The Metro Sports Club for the Vision Impaired was formed by me and 7 friends in April 1973. We invited, as one of our first acts, the broadcaster Brian Johnston to become our first President, which he gratefully accepted.
In 1993 Brian sadly died and this article was a tribute I wrote for a number of publications.
Our President, Brian Johnston
Brian Johnston was much loved by everyone who met him but in the hearts of the members of the Metropolitan Sports and Social Club for the Visually Handicapped, he had a very special place. Johners, who seemed to give nicknames to those he came into contact with, at the drop of a hat ‑ e.g: "the alderman" for don Mosey, "Aggers" for johnathon Agnew ‑ was himself known within our club as "the President".
This takes very little explanation because that is what he was, our club's first and only president since our inauguration in April 1973. Brian often referred to us on air as "His Blind Boys" and the support, encouragement and enjoyment Brian gave us was beyond measure.
Ironically, during the 18 years Brian was our President many of Metro's members (other than on the radio) had never heard him give one of his legendary speeches. However, on Friday 26th November 1993, (only a few days before his heart attack) he was the main speaker at our club's 20th Anniversary dinner at Lords Cricket Ground. In November, Brian revealed for the first time that Metro was the first club to approach him to become its President and the first Club which he had accepted. This is an immense source of pride to us all, as Brian was a prize catch.
Metro was formed in 1973 by a group of young visually handicapped people who played cricket together regularly and wanted better organised sport with more opportunities and recognition. As the Club grew in membership and range of sports undertaken, we began to look for a President who would take an interest in our activities, further the interests of blind cricket, and give the Club an aspect of prestige associated with someone in the public eye. Brian fulfilled all of these aims many times over. For a man so busy in so many aspects of broadcasting, public speaking etc, he always found time for his club. Brian thought nothing of attending Metro's AGM and sitting with the 25 or so members that had turned up and, when appropriate, heckling the Committee (with everyone else).
Again, Brian where possible, would turn up to watch one of our matches. These games, not played at lords or the Oval, were usually held at Highgate Wood in front of a crowd of about a dozen spectators who happened to be passing through the park at the time. This "out of the limelight" type of support and encouragement typifies the man that was our President. I also remember very vividly being part of his persuasive devilment. In 1981 I received a phone call from Brian asking me to give a talk with him on "The World Service" about blind cricket. He said that he would arrange for a car to pick me up (a strange luxury for anyone who knows the World Service's budgetary constraints) and he asked me to wear something reasonable as we might have something to eat afterwords or go for a drink. I and the posh car duly turned up at the Strand to find Brian waiting for me and, much to my surprise, Eamonn Andrews and his little Red book, I was to be the subject of "This Is Your Life" and Brian the cunning devil was the lure that had been used to get me there.
In the last five years Brian's unceasing work, with others, to get blind cricket taken seriously began to pay significant dividends. Metro have now given demonstrations at many first class matches and Sunday league fixtures, and undertaken exhibitions of our adapted game at a number of test matches including the exciting Sunday of the Lord's test against Pakistan in 1992. Last year saw the final of the blind knockout competition (with Brian) at Lord's. Unfortunately Metro were not in the final but Brian, together with his friend the blind musician George Shearing, turned up to give his support and sense of fun to this occasion.
Brian's frequent mentions of the "Primary Club" (a charity where membership is by application for a tie or scarf, by those who have been out first ball in any grade of cricket), brought in thousands of pounds for sports for blind children at a school in Kent, and for blind sport in general. Brian was very insistent that everyone wore their ties on the Saturday of a test match and I would like to see, in remembrance of Brian, that his name is linked to this ritual in future. I am sure this would have pleased Brian to think that his efforts would be continued.
The dinner at Lord's in November 1993 was the last time that any of us spoke to, or were with Brian. Nearly 50 percent of the club's members were there and Brian, the true professional and sparkling performer, delighted everyone with his charm, wit, and, there is no other word for it "niceness". I will never forget that occasion and the man and all the goodness and fun which he stood for. If they have presidential suites in heaven I am sure Johners is booked in. He was much loved, and will be much missed by his "blind Boys" from Metro.