“Contender, READY?…Gladiators, READY? ..3..2..1..” … and instantly I’ve transported you back to 1990s Saturday night TV when spandex was king and the few seconds of calm that those words brought before a pair of impossibly muscled, lycra-clad gym bunnies smashed the living daylights out of each other armed with little else than an oversized Q-tip (other cotton swabs on sticks are available), rolled around in an over-sized hamster ball or hurled themselves hell-for-leather up what was basically the down-escalator. In this modern version of the Coliseum, complete with a frenzied John Sachs commentary and a hyped-up raucous crowd waving huge foam hands and stamping their feet in time to “Another one bites the dust”, there needed to be a voice of authority. Readers – I give you … Mr John Anderson, the human face in the ocean of baby-oil and false-tanned mayhem that was ‘Gladiators’. For anyone born after, say about 1980 that is what John Anderson is best known for, which actually, is a crying shame.


As a schoolboy John represented Scotland at football, was an accomplished trampolinist and together with his school-mate Ally MacLeod (yes the future Scottish Manager Ally MacLeod), won the Glasgow tennis doubles title. Describing himself recently as a “…10th rate athlete, the classic scrubber” John was always passionate about sport and wanting to be a teacher he attended Jordanhill College in Scotland to train as a Physical Education teacher and subsequently did a degree with the Open University. Interested in all sports, John attended an FA football coaching course at Loughborough and became the first home Scot to be bestowed with the respected Full FA Coaching Certificate, at a time when only four were awarded each year. With no desire from any of the Scottish clubs to use his qualifications John immersed himself in his teaching where he covered many sports. To make any headway as a coach in those days meant a great deal of self-motivation and hours and hours of self-study. John enthusiastically threw himself into the task and using his not inconsiderable practical experiences his cognizance of the coaching process was raised and he discovered he was good at motivating all kinds of people across a wide range of sports. So John Anderson – role model, arbiter, friend, teacher, motivator, assessor, communicator, advisor, chauffer, mentor AKA coach, was born.


So, long coaching career, short – John progressed from his from his beginning as a PE teacher in Glasgow’s East End to National coach for the Amateur Athletics Association of England (AAA) and the first full time National Coach in Scotland (1965-1970) and much much more in-between. He has coached athletes for Commonwealth Games, European and World Championships and has been coach to an Olympic athlete at every Games from 1964-2000, he has coached 5 World Record holders and a total of 170 GB internationals in every athletic event. He took and was awarded every Senior British Coaching award available (only one of 2 people confirmed to have done so, the other being Wilf Paish). He established Maryhill Ladies AC in Glasgow and furthermore has been Chief GB Paralympic coach as well as Chief Coach to British Sport for the Blind. If you care to add to this exceptional portfolio of coaching honours his list of successful protégés – you end up with an impressive CV.



Those protégés include such household names as: Dave Moorcroft, the last non-African world record holder at 5000m, which he broke at the Bislett Games in Olso in 1982, and more impressively did so without the use of pace-makers. Anderson also coached Moorcroft to a vets world record for the Mile (4:02) a decade later, in 1993. Liz McColgan, double Commonwealth 10,000m champion and 1988 Olympic silver medallist. The pentathlete Judy Simpson (nee Livermore), winner of gold at 1986 Commonwealth Games and bronze at the 1986 European Games and who competed in three Olympic Games. Simpson found fame later as the Gladiator favourite Nightshade and is now an honorary president of the Women’s Sports Federation. John also coached Dave Bedford, 10,000m World Record holder and Sheila Carey (nee Taylor). Sheila was an excellent 800/1500/3000m runner who competed in the 1968 and 1972 Olympics. In Munich she set a new GB record for the 1500m and was in the team that set a world 4 x 400m relay record at the Edinburgh Games in 1970. Sheila went on to become a teacher at Exhall Grange School, Coventry, a school for the blind and those with disabilities, where she became involved in coaching blind athletes.   Still running as a V70, and as recently as this year ran a 10k in 48:39, she was also one of the torch bearers at the 2012 Olympic Torch Relay in Warwick. John Anderson has coached many, many more athletes, far too numerous to mention but from women’s pentathlon to men’s marathon via long jump, discus, hurdles and sprints, there isn’t an athletic discipline that John hasn’t had a hand in the coaching of.


 So where is John now? Now well into his 85th year and despite suffering a heart-attack last June (which he ignored for 10 days) the veteran coach is still going strong, coaching at both local and regional level. He has only just hung up his tennis racket for good, but still gets on his bike three times a week and can be seen in the gym on three days as well. His Corby AC based athletes frequently attain representation at GB level, quite a testimony to his outstanding ability and longevity as a coach. More recently he has been a mentor and coach to a number of current international athletes, including GB hurdler Will Sharmon. John helped transform Will, a former timekeeper on Gladiators, from a decathlete to a world class sprint-hurdler and a European Silver in 2014. He was the lead-coach to 100m hurdler Lucy Hatton as part of the British Athletics Futures programme during 2014-15. In February 2016, young Niamh Bailey, an athlete in his Corby AC training group was picked to represent GB U23s in the Combined Events International in Salamanca, Spain, where GB, competing against Spain and France, won and Niamh herself finished 4th individually in the Pentathlon. His coaching knowledge and skill are still in demand – he was invited to become a member of the Flying Coach Programme run by Athletics England, a programme where top coaches visit local clubs to work directly with club coaches, the emphasis on helping the coach’s expertise in particular technical event in a practical coaching environment.


John’s credentials as a coach then would seem irrefutable, but how well were they acknowledged by the administrators of the sport?  At the beginning of his profession, coaches were not taken that seriously, being viewed more as an extra to a team – whereas the administrators were considered absolutely essential. The consequence of that attitude meant that John attended the 1968 and 1972 Games as a ‘consultant’ and variously between 1976 and 1992 he was ‘attached’ to the UK team as coach. In 1988 he was rewarded by being inducted into the UK Coaching Hall of Fame and he has also received the prestigious Mussabini Medal.


The responsibility of being a coach means that you have to embrace the role with a full commitment and be prepared to appreciate that the learning process, either via success or failure, never stops. That is John Anderson in a nutshell, a highly experienced coach who, through a multi-faceted career in sport, is able to call on his knowledge, gained through triumphs and disasters and pass that on to both athletes and fellow coaches, be they school competitor, TV Gladiator or elite Olympian. So, although it seems to me to be a travesty that this man is best-known to the general public as the face behind the whistle in charge of musclebound greased-up combatants, there mustn’t be a 30-something person in the land who didn’t try and imitate that lofty, cotton-bud battle with Mum’s best cushions, balancing precariously on a kitchen stool, while shouting “..3..2..1!” … Thank you John!!

Article © Margaret Roberts