One-time referee Norman de Mesquita was one of the sport’s best-known journalists and the ‘voice of Wembley’ at the Heineken British Championships weekends.
Norman’s involvement with the sport began at the front end of journalism during ice hockey’s vibrant post-war era in London, when he held the franchise for sales of the weekly newspaper Ice Hockey World at all three of the city’s major ice venues – Wembley’s Empire Pool, Empress Hall at Earls Court, and Harringay Arena. In the days before mass television viewing, the paper sold in its thousands.
An outgoing character, he soon got to know many of the game’s major figures, especially the chief referee Ernie Leacock, to whom he was able to turn for guidance when he decided to try his hand at officiating. Starting with an intermediate league game at Streatham in January 1955, he worked his way up to senior level and over the next dozen or so years he handled games all over the country.
At much the same time, he embarked on a broadcasting career at BBC Radio London where he was able to report on and chat about his other great sporting passion, cricket. Eventually, he became the station’s sports editor. His fans were fond of recalling his Sunday morning phone-ins when, whatever the subject under discussion, he often contrived to turn the conversation to ice hockey.
His refereeing career ended after a game at Wembley between the Lions and Paisley Pirates on 30 November 1968. It turned out to be the Lions’ last ever game as Wembley management decided to pull the plug on ice hockey in the middle of the 1968-69 season.
It was also the last game called by their public address announcer Frank O’Driscoll. When the sport returned there in 1973-74 with the Detroit Redwings-backed London Lions, Norman was the man on the mic. And his was ‘the voice of Wembley’ for hockey fans from all round the country when the finals of the British Championships were held there annually for 13 years from 1984.
With his carefully enunciated speech and authoritative tones, combined with a flair for the dramatic, he was ideal for the part. He was employed by the indoor arena for many of their other sporting events and, as he said himself, he was lucky enough to do it for over 30 years. He also ‘moonlighted’ at Streatham when ice hockey returned there in the mid-1970s.
During the sport’s huge resurgence in the 1980s, he wrote regular reports and opinion pieces for The Times newspaper, the Ice Hockey World monthly and the fortnightly Ice Hockey News Review. His provocative column ‘From the Shoulder’ rivalled News Review editor Vic Batchelder’s own as the magazine’s ‘must read’ page.
The first chairman of the British Ice Hockey Writers’ Association in 1984, he was regularly re-elected until a serious illness in 1999 curtailed many of his activities. The illness robbed him of coherent speech, a serious enough impediment for anyone, but worse for a man whose voice played such a dominant role in his professional life.
His love of the sport was not limited to Britain as he closely followed the National Hockey League in North America. He befriended several of his fellow referees on his visits over there and his extrovert personality ensured him the occasional spot on a local television channel where he was never slow to mention how well hockey was doing in the UK.
These visits were part of his annual ‘London Ice Hockey Nuts’ tours, which he organised over two decades from 1979 to give British fans the chance to watch the world’s top pros.
Norman de Mesquita was born on 28 January 1932 in Cricklewood, north London and died on 25 July 2013 in the house where he was born. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2002.