Tag Archives: sutcliffe

Bradford Bulls given Super League go ahead for 12 months

Super League give Bradford 12 month lifeline but coach Potter leaves

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UPDATED:

15:07 GMT, 14 September 2012

Bradford Bulls have been given the green light to continue in Super League but coach Mick Potter will not be part of the new-look club.

Uncertainty over the future of the four-times Super League champions was finally ended when the takeover by local restaurant owner Omar Khan was ratified by the Rugby Football League.

And the good news continued on Friday when the Bulls were told by the RFL's board of directors they will not be relegated to the part-time Championship and will not have to compete with the leading Championship clubs in a mini-round of licensing.

One more year: Bradford Bulls have been given the go ahead

One more year: Bradford Bulls have been given the go ahead

Instead the new owners have been
awarded a 12-month probationary Super League licence, effectively
putting them on trial throughout 2013.

Bradford's honorary chairman Gerry Sutcliffe, a former Sports Minister and local MP, welcomed the announcement.

'It's good news for the fans and for
Bradford and now it's all systems go,' he said. 'We can start to
implement our business plan and sell season tickets.'

Bradford effectively forfeited their
top-flight status in June when, unable to pay the bills after the bank
withdrew their overdraft, they went into administration.

That resulted in a six-point
deduction, which ultimately cost the Bulls a place in the play-offs, and
the threat of liquidation hung over the club right up to the last day
of August when Khan announced he had agreed a deal to buy the club from
the administrators.

RFL chief executive Nigel Wood said:
'The board deliberated long and hard and took into consideration the
many views of the sport's various constituents before reaching a
decision which we believe is in the best interests of the whole game.

'A probationary licence allows us to
closely monitor the performance of Bradford Bulls next season and
develop a view on what direction we take in future years.

'The probationary licence also
precludes the need for a mini-licensing round, which the overwhelming
majority of clubs accept was impractical given the timeframes involved.'

The next round of licences are due to be awarded in the summer of 2014 and take effect from the start of the 2015 season.

The announcement brings to an end five
months of anguish and adversity but it came too late for Potter who,
after working unpaid for the last 10 weeks, has decided to return to
Australia.

The 48-year-old former Catalan Dragons
and St Helens boss opted not to take up the offer of a new contract
from the club's new owners and instead recommended his assistant Francis
Cummins be appointed as his successor.

That announcement will be made on Monday.

'I was always going to return to
Australia and I feel that now is the right time for me to go,' Potter
said. 'I have enjoyed my time at the Bulls and the supporters and people
at the club are second to none.

'I feel, too, that despite
circumstances out of our control the team, through the rugby league we
played, showed a lot of character in the midst of terrible adversity.

'Omar Khan and Gerry Sutcliffe have
come in and rescued the club and were very keen for me to stay for a
longer tenure and I made it clear to them that my decision has nothing
to do with their purchase of the club.

'It has been the things that have happened over the previous five months that have caused my decision.'

Potter, who was Super League Coach of
the Year after guiding the Catalans to a third-place finish in 2008,
endured a difficult first season at Odsal but his reputation soared
after guiding Bradford to the brink of their first play-off spot for
four years in the face of adversity.

Khan said: 'We are sorry Mick has
chosen to leave because we wanted him to stay longer with us after the
tremendous job he has done in difficult circumstances.

'He leaves with the best wishes of everyone at the club and we wish him well in the future.'

Cummins, who looks set to be handed
the job, will be faced with a major rebuilding task, with no fewer than
17 players out of contract, and will be well behind coaches of other
Super League clubs who have virtually completed their recruitment for
2013.

Tom Burgess and Olivier Elima have
already secured new clubs, Ian Sibbit and Ben Jeffries have announced
their departures and Craig Kopczak terminated his contract which had 12
months to run.

