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My Generation, Baby! By Alan Morris

I have just discovered the Watford Swimming Club web page and was delighted to see in the centenary BBQ pictures some old familiar faces from when I swam there a few years ago (well, actually I swam and played polo there circa 1958-1967). Then I read the pieces by Neil Chapman, Brian Curtis and the others and decided I should write about some of my memories of the club and the people of my g-g-generation, baby!

I take up the story as Neil left off, although he was still very much of a factor during my time at the club and I have many great memories of him competing in galas and playing polo. I remember him driving a group of us younger guys over to the Haberdashers school on a series of Sundays for water polo training. He taught us some of the finer points of the game (if you know what I mean). I also remember swimming with Brian Curtis in a swimming exhibition (at the opening of a school pool, I think). He had swum for England and it was a tremendous honour for me to demonstrate the butterfly with him, although many of the onlookers may have subsequently drowned trying to emulate his side breathing technique! Until I read his contribution to the centenary page, I did not know that he later emigrated to beautiful British Columbia, where I too have lived, in Vancouver, for the past twenty four years ... small world! Roger Harford is also in my memory bank as a great gentleman and all round swimmer with a super smooth backstroke. Both he and Neil are in the BBQ photos and still look in wonderful shape. These were the previous generation we all looked up to.

I started at the club at age eight in 1957 and had a struggle to swim the one length needed to get in. Soon after (or so it seemed) I was asked to swim for the county at Seymour Place Baths where I came 4th in the 44 yards breaststroke, and I was hooked on swimming. My dad, Bob Morris, had been a competitive swimmer in his day and he taught me, my sister, Christine, and mum, Jess, to swim. He and mum went on to get their teaching certificates and became involved in teaching and coaching at the Hempstead Road pool. Roy Hollingdale was the club coach at the beginning and at some point Roy Rogers rode into town and took on the job.

In the late fifties something special started to happen at Watford which led to a period of tremendous swimming success for Watford SC. Neil wrote about the difficulty in getting training time and of having to swim widths at the deep end during the public sessions. But in 1957 a new pool manager came to Watford, an unsung hero called John Anstey. John was very interested in the development of all kinds of swimming, including competitive swimming. He worked closely with the late, great, Bill Juba who, based in Watford, was in charge of school swimming throughout Hertfordshire and was extremely well known and influential in swimming circles throughout the country and beyond. John and Bill organized the periods in between public sessions and soon there were a number of professional swimming teachers and coaches running their own teaching and training groups. In addition to Bill and Jose Juba, there was Fred Palmer (a great teacher), Norman Clarke (focussed on life saving), Roy Rogers (club coach.. take your marks..GROWL), Don Overnell (a former international butterfly swimmer), Frank Grey (until he got a big swimming job in South Africa) and Bob Morris (my dad, who taught and coached part time). The water between sessions was really the evolutionary soup in which these training groups turned tadpoles into some really wonderful swimmers.

Jose Juba had most of the top girls in her group and, provided they could take the heat, they progressed to reach their full potential and then some. Anne Cotterill was the most successful. She swam butterfly for England at the Tokyo Olympics, broke British records and won bronze and silver medals at the European and Commonwealth Games, respectively. I remember her telling us when she got back from the Commonwealth Games in Perth that it was so hot for the Games that she burned herself sitting down on a chair at the open-air pool. Anne was part of a group of great girl swimmers (and lovely girls!) who were a few years older than me and the boys. Another was Cordelia Williams who had a beautiful front crawl technique and probably still does. The inter club galas at Watford had an electric atmosphere at the time and I remember one such occasion when Anne broke the English record for the 100 yards butterfly and Delia broke the record for the 100 yards freestyle. Other ladies I remember from that time were Janet Elwell, Sue Cooper, Dianne McManus, Penny Haynes, Sandra Percival, Lynn Piggott and Yvonne Willett. A little younger were Melanie Tearle, who won the women's southern counties title in the 880 yards freestyle when she was fourteen and Catriona Irvine, who burst on the scene in the mid sixties and broke the Scottish women's record in the 220 IM when she too was only fourteen.

We also had a very strong contingent of boys representing the club in my age group (or thereabouts). None of us will ever forget John Beresford, the slasher, who had unbelievable guts, determination, self-belief and a slow heart beat. One year at the nationals in Blackpool he discovered he had the stamina to go the distance when he unexpectedly made the final of the men's mile at fourteen years of age. He went on to swim for the English men's team at that distance on a number of occasions when he was still a junior and he captained the English junior team in its first ever international competition, winning the 440 yards freestyle into the bargain. I remember one of his first international mile races at the then new Crystal Palace pool. His stroke turnover rate (55 per length) was twice as many as any of the men he was swimming against. He broke his personal best 220-yard time in the first 220 yards and then continued at that pace for the balance of the race! Nobody had explained oxygen deficit to John.

