Burly Londoner Roy Shepherd was one of the country’s finest defencemen, more than holding his own on Wembley Lions at a time when the National League was dominated by Canadians.
The most celebrated event in his career – and one he was fond of recalling himself – was when he taught the Russians about the fine art of body-checking, and nearly caused an international incident.
The occasion was the first ever visit of the USSR national team to this country, in Wembley’s Empire Pool in December 1955. In those days, the Soviets played a highly skilled but virtually non-contact brand of hockey. In the second period ‘Shep’ dumped first one and then another Russian forward to the ice with crunching but perfectly fair body-checks. The visitors, who had seldom experienced the like before, withdrew to their bench and for a while it looked as if they would not continue the game.
While lengthy discussions went on between the game officials and the Soviet delegation, Wembley boss Sir Arthur Elvin reputedly sent a note down to the players’ bench instructing Shepherd to curb his enthusiasm. The game was completed without further incident – and without his victims – leaving the Russians to ponder over an aspect of the game that was completely new to them.
These days, of course, with dozens of Russians in the professional ranks in North America, they play a much more physical game. It is not too fanciful, however, to date their change of attitude to those two shattering Shepherd hits at Wembley in 1955.
Believe it or not, this was only a ‘friendly’ international. Roy had already appeared in two World Championships for Great Britain in 1951 and 1952 and ten years later he was to play in two more, for a total of 24 games in which he scored six goals, an unusually high number for a defender in those days.
His hockey career began just after the end of World War Two when, along with hundreds of other youngsters, he turned up at the Empire Pool for a try-out. He was chosen to play for the Wembley Terriers in the Southern Intermediate League and progressed to the senior Lions in 1951. He remained a rare locally produced presence on the club until the league folded in 1960. During his time with the Lions he was the only British player to be voted onto two All-Star teams.
After two seasons with Southampton Vikings, the second as player-coach, Brighton Sports Stadium’s shrewd manager Benny Lee recruited him for his Tigers. Something of a veteran at the age of 31, the well-built blueliner nonetheless became a great favourite with the Brighton fans, a sophisticated group who had watched a lot of Canadian pro hockey over the years.
They loved his powerful wrist shot from the blueline which barely left the ice and invariably eluded the opposing netminder. This was a trick he said he learned from Canadian defenceman ‘Red’ Kurz. The Tigers won several trophies and Shepherd was voted onto the national All-Star ‘A’ team in 1963 and the ‘B’ team two seasons later.
When the Sports Stadium closed in 1965, Roy spent the next term splitting his loyalties between icing for the Tigers in their final away games and lining up once more for Wembley Lions, who had missed three seasons before returning to play in front of big crowds in the Empire Pool. He stayed with the Lions during their swansong seasons in the late 1960s on a strong roster that included his fellow ex-National Leaguers Les Strongman, Chick Zamick and George Beach.
Despite turning 40, his enthusiasm for the sport didn’t wane and he iced for several more years in the new Southern League, mainly for the homeless Sussex Senators – when he earned a second All-Star A team berth – and the revived Southampton Vikings. After two seasons with the latter, the second as player-coach, Shep finally hung up his skates at the ripe age of 46.
His career stretched almost 30 years from 1949 to 1978, with an impressive tally of 774 games in domestic competitions, scoring 597 points, including 208 goals. His penalty minutes were a relatively honest 421. He played 498 of those games with the Lions.
It was not widely known but in the late 1950s after the collapse of the seminal weekly newspaper Ice Hockey World, Roy helped to set up and run its short-lived successor British Ice Hockey News.
Roy Walter William Shepherd was born on 4 August 1931 in Acton, West London and died on 11 April 2008 at Haywards Heath, West Sussex. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1999.