Jackie with her league and playoff winning EPL team of the 2001-02 season
(Photo supplied by Jackie)
When Invicta Dynamos won the NIHL1 South playoffs, it was a pretty special moment for the club. The fact that it is their 20th anniversary season made it even more special. A few weeks ago I sat down with Jackie Mason, who has run the club for its entire 20 year history, to talk about the club, the league and what it takes to keep doing the job for so long!
Just as a note on this article, I spoke to Jackie just before the NIHL1 South cup final. So obviously the events of this week had not occurred at the time that she spoke to me.
“The club was run by Dave Hodge and Gary Bayliss when it first started. Gary asked me if I’d be interested in the club secretary role and I said yes. Then by the end of the first week I was suddenly club secretary for the whole organisation – Dynamos and juniors; and looking after all the away travel as well! The following year Dave left and I ended up running the whole thing.”
“It’s quite addictive – I just enjoy it. Well most of the time (sometimes I don’t, sometimes I hate it!). But most of the time I love it. It’s a nice buzz and the fans are amazing. It’s a great feeling and I get to work with some lovely people.”
The Dynamos are certainly no strangers to success. Their first season in the old ED1, they won 19 of their 20 league games, taking the Southern league title by 5 points over familiar rival Chelmsford Chieftains. It was a team primarily made up of local players, as Jackie remembers: “Although there were more non-British players around at the time, we had a lot of local lads that season – and they just didn’t know when to stop. They just couldn’t give up.” Top of the team (and South division) scoring charts were brothers Darren and Jon Cotton who amassed a huge 162 goals between them that season.
In 1998, Jackie was instrumental in forming the English Premier League (EPL) with teams from the North and South of the old ED1 division joining forces to create a new national league. “Bill Britton was the league secretary and he just got everybody together and said ‘Look if you want to form this – OK, that’s fine – you make the rules and I’ll just make sure they are carried out.’ So that was it! We then spent a lot of time talking to other teams, trying to bring them in and saying ‘Come on – let’s do this!
The Dynamos spent 5 successful seasons in the EPL, including becoming both league and playoff champions in 2002. The playoff win in Coventry is Jackie’s favourite memory of the team, although she didn’t actually see final moments of the game “It was a penalty shootout and I just couldn’t watch. I went outside – so I didn’t actually get to see them win!”
The next season, the club lost their title sponsor and it was a killing blow for the club’s time in the EPL. “Our sponsor walked out halfway through the season when they went bankrupt and left us with no choice. We simply couldn’t afford to stay up without their support.”
“The EPL isn’t really recognisable in its current form though. The money you need is just so high now. Player salaries in the last few years have really gone up – so there is no way to compete if you don’t have a lot of money. That’s not the league we founded.”
So the Mos dropped down into the ENL (since renamed as the NIHL). It wasn’t actually a league that was high on professionalism and perhaps earning its nickname of the ‘English Beer League’ somewhat. But Invicta didn’t drop their standards for doing business and have been instrumental in being part of a raising of standards and business models across what is now NIHL1 in the South.
“I’d like to think we helped improve the way things were done in the league. When we first dropped down it was pretty chaotic and even the people in control in the EIHA didn’t seem to give it much credit which didn’t help. We spent a lot of time talking to our sponsors and they would come and watch and ask why we were paying out this money when we could probably still be competitive on a smaller budget. But we wanted to do things right – in the way we went about our business, so we did.”
NIHL1 in the South is pretty unrecognisable from the ENL that Invicta dropped down to. For Jackie as a club owner the biggest change though is within the EIHA and how they deal with the clubs “You’ve actually got people in the EIHA hierarchy now that you can sit down and talk to – whereas in those days you just had to do as you were told! I also had a few people within the EIHA structure say to me ‘What would you know – you’re a woman’ at a meeting! I never had any issues with the other (male) owners, but within the EIHA I didn’t always used to be treated as an equal. I will say that this has also really changed now and I don’t have any of those sorts of issues with the current league management group.
