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The Leicester Likely lads. Who were they and are they still around?

Ivan Marks is forever associated with a group of Leicester teammates collectively known as the ‘Likely Lads’. This article, brought courtesy of Mark Wintle, author of Ivan Marks and the Likely Lads examines who the other members of team were, touches briefly on what made each one special and updates us on where they are today. Of course, if you really want to find out the full story you need to buy yourself a copy of the book, unless you win one in our competition.

The Likely Lads in later years

Roy Marlow

Roy Marlow is one of the best known of the Likely lads. His tackle business partnership with Ivan lasted until 1985. Ivan first talent-spotted Roy in Leicester and recruited him for the Leicester AS team in 1966. Roy finished 2nd in the Witham National. The following year Roy fished for England in the World Championships and came 4th. In the early 1970s Roy had a host of big wins, winning the Nene Championship in 1971 and 1972, and contributing to Leicester AS's victory in the 1971 Severn National with a 6th placed 27lb catch. In 1974, Ivan envisaged Roy eventually taking over the reins from himself as the leading Leicester angler but increasing business pressures led to Roy concentrating more on that side rather than top-class match fishing. Later he developed the fisheries at Mallory Park and the Glebe as well as being heavily involved in tackle development with Daiwa, Pure Fishing and Marukyu.

Celebrating nationals success

Dave Rossi

Dave Rossi was the joker of the team, always ready for a laugh. Don't mistake his sense of humour for a lack of ability. Although he rarely hit the headlines, he was a skilful all-rounder who was meticulous in his approach. He acted as team manager ensuring that all arrangements were in place. He was the unsung hero of Leicester AS's two National triumphs; in 1971, he put 21-13-0 of barbel on the scales from a peg tipped to produce just 7lbs of dace – enough to give Leicester a 12lb advantage over the mighty Birmingham AA. Then in 1974, on a desperately hard Welland, he conjured out 2oz of tiny roach in the dying minutes, having remembered a tip from Ivan about using cloud bait scoring mega points so that Leicester won by a single point. He still fishes when he can although at 84, he has retired from competitive match fishing.

Dave Downes

Regarded by Ivan as the ‘bridesmaid' of the team, Dave often seemed to be second in big matches rather than winning, though stats showed he won more times than he came second. He loved bream fishing and was second in the 1973 Witham National with over 40lbs of bream, just ounces from winning. Dave enjoyed much success on the Huntspill. The advent of scratching for ounces hit Dave harder than most. The prospect of a winter league match on a grim cold day on an out-of-sorts Trent that finally led him to throw the towel in on match fishing. His later interests including owning racehorses and playing golf; he still runs his own dye company.

The Leicester team from the late 1970’s including some of the original Likely Lads

Howard Humphrey

Howard Humphrey was one of the first anglers Ivan coached to stardom, starting when Howard was in his teens. By the mid-1960s and in his early 20s, Howard was an accomplished match angler. When Brian Holland left the Likely Lads in about 1967 Ivan invited Howard to join. After Ivan, Howard was perhaps the most consistent and successful angler in the group. Although he never won any of the huge river championships, Howard had many big open wins. In the late 1970s Howard went to manage Billy Lane's Coventry tackle shop and continued there until he retired. He still fishes.

Brian Envis

Brian is one of the lesser-known Likely Lads. He had a major success in 1964 winning the huge CIU. National on the Great Ouse Relief Channel. Ivan always reckoned Brian was ‘Mr Lucky' in that he usually had the same section as the eventual winner in the Nationals. Brian left the Likely Lads in 1970 but the year after he had top weight for Leicester AS in the 1971 National with 30-2-0 of barbel for 4th place. He still match-fishes and is still winning.

John Essex

John Essex and the Likely lads B team

When looking for a replacement for Brian Envis, John Essex made a good impression in finishing 4th in the Great Ouse Championship that year after drawing next to Ivan who had the first of his three wins in the event. John won the Championship in 1971. He made match fishing history in 1975 with what was, at the time, the biggest fish landed in a National with a 14-2-0 Nene carp. He finished third although interestingly he still occasionally gets congratulated for winning that match!

His top-class match career was cut short by recurring back problems in 1977. Recently John has resumed his match fishing in local Age Concern matches and still wins regularly. He enjoys researching match angling history and has written a book on the history of the All-England championships which will be released in 2019. He also writes regular heritage blogs for the Trust.

Robin Grouse

Robin Grouse was another of Ivan's ‘apprentices'. He won the 1970 Nene championship and the 1972 Soar Championship. It was clear to Ivan that he was a formidable young match angler. Ivan chose John Essex to replace Brian Envis in 1970 but it was a difficult choice between John, Robin and Phil Coles. Robin was a regular ‘Likely Lads B' team member until he moved to Nottingham in the late 1970s where he represented both the Nottingham Anglers Association and Nottingham Federation of Anglers sides in the National.

Phil Coles

Phil Coles: one of the Likely Lads

Phil Coles' father, Alan Coles, was a close friend of Ivan's father and had originally taken Ivan fishing when Ivan was a lad. It was therefore only natural that Ivan should introduce Phil to fishing in the mid-1960s. By the time Phil was 13 Ivan had recognised that he was the most natural angler he'd ever come across and tipped him for great things. Phil was almost an adopted son to Ivan and aged 18, fishing for Leicester AS, Phil won the 1972 Division 1 National on the Bristol Avon in what was a fairy tale win. It was perhaps too much too soon, for Phil struggled to maintain his form through the 1970s although he made a very strong comeback in 1977 when he was in the England squad and won the Ladbrokes Super League. After about 1980, Phil dropped out of fishing apart from a brief comeback in 1995. Sadly, Phil died in an accident in 2017.

Find out more

Ivan Marks and the Likely Lads by Mark Wintle. 332 pages from Hardback £20, Special numbered cloth-bound edition of 30 copies at £45 available from the publisher.

Last Edited: 31 October 2018

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