Peter Johnson enjoyed a long playing career in the hockey hotbed of north east England, and later became a successful coach of both seniors and juniors, which included his own three sons. Several club coaching honours came his way, and in a career highlight he assisted head man Alex Dampier during the promotion run of the Great Britain senior men’s team in the early 1990s.
Born only a few miles north of the Durham rink young Johnson started playing at the age of 12 and made his mark with their junior Leopards. Under the watchful eye of Canadian coach Bill Booth, he quickly graduated to the senior Bees, for whom he debuted in October 1962 when he was only 16.
Peter then linked up with other north east youngsters to form The Wasps, a team that played non league home games at Whitley Bay as well as Durham. His eye for goal soon became apparent when on his first shift against the powerful Tigers in Brighton, ‘Jonker’, as he was dubbed, scored their winning goal with a rink-length dash.
Eventually in 1966 Durham and Whitley Bay joined seven other northern and Scottish clubs in a new league and he signed with the Durham Wasps. His scoring contributions were recognised with three consecutive nominations to the All Star ‘B’ team in 1970 72.
Though he stood only 5ft 6in and weighed 11 stone (about 70kg), the England selectors liked his style and he netted on his debut against Scotland in 1969, the first of his many appearances against the ‘auld enemy’. Two years later he was picked for the Great Britain squad and was capped 14 times in two World Championships in 1971 and 1973, tallying three goals and eight points.
In the mid-1970s Peter took a job on oil rigs in the Arabian Gulf (he was also working off a long suspension after an incident with a referee in 1975), and did not return to the Wasps full-time until 1980 when he decided to drop back to defence from his customary right-wing spot.
Though in his late 30s, he and Durham qualified for the first Heineken British Championships in 1983 at Streatham, and he captained the side a year later at the sponsor’s inaugural Wembley Weekend. Perhaps even more memorably for Jonker alongside him on the Wasps were two of his sons, teenagers Stephen and Anthony. After a game at Billingham he said: “That was special: the first time we had a goal scored by Johnson, assisted by Johnson and Johnson.”
His near quarter-century on the ice ended in 1985 by which time he had played 444 official games, scoring 509 goals and 933 points. Always a hard-nosed player, his points were very nearly equalled by his 925 penalty minutes.
But his time in the sport was far from over and he gained more awards and respect as a coach, gaining Coach of the Year titles with two different teams. In 1985 86 he took the Wasps to the Heineken Premier Division title, and then to Wembley Arena for the British Championship semi-final. He was garlanded again in 1990-91 after steering Humberside Seahawks to the top of Division One and promotion to the Premier Division.
Peter and his men – including his third son Shaun who joined his brothers on the Hull-based squad – surprised everyone two years later by qualifying for the Wembley Weekend after finishing seventh in the league. In front of 8,296 fans in the sport’s ‘spiritual home’ they beat Nottingham Panthers in an overtime thriller to reach the final against the favourites Cardiff Devils. “Nobody gave us a chance,” he said afterwards, “which really helped us lift our game.”
All three sons successfully followed in dad’s skate tracks to represent GB in several World Championships. Peter was especially gratified when in 1989 the ice hockey journalists voted his son Anthony, 20, the Young British Player of the Year.
Coaching youngsters was always one of Jonker’s passions. After guiding Durham Mosquitoes to the English under-16 League title, he was appointed the first coach of a Great Britain under-16 team, then served as an assistant coach of the national under 21 squad.
It was an obvious move when GB head coach Alex Dampier asked for Johnson’s help at the 1990 World Championships in Cardiff. He remained by Damps’ side for the next four Championships, a period that included Britain winning promotion to the world ‘A’ pool in 1993. “We had worked together for six years with the juniors,” Dampier recalled. “Pete is a tremendous motivator.”
Peter Johnson was born on 14 April 1946 at Langley Park, Co. Durham. One of the sport’s great characters, he was an uncompromising competitor, cheerfully admitting to indulging in what he called ‘old-time hockey’. Off the ice he was friendly and extroverted with an inexhaustible fount of larger-than-life hockey stories.
In his working life, he started out as a coalminer at the Langley Park Colliery, later becoming a transport manager. He was employed for many years by Kingston-upon-Hull City Council as the sports development officer at the Hull rink.
He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1989, and at a ceremony before a Newcastle Riverkings game in November 1998 he was the first person named to North-East England’s Wall of Fame.