Scotsman William Pollock Wylie, along with Canadian George Meagher, is credited with introducing ice hockey to Scotland and Europe during the late Victorian age, and a year before Englishman Peter Patton’s similar pioneering games were played in London.
In June 1896 Wylie and Meagher arranged and played in the first ‘hockey on the ice’ games, using a puck, on Glasgow’s circular pad (95 feet in diameter) in the Real Ice Skating Palace on Sauchiehall Street. In the contests between ‘Scotland’ and the London Bandy Club, the teams were five-a-side, with a goalie, a back and three forwards.
Wylie went between the pipes for Scotland in all four matches and Glasgow’s Daily Record recorded that ‘in spite of the brilliant forward play of the [opponents] only once was the puck put past Wylie’.
This confirmation of a puck being used indicates that the sport had evolved beyond bandy or ‘shinty on the ice’, a move that was probably influenced by Meagher, a figure skater and noted ice hockey propagator, who was then based at Glasgow.
Just over a year later on 30 December 1897, Wylie was captain and goaltender on the Scottish Ice Hockey Club which triumphed in one of the first recorded international tournaments, held in the Palais de Glace on the Champs Elysée in Paris.
In the games, hyped by Glasgow’s Evening Times as being ‘for the championship of the world’, he backstopped the Scots to victories over teams from Germany, Austria, Russia, Holland and France. Meagher organised the matches and captained the French team which was beaten 12-1 by the Scots.
An all-round sportsman, Wylie’s passion was skating on a frozen pond near his boyhood home in Helensburgh, Dunbartonshire on the Clyde estuary. This was regularly used by the Helensburgh Skating Association (HSA) of which he became a member. He was later the first holder of the Scottish One Mile Amateur Skating Championship organised by the HSA.
He was instrumental on 12 January 1895 in forming the Scottish branch of the National Skating Association (NSA) and was its first secretary. His part in the evolving sport of ice hockey was described in the Kinross-shire Advertiser of 2 February 1895: ‘A shinty match, with goals a quarter of a mile apart, was played between teams selected by Mr W Pollock Wylie and Mr J Laing. In the first half, Mr Wylie’s team had 2 goals to 1. The second half resulted in a draw’.
While the sport was evolving, the terms ‘shinty’ and ‘bandy’ were still in use, but according to contemporary reports the basic elements of ice hockey were in place, i.e. ice surface, two opposing teams, players on skates, use of curved sticks, small object propelled (the puck), the objective of scoring on opposite goals.
Following the success of these games, each of which was attended by crowds in excess of 1,000, the Daily Record of 8 June 1896 reported that a separate body, described as the Scottish Bandy Club (Hockey on the Ice), had been initiated, with Pollock Wylie as honorary secretary. The object of the club was ‘to promote the game of bandy, or hockey on the ice’.
Some years later, Wylie recalled that the international tournament in Paris was the high point of his hockey career. “Our teams in Scotland were mostly drawn from Edinburgh and Glasgow University students with a sprinkling of students from the engineering schools of Glasgow,” he said. Some of them, of course, may well have been Canadians.
Unfortunately, the success in Paris was a false dawn for the sport in Scotland. The Glasgow rink closed in 1898 after experiencing financial difficulties, and organised ice hockey in Scotland disappeared from the sporting consciousness until the mid-1930s.
He continued to indulge his passion for ice sports, however, by visiting Switzerland each year for a winter holiday, frequently acting as official judge of skating at St Moritz and other Swiss sporting centres. In his business life he was a partner in a leading wine and spirits merchant in London’s Northumberland Avenue.
William Pollock Wylie was born on 2 March 1869 in Gourock, Renfrewshire and died on 21 August 1935 at Battle, Sussex. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2010.