The sudden death of John Gilburn has come as a huge shock to the UK greyhound industry.
The managing director at Sheffield, John was the chairman of the racecourse promoter’s trade body, the RCPA, and an influential board director at the GBGB and the BGRF. In political circles, John would be described as one of the industry’s ‘big beasts’.
But he was also widely liked as respected as one of the most innovative thinkers among the racecourse promoters. Even within the last week, this website ran a story commending the Gilburn’s efforts in orchestrating an incredible GMG Steel City Cup meeting.
Other industry figures have been keen to pay their own personal tributes to the man and his huge contribution to the greyhound industry. . .
GBGB Managing Director Mark Bird said: “Following on from the devastating news yesterday as to John Gilburn’s sudden death, I’m sure it has provided a small modicum of comfort to John’s family as to the phenomenal amount of tributes being made about him.
“John had been a Board Director with the GBGB since the beginning of this year but also served on the BGRF and their committees. John had worked on the development and launch of the recent GBGB “Apprenticeship Scheme, which included take up from some of his own trainers’ staff from Owlerton. He provided real value to the project always taking a pragmatic approach to some of the problems that such a scheme posed in its development.
“I’ve worked with John for the past 3 years and was always impressed with his tireless work ethic and selfless commitment to making Greyhound racing develop in the way that it really should. I should have been his guest tonight (Wednesday) at the Parliamentary Review Gala, following on from a piece he wrote about the commercial development of Sheffield, since running the track in his 11-year reign. He was invited to the gala by Lord Pickles and it really is testament to his management and leadership that such a piece could be endorsed by the Parliamentary Review.
“John was never afraid to take on problems which others would have readily ducked and was always one of the first to offer up his help and experience on industry matters. John will be sorely missed by the GBGB and BGRF. He has provided a great legacy for much of the work that he has done and for greyhound racing as a sport and spectator event and my only regret is that I should have thanked him more for his support and loyalty.”
Stadia UK’s Director of Racing Bill Glass said: “John wasn’t just a colleague, he was a personal friend. He and I came through the RCPA together, and we would often have a drink after a board meeting.
“As a stadium operator he was among the best. He was tough and uncompromising but also the calm voice at so many meetings. He was also a stickler for detail.
“What can I say? I really liked and respected the bloke. I am absolutely devastated at what has happened and feel so sad for John’s loved ones.”
Former colleague at Belle Vue and Sheffield, Bob Rowe said: “ Everyone who knew John as well as I did will be absolutely shaken to the core and my thoughts right now are for his wife and his children. It is unbelievably sad.
“John came to the GRA in the mid-Nineties and rapidly transformed Belle Vue, which had been in the doldrums for a long while, to become arguably the most successful and profitable track in the industry at the time and certainly within GRA.
“With a voracious appetite for work, nothing was too much trouble for him and he was a real driving force behind all the initiatives that he introduced and he was totally committed in all that he did.
“Of the many qualities he possessed not least was his excellent business acumen.It was easy to identify his skill at close hand and you were always certain that John would deliver in style. His attention to detail was top notch.
“He had great integrity and we had a mutual appreciation for each other and I will miss himas both a colleague and a friend.
“I have said before how highly I rated him and I can only echo that here, he was head and shoulders above the majority of his contemporaries.”
Trainer Pat Rosney said: “John was the man who took a chance on me many years ago when I tried to switch to independent racing and I will always be grateful to him for that.
“I have always had the utmost respect for John and I am desperately sorry to hear of this terrible news. It is a very sad day, greyhound racing has lost a good man.”
Kinsley promoter John Curran said: “I think I speak for most people when saying we are all in shock. I think we are all still reeling from the news.
“I first met John Gilburn when he was working for Wembley plc and they were interested in buying Kinsley. That didn’t work out but I think his talents were far better suited to running Sheffield, they were made for each other.
“When I decided to step down from my roles on the GBGB and BGRF, I knew John was the best person to take my place and I already think he has achieved things that I couldn’t.
“He had his own unique style. While I could be a bull at a gate and look at the politics of a decision, John would removed the politics and concentrate on the personal approach and use persuasion. I think he did a phenomenal job at the RCPA.
“John was also a very devout family man and when we had big meetings here, he would bring wife Rochelle and the children along. Make no mistake, they were a great partnership, Rochelle supported John in everything he tried to do.
“John Gilburn was unique and I considered him a very good friend.”
Nottingham’s Rachel Corden said: “I am absolutely devastated by John’s death and my thoughts are with Rochelle and their two children at this terrible news. I actually spent most of yesterday morning on the phone to him, so it seems so unreal.
“I worked with John on various committees over a long period of time. He was a strong character, totally dependable and never afraid to take on a challenge, no matter how difficult.
“Being involved in and contributing to so many organisations takes a great deal of voluntary commitment and John was unswerving in his dedication to the industry. Everything was for the good of the industry.
“Aside from being an exceptional colleague John was a fantastic and close friend to me over a long period. He was particularly kind when I lost my father.
“We had a lot of laughs and he loved nothing more than talking about his family and sharing pictures. I will miss him enormously.”
Trainer and GBGB colleague Pete Harnden said: “I didn’t really know John when I joined the board and I have had some dealings with him since on behalf of different trainers.
“We didn’t see eye to eye on everything but I couldn’t expect to, he is a businessman and has to make the right decisions as he sees fit. He was always prepared to debate his view.
“In terms of the industry though, he always tried to do what was right. He had grave reservations about some of the things that have happened in the past. He texted me at the weekend to say how much he enjoyed the last blog I did on the Star website. John saw the benefits of a more united industry.
“As a bloke, I really liked him too. Even outside dog racing, he is the sort of person I would have met up with for a pint.”
Funeral arrangements will be published when they become available.