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Sandra Johnson - My life in angling

When it was recently announced that Sandra had left Angling Trust it felt like the end of an era. Sandra had been part of the Angling Trust ‘furniture’ since its formation back in 2009.

Sandra Johnson - Angling Trust

Sandra was the reassuring voice on the other end of the phone for hundreds if not thousands of competition anglers of all disciplines, especially those of us who occasionally struggle with the idiosyncrasies of modern online booking systems. Prior to her time at Angling Trust, Sandra was a key player in the National Federation of Anglers (NFA) competitions team. In this article, we look back alongside Sandra at some of the happy memories of her time in post.

Landing the job

I saw the job advertised in a local newspaper and joined in April 2005 after being interviewed by Paul Baggaley (CEO) and John Mitchell (Director). I was asked what I knew about angling, and I replied that I knew absolutely nothing. My honesty paid off; all I could say was that I am very keen to learn and thus the journey began. I started at the Eggington Junction office prior to our move to Holme Pierrepoint. The first external person I ever met was Glyn Williams.

Glyn did so much outstanding work in angling participation over the years. When I first joined, there used to be so many Royal Mail bags full of FishOMania entries turning up at the office. When we moved to Holme Pierrepoint, I was heavily involved in a project pioneering the online bookings process. It took a while, but I proud to be part of the delivery of that successful project.

Competitions world

I wanted to make a difference to how anglers perceived the governing body. I felt it was important we weren't just sat behind desks getting on with the workload but it also vital to be seen to be getting out and about and meeting anglers in person. After all, they helped pay my wages. When I first started out it was actually hard getting anglers to speak to me. They first have to trust you and think you were ‘like them'. I therefore decided to visit venues where anglers were fishing in my spare time at weekends.

England Boat Training Session 2012

In due course, I travelled all over the country learning as much as I could about the fishing scene in general. I realised that I wouldn't be taken seriously if I didn't know what I was talking about. I learnt how to fish myself. I started attending lots of competitions to meet participants there and involving myself in various elements of the work on match days. This included things like registering contestants on arrival, helping with draws and weighing in, the resulting and presentations.

I absolutely loved this side of the job and seeing how the various competitions evolved. Then the anglers would not want to speak to anyone else, so I knew that they had accepted me. Things continued in that vein for a decade or more.

A wide range of competitions

There are so many competitions I have been involved with over the years and all are run slightly differently. I have acted as the customers primary point of contact, working closely with volunteers, organisers, event managers, fishery owners, key partners and sponsors, to help organise events, write press releases, seek and source sponsorships and look after the Team England brand.

The list of competitions I've worked on with includes the National Championships, FishOMania, Angling Trust and Canal & River Trust Boddington Classic, Angling Trust and Canal & River Trust Canal Pairs, RiverFest, Pike qualifiers and final, Winter League, Masters, Feeder Masters (first year of launch), TideFest, SilverFish and many World and Home International Championships in all three disciplines of the sport.

I never got to visit one on the bank but one competition that seems to be doing well is the National Celebration of Young People and Fishing which gives me hope for the future of match fishing.

Friends and colleagues I have worked with

I've worked with literally hundreds of match organisers over the years. Canal Pairs, Riverfest and FishOMania have twenty plus heats each year and inevitably venues and local organisers come and go over time. Here are just some of the people I have worked with in no particular order...

Sandra, Alan and Oliver Scotthorne, Tommy Pickering, Joe Roberts, Dean Barlow, Terry Fell, Dick Clegg, MBE OBE, David Kent, Bob Dyer, Andre Grandjean, Dave Watkins, Terry Nutt, Mike Storey, Terry Naulls, Mick Turner, Julie Abbott, Nigel Franks, Mark Treasure, FIPS-ed, FIPS-M, FIPS-Mouche, England Sea Managers, England Coarse Managers, Brian Owen, Sea Angling Liaison Committee for Scotland, Ireland, England and Wales, John Ellis & Carl Nicholls at Canal & River Trust, Dave Harrell, Darren Cox, Dick and Sheila Pilkinton, the British Pike Squad, Ann and Ted Rowe, all local organisers, all team captains, and fishery owners and most important every angler fishing an event.

