Special Announcement

I have decided to reproduce a message left on the 24 July 2004 by Martin that brings news of an award for 'CJ' Charlie Knott Jnr.

"Yesterday at the Eastleigh Fleming Park Golf clubhouse Mrs Iris Knott was presented with the British Ice Hockey Hall of Fame citation on behalf of her late husband Charles Knott Jnr. CJ was a director of the rink and manager of Vikings 1952-63. Veteran Vikings present were Roy Saunders, John Cook, Stan Golding, Derek Jordan, Kenny Flood and Tony Highmore."

Thank you Martin

The full citation can be read here: http://www.ihjuk.co.uk/hall_of_fame/knott.htm

 

The History of Southampton Ice Rink

For some years, my only sporting interest has been Ice Hockey. Apart from ice skating in general, ice hockey has been a constant source of entertainment, social interaction and `the game`.

No other sport provides the exhilarating feeling that ice hockey can. It is the fastest team sport in the world and if hit efficiently, the puck can reach speeds of 120 mph plus.


The atmosphere at hockey matches crackle with anticipation until  the teams reach the `ice`, then the frenzied expression of the eager supporters are vented to the full. The players are the heroes, the carriers of all the emotion, the hopes, the dreams of their audience. The game is a naturally aggressive one, with players fighting for possession of the rubber disc that could propel them into the status of a superstar, or send them to the `sin bin` for any misappropriation of the rules. The aggression with which the game is played does not spill out into the supporters however, unlike other team sports such as football. A hockey game is a family sport where the mix of supporters include people of all ages, children and adults alike.

The history of our ice rink cannot begin until a little of the Southampton Stadium has been told. Without the stadium there would probably have never been an ice rink, therefore I shall begin in 1927 when local businessman and fishmonger Charlie Knott purchased the land at Banister Court and began the task of building the stadium.

The stadium provided several kinds of sport activities, notably speedway, greyhound racing, stockcar racing and boxing matches. The ice rink, the Southampton Sportsdrome was not originally part of the stadium structure, nor was it owned by Charlie Knott, but it resided on the same plot of land at Banister Park.

THE SOUTHAMPTON VIKINGS

It all started in 1931, when the first ice rink opened it's doors to the general public. It was July 18th and the rink offered general skating sessions and public entertainment of barrel jumping, ice dancing, and later ice speed skating. Ice Hockey was between local `town` sides, from the suburbs in an in-house league system. The first proper game of ice hockey was in November of that year, when the rink hosted a match between Great Britain and Germany. It was simply a taster of the of the times to come. The first competitive match for Southampton (Saints) Ice Hockey Club was against Bournemouth on 22nd November 1931. Also in 1931, the rink staged a game between the Grosvenor House Canadians and Sussex ending in a 5 - 1 victory for the Canadians.  It would be another five years before the Vikings would come into being. Before this however, the club would play in the English Ice Hockey League, in which they drew their first match 3-3, with the London Lions.

After the success of the Great Britain team in the 1936 Olympics, ice hockey was the sport everyone wanted to see. Southampton's chance came when a Paris based club collapsed with huge debts because of the high cost of imported players and the constant travelling from France to England. What remained of the "Club Francais Volants" became The Southampton Vikings. Most of the players were of  French Canadian blood except two. One was the Great Britain net minder, Art Child, and the other was Frankie Green who came from Ireland. The team name, Vikings, came about because the players kit used still had the V logo used by the French club. So it was decided that the easiest and most economical thing to do was to call the club something beginning with V. So the Vikings were born.

The first match that Southampton Vikings played at the Southampton Ice Rink and Sports Centre  was a total sell out. Extra seating had to be erected, such was the demand and 3,000 people managed to cram in what was then a large arena to see the Vikings beat The London All Stars 10-5. But it was not to last long, the same reason that brought the French club down also defeated the newly formed Vikings, and after only one season, the club folded. Southampton continued with their love of ice hockey however, and before long had formed The Southampton Amateurs, a mix of nationals and imports, much the same as the set up now.

