Frederick Meredith was the president of the ruling British Ice Hockey Association (BIHA) during the 1980s and 1990s when the sport underwent an enormous expansion with around 40 new ice rinks, and the governing body acquired several lucrative sponsorships.
Originally from Montreal with a British father and a Canadian mother, Frederick became engrossed in ice hockey from an early age and it grew into a lifelong involvement. He came here at the age of 18 as a student at Trinity College, Cambridge, and graduated with degrees in law and economics. On his arrival he was welcomed into the varsity ice hockey team as a netminder, a position he liked as it combined his favourite school sports of ice hockey and cricket where he was a wicket keeper.
The Light Blues were then perennial losers to their Oxford rivals, the Dark Blues, but he helped to turn their fortunes around, the team going from an 11-1 defeat in 1956 to a 6-1 win in 1958 when he was also the team’s coach. With Meredith behind the bench, Cambridge lost only once until he stepped down in 1962.
The BIHA’s then somewhat elitist rules granted the captains of the Oxford and Cambridge varsity teams an automatic place on the Council of the governing body and Frederick became Cambridge’s representative. His abilities must have impressed as in 1960, aged 23, he was elected a ‘personal member’ of the Council, effectively a directorship. This resulted two years later in a trip to the USA with the British team as the BIHA’s representative at the World Championships.
After serving as BIHA secretary in 1971-73, his career as a management consultant with IBM curtailed his ice hockey administration duties. But he retained his place on the BIHA and upon the retirement of president John ‘Bunny’ Ahearne in 1982, Meredith took over the role at precisely the start of the game’s unexpected revival.
The workload which he and the governing body took on during his 17-year reign was phenomenal. The BIHA acquired three blue chip sponsors – Whitbread, Norwich Union Insurance and Benson & Hedges. A BBC-TV contract was signed and a new league, the Heineken British League, was formed. The sponsors had been tempted by the largest rink building programme for half-a-century, initiated by the Sports Council, but this only added to the administrative toll.
The highlight was the Heineken British Championships at Wembley Arena. Inaugurated in 1983 by Whitbread, who owned the lager brand name, the climax to the season attracted around 25,000 fans a year to what was dubbed ‘the sport’s spiritual home’ in north London. Around £5 million was invested in the ‘Wembley weekends’ and the new league until 1993.
The British men’s senior team played their part in this resurgence, too, racing from Pool D of the World Championships in 1990 to a place in the top 12 nations in 1994, a level previously achieved three decades earlier.
Moreover, much of this period coincided with football’s worst spell of the century, enabling ice hockey’s credibility and its public and media profiles to rise to heights not seen before or since. No wonder this time has since become known as ice hockey’s second Golden Era (the first being roughly 1935-55).
Frederick received yeoman assistance from the BIHA’s secretary Mrs Pat Marsh – also a Hall of Famer. But the voluntary hours that he put in while still holding down his day job also ate into his family time and his holidays. They were sacrifices he was happy to make and he was quick to credit the major sponsor for ice hockey’s newfound success, saying: “The dramatic growth of the sport in this country would not have been possible without Heineken’s backing”.
After the BIHA’s unfortunate demise in 1999 Freddie remained in close touch with the game, trying to help resolve the bitter dispute between the new Elite League and the incumbent British National League, and serving on the short-lived Great Britain Ice Hockey Board. He was often seen at the Elite League’s finals weekend in Nottingham presenting the medals.
Meanwhile, in 1987 Frederick had become a member of the British Olympic Committee, later being elected to the executive board and joining several working parties. But he spent most of his energies on ice hockey at the international level where in 1988 he was elected to the Rules Committee of the IIHF. In 1994 he became a respected Council member of the world governing body, chairing several important committees and travelling widely to supervise various levels of the World and European Championships. When he reached the IIHF’s compulsory retirement age of 75 in 2012, he was made a Life Member.
Frederick William Louis Meredith was born in Montreal, Canada on 24 November 1936 and now lives near Maidenhead, Berkshire. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2003. His paternal grandfather, also named Frederick Meredith, was honorary president of the Montreal Victorias when they won the Stanley Cup in 1895, 1896 and 1897.