Ken Swinburne was one of the game’s great unsung heroes. He never stepped onto the ice in skates – indeed, he couldn’t skate – but his work behind the scenes was an invaluable contribution to the success of the all-conquering Durham Wasps.
Initially a fan, he rose to become team manager in the late 1980s and early 1990s and was a fixture on the Wasps’ bench where his reputation as a Mr Fix-It was legendary.
Whether it was a piece of stick tape, some Elastoplast, a lace or a screwdriver, it’s a fair bet that Kenny would have it to hand within seconds from his famous ‘utility belt’. Former Durham great Peter Johnson said he could never remember a time when Ken was unable to produce something for the required ‘fix’.
Swinburne started watching ice hockey at Durham with his dad when he was a youngster and soon started going to the away games as well. The hockey habit became deeply ingrained and in 1979 he joined the bench staff, carrying the sticks.
In 1984 he went full-time as right-hand man to team manager Brian Cooper (father of Hall of Fame players Ian and Stephen) before replacing him two years later. He estimated that he clocked up 300,000 miles with the Wasps, including a European Cup trip to Yugoslavia.
When the Durham rink closed and the Newcastle Arena opened in the mid-1990s, he performed bench manager duties for the Cobras, Riverkings and Jesters for four seasons until the owners ran out of money at the end of the 1999-2000 season.
For decades, he was a familiar face to almost everyone in British ice hockey, standing impassively on the bench, chewing a wad of gum below his impressive moustache.
Well-liked by all who knew him, he was as popular with the fans and players at Wasps’ deadly rivals in Whitley Bay as he was in Durham – and there could perhaps be no greater tribute to the man.
Kenneth Swinburne was born on 11 September 1941 in Inverness, Scotland and died on 6 May 2005 in Durham.