Canadian ice hockey fans watching a game.
Canadians flocked to the Tower Tavern in Clipstone Street to watch Olympic ice hockey. Photo: Phil McErlean.

By Richard Simpson

The Tower Tavern usually attracts a mixed crowd which is unsurprising considering its location at the heart of Fitzrovia. Some come for the selection of ale, others to watch a football match on one of the big screens. Most tend to be British, and virtually all tend to be local.

For the duration of the Sochi Olympics, however, the pub saw a steady stream of Canadian ice hockey fans from across the capital flowing through its doors. 

“For the gold medal game on Sunday the pub was due to open at 11am but I ended up opening the doors half an hour earlier because a queue was forming outside,” says bartender Samu Makela. “Some were even there with packed suitcases ready to head to the airport once the match was done — I’d never seen anything like it!”

The Canadian invasion of a British pub is interesting enough. But how this actually happened is incredible.

It all stemmed from a conversation between Phil McErlean — the pub’s landlord — and Dave Gibson, a Calgarian who plays for the London Spitfire ice-hockey team.

“We discussed the lack of viable outlets to watch ice-hockey in London, and we agreed that if Phil was willing to put up an extra screen and guarantee live coverage of each and every game, then I would send an email out to the London Spitfire mailing list” says Dave.

Phil saw the potential in the proposition, and a few weeks later the pub was heaving with fun-loving hockey fans washing chicken wings down with pitchers of beer.

“All it took was one email — from thereon out social media and word of mouth took control,” adds Dave.

According to Dave’s fiancée, Milena: “Dave’s stamp of approval opened the flood gates to London’s ice hockey expat community”.

As true as that may be, and as far as Dave’s reach into the expat community may stretch, I think it only fair to acknowledge the power of networking as well.

Phil — we look forward to your hospitality again at the upcoming World Championships. Until then, three cheers for Dave, for the London Spitfire, and for the Tower Tavern — and for Team Canada of course…

Richard Simpson is a Franco-Canadian freelance journalist who plays ice-hockey for the London Spitfire.