William was the ‘founding father’ of ice hockey in Scotland, but remained a forgotten and unrecognised figure for the best part of a century. His previously unheralded evolutionary work in the introduction of ice hockey to Britain and continental Europe during the late Victorian age places him firmly alongside B M ‘Peter’ Patton as a true pioneer of the sport. Indeed, Pollock Wylie’s contribution in arranging, and participating in, ‘Scotland’ v London Bandy Club ‘hockey on the ice matches’ using a puck, at the circular ‘Real Ice Skating Palace’ rink on Glasgow's Sauchiehall Street, during the summer of 1896 almost certainly pre-dates Patton and could arguably be described as the sport’s first-ever ‘international’ contest in Europe.
Just over a year later, in December 1897, Pollock Wylie was captain and goaltender of a team representing the ‘Scottish Ice Hockey Club’ which triumphed in an international ice hockey tournament in Paris. He backstopped the Scots to victories over teams from Germany, Austria, Russia and Holland, before assisting the Scots to a 12-1 triumph over the Gentlemen of France on 30 December 1897, for what Glasgow’s Evening Times described at the time as “…the championship of the world.
William Pollock Wylie was born on 2 March 1869 in Gourock, Renfrewshire, Scotland. He was brought up across the Clyde estuary in Helensburgh, Dunbartonshire and educated at that town’s Hermitage Academy, as well as at Tettenhall College, Staffordshire, an independent, non-conformist boarding-school. (His father, William Howie Wylie, was a Baptist Minister, author and journalist, being at times editor of the Greenock Telegraph and Assistant Editor of the Ayr Advertiser.)
An all-round sportsman, Wylie was a member of Helensburgh Cycling Club and the Clydesdale Harriers Athletic Club. His passion, however, was skating, which was developed each winter on the frozen pond of the Helensburgh Skating Association and he was the first holder the Scottish One Mile Amateur Skating Championship.
It was Wylie who was instrumental in forming the Scottish branch of the National Skating Association on 12 January 1895, which had its headquarters in Kinross, on the shores of Loch Leven, and he was the first secretary of that organisation. His involvement in the development of ice hockey at this time is evidenced by a report in the Kinross-shire Advertiser of 2 February 1895 which reported that “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.”
As Secretary, Wylie noted in the minutes of March 1895 that “The Branch have a bandy team and are willing to challenge England next season to play an international Bandy match. With the permission of the head-quarters they are willing to send this team to the Fens to play Mr Tebbit’s team or to Holland to play the Dutch.”
The use of terms like ‘shinty’ and ‘bandy’ reflect that the sport we know as ice hockey was still evolving at that time, although the basic elements for recognition as “ice hockey” were in place, as defined by the Society for International Hockey Research in May 2002, namely: “For a game to be recognized as hockey, all that is required is the presence of six defining characteristics: ice surface, two contesting teams, players on skates, use of curved sticks, small propellant, objective of scoring on opposite goals. The absence of any of these would exclude an activity from being accepted as hockey. Thus a game not played on ice is not hockey; a game in which players do not wear skates is not hockey, and so forth.”
On 16 May 1896 The Glasgow Real Ice Skating Palace opened on the city’s Sauchiehall Street, Scotland’s first indoor rink. Circular in design, and with a small ice surface 95 feet in diameter, nevertheless it was to host Scotland’s first representative ice hockey matches.
The Glasgow Committee of the Scottish Branch of the National Skating Association met on 27 May 1896, with the minute recording that “It was resolved that the challenge received from the London team of Bandy players be accepted, and the following committee were appointed to attend to the match. Wylie, Meagher, Sloan, Douglas.”
The English bandy players came to Glasgow the following month, playing four matches against “Scotland” over two days. (A game being played on the afternoon and evening of the two days.) The Evening Times reported “that in both teams probably the fastest and best skaters in Europe will be playing.” London recorded a clean sweep, winning 10-0 and 4-0 on Saturday 6 June 1896, and then 8-1 and 6-0 on Monday 9 June 1896. The teams were five-a-side, with a goalie, a back, and three forwards.
Wylie was in goal for Scotland in all four matches, with the Daily Record noting that “Wylie, the Scottish custodian, was very clever, and chiefly to his exertions the London players were baulked of success.” Interestingly, the Daily Record also reported that “in spite of the brilliant forward play of the Messrs. Cooper only once was the “puck” put past Pollock-Wylie.” This confirmation of a puck being used indicates that the sport had evolved beyond bandy or ‘shinty on the ice’, probably due to the influence of the Canadian George A Meagher, the then world champion figure skater based at the Glasgow rink during this time and who, along with Wylie, helped arrange the games. Indeed, the Evening Times of 8 June 1896 revealed that “Scottish lovers of skating will learn with regret that Mr. Meagher’s sojourn in Glasgow terminates on Tuesday morning, as he is obliged to leave for Nuremberg, Bavaria, to fulfil an engagement at the Summer Exhibition there.”
