John Anderson

 

JA PortraitEverybody in Scotland knows John Anderson, everybody in Britain and many further afield know John Anderson – or knows something about him.   John Anderson,  along with such as Wilf Paish, Frank Dick and Harry Wilson,  is one of the really great British coaches of the twentieth century and probably of all time.   Everyone knows about him – coach of athletes who have competed in Commonwealth, European and Olympic Games as well as World championships indoor and out, coach on several GB Olympic teams, fitness trainer and referee on the Gladiators TV programme, coach to famous athletes such as Dave Moorcroft, Judy Livermore, Sheila Carey, John Graham, Liz McColgan, Lynne McDougall and so on.    Impossible not to know he is a Scot and a Glaswegian,  he is immensely practical, down to earth, immensely knowledgeable and always prepared to share the knowledge with those willing to listen.   It was interesting talking to him, reading what I could find and listening to interviews about his career.   A brief summary of his career appears in Wikipedia and reads:

“John Anderson (born 28 November 1932 or 1933) is a former British television personality best known as referee and official trainer on the UK TV show, Gladiators. He has previously worked as a teacher and as a coach for Commonwealth Games and Olympic Games athletes, including Commonwealth Games champion and former World Record Holder David Moorcroft. John was National Coach for the Amateur Athletics Association of England and subsequently the first full time National Coach in Scotland. He was coach to an Olympian at every Olympics from 1964 to 2000 and has coached 5 world record holders and 170 GB Internationals in every event.

In 2008, John briefly resumed his role as referee on the newly revived Gladiators before being replaced by John Coyle after just one series.   Anderson went on to become mentor and coach for a number of recent international athletes, including Great British athlete William Sharman, who he helped transform from a decathlete to a world class sprint hurdler, and continues to coach at a local and regional level.”    

A very brief entry and, important as Gladiators was, in the context of his athletics coaching, it is not the high point.   He tells me he was born in 1931.  His fascinating career deserves to be looked at in some detail, from his start in athletics to date.   (NB: John only did one series after 2008 because he turned down the renewal because he felt it was changing in a way that he did not approve of.)

*

As a young man, John wanted to teach and was passionate about all kinds of sport.  He represented Scotland as a schoolboy footballer.   This was in the 1950’s when there was no formal coach education structure available in the country.    The only way in to sport as a career was to train as a physical education teacher and there were only two options available to him on that front – Jordanhill College in Scotland or Loughborough in England.    Jordanhill College is now of course part of Strathclyde University in Glasgow.   John went to Jordanhill and subsequently did a degree at the Open University and went into teaching in  Junior Secondary School the east end of Glasgow.   Progress as a coach was then down to self study and self motivation – he read voraciously, mainly in the Mitchell Library in Glasgow.   He was interested in all sports and went on the FA football coaching course at Loughborough.   He did so well that he became the first home Scot to gain the prestigious Full FA Coaching Certificate.  It should be noted that at that time only 4 were awarded every year and none had ever been awarded to a ‘home Scot.’   When he came back home with the qualification, football clubs didn’t want to know.   There was no desire to use his qualification from those in the sport in Scotland where the clubs all seemed content to do what they had always been doing.   He went on teaching and covered such sports as gymnastics and swimming as well as football.    He reckons that these helped his future coaching of athletes – all experiences are useful and teach the interested coach, it raised his awareness of the coaching process and taught him how to motivate all kinds of people in different sports, and much more.

He had been a pupil at Queen’s Park Secondary School at the same time as Ally MacLeod.    They became firm friends and played together for the Scotland Schools team then when John was  National Coach, Ally was manager of the Scottish football team.   At a personal level, John was best man when Ally was married.

