Sir Denis Follows - University of Nottingham Sport Hall of Fame
From Mark Bullock on March 5th, 2020
The epitome of Olympism, Sir Denis Follows’, graduated from University of Nottingham and went on to become one of the UK’s most influential sports administrators, serving as Secretary of The FA from 1962 to 1973 and Chairman of the British Olympic Association from 1977.
Follows started his early career taking on a leadership position as President of the National Union of Students, representing the student voice at a national level.
Between 1962 and 1975, Follows was Secretary of the Football Association (FA); the oldest football association in the world. This made him jointly responsible for overseeing all aspects of the amateur and professional game. Passionate about equality in sport, Follows is perhaps best known for sending the letter from the FA to the Women's Football Association in 1970/71 rescinding the ban on women's football which had been in place since the early 1920s. This opened a pathway for the women’s game to grow into what it is today, a move that saw him later appointed an honorary life vice-president of the Women’s Football Association.
Follows was also a stoic figure throughout the infamous Moscow Olympics campaign of 1980 in which he resisted pressure from then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to pull out of the games in protest of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Follows moved to allow Great Britain athletes to decide for themselves whether or not to compete, eventually leading the team to Moscow as Team Commandant.
The British team went to the Olympics without the government support or funding and as Team Commandant, Follow’s supported the team to find their own funds. A member of this team was Lord Sebastian Coe, who achieved gold in the 1500m in Moscow, he has personally thanked Follows for this move and has said if he didn’t go to the Olympics that year he may not have become the athlete he did. This move was one to change sport forever, as the BOA became the first national Olympic committee to find additional funding from industry, sponsorship and merchandising; opening the doors to the commercial sport we recognize today.
During his time at the University of Nottingham, Follows had already begun to display the makings of a great leader, elected as President of the National Union of Students between 1931 to 1933. He went on to teach English at Chiswick Grammar School where he became affectionately known by students and staff as ‘Perce’. He was a popular figure, coaching cricket out of hours and playing himself for Old Meadownians where he excelled as a bowler, taking many a wicket at Chiswick House grounds in London.
He later took up a position as a teacher in the RAF – unable to take part in active service due to being partially sighted. Following the war, Follows served as General Secretary of the British Airline Pilots’ Association between 1947 and 1966, and was instrumental in founding the International Federation of Air Line Pilots’ Association, also serving as the organisation’s Secretary for a number of years.
In 1967 Follows was awarded a CBE and in 1978 he was knighted for his services to sport. He passed away in September 1983 aged 75.