Lawrence Okoye interview: London 2012 Olympics discus thrower

How a 67-year-old coach turned a schoolboy giant into an Olympic gold medal contender

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UPDATED:

21:30 GMT, 21 July 2012


Going for gold: Lawrence Okoye is not going just to compete

Going for gold: Lawrence Okoye is not going just to compete

Eighteen months have passed, yet John Hillier remembers every detail of the telephone conversation. The caller was one of the athletes he coached. He had a friend who wanted to be taught by Hillier.

The coach asked what the friend did: 'He's a discus thrower.' How far could he throw it 'Not very far.' Then, finally: 'What's he like' A pause: 'Big.' A deep chuckle rumbles across the room. 'I wasn't small,' says Lawrence Okoye. 'I was 6ft 5in and about 20st at the time. And I was still at school.'

A meeting was arranged and, using his student travelcard, Okoye caught three buses across south-east London from his home near Croydon before arriving at Hillier's training squad at Sutcliffe Park in Kidbrooke.

'He was hopeless,' says Hillier. 'He had a best of 47metres, and it flattered him. He threw the discus the way Freddie Flintoff bowled a cricket ball.' Okoye nods in bashful agreement.

'As soon as I got there, I realised just how bad I was,' he says. But the coach had seen possibilities; size, of course, but also speed, strength and a willingness to learn. He sensed a raw talent. They fixed up another session, and when it was over, Okoye asked how he had done.

Hillier debated what he was going to say, then he said it anyway: 'Do you realise you could make the London Olympics' In four decades of coaching, Hillier has developed some fine athletes. But he knew, beyond question, that Lawrence Okoye might surpass them all.

If soaring potential should translate into solid performance, then this was the young man whose talent could validate all those years of patient striving. And so they started to work, mostly on technique. 'That's the key,' says Hillier.

'It's easy to get in the gym, work hard and grow strong. But the skill factor has to be there. I tried to pass on a very basic technique at first. It was just a matter of getting him to steer the car correctly. Then, six weeks later, he went out and threw 64m. A year ago, he took the British record with 67.63m. It was unbelievable! Something you dream about.'

Record holder: Okoye took the British record

Record holder: Okoye took the British record

The sheer scope of Okoye's abilities made him enviable material for a coach. He had received staunch support from his school, Whitgift, as a rugby player, a sprinter, finally as a thrower. Despite his vast bulk, he returned 11.02sec for 100m and he played his rugby on the wing. Hillier shakes his head: 'Imagine having him running at you!'

He also possesses a considerable intellect. His scholarship at Whitgift was awarded on academic grounds and he won a place at St Peter's College, Oxford, to read law. He took it all in his stride.

'You don't want to be an average person,' he says. 'You want to stand out a bit. A school like that, it's full of people who want to be the best they can be.' But for now, all that drive and energy is channelled into the discus, and Hillier is facing a test of his own.

It is a truth rarely acknowledged that British athletics gets a free ride on the back of its coaches. Over the next few weeks, our athletes will declare their remarkable talents, while the men and women who encouraged and polished those talents will take their anonymous seats outside the spotlight's beam; guiding, analysing, occasionally praying.

John Hillier is among the best of that self-effacing breed. He loved his active service as one of the country's leading discus throwers, winning a Commonwealth bronze medal in 1974. But coaching was always his forte.

Down the years, he has spent an uncountable number of winter nights pacing austere weight rooms or standing by a dimly-lit throwing circle. At 67, he has never earned a penny from the sport he loves, and he has never complained.

Smart: Okoye is not just an athlete, he is also intelligent

Smart: Okoye is not just an athlete, he is also intelligent

'Essentially, we're all volunteers,' he says. 'When you look at the successful athletes, the majority of them are coached by amateurs, in the best sense of the word. There are times when you get frustrated, when the athletes lose interest or let you down and you think, “God, the time I've spent on them!”'

'It's cost me a fortune, physically as well as financially. Maybe I should have looked after myself a bit better. But I've loved most of the athletes I've coached and I've enjoyed their successes. I'm told I've coached more English Schools winners than anyone ever; more than 50. I'm quite proud of that. And then, just as I'm coming to the end of my coaching career, someone like Lawrence comes along.'