John only came into athletics by purest chance.   He was a member of Victoria Park in the West of Glasgow where he trained for the sprints, but says he really wasn’t much of a runner.   Nor was there very much coaching going on at the club – like other clubs at the time there was no proper coach but older and senior members advised the others on what they knew about.   Then at school one afternoon the principal PE teacher asked him to take the senior girls for relay practice.   There were annual sports for the Junior Secondaries in the area (he taught in Calder Street, St Mark’s JS and Dennistoun JS) and their school was always invited into the meeting.  (At that time secondary education in Scotland was divided into Junior and Senior Secondary Schools, with the pupils being segregated at the age of 12)    To teach relays, he needed a track and he made a rough track on the ash football field for this team of 14/15 year olds.   Came the sports, they won the relay and several other medals: they enjoyed it and he did too but he still thought of himself as a football coach.   The girls then asked him if they could carry on with athletics when they left school.   He looked around and the only option was Maryhill Harriers Athletic Club and he took them there – the only transport being his own small car.  After a few weeks, Tom Williamson at the club asked him to help – after all he was a PE teacher!    Then Tom and May Williamson set up their own club, Glasgow Western LAC and John was left with the rump of a club, only half a dozen girls who wanted to keep going.   And so Maryhill Ladies AC was set up – you can read about the club and its progress at

http://scottishdistancerunninghistory.co.uk/Maryhill%20Ladies%20AC.htm

Many in Scottish athletics have stories about John at this time – for instance Helen Donald tells of the time she was running in the WAAA’s championships at Crystal Palace and, coming off the last bend in third place was encouraged by John, who was there with his Maryhill athletes, roaring her on and wearing his kilt!   Anyway, Maryhill Ladies AC took off and his initial goal of ‘best club in Scotland in three years’ was achieved – use the link and see how well they did.

Never a man to stand still and let inertia govern his conduct as so many do, he contacted his colleagues in other schools and asked them to send along any talented girls that they had and, while they were at it, to send along their parents as well!    They were all used and the parents who were helping with the coaching and training of the girls, used to attend classes that he held at his Mum’s house on Sundays   He always wanted to know more, and attended a summer school at Loughborough College.    In an attempt to test himself, he decided to take all the Senior Coach awards that were available.   This was a mammoth undertaking and I cannot imagine any coach doing it today: in fact I have only ever heard of John and Wilf attempting it.   He did this – as did Wilf Paish – and then when he heard that new post had been created, that of a peripatetic national coach in England and Wales, he applied.   He was given the job and travelled the length and breadth of England and Wales coaching and working with coaches.   He even collected some athletes who had no access to coaching or who needed help.   This was when there was no national TV, no emails, no mobile phones and communication sometimes took a long time.   There was in many clubs no scientific basis for what they were doing – they were doing what their predecessors had done for donkey’s years.   He didn’t like that idea.  So he started reading again – back to the Mitchell Library, and he wrote to people and sometimes there was a long time for a reply because he was dependent on the postal service.

Then he discovered Geoff Dyson’s book, “The Mechanics Of Athletics” with its scientific approach to the body, information that wouldn’t change , that was scientifically and mathematically based.   As he says, his coaching went from being hopeful to being scientific.   Later he found Tim Noakes and his work was also assimilated into the training process.   Already a voracious reader, he continued to be so despite the increasing levels of success that his athletes had.   If he was going to coach somebody then he had to have a scientific basis for what he was going to do or he would not do it.   That has not changed – all training has to have a scientific underpinning.

