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Mark Hoskins

Mark Hoskins writes

Posted Tuesday, October 12th 2021

Obituary: John Portch

Bristol Bears deeply regret to announce the death last week of the club’s former Chief Executive, John Portch MBE. John, a lifelong supporter of Bristol, was a key figure in the club’s administrative history and a vital and dedicated presence during some of its most challenging days. 

When Chairman Chris Booy and a consortium consisting of former players and other interested parties took over the running of the club from chairman and owner Malcolm Pearce following Bristol’s relegation from the Zurich Premiership in 2003, the new board of directors appointed John Portch as its chief executive. At the time of his appointment he told the Bristol Evening Post: “We are a big European city and Bristol deserves a good rugby Club.” In the words of one of his fellow original consortium members David Powell, John was “incredibly dedicated to the cause” and saw to it that the consortium operated successfully.

John Leslie Portch was educated at Wick Road Junior School, from where gained an academic scholarship to Clifton College. John completed his military service as an officer in the Gloucester Regiment, serving for much of the time in Cyprus, before joining Bristol-based office equipment company Equipu PLC. John relished the business of sales and marketing, rising to the position of Managing Director and helping to take the company public circa 1980. 

He played rugby for St Brendan’s Old Boys and Thornbury, and in the 1962-63 season he played once for Bristol United, scoring a try in his only game. He had a further association with the Bristol Club in September 1964 when he organised a Cavalcade of Sport at the Memorial Ground to raise funds for Bristol Cathedral. The event featured six-a-side soccer, a PT display by St Silas Boys’ Club, the Bristol Police Dog Handling Team, trampolining by Bedminster Down School and athletics, as well as a sevens tournament. John later recalled the remarkable generosity of the Bristol Club: the ground was offered free of charge, as were sufficient stewards to help run the occasion.

As a member of Bristol’s new board, John helped to oversee the club’s return to top flight rugby in 2005. He continued in his role of Chief Executive until 2006, when Dave White took over, though he remained with the club as a director. In 2008-09 he was appointed Deputy Chief Executive under Steve Gorvett, and he remained in this post until 2017. He was awarded an MBE in 2015 for services to the St John Ambulance.

John Portch was a regular face at Bristol’s matches, both at home and away. He was always friendly and approachable, and he had the best interests of the Club very much at the forefront of his mind. In addition, he was a great admirer of Bristol’s rich rugby heritage and he was always keen to preserve historic objects belonging to the club. He was, as David Powell has so aptly acknowledged, “a one-off,” and he will be greatly missed. All at Bristol Bears send their sincere sympathy to John’s family and friends at this very sad time.

Chairman Booy said: “John was a truly great contributor, supporter, ambassador and friend of our Club. He was also great fun to be around, he will be fondly remembered. His last Bristol game was the derby victory over Bath; a fitting tribute to his association and commitment to Bristol Rugby.”


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