Canadian Bill Booth was a member of Brighton Tigers, one of the great English National League sides, and was for 15 years an influential coach and father figure to a generation of local players in north-east England.
He first crossed the Atlantic with the Canadian army during World War Two and when the war ended, he played services hockey in Europe and at Wembley. Just before he was ‘demobbed’ in 1946, he received an offer to join the Tigers and decided to stay in this country rather than return home.
A sound but unspectacular defenceman, he played three seasons in the Sports Stadium on West Street, including his memorable debut season when the Tigers swept all before them, winning the Autumn Cup, the National Tournament and the National League, and retaining their league crown in 1947-48. In 158 games for Brighton, Booth scored 67 points (26 goals) and took 250 penalty minutes.
His role as player-coach of Durham Wasps began in 1949 with a shift lasting the full 60 minutes in his opening game. Under his guidance the Wasps headed the Northern Tournament (then a major competition in the north of Britain) seven times and won the Play-off final on three occasions in the 1950s.
When the sport hit a bad spot in the early 1960s with falling attendances and fewer teams, the rink refused to stage games. Under Booth’s leadership the players travelled all over the country to find opponents and keep the name of the Wasps alive.
Among the players who developed under his tuition were several who went on to represent Great Britain in the World Championships, including Bobby Green, Dave Lammin, fellow Hall of Famer Hep Tindale and netminder Derek Metcalfe.
After suffering a jaundice attack in early 1963, however, he quit playing though he stayed as coach for a further year.
Though Bill didn’t take up hockey until he was 14, by the time he was 20 he was good enough to play in a local Montreal senior league where he remained until 1943 when he joined the Army. Recruited by the hockey team of the Royal Canadian Ordnance Corps, which was run by two former NHL coaches, he took part in exhibition games against Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens.
After retiring, he pursued a career in insurance while retaining his interest in the sport by reporting on the teams in Durham and the north-east for the monthly magazines of the time. In the 1960s he had a regular column in The Hockey Fan and in the 1980s he was a correspondent for the revived Ice Hockey World.
William Walton Booth was born in Montreal, Quebec on 20 August 1919 and died in Durham, England on 25 September 1986. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1989.