Episode S1E19. The Simon Leach Interview.
On today’s show I interview former Whitley Warriors forward and head coach Simon Leach.
Simon began his hockey journey as a 6 year old when he and his best friend, went to the local Whitley Bay ice rink to watch another friend’s dad play for the Warriors in a practice game.
That best friend, by the way, was David Longstaff, who has also enjoyed a long and outstanding hockey career and gone on to be one of the all time home grown greats of UK Ice hockey.
The two boys spent most of their life at the Hillheads Road rink, progressing through the Warriors junior system and going on to make their first team debuts together, as 15 years old’s, during an away weekend as the Warriors took on the Peterborough Pirates and the Solihul Barons.
Both were also very proud to represent their Country, being called up to play for the Great Britain team at all levels including U16, U19’s, U21 and eventually the Senior team.
Back in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s the Whitley Warriors were a tough, uncompromising outfit with a reputation for “not taking any prisoners” but however rough and tough they were the team still boasted many talented home grown players and some quality imports.
We talk of the Warriors team of those times, of the quality of British talent, of the team’s tough style of play, their ‘never say die attitude’ plus the class of imports playing for the team.
We go on to talk about the characters of the team and Simon tells of the “Tough Guy” in the locker room who commanded so much respect:
“When he spoke, people listened, and you didn’t mess with him”.
At that time the North East was a hot bed of hockey with 4 teams striving to be the region’s best. Each season the Billingham (later Cleveland) Bombers, Durham Wasps, Crowtree (later Sunderland) Chiefs and the Whitley Warriors competed for the North East’s very own competition, the Castle Eden Cup. Durham would usually be top dog, their team was exceptional and they were the dominant force, however the one “Local Derby” everyone wanted to see was the Wasps v the Warriors, and it never disappointed. As Simon explains, “every game was a war”.
We go on to talk about the Warriors home ice, the Hillheads Ice Rink in Whitley Bay, a small seaside town located approximately 8 miles from Newcastle. We talk of the bad ice, boards and lighting of the Hillheads rink that, as Simon says, was never comfortable for the visiting team.
In 1995 Simon chose to leave the Warriors, however this proved to be short lived. After just 10 games, Telford’s financial situation forced him to return to the North East where he rejoined the Warriors, now the renamed Newcastle Warriors, after the team had just completed a move from Whitley to the brand new Newcastle Arena.
However, after just one season the Newcastle Warriors travelled the 8 miles back to Whitley Bay where they once more became the Whitley Warriors, much to the delight of the local fans.
After experiencing life away from Whitley, Simon decided to move on and spent the next couple of seasons over the border in Scotland playing for the Paisley Pirates where he enjoyed great success with a very good team.
During the next few seasons Simon played for a number of teams, including Whitley (again), the Kingston Hawks and a few more games up in Paisley before, as he confesses:
“I just fell out of love for the game and decided to spend some time away”
A year later former Nottingham Panthers and Sheffield Steelers head coach, Alex Dampier persuaded him to come out of his self imposed exile and join the newly created Newcastle Vipers. Iniatially the team competed in the British National League (BNL).
It was a good decision for him as 3 years later the Vipers joined the Elite League and in 2006 ended the season by making the final 4 in the Elite League Championship playoffs. As total underdogs they defeated first the Belfast Giants in the semi final and then the much fancied Sheffield Steelers to become the Elite League Playoff Champions.
Moving on to play briefly in Australia, where he played for the Adelaide Avalanche, Simon returned to the Whitley Warriors and had 2 successful spells as Head Coach and only very recently relinquished that position to spend more time with his family.
Simon is very proud to be currently involved as an assistant coach with the Great Britain U18 set up.
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