NOTTINGHAM, UK – Over the last few weeks British ice hockey has been under the microscope on here with articles and interviews with leading lights in the sport and in particular former Great Britain international Marc Twaite whose career was cut short through injury.
Marc wants people to know what he went through, and what the fallout of it was This Marc’s story in his own words:
“During the season where the Cardiff Devils opted to drop out of the old Ice Hockey Superleague (ISL) into the British National League (BNL) due to finances and the previous players from the 1999/2000 having difficulties with owner Bob Phillips, I joined them for the start of 2000/01 season in the BNL. After only 2 months a meeting was called by Mr Phillips where there were 45% paycuts being handed out along with the following week 5 imports gassed! This then made me as a player, that was representing myself as I didn’t have an agent as in those days agents weren’t really widely used in British hockey, speak to the likes of Chris McSorley then GB international coach and London Knights head coach, in the ISL, at the time to see what he thought I should do, as I was hoping to be going with the national team to the World championships in 2001.
Mcsorley and Paul Thompson, now GB coach and Coventry Blaze head coach, made some calls for me and within 2 days Mike Blaisdell, my old coach when with the Nottingham Panthers a few years earlier, got in touch from the Sheffield Steelers. Mike offered me a contract that I was happy with and a great chance to get back into the ISL, where there were only 6 British players out of 190 players registered. A fax came through from the ISL office were it stated my net salary and dates along with the team I was registered with. I signed and forwarded it on.
My first game was away to the Belfast Giants the day after I’d registered and the Steelers at that time were struggling with injuries and we only had 11 players on the roster that game. My line mates were Rick Brebant and former NHL’r Brad Laur, We ended up losing 6-1 against a very solid Belfast team. 2 days later was away back in my home town Nottingham against my former team and coach Alex Dampier. Again we lost 3-1 due to lack of bodies. The team was given 2 days off before we were back on the ice for practice at the Sheffield Arena. After several drills we had a scrimmage being 4 on 4. The puck was loose and myself and 6ft 4 Scott Allison went for it and collided. The impact of two players skating at 30mph is a 60mph impact and my right shoulder cracked, leaving me lying on the ice for a few seconds. Once I got up my right shoulder dropped knowing that I’d done something straight away. Accidents happen in hockey and I’d like to say here and now I do not blame Scotty in any way. It was one of those things that 99 times out of 100, both players skate away right as rain.
I went to the dressing room where team doctor got me to hospital straight away but I was sent home due to the x-ray not showing to much due to the swelling One thing the doctor did state was that my right clavicle had been damaged and that the longer it was left the worse it will become, healing in the wrong position and causing me long term damage.
A week later whilst still keeping in touch with the team doctor along with the players and coach I eventually was asked to go see Professor Rolfe at Thoresbury Hospital. Proffesror Rolfe stated I required urgent surgery to fix my right clavicle and he was concerned about my right ac rotator joint. My breathing had been awful due to me breaking my 2nd n 3rd rib in the impact too. 3 weeks after the accident I was booked in for surgery but the night before I received a phone call stating it had been cancelled by the then owner Norton Lea as no payment had been made. You can imagine my frustration, so I called the coach and doctor and the following week booked in again. But the night before I was due to go under, it was cancelled again. I was furious this time as the World Championships were coming up and McSorley said I’d have a pretty good chance of making the team. I then went to the owner and asked him what was going on? With no real reply forthcoming, I went back and spoke to the doctor to find out what was going on.. The team doctor stated that they were trying to get quotes for my surgery as the team didn’t want to pay £7,200 for the one surgery possible 2 I required.
That’s when I asked the question ‘Where is my insurance?’ I wasn’t named on the team policy along with 8 other players including Mr Sheffield Ron Shudra, Ryan Bach, Paul Kruse and several others. This was then when I contacted the IHPA. They were a players association that gave legal advice for the players at a cost of £250 for the season. Jo Collins who headed up the IHPA, wasn’t happy at the way I was being treated and acted quickly with a solicitor in my defence. During all this I was asked by the team to go to the Park Hospital in Nottingham and get quotes for my urgent surgery.
This I did after speaking to Professor Wallace, who worked on Wayne Rooney at the World Cup in later years, and Lars Neiuman. They both said to come and have a consultation to see what surgery was required. They both said that if I was to sleep on my right shoulder my trachea would push against my throat stopping me breathing and during my sleep would die due to it being dislocated. This shocked me and it took a while to sink in as I’d been waiting several weeks now with 2 surgeries booked in and cancelled along with me getting my own quotes. Again I went to the team owner and doctor where the answer was “No. It’s still too much at £7,500 and that to find somewhere else” I was devastated, along with my parents who were very concerned and angry.
The players were in Bracknell that night and I made a call to team captain Paul Kruse to explain to him that players aren’t insured and what I was going through. Although I’d kept in touch with the players, I hadn’t told them everything that went on. There was over 1.5 hours delay of the game due to the players sticking up for me and wanted the owner Norton Lea to make sure all players registered on the team sheet were named on the policy and that my surgery was booked in. This was confirmed by telephone call and fax.
