 1950s Streatham rink drew many from across south London to see Britain’s then dominant ice hockey team that was Streatham.

Streatham's final match? The Redskins won their last game at the Silver Blades 10-3

The last game drew a reasonable crowd drawn by the nostalgia, but attendances have been pitiful compared to the three tiers of packed audiences of the 1930s and 1950s. Croydon resident Mark Justice, with long links to ice hockey, blames a lack of interest from the Croydon press as one of the reasons for the low attendances.

A Croydon Guardian photographer was there on Saturday, despatched from the paper’s Sutton offices, it is thought for the first time ever. The parochial “Croydon” Sadvertiser probably thought the distance between Redhill and Streatham too much to tackle.

“Though Streatham Ice Rink is just outside the London Borough of Croydon, the local papers have never seen any interest in covering any team,” Justice said. “Many years ago I was told by one reporter that if it changed its name from Streatham Redskins to London Redskins they might cover the team, though when we had the London Knights playing out of the London Arena, in Docklands, the local press were not interested, perhaps because it was not ‘local’ enough.

“I left the arena at just before midnight after the final game with players and fans chatting on the ice. A lot of tears were shed by fans and players alike as they mourned the passing of an era.”

Under planning conditions demanded by local residents and Lambeth council, ice hockey will continue at a temporary venue which Tesco is having to provide in Brixton until they open a sports centre with a 1,000-seater ice rink and swimming pool alongside the new supermarket and flats.

But that will not be before 2014, and Redskins fans fear that it will never be the same. Indeed, given the initial hostility of Brixton’s local residents and traders to hosting the temporary rink at Pope’s Road car park, another three miles further north from Croydon, many fear that this chilly three-year exile from the team’s traditional home might be enough to kill off one of Britain’s historic sports clubs.

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News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
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