It’s great to hear Romford roar as ice hockey finally comes ‘back home’
PUBLISHED: 07:00 10 February 2018
It really is truly great to have ice hockey back in Romford.
I was introduced to this thrilling sport by my cousins way back in 1987, when the fledgling Romford Raiders were settling into life at the old rink in Rom Valley Way.
Thirty years on I don’t remember much about my first match – the 11-11 draw with Peterborough Titans that denied Raiders a perfect 100 per cent record in their Heineken League Division Two title-winning campaign.
But I do know that I was immediately hooked.
I’m often asked what my favourite sport is or what one match I would choose to watch if it were to be my last.
Now, I consider myself to be interested in virtually all sports – from the more popular team sports of cricket, football, hockey and rugby to individual pursuits such as golf, snooker, darts and tennis, but I have also been thoroughly entertained and captivated by watching volleyball, badminton, fencing and table tennis at the London 2012 Olympics.
But when I am asked that question, I always find it hard to not say ice hockey.
Watching the Raiders through my teenage years was a life-changing experience.
My first byline was actually on a match report in the Barking & Dagenham Post in the late 1980s, thanks to then sports editor Len Whaley.
I went on to write feature articles in the Ice Hockey News Review magazine, provide end of period voice reports for an old clubcall hotline and when it came to my going on to study for a newly launched Broadcast Journalism degree at Nottingham Trent University, it was a bonus that I could go to watch the Panthers during term time.
Once back home, though, I would be at RVW watching the gold and blue, learning more about this great sport.
I’ve felt the highs and lows like most Raiders fans over the years and made some lifelong friends, but when the old barn closed in 2013 I feared the worst.
My back page article in the April 11, 2013 edition of the Romford Recorder, headlined ‘The end of an era’ contained the line “Scepticism abounds, we will believe it when we see it.”
But I needn’t have worried, thanks to lots and lots of hard work behind the scenes by those who fought to keep a Raiders team on ice over the past four and a half seasons.
John Scott deserves immense praise for leading the battle, but will readily acknowledge that bringing a team to the new Sapphire Ice & Leisure Centre would not have been possible without the unstinting dedication, support and assistance of Kevin Davis, Dave Leach and Alan White.
And huge credit to the hardy band of off-ice volunteers and those players who travelled to Lee Valley while we waited for the green light on a new build in Romford town centre and then for the work to be carried out.
Then the day arrived, a bit earlier than expected, as the decision was made to host a fixture on the same day that the Sapphire opened its doors for the very first time.
Tickets were snapped up by old fans, like my cousins and some friends, who had not seen a match for nearly five years, or more.
And before we knew it, the club announced that the February 3 meeting with Cardiff was going to be a sell-out. It seemed only right and backed up the comments made by some of the old fan favourites about Romford being “a hockey town”.
It was great to wander around the new rink, albeit a bit tight at certain points, and catch up with old hockey acquaintances like former Raiders captain Richard Tomalin – the sixth highest scorer in club history – and Joy Johnston, who began her officiating career as a schoolgirl, working games with her late dad Dave Tottman.
Joy went on to referee the Olympic gold medal match in 2014 and is now British ice hockey’s referee-in-chief, but knows her path to the top began at Rom Valley Way.
It was almost a case of an ice hockey match breaking out at a family and friends reunion and it didn’t take long for the first chant of ‘Romford, Romford’ to go up in the stands.
And Raiders eventually came from behind to claim a win as hockey came home to Romford, with two of their goals in the 5-2 success being scored by players who had represented junior teams at the old barn.
So a new era of ice hockey in Romford has begun, over 30 years on from the original launch. Come on you Raiders!