It was at this point that he was asked to do some coaching with the Glasgow High Kelvinside RFC by a rugby friend who was also into athletics.   John did some work with them but it was mainly sprints and speed development.   The sessions are still remembered by some of those who took part – one chap recalls doing pre-season training on the big pitch at Old Anniesland.  Rumour hath it that they disagreed over what constituted a warm-up!   The sessions were hard work as Kenny Hamilton, now director of rugby at Glasgow Hawks recalls “3!… 2!…. 1! – I remember him well. A fair amount of resistance-running – possibly the first I experienced which used tyres. I seem to remember a conversation about stretching He was very enthusiastic about stretching muscles – a comparatively foreign concept in rugby circles in those days. He was delivering a talk some place and was asked about how long each stretch should be held for ……. “8 seconds he replied” This then became a bit of a standard but he quietly admitted that there was absolutely no science behind it!    However, I can confirm that we were all bloody fit that year, except Cammy!”   Cammy Little who was a very good rugby player (he was one of Glasgow’s first contracted players and also played for the Barbarians) says he missed the sessions as it was summer and he played cricket: an old tactic that worked a treat!!   John says he was not really a rugby man but it’s funny how these things go around: he is now living near Leicester and since the Chief Exec is a friend he goes along to see the Tigers play and in 2012 even went to Twickenhan to see the Scottish match.   He also admits that he has done some work with the Leicester Academy boys and focused on sprinting.

Hugh, Duncan, Hamish

Hugh Barrow and Duncan Middleton training with Cameron McNeish in the foreground

The only thing that he reckons might be queried is whether his interpretation of what their (Dyson and company’s) work had been, was fair.   In response to that he can only look at the results of his work with various athletes.   With 5 world record holders and 170 GB internationals then there can be a fair assumption that his interpretations have been appropriate.  He always measures every coach on the basis of their output.   Not if they have only ever had one outstanding athlete – anybody might have an outstanding talent simply by chance – but have there been improvements in all of the athletes that they have coached.   John always had talented athletes who came to him who were improved further by his insights and methods.    Among those in Scotland to benefit from his coaching were Leslie Watson, Moira Kerr, Duncan Middleton, Graeme Grant, Hugh Barrow, Hamish Telfer (a notable coach in his own right), Craig Douglas, Lindy Carruthers, and the sisters Alix and Jinty Jamieson.   The set-up in Glasgow at the time was interesting in that coaches co-operated with each other and Tom Williamson and John worked together on some of the same athletes.

Of the five commonly agreed parameters used to measure an athlete, he feels that Speed is the key.   Not who is fastest over 100 metres or whatever, but who has most speed in their event.    A marathon runner needs stamina but once he has that then he needs speed for his race distance.   This informed everything that he did with his athletes thereafter – if you are in doubt, have a look at some of the sessions noted here and found at the links.   If you want to see an example of what John did with John Graham, sub 2:10 marathon man, then look at the profile at http://scottishdistancerunninghistory.co.uk/John%20Graham.htm .    Here was a man, John Graham,  who had all the stamina required, the move was then to develop the speed necessary to be at the very top of his chosen event.    There are also comments on his training methods in the Lynne MacDougall profile at

http://www.scottishdistancerunninghistory.co.uk/Lynne%20McDougall.htm

Graeme Grant

Graeme Grant

John’s first big national post was as noted above the National Coach in England and then came the post of National Coach in Scotland which he held from 1965 until 1970.   Very active, he covered every aspect of the sport in every part of the country.    He was the only National Coach that I knew of who even worked with Scottish Schools squad days (the Scottish Schools tend to have their own event coaches for squad days) and was also the man responsible for organising the Annual National Coaching Convention.    This was a superb innovation and brought world class coaches from all over the athletics world to speak and talk with Scottish, and indeed British, coaches on their own turf.   Every aspect of the sport was covered – technical aspects, fitness and conditioning, physiological testing – and star athletes were often present too.   At the end of the conference, all the papers presented were issued to those in attendance in spiral bound booklet form for further study and for dissemination within the clubs across the land.   Wherever he was, he was approachable.    The coaches were all on side.   He also spoke to other conferences and at one he met the Rangers FC manager Jock Wallace.    Many years later when Jock was manager at Leicester City FC and John was in Nuneaton, he asked John to come and work with him as a fitness coach.   He was also approached for advice by a young player called Gary Lineker.   He turned the job offer down but it is one of these intriguing questions – “But what if he hadn’t/”

