A Personal History

A Personal History

Eddie Lyne – personal ramblings – Bracknell Swimming Club – bragging!

Personal reminiscences by the past Chairman, Eddie Lyne.  I just sat down and typed but included thought as to what might be learned from my history. It is for individuals to extract what they believe might be useful for them – of course bearing very much in mind that the world has moved on so much.

When I first became involved in Swimming I knew nothing about it other than that my older daughter thoroughly enjoyed swimming  and enjoyed the success  that competition presented. Aged 9  – joined the Club to learn to swim properly – when someone in the Club entered her in a gala [we eventually learned it was the then County Novice Competition]. She won a gold medal. So what was this all about then ? – but she enjoyed winning! Both my daughters were very good swimmers in their age groups.

I learnt quickly from others and from experience.   I conclude that for a club to progress, for a club to be recognised as a success, it needs a number of key ingredients to come together. It needs access to good swimming talent  – swimmers with potential – it needs the parents of those swimmers to want their offspring to enjoy their success and to continue to progress. So the parents must “get involved” – to give something back.  Dare I say it? For total individual success swimming becomes the dominating drive for the whole family, for years, at international level there is nothing else. For moderate success of the youngster there are few diversions – no time for serious football e.g. – educational needs excepted of course. But do not despair, it is a brilliant discipline for youngsters which spills out into their overall beautiful development. It usually helps their education. And these days there are so many avenues open for a very good living when they retire from competition in sport related work. The swimmers I have admired are usually well educated and admirable citizens!

A club needs good coaching talent, led by a Chief Coach who is not only able to provide excellent coaching them-self but can inspire others and to get involved in every aspect of the club’s affairs – including finance. Thus, I differentiate between a Chief Coach and a Club Chief Coach. I classify a Chief Coach – personally delivering necessary coaching/training development. But a first class Club Chief Coach will also totally immerse themselves in the development of all aspects of the Club, particularly to provide guidance to the management committee, to deliver the expectation of every member, from the youngest learner to the International performer. But also the Club membership must decide its prime objectives. Many times in my long career I required our members to affirm that we were to be a committed COMPETITIVE club not what used to be called a SPLASH CLUB. And then it is necessary to recognise that the measure of the Club will be by the reputation of the Coach, coupled to its competitive performance!

In the early 1970’s Bracknell had had access to a quality swimming facility; Bracknell Sports Centre opened its doors in 1973. In those days Bracknell was recognised as a leading light in the field of leisure provision. Over time the later Bracknell Councillors lost their inspired ‘sports initiative‘ and priorities were devoted more and more to only constituents in need – why not both? Without being political, maybe they were right, but in my view a strong sports contribution in a town can reflect the wellbeing of all residents. Voters – bring back those Councillors!

In the 1970’s the newly acquired quality water time enabled the club to begin to prove itself and the Council reaped the benefit in reputation. ‘In recognition of their community service’, the council permitted the Club privileged access – Club Night on Tuesdays. To be successful a Club must maintain excellent relations with its water time providers – it is a shame that events have progressed that there is very little interest from the Council for its sports organisations anymore.

There was a nucleus of superb swimmers – names such as the Lindsell brothers Mark and David, David Stockinger and above all Peter Morris are still remembered if you look through the historic archives of the records and cup winners of the time.  The key girls’ success was Kate McDermott, soon followed by Karen Connolly.

But initially the Club was managed “on a shoe string” – for example when I became Chairman the monthly finances were presented as handwritten pencilled notes in a Woolworth’s plain note book by the Treasurer – then she could see the future and declared it was becoming too big a task for her and resigned in my first year. I helped improve the Management and of course over the years we embraced the modern financial control benefits of the new computer age (my life time career was with ‘computers’ – I helped invent them and latterly supported International  Air Traffic Control and Air Defence Systems).

The Club had a very good Senior Coach, a gentleman named Paul Staight, who clearly had developed the above named swimmers, and in particular Peter Morris, by his personal talent. Paul was a part time Club Coach otherwise working for the Council on their school swimming programme, thus complying with County policy. This policy soon evaporated. So the Club only contributed a comparatively small part of Paul’s income. The financial demands increased rapidly when I became Chair as the Council policy was to save money by cutting the paid swimming positions across the County. Paul eventually left and emigrated to become the Saudi Arabian National Coach where he was “paid handsomely” and had access to resources that could only be dreamed of by an English swimming team (no women though!).

