League in Crisis

  • Posted on: 26 December 2014
  • By: lrigby
J.J. Curry Sydney Millionaires

Just as it seemed that professional hockey in Sydney had become a forgone conclusion, another crisis arose threatening the whole existence of the MPHA.  The New Glasgow Cubs and the Moncton Victorias had small arenas and they were unable to draw the revenue that the Halifax clubs could from their five thousand seat arena.  New Glasgow and Moncton took the position that the visiting team should receive twenty percent of the gate receipts after each game.  The two Halifax teams strongly disagreed with that position and argued that the home teams and their arenas should keep one hundred percent of the gate revenue.   The new Sydney team became the mediator in this argument.  Because Sydney had a large three thousand seat arena, they were in the enviable position of being able to support their team with only their home revenue, but as the new club, they were more than willing to share their gate revenues with the visiting clubs.  Sydney sided with the New Glasgow and Moncton clubs voting three to two in favor of a twenty percent distribution of funds.  The two Halifax teams responded that they would leave the league before they would submit to this proposal. The meeting was adjourned before a compromise was struck but a subsequent meeting was scheduled for the following week to resolve the matter.  There was talk that Amherst would be brought in as a possible fourth team if the Halifax clubs decided to leave the professional league.

Between executive meetings of the MPHA, the teams involved in the money dispute began to air their grievances in their local papers.  The Halifax Echo put forth the opinion that there was no fairness in the demands of the Moncton and New Glasgow clubs and the paper went on to ridicule Moncton’s method of fundraising for their professional club. 

From the Halifax Echo – Dated December 19, 1912:

   This hockey situation is getting interesting.  Here is Moncton out with a proposition to the effect that unless they obtain twenty per cent, of the gate receipts, at their Halifax games they will drop out of the maritime League.

   And they intimate that they have impressed New Glasgow and Sydney with the justice of their positions to such an extent that unless Halifax comes to time, they, too, will drop out of the League.

   In other words, they have given the hockey fans of Halifax to understand that unless they are prepared to help support their team, they will put the kibosh on the national winter pastime in this city.

   This is a pretty kettle of fish.

   Moncton is a burg that is listed on the maps to be found in railway folders, but outside of the map appearing in the railway folders, it is a somewhat difficult place to locate.

   It follows, somewhat logically, perhaps, that the hockey fans of Moncton are unable to support a winning team of themselves.

   In order to get together a hockey team in Moncton, they start holding a series of minstrel shows and bean suppers along in the summer, the proceeds of which are applied in signing up players and sending delegates to the meetings of the Association.

   We have no criticism to make of this plan, providing the jokes of the end men are not too stale, and the beans are properly browned.

   But we do object to Moncton’s little scheme of bleeding the Halifax fans for the support of their team.

   If Moncton is short of the wherewithal to make a showing in hockey, why do they not start their bean suppers and minstrel shows along in the Spring!

   It must be something about the super-heated steam that is continually escaping from the locomotives, in the railway yards at Moncton, that leads their hockey moguls to expect the patrons of the game in Halifax to support two teams and then turn round and contribute to the support of their aggregation.

   We have nothing but admiration for Moncton in seeking to support a hockey team, handicapped as it is in the matter of population.  We even hope it succeeds in getting itself placed on the maps in ordinary use.  But we do trust that the men back of hockey in this city will call the bluff that the New Brunswick town is putting up, as speedily as possible.

   If Moncton, New Glasgow and Sydney want to tie up hockey here-abouts, let them go and do it.  It is a safe bet that they would be heartily sick of the business before the violets bloom again.

   A three team league would last about three weeks.

   The Moncton delegates to the recent M.P.H.A meeting must have visited the natural gas district, just prior to boarding the train for Halifax.  At all events, they came plentifully supplied with hot air.  But hot air is not good enough, when it comes to running a hockey team.  Everything considered, we think it would be wiser for them, if they stuck to the minstrel shows and bean suppers.  

The counter argument published in the Moncton Times brought up the facts that Moncton and New Glasgow were the better teams of the four and had paid more to get quality players.  They felt that they were bigger drawing cards than the Halifax teams and that was money in the pocket of all the team promoters.  One executive stated that “in Halifax the visiting teams furnished more than their share of the attraction, and by every right was entitled to part of the proceeds”. 

