Of Dads, Hockey jumpers and my worst week of every year…

I guess my story is the same as many, but today seems a good a day as any to share it.

My old man was a special guy, I suppose many say that, but he truly was a wonderful man.

I sometimes have a bit of an edge to me, a little bit of nastiness maybe, pushy, cynical, I can be over sensitive, I can over think and get anxious, I always think I know best even when I don’t.  My Dad was never like that; I can’t remember him ever saying anything particularly bad about anyone.  That’s not rose tinted spectacles, its just fact from what I remember and recall about him.

He didn’t like Villa fans much, but nothing worse than the odd “not them again” comment or something similar.  I think he lost his cool with me just the once.  Mom and Dad found out I had been shop lifting ‘Subbuteo’ stuff from Beatties in Solihull when I was around 13, I think it was a Norwich City team that I had had my eye on for a while and some corner flags and bright orange adidas tango balls – the ones they use in the snow?  Either way it wasn’t worth me taking the chance, however badly I needed them to complete my astro-turf pitch.

You don’t go out with 3 quid to your name and come back with £20 worth of stuff and get away with it.  At least you shouldn’t do.  I let him down that day, and he let me know that.  He didn’t shout.  He didn’t rant or rave. He just didn’t talk to me.  Completely blanked me for days.  My mom told me he had cried when I had gone up to bed that night.  They made me take it all back to the shop and apologise to the store manager.  Imagine that.  I learned my lesson.

Dad, some-what predictably took me to my first Hockey game.  A cold, damp, but raucous and energetic Hobs Moat Road to watch the Solihull Barons play in the British Hockey League in 1987.  A colleague of his at Solihull Council was backing up the regular net minder David Graham and invited anyone that wanted to go along from the office to see him sit (presumably) on the end of a bench looking bored and laden with heavy equipment for two and half hours. Clip boards and curious statistics were not the duty (Dan Green style) of the back up’s in those days, indeed I am not even sure if turnover’s and plus / minus stats were in the British game back then?

Dad loved Hockey.  Loved it and was passionate about it. He didn’t get involved like his pushier son (see third paragraph) but loved it just as much as I do now. By the late 80’s we were going regularly and now presumably paying to get in.  I think it’s still the same entrance fee now as it was back then in Solihull!


The two of us in 1975 – note the Dave Schultz type moustache!

For anyone that was around Hobs Moat Road at that time will tell you, it was a special time.  The Barons were not particularly good, but the 89/90 season was a special one – we rallied late that season and somehow made the play offs (boy that sounds familiar!)

Hockey back then was 3 imports and in Sapergia, Chartrand and Shudra we had 3 of the best in the league at that time.  The rest of the side was average, and average at best.  Shudra was an Adonis in his first season in this country and obviously carried on in the same vein in Sheffield – at Solihull he rarely (if ever) left the ice.  I still have vivid memories of him going behind the net and leading the rush.  Fast, strong, skilled.

Sapergia, well, as David Simms will tell you, Brent was one of the best to ever play the game here.  Chartrand doesn’t need any words. 3 legends in the same team.  As a hockey fan, that was a good time to be around.

I remember standing in our normal spot, on the back bench to the right of the home bench.  I would need a wee (I was 13/14 years old) , and hold it and hold it until I could wait no longer, which is when I would leap off the bench and run as fast as I could to get to the toilet to get the job done and get back.  Hoping and praying the referee would call icing or there would be a dodgy offside.

There was no mistaking the sound of a Barons goal, and my worst fear was missing one.  Games back then were typically 8-5 or 7-6 most nights.  Don’t forget we had Solihull Council net minders.  I missed a few goals in my time, and went back with many a damp patch at the front of my jeans.  Was it worth it?  You bet it was.

Dad used to wear the same jumper to every game.  He purchased a bright red V Neck Jumper from Marks and Sparks and then invested in a big Barons cloth badge from the merchandise table and took both articles to Mom and presented them to her.

“Don’t be stupid David” Mom protested “You need to grow up a little bit, this ice hockey infatuation is getting out of hand” she continued.  Words I still hear to this day in my house come to think of it.

She relented in the end, and got the sewing kit out, and on the big round badge went. Slightly ‘skewwhiff’ but on it went all the same. Dad never went to a game without it on. An hour before we were due to leave, he would go upstairs and put it on.  Proud of his jumper he was.  It was certainly one of a kind. Original.  I wish I still had it, it would be on my wall next to my Ginand and O’Marra shirts.

The next few years were pretty bad financially for the Barons.  The monster that was the Sheffield Steelers was born and Messrs Wood, Simms, Thompson and Shudra cleared off up the M1 to the bright lights and an 8000 capacity arena.  Unthinkable at the time that Arena was.  The word monster is not used lightly.  Sheffield completely changed the game here in the UK.  Ripped it all up and changed all the boundaries.

We still went to Solihull, who had now dropped down a couple of levels.  Instead of Ron Shudra, we had Ian Pound, instead of Brent Sapergia we had Jimmy White (not the snooker player although “The Whirlwind” may have been just as good). Amongst the disarray Stevie Chartrand had managed to escape to France for a season and in his place we had a lovely guy called Dan Sweeney who replaced him.  Sweeney was a top guy, always stopped for a chat during the traditional Solihull post game skate around. It would take him an hour to leave the ice, as he always had time to speak to everyone.  Constantly giving bits of kit to adoring fans, he would leave the ice with hardly anything on.  No wonder the club never had any money with Sweeney not being able to say “Sorry guys I need to keep that”

For various reasons, Dad stopped going soon after this season.  But always kept an eye on the results.  Curiously he continued to wear his jumper round the house, and also in the garden when he was tending to his flower beds or lovingly mowing our torturous three quarters of an acre long garden.  I think it was because it reminded him of so many great nights. The jumper had a smell. He loved it. He was wearing it the night he shouted something to Shudra as big Ron nestled down for a face off down by us, Shudra looked up smiled and winked at him “Did you see that Rob, Ron heard me” Dad was like a little kid, nudging me, pulling at me arm to get my attention “Yes Dad, I saw it” I smiled.  Dad was my hero.  Even Ron Shudra seemed to like my Dad and I adored him.  Adored them both come to think of it.

Its my Dad’s birthday today and he died two days after it. He would have been 71 today. I miss him every day and I don’t mind admitting that I am bitter that Vicky (my wife) and Daisy (daughter) never met him or knew him, but I guess that’s life.  Therefore this week of the year, can be tough for me.

I was at the hospital with him holding his hand when he passed away.  Our last moment together was me telling him I would get him home soon.  He didn’t have the energy to reply.  Just rolled his eyes at me and smiled.

That’s the abiding memory that I carry with me of my wonderful Dad, but the ones I have shared above are not far behind.