As far as I know he met their objectives but eventually  emigrated to Australia where he continued to coach and has had successes I believe (as told to me by his brother Malcolm Staight who for many years was the very successful Coach of Amersham S.C. in their heyday  – twin (not by birth) successful coaches from the East End of London moving to lucky Berkshire – and Malcolm eventually to be elected a BWSC Chairman!]). Over the years a number of Berkshire swimmers from that era have emigrated to Australia and I believe there is a small “entourage” of ex Berkshire swimming fraternity out there including ex Bracknell swimmers.

I became Chairman because I wanted to “give something back”. In those days there was a large mothers’ social group which came from their chatting on the uncomfortable benches day after day while their offspring steamed lap after lap in the pool (and knitting woollen bobble hats for the protection of swimmers against the cold winter early morning training).

In those days nowhere near the number of wives/women of today had a career themselves so despite some complaints, the club was nowhere near the “baby sitting” facility that has eventually emerged (all over the country). Although a full time teacher, my wife Madge was one of them and told me that the ‘ladies had decided’ that I must stand for Committee at the forthcoming AGM.

Little did I know one Tuesday evening that when I went to the public bar that used to look over the main hall that I was in fact to be “interviewed”. These strange men (maybe I should just say “strangers”) were the male parents of the key swimmers of the time, together with the outgoing Chairman Basil Crocker (again, look in the archives where the Crocker name is dominant) and they had decided that for the welfare of their swimmers they needed to inject new sparkle and expertise into the Club. They had decided to vet me as potential immediate new Chairman.  Shell shocked I accepted with the understanding that, as servant Manuel in Faulty Towers, ‘I know nothing’ therefore I needed their total guidance as to what was required till I learnt for myself.  I was elected Chairman in 1978.

Within a few weeks my future total enthusiasm was sparked when I attended the 2nd Round Speedo League South gala and found we would be in the Round 3 Final for the first time ever.  This when our Team had only been promoted to the First Division the previous year. That was how fast the Club was progressing from Division 2 Champions  to the First Division Final in 12 months. The Final at Crawley (old 25 metre pool) was amazing and we were proud to come 6th.

In that first year another noteworthy event was a “Swim Along With Wilkie” sponsored swim. Wilky had not long retired after what was possibly the most successful British swimming career to that date – still famous gold medallist in the 200 metres breaststroke at the 1976 Montreal  Olympics plus a silver medal, also World Champion and World Record holder. He moved to live in Bracknell about that time (and as far as I am aware, he still does – who read in the January 2019 newspapers? … Wilky had a confrontation with the Royal Berkshire Virgin Active club in Bracknell, basically he was swimming too fast!!).

As far as I know David has made millions from his fame. In 1978 he started his ‘Swim Along’ by offering clubs his services – his organisation did all the admin and publicity – the Club provided lap counters and swimmers came from everywhere to do a sponsored swim. He just took a fee. Just at the time when finance was becoming a serious concern for the Club we ‘made thousands’. We were progressively only the second club to take up his offer. I am not sure but somewhere in my files I suspect I still hold an example of the lovely embossed scroll that every swimmer received signed by David alongside the individual swimmer’s photograph with David.  Goodness me, you should have seen his demonstration swimming – what an inspiration! E.g. two lengths of the pool underwater from a block start!

Many years later I was inspired to organise, with Sarah Hardcastle’s cooperation, a very similar “Swim with Sarah” event which did not earn anything like the same inflationary sums, but was entirely our own effort so was a handsome income.  My certificate with Sarah and I photographed together is still pinned to my filing cabinet. Food for thought for the Club if the opportunity should arise again. Madge and I thoroughly enjoyed our invitation as Club Chair to her wedding in Wales .. was it Cardiff or Swansea? For those that are unaware, Google Sarah to find for example the following extract …

After six years away from the sport Sarah resumed training in the 1990’s with Bracknell Swimming Club following the Barcelona Olympics and in 1993 was a member of the British 4×200 m relay team that took a bronze medal at the European Championship. Hardcastle added a Commonwealth Games silver in the relay and an individual bronze in 1994. Her one and only global championship title arrived in 1995 when she won at Short-Course Worlds in the 800 free and the following year in Atlanta she became the first British swimmer to qualify for an individual Olympic final since she herself had performed the feat 12 years earlier. She emigrated to New Zealand where she works as a swimming and fitness instructor.