Pike Final 2011

Memorable moments

I remember one year at a national. Upon arrival there was, as normal, a long queue of anglers awaiting the all-important draw, all hoping that this would be their year. One by one every angler in that long queue turned around to say hello to me. People said they have never ever seen that from anglers before and perhaps they won't ever again. That made me very proud to be doing what I did.

Another interesting memory was when I asked David Cameron, then Prime Minister, if he would support and wish the competitors all the best when they took part in the World Carp Championship which were being hosted in his constituency of Witney. I was over the moon when he wrote back to me in person so I could do this for all the competitors taking part.

Hilarious incidents

At my first Individual National Championship I sat behind an angler who was steadily feeding his swim from his groundbait bucket. I'm not sure what possessed me but instinct took over and I put my hand in the bucket and fed some of the contents into the water, almost hitting the float.

However, it wasn't the groundbait mix that I have picked up, it I was a small Battenburg cake that he had brought especially for me The angler could not stop laughing whilst trying to claim I'd ruined his swim. Maybe the fish just don't like to have their cake and eat it. In 2011, I was delegated to greet the Mayor at the SALC Home Boat Shore Championship. However, I shook his chauffeur's hand instead of the mayors.

Desperate situations

At one of the River Trent Division 1 National Championship matches, a lady colleague was caught short. With an embarrassing accident almost an inevitability, there was precious little choice for it other than for her to crouch down behind a nearby vehicle. My job was to act as lookout guard, reasonably straightforward you may think. What could possibly go awry?

What neither of us had actually realised was that the vehicle owner was sitting in the car. At precisely the worst possible moment imaginable, he merrily drove off with my colleague in the squatting position and now in clear sight of a line of all male competitors. There ws nothing for it but to go with the flow. It's fair to say that I was not a particularly good look out guard. The best I can hope is that participants were fully focused on their floats at the time.

Now now, Joe

On the Veterans World Championship, Joe Roberts, England Manager turned around and said ‘San, you do look lovely with your clothes on'. I didn't quite know where to look. For what he had really meant to say was that I looked lovely all dressed up, as on this occasion I was wearing a dress whereas usually teams would see me attired in jeans and a polo shirt. All the various team member certainly saw the funny side.

Hedging my bets

At one Division 1 National, I ended up on photographic duty. As the delighted captain of the winning team shook the obligatory bottle of bubbly, the cork came flying out at 100 miles an hour heading right in my direction. I tried to swerve out of the way best I could but only ended up falling backwards into the nearby hedge. Once everyone had had a giggle at my expense, I had to compose myself to retake the photo.

2011 SALC Home Boat Shore Championships

Key mistake

On one occasion in my early years, Terry Fell was chairing an NFA board meeting. The meeting was running over time and he asked me for the keys so they the office could be locked up once proceedings had reached their conclusion. However, I inadvertently handed over my house keys to Terry by mistake. Shortly after, realising my error, I rushed back into the boardroom to grab the keys out of Terry Fell's hands. Whenever I speak to him, Terry always mentions the keys incident.

Beware men bearing gifts

Every time I visited the Canal & River Trust offices in Fazeley for meetings for Boddington Classic and the Canal Pairs events with John Ellis, he would present me with a carrier bag of his home-grown prize winning marrows to take away. Perhaps it's just a Shropshire lads way of charming the girls. Somehow it got around the match anglers that I was quite partial to chocolate. Soon they learnt that my favourite of all was chocolate buttons.

I was often brought packets of these as a present. I love chocolates and am actually quite partial to baked marrow. But to this day I have never for the life of me quite fathomed out why Martin Earl at the Pike Final used to present me a bunch of bananas year on year. One things for sure, I've certainly met a fascinating range of characters over the years. I would not have missed it for the world.

Last Edited: 27 August 2021

photo of a location on the canals
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