John (Johnny) Murray was capped for Great Britain in the 1948 Winter Olympics and played and managed the team in six World Championships. He also served as a vice-president of the British Ice Hockey Association.
Educated at Harrow Technical College, John’s skating education began at the age of 11 at the junior ice hockey school in the Empire Pool and Sports Arena, as Wembley’s SSE Arena was then known. He received coaching of a high calibre as the school was run initially by former National Hockey League Hall of Fame netminder Clint Benedict, the coach of Wembley’s professional club, the Lions, and later by their star forward Lou Bates.
Murray progressed through Wembley’s junior development system and after winning the league with the intermediate Colts in 1938-39, he was promoted to the Lions. But the 16-year-old centreman’s budding pro career was then interrupted by the outbreak of World War Two.
A natural leader of men, he was made a captain in the Royal Engineers at the age of 21, which was believed to be the army’s youngest in this rank at the time. He was an acting major when his war service in the Middle East and Italy ended.
Passing up the opportunity to rise further through the ranks, he re-signed with the Lions for the first post-war season. “All I wanted to do was play ice hockey,” he said years later. He found himself as a ‘spare’ forward, however, with his ice time strictly rationed in the Canadian-dominated English National League.
This failed to dim his passion for the game, however, and between his stints with the Lions he laced on skates with Wembley’s ‘second’ team, the Terriers, and became their leading light, serving as captain and later coach. A playmaker, he led the Intermediate League’s points scoring when the Terriers won the title in 1950-51, and during his seven campaigns (1949-55) scored 81 goals and assisted on 100 more.
His leadership qualities made him an easy choice as Great Britain’s team manager, a role he played on all five of Britain’s entries in the World Championships between 1950 and 1962 (twice in Pool A). Including his six games in the 1948 Olympics, he was capped as a player 28 times and scored eight goals, including one at Olympic level. At various times, he also captained and coached the side.
When Wembley Lions folded in 1960, John was snapped up by the non-league side, Southampton Vikings, but he eagerly donned the red and white uniform again when the London club re-formed three years later.
He remained at the Empire Pool for five seasons, coaching the Lions in 1963-65, until at the age of 45 he decided it was time to hang up his skates after 371 games, during which he scored 58 goals and 86 assists for 144 points.
As a player, he was slim and agile and a quick skater. A keen exponent of clean play in a rough sport, he set a fine example by spending very little time in the sin-bin. One of his GB teammates, Mike O’Brien, who often played against him in club games, recalled: “As a person, John was a real gentleman, and he played the same way. He was never showy. We always got on, even though I once hit him awkwardly and he couldn’t play again for three months.”
A member for many years of the council of the British Ice Hockey Association, Murray served as one of the governing body’s two vice-presidents in 1982-98 and also spent a short time on the British Olympic Committee.
A successful businessman, he was for 49 years the managing director of the Cornwall Garage Group, which at its height had 44 petrol filling stations in southern England.
John Cyril Mole Murray was born on 21 January 1923 in Camden Town, London. He was still firmly in control of his garage business – with one of his two sons – when he died at the age of 94 on 18 November 2017 in hospital in Miami, Florida after suffering a stroke at the end of a Caribbean cruise. The last surviving member of Britain’s 1948 Olympic team (the last time GB qualified), he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1996.