The scorer of Scotland’s only goal in the four matches was Jack Bayne of Kinross, who was Pollock Wylie’s great rival for the Scottish One Mile Speed Skating Championship in the late 1890s, with Wylie and Bayne each holding the title three times.
Following the success of these matches, with crowds in excess of 1,000 attending each game, 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 the Right Hon. Lord Blythswood as President and W. Pollock Wylie as honorary secretary. The object of the club was “to promote the game of bandy, or hockey on the ice”. Thus the formation of a Scottish organisation for ‘ice hockey’ actually predates the ‘field’ hockey equivalent by some five years, with the Scottish (field) Hockey Association not being instituted until November 1901.
Although Wylie had competed in front of crowds numbering several thousand at skating events on Loch Leven, Loch Lomond and Lochwinnoch, the largest attendance he appeared before was at the more unusual venue of Celtic Park in Glasgow, home of Celtic Football Club, on 17 August 1895. At that time, the Celtic Park pitch was surrounded by a cement cycling track, and in excess of 10,000 spectators watched Wylie, Flatt of Cambridge and James Smart, Champion Speed Skater of the World, take part in a race to promote the ‘New Road Skate’, developed by R Anderson & Sons, Edinburgh. This two-wheeled skate appears to have been an early version of an ‘in-line skate’, which for whatever reason never caught on.
The high point of Wylie’s hockey career came at the end of 1897. He recalled in 1933 how he had received, in November 1897, “a request from the manager of the Palais de Glace in Le Champs Elysées, Paris, to forward a bundle of hockey sticks, such as the Scottish club used on their artificial rink at the “Panorama,” Glasgow. These were sent, and shortly afterwards a challenge was received to play the match in Paris during the last week of 1897. This challenge was accepted.”
The Scottish team left for Paris on 23 December 1897, with Glasgow’s Evening News of 29 December 1897 reporting that “Mr. Pollock Wylie’s team of Scottish Bandy (hockey on the ice) players are at present on a visit to Paris. They have played four matches and won all by a large majority of goals. The venue is the Palais de Glace, Paris. They have already defeated the Germans, Austrians, Russians and Dutch, and meet the “Gentlemen of France”, on Thursday night for the championship of the world. The Dutch fought the hardest battle, but suffered defeat by 3 goals to 2. Should the Scots win on Thursday the Parisians present each man with a gold medal.”
On the same day, the Edinburgh Evening Dispatch supplied scores of the other matches as follows: “Scotland, fifteen goals; Germany, nil. Scotland, five goals; Austria, two points (sic). Scotland, six goals; Russia, nil…The games are played under the International Hockey on the Ice Rules.”
According to Wylie’s account (in a letter to The Scotsman in January 1933) the decider against the Gentlemen of France took place on 31 December 1897 and ”It resulted in a win for Scotland by twelve goals to one. Mr Meagher captained the French team, and scored the only goal himself, individually; I captained the Scottish team.
Our teams in Scotland were mostly drawn from Edinburgh and Glasgow University students with a sprinkling of students from the engineering schools of Glasgow.”
The Scottish team, captained by Wylie, iced seven players in the following formation: Pollock Wylie in goal; John Sloan at ‘back’; George Bramson and John Harby at ‘half-back; George Douglas, Charles Pennell and Robert Lunan as the forwards. Sloan, Douglas ans Lunan were all medical students at Glasgow University; Pennell and Bramson were also students - Pennell at Edinburgh University and Bramson at Cambridge University; Harby, from Edinburgh, was studying for the Civil Service Examination.
Pollock Wylie was running the weekly Christian Leader newspaper, founded by his father, from an office on Glasgow’s Bath Street. At the time of his marriage the following year, however, his occupation was listed as “Superintendent of Commercial Travellers.”
Unfortunately, the success in Paris was a false dawn for the sport in Scotland. The Glasgow Real Ice Skating Palace, after experiencing financial difficulties, closed in 1898. Organised ice hockey in Scotland, after such a brief and successful flowering, then all but disappeared from the sporting consciousness.
The loss of Pollock Wylie’s drive and enthusiasm obviously didn’t help. He resigned as Secretary of the National Skating Association’s Scottish Branch in December 1899, as his career took him to London – he and his family residing firstly in Ilford before settling in Coulsdon, Surrey. Wylie latterly became a partner in the firm of Portal, Norris and Dingwall, a leading wine and spirit merchant on London’s Northumberland Avenue.
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. He passed away peacefully on Wednesday August 21, 1935 at Battle, Sussex, aged 66. He was predeceased by his wife and survived by a son and two daughters.
Written by David Gordon