In an exclusive interview conducted in 2006, we talk to homegrown Durham legend and former GB international Ian Cooper. After coming through the ranks of the Durham Junior system, Ian, alongside his brother Stephen enjoyed several successful seasons with the Wasps including the Grand Slam season of 1991. Ian – and Stephen – also enjoyed several successful seasons in South Wales with the Cardiff Devils, but we’d rather not dwell on that.
Ian was also a key player in the history of the short-lived London Knights, and presided over the newly founded British Ice Hockey Players’ Association during the mid-1990s. Ian has since retired from ice hockey and now runs a successful property business in the altogether sunnier climate of southern Spain. Unable to stretch budgets to a flight to Malaga, we caught up with Ian via the magic of the internet…
Ian… what are your earliest memories of playing hockey at Durham?
My earliest memories are flying around the rink with a stick and a puck after a Wasps game, along with about 300 other kids, where undoubtedly mayhem and carnage would ensue! I began playing hockey when I was 7 and when I started playing, our team wore thick heavy long woolen jerseys and the age range was from 5 to 21!
What made you take-up hockey?
As a family we watched a testimonial game for Terry Matthews in Durham. It was so exciting to watch and the fans were fantastic too. It was a real family atmosphere as well.
You were well known as a Wasps player for hovering around the net and poaching cheeky goals…did you always want to be a forward and did you hover around the goal as a young-’un too?
Yes I always wanted to be a forward and no I didn’t hover around the goal. Me, Quacks and Tant (the Kid Line) dominated the play so much, the only time we stood still was to celebrate a goal!
What were your high-points of playing for the Wasps?
I have so many, but winning Young British Player of the Year and playing (and winning) at Wembley stick out the most.
…And what were the low points?
Freezing cold showers in that old rink.
Obviously when you and Stephen went to Cardiff, you both got a bit of stick from the Durham fans whenever playing the Wasps. Did you find this difficult?
Not difficult although it was emotional. I tried to turn it round to spur me on. No matter what the circumstances you have to play to your best ability.
What was the maddest / strangest / funniest thing you experienced while playing for Durham?
Probably Paul Tilley in Ayr faking a heart attack in the dressing room in order to remove himself from a very dirty, tough game!
Durham v Whitley – the fiercest rivalry in British Hockey or a hyped-up by the fans and the press?
Yes it was fierce, but it’s difficult to say if it was the fiercest because it’s relative to those involved. I did look forward to those games though!
Who is / was your most-admired former Wasp and who was your toughest opponent?
Most admired would be Ron Katerynuk or Rick Brebant. Rick was a bit of a controversial figure in British hockey for a long time, but love him or hate him he was such a professional and a real competitor. There have been quite a few tough opponents and I was always in the line of fire, but probably Mike Ware was the toughest/most dangerous!
Having played right through it, and into the SuperLeague, do you think the Heineken era really was the “golden age” of the modern game?
Definitely. The sport was more accessible and yet in my opinion, more professional at that time. The leagues were well organized and more entertaining, with a true promotion/relegation system. The championship finals weekend was unique and renowned in British sport. I think the fact that the sport had long-term sponsorship from Heineken and Norwich Union yet the Super League failed for so long in capturing any main endorsements whatsoever, speaks for itself.
What was your reaction to the news the Wasps had been “sold” to Newcastle United back in 1995?
Initially I thought it was good news and hoped it would push hockey in Britain forward, at least to a more competitive level in Europe, but it failed to have any impact at all. Sir John Hall didn’t get his way and the big Sky deals did not follow.
How important would you say the Wasps and the old rink were to Durham?
Very important. They were the only really successful sports team in the city and they put Durham on the map.
Your Dad obviously played a key part in trying to keep hockey going in Durham as manager of the City Wasps. What were your thoughts about that final season, and do you think hockey would still be going on in Durham had the rink stayed open?
Of course there would still be hockey if the rink had stayed open. I was very proud of my Dad for taking that on. He gave up his job to do it, so there was a risk involved. But I was also proud that something was being done to try and keep the Wasps in Durham going and I wish I could have been part of it.
North East ice hockey has suffered a lot in the past ten years. How do you see the region becoming a strong area for hockey once again?
First and foremost there has to be the right facilities available, not just to watch the sport but to give kids a chance to play and compete too.
What do you think a new rink could bring to Durham?
A huge amount of entertainment and enjoyment, which has not been replaced since the closure of the previous rink. It will also promote local pride and hopefully a successful sporting team.
And finally… when the new rink in Durham opens…. “Wasps” or a new name entirely?
The “Wasps” name is synonymous with the city. Durham is a famous historic city and Wasps are a team with a great history. Wasps, without a doubt.