Fishing on the waterways we care for can be a wonderful pastime for people with a wide range of disabilities. One man who's passionate about the potential of disabled angling is John Weeden, the England disabled team manager. We caught up with John recently to find out what makes him tick.
A north Londoner by birth, young John certainly wasn't born with a silver spoon in his mouth, not even a plastic one. After losing both parents by his mid-teens, John has his sister to thank for largely keeping him on the straight and narrow in those all-important formative years. The nation's canal network played its part too, for John's name can be added to the list of great anglers who first learnt to fish on the towpath of their local canal. In John's case it was the Regent's Canal at Kings Cross, which was within easy walking distance of his humble abode. One of John's unusual successes was a section wining 15oz of sticklebacks on the Regent's. He rates that performance as far superior feat of skill to a recent 389lbs winning haul of carp.
There is a certain irony in John being associated with a fishing team called defiant for John is a man who defies the odds to this day in his persistence and ability to charm potential donors to the disabled teams cause. John's first club, back in the early 1970s was the Majestics. They had an association with the Post Office and competed in the Herts Winter league. John's potential was spotted and soon he was representing Defiant Mobile, a club with a long association with the late Fred French MBE. Captained by Terry Rose, squad members included the Vincent twins, Dean Field, Tony Marti, Graham Dack, Clive Gingell and the late Perry Delgarno.
Most of the above-named anglers moved to Trev's but Johnny stayed for another couple of seasons before himself making the switch. This team were as keen as mustard on structured practice and preparation and before long were masters of the Lee Navigation, Thames and London canals.
Learning from northern bloodworm and joker experts and keen to avoid bleak in search of better stamp fish, they started using leam/soil combinations to make a bed for the bait. Trev's anglers didn't always wish to avoid bleak though. Using the greased line method originally developed by Ade Scutt and Bill Bullock on the Lee, the likes of Derek Young were awesome on bleak when in full flow. The team put their bleaking skills into good effect when finishing runners-up in the 1988 national on the swollen River Severn. Two years later, they went on to win the Division One title on the Witham, capping off an incredible run that had taken the team from Division 5 through to division one in five years and champions in year six. Their exploits are sure to get decent coverage in John Essex History of the National Championship book.
Essex and back
John left the Trev's team in 1989 in a move to Essex County, thus missing out on the Trev's Division One national success. But after a couple of years he was back fishing in Team Robbo's with the likes of Gary Miller, Dickie Carr, Chris Vandervleit, Andy Mead not forgetting Hertford restauranteur and martial art expert Danny Fung who these days is based out in Hong Kong. Nowadays John fishes for the Image team, which includes a host of top names including the likes of Lee Newson, Graham West, Billy and Alan Reynolds Rib Bishop and Graham Dack.
Early involvement in English disabled team
Assisted by Joe Roberts, Dave Vincent managed the team in the early years competing at world championship level. John was originally asked to get involved as a helper in around 2002 and did so every year for a decade of so. In around 2013 with Dave stepping aside for health reasons and with Joe Roberts deciding to focus on the management of the veterans' squad, John was honoured when he received a phone call from one of his angling heroes Dick Clegg proposing he take over management of the team. It was an offer that John was delighted to accept.
Funding the team
For a man who was ‘borassic lint' in his early years, John has become a fundraising colossus, without whose efforts the team could not continue to compete on the international stage. Donations come in all shapes and sizes, from a fiver donated from housewives who John has charmed with his legendary wit while on painting and decorating day job duty, through to more substantial sums donated by respected London businessmen who largely prefer to remain anonymous. In the past two years, over £22,000 has been raised without which the disabled team simply could not compete overseas.
Disabled world championship points system
Depending on the nature of the disability, team members are ranked from 1 point through to 5 points for an angler with one arm and 6 points for blind anglers. Four anglers represent each team on both days of the competition, with each day's fishing being over three hours.
The combined number of points from the four anglers must equal or exceed 11. Each team member, except for one-point anglers are allowed one helper who can net a fish, bait the hook and introduce loose-feed and groundbait. The likes of Tony Troth and Alex Clements have made an awesome contribution over the years as helpers.
A team on the up
In both 2016 and 2018 the team has finished up in bronze medal position. There were also bronze medals for Roy Wells (2016) and Elliot Fay (2018) with Elliot taking the silver medal individually in 2017. The 2019 England squad, selected following the latest trial on the River Soar, that will be heading to Italy for the match on 14 and 15 June 2019 is:
Mark Russell (1)
Roy Wells (3)
Stefan Gent (3)
Mark Eaves (4)
Alan Chadbone (5)
If John's commitment is anything to go by, a place on the highest point of the rostrum for the team seems very much on the cards in the next couple of years.
The Weeden Dream team
As is tradition, our evening ended with John being put under pressure to select his top ten canal anglers that he has fished with or against. Here are his final selections:
Not making this specialist canal team is the angler John rates as the best English angler ever, Steve Gardener. He recalled in awe a match winning effort by Steve on the River Rother with a catch made up entirely of eels. As John put it, there are good anglers, great anglers and then Steve Gardener. Stevie fished for England for 27 consecutive years which by anyone's standards is a long time. I wonder if John will end up managing the England disabled angling team for that length of time?
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