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John Bailey: So, BBC, why no mention of John Wilson in SPOTY?

PUBLISHED: 20:07 19 December 2018

Geoff Durham strides to a distant swim on a winter's morning Picture: John Bailey

Geoff Durham strides to a distant swim on a winter's morning Picture: John Bailey

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Did you watch Sports Personality of The Year a couple of weeks back I wonder?

I happened to and went to bed unsurprised by what I saw, but still somewhat grumpy. Unless I missed something there was not a mention of fishing in the entire program. Fishing as a sport simply did not exist. As ever, the BBC had wiped it from the national consciousness. I found the omission insulting, but it was worse than that. In an age when the only sport kids find cool is on TV, not to be seen at something as prestigious as SPOTY puts us on the back foot hideously.

After many years of fishing and filming both, I appreciate fishing can be a hard sport to get across to a general public. Very generally, the BBC do not even try. If we forget the lone angler and look at team sports, for years our fly, match and carp boys have done brilliantly, winning European and world championships regularly. Triumphs like these are completely overlooked by the wider media, even though they often would make exciting telly.

What really riled me to the point sleep came late was the unforgivable non-mention of John Wilson’s recent passing. I sat through the very long list of sports people we have lost this year thinking John would inevitably be included in this distinguished pantheon. I should have known better. Did anyone at the Beeb even know angling had lost its super star? I fumed.

Staring into the dark of the bedroom, I wondered if what I had witnessed was somehow the fault of angling itself? Perhaps the spirit of angling is not what it should be? Perhaps we are too inclined to bicker, to pursue negatives and to litter social media with slurs and insinuations? Perhaps we do not show angling in the true, diamond bright light it deserves? Perhaps in 2019 we should look at how our national cricket and football teams are behaving and developing? Or what about Norwich City? Let’s go for it. Let’s be more expansive. Let’s encourage flair. Let’s trust in new ideas and in youth coming through. And let’s clean up our image and think of how we behave whenever we are out there to be seen by a cynical public. This has to be one of my New Year resolutions. I’m thinking now how I can play my part in making fishing fresh and inventive, a sport that shouts out its attractions.

Make no mistake, BBC, angling is a sport and not a hobby. In this column I have mentioned before its high-grade physical skills. Fly casting, pole fishing, lure fishing, trotting, beach casting all demand a high level of practise, training and dexterity. But let’s not overlook the athletic side of what we do. I remember watching the French fly fishing team at a recent European championship. To get into the squad, their fishermen had to be able to run 100m sub 15 seconds, loaded with all their kit. Or was that 20 seconds?? No matter, I’ll tell you that team was fit!

My new, smart, all singing and dancing iPhone tells me how far I walk in a day. In the summer I trekked to the Watch House on the shingle beach on the way to Blakeney Point. I started out in the half light to arrive at dawn and fish for bass and mullet. By the time I had blanked and returned to the car I had covered seven kilometres over the sand and a further couple in the thick mud behind what remains of the sea wall. A day on the upper Glaven looking for trout and water voles clocked in at 11 kilometres. They were not easy ones either, strewn with bulls, nettles, fences and a wasp nest. A chub session along the Bure came in at 14 kilometres and a pike session a few days back notched up 9.5 kilometres. It was hard going in the wind, cold and rain. Casting a heavy lure a couple of hundred times was hard on the back and shoulders and I did not feel the need to go to the gym that particular night. Do not talk to me about stamp collecting, knitting or any other hobby after days like these.

One Christmas present I am adoring is Wanderlust, a book by Robert Olsen and published here in Norfolk by Stephen Harper of Harper Fine Angling Books. Rob mentions a walk he and I shared in Mongolia a good few years back. We set off from one camp at dawn, aiming to travel upriver to a second camp, fishing as we went. Our plan was to arrive safely, well before dark, but we had underestimated the distance, and the weight of our packs as well as the roughness of the terrain. In the end we were still on the track as the moon rose and as a pack of wolves appeared on the skyline, taking a definite interest in two floundering fisherman. A group of Mongolian herders saved us, saddling us up to a couple of ponies and riding us the last half an hour to camp. It seemed Rob and I had covered in excess of 30 miles that day, as well as fishing and scaling cliff faces, all fully laden.

Rob doesn’t say much about any of it in his stunning book. It is not something I care to remember, but when I do, I know for sure I hadn’t spent the day playing tiddlywinks.

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