Then he had the sessions with athletes.   For instance the lunchtime sessions at Glasgow University’s ground at Westerlands were legendary with many of the very best in the country training there.   The half milers Mike McLean, Graeme Grant and Dick Hodelet were there as was Hugh Barrow from Victoria Park; distance men such as Lachie Stewart were also attendees at the lunchtime training.   Runners really went out of their way to attend.    The routine, as described by Hugh Barrow, was:

Blue train from town; Warm-up jog out pavilion across grass; about 40 minutes max eyeballs out reps [8 300s or (6 600s) or …] ;
No warm down shower; Back on blue train to office.    It was there that I first spoke to John – I had gone along to see what this session that was spoken of was about and like everybody else was very impressed.   
Hugh, who had been coached for the previous eight years by Johnny Stirling at Victoria Park, switched coaches and began to train with John from 1966.    He had been AAA’s Junior One Mile champion, and was the world 16 year old mile record holder which was only broken by Jim Ryun and trained as noted with some of the best half-milers the country has produced under John’s guidance at Westerlands at lunchtime, as well as at the club.   John travelled a lot – unlike some National coaches.   I once formulated the theory that one particular national coach’s car always broke down at Ingliston – and a lot of his communication was done by letter.    An example of this is a letter sent to Hugh in 1970, reproduced below.
Hugh John A
The second half with the more personal correspondence is omitted but this does show the detail that he sent the runners, even at that relatively early stage in his career.   His first ever GB runner came from this period: it was Hugh Baillie of Bellahouston Harriers who had that distinction when he ran in the 4 x 440 yards relay.
I mentioned earlier that he worked with the Scottish Schools on their squad training days and he brought the very best of coaches with him.   For instance to one such day that he was organising at Scotstoun, he had Alex Naylor, Eddie Taylor, Sandy Ewen and professional runner Michael Glen,   plus from England and from the ranks of the best athletes, there were Vic Mitchell, Mike Lindsay, Peter Warden and Menzies Campbell with athletes such as Graeme Grant, Hugh Barrow, Sandy Robertson and Don Halliday as ‘coaching assistants.’    That is by any standards a remarkable line-up.   To have it for Schools athletes shows the priority given to appropriate development of young athletes.
John left the post of National Coach in 1970 to become Direction of Physical Education at Heriot-Watt University.   The job came up and it was a case of ‘take it or leave it.’    Always up for a new challenge, John took it on and his successor as National Coach was Frank Dick.   The year of course was Commonwealth Games year and Willie Robertson (a well-known Highland Games ‘heavy’ athlete) has this tale:   He had entered the Kinlochleven Highland Games in 1970.   After deciding to go and throw at these Games he came to the conclusion that it would be good to do some walking in the Highlands at the same time.   So he set off up the West Highland Way and recalls what happened as follows:  Great weather, made good progress.   I camped at the top of Glencoe and I was flooded out during the night.   It rained non-stop for three days.   I was forced to take bed and breakfast in Kinlochleven and abandon the tent.   Day of the Games, it was still raining.   Realised the whole trip was a mistake.   Then along came a coach with a large part of the Australian track and field team in it.   They were a great set of lads.    A couple took part in the heavy events.    Their chaperon was John Anderson.   Had a great time and cadged a lift home.   The coach passed my home village of Kirkliston.”
John’s coaching career was really taking off and when I checked some figures with John he confirmed that he had indeed coached over 170 GB athletes as Wiki had said.    A look at some of them would be very informative.
john-anderson-with-dave-and-linda-moorcroft-in-1982
 John with David and Linda Moorcroft, 1982
The athlete with which he is most associated in the minds of many is David Moorcroft.   On a visit to see Sheila Carey at Coventry he had been asked to have a look at the young boys training and one of them was David Moorcroft.   The coach and physiotherapist at Coventry Godiva was Mick Crosfield who had to leave to concentrate on his business.   John had a phone call from Bob Moorcroft, David’s Dad, who asked if he would provide schedules for David to work to but John thought that he would have to know the athlete better.   He was then invited to stay with the Moorcroft family when he next went to see Sheila.  His involvement with David started in 1966.   It was a partnership which would lead to a world record for 5000m in 1982 and even a vets world record for the Mile of 4:02 in 1993.    David was a wonderful athlete and great role model for any athlete.   I heard him saying at a small seminar at Meadowbank in the mid 1990’s lthat they worked together so well and for so long that you could sit them in different dressing rooms, ask them to write a schedule for the next year and they would come up with almost identical programmes.      You can read of David’s association with John and his progress in the British Milers Club magazine for Spring 1999 at
