By Steven Downes
The Sports Journalists’ Association is saddened to hear of the death at the weekend of one of the Association’s greatest servants, Bill Colwill, aged 86.
Colwill, pictured left, was a stalwart of the SJA committee for 12 years as Treasurer, and continued for a further five years as membership secretary. I, for one, was grateful that his sage, kind, calm advice was always available, and it will be sorely missed.
His service to the SJA was recognised in 2007 with presentation of the Doug Gardner Award, the Association’s highest honour for services to sports journalism and to the Association, and by being made an honorary member, “so that at least,” someone said at the time, “there’s one person Bill won’t have to chase for their subs any longer”.
Colwill was a hockey man, through-and-through, renowned for an encyclopaedic knowledge of the game, and he was reporting on the sport for The Observer in the early 1970s. In 1986, he was signed up by The Independent to be its hockey correspondent from the newspaper’s launch.
That appointment had the good fortune of ensuring that Colwill, who had seen the Great Britain team win an Olympic medal in London in 1948, was present on the day that the men’s team won gold in Seoul 40 years later, which he described as “the greatest moment of my career”. He was equally thrilled earlier this year when, from his Buckinghamshire home, he was able to watch the latest Olympic hockey success, of the women’s team in Rio.
A senior civil servant, Colwill worked first at the Central Office of Information and later in the Cabinet Office, where he collaborated closely with and made friends of Sir Bernard Ingham, Margaret Thatcher’s press secretary. Colwill was made OBE in 1990, a year before he took retirement.
Devon-born and Tavistock Grammar-educated, Colwill had played some hockey, in goal, but more cricket, and he represented his college at London University at hockey. But as a hockey umpire and administrator, Colwill rose through the ranks, umpiring at international level
He covered Olympics, World Cups, the Champions Trophy and countless other tournaments, not just for national newspapers, but for several specialist titles. He was an associate editor of World Hockey and Hockey Sport and together with Chris Moore, of the Daily Telegraph, The Times‘s Sidney Friskin and The Guardian‘s Pat Rowley, they founded the Hockey Writers’ Club, of which he was secretary of the Hockey Writers’ Club from 1983 to 1995, then chairman until 1999, and became a vice-president in 2000, editing the club newsletter, The Hockey Writer, until last year.
It was, perhaps, Colwill’s absence from the Hockey Writers’ annual awards lunch in January this year which was a sign of his declining health.
Colwill was married for 55 years to Jean, an ever-present at his side – even sometimes at SJA committee meetings. Jean died in 2010.
He leaves a son, Peter.
The SJA sends its heartfelt sympathies to Peter and all Bill’s family and friends.
Bill Colwill’s funeral will take place on November 30 at the Chilterns Crematorium, Whielden Lane, Amersham HP7 0ND at 5.15pm.The crematorium is on the north side of Whielden Lane (A404), Amersham HP7 0ND.
The family asks for no flowers, but for donations to the Alzheimer’s Society.
After the service, those attending are invited to join Peter and family members at The Plough Inn, The Hill, Winchmore Hill, Amersham HP7 0PA (01495 259757). For the Plough Inn turn right out of the Crematorium and proceed a short distance down the A404 before turning left into Winchmore Hill Village.
It will be helpful, in making catering arrangements, if those intending to go on to the Plough Inn would notify Rodney Rigby by email: email@example.com
- Read former Chairman Trevor Bond’s 2007 tribute to his committee colleague here
- We will be publishing further tributes to Bill Colwill from past chairmen and colleagues later this week