In 1939,  Charlie Knott,  purchased the Southampton Ice Rink. He had an big interest in ice hockey and financed the setting up of a brand new team structure. The Southampton Imperials played their first match in the London Provincial League. In 1940 after the out break of war, the Nazi's managed to put an end to the ice rink when a parachute mine landed, and the rink took a direct hit. This stopped any chance of ice hockey until after the hostilities ceased, although it was not until 1952 that any semblance of organised ice hockey would be seen.

The total destruction of the first ice rink in 1940

Charlie Knott, vowed to build a new rink   for the citizens of Southampton, and he purchased an ice plant from Purley Ice rink and a steel building structure from the Supermarine works. (The Supermarine works was the factory where all of the Spitfire warplanes were conceived and built during the Second World War). After obtaining planning permission and a building licence, with the support from the local Members of Parliament,  the work started and the phoenix arose literally from the ashes of the old rink. The second Southampton Sportsdrome was born and It opened on March 27 1952,

 

The rink pictured here as it originally looked before the complete refurbishment by Rank in 1963

The rink looking from the bowling alley end. The balcony is to the left.

 

Southampton were at last a happy hockey town again. Mr. Knott then contacted  Benny Green who ran an ice hockey club in Brighton. He was given permission to approach some of the British players. This was the start of a new team and the renaissance of the club that everyone in Southampton knew and loved, The Vikings. By the start of the new season in 1952, the mighty Southampton Vikings took to the ice once again. The first game was against the Wembley Terriers in which the score ended a 3-3 draw. No mean feat and that was just the start of the Southampton club's success. In their first season, they won the Southern Intermediate League, and at the same time set a new record for scoring the most goals. Throughout the fifties and early sixties the club went from strength to strength winning the British Ice Hockey Association Cup no less than five times. The rink would be busting at the seams as the Vikings continued their upward spiral. If you wanted a seat, you had to book early or be disappointed.

 

The land on which the Southampton rink was built on also contained a motor cycle speedway, dog track and  a roller rink. In 1963,The Rank Organisation approached Charlie Knott with the intention of buying the whole site and an offer was made and subsequently accepted. Rank's original plans were to retain the land for building houses after closing the facilities but Knott refused to sell under these circumstances. Rank then backed off and agreed to run the ice rink and bowling alley, but there long term ambition would remain to sell the land on to a developer. As it was, a large parcel of the land was sold almost immediately and luxury houses were built. The town council honoured Mr Knott by naming one of the new residential roads as Charles Knott Gardens.

 At first the plans for the site sounded interesting and an improvement. A bigger rink would be just what was required if the Vikings were to continue to build on their astounding success. A refurbished ice rink and bowling alley would be constructed and opposite this, a new dance hall was to be built on the site of the old speedway. There were also plans to build a conference hall and hotel complex but the land for this was never used or developed to its full potential. The most important  part that was to be left out was ice hockey!!. The `refurbished` ice rink had a reduced sized ice pad, no boards and no ice hockey. One end of the ice pad was turned into a 'mini rink' where new skaters could practice. It was totally segregated from the main rink and was a disaster as the ice would melt so quickly. Experienced skaters would not use it as the concrete showed through in places. (It was later turned into a cafe when hockey was reintroduced.). Even hockey skates were banned in favour of figure only skates; trade plummeted. Who wanted an ice rink where all you could do was skate around in a circle? Southampton was a hockey town, generations had enjoyed the sport and it was gone because `Top Rank`, the leisure arm of the Rank Organisation, saw the investment as a Leisure Centre. The trade was mostly at the dance hall, after all It was the mid sixties when the world was driven by `pop music`. The success of that part of the operation supported the failing ice rink and bowling alley.

 

This feature of a balcony was also not in the refurbished rink, although it was never completely taken out. It was boxed in behind a false wall and many could not understand why.

 

In 1967, 3 years after the disastrous refurbishment, a group of skaters which included the author, approached the manager, John Tennent, and suggested that the use of hockey skates should be introduced. We also had the backing of some of the staff to help us in our bid to try and return the rink into something the public wanted. After some negotiation, the manager approached his organisation and convinced them that it would help trade increase and they agreed. There was a distinct shortage of hockey skates to be had, everyone wanted them. Unless of course you had a pair hanging in the cupboard gathering dust...............