When David started to work on his running with John as coach,  John was already coaching another Coventry runner who was very good indeed but whose name seems to have fallen from view.   She was Sheila Carey – a top class 800/1500/3000m runner who competed in two Olympics (1968 and 1972 in Munich where she set a new GB record for the 1500m), helped set a world 4 x 400m relay record at the Edinburgh Games in 1970.  John had met her at a training camp in Font Romeu when he was there with a GB team.   One afternoon he decided to take the men, for whom he was mainly responsible, up higher to a plateau where they could do some training.   He saw a woman climbing up with them – she was Sheila Taylor and then, on the way home, she asked John if he would coach her.    He was living in Hamilton at the time, she was in Coventry.   She was quite clear and determined and so the partnership was formed.   She ran in the Edinburgh Commonwealth Games in 1970 where she was one of the fallers at the end  of the women’s 800m and was unplaced.
The story of the selection for Mexico in 1972 is interesting.   The selection for the Olympics was the AAA’s Championship.   Sheila wasn’t well on the day and failed to qualify.   The first two were selected and John had a phone call the following week.   he was told that there was to be a run-off for the third 800m place between Ann Smith, trained by Gordon Pirie in New Zealand and the third placer in the AAA’s.    Sheila would be part of rest of the field.   John had other plans and on the day of the race he told her that she was going to win and go to the Olympics.   Tactics were simple – John would wait at a particular spot on the trackside and when he shouted to her to go, she was to really go for it all the way to the finish.   She responded really well, left the other two in her wake and won.   She went to Mexico.    It is a little known fact that John spent some time coaching blind athletes, and Sheila went on to teach in a school for the blind where she also became involved in coaching blind athletes.   Still running as a V65, see her recent profile at http://www.thepowerof10.info/athletes/profile.aspx?athleteid=1967  , Sheila was one of the Olympic torch-bearers in Warwick in 2012.
All the way through the 1970’s, 80’s and 90’s, John was coaching some of the best athletes in the country – and by the country, I mean Britain.   The decade started with Sheila Carey doing very well and David Moorcroft was outstanding.    David competed in three Olympic Games (1976, 1980 and 1984); in 1978 he won Gold in the Commonwealth 1500m and four weeks later, was third in the Europeans.   You can get the whole story of his career and training at the BMC link above.   In 1982, however, came his finest moment.   He broke the existing world record for the 5000m with 13:01.44 and he did so without the use of pace makers: at the Bislett Games in Oslo he simply ran away from the field.  There’s a nice video clip of the last 1000m at
It was the last time that world record was broken by someone other and African.   He also won gold in Brisbane at the Commonwealth Games and set a British and European 3000m record of 7:32.39.
David Jenkins
*    Liz McColgan won silver at the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul
John Graham trained with him from 1982 to 1987 which included a second in Rotterdam in 1985 in 2:09:58, 2:10:57 when finishing fifth in New York in 1983 and two Commonwealth Games fourth places.
*   Judy Simpson won bronze in the 1986 European Games pentathlon and competed in three Olympic Games in 1982, 1986 and 1990, although her top achievement was winning gold in the Commonwealth Games at Edinburgh in 1986..
*   Glasgow’s Lynne MacDougall ran in the Olympic 1500m Final in Los Angeles 1984 the high spot of a career of top class running including European Indoor Championships in 1984 and 1990, Commonwealth Games in 1986 and 1990, and with a range of personal bests ranging from 2:01.1 for 800m in 1984 right up to 2:36:29 for the marathon in 2002.
David Jenkins 4 x 400 silver in Olympics in 1972,silver in Europeans in 1974,  USA 400m champion in 1975, Commonwealth gold in 1978.   His 1971 victory in the European Championships at the age of 19 was quite superb.
David Wilson:  Hurdler and High Jumper who took part in the 1972 Olympics as a sprint hurdler, in the 1970 Commonewealth Games as a high jumper and in the European indoors as a high jumper.   He had personal bests of HJ 2:05, LJ 6.90, TJ 13.15, PV 3.30, Discus 36.64, 60mH 7.9, 110H 14.0 but never competed in a decathlon as far as I can discover.
*   He coached John Robson for a time and there were so many more, one of the most interesting being
*   David Bedford who asked John to coach him.   David had just run in the European Championships in Helsinki where, after leading right up to the last lap, he was destroyed by a 54 second last lap by Juha Vaatainen and then finished sixth.   Video of the last two laps can be found on youtube at this link – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sfm_lTSOjhI  .   John had been there with David Jenkins and they met there.   The following week  John came along to Meadowbank to do his coaching when he saw this tall, thin chap in red socks jogging round the track.   Recognising him, he asked what he was doing there and Bedford replied that he was what had brought him – he wanted John to coach him.   They reached an agreement and worked together for many years.   When he came up to Edinburgh David stayed with one of John’s runners, Dave Hislop and the partnership worked both athletically and socially.
With over 170 GB athletes, there were obviously many, many more but you get the quality of the coaching from that sample. Women’s heptathlon to men’s marathon via sprints, hurdles and high jump.      And with hurdler William Sharman he is still in 2013 producing champions!   From Maryhill in 1960 to London in 2013 the span is heading to 55 years.If the figure in Wikipedia of 170 GB internationals is correct, it must be more than any other coach ever.

