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I actually have a lot of personal Solihull Barons related memories although most of them have come from supporting the opposition team and, as such, I didn’t think they were relevant for contributing to Stuart’s book. But they are certainly worthy of a mention here.
More recent adherents to British ice hockey might not be aware but the Solihull Barons were one of the top teams in the country in the late 1980s playing for 5 seasons in the Heineken League Premier Division and regularly reaching the latter stages of the Autumn Cup and play off competitions.
And, unlike the modern landscape of the sport where basically any new team with enough money can decide which league they want to play in, the Barons did it the hard way and worked their way up the leagues, starting in Division 2 – which is where I come in.
According to “Wikimaps” , it is 82 miles from Peterborough to Solihull and, back in the 1980s, the roads weren’t very good across country so it used to take quite a long time to get there. Even so, due to most of the other opposition teams at the time being in Scotland or the North East or on the South Coast, Peterborough v Solihull was classed as a “local derby” and a huge rivalry was built up on both sides.
The Pirates started up in 1982 and were placed in British League Division 2 along with the Barons. Both teams had bigger budgets than the other sides and both had impressive imported players so they were the top teams in that first season, with the Barons finishing top of the table and the Pirates second.
The league was restructured under the Heineken sponsorship for the following 1983/84 season and, with both the Barons and Pirates being placed in the new Heineken League Division 1, that fierce rivalry continued to flourish.
If my memory serves me well, the first time I saw a Solihull team play was probably against Cambridge University - who used to play their home games at the Peterborough rink - and this would have been a Division 3 encounter with the Barons’ second team, the Solihull Buffaloes, during the 1982/83 season.
I also saw a few Peterborough Ravens women’s games around that time and their main rivals at the time were the Solihull Vixens, so I may well have seen them play too, but my recall – almost 40 years later - is a bit vague on that.
Anyway, I am fairly sure that the first time I saw the Solihull Barons was the Autumn Cup defeat in November 1983 which was the first season that I decided to watch all the Pirates home games and become a full time fan.
The Pirates lost that one 4-7 at home and, having also lost the away game in the cup as well, this set up a real grudge encounter for the league games that were to follow, with both the Pirates and Barons in contention for the Division 1 title along with Southampton Vikings who would eventually go on to finish top of the table.
One particular Solihull occurrence that is etched in my memory is the home league game on 8th January 1984 which was the scene of the infamous “Barry Skrudland incident”.
The Pirates lost the game 6-8 but the main talking point was when, early in the game, the Barons’ import Skrudland, older – and, presumably, less talented - brother of long term NHL player and Stanley Cup winner Brian Skrudland, injured Peterborough’s Rob Carnegie with a vicious check to the head which left a huge pool of blood on the ice and the big defenceman being rushed to hospital needing facial stitches.
After a long delay for the ice to be cleaned up and discipline to be handed out, Skrudland was ejected from the game and marked his departure by throwing all the spare sticks onto the ice – and a couple of curling stones as well.
This wouldn’t happen these days, what with strenuous safety measures put in place to combat concussion injuries – not to mention incredibly long waiting times in A&E – but Carnegie rushed back from the hospital all patched and was able to rejoin the game, picking up the Man of the Match award for his troubles.
(As a matter of fact there is brief footage from this game on YouTube – you can see it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NQ1lrM_qwXM. I can actually be seen in the crowd at 0.35. It’s not very clear but I know where I used to sit at the time...)
Skrudland picked up a long ban from the BIHA as a result of the incident and never played in this country again. That helped to fuel the animosity between the two teams and a comprehensive Pirates win away in Solihull on 19th February (4-11, I was there!) did little to dampen any flames.
The following season (84/85) the Barons and the Pirates were both battling for honours in Division 1 again and the rivalry was just as intense. The Pirates won away in Solihull just before Christmas 13-6 and that set up a huge return encounter in Peterborough at the end of February. If the Pirates were to win that game, they’d pretty much sew up the league title.
It is almost impossible to put into words how BIG that match was but even now, 38 years later, the thought of it makes my skin tingle and I come over all nostalgic and emotional. There was so much interest and anticipation that, in order to be able to get a ticket , you had to go to the Pirates v Glasgow Dynamos game the week before – played on a less popular Saturday night – to get a voucher to be able to attend.
On the day of the game, there was the hugest crowd I had ever seen queuing around the rink to get in. The hundreds of visiting Solihull fans arrived in coach after coach after coach and were let in through a separate entrance around the back to avoid further crowd congestion.
Inside the rink I ended up standing against the wall on top of an overturned crate in the corner by the vending machine next to the exit towards the bar stairs along with my then girlfriend , my friend from school Alan Platt and Robin Colton.
The game had everything you could hope for in a big occasion – drama, excitement, goals.
ITV’s Gary Newbon was on the bench with the Barons and they had “Dancing Dean” Vogelsgesang doing his ridiculously over the top goal celebration routines.
Unfortunately for us, there were too many Dancing Dean moments and not enough Pirates celebration moments as the Barons won the game 7-10.
Here again, there is some video footage from this game (lovingly restored) on YouTube so you can see the size of the crowd, how great the atmosphere was, and a bit of what happened - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eC6AbJ-ZrWc
The video includes great views of Shannon Hope in his first season of British ice hockey (he’s wearing #2 for the Pirates) and also the late Micky Curry refereeing.
That result left the two teams neck and neck in the title race but the wheels came off the Solihull challenge when they lost a bad tempered game away to Blackpool Seagulls – and Glenn Skidmore apparently did a “Slapshot-esque” striptease on the ice after having been ejected from the game.
The same night, the Pirates won 26-2 away to Grimsby Buffaloes and that win secured them the league title.
The Barons and Pirates played in different divisions for two seasons but the rivalry continued through cup games and challenge matches. They met up regularly again in the Premier Division but over time Peterborough became the better team and in 1991, the Barons suffered severe financial troubles and were forced to drop out of British ice hockey’s top division.
One more date in the Pirates v Barons rivalry sticks out in my mind and it’s a game that I didn’t actually go to. It was Tuesday 12th March 1991 and the Pirates had already qualified for the end of season play offs for the first time ever. The date clashed with a football match for Peterborough United who were still in the chase for promotion after 12 years in the Division Four doldrums. With the ice hockey match having a later than usual start, due to it being midweek - and therefore a late finish, all the way over in Bretton – I decided to go to the football match instead which I could walk to easily.
Unfortunately, the football ended up in a rather disappointing 2-2 draw with Darlington whereas the Pirates game finished with the most incredible 17-2 win after the Baron’s “bad boy” of the season Brent Sapergia had caused all sorts of trouble and got himself thrown out of the game.
So there you go. A lot has changed in British ice hockey over the years – not all for the good, but don’t get me started on that!
The Peterborough Phantoms now rule the rink at Mallard Road but they have been in a different division to the Solihull Barons for a long time now so, if the rivalry still exists, I doubt that it is anything like as intense as it used to be. It has probably been replaced by other teams that they play more regularly against.
So, if you have managed to read this far and have found a few things to be of interest, then you will definitely enjoy reading Stuart Latham’s new 282 page book Ice Hockey In Solihull. He doesn’t waffle on anywhere near as much as I do and the book is filled with fascinating facts, statistics, league tables, results lists and great photos.
There are also interviews and articles featuring former players such as Steve Chartrand, Phil Lee and Robert Eley and the book also looks at the Solihull Vixens women’s team, the Solihull Knights, the Buffaloes, the Kings and the Blaze.
To order your copy, contact Stuart at: firstname.lastname@example.org