A PARTY to acknowledge the contribution made by a retired judo coach was attended by more than 100 people.

Tony McConnell, 81, from Lambrigg, near Kendal, has made a big name for himself in the sport during his days competing and coaching. He has also been manager of a number of national and international squads.

People from all over the country travelled to the Kendal Dojo to celebrate Mr McConnell's success and dedication to the sport.

In 1980 Mr McConnell was the team manager of a successful British judo squad at the Moscow Olympics and he came back to Kendal to start a youth squad.

Having trained and coached all over the world, from France to Russia, Mr McConnell became known for his 'unusual' methods of coaching.

The Kendal Dojo was set up by Mr McConnell with the generous help from West Midlands businessman Colin Draycott and Brian Cox, of the town's Cox and Allen building company.

At that time it was considered to be the best Dojo in the country and ranked alongside anything that could be found in Europe, including some of the most exclusive clubs in France.

At the celebration, one of the original squad members remembered a time when an 'old decrepit van' used to travel from Lambrigg to the Dojo finally packed up.

He said the boys thought they would have a day off training but Mr McConnell made them push the van from Lambrigg to Kendal to make sure they did not miss a session.

The former coach raised the profile of the club and that of Kendal to the point that athletes living overseas began to use the club as a training base.

The Chinese national squad came to train in Kendal before the 1988 Olympics in Moscow and this was the first time they had been put through their paces outside Asia.

Judo exponent Peter Holme, of Kendal, remembered a British Open championship contest at which Mr McConnell had been the Swedish team manager. He said that he had been coaching his team's participants in the Scandinavian language but halfway through a contest he roared at one of his team in broad Cumbrian: "Get tha' sen stuck in lad" before reverting back to Swedish.

From coaching an international side to a standard that is fit enough for the Olympics, many have said that Mr McConnell has been not only an 'incredible influence' on them but to the sport as well.

"He was an inspiration to me and everyone at the party," said Mr Holme. "He must be the top coach in the UK and most definitely in the top rankings in the world."