Joe Johnston right where he loves to be - in the middle of his team-mates!
Photo credit: Rick Webb
Streatham Redskins have a long and proud history in ice hockey. Founded in 1932 (although the ‘Redskins’ part of the name was not added until 1974), the year after the new ice rink was opened on the High Road, the club is one of the oldest in the UK. The club has won many trophies over the years, with 11 league championships and 3 autumn cup wins to their name. These include their ‘British Champions’ in 1959-60 season when they were crowned as the top team in the nation and the Streatham team alumni include Olympic gold medalists (from the 1936 British winning team).
Their last league title was won in the 1981-82 season and I believe that this was actually the last piece of silverware to be held aloft by the Redskins. This means it’s been a long 34 year wait for Streatham hockey fans and nobody feels this more than the team captain Joe Johnston.
Joe Johnston was an early starter in senior hockey. As a 13 year-old, he joined his uncle Jim in representing Streatham 17 times in their final season (1993-94) before the club folded. He then moved to Guildford hockey club and continued to play senior hockey for the Guildford Flames and was part of their BNL Championship winning team in the 1997-98 season. He also represented GB as an U18 player and has a European Junior Championships (Div C) gold medal to his name.
At the turn of the millennium he dropped out of league hockey but was tempted back when he was asked to join the newly reformed Redskins team in 2003 and was named team Captain in that season.
With the exception of a year when he joined local rivals Invicta, and a year when he did not play
(travelling the world), Joe has been a stalwart of the club – a leader on the ice and in the dressing room. But he has yet to see the club he loves win a trophy. They have come close – runners up in the league, runners up in the cup, but never quite making it.
This weekend, Streatham play in the NIHL1 Cup final and this is a huge chance to finally put that 34 year wait to rest:
“It would be the ultimate for me to win some silverware with Streatham. My family are from the area, I’ve grown up in the area and as a Streatham fan it’s been an honour and a privilege to play for so long and captain the team I love and care about so much. Pulling the famous jersey on is something that I still never take for granted.
We have so much history connected with our club and it really has been far too long since a club like Streatham has won something so we’ll be going all out to change that this weekend. The fans deserve it as they have always been incredible and as much as I desire the personal happiness of winning a trophy with my home town club it would give me equal pleasure to hand something back to the extremely loyal supporters we have.”
On the ice, the team has been going from strength to strength in the last few years. In his year out of hockey they had a fight for survival in the league that went to the final game of the season where they beat Slough in a relegation battle that saw them finish in the safety of 9th place. In the next three seasons they climbed 2 places in the league each year and surprised many when they took 3rd in the league. Off the ice it’s a similar story – despite the upheaval of moving into temporary accommodation in Brixton, the club has been going from strength to strength and since moving into their new rink have built a strong and lasting foundation, growing crowds and building their social media to become one of the league power-houses.
There has been a feeling of expectations this season. Streatham made some marquee signings in the summer with Nick Chinn and Chris Wiggins joining them from the EPL. Many felt that Streatham would be the team to challenge the mighty Chelmsford in the league this year. The Redskins had a strong start to the season, but a bad patch in the two months before Christmas put paid to their league title hopes.
But the league itself is over now and there are still two trophies up for grabs so the hunt for silverware is far from over for the Redskins this season. Joe knows he has a strong team around him and I asked him how the team was feeling and what he needed to do to motivate them for the challenge of Chelmsford this weekend?
“As the captain of this group there isn’t much I have to do to motivate them. I mean, if you can’t motivate yourself for the challenge of a cup final against the best team in the league then you might as well take your hockey kit off and go home and play tiddly winks or something.
We have a lot of leaders in our ranks and with the likes of Chinny around there’s experience all around. There’s a lot of our team that will be used to playing in cup finals and the big games and to them it’s probably just another important game. Personally I’ve played in some huge games like the World Championships final for Great Britain, winning a gold medal, where the pressure was insane.
For a few of us this weekend will be different in that we’ve been long serving and long suffering Streatham players. And that’s where the difference lies. Those who have been around the club long enough will have been through some real dire times where the prospect of a playing in a cup final would have been almost laughable.
We’ve come through the evolution of the club and seen ourselves develop in to a good team so for some of us I think it will mean that little bit more – and I say that without any disrespect meant to the other players.”
Joe isn’t underestimating his opposition – Chelmsford are favourites here to win their third trophy of the season and while not unbeatable have been incredibly strong and consistent throughout the year.
“Chelmsford are a class act and are consistently the team to beat in our league but to quote an old coach of mine who shall remain nameless: “The sun even shines on a dog’s arse once in a while.”
I’ll leave you to decipher just what the hell that means exactly but the sentiment is that sometimes it’s your turn. We have an opportunity this weekend to cause an upset and achieve something special. Current form is against us but that kind of goes out the window as it’s the best team over the two games this weekend.
Chelmsford are by far the favourites for the cup but to me that just makes us even more dangerous to play against, and when we have a full squad with everyone firing we can beat anyone we play – it’s the inconsistency that’s killed us this season and that’s been disappointing.”
But at the same time he has a belief that his team have what it takes to cause an upset:
“If we play to our strengths, play simple disciplined hockey, stay out of the box (which is easier said than done with our lot) and all arrive prepared and fired up we can win this thing. We really can. We have the belief and the ability within the team to do it.
People will not expect us to, people will not give us any hope but we know we have a chance, and sometimes in sport a chance is all you need.”
Viva la cup!
Note: Photographs with ‘unknown’ credit were supplied by Joe Johnston and used with his permission. Your photo? Let us know and we’ll add the credit.