Lawyer Jo Collins was the instigator and driving force behind the Ice Hockey Players Association (GB), the controversial ‘players union’ that came into being when the major clubs began paying wages to all their players in the 1990s.
Jo first saw ice hockey when she was travelling in the USA. On her return to England she went to games at Streatham, which was one of the founding teams in the Heineken British League in the early 1980s.
Being the type of person who likes to get involved, she wrote a gossipy column in the fortnightly Ice Hockey News Review under the pseudonym ‘The Filly Flyer’, taken from her days watching the NHL’s Flyers in Philadelphia.
As the game boomed with ‘blue-chip’ sponsors and national television coverage, her amusing and controversial comments about the amateurish behaviour of some in the sport brought her into close touch with the players. They discovered that not only was she sympathetic to their complaints, she was also a qualified lawyer. A players’ union was one of the main topics of their conversations; one had been set up but failed to survive.
Jo decided to take action after the Great Britain men’s team won promotion to the elite Pool A of the World Championships in March 1993. The following September, with GB taking part in an Olympic qualifying tournament at Sheffield Arena, she called a meeting of interested players and the Ice Hockey Players Association (GB) came into being.
During the next 13 years she held the organisation together through the biggest upheaval the sport had seen since its ‘golden era’ either side of World War Two – the clubs in the British League’s successor, Ice Hockey Superleague, spent up to £1 million a season on their wage-rolls, which were paid almost entirely to imported players.
Each major club elected a player as their representative and five of them – originally Ian Cooper (the lone Brit), Paul Adey, Todd Kelman, Dale Lambert and Scott Morrison – served as the IHPA’s management committee. Jo gave up her legal job in 1996 to serve as the full-time secretary. The first chairman was Durham’s Canadian forward Tim Cranston, who was studying law, before Cooper took over in 1994.
The IHPA’s task was to inform the players about their rights regarding contracts, work permits, insurance, taxes, wages, health and safety, and similar problem areas. Jo travelled round the country at the start of each season to meet as many of the new imported players as she could and explain all these – to the players – rather tedious matters.
With the sport barely able to bring itself to recognise, let alone co-operate with the players’ association, running it was often stressful work and many were the times that Jo butted heads with the leagues and the governing bodies. She added the chairman’s role in 2000, but in 2006 she was forced into retirement by an eye problem and no one was found to succeed her. With the sport acquiring more enlightened and responsible management, the IHPA eventually folded.
Joanne Elizabeth Collins was born in Portsmouth, Hampshire on 20 January 1952 and inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2008.