Recently a woman named Eve Pearce wrote and asked if she could write something that I might post. I love to hear this, I wish more would come forward as Eve has done, and all I said back to her was that it probably had to be hockey-related. Soon after, her essay showed up and I thank her very much for what she’s done. I think it’s an excellent job.
So, without further ado, here’s Eve.
Hockey and its European Beginnings
Canadian and European historians have been trying to trace the ancestry of ice hockey for a number of years now. It is widely regarded as sport initiated by the North Americans and then gradually adopted by European nations, but which countries did it reach first? With the growth of social history, the debate has been broadened and now delves into the annals of eyewitness accounts and coroner’s rolls. The truth is, no one really knows where the first ice hockey game was played. Although many nations have taken ownership of the sport in Europe, there is no solid evidence for this and often enters historical record merely because the aristocratic classes have written themselves into it, so it be. Ideally, we want to go beyond this and try to establish how the game was developed and what cultures it was originally part of in Europe.
Historians from the UK trace ice hockey back to the 1850s when the Royal Family reportedly played a game that resembled hockey on a frozen lake near Windsor Castle. The same historians have also cited Arthur Stanley, son of Lord Stanley of Preston, as an important figure in developing the sport in Europe. Interestingly, he lived in Canada for a long period before returning to England in 1895. He was no doubt impressed with the sport in North America and so, coerced the Royal Family into playing it again, this time at Buckingham Palace. Remember, all this came at a time when sport, in general, was undergoing a process of professionalisation, as the upper classes realised sport’s power as a controlling mechanism on the apparently ‘uncontrollable’ classes of society. Gradually, artificial ice rinks started to appear all around Europe in this period and it is generally agreed upon by British Historians at least, that the first rink in Europe was built in London in 1903.
Given the English claims to Ice Hockey, it is perhaps obvious that the Irish would also claim ownership of the sport. They say that it evolved from earlier, provincial ‘hurling’ activities. Considering this, it is a mystery why it took Ireland until 1998 to join the International Ice Hockey Federation. Of course, cultural variation and government funding could be plausible reasons for this absence.
In truth, Ice Hockey whether in it’s crudest form or not, was being played simultaneously in various European nations in the 1800’s. Although the British claims seem believable enough, it is perhaps more plausible that northern European nations, like Russia, popularised the sport in the continent considering their long winters and icy environs.
Like many sports in this period, Hockey was usurped by the aristocracy as a means of upper class identification and interaction. In fact, in the early 19th century an accidental injury endured by a Russian nobleman threatened to bring the sport into total disrepute. The Arabian rubber ball, which was used in early Russian hockey, was hurled in his eye causing serious harm. The game was then prohibited by the authorities and does not return to the historical record until the 1890s.
This late 19th century period was a time of boom for hockey in Russia and no doubt triggered a wider movement across Europe. The first recorded game was played on the frozen Neva River in 1899 and was contested between Russians and Foreigners. The Russian players included champion figure skater Alexei Lebedev and speed-skating champion Alexander Pashin.
The main problem here for historians is that, although the game was played on ice, they used a rubber ball instead of a puck. However, this early version (sometimes called Bandy) provided the foundation for the Soviet ice hockey school, as it still required the raw essentials of the sport – skating, passing and shooting.
In 1932, the Canadian version of the game was demonstrated in Moscow, just a few days after the Olympic hockey tournament at Lake Placid. It was not until December 1946 that the first USSR ice hockey championships took place with 12 teams taking part.
There were many forms of the game spread around Europe, separated by different rules and classes. It was only until the mid 20th century onwards that the Canadian rules became more mainstream and were adopted by more and more European countries. Of course, this is not to say that European nations weren’t experimenting with the Canadian version before then, they were just at a localised level so do not enter the historical record.