John Liz 88 Seoul

John with Liz McColgan after the Seoul 10000m in which she was second
John’s credentials as a coach are undeniable – but how well were they recognised by the administrators of the sport?    Well, at the start of his career, coaches were regarded as ‘add-ons’ to the team as opposed to administrators who were essential.   Coaches were taken to Games but as extras who had to be taken rather than as essential parts of the competitive team.   The result was that he went to the 1968 and 1972 Games as an official consultant; he was attached to the team as a coach in 1976 and again in 1980 he was ‘attached’ to the UK team, and he was an official attachment to the team in 1984 and 1988, and again in 1992.   So – seven Games as part of the team, regardless of the title bestowed by the powers that were.   But he was properly recognised when in 1988 he was inducted into the UK Coaching Hall of Fame and he also received the Mussabini Medal.    The Hall of Fame is almost self-explanatory but the Mussabini Medal (named of course after Sam Mussabini who coached Harold Abrahams to Olympic gold.   I quote from Wikipedia:

The Mussabini Medal celebrated “the contribution of coaches of UK performers who have achieved outstanding success on the world stage.” Along with the Mussabini Medal, there also existed The Dyson Award, for “individuals who have made a sustained and significant contribution to the development and management of coaching and individual coaches in the UK”.   This award was named after Geoff Dyson, the first chief national athletics coach, who died in 1981.

The Mussabini Medal was introduced in conjunction with the launch of the Coaching Hall of Fame. The medal and associated awards were launched to raise the profile of coaches, and increase the financial backing to enhance the profession, still seen at the time as a largely amateur vocation in spite of Mussabini’s pioneering example.   Speaking at the inaugural presentation the patron of the Foundation the Princess Royal  stated that “Coaching and the work of individual coaches lies at the heart of sport, Yet all too often the role and contribution of the coach remains unrecognised and unacknowledged.”

