Thursday, 23 February 2012

Great loss to sporting community

ONE of the great benefits of being sports mad, either as a participant or a spectator, is that you come across people who soon become your hero. Occasionally they become your friend.

I spent a number of years in sports publishing and was privileged to have attended some of the top sporting events in the world. 

They were unforgettable days and I also met my fair share of sporting heroes. But I soon learned that no matter how good they were with a football at their feet or a bat in their hand, outside the sporting arena you really didn’t want to be that close to them.

During my life the real sporting heroes who have impressed me most are those who are good people and not necessarily good athletes.

One such man was Martin Leach.  He could have made it to the top as a professional footballer until a serious road action curtailed his sporting exploits. I can remember watching him play at Sector Lane when I was a kid and he was still a young man and he was simply exhilarating. 

It was many years later that I got to know Martin when he came home to Axminster in the late 1990s and I had recently returned from London. We immediately hit it off and spent many hours in the intervening years talking about sport, watching sport.

He threw himself into the local sporting and social  scene with gusto and whilst he was always Axminster through and through, he never let the partisanship of local rivalry cloud his recognition of local talent.

He loved seeing youngsters excel, not just at footbal, but in all sports, especially cricket.

To say Martin Leach was a highly social individual would be like saying Gazza enjoys the occasional bevvy. Butthere was much more to him than exercising the right arm.

I got to know him particularly well when I was asked to join the Axminster Hospital Cup committee, which he chaired at the time. Meetings were always great fun, especially when Any Other Business was completed and we adjourned to the bar.

That’s when I really appreciated that there was much more to Martin the man than Martin the social animal.

Martin died on Saturday, a year after his beloved mum, Bertha. He looked frail at her funeral and as the months passed he clearly missed her greatly.

Like all of us he had his foibles but I never tired of his company. The sporting community is a poorer place for his passing (and so is Axminster) but there will be no shortage of sporting folk around the area who will be proud to say: “I knew Leachy”.  

Hard to swallow

THERE has been doubts over the future of Axminster Police Station for many years and now we hear plans are afoot to move down the road to share a new purpose-built building with the Fire Brigade.

Combining emergency services - police, fire brigade and ambulance - makes sense in these cost-conscious days and has been introduced successfully in many other towns.

Axminster Police Station is rarely if ever opened to the public and there has been talk in the past of opening a town centre office. I suspect many would prefer that option to a shared facility in Lea Combe.

News that Axminster is to share a police sergeant with Seaton will also be greeted with further suspicion over the policing of Axminster.

The police authority is undoubtedly sitting on a valuable piece of land in Lyme Close and will no doubt cash in on their asset. 

Some of these decisions, inevitable in austere times, are hard to swallow when members of the fire authority vote themselves a 25 per cent increase in allowances.

Makes you think, doesn’t it?

I CAN think of no one better than Michael Steer to represent Axminster at the Queen’s  Diamond Jubilee church service being held at Exeter Cathedral in June, followed by a garden party in the garden of the Bishop’s Palace.

Former mayor Michael’s name was one of three nominations and was pulled out of the hat at last week’s town council meeting.

No one extolls the virtues of Axminster more than Michael and no one will be more proud to carry out this ambassadorial role.

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