Other buddies were Pete Heffer, John Foskett (nice bbq picture of Noddy and his lovely wife, Sandy), Nigel Crinson, Kelvin and Nicky Juba (guests from the Otter club), Jonathon Lowe, Dave Chapman and Jeff Ogden. Pete Heffer and I helped my dad in the land and water training of a young fellow called Derek Pitts and it was gratifying for us when Derek, together with John Fosketts younger brother Mike, became junior internationals. Derek swam breaststroke and Mike freestyle. Watford had particularly strong representation in my year. In 1964, when under 15, we won the southern counties under 16 medley relay and the girls won the freestyle relay. We were set to do great things at the nationals the following year but unfortunately for us they changed the age qualifying date and we missed our time in the limelight .. darn it!

Another thing that I remember vividly were some intensive training courses run by Bill and Jose Juba which all of us used to go to. Early on I remember going to Berkhamstead School for one of these and later there were courses on the weekends at a school in Watford. I also remember a weekend course at a school at Welwyn Garden City. We would all be in different groups and would alternate between swimming with Bill and aerobic land training to taped music in the gym with Jose. Jose was amazingly fit for her age and pushed us all really hard at the same time as doing the whole workout herself. It was not long before that time that land training was thought to be bad for swimming! At the end of the course day we would all go to the pool for fun relay races doing newly invented strokes and getting out at both ends to touch the wall.

In 1963 or 64 I was lucky enough to be selected to go to Kingston-on-Thames for a one week southern counties intensive training course run by Tony Holmyard, who was the ASA national technical officer (a new post, I think). This was really around the time that science was being first thought of as having some relevance to sport, including swimming. There was even a medical doctor at the course. We didn't take hormones or anything but we were weighed and measured, tested for strength, our pulse rates were charted, our fat and lung capacity measured, etc. My dad was my coach at the course and he was not supposed to tell me what the coaches talked about, but later he told me that I was a puzzle to the coaching staff. I had no measurable fat. Most of the boys were tall, except me. I had relatively low muscle strength, low buoyancy, you name it. They were surprised I could swim at all! I thought that this was a bit much, as I had swum the whole course on butterfly and I was the best at scaling the ropes in the gym, which I did without the need to use my legs. So anyway, science cant tell you everything (or it couldn't at that time).

I look back on lots of great memories of galas against other clubs at Watford, all over the London area and as far a field as Swindon and Southampton. The age categories were usually under 12, 14, 16 and open. Watford had a strong team with lots of cheering and spirit and was often victorious. The London League got started in the mid sixties and included most of the strongest teams in the South East. One year Watford won the whole league. I was the team captain and received the trophy for the club. It was a proud moment. We would all travel to away galas by coach, have lots of fun and enjoy our time together.

Each year there were the county championships at places like Watford, Hemel Hempstead, Bishops Stortford, Stevenage, Hoddeston, Ware and Hertford. Watford swimmers completely dominated the county in all age groups and county records fell like leaves in autumn. I was an all rounder and at various times swam breaststroke, butterfly and individual medley. Some of the most exciting and nail biting times were the Watford club championships which were held over a series of nights allowing us to enter races in all strokes. There were some good all round swimmers and the competition was fierce as we crossed into each others stroke specializations, sometimes with surprising results.

I also remember swimming with some of the other Watford swimmers for the Division 10 team (Herts and Middlesex) at three English Schools Championships at Cambridge, Grimsby and Cardiff. These were special occasions not only for their competitive swimming and team spirit but also for the interesting billeting arrangements. I remember having to share a double bed with John Foskett in Cardiff (with a wall of pillows down the middle!) and being offered old wartime shells filled with hot water as bed warmers! I also had to pretend to like the breakfast of fried eel in Grimsby that the father of the house had dredged up from Grimsby harbour the night before on his dredging night shift - achh!!

Like Neil Chapman before me, I swam in the nationals in the salt water of Derby Baths, Blackpool, although, by then, there were qualifying times we had to make before we could go and a strong team of visiting Canadians won most of the events! I also competed in the in the nationals the first time it was held at Crystal Palace. There was always a strong showing of Watford swimmers at the nationals during this time.

After age 16 I still swam and played polo for the club but my training fell off as I concentrated on my sixth form studies. Then at 18 I moved with my family to Plymouth where I continued to swim for the Port of Plymouth club and played polo for Devonport. However, my training reduced again when I started my career as an articled clerk (chartered accountant in training). I continued to compete for a few years and then stopped swimming regularly. I have recently rediscovered the joys of swimming in an ozone-filtered pool at the Y in Vancouver.

I married an English girl, a figure skater from Bournemouth, before emigrating to Canada and we have two grown kids, who are good swimmers and skaters, but not competitively. Instead, they took up badminton and competed at the Canadian national level in that. I am now a tax partner in the Vancouver office of the Deloitte & Touche accounting firm. If anyone from the old days would like to write me I would love to hear from you. My email address is

Happy 100th year Watford SC!
Alan Morris Nov 2001


 

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