Bill Bushnell

England Athletics report the recent death of Bill Bushnell, a thrower of yore, but also a coach who touched so many lives, and to whom so many, owe so very much.

Malcolm Fenton writes:

In 1973 I met Bill for the first time, at an inter-club match at Shotley Gate, Suffolk. This gnarled old competitor, for he seemed so to me, as I was a skinny little 17 year old, was competing in the throws, along with an equally ‘elderly’ John Weightman. To be fair I found both quite frightening in this scenario, never having seen them before. I further exacerbated the meeting, as I left for home early, as I had home work to complete, thanking the other competitors as I left, Bill snarled at me, ‘You haven’t won yet’, which made scuttle off faster. The next day we had a county schools training day in Suffolk, where the Discus coach was Bill…..! He gave me one of his disarming sideways looks, as I tried to explain, badly, the situation of the day before. Although we met many times over the ensuing years, my admiration for him growing with each meeting, I always felt our first meeting spoilt our future dealings, but that just may have been me?

Throughout his years of coaching, firstly, in my experience, in Essex, then in Hampshire, Bill always has a group on successful, some highly successful throwers, this including his own children. As with many coaches, Bill was always there, always ready to help and support, with an understanding and patience that belied the sometimes gruff exterior. I lost count of the number of meetings I attended, where Bill would appear with his chair, to support and cajole, and sometimes console his athletes.

In recent times I made a visit to Southampton to see Bill, and his son-in-law Dave Calloway. Bill greeted me saying, ‘We’ve never had anyone from UKA or England visit us before’. ‘Bill, I’d go anywhere to see you’ I replied. Which is perhaps the best epitaph I could make for a fellow coach. Bill had a big shadow, one that will be so hard to fill.

Mike McNeill writes:

My recollections of one of our most underated throws coaches were that he immersed himself in the throwing events and in his athletes with such passion and stoicism. He epitomised a by gone era of “practical coaching” based on knowledge and experience. His whole family were sporty and very competitive and the summers were spent at tracks all over the country motivating, advising and praising athletes for what they had done.

I remember travelling to Braintree with athletes in my early days as a coach to one of Bill’s famous and well attended throws meetings and feeling as though we were with a family or a tribe that was special, throws had centre stage and everyone was supportive, encouraging and interested in what others did. At the centre was the ‘ring master’ commanding respect and offering words of advice to anyone sensible enough to listen. A later engagement with me leading a javelin session at the then new Braintree track resulted in Bill challenging me about a particular technical point of the carry angle of the javelin during the the crossover phase. It was not disrespectful or rude but to the point and simply requiring me to justify why his athlete should change from what he had coached. After an explanation I was unsure of his opinion but he watched with interest and at the end thanked me for an interesting session and the opportunity to look at things differently. After that I realised he was a man with incredibly strong values and principles but at no time suffered fools gladly.

Bill’s athletes loved being part of “Bill’s Chuckers” and they honoured him by performing in the way he had ‘schooled’ them, fiercely competitive, respectful to other athletes and officials whilst knowing how to win with humility and lose with dignity. The number of county, regional and international level athletes that began their journey in our sport with Bill was incredible.

He coached and nurtured his family with great pride and wonderful values. He will live in those he knew and loved.

If the legends of the Vikings are true he will be drinking with friends and competitors alike in the ‘Halls of Valhalla’ because he was a true warrior!