A Celebration of a Life in Volleyball
One of English Volleyball’s founding fathers died on Monday 8th November. He was 82.
Brian gave so much to volleyball over the last 50+ years it’s hard to know where to start, let alone sum up his contribution. He was there from the very beginnings of volleyball on Merseyside in the late 60s, and very quickly got involved in administration, where, alongside legends of the game like George Bulman and Peter Hoare, he helped establish the Merseyside League, the English Schools Volleyball Association, and the basic structure of the EVA. He was primarily interested in junior volleyball and travelled the country in the early 70s with his wife and kids in tow (literally in a now mythical caravan) organising and running junior competitions. There are lots of grandmas and grandads out there today with fond memories of Brian’s endless banter and Joyce’s cups of tea.
Brian’s support for junior volleyball took him from chairing the EVA Schools and Junior commission to sitting on Competitions Commission. He also ran the National U15 cup for more than 30 years and was deeply involved in some of the biggest projects ever undertaken by the English Volleyball Association.
SPRING CUP 1987
George Bulman (EVA CEO) managed to persuade the IVF that the EVA should host a round of the International Spring Cup. At the time EVA had seven paid staff. The event was staged in the newly converted Manchester International Arena. Brian and George pulled together a massive group of volunteers to deliver the event. Almost everyone involved in volleyball in the North West was drawn in – laying courts, acting as interpreters and chaperones, selling tickets, providing court managers and officials, scorers, ball-boys/girls etc. The biggest international teams of the time were involved including Cuba, China, Russia, and USA. I saw Marea Louis in the flesh; Russia invented the ‘opposite’ position and bamboozled the US with their slide hitting… Wonderful memories I owe to Brian.
Royal Bank of Scotland signed up to sponsor junior volleyball and Brian, as commissioner for schools and junior development came up with the inter-regional championships and Pontins junior competitions. Brian persuaded the Regional Commission to adopt the Inter Regional Championships and launched the event at Telford Tennis Centre in 1981. The following year the competition moved to Birmingham Indoor Arena and attracted entries from all 10 English regions plus Wales. It was the biggest and highest profile volleyball event in the country, all achieved with a small amount of RBS sponsorship and an army of volunteers.
Initially held at both Southport (north) and Cambersands (south) the Pontins weekend tournaments were the highlight of the year for thousand of young volleyball players. Cambersands only lasted a few years but the Southport Festival ran from the 80s to 2014. RBS support petered out but Brian kept the competition going with his usual squad of volunteers and a lot of support from schools. In its heyday Pontins Southport was characterised by double-decker bus loads from schools in the North East and Midlands, mini-buses from schools all over the North West and Potteries, and occupancy of more than half of Pontins chalets. Many cherished volleyball memories are of July weekends spent at Pontins.
NATIONAL U15 CHAMPIONSHIPS
Building on his Schools and Junior commission role Brian ran the English Volleyball Association’s U15 championships with minimal help from the EVA or competitions commission (his choice) for more than 30 years. Juggling competing claims and geographical arguments while keeping everyone onside, persuading schools and clubs to host, negotiating free or very cheap venues for the last 8s among Birmingham’s universities and colleges, he managed the competition virtually single handedly and kept it going until ill-health forced him to give up in 2017.
MERSEYSIDE VOLLEYBALL LEAGUE
Merseyside was one of the hotbeds of volleyball activity in England back the early 1970s. A few good coaches based in schools and colleges produced winning teams in national junior competitions (boys and girls). This developed into two division 1 NVL men’s teams and very strong representation in both men’s and women’s national teams. Brian did his bit by setting up the Merseyside Volleyball League in 1972. It was very successful, and in the early 80s boasted 13 divisions (men, women and mixed) and 5 cup competitions – bigger than NVL is now – all run by a man and a dog.
Despite all his other activities the MVL stayed close to his heart throughout his life and this year, 2021, was the first time he did not chair the AGM since the league’s inception. Like everything else it reflected his unique approach, essentially collaborative, and run entirely by volunteers – but there was never any doubt of who was in charge.
THE MAN (and his phone)
Brian ‘twinkled’, he was always amusing and full of stories, good company and fun to be around. He kept in touch with a massive number of friends and contacts, spending a huge amount of time on the phone, organising competitions and keeping everyone up to date with characteristic good humour. Brian was also a constant thorn in the side of Volleyball England’s management, arguing against centralisation and new management structures, railing against inexorable increases in staff numbers and the frittering away of the pre 2012 Sport England grant surge on ineffective ‘initiatives’ and management jollies, all against a background of declining overall participation, loss of interest amongst schools, and no improvement in playing standards.
He loved kids. From the start much of what he took on was driven by that motivation. He was still going into local secondary and primary schools to run coaching sessions even when he needed a walking aid – and still insisting that his interpretation of 4v4 for primary schools was the only way to do it. He was also always on hand to run local junior competitions – drop of a hat tournaments – in schools, between schools, for local authority competition organisers, on grass, on the beach…., a figure recognised and loved by huge numbers of Merseyside youngsters.
Brian was a prime example of an old fashioned breed, selfless, expecting neither financial reward nor overt honour/ praise, the ultimate can-do guy, not phased by anything and always able to deliver.
We will miss him.