The 1981 world championships were held in Luddington on the Warwickshire Avon. It was the second of only three occasions that England has hosted the world angling championships and Harry Lodge was at the heart of the action.
The National Federation of Anglers, founded in 1903 thanks to the efforts of, amongst others, the likes of Alf Waterhouse and Phillip Geen oversaw the event. By 1981, Harry Lodge was the senior vice president and chairman of the NFA Competitions Committee, having taken over from predecessor Tommy Blackledge during the 1970s. Coventry’s Joe Betteridge was president and Coleshill’s Stan Smith was the England team manager, having taken over from Bernard Donovan in the early 1970s.
For the 1981 event the so-called gang of four ‘Harry, Joe, Stan along with Reading’s Vernon De’ath were to run the show. A fifth member of the gang, a man who was famously referred to by future president David Bird as the portly grocer, was Worksop’s Gerald Rollinson.
Back then as now, it was the world governing body CIPS who award the world championships. The CIPS president at that time was Dutchman Jos Kleinbower. He arranged a visit to look at two possible venues, the Upper Trent around Burton and the Warwickshire Avon at Luddington. The latter, best met the standards on evenness of depth, spectator access etc.
Things got off to a brilliant start when, with the help of the NAC’s Peter Tombleson, the NFA received a £40,000 sponsorship from the Midland Bank. Running championships is a bit more challenging than a club match. Only organisers of a national championships such as Dave Watkins and Terry Nutt will appreciate the stress. Apart from making sure the pegs are fishable and pegging out on the previous day, you must source name tabards for stewards and competitors and national flags for each competing nation and then get flagpoles made, to name but a few tasks.
Sourcing the recordings of the national anthems of all participating countries must be taken care of. There was no internet back then to download such items. Harry describes sourcing those national anthems as ‘a nightmare’. Then there was the angling village to deal with, making sure electricity, water and the like were supplied to stands that required them. Car parking needed to be sorted for the 30,000 crowd. By the evening of the match, after months of hard work, Harry thought that all seemed to be in good order. His confidence was misplaced. It started raining heavily. The river was almost a foot up and the last thing needed was more rain.
Late that Friday evening, Harry was looking forward to his meal, a beer and a brief relaxation. Alas, he was summoned to the hotel reception. He sensed it meant trouble. On the line was an irate lady resident of Luddington. A team of non-English speaking anglers from somewhere behind the iron curtain, having found her garage door open, has set up camp in the said lady’s garage. There was no other option but for Harry to take his car to go and collect the said team and drop them at the match hotel in Birmingham. How Harry managed to fit the nations entire angling team and associated equipment into his vehicle and trailer he will never know. Somehow everyone squeezed in. There was no harm done.
The English team was Clive Smith, Tony Scott, Kevin Ashurst, Dave Thomas and John Dean. Stan left out the Leicester Legend Ivan Marks, a brave and controversial decision. History records another near miss for England in the team event. France topped the field with 25 ahead of England (31) with a delighted Welsh Dragons team in third spot with 39 points. Making his debut was Leeds Dave Thomas who won his section with the day’s top weight of 10-1-12. Leigh’s Kevin Ashurst landed two chub and lost four more, ending up with 2-9-8. John Dean recorded 2-1-4. Tony Scott could only muster 0-5-12 and the late Clive Smith landed just three minnows for 0-0-12.
It rarely pays to trust the British weather. The gods conspired to cause near catastrophe for at around 6.00pm on the Saturday evening a violent storm struck the area. The heavens opened with monsoon like conditions ensuring for several hours. Harry recalls the devastation as he arrives at the venue at 6.00am the following morning.
The river was bank high and chocolate in colour. The tents in the angling village has blown down. It was carnage. The Angling Times blimp had broken away and entangled itself in nearby powerlines, resulting in the loss of the electricity supply to most of the Stratford area. It was a close call as to whether to go ahead with the individual championships on day two. In the end, the anglers did line up along a flooded river.
Dave Thomas and Max Winters (team reserve) lined up for the individual event on the Sunday. Conditions were diabolical with the river in flood. It didn’t stop Dave emulating the feat of Ian Heaps back in 1975, taking the world crown at his first attempt. He caught just three fish, two chub and a small roach from a peg known as the Glory Hole. He fished literally under his rod tip and weighed in 2lb 10oz, just over 9 ounces clear of Portugal’s Vitor Santos. The swim was full of snags and Dave lost no fewer than 15 hooks during the three-hour contest. As for Max, he ended up in sixth spot with 0-12-0
Nobody recalls how it quite happened but somehow or other competitors soon cottoned on that alcoholic beverages could be added to the room bill, the cost of which were being paid in their entirety by the NFA. Competitors managed to consume just over £8,000 worth of alcoholic drinks all booked to the NFA room bill. That’s around £29,000 in today’s money. The NFA found itself with no option but to foot the bill. Some anglers had ordered bottles of vodka and whisky, many of which must doubtless made their way across the English Channel as not even match anglers can consume those quantities of alcohol in a couple of evening sessions.
It was to be another 13 years before the world angling championships returned to England again and it was David Kent who was to take the responsibility for the event. Under David’s watchful eye, there was to be no humungous bar bills for the governing body to pick up.
The team undertake a diverse range of work including looking after the Trust's £40 million worth of fish stocks, managing agreements with over 250 different angling clubs and helping more people, especially youngsters, take up angling on the canal. Follow this blog to keep updated with the thoughts and work of the team.See more blogs from this author