At the request of the Sydney, Moncton and New Glasgow clubs, MPHA president Lithgow called a meeting for Saturday, December 14th in Truro.  R. J. MacAdam the manager of the Sydney Rink-Arena and Sydney Hockey Club executive was sent to represent the Sydney Club. The managers of the two Halifax teams, Murphy of the Crescents, Isnor and Cosgrove of the Socials were unable to attend the meeting due to previous commitments.  The two Halifax teams indicated to President Lithgow that even though they were unrepresented at the meeting they did have a desire to patch the rift between the teams.  At this meeting, the three attending teams decided to alter the requested percentage of gate receipts from twenty percent to fifteen percent and sent President Lithgow and Brownie Mahar, manager of the Halifax arena, back to Halifax with this proposition.  The managers of the three clubs headed back to their respective cities to await an answer from the Halifax teams.  The withdrawal of Halifax was weighing heavy on everyone’s mind since the league was just getting on its feet and working its way to recognition as a major professional hockey league.   One sports reporter stated that “it will be too bad if a disrupted league makes it necessary to practically begin the work all over again”

On Monday, the news hit Sydney, that President Lithgow had sent out a telegram stating that the Halifax teams will not agree to give any percentage of gate receipts to visiting teams.  They will agree however, to give Moncton a lump sum of sixty dollars and New Glasgow a lump sum of forty dollars to cover travelling expenses.  The Halifax clubs did not think it was necessary to offer Sydney any funds. 

The Sydney Hockey Club’s President, James Curry, instructed Mr. Lithgow that Sydney would abide by the decision of the New Glasgow and Moncton teams.  As far as Sydney was concerned, they were willing to go forward without any concessions from Halifax for their franchise.  They did however believe that New Glasgow and Moncton were well within their rights to ask for these concessions.  The situation began to look bleak.  If New Glasgow and Moncton decided to stand by the fifteen percent, it most likely would lead to the breakup of the league.  The Toronto News commented on the leagues strife by proclaiming “The Maritime Provinces Professional League does not look like a very substantial organization.”

The news got worse the following day with declarations from Moncton and New Glasgow that those two teams were standing pat.  With Sydney’s President Curry supporting the Moncton and New Glasgow franchises, the only two remaining options were for the Halifax teams to give into the demands or to leave the league.  Talk began centering on the fate of the Crescents and Socials signed players.  Would they be released or would the teams play in another league?  The Socials co-manager Cosgrove was quoted as saying, “if the MPHA smashes this season, hockey in the provinces will receive a set back it will not recover from.” Manager Murphy of the Crescents was on a scouting mission in Upper Canada but was obviously keeping close tabs on these events through the wire.

The next day, Sydney’s President Curry began work to try and save the fledgling league.  He first got in touch with New Glasgow’s manager Chester Greggory and after several conferences the two nailed down an acceptable number that was in excess of Halifax’s original offer.  He then got in touch with the manager of the Moncton team and was able to find an amount that was acceptable to them as well.  His final call was to Brownie Mahar of the Halifax arena who was given the go ahead to negotiate for the two Halifax clubs.  Brownie made a counter offer that was quickly accepted by New Glasgow.  The last hold out was Moncton. Later that day the welcome news came back from Moncton that they would also accept the agreement.  To the delight of fans, players and team executives,  President Curry was able to act as peacemaker and pave the way to a clear start for the 1913 season.

It looked as though the issue had been put to bed when an allegation of bribery hit the papers.  Chester Greggory, the manager of the New Glasgow team claimed to the press that “Manager Isnor of the Socials called me up and said he would guarantee me $150 a game when New Glasgow went to Halifax.  I then asked him what he would do for Moncton and he replied, "I would not give Moncton their feed", and related that he could have a nice league without Moncton.  I told Mr. Isnor that I would not consider his proposal for a moment, even if he were to pay me $1000 a game.”

Manager Isnor responded to the allegation by making a statement to the Halifax press that he had never made any such offer  and that no attempt was made to induce New Glasgow to break with Moncton.  He went on to state that any bribery charges reported in the press by Mr. Greggory were absurd and that he had acted in the best interest of the game.

Mr. Lithgow responded to the bribery charges put forth from the press by publishing the following statement:

 

After having received a letter from Mr. Chester Greggory of New Glasgow stating the charge of bribery purported to have been made to him by Mr. Gordon B. Isnor over the telephone and published in the press, and having also received Mr. Isnor’s reply thereto; I can only come to the conclusion that no offer of $ 150 per game to be played in Halifax by New Glasgow hockey team could have been made by Mr. Isnor; and on condition that Mr. Gregory should back up the Halifax Arena Co. in their refusal to agree to any percentage arrangement insisted on by Moncton, New Glasgow and Sydney managers.

I must however state in fairness to Mr. Greggory that if any such suggestion were made or words used, as charged and contradicted, Mr. Greggory would naturally refuse to agree to any such arrangement.

I regret that any confidential conversation did take place and that if conversations are at any time given to the press, and more especially in an exaggerated form as in the Moncton papers.

I trust the public will consider the unpleasant incident closed    

                                                            J. C. LITHGOW

                                                                        President M.P.H.A

This dispute, as ugly as it was, had a silver lining for the MPHA.  Maritimers who would ordinarily have not a taken an interest in hockey had become enthralled by the controversy and they enjoyed the jabs flying back and forth in the local maritime papers.  The Halifax Echo went on to speculate that the controversy “will call forth a much larger attendance at the various games than would have been the case had the various teams been organized and taken the fee, with no more than the usual bustle.”  The papers went even as far as suggesting that it “helped to boost the league from a position of comparative insignificance to one on par with that of the N.H.A”