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Thomas ‘Red’ Imrie

Thomas Imrie, always known as ‘Red’ for his flame-coloured locks, was one of the band of Scots who become the heart of Brighton Tigers in their hugely successful post‑National League era of the early 1960s. He captained the side in 1962-63 before taking over from fellow Scot Johnny Carlyle as player-coach for the Tigers’ last two seasons on West Street.

The Hockey Fan of April 1962 said wonderingly of him: ‘Since joining the Tigers his performance has been nothing short of spectacular.’ In 136 games over five seasons, Red scored 67 goals. A fine stickhandler who was difficult to dispossess, he helped on twice as many more, recording 133 assists. Although a keen competitor, a reporter noted: ‘His visits to the penalty box were rare enough to cause raised eyebrows.’ He was the friendliest of men off the ice.

As a youth Red played many sports, excelling at tennis, golf and football as well as ice hockey where he was equally capable at centre or on defence. It could be argued, however, that he chose the wrong sport as his time in ice hockey coincided with its most troublesome period.

He broke into the senior ranks with the Canadian dominated Falkirk Lions at the age of 17 and scored a remarkable 51 points (18 goals) in 54 Scottish National League games. Unfortunately, that was Falkirk’s last season and he was forced to play the next few years at an amateur level in Edinburgh and Paisley.

Called up for National Service in 1959, he served in Colchester, Essex and persuaded his commanding officer to let him play ice hockey for Streatham in the 1959-60 season. That, too, turned out to be the swansong of both the club and the British League. But Streatham went out on a high, pulling off the league and Autumn Cup double and Red made a success of his new role as a defenceman, being voted the league’s Best British Player.

His high standing in the game made him a target for Brighton Tigers’ ambitious manager Benny Lee and Red was a fixture on West Street until the old jinx struck and Tigers’ home, the Sports Stadium, was demolished in 1965.

Now settled in south London with a job in insurance as a motor assessor, Imrie played three-and-a-bit seasons with Wembley Lions in the strange days when the team played friendlies in front of 5,000-plus crowds, only to fold in mid-season of 1968‑69.

When the sport eventually returned to Streatham in the 1970s, Imrie was happy to take on the coaching role and guided the Redskins to three league titles and two play‑off triumphs. He retired after taking them to the semi-finals of the 1985 Heineken British Championships at Wembley Arena. He also worked with Streatham’s youngsters, the Bruins. Between 1961 and 1981, Red was voted on to seven All-Star teams either as player or coach.

Britain were still in the world’s top ten when he was selected to compete in the 1961 and 1962 World Championships. Chosen again in 1966 when GB competed in the world’s second tier, he was voted the tournament’s Best Defenceman, the first Brit ever to receive this honour. He was capped 19 times for GB, tallying 11 points (six goals).

A shrewd analyst of the game, he was recruited in 1986 by BBC-TV as a colour commentator, originally working alongside ice hockey’s premier play-by-play man Alan Weeks and later with football’s Barry Davies. During the 1980s and 1990s the BBC screened several Wembley finals on Grandstand in addition to a ‘game of the month’.

Red spent his retirement in Coulsdon, Surrey where he played his beloved golf – his handicap was in single figures – almost every day until he became unwell in his eighties.

Thomas (Red) Imrie was born in Falkirk, Scotland on 15 July 1937 and died in Coulsdon on 24 August 2020. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1987.