Bill Long – promoter with passion

As part of a new section in RIDE Cycling Review, Warren Meade will trace some elements of the history of the sport in Australia. One invaluable source of information for his retrospective series is The Australian Cyclist magazine. The publisher of that monthly title, Bill Long, passed away on 21 October 2006. With the help of his daughter, Lorraine, we published a tribute to this man of cycling. He was a visionary who, as Meade explains, was prepared to go to extraordinary lengths in order to publicise what he loved: bike racing and everything that surrounds it.

Here is a tribute to Bill Long that we published in RIDE #35 (released in January 2007) in an issue titled “A Cycling Renaissance”. Let’s hope that’s this is what we truly have in 2013. But here’s to a publisher, from us at RIDE and written by his daughter Lorraine. 

 

 

Bill Long: Promoter (and publisher) with passion

William Long: 1924–2006

– Racer. Promoter. Administrator. Publisher. Politician. Fan. Father.

Few men have had such an impact on the Australian cycling scene as Bill Long. He raced before becoming an administrator, publisher and perpetual promoter of the sport he loved. He passed away in October last year aged 82. His achievements are numerous and with the help of his daughter Lorraine Long we recognise his many legacies. 


My father, William Thompson Long, was born in Coburg, Victoria on 27 February 1924. He was the younger son of Ted and Irene Long and had an older brother Jack. He was raised in the inner Melbourne suburb and attended a commercial college where he learnt his typing and journalistic skills. He served the sport of cycling in every capacity – as an amateur and professional track and road rider, club president, club secretary, club treasurer, organiser, official, handicapper, judge, head steward, traffic controller, promoter, team manager, coach, sporting journalist and broadcaster.At age 14, Dad joined the Brunswick Amateur Cycling Club and did rather well. He was the Brunswick juvenile champion. At 15 he won the 10 mile junior handicap with the fastest time, at 16 the 31 mile handicap, and at 17 the 20 mile junior road championship. In the same club he met a fellow rider named June Renton. He purchased his first racing bike from Cecil Walker at 16: a Holland Special Club Racer, with steel wheels and celluloid guards, costing £21 10d which he paid off over a year.His cycling came to an abrupt halt when he enlisted in the army at 18 to serve his country, but before then he’d been working at Hartleys, manufacturers and importers of high quality sports, cycle and radio goods. He returned to work there after the war. He was a travelling salesman in the retail cycle department and did his rounds on the bike which he always insisted was part of his training plan. This was the only job where he worked for someone else as, for the rest of his life, he was self-employed.

From 1942-1946, Dad was on active service in the army, a transport driver on the long road north from Alice Springs to Darwin. He was based in the Northern Territory for a couple of years, dodging bombs and crocodiles, and served with the 134 Australian General Transport and 2/110 AGT companies. During his war service Dad played cricket and wrote the Army’s Northern Territory Sports News… he also married June Sylvia Renton when they were both 20 and remained with her until she died in 1994.

Dad returned to bike racing by joining the Coburg Cycling Club and, when he moved south of the Yarra, the Brighton-South Caulfield Cycling Club. He won the 25 mile unpaced road championship, the club’s 40 mile championship, the League of Victorian Wheelmen Colac Traders’ 50 mile road race and the Mt Gambier-Portland 75 mile road race (the latter two in the fastest time). He founded the Mordialloc Professional Cycle Club around 1951.

In 1953 Dad won a Madison of 100 laps with Les Cutting in the same year he won the three-day Coronation Tour that finished on Coronation Day. I remember the garland of flowers he brought home… he was the king!

 

 

At the time my father was on the League of Victorian Wheelmen (LVW) Council and created history when he became the first sitting member of a state council to win a stage race. Later that year he rode in the second Sun Tour of Victoria where he hit a mile post and cracked his knee but kept riding and was awarded ‘Most Courageous Rider’, earning £15 8d.

