Brighton Tigers? You’ve heard the name but just who were they? A new book by Kevin Wilsher and Stewart Roberts sets out to tell all for the first time.

The Tigers were an ice hockey team, one of the finest in Britain and Europe during many of their 30 seasons. They first skated into the city’s consciousness in 1935 in the Sports Stadium, a state-of-art building at the sea end of West Street, fondly known as the SS.

Originally the Swimming Stadium, the SS had just been bought by a group of businessmen who were enjoying success with ice hockey in London. They installed an ice pad over the pool and formed an ice hockey team composed entirely of Canadian pros. The Tigers were an immediate success and attracted capacity crowds right up until the outbreak of the Second World War.

The Argus:

The most memorable player in those years was a skilful and handsome forward from Montreal called Bobby Lee, who after the war, went on to become the Tigers’ most prolific scorer and one of the city’s most loved athletes.

The Sports Stadium itself was also a big hit with Brightonians and people from all over Sussex, who regularly enjoyed a skate, an ice show or an ice hockey game, and later, many other sports.

Though the Tigers were forced to mothball during the war years, the SS remained open with Canadian servicemen forming their own armed forces league and playing in front of masses of adoring fans.

The Argus:

Many of these players stayed on when peace was restored, a few married local women and some played for the reborn Tigers. This gave Brighton a head start when the National League resumed and the men in gold and black stripes duly carried off the league title in the first two post-war seasons.

This era introduced the fans to more players whose names would echo down the years – goalie Gib Hutchinson, who played his dangerous position on “beer and guts”, and Lennie Baker, who was capped by Britain in the 1948 Winter Olympics and later retired to Worthing.

The Argus:

The opposition came mostly from London: The Lions and Monarchs at Wembley’s Empire Pool (now the SSE Arena), the Racers and Greyhounds in Harringay Arena (demolished long ago) and the Tigers’ great rivals up the A23 at Streatham.

The only other non-London club was Nottingham Panthers. The book records a group of fanatical Brighton supporters boarding a plane at Shoreham Airport in 1948 bound for Nottingham, the first sports fans in the country to fly to a sporting fixture. Now we fast forward to the dramatic season of 1957-58. With the charismatic Benny Lee, “the best-dressed man in town”, in charge of the SS and the Tigers, the team climbed back to the top of the league.

The Argus:

The roster now boasted a couple of gifted locals: forward Mike O’Brien, the master of stick-handling, who played in three World Championships, and defender Johnny Oxley, another member of our 1948 Olympic squad. Big John set the record for most games played for the Tigers with 510.

The most important game of this and any season was Brighton’s shock win over the Soviet Union. The cream of the world’s hockey talent wore the USSR’s logo. In front of an over-flowing crowd of 4,000 screaming fans and their cheerleader Charlie Connell and helped by the small size of the Sport Stadium’s ice – dubbed “the goaltender’s graveyard” – Tigers fought back from an early 3-0 deficit to beat the Red Army 6-3.

The Argus:

This was almost the team’s last hurrah, however. British ice hockey was struggling for survival, thanks partly to the introduction of a new technology to everyone’s homes – television. But the Brighton fans loved their Tigers and continued to flock to games while Benny Lee and his right-hand man Alan Weeks burned the midnight oil putting together a schedule featuring amateur teams from Scotland and northern England.

The Tigers now had a full line-up of Brits, many from Scotland, where the game had boomed while the teams in the London arenas were being priced out. Benny shrewdly signed several leading Scots, notably Johnny Carlyle, Jackie Dryburgh, Red Imrie, Les Lovell and Harry Pearson, who also played for their country and became icons of the Tigers. The fans cheerfully accepted this new-look team and continued to pack the Sports Stadium until in 1965, in one of the most short-sighted moves the local authority ever made, it was knocked down to make way for – a car park.

The Argus:

The SS itself was replaced by the Brighton Centre, which included a rink that was quite unsuitable for ice hockey.

The supporters turned their attention to finding a site for a proper replacement building, among them at different times were Jubilee Street and the marina, but sadly the return of the Tigers seems as far away now as it did 55 years ago.

Meanwhile, ice hockey is thriving all over the country and local fans have to travel to their nearest rinks in Guildford, Gillingham or around London to watch this exciting sport.

l Brighton Tigers: A story of sporting passion is available on Amazon and at City Books, Hove