Local heroes praise education, community and stamina

Posted on Friday 17th July 2015

A national netball star, a Paralympian and a football club chairman gave graduating students their best wishes as they received honorary doctorates on Friday afternoon at the last University of Bolton Degree Congregation Ceremony of 2015.

Phil Gartside, Chairman of Bolton Wanderers, received an Honorary Doctorate of Education, celebrating his contribution to the Bolton Community and football. 

Phil is the driving force behind Bolton Wanderers Free School, based in the Macron Stadium, the Free School which began as an education programme for 'NEET' students — not in education, employment or training. 


The school has been successful in turning students around, bringing them from 40 per cent attendance at lessons up to 100 per cent. The school is now looking to expand, planning to increase pupil numbers to 400 by September 2017, and moving to a new facility.


Phil told graduating students, ‘I believe passionately in the power of sport and education’ after giving an example of Wanderers’ Free School student who was now looking forward to a future at Cardiff University, having been out of school for two years before he came to the club’s school.

England netball coach, Tracey Neville, who takes her team to the World Championships in Australia next month, thanked the University for ‘a great privilege and honour’ at what had been ‘an unbelievable experience’. Having completed two degrees, in Maths and Sports Science and Nutrition, Tracey told graduands she well understood the journey they had completed to reach graduation. ‘I wish you all the best for the future,’ she added.


Tracey has played for England herself. An international player with England Netball from 1996 to 2007, Tracey has 81 caps. She won a Commonwealth Games Bronze Medal in 1998, World Champion Bronze Medal in 1999 and a World Youth Championships Bronze Medal in 1996.

Tracey was Technical Coach for the England squad that achieved a gold medal in the World Series in 2011 and as Director of Netball for Manchester Thunder, she has taken her team to the top on two occasions as Superleague Winners in 2012 and 2014.

Tony Griffin, one of Britain's most decorated Paralympians, who won 14 gold medals during his career and still holds a world record more than 25 years after setting it, spoke of his pride in Bolton.


Born with cerebral palsy, Tony went to his first Paralympics in the south of France aged just 16 and travelled again with the British team to Holland in 1980.

But four years later came his most successful event to date, the 1984 Paralympic Games in New York. Tony brought home two golds, for javelin and the club as well as two world records. His world record throw of 50 metres in the club – an event similar to the hammer –stands to this day.

Tony was named the town’s Sports Ambassador for 2009 by Bolton Council. Ahead of the London 2012 Paralympic Games, he lit the cauldron in Stoke Mandeville on behalf of England and took part in the opening ceremony of the Paralympic Games as an aerial performer. His image features on the 30m high Spirit of Sport sculpture in Bolton, proudly amongst our sporting heroes.

‘I would like to congratulate everyone here today. I am so proud to be here with you in this fantastic town.’