In the same way, the EPL has also changed a lot now “The standard of the EPL when we left is probably about the same as what we see in NIHL1 now.” And Jackie has little interest in going back up:
“It’s pretty simple for me. If it’s not broken then you shouldn’t try and fix it – and our league isn’t broken. You don’t need to go up to the EPL to get good hockey. We couldn’t afford it and I don’t think there is anyone in our league who wants to, let alone could afford to. It’s got to the point where we have had to say ‘will you please stop asking because we just aren’t interested’! You are talking about more than 60 games a season (not even counting any playoffs/cup finals) – where would we get the players from to do that? We live at the end of the earth here in terms of hockey – you go three ways and you fall into the sea – nobody comes past us so bringing players in would be impossibly expensive.”
“For us, I think reducing the imports in the new-style PIHL may have a knock on effect on our teams. PIHL are obviously going to need more British-trained players which could make it harder for us. But then they’re going to have to find players who really want that kind of schedule. A lot of the NIHL players simply couldn’t or don’t want to commit to 60+ games a season. Travelling up to somewhere like Sheffield or Hull on a Sunday night – no thank you!”
“Long term – I think that the EPL clubs will start coming down – and maybe we’ll end up moving to an NIHL 1, 2 and 3 structure – and then it will start all over again!”. Of course, recent events have shown this to be rather a prescient statement – if perhaps a little sooner than Jackie envisaged.
The Dynamos had a long spell of success in the ENL, winning 7 consecutive league titles as well as 2 playoff titles. The league became even more competitive though as 3 more teams followed Invicta down from the EPL. With the exception of a cup win 2 years ago, the Mos have been through a bit of a silverware shortage in the last 6 seasons. That’s perhaps why winning the playoffs meant so much.
This time, Jackie managed to stay in the building for the final moments of the game and when I spoke to her afterwards, you could see the delight “Being Playoff Champions is huge for everyone connected with our Club: management, players and supporters. It was a really tense game and we could nearly have lost it, but we didn’t! The fans were amazing and the interaction between the players and supporters was something special.”
As we were mostly talking during the cup final weekend, we spoke a little of the impact of the cup. In recent years the NIHL1 cup has enjoyed a raised profile, become something teams really want to win, rather than just being seen as a competition to add more games. Jackie thinks she knows why:
“I think of lot of it is down to Paul Bennett (Invicta’s marketing person and IDTV supremo). Two or three years ago, he started really pushing the cup in our publicity and in social media. He’s really raised the profile and made it into something people care about. It’s not ‘just the cup’ anymore, now it’s ‘Wow – it’s THE CUP’.”
Paul is one of an army of volunteers Invicta have – and while people come and go, the club probably has one of the most stable volunteer bases in the NIHL, with a lot of folks who have been with the club for years. Jackie’s key to this is simple “You have to treat everyone the same. We really mean it when we say that the club is like a family, and nobody in that family is more special than anyone else. We’re all fans of the team at the end of the day, we want to be there to support our team and that’s true of everybody. Nobody expects or gets special treatment – and we always make sure we remember to say thanks you!”
“We also make sure that we let people take responsibility for what they have signed up for. They know what they need to do and you let them get on with it. They will come to us if they have a problem, and you trust them to do just that. There is no point in giving somebody something to do and then standing over them while they do it – because if you need to do that then they obviously weren’t the right person to be doing that role.”
For Jackie, the people around her in the club are a lot of what have motivated here to keep doing this for 20 years:
“The people here are what motivates me to keep doing this for as long as I have. When you are feeling a bit down there are enough people out there who just say ‘Come on – pick yourself up – let’s go and have a drink.’ The team themselves are a big motivation as well – when you have a group of guys who just love to play hockey like we do, you want to help them do it.”
“Our volunteers and supporters are just amazing. I went through breast cancer a few years ago – and the way the fans rallied round was just tremendous. This season again, when I broke my hip just before the start of the season, I had people coming from everywhere asking what they could do to help, even just offering to get shopping or other things like that. That’s what I mean by us being a family.”
Here at 482days, we have to say congratulations to The Dynamos on their 20th anniversary – and especially so to owner Jackie Mason who has been at the helm for the entire history. We think that’s pretty damn impressive!
Invicta Dynamos will be celebrating their 20 year history with a game which sees the current team face off against some of the legends from the club’s history. Of note, this includes current head coach Kevin Parrish along with Elliott Andrews and Phil Chard who also played in both the inaugural season for the Mos and the EPL double-winning team in 2002. For a full roster and more details on the game visit the Invicta Dynamos website : http://invictadynamos.co.uk
The game will be held on Sunday 23 April at the usual 5:15pm face off. Tickets will be available on the door.