The managing director of Southampton ice rink and boss of the Vikings from 1952 to 1963, Charlie Knott Jnr promoted the game with a dash of showmanship, publicising the city as ‘the Heart of English Ice Hockey’.
Known affectionately as ‘CJ’, he was a keen advocate of the home-bred player, and the governing British Ice Hockey Association (BIHA) made him an England selector in 1959. A year later he was appointed to their ruling Council in recognition of his enthusiasm for local players.
There had been a good standard of ice hockey in Southampton before World War Two in the original rink owned in later years by Charles Knott Snr, who ran the nearby speedway and greyhound stadium. The rink was bombed in the 1940 Blitz and when the replacement building eventually opened in March 1952, Charles made ‘CJ’ manager.
Needing an ice hockey team to promote the venue, he negotiated with his fellow rink manager, Benny Lee in Brighton, to take his team of Sussex youngsters who were getting little ice-time in the Sports Stadium.
The new Vikings were an instant success, winning the Southern Intermediate League at the end of their first season, 1952-53. While most of the league’s other teams had to play behind closed doors with the fans more interested in their Canadian-staffed senior teams, the Vikings skated in front of capacity crowds.
During Charlie’s reign, they captured five BIHA Cups and three Southern Cups. For extra entertainment, he staged internationals featuring England, Scotland and club sides from Europe, as well as national squads from Sweden, the USA and Czechoslovakia.
At his insistence, virtually all the Vikings had learned the game in this country, with almost half of them eventually coming from the city itself. Two went on to represent their country in the World Championships and ‘CJ’ himself acted as Britain’s official delegate to the 1961 tournament in Switzerland.
When the Knott family sold the rink to the Rank Organisation in 1963, it put paid to the sport until 1976 when, after sustained pressure from the fans, Rank allowed the Vikings and the crowds to return. A year later the club brought back Charlie as chairman and he ran the team for a season until he retired from involvement in the sport.
Always approachable and immaculately attired in an evening suit, he was often seen chatting to his customers or aspiring young players. One of the Vikings called him “the finest gentleman I’ve ever met”.
He first made his sporting name in cricket. Between 1938 and 1954 he was a successful amateur bowler with Hampshire County Cricket Club and was later the club’s chairman for 21 years. A road in a new housing estate next to the site of the rink, which was demolished in 1988, is named Charles Knott Gardens in tribute to both men.
Charles James Knott was born on 26 November 1914 in Southampton, England and died on 27 February 2003. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2004.