The following day I was asked to go see a surgeon at Rotherham Hospital for another consultation. He again explained to me how its a life threatening injury and couldn’t believe I’d waited over 10 weeks by this stage. During this time my shoulder started to heal in the wrong position and was in tremendous pain.
Finally I was booked in through the NHS at Rotherham Hospital 12 weeks after my accident and life threatening injury. The surgeon said he’d never done this operation before, whish sort of seemed to sum up the situation. If I wasn’t suffering it, I’d have said you couldn’t make it up! I came round 4 hours later on a breathing apparatus with morphine being pumped into my side. During the operation the surgeon had punctured my right lung causing me to struggle to breathe. After a few hours my lung inflated again but not fully and will always be 20% damaged. I was in hospital for 4 days before they let me home with boxes of pain killers and anti inflammatory tablets. I was placed in a shoulder harness and the surgery was a stabilization of the sternoclavicular, stitching a Dacron from the end of my right collar bone to my top 2 ribs that had been broken as they couldn’t fix it just stabilize it.
I didn’t miss one home game and went to a couple away games to show support for the players for sticking up for me I was still very much part of the team even though injured. Before I knew it the season was over and the Steelers won the playoffs in Nottingham where the players basically dragged me on the ice and wanted me to be part of it even though I’d only played the 2 games. It felt nice that the players still respected me and wanted me to be a part of the team celebrations. I knew I wouldn’t make the World Championships in April 2001 and was focusing on the next season.
I had only received 2 weeks salary out of the 4 months I was with the Steelers and now the IHPA had gone to the courts, due to me not having any insurance cover that the league rules at that time stated must have. The league did have insurance but only around 50% of the players were registered. Basically cherry picking the better players to cover their high salaries at the time.
After the whole summer going through 3 different courts the team was taken over by Cardiff Devils owner Bob Phillips. He knew my situation and that I’d been fighting my case for many months. Late one evening he called and after a short conversation, the call ended abruptly after what he told me. I found out later that the operating company for the Steelers was being put into liquidation and that I’d not get a penny from them. I contacted the IHPA who were representing me at the time and they stated there’s nothing you can that’s the weakness of the law enabling company directors to fold a company to avoid paying any liable debts. The Steelers then started up another company in a similar name the day after and even that folded due to huge debts and several creditors outstanding money a few years later.
I was in a shoulder harness for 8 months and still awaiting my 2 operation on my S/C joint and not working during this time and was being supported by my parents. I still had outgoings and bills to pay like everyone else and found this very difficult indeed. I only received 3 phone calls from 3 British coaches Paul Thompson, Scott Neil and David Graham asking how I was and if everything was ok. Not a word from the Steelers at all, apart from a few of the players. I eventually got my second surgery on the NHS 3 years later but by this time my shoulder had healed in the wrong position and I’m now classed as 20% disabled.
I’ve been on national TV trying to get interest and support in my fight for change, but yet to have any meaningful success. I’m not convinced players in the Elite League are all covered by insurance, even now. I know that someone from the BBC approached the Elite League about whether every player was covered by insurance and was not given a straight answer. Well, he was but it was to the extent of ‘yes they are and if you believe they’re not, prove it. But you won’t get any paperwork from us to prove anything’. Seems a bit questionable to me. If the Elite League has nothing to hide, why not share the paperwork when requested?
I want to keep fighting so that no other player in UK ice hockey has to suffer what I did. I’ve spoken to people in the game at the highest level, including Simon Kirkham (Referee-in-chief) and he’s told me it’s not just the players that don’t all have insurance, most officials don’t have it either. Officials are equally as important to the sport as players and they deserve the same coverage insurance wise as players. Officials are a hell of a lot harder to replace than players, so what happens if a referee or two got injured and were to miss an extended length of time? Where are their replacements going to come from?
For the life of me, I cannot understand why the league doesn’t approach someone like BUPA or another big private health company and offer them sponsorship of the league and all that comes with it including regular coverage on Sky television and fairly regular coverage in the national newspapers. Surely it’s good publicity for both sides? BUPA get regular coverage and the players get good coverage insurance wise and excellent care if they need it.
Since my first article was published on here, it’s great to see Paul Ragan coming out publically and saying he won’t be letting either of his teams break the wage-cap for the coming year. Let’s hope the rest of the league also stick to it and we see some great hockey between evenly matched teams. It’s great to finally have someone in charge who isn’t afraid to be honest and be willing to stick to the rules. This is the sort of person we need involved in the sport and they should be supported in their efforts to get things better for everyone”.
Marc Twaite was talking to Pete Lewis.
The thoughts and opinions expressed in this article are those of Marc Twaite and not necessarily those of the interviewer or Pro Hockey News.
Contact the interviewer Pete.Lewis@Prohockeynews.com
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