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Tributes paid to a well-known and popular Cantabrigian Rowing Club and Hills Road Sixth Form College coach

Tributes have been paid to Andy Johnson, who has died aged 72. Picture: Keith Heppell
Tributes have been paid to Andy Johnson, who has died aged 72. Picture: Keith Heppell

Tributes have been paid to a well-known and popular Cambridge rowing coach.

Andy Johnson was diagnosed with terminal cancer last year, and died on Wednesday, October 7, aged 72.

Cambridge born and bred, Johnson had devoted his sporting life to Cantabrigian Rowing Club since first picking up an oar in 1971.

Cantabs had started as the old boys club of the County High School - now Hills Road Sixth College - in 1950, before becoming an open club, and Andy was the first non-old boy to become captain in the late 1970s.

A fire in 1983 that damaged the Cambridgeshire Rowing Association sheds saw Andy take on board the rebuilding of the boathouse on behalf of the CRA, which led to Cantabs putting in some money in return for some of the boat bays.

Project Oarsome grants helped buy equipment for juniors which started the development of the section, and when the site of the old Simoco boathouse came up, Andy helped Cantabs to buy it and they have now developed it into an impressive base.

He first started coaching at Hills Road in 1978, and led the aspiring rowers from the college for much of the past 42 years as well as coaching the men’s squad and the Clare College M1 crew for events.

Andy had been a divisional representative for governing body British Rowing and then sat on their board for a long period.

Cantabrigian Rowing Club president Mike Hunter said: “Andy’s contribution to our club was, as another of our long-term members put it, at least as much as that of the original founders.

“He was a leading rower in his younger years, serving as captain on three separate occasions, and he then combined rowing with coaching, to become our senior coach and the chair of our rowing committee.

“Over the last few years, he built the Hills Road Boys rowing program up to the point at which, racing as the Cantabs second crew, they came within a foot of bumping up to third place in the CRA Bumps – which I think would have been something close to nirvana for Andy.

“Although he once explained to the Hills lads that the reason he worked so hard for them was not the results, but rather the satisfaction he drew from watching them develop as individuals as they worked hard to take on, and overcome, the many challenges that he, and rowing, threw at them.

“Of course, Andy also bought the club a boathouse and then re-developed it for us. And it was typical of him that his last contribution, made just a couple of weeks ago, was to show us how we might move forward and improve the boathouse further, sending us for the AGM.

“Whilst he was doing all of this, Andy was always willing to coach and encourage any member of the club, or university, irrespective of ability.

“Andy was a character, a mentor, a stunning contributor to our club, and a friend. We will miss him.”

Hills Road Sixth Form College principal Jo Trump said: “Hills Road owes a debt of gratitude to Andy Johnson who spent many hours sharing his passion and expertise as a coach to the Hills Road rowing squads, giving his time to take them to regattas and the Schools’ Head.

“Andy was instrumental in providing rowing opportunities to students of the College and was the key driving force behind establishing a thriving rowing culture here at Hills Road.

“He always demanded the best from his rowers and was hugely respected by them. He will be very sadly missed.The staff and students at the college send their condolences to his family and to his wider rowing community.”

Felix Werdmuller Von Elgg, the Hills Road men’s rowing captain, said: “Andy was an absolute legend.

“He took people whose rowing wasn’t fantastic, and within a year those same boys smashed some race, having a great time along the way.

“It didn’t matter what that race was; Andy built you up and you went for it.

”He would move mountains for Hills Boys. Logistics, boats, blades - he sorted it. Most of all, he gave huge amounts of time, riding up and down the towpath, coaching us through endless pieces.”

“And the pep talks. He did a motivational speech like no other. Neither before nor since has anyone been told about Nicomachean ethics after a rough outing, in such a way that fuelled the next month of night outings.

“But all that pales in comparison to the calls he gave as you were charging down the reach. ‘Cover! Cover! Cover!’ was the most memorable for me, but everyone he coached will have had their favourite.

”Generations of Hills Boys may have tried his patience by turning up at the wrong time, or the wrong place, but he kept on, and kept getting us to row, harder and faster.”

It is hoped that a memorial service will be held for Andy next year, while Cantabs have plans to honour his memory and commemorate his contribution to the club.

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