Bob Willows

From hammer thrower to Club President

Interviewed by Peter Crowhurst

On becoming involved
I was lucky. At Steyning Grammar School, where I was, John Knowles was the PE teacher, and John was the top County sprinter at the time. I was interested in throwing anyway and he encouraged me to go down to Brighton. Mike Haggard was there as well. He was another very good top class decathlete so I was fortunate in a way as I had athletes for teachers rather than general sports teachers. I joined Brighton when I was 15. I went there with a general interest, no specific coaching at all, and just picked it up from there.

I've always loved athletics
I've always been keen on doing sport. I've always loved athletics. There was a lot of self motivation. When you're 15 and just joined a club, you don't get to meet the hierarchy, They sort of find you as you become a better athlete, and by the time I was 17, 18 I was competing for the National League team. Schools, I was the area champion, that sort of thing.  I never got to EnglishSchools or anything like that. I was lucky in that there was a shortage of sot putters. So I was thrown in at the deep end. It went well. I was quite happy with it.  We were in National League division 2 then.

On competing in the National League
We always used to go to away matches on coaches or on the train. In National League days it wasn't just the south east. We went to Meadowbank Stadium, Scotland, Liverpool, Sheffield, virtually all over the top venues in the country. We had some wonderful times. Going up to Edinburgh on the train, staying over at Penrith.  Usually by the time we got to somewhere like Croydon, I was poverty struck because of the cards. The lads were merciless. They were great times. (At cards) Trower was very good, despicable, Adrian Ross wasn't bad either. No we had some good lads.  We had some good card players, unfortunately, which I wasn't. We had a good team spirit which was the main thing. They were all characters. People like Peter Winn, Adrian Ross.  We had some great times with Rossy, a great loss.

The hammer
(The hammer) has been a bit of  Cinderella event.  A lot of people don't like the holes we make. We had one match where we went. We had to get into a mini bus because the track was owned by OxfordUniversity and they didn't like holes in their pitch so we had to go 4 miles down the road to compete in another facility.

Competing nowadays
I still compete as a vet and I still compete in the Southern league team. I stopped competing when my eldest daughter was three so, 21 years ago. I took a break then until I became 40 and then they phoned me and said 'you're a vet now and we have a vets team and would you mind coming back?' I thought ok, fine. So I went down and the moment the feet are on the track its 'while you're here would you mind doing the Southern League? I've been doing that for 13 years.

On todays athletes
The athletes tend to be a lot quicker, they are a lot stronger, very much faster. When I first started hammer throwing, if you were throwing 50 mm you were in the top, maybe the top 30 in the country. Now you're probably in the top 100 if you're throwing 50 metres. So the standard has risen. But only nationally. We are still lagging miles behind the rest of the world, especially in the Europeans.

On the leagues
They (the top athletes) have all turned professional. The top athletes are financed which is good from their point of view. I'm got no worries about them earning money from it, but because they are earning money they don't go and compete at the grass roots level like the athletes used to in my day. I can't remember which Olympics it was but Lynn Davies came to Brighton to do a National League match because he needed the qualifying distance to go to Munich. He came to the track early in 72, in May, and he was looking for the distance. Nowadays they don't, they go to an open meeting or they go to one of the Grand Prix meetings.

On the Albion
We co-exist very uneasily with the Albion. This is one of my biggest problems. It's a very one sided relationship, whatever they want they get and we have to work our way around it. It was like at the end of every year, the athletic season has started, Brighton have their last home match and by the Monday morning when we come down to train the pitch isn't there, it's been dug up. It has been for the last two or three years. It gets dug up and re-sown. It's a magnificent bit of grass. It drains beautifully. We have no complaints about that but we're never asked if it's alright to have the grass taken up. Just told that it will be, and you will not be able to throw on it for three weeks and it's what we have had to get used to. It is still a very good athletics venue, it is a very poor football venue. It is a very unfortunate situation. I would whole heartedly hope they move to Falmer, tomorrow.

Some final thoughts
Athletics is wonderful.  I have always enjoyed it.  You go to football. It is a team event-cricket, rugby. Tennis is a singles thing but athletics,  although you are doing an individual event you are part of a team.  I just thoroughly love it. Always have.

This page was added on 27/04/2008.

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