During Dad’s racing days, we used to go to the Essendon track with him but didn’t see much racing. We collected bottles for money with other cycling kids, some of whom  would later become world champions. We spent hours under the track looking for bottles and hoping there would be a crash so we could hear it and watch the blood drip through the boards.

In 1948, Dad entered politics. Cycling politics. He was the youngest ever councillor of the LVW, at 24, and remained involved with the organisation for 55 years in various capacities. The LVW was a powerful organisation that controlled professional cycling in Victoria – a lot of the other states were jealous. Part of its hierarchy was made up of representatives of the wholesale, retail and rubber trades plus club delegates.

Dad became the youngest president of this organisation in 1954 at the age of 30. When he attended League meetings in Elizabeth Street, Melbourne, my brother Keith and I went ice skating at the Glacarium (where the Southbank complex now stands) so we loved LVW meetings. After a two-year term, The Sporting Globe published an article stating: “He had too much initiative for the stuffy League”. He served again as president in 1974 for six years and was awarded life membership in 1979.

Dad also became national president of the Australian Professional Cycling Council in 1977 and served in this position for 13 years, president of the Victorian Veteran Cycling Council for three years from 1990 and national President of the Australian Veteran Cycling Council for 10 years from 1993. He was awarded life membership to all three organisations. Dad ended his stint in cycling politics in 2003, aged 79. He became Patron of the Australian Veteran Cycling Council in 2003 and remained so until his death.

Bill Long died of pneumonia on 21 October. It was the day of the 2006 Melbourne to Warnnambool and I was proud to be able to tell him the result before he passed away. He smiled from his bed in the Sacred Heart Hospice and asked me to tell him what the winning time was. His passion for cycling was with him until the very end.

Until about 14 years ago cycling was conducted in two divisions, amateur and professional, and each was canyons apart in thinking and application. Amateurs were referred to as ‘lily-whites’ and professionals known as ‘pros’. For a long time there was a stigma attached to being called a professional, especially by people who knew very little about sport; they looked with disdain upon sportsmen who competed for money. It’s usually implied that amateurs gain their status because they’re not good enough to be professional, and it’s there that the running sore lay.

The two bodies controlling cycling after World War II were the Australian Cycling Council and the Amateur Cyclists’ Association of Australia. In 1963 the UCI gave Australia “approximately 12 months to form one controlling body, to be recognised as the Australian Cycling Federation”. It took more than 30 years for that to happen. Dad was very happy for a merger but not a take-over.

 

 

Mum and Dad owned and ran the Progress Bicycle Company, on Chapel Street, Windsor for almost 40 years. Just about everyone bought a bike from Dad. Progress Cycles sponsored racing cyclists and manufactured its own models. Its slogans were: “Progress with Progress” and “To Be Sure of Success, Ride a Progress”.

Mum gave up her medical research career at the  Royal Melbourne Hospital to run the bike shop. In hindsight it was a big sacrifice for her to make. She took our German shepherd Ricky to guard her from shoplifters and drunks… although sometimes Ricky kept the customers away.

Progress Cycles had an overnight puncture service, and I earned tuppence for each puncture I mended. We used to sit in the lounge with our buckets of water looking for the holes to patch. It was a family business to the end.

Dad was president of the Retail Cycle Traders Association of Victoria in 1963 and secretary in 1964. The latter was a post he held for 24 years, steering it from a state association to a national one. In 1983, he created the Bike of the Year Award and Bike Expo. Both Mum and Dad received life membership soon after these initiatives were instigated.

In 1951, both aged 27, my mother and father purchased Wheel Publications which published The Australian Cyclist magazine. Commonly known as the Cyclists’ Bible, it was described as “a popular monthly for touring and racing wheelmen”. My parents were owner-editors for 18 years.

The Australian Cyclist grew to include international subscribers and was read in all Olympic competing countries. It was written on the kitchen table of our home in the beachside suburb of Hampton, compiled in the lounge room and Mum did the subscriber wrappers in the laundry.

