Tribute to Wayne Hardman, driving force of the Brighton B-52s (and much more)
It was in October 1986 that Wayne Hardman achieved one of his finest feats, writes Jamie Baker.
He led the Brighton B-52s to become the first British American football team to tour the home of gridiron.
Canadian Hardman, aged 80, died peacefully on Wednesday morning in hospital in Exeter after a period of illness when on a short holiday with his wife Louise and daughter Fleur.
The game at the iconic Candlestick Park against the San Francisco City College was perhaps a defining moment in the growth of the sport in Britain in that era.
Hardman helped to guide the club from its infancy in 1981 to make it to the British Premier final in 1988.
It was during a period when the sport started to capture the nation and was regularly transmitted on Channel 4.
He was the club’s head coach but a great deal more.
“Wayne was really the founding father of the Brighton B-52s,” says Chaz Jasicki, former B-52s and Great Britain quarterback, who enjoyed a 40-year friendship with the Canadian.
“Having North American sports knowledge and experience in the early 1980s he was in the right place to help a group of guys to start an American football team.
“He became respected far and wide for his innovative ideas, organising skills, coaching and commentating. And he even played a few downs in his early 40s.”
Both Hardman, as a coach, and Jasicki, as a player, were a big part of Britain’s first European Championship success in 1989 in Germany.
But Wayne Hardman’s absence will be felt in many differing communities in Sussex. Being Canadian he grew up on ice skates and became a formidable hockey player in Toronto, and when he arrived in England in 1970 he met up with some of the stars of the old Brighton Tigers: Roy Shepard, Rupe Fresher, Mike O’Brien and John Cook.
And he played alongside them for the Sussex Senators winning the Southern League in 1971-72, scoring seven goals, and this was despite the team having no home ice rink.
By all accounts Hardman lived up to his name in many physical encounters on the ice.
“Wayne used to say that he must have been okay at that part of the game as he still had all of his own front teeth,” recalls Jasicki.
After retiring from his hockey playing days, his passion was in motor racing and he was very well connected in the motoring industry, using his undoubted skills in sales to help to run a prestige car dealership in Hove.
I remember Wayne for his enthusiasm and passion. He had boundless energy and never gave up on his determination to reach the next goal despite whatever barriers might be put in his way.
This allowed him to continue a career in sport by becoming a widely known broadcaster in American sports for BBC Radio Brighton, Southern Sound FM, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5, Screensport and Eurosport where he worked closely with Carlton Kirby, now Eurosport’s top cycling commentator, who says: “Wayne was perhaps the most optimistic person I ever knew.
“Always smiling he would introduce himself as “John Wayne: a hard man to forget... I’m Wayne Hardman.”
And people never did. Even when he was upset Wayne carried a smile and a determination to resolve any conflict.
It made him an ultimate salesman, something he carried into his sports broadcasting.
“Wayne could persuade a listener that what they were experiencing was well worth their time... even if it clearly wasn’t.
“Who else could have persuaded Eurosport to buy into the Canadian Football League? Only Wayne.”
Wayne Hardman’s real passion was hockey. He followed as much as he could on TV, could talk endlessly on everything about the game.
I was proud to involve him in one of my own TV productions at the 1998 Winter Olympics as co-hockey commentator.
In later years he and his wife moved to Enniskillen in Northern Ireland where he threw his passionate sales techniques to help Louise’s thriving weaving business “Wove in Hove”.
And he became match commentator and writer for, and eventually the voice of, the Belfast Giants hockey team.
Hardman though was anything but and he was devoted to his family having been together with his wife Louise for 53 years.
Recently Wayne and Louise returned to Sussex and have been living in Hove and then Uckfield where they have been able to renew many old Sussex acquaintances.
Ill health may have robbed Wayne Hardman of his final years but the light that he burned for the passions in his life never flickered.
I can only echo what Carlton Kirby told me: “I will miss him dearly.
“He will always be a hard man to forget.”