Quite an honour.

 

David Bed2
That would be more than enough for any man, but there was so much more to John than that.    For instance, he was an agent with connections all over the athletics world and used these connections to the benefit of his, and other, athletes.    He was also influential in the promotion of events.    The Princes Street Mile races in Edinburgh for instance –
in the early 1990’s utilised John’s expertise in persuading world class competitors to take part for the first race of the series.    Runners that he persuaded to come along included Fermin Cacho, Steve Cram, Jens Peter Herold, William Tanui, David Kibet, Jim Spivey for the Men’s Mile and Hasib Boulmerka, Ellie van Langen,  Kirsty Wade, Doina Melinte, Yvonne Murray and Sonia O’Sullivan for the women’s race.   A quality not really equalled in any of the following years.  Then there were the training days, squad training sessions and many other occasions when his help was requested.    And then of course there was ‘The Gladiators.’
He was even at one point an agent getting the appropriate races for his athletes.   This was at the time when he was coaching Liz McColgan.   It was difficult at times getting the appropriate races to fit into their carefully planned programmes, and some of the agents were out for themselves rather than for the athletes,  so he offered to act as their agent, free of charge, and find them the appropriate competition.   It did work rather well for his charges.
Then there was ‘the day job’.    After the Heriot Watt Director of Physical Education, he moved to Nuneaton as Deputy Chief Liaison and Recreation Officer where he soon moved up to be Chief Leisure and Recreation Officer before finally ending up as Director of Leisure Services in London with a staff of 600 to supervise.
He was never still.    And he thrived on it.   Many coaches only ever have one national standard athlete or one Olympian in their charge, many very good coaches never have either but John held down a series of demanding jobs while coaching athletes to the highest honours and performing the many other associated functions noted above.
Wolf 2
He was at that time working in the South of England and he received a phone call from a TV company who were going to do a Game Show programme involving big, strong muscle men and they needed somebody who was an expert in tests and measurements.   He was invited to come to Woolwich Barracks in London to help sort them out.   If they passed the tests then they were to report to the producer.   When he reported there were lots of muscles on display.   All the men were body builders but none of the women were – they were all dancers, gymnasts and so on.    He sorted them out and the word ‘Gladiators’ never came up and he didn’t know what he was sorting them out for.   The producer was Nigel Lithgoe, treated with all due deference by everybody but John was curious to see how they were going to be selected for the actual show.   He then encouraged Nigel to include one big guy in particular.  Originally doubtful, he did include the ‘big guy’ as a reserve.    The big guy turned out to be Wolf (pictured above)who became the most popular of them all.   John was then invited to come down as Director of Training.   He went down knowing nothing about the show and then Nigel asked him to be referee as well.   John accepted the job and that was the start of it.   The show was an instant and mammoth hit.   John had no small part to play in it: his “Gladiators ready” and famous countdown 3-2-1 were so successful that they were copied by the American version which was the original and biggest Gladiator show.    Another favourite member of the team was Nightshade – one of his own athletes, heptathlete  Judy Simpson – mentioned above.   There is a profile of him in his role as Gladiators referee at
The two comments below the article read as follows: “Back in the 90′s hey day of Gladiators, I was a working at the Pizza Express in Brindley Place, Birmingham, next door to the NIA where Gladiators was filmed.   For several weeks every year, the paths outside were thronged with foam handed punters, and we often saw the Gladiators themselves walking past. Wolf even belied his image and would wave and smile at the kids.   But the man himself, John Anderson was a regular customer. He would always come in by himself, and sit at table 13 and order two garlic breads for starters, and then a pizza. He was a really nice guy, and would happily sign autographs for the kids. Probably the nicest minor celebrity I met while working there, although it could be a tie between him and Bob Holness.” was the first and the second contrasts this with his on-screen appearance and reputation.   It reads “The wimp ref Sky employed was awful. We nicknamed him ‘dad ref’ because ‘Gladiators Ready!?’ sounded more like ‘dinners ready.’ ”   which clearly indicates that John was just a bit tougher than the US original!
There was even a set of toy gladiators produced with a six inch John Anderson figure: a toy firm called Character Options made and sold sets of the Gladiator characters – and of course there had to be one of John as well.   Advertised as Gladiators: John Anderson 6″ Action Figure, it looked like this.