Straight after dinner each night Dad’s trusty typewriter made an appearance, something that continued for 18 years – we could never hear the television because Dad was always typing. Befitting its status as a family affair, I kept the back issues inventory to earn pocket money. When people rang up for back issues they were talking to a 12-year-old; surely they wondered whether the publishers employed child labour.

The magazine became such an authority on cycling it was approached by news mediums from around Australia and the world for information. It also provided news for radio programs such as ‘Cycling Spotlight’ on Melbourne’s 3UZ and ‘Pedal Parade’ on Geelong’s 3GL.

Dad managed individual riders plus various Victorian and Australian teams for national and world championships and became the first Australian delegate to a UCI world cycling conference in 1963. He promoted cycling in Australia at all levels and disciplines, including the big Classics, the Melbourne to Warrnambool, the Austral Wheelrace, Melbourne Cup on Wheels and state, national, amateur, professional, schoolboy and veteran championships.

He also promoted world record attempts, road cycling records, 24-hour track cycling records, Madisons, omniums and, a record not yet surpassed, 49 separate Six-Day track races. He ensured that international champions came to Australia for rich prize money and innovative incentive payment contracts. In 1953, for example, some of the prizes for winners at a Six-Day included:

• A bedroom suite worth £150

• £190 cash

• A canteen of cutlery worth 40 guineas

• Milk worth £12 10d

• Meat worth £10

• A tailored-to-measure suit

• Two bags of potatoes

Other prizes included kids’ shoes for the first married man with children to finish and electric kettles and other household items were also known to be amongst the winner’s haul. It was an approach that ensured all the sponsors were represented not only with signage for the promotion.

Dad was involved in the creation of the Sun Tour of Victoria in 1952 with: Laurie Jones – the founder, a real estate agent and AFCC representative; Ben Kerville of The Sporting Globe; Harry Lovell, a LVW official; Snowy Munro, an Australian Tour de France rider who later became a taxi fleet owner; and Chalmers Watt, a LVW senior racing official. The stage race was borne out of a meeting at Ben Kerville’s Essendon home in 1951. Such was Dad’s innovation in cycling promotion, he even got the Nationals political party to sponsor an eight-day bike tour around country Victoria, ensuring it criss-crossed each electoral boundary.

Dad first rented the Olympic velodrome in 1961 and promoted cycling carnivals and Six-Day races there for about nine years. The weather dictated the schedule and ultimately the income for our household. If it rained, then the program had to be shortened or cancelled altogether. No racing meant no money coming in, but the rent was always paid.

Anyone who rode at Dad’s promotions would have observed that he loved marching band music and Strauss waltzes. ‘Thunder and Lightning’ was played for sprints and the ‘Cuckoo Waltz’ when a warm-up session was over.

In an attempt to save the 1956 Olympic Velodrome from demolition due to its lack of use outside summer track seasons, Dad entered the world of boxing and pop concerts circa 1969-1973. He had boxers Lionel Rose, Henry Nissen, Tony Mundine, Paul Ferreri and Rocky Mattioli under contract and put on title fights. He used to promote Ferreri and Nissen like they were motor cars.

Pop concerts at the velodrome, called ‘Happenings’, helped launch the careers of Issi Dye, John Farnham, Normie Rowe, Ross Wylie, Johnny Young and their bands but it didn’t save the velodrome. In a letter about the future of the Olympic velodrome to the Victorian government 42 years ago, my father wrote: “Needs a roof, stands at both ends to enclose, a wooden floor in the arena for entertainment such as indoor athletics, boxing, tennis, ballroom dancing, roller-skating.”

Dad’s recommendations were ignored by government and in came the wreckers. The velodrome was bulldozed and eliminated from Olympic Park in the early 1970s, replaced by a carpark for the greyhounds. It was yet another great coup for 1970s urban planning, though; at least the dogs got a few more runs. It was located opposite where the Vodafone Arena stands today in Swan Street.

