Died 23.08.12
Monday, October 22nd, 2012

 21.07.34 – 23.08.12

Robert Watson, Bob to most of us, will long be remembered mostly for his wonderful contribution to the sport of hockey but equally for his ebullient personality. He was a man of great eloquence, intelligence and quick wit.


Robert, caught in typical pose

Robert Jeffrey Watson was born at Colchester on 21st July 1934,  a son of an army  Colonel serving there and one of six children. He died on Aug 23rd after suffering from mixed liver cancer for the last two years of his life.

Instantly recognizable by his ruddy features and unruly mane of red hair,  he was a barrister, equally well known and renowned in his profession, as he was by followers of sport and hockey in particular. After years as a criminal barrister at law, he became Head of Chambers at 3 Temple Gardens in London. 

He was Hon. Treasurer of the British Olympic Association from 1980-1992 and later a vice-president of that august body. He received the IOC Order of Merit in 1992.

He held positions at all levels of hockey. He was secretary of the International Hockey Federation’s Disciplinary Committee and served on that body for 28 years. He was Hon. Secretary of the European Hockey Federation, President of the Great Britain Olympic Hockey Board, and its Fixture Secretary, while also serving on the old Hockey Association executive and as a vice-president.

He attended ten Olympics in various capacities.

His education started in Switzerland and from there he went to Millfield in Somerset. He suffered TB in his early teens but at Millfield he had the great benefit of being coached at hockey by Olympians Tony Robinson and John Cockett. He represented Millfield at hockey, rugby and tennis. He went on to read law at University College, London. There he was president of the Union; Deputy President of the National Union of Students and an official of the British Universities Sports Federation. 

He continued his hockey at London University and later played for Sussex. Among his many clubs were Southgate, East Grinstead, Llamas, Wizards (an Anglo-Dutch club playing mostly festival hockey), and the Goan-orientated Lusitanians. He was captain at London University, as he was at East Grinstead and Southgate. He was also president of Southgate.  

He had a major influence on hockey. He founded the first proper league in England, the London League in 1969, at a time when most of his peers still frowned upon competitive hockey. Its introduction led to a marked improvement in the quality of the English game.

Robert was disgusted when hockey pulled out of the 1980 Moscow Olympics as part of the political boycott especially as the government put no restriction on trade with the Soviets. He was particularly incensed that the players themselves were not consulted. His stance was not appreciated by his fellow hockey administrators and he was sacked. He himself went to Moscow with a student team and on his return, against the odds, won a narrow vote to become Hon. Treasurer of the British Olympic Association.

The BOA was broke when he took over. When he retired, they were worth £7 million though he was quick to point out that he nabbed a brilliant fund-raiser.

Undoubtedly one his great contributions was in recognising and supporting the need for hockey to change from being overtly amateur to semi-professional. He smoothed the way for important changes that led to Britain winning their first Olympic hockey gold medal, at Seoul in 1988. 

His huge contribution to the sport of hockey was recognized in 2002 when he received the Sydney Friskin Memorial award from the Hockey Writers' Club.

Robert’s involvement with disciplinary committees was not restricted to hockey. Many sportsmen can be grateful to him for his reasoned arguments, one of which led to Olympic sprinter Linford Christie avoiding a doping ban by just one vote. 

Bob was married to Maureen, equally sports-minded and capable, for 43 years. He proposed to her in 1969, down on one knee after a hockey match at the old home of Hounslow Hockey Club. Robert was extremely fortunate to have met his match in Maureen. She was equally industrious and was to become president of England and the International Women’s Lacrosse Associations. Throughout a hectic life, he fully recognised her whole-hearted support and guidance.

Stories about Robert are legion. The best relate to his dressing up in the Queen’s clothes in a royal palace in Malaysia; serving coffees to FIH dignitaries while made up and dressed like an Indian; climbing a 16-storey crane at Folkestone (and then sobering up), but everyone who ever met him, has their own story to tell.

In later years after he had moved to Forest Row in East Sussex, he remained active, becoming Chair of Forest Row Parish Council and Warden of Holy Trinity Church amongst many other appointments. 

Holy Trinity was packed when a service of Thanksgiving was held there on September 25th. He will be fondly remembered and sorely missed.

We send our sincere condolences to Maureen.

 – Patrick Rowley