On the ice hockey front, most of the old players were still playing at Bristol ice rink, calling themselves the Southampton Redwings. This continued under the leadership of Ray Hammond. It would be his players that brought back quality hockey to a starved Southampton a few years later.

The changes at the leisure site continued. The bowling alley was shut because of the lack of trade. The same group of skaters who managed to get the hockey skates brought back, went further and had organised speed skating re-introduced too. The old speeders, Norman (Knocker) Knight, (who cut the end of my finger off in a practice session), Ron Gover and his son Paul  as well as a Graham and a John, me, Jim Campbell, Dave Armstrong and of course, speedy himself Glynn Davies were part of the new speed club The rink started to fill up again with happier customers and a lot of the old skaters started to return, knowing at least they could skate in their chosen skates and enjoy something of the old days. The rink was dangerous, there was no doubt about that,  the rink was of a non-standard size, and there was no barrier to stop a speed skater from ending up in the tables and chairs that were placed around the edge of the ice pad. There were some nasty accidents, but with the lack of a proper barrier, it was accepted that some injury would occur. Speed skating matches were held with teams from all over the country and Southampton often won the match because the conditions made the visiting teams wary and more cautious.

By the early seventies, the Rank Organisation were beginning to show their real reason for purchasing the Ice Rink. The land. They submitted plans to the City Council for luxury housing and it was turned down. The organisation would continue to pursue this plan throughout the life of the rink as it seemed to be plan `A` to start with. The rink was beginning to lose some of it's appeal. The older skaters were drifting away, the younger skaters wanting more from the management but not getting it. Disillusionment started to creep in and the management started to look at ways to improve the trade. Ice hockey was the obvious answer, but the rink was not able to host any matches as there were no boards to protect the spectators and players alike.

Pete Cutler who was a regular supporter adds, "In an attempt to reinstate ice hockey in Southampton, four (I think) games were arranged in the early seventies. Before each game a scaffold barrier was erected all the way around the rink and covered with tarpaulin and removed afterwards (can you imagine that happening these days?). I used to help with this when I was a teenager and Pete Murray would give us tickets for the next game. The team playing was the Southampton Redwings Pete Lane, Pete Murray, Tony Highmore, Bob Turnbull, Alan Hindmarch, Ken Flood, Barry Smith plus a few others that have escaped me. This team later went on to play from Bristol as the Bristol Redwings before returning as the Southampton Vikings. Three of the games  were against Wembley Lions, Brighton Tigers and the Solihull Vikings. I think the last game was against either Birmingham Barons or more likely Altrincham Aces."

There would have to be a significant change to the rink, the hockey proved such a success that  at last the management of  Top Rank agreed to its re-introduction. The rink was closed in the summer of 1976 to have a new ice surface installed and permanent boards erected around the edge of the pad.

12 long years had gone by since ice hockey had been stopped, and now it was coming back. Supporters from near and far flocked to see the resurgence of ice hockey in the city. Once again the rink was packed to the limit with happy hockey nuts. "We're back and we are going to stay this time." The following twelve years saw the Southampton Vikings win and lose in several different ways.

On the 25th September 1976, the Vikings stepped onto the ice to rapturous applause from the eager supporters. The rink was a sad reflection of the one Charlie Knott had sold Top Rank 13 years earlier. This didn't stop the supporters from enjoying every minute of the game with an all star select team from the rest of the Southern Region. It was a glorious night for all, but trouble was brewing in a back room at the Rank Organisation.

As the seasons passed, the Vikings went from strength to strength. The 1976 season ended with a runners up place in the league, and the `Icy Smith Cup`; only the Fife Flyers went one better than the Vikings in the two leg final. In 1978 the Southampton Vikings almost tasted the top, but were beaten into second again by the Solihull Barons. The seasons ticked by and by 1982 the club were never out of the top three. It was about this time that a new company appeared on the scene. Mecca leisure bought the whole site from The Rank Organisation. Some changes were made to the structure of the rink, but the reputation Mecca brought with them did not bode well for the future.