A dream became a reality when Dad was invited to Japan in 1973. After some initial meetings he was put on the nation’s cycling federation payroll. For the following five years he was a specialist sprint coach for amateur and professional riders. Mum always accompanied him.

By 1975 he had three professionals under his guidance: Koichi Nakano, Ryoji Abe and Yoshikaza Sugata. Among them they won 14 medals at 12 world championships – 10 gold, one silver and three bronze. It put Japan on the map for sprint cycling excellence. Nakano won a record 10 world professional sprint titles 10 years in succession (1977-1986), an achievement that seems unlikely to be surpassed.

Accepting the Japanese job caused controversy due to my father’s high profile in Australian cycling. Apparently there was a conflict of interest. Being a cycling politician was voluntary which meant Dad still had to earn a living. He always insisted that his expertise was available to anyone. Japan recognised this fact and now it’s commonplace for coaches to be sought from all over the world.

The facilities for training cyclists in Japan were sensational, although coaching was more than simply telling them to train harder and/or longer. It encompassed changing their diet from noodles to steak and their tactics from gentlemen who raced on the boards to those of cutthroat sprinters.

 

 

His young charges were already in the placings when Australia’s John Nicholson became the world professional sprint champion in 1975 and ’76. Nicholson was bumped off his throne by Nakano who was coached by my father at the time. To his credit, Nicholson was a true gentleman about it despite the aforementioned controversy over Dad’s role.

Dad was a cycling commentator with the ABC from 1956 and covered more than 31 Olympic Games, Commonwealth Games and world championships with the network. He had regular spots on ABC Radio and the ‘Flashing Pedals’ series in the 1980s. He was the administrator of the Channel Nine Sportman’s Committee Charity Trust, which raised money for the Yooralla Hospital School for Crippled Children.

At 64 years of age Dad promoted what was to be one of his finest events: the Australian King of the Mountains Championship. An event he created in 1987, it was a tough endurance race held in winter over 183km in freezing conditions from Wangaratta to Mt Buffalo and was covered live on radio and television. For his role in the 1988 edition he won the Best Organisation and Presentation of a Sporting Event award at the Sport Australia Awards in an Olympic year.

In 1991, Dad was inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame for “outstanding performance in sports administration and development of professional cycling”. It was the pinnacle of recognition by his sporting peers. In the 1993 Australia Day Honours he received the medal of the Order of Australia, something he was thrilled about. “Wouldn’t my father be proud,” he said. We told him it was his “retirement gong”, but instead it spurred him on.

Even in his twilight years Dad loved going to cycling and sporting AGMs to hear all the news and sit back and see someone else copping the flack. He loved awards, sashes, medals and garlands of flowers, which he saw as traditional aspects of the sport. He also created several awards including The Australian Cyclist of the Year Award which was inaugurated in 1959, The Hubert Opperman Trophy.

Dad always said to support the sponsors so I had him flown down to Melbourne to be buried on Australian Air Express, the principal sponsor of Sport Australia Hall of Fame. Mum and Dad went to Honolulu and Las Vegas for holidays and Dad got himself a red showman’s jacket, which became his promoter’s jacket and, in Japan, his coach’s jacket on race days. So it is only fitting that he was buried in it. And to set it off, his favourite lime green trousers with his Sport Australia Hall of Fame tie. He was dapper to the end.

– By Lorraine Long

William Thompson Long, OAM. Born Coburg, Victoria, 27 February 1924. Cyclist, cricketer, cycling official, promoter, manager and coach, retail cycle trader, boxing promoter, sporting journalist and broadcaster. Returned from active service Australian Army, AIF 1942-1946, VX136797, 134 AGT and 2/110 AGT Co. Married June Sylvia Renton in 1944 until her death in 1994. Survived by his children Keith and Lorraine, son-in-law Clive, three grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. Died Sydney, 21 October 2006.

 


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