Written by David Barrington & Tony Burgess
Mick Potter 16.12.1937 – 28.10.2017
Mick Potter’s sad death on October 28th 2017 at the age of 79 brought back striking historical memories of an earlier Polytechnic Harriers age, and, indeed, of a different social era, as well. Tony Burgess (10.8/21.9*/48.4*) and Mick Potter (9.9y/21.9*/47.8*) were part and parcel of our sport at the higher levels in the 1950s/1960s and, with the kind permission of Tony, who delivered the Eulogy at Mick’s funeral in Brighton on November 14th, we reproduce excerpts here, highlighting the flavour and ethos of Athletics in those past decades. Their best performances can be seen on this site on the Club All-Time Lists via the Main Menu.
Reminiscences of Mick Potter
How on Earth, at the age of 80, do you adequately say farewell to the person you have known longest on this mortal coil?
I tried to remember how old we were when we first met, sitting next to each other in the same class at school. What I do remember is that walking to school, I saw that a block of three large houses close to the school had been demolished overnight, probably by a V1 or V2, so the War was still on. We were born in 1937 and the last stages of the War could have been as late as the beginning of 1945, so the maths tells me we were not much over 7.
Eaton House School in Belgravia was, and is today, very up-market and, because of the profusion of Embassies around us, there were many diplomats’ children as well as a few ambassadors’ sons. Quite why Mick was there I do not really know, but probably for the same reason as me.
We did not live very close to one another, me in Pimlico, and Mick in the Worlds End Pub at the far end of the New Kings Road. Pimlico was a poor area then, with all the large houses split into tenement flats. Local schools were very rough, with little emphasis on learning, and my parents scrimped and scraped to pay school fees for a decent education, which was, I am sure, the same motivation for Mick’s parents. Mick’s dad, a powerful but relaxed sort of man in whose mould Mick followed, was, as he would proudly tell you, a retired copper. However, I always thought that Mrs Potter wore the trousers and clearly was in charge of affairs at a very large and thriving public house. She was always immaculately presented, and I am sure it was her initiative that saw her eldest child educated privately in those war-torn and difficult times. Mick was very like his mother.
We naturally befriended one another because, unlike many of the other pupils, we were ordinary and genuine Londoners and, as we soon discovered, whilst we were not particularly academic, we could oddly enough both run like the wind. This was the underlying bond which kept us in each other’s pockets for the next two or three decades. In all that time, I cannot remember a cross word passing between us and that was more due to Mick than me because I can be quite volatile, so he was an excellent influence on me.
We went on to different secondary schools, and I was a boarder in Surrey, so we only saw each other in the holidays, but notwithstanding other mates at school, we spent much of our holiday time together, often doing a bit of training on London tracks, and generally hanging out as teenagers do. Upon leaving school, we more or less had to kill time for 12 months, prior to doing National Service upon reaching the age of 18.
I spent 2 years at Catterick, shivering in the harsh Yorkshire weather, in the Royal Signals. Mick finished his time in Cyprus where he improved his running with lots of training in the perfect conditions of a Mediterranean island.
Upon our release, we got together again, and the first thing Mick said to me was that we were going to train seriously and that put the seal on our activities for the next 4/5 years. Both Mick and I joined Polytechnic Harriers around this time.
For those who do not know much about sport, and athletics in particular, it is the case that the vast majority of athletes (even Mo Farah) have a training partner or partners, primarily because what you subject your body to is so punishing that you would not be able to sustain it without moral support and company. We eventually settled at a track close to our old school at The Duke of Yorks HQ in Chelsea, which we could reach each night fairly easily by tube from the City where we both worked. Night after night, we rolled out punishing sessions of reps of 200 and 400 metres, and so renowned did our masochism become that others joined the group until as many as 7/8 young men could be seen toiling round this track every evening in the winter, in all weathers; nothing stopped us. The architect was, of course, Mick, as strong as a young bull, and with enormous strength of mind he drove us on to achieve things we did not think we could do. It sounds very demanding, and it was like doing two jobs, for we all worked full time. As an amateur sport, we made not a penny piece out of what was an all-consuming hobby. Nevertheless, we had a lot of fun, a lot of laughs and marvellous camaraderie. We also won a lot of titles, broke a lot of records, and Mick was ranked in the Top 10 of British Quartermilers – a very considerable achievement.
We also worked, as above, and Mick, who had been in the Insurance industry since leaving school, disappeared off to Germany to make his fortune. When he returned to England, without a fortune, he brought back the best prize he had ever won, a new bride, Gerlinde, and the rest of that story is history.
Now conscious that he was the head breadwinner, for the first time in his life work became more important than his beloved sport. I was deeply embedded in my banking career, and though he was initially very sceptical, I was able to introduce him to the possibilities of a life in banking. He talked himself, as he could, into a new job in the city with Barclays and was soon operating at a pretty high level with considerable responsibility on the merchant banking side of the business. After early retirement, he successfully used his skills as a successful debt collector.
My abiding memories of Mick are strangely not to do with this powerhouse of a man who never seemed to tire when the rest of us were, if you will forgive the phrase, absolutely knackered, or in the words of the commentator, David Coleman, eyeballs out…. he was a gentle and kindly soul who didn’t laugh easily but when he did, it was a joy to behold. He was reticent and shy, but he was mentally very tough and a super person to rely on as your best friend. He was always optimistic, and very proud underplaying to the world at large any problems he might have.
At the end of August this year, I rang Mick to see if he would come to my 80th Party to which he muttered about not travelling well. I asked him instead if he would like me to pay him a visit in Brighton from Epsom at which he jumped, but he never gave a clue about his real state of health of which he made light.
My biggest sadness is that the visit did not happen which I shall regret to my dying day. At 80,quite a lot of one’s friends have passed on, but Mick’s departure has had the most profound effect on me. As an only child, Mick was like the brother I never had, and we are all diminished by the passing of a very good, gentle and kindly man.
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