It wasn't until the 1983/4 season that the hard work and tenacity paid off, and the Vikings got what they had always wanted, the top of British League Division One, and promotion to the Premier Division. It was hard fought battle from start to finish and the imports Bruce and Brian Simm served the club fantastically scoring over 100 goals between them.

The new season of 1984/5 started with so much anticipation and hope. This is what all of the effort had been for, to bring Premier League hockey to Southampton. It was a dreadful year. Through the lack of experience and injuries, the mighty Vikings were beaten out of sight. The bigger clubs proved too much, and one opposing supporter was heard to say, "You'll have to better than this, your playing with the big boys now." The Southampton Vikings returned to the First Division, their morale in tatters, but not their resolve.

1985/6 was one of no great successes or failure, but with new management in place and a will to succeed, the Vikings once again started to make some progress towards that never ending goal of Premier league hockey. 

In November 1986, Grand Metropolitan plc who owned Mecca Leisure sold the company to the managers in a management buy out. Grand Met. were unloading some of the less profitable assets and trying to concentrate their business in other areas. Some assets of Mecca Leisure were sold immediately to the Rank Organisation who were interested in the Bingo Hall division, and these included all of the dance halls and ice rinks! Those  who knew the Southampton ice rink and what it had been like under rank management before were frankly, worried. The last time, Rank had little interest in the rink, and it was feared that the same would happen again. Strangely, there was no attempt at changing the identification of the rink to reflect new ownership, but plans too dark to write about here were underway.

The start of the new season of 1986/7 saw a new import player and an improved chance of success with the appointment of a new coach, Kevin Murphy. Kevin an ex-Ayr Bruin player had returned to his home country of Canada and he agreed to return to coach the Vikings. He was a hard task master and put the players through hell and back, they needed this to get some sort of discipline back and to boost morale as the results started to show the effort was worth it. As the season progressed, the two popular imports were replaced. The reason given was that the club needed to be sure that they were as strong up front as possible if a push towards the Premier was to become reality. The supporters were not exactly happy with this state of affairs, but after a time the imports showed their worth. Of course, it was the coaches choice and who would argue with Kevin Murphy? The season ended with the best league position since 1983/4 and the Vikings were looking forward to being back in the big time soon.

The 1987/88 campaign got under way with more new and better imports. The season started well, but there were black clouds on the horizon for the club. Part of the way through the season, Kevin Murphy who had been having discussions with the management concerning his contract, failed to come to an agreement and left. The Vikings were plunged into crisis which did nothing for their morale. Brett Kelleher, one of the import players was hastily promoted to player/coach. Joe Vrtik was brought in to lend a hand. Joe was a personable player and the supporters were astounded with the power that he was able to put behind the stick. Net minders' felt that power as they tried to stop the missiles as they landed. On of Joe's efforts, went straight through the side netting surrounding the playing area and hit one of the supporters! The Vikings also managed to enter the record books too. At the seasons end, they attempted to set a new record for the longest hockey match. They played for twenty four hours using all of the players that was possible in an attempt to get into the record books. It was also for a charity event, the ITV Telethon appeal and all cash raised went to it. Richard Herbert who remembers the event :

The game itself it was for 12 hours, not 24 as previously reported, I know we were fit but not superhuman!, and at the time it would certainly have qualified as the longest game in history, however I know there was a problem with the Guinness Book of Records recognising it as it was not deemed a 'competitive' game i.e. it wasn't a league or cup fixture. That part was a shame as I know we (players, supporters and friends) all worked extremely hard to put it together and complete the 12 hours. I do remember that even after 12 hours, the scores were very close, I think it was 56-52 and I would like to add that I was on the winning side. The two teams were made up of basically any senior players from the Vikings and the Knights plus a few older juniors. It was pretty competitive all the way through as you can see from the scores, although I don't recall there being any fights. I remember the team Doctor, who I think was Bob Ratchford, was concerned that we were losing too many minerals and salts etc. and made us take this disgusting purple liquid about half way through, but it seemed to keep us going. Quite a few supporters stayed throughout the night with their duvets, which was also a great performance. I can't remember whether there was a lot of press coverage, but there should have been.