Gladiators: John Anderson 6” Action Figure

And the script read: ‘One of the Gladiators 6″ Action Figures to collect from the hit show on Sky1.   This pack contains John Anderson 6″ action figure with Whistle and Stopwatch.   “Contender READY”, “Gladiator READY” are words that can only be uttered by one man. John Anderson is the man behind the whistle, in charge of keeping the Gladiators and contenders in check as well as preparing them for the challenges they face!’

Manufactured by Character Options

Judy Night
Into the twenty first century and John was still operating at a very high level indeed: a couple of examples.    As part of the ‘Flying Coaches’ with other coaches and athletes such as Paul Evans for instance.   What were the Flying Coaches?   They explain their set up like this –
Who are the Flying Coaches?
A range of coaches have been identified on the basis of their experience and expertise in technical events. The Flying Coach Programme has seen the likes of former Chicago Marathon winner Paul Evans and World Champion coach John Anderson visiting clubs. Coaches interested in becoming ‘Flying Coaches’ should contact their area Club and Coach Support Officer to register interest.

What might a Flying Coach visit involve?While it is expected that the focus of the majority of Flying Coach visits will be the technical development of coaches, clubs are encouraged to address other areas of coach development using the Flying Coach scheme, such as:

  • Strength & Conditioning
  • Fundamental Movement Skills
  • Planning and Periodisation
  • Communication Skills
  • Sport Psychology

Flying Coach Programme: Disability

Wheelchair Racing: An introduction to basic push technique, chair set up and training programmes.
Seated throws: Advice and guidance on seated throws, including throwing frames, tie downs and fixings.
Coaching blind or visually impaired athletes: Advice and guidance on supporting blind or visually impaired athletes, to include guide running and competition pathways.
Coaching deaf or hearing impaired athletes: Advice and guidance on coaching deaf and hearing impaired athletes. To include information on effective communication, technology, Deaf UK Athletics and competition pathways.
Coaching athletes with a learning disability: Advice and guidance on coaching athletes with a learning disability. To include information on Mencap, Special Olympics and competition pathways.
Other impairment specific visits: Advice and guidance on coaching athletes with a specific impairment (Cerebral Palsy, amputees etc). To include information on National Disability Sports Organisations and competition pathways.

So it is not an easy option to follow for the coach – the last section is interesting with our prior knowledge of his work with blind athletes.

john-in-2011-with-hurdlers-at-cornwall-ac

John in Cornwall, 2011

In August 2011 for instance he travelled to Cornwall with Tom McNab and Alan Launder to work with the local Cornwall AC for what seems to have been really successful event.   There are links at the Cornwall site to two of John’s PowerPoint presentations.   The first is called “Most can run, many can race, few win!”  and the second is entitled “Preparation/Rehearsal for Sprints”.   While they are incomplete without John’s presentation, the headings are enough to make most people think a bit.   You can get them at

http://www.cornwallac.org.uk/content/NewsDetails.asp?ID=551

–  the links are just below the first picture of the three coaches!

As we said above he is still coaching a small number of top class athletes but he is not yet easing himself into retirement as a coach.

Success at the level he has enjoyed didn’t alter the fact that he was a coach who worked with athletes of all abilities.   With his personality and ability he would have been a success in any walk of life: we are fortunate that he chose athletics.

There is an excellent article on John on the Playing Pasts website at

Where Are They Now – John Anderson

Tributes to John are many but I have some on a separate page which you can reach from this link.