Derek Clarke awoke Thursday morning to read in the media that he either doesn’t exist or that he is actually a man named Randy Gumbley, a person twice convicted of defrauding young hockey players.
Clarke is actually a sales representative for a high-tech company in Montreal. The 40-year-old is also the spokesperson for the CHLPA, a group that says it wants to unionize junior players to negotiate fairer wages, better working conditions and improved post-hockey schooling packages.
The case of mistaken identity is the latest in a bizarre series of events that have surrounded the Canadian Hockey League Players’ Association since it sprang to attention this past summer. Multiple media outlets reported Thursday that people in hockey circles believed Clarke to actually be Randy Gumbley and that Georges Laraque, the CHLPA head, had identified a picture of Gumbley as Derek Clarke. One report said there were two people claiming to be Derek Clarke.
There is a Gumbley involved in the association, but his name is Glenn Gumbley. He’s the younger brother of Randy. The two sides have yet to meet, but the CHLPA and Canadian Hockey League have been at odds from the beginning as the fledgling association has attempted to unionize players.
On Wednesday, the Canadian Hockey League acknowledged it had hired a private investigator to probe Clarke’s identity.
Early Thursday, CHL president Dave Branch said his organization hired a private investigator “to try to find out who Derek Clarke is” because of concerns from players about “late-night calls, blocked phone numbers, no names being given” by a representative of the union.
“So, from a security standpoint, having the best interest of our players in mind, we solely decided to secure professional services to see if we could not find out who Derek Clarke is,” Branch said.
Branch could not be reached in the evening for further comment.
In an hour-long conference call interview Thursday, for the first time, Glenn Gumbley and Clarke outlined the origins of the organization, which they say is a grassroots movement to help the teenage hockey players who make up the bulk of the CHL.
Within an hour of that interview, photographers in Vancouver and Montreal took pictures of both men. An hour after that, Randy Gumbley, 46, who refused to be photographed, met with a Star reporter in Mississauga to prove that there are indeed three different people.
The Vancouver-based Glenn Gumbley, 43, says he was the founding hand behind the fledgling union but that he tried to keep his identity hidden because he knew his family name was toxic in hockey circles.
“I tried to rent ice earlier this year in British Columbia but, because of my last name, I was refused ice. I realized going into this that my name was definitely going to be a problem,” he says.
“That’s why Derek Clarke has been the person to be the spokesperson on my behalf and other people behind the organization that do not wish to be named.”
His brother, he says, is not one of those people. “Randy Gumbley is in no way officially part of the CHLPA whatsoever,” says Glenn Gumbley. “Never has been, never will be.”
But with the mistaken identity mess Clarke became embroiled in, Glenn Gumbley said he knew it was time to reveal who he was.
Glenn Gumbley says he runs a film location company, produces bluegrass music and organizes soccer tournaments. He says he wasn’t in touch with his brother during the years of his hockey-related scandals.
Last year, Randy Gumbley was given a suspended sentence and 18 months’ probation after being found guilty of fraud in relation to a European summer hockey tour. Two years earlier, he was sentenced to a month of house arrest and 11 months of curfew after admitting to taking more than $100,000 from nine parents paying for a year-round hockey training program.
“We became in contact after his misfortunes with Hockey Canada and ever since then I’ve been very, very concerned about what took place,” Glenn Gumbley says.
His outrage on behalf of his brother, who he believes was “railroaded,” is what started him down the path to trying to unionize 1,300 junior hockey players on 60 teams across Canada and the U.S. But now, he says, he’s doing it “for the right reasons, not for animosity or revenge.”
“This is a bigger cause than all of us put together now. This is for thousands of kids, this year and next year and years after that are going to go through this league and they’re not going to know any better.”
As soon as teens are drafted into the CHL “they see NHL. That’s all they see,” Glenn Gumbley says. “The cards are stacked against them from the moment they step in the league to the moment they leave and they’re none the wiser.”
The CHL is the top feeder league for the NHL. Players who are generally 16 to 20 years old are drafted into the league. They can be traded between teams and they travel, train and are on the ice for dozens of hours every week with pay as low as $35 a week.
The CHLPA has claimed its basic premise is that junior teams should do better by them during their careers and create a softer landing for them when they leave with more useful education packages. Clarke says he became overwhelmed by the attention and number of media calls. The job became too much for him to handle.
“I have a life. I have a job 9 to 5. I have responsibilities. I can’t be fielding 75 calls and emails a day. It’s just not feasible for me,” Clarke says.
Glenn Gumbley says “it’s possible” that a union organizer could have contacted a media outlet posing as Clarke to fill the void.
“If there were unlimited funds and unlimited resources I can guarantee it would have played out a little differently,” Clarke says. But there is no money but for a handful of toonies given by players who sign membership cards, the men say.
“It was a grassroots movement,” says Clarke. “We’re not professional labour organizers. We’re trying to do something good and every step of the way we’re being beaten down.”
Despite the controversy both men say the association’s cause is still alive.
“If this story is put out there truthfully then we stand probably a bigger chance now than ever,” says Glenn Gumbley. “If this didn’t tarnish it there’s nothing that possibly could.”