It is with great sadness that we learnt of the passing away of our Patron Bobby Platt MBE on Monday 30th March 2015. Bobby was an active man with many talents ranging from organising dances and getting stars such as Eric Clapton and Lulu to perform, to preparing athletes like Richard Archibald, Alan Campbell and Richard Chambers to perform at the Olympics. Not to mention building many of the fine houses in Coleraine Borough and beyond.
Bobby’s contribution to sport in general, and the sport of rowing in particular made a big impact on the local community and beyond. He regularly played badminton and was a director of Coleraine Football Club, where he coached the Reserves team to Cup success in the George Wilson Cup, the Louis Moore Cup and the North West Cup. He also served for many years on the IARU and Coleraine Borough Sports Council.
Bobby saw many successes at Bann Rowing Club as an oarsman, a cox and a coach. Bann RC had the honour of Bobby being their captain in 1959/60 and again for a record spell of 10 years from 1972 to 1983. Bobby coached full-time at Coleraine Inst Boat Club from 1986 to 2009, although he had been helping out regularly for years before that. There is no doubt that after the retirement of Sid Grey in 1997, the boat club would have been in a bad way and may even have closed had it not been for Bobby. There are numerous oarsmen who owe a huge part of their success in rowing or in their careers to the foundations built at Coleraine Inst Boat Club, during the Bobby Platt era.
He was such a large part of rowing in Coleraine and Ireland that it is impossible to overemphasise his contributions to the sport and to the local area. He received many well deserved honours from Sports Councils, the BBC and even the Queen, for his services to rowing, when she made him a "Member of the Civil Division of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire" in the 2006 New Year Honours.
Besides the glamorous honours and the list of World class athletes he coached, what made Bobby such a great man was his dedication to all the boys he coached from the weakest to the strongest, as long as they were putting in the effort. He maintained his interest in them long after they had left school, and was always interested in hearing how they were doing. This was part of the reason that he encouraged us setting up the old boys club, and the annual dinner.
He thoroughly enjoyed his time coaching, especially on the water and took great pride in seeing a crew work hard on the River Bann, or further afield. As a scrawny 2nd year out in a wooden IV+ I remember looking over at the other IV+ and seeing Bobby coxing and coaching, which is beyond the call of duty for a 71 year old coach! He was a consistent presence in my 5 years of rowing at Inst, assisting Sid Grey to run the club. It was his enthusiasm that helped motivate me to row harder, faster, longer, but also pushed me into coaching at the club.
“Mileage makes Champions” was the apt phrase that was often heard during coaches meetings as one rowing legend quoted another (Steve Fairbairn). Time in a coaching launch always flew in as we chatted about life, the race (the human one obviously), the boat race, the houses he’d built or the land he’d sold along the river, the old days of rowing on the Bann and beyond, his previous team mates and coaches, the crews technique, its fight, its prospects, its erg scores, the crew members individual attitudes and attributes, their brothers or other family members who had also rowed, where the family were from, what schools they went to, what jobs they had, the list goes on. Its surprising we ever had any time left to coach the boys!
It still surprises me to this day that many ills in a rowing boat can be ironed out with miles of square blade rowing. I used to think it was just because we couldn’t think of any other exercises to do, but I was wrong; correct hand heights are essential. Bobby also taught me the mystic secrets of interval times, and how they’re calculated, Ta = Td + (Tu-Td/3) if you’re interested in the simplified version. And as for encouraging the boys, there isn’t an old boy that has left the club in the last 30 years who isn’t strangely inspired by the phrase “top of the wall”.
Races were a pleasure with Bobby there, and not just for the endless Bacon Baps or lunches he generously provided. Life as a coach who has to ask the race officials to rejig the racing order to suit his crews was infinitely easier with Bobby at your side! There is no club in Ireland (and many outside it) who didn’t owe Bobby a favour. I was quite surprised at one Athlone Regatta to be able to borrow a boat from a Galway club because Bobby had brought down crews to race them in the 70s! And if you ever came across the closed barrier down to the boathouses at the Irish Champs, you only had to say Bobby was in the car, to get it opened pronto. Journeys to and from races were not long tedious affairs if Bobby was the chatty navigator. Be it Belfast, Portadown, Enniskillen, Newry, Dublin, Athlone, Galway, Cork, Dumfries, or London, the trip was always well organised, smooth running and enjoyable, with seemingly little effort. But it was a mirage. It took endless hours of work and effort over decades to be able to organise and run things so well. Bobby has put in many hours of work coaching, and many more in admin, preparation, boat repairs, travelling, planning, etc. Anyone who has been at CAIBC in the last 40 or more years owes a huge deal to Bobby.
Even after retiring from active coaching duty he maintained his keen interest in rowing, both as President of Bann RC and Patron of COBRA. The passing of Bobby has been a huge loss to us all personally, the sport of rowing in Coleraine, and much further afield.
We pass on our sympathy and the sympathy of the old boys to his family.
William Wright – COBRA Chairman.
Privileged to have been coached by Bobby from 1993 to 2015.