We all looked forward to the new season as that one, the club, players and supporters would not willingly look back on. What was to come however, was far worse than even the most informed of us could imagine.

During the summer of 1988, extensive rebuilding of changing facilities was achieved along with a new press box, toilets and a new suspended ceiling, all paid for and built by the parents of the Southampton Redwings under fourteen hockey club. A local plumbing company had supplied and installed a new heating system free of charge and new security barriers were also added. The supporters were looking forward to the start of the new season and hopes were high of improving the Vikings league position compared to the previous season. New imports were lined up to arrive from Canada and then the second bombshell hit the rink.

CLOSURE

In early August, a week before the season started properly, Mecca Leisure, the supposed owners, announced that the rink was closed for structural repairs. What was happening in reality was the rink was being stripped from the inside. A few days after this announcement, Mecca said that the rink was closed for good and would be demolished. They were going to apply for planning permission to build `luxury homes` on the site and a developer was waiting to begin work immediately.

There was outrage at the sneaky way Mecca had announced the closure and the way the inside was being stripped before the final announcement. The Redwings club were even more outraged as when the parents went to the rink to salvage what they could of the hard work they had put in during the summer, all they found was an empty shell. Everyone in Southampton could not believe that the ice rink was closed for good. A petition was set up to protest at the treatment by Mecca Leisure and protest marches were organised. The City Council said that the site would never be used for luxury homes as it was a leisure site and would remain so. Appeals went out to try and stop the closure but all to no avail. Rank were adamant that it was the only solution to the problem, the rink would have to close.

The City Council showed support but stopped short of using tax payers money for new facilities. They invited applications from developers and Councillor Alan Whitehead told an ice rink supporters meeting at the Mayflower Theatre, (previously known as The Gaumont), that the council intended to erect a temporary rink within nine months and a brand new state of the art Ice rink within three years. This was a cynical attempt at appeasing the skating fraternity, in all places, the theatre which may have been part of the deal with Rank that caused the closure of the rink in the first place.

There was more to the closure of the rink than meets the eye as the reports about it centred on Mecca Leisure being the protagonists and not Rank. The reason for this is cloaked in secrecy and it is only hypothesis at the moment which could explain the sudden closure. At the time Rank came back into ownership of the ice rink site two years before, they were in negotiation with the city council over a theatre that the leisure giant wished to turn into a bingo hall. The council had stubbornly refused to allow them over the years to alter the use of the theatre and now were offering to buy the building themselves in order to save it.

This is the saddest photograph I have ever taken

The picture tells the story of what was once a great place to go and meet friends, have fun and of course keep fit. I know that everything must come to an end and to be truthful, I think the first reaction after the shock was one of at least we would get a new rink, just what we deserve. Below is the clock that will continue to tick its unstoppable progress and as time goes by, I hope the people responsible for this picture of shame will one day realise that destroying something like this facility in the pursuit of gain for their company coffers without a thought for the people they have disappointed and disillusioned so much is tantamount to a criminal act. They will go down in history as just a bunch of mindless, greedy individuals who's backs will be against the wall when the revolution comes. The Ice Rink was a viable and successful venue and those people will never be forgiven for what they did to the population of Southampton

The Rank management consistently refused to sell the theatre; were they holding on to a valuable bargaining chip?  Why had they suddenly relented and changed their minds?

Rank agreed to sell the Gaumont Theatre to the council, but on what terms? Could it be that Rank used the theatre as a lever against the council to get an agreement from them to close the ice rink and develop the land for housing in return for allowing the city the pleasure of retaining the theatre? After years of attempting to change the theatre into a bingo hall, and within days of coming into  unwanted ownership of the ice rink site, everything changed. The truth is out there, somewhere.

 

 
     
Years: Days: Hours: Mins:

Secs:

Since the ice rink closed

 

Read what Hampshire County Council had to say at the time of closure

http://www.hants.gov.uk/scrmxn/c534.html 

 

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