Despite being separated by 47 years, each man is comfortable in the other's company. Hillier's methods were rewarded by Okoye pushing his own record out to 68.24m in Halle, Germany, two months ago, which raised him to third in the world and brought the peaks of the sport into view. '

None of this would have happened without John's coaching,' he says. 'It was vital. He's got a real commitment to his athletes. People let him down, but he always bounces back. I couldn't do that. It's a great quality. And all for no pay! That can't be right.'

Hillier shrugs it all off, the praise and the sympathy. 'I used to have six or seven in my training group. Now there's almost a dozen, and all because of what Lawrence has done. I'm no better or worse a coach than I was 10 years ago. I don't know any more than I did. And Lawrence is certainly not the best coaching I've done. He just happens to be the most talented.

'There comes a point when I have to say: this guy is a potential Olympic champion, certainly by 2016. I'd consider my coaching ability was really poor if he couldn't be the world No 1 in another year or so.

Potential: Okoye is not at his peak yet

Potential: Okoye is not at his peak yet

'Over the past six months, in Cape Town and San Diego, I've talked to all the best coaches, the people who really know discus, and they all say Lawrence is the future. And they're right. He's still struggling for technique, he's not the finished article. But when we get him there, he'll break the world record.'

Yet first, there is London. Hillier believes that his man is a genuine competitor, the kind who will thrive on pressure. 'I've been trying to get him to visualise the occasion,' he says.

'I told him that when a race starts, there's going to be eight runners all going together. But when a thrower steps into that arena, there's just him. And the stadium will be with him, looking at him, screaming for him. Then it's time to perform.'

Okoye seems unconcerned by the notion. He knows that his immediate future will be decided by his performance at the Games. Oxford is alluring, but an Olympic medal would be life-changing. Rugby remains an option, since there is a market for one who now weighs 21st and retains his sprinter's speed. It is a captivating dilemma, but for the moment all his ambitions are concentrated on that discus circle in a stadium in east London.

He is not the favourite; indeed, it would be a major surprise if he were to emerge at the top of the heap. But he is blessed with largely untapped ability, so all things are possible. And he knows it.

Enlarge

How far Okoye has come

'I'm capable of throwing further,' he says. 'How far, I can't know. But I'm fascinated to find out where all the training's brought me. That day in Halle, I was in the zone, laughing my way into the circle. Weird! The day before I wasn't feeling great but suddenly I was ready. Rising to the occasion. That's what the Olympics will do. The stadium will have an effect and I'm strong now. I've progressed. I'm not going to the Games just to participate.'

Hillier listens and smiles. The cat with the cream. This is what he wants to hear. 'He's been great for me,' he says. 'D'you know, he bought me a laptop, so he can send me stuff about training. Bought it out of his own money! I was staggered. He just presented me with it, so I've had to use it. Now I can help him a bit more.'

Okoye gives him a stare. 'He's not easy with computers,' he says. 'He has that kind of old school mentality and I'm new school, but somehow it all gels.'

Hillier is relishing his belated recognition. Last week, he was contacted by Britain's head coach Charles van Commenee and told he was to be a member of the official track and field coaching team. He was more thrilled than he admits.

'Apparently, I can get myself kitted out in the full GB uniform,' he says. And he adds: 'I shall probably sleep in it.' The thought provokes a memory of his first international vest, in the late sixties.

'I had to buy my own tracksuit. True! A man named Cecil Dale was in charge of finances. We all met at Heathrow, and we had to put in travel expenses from home. I asked for 5, Woolwich to London Airport. And Cecil said: 'I've looked it up, young Hillier, and you're wrong. It should come to 4 19 shillings. And that's what he gave me!'

Okoye emits that rumbling chuckle again, even if he seems slightly puzzled by mention of pre-decimal money. 'Never mind, John,' he says. 'You've paid your dues.'

Indeed he has, and not only John Hillier, but all those other coaches without whom the sport could not flourish. Over these next few weeks, when history is written and great deeds are done, we will do well to remember their efforts.