To those who knew the wonderful coach John Sullivan. We have been told that John has sadly passed away. The funeral service will be held on Wednesday 15th February at 11am at St Mary and St Michael Catholic Church, 2 Lukin Street, Commercial Road, London E1 0AA.
John’s international reputation was based on his elite middle distance squad, whose depth was unequalled during the ‘golden age’ of middle distance running in the UK in the 1980s and attracted athletes from several countries around Europe to train with him in London. However he also gained significant success coaching hurdlers and his attention from the mid-1990s became increasingly focused on shorter distances, hence he worked with internationals at all men's track disciplines.
Among WGEL athletes he coached Tyrone Edgar to the national U20s success at 100m that led him off to the US and Olympic selection. Others he guided that still hold club records include Monu Miah (who set the U17 200m record winning the AAAs and went on to medal in the Euro Junior 100m), Josephus and Jocelyn Thomas, Prince Amara and Simon Ciaravella. A significant number of his charges have become coaches themselves including several for Woodford, most notably Lloyd Cowan.
Our former athlete Larry Mangelshot was one of many WGEL athletes coached by John - here are his memories...
I trained with John from 1983 through to 1996 so I know quite a lot about John’s coaching set up during that period. Unfortunately, I do not know very much about John’s own running background before he took up coaching. John was a very modest man and never spoke much about his running, but I do know that he was pretty quick at 800m and strong enough to compete well at distances up to 20 miles.
I think that most of his running was done for the Hornsey St Mary’s club, which later became North London Athletic Club (nowadays known as London Heathside). John went on to serve as the senior coach and team manager for North London AC for many years and oversaw the club’s rapid rise from the Southern League to the higher echelons of the British League during the 1980s. I first met up with John in about 1978 when I was sent along to train at North London AC by my local boys’ club. However, in those days my love of playing football proved too strong and I soon gave up the athletics. It wasn’t until 5 years later, when I realised I was never going to play for Chelsea, that I approached John to train me to become a middle distance runner.
I remember my very first training session with John on an Autumn evening down at New River athletics stadium in Haringay. I got partnered up with some talented youngster called Steve Crabb and by the end of the session I had serious doubts about returning for any future sessions because I was so knackered – Steve went on to run 1500 metres for Great Britain at both the 1988 and 1992 Olympics! Fortunately, I did go back the following week, and I kept going back for most weeks over the next 13 years. I say most weeks because like all athletes I suffered periodically from illness or injury which meant missing training. However, John was there EVERY week, come rain or shine. I honestly can’t remember a single occasion where he did not show up for a scheduled training session. That is pretty amazing considering how long John’s coaching career spanned, and the varied locations of our training venues which included New River, Finsbury Park, Mile End Stadium, Victoria Park and Southwark Park.
One of the highlights of our training program was always the annual trip abroad for warm weather training just prior to the track season. We had some unforgettable trips to the Algarve in Portugal, and it was during these trips that we got to know John as more than the knowledgeable coach who was helping each and every one of us improve our athletic performance. Yes, once the day’s training was done, John kept us all thoroughly entertained with his endless supply of anecdotal stories and his full repertoire of operatic arias….John loved his opera and a glass of Remy Martin brandy soon put him in a singing mood.
Returning briefly to John’s own athletics endeavours, there was a famous occasion when North London AC managed to qualify for the GRE Gold Cup Final for the first time in our history with a team of only 9 athletes turning out for the semi-final. This is virtually unheard of, a bit like if Lincoln City or Sutton United win this year’s FA Cup….after having half their team sent off! Anyway, it was all hands to the pump and even our team manager, John – aged roughly 55 at the time, had to do a couple of events. Well John badly misjudged one of his hammer throws!!.....and ended up flying out of the circle himself and leaving the hammer behind. Needless to say, the throw was not measured, but John did score points for the team by producing at least one valid throw. I can’t really begin to put into words John’s performance in his second event – the pole vault!! – but suffice to say that John ended up a very proud team manager and team member that day.
John’s dedication to coaching athletes, regardless of their level of ability, was second to none. He did not coach for the glory, and certainly not for any financial reward. He coached because he loved coaching and he loved athletics. Pure and simple with no self-serving hidden agenda. Every one of us athletes, and endless others in the athletics community, owe John a great debt of gratitude for the part he played in our lives and the sport that we hold so dear. He truly was a one-off and will be sadly missed.