Scotsman Bill Sneddon was a respected and feared defenceman, who held his own on the Canadian dominated teams of the post-World War Two era, and enjoyed a decorated second career in the 1960s.
He was a keen sportsman, being particularly good at boxing and football. When he was 13, he started skating at the new Falkirk arena near his home and hockey soon became his real passion. Only the war forced him to wait until the senior team returned in 1947-48.
With their building often playing to capacity crowds of 4,500, Falkirk Lions enjoyed great success for eight seasons after the war, and Sneddon was in their line-up for six of them. During this time, he assisted them to two play-off championships, three Canada Cups and a Scottish Cup.
His strong competitive spirit and will-to-win inspired his team-mates, bringing out that bit extra in everyone. But it also earned him a fearsome reputation, and after an especially undisciplined act in 1952, he was banned from the sport for 18 months.
He and his wife Kit decided to use his enforced rest to visit Canada where he played senior ‘B’ hockey with Chatham Golds and caught the eye of NHL scouts. He received an invite to a trial from the Detroit Redwings and held on to the letter for a long time while he decided what to do. In the end he opted to return to Scotland and the Lions.
He was unable to stay out of trouble, however, and decided to retire after receiving a second suspension in February 1954. The fitness fanatic eventually returned to the ice, age 36, and was honoured with five All-Star team selections during the amateur version of the sport (with its sparse statistical records) that prevailed in Britain during the 1960s.
After a ‘tuning-up’ season in 1961-62 with Falkirk’s amateur Cougars, he accepted the roles of defenceman, coach and captain with Murrayfield Royals and played as though he’d never been away. Now a somewhat mellower character, his penalty totals dipped considerably.
He then linked up with Fife Flyers and their player-coach Ian Forbes, a team-mate on GB, and helped them to one of their finest seasons in 1963-64 when they won the league, the play-offs and the BBC Grandstand Trophy. He made it on the All-Star ‘A’ sextet with 26 points (six goals) from 30 games with a modest 46 penalty minutes.
Back in Edinburgh, he was prominent in Murrayfield Racers’ barnstorming 1968-69 season when they captured the Autumn Cup, Icy Smith Cup and Northern League play-offs. After a two-year ‘retirement’, at the age of 46 he was tempted into a final comeback season in 1971-72 when he and other golden oldies, including coach Forbes, were reunited at Dundee Rockets by owner Tom Stewart. Bill went out almost at the top as the Rockets were league runners-up and reached the final of the play-offs.
The burly six-footer was impressive enough to earn his selection for the Great Britain team in the 1950 World Championships in London. GB finished fourth and Bill scored twice from defence in six games. He was ineligible for the 1952 and 1953 Championships as a ‘professional’ and his work commitments prevented him from going in 1963.
Sneddon’s life away from the ice was just as colourful as his hockey. Known as a widely-read and well-informed man, he was an electrical engineer by trade, and a lifelong member of the Communist Party of Great Britain, an active trade unionist and secretary of the Falkirk and District Trades Council.
During the war, despite having lost both his older brothers in action, he volunteered aged 17 for the RAF, training as a pilot. He spent the latter days of the conflict serving with the military elite as a Pathfinder in Burma, a role that required men of the highest calibre as they parachuted into a zone in advance of the main body of airborne troops.
His obituary in the Falkirk Herald said: ‘Bill Sneddon was a legend … As a defenceman he had few equals…In the years after the war, when ice hockey caught the imagination of the nation, the name of Bill Sneddon stood out like a beacon.’
William Sneddon was born on 13 July 1925 in Grangemouth, near Falkirk, Scotland. He died on 14 April 1990 while on holiday in St. Helier, Jersey, Channel Islands. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2010.