In the early 1970/80’s we also had a successful water polo team that swam in the National Water Polo League. I say successful because we were the only Berks Club to have a team in the National League. We were the envy of Reading S.C.  and they only made it into the League some years later when Bracknell folded and Reading S.C. took our place.

During this period Basil Crocker, my Chair predecessor, dominated the water polo management interest. His two boys were excellent water polo performers. Basil understood the growing demand for successful competitive swimming and left the club when we stopped water polo – we parted friends. I heard from his son that Basil unfortunately has succumbed to the dreaded Alzheimer disease.

During this time Peter Morris was progressing rapidly and won his National Honours (Wales) and eventually won GB selection – our first International Swimmer. Peter was so good that we could no longer provide the level of support that an international swimmer needs and he went to USA on a university sports scholarship (a new idea in those days so a brave move). Peter peaked when he won fourth position in the 200 butterfly at the 1980 Moscow Olympics

Over a couple of years we decided that we needed to reimburse at least two coaches for their time. Professional coaches? – progressive idea then. We decided to have two part time chief coaches for a period. Not entirely successful since there was conflict between two strong coaches over aspects of training policy. This was only resolved when Paul decided to leave (he then had success with the Saudi Arabian National Squad and finally moved to the Antipodes, Australia, to coach national clubs). So we took the mighty decision to have one full time professional coach. 

Recruitment proceeded and the final short list was two. No Northerners were shortlisted when we recognised that no way could the club afford the removal costs of someone from the north. So it had to be someone already in the south or one of the candidates returning from Canada since his costs were already covered. The choice was then: “proven experience” or “unproven potential”. We went for unproven potential and employed one Ian Hicks moving from Beckenham for his first full time Chief Coach role. This because we hoped his youth would match the dynamic aspirations of our own youthful talent. Ian had some success but in the end his attitude and lack of experience dealing with parents in particular, and some committee members, meant that he “upset” a lot of people and I put him on a disciplinary process . Ian left after about a three year tenure.   

Among Ian’s successes was that we started our first Open Meet; this was very much down to his personal initiative. In those days Open Meets were not seen as an income potential but rather it was to obtain “prestige”. Only the top clubs ran Open Meets.  Since then Bracknell have always shown how excellent the Club is at presenting Competition. We did make handsome OM profits particularly when our dynamic Public Relations Secretary secured a particularly wonderful sponsorship deal (with a Canadian bank head office in Bracknell but now long gone, I believe).  His multiple sponsorship deals, including with the then enthusiastic Sports Editor of the Bracknell News, were marvellous. We even hosted a Sponsor’s ‘thank you’ party evening at the Holiday Inn – sponsored by the Holiday Inn!  

Unfortunately as times change most other clubs have moved to open meets because they recognise them as a major fund raising opportunity and with the current ASA rules and congestion it is no longer possible to run a successful and profitable Bracknell Level 1 prestigious Meet. So for some years the Club has relied on showing its expertise at lower grade, but profitable, meets.

Ian Hicks left after I negotiated ‘a mutual agreement’ in 1983. So the recruitment process was repeated but this time we knew we were certainly looking for someone with a proven record. We were lucky to find Rosa Gallop among the applicants where at Cranleigh she was coaching what many would say was the best youth swimming club in Surrey – as per their domination in their County results.  Rosa moved to Bracknell in April 1984.

One of the unfortunate things about Coaches moving locally is that it often brings disaster to the Club that loses their coach.  In this case it was a major advantage to BSC as many of Rosa’s top swimmers from Cranleigh moved their training just to follow Rosa. Cranleigh were devastated. But with so many top swimmers coming from Surrey (including the like of Helen Day, Charlotte Maggs, and the sisters Jeanette and Stephanie Gunston, plus boys  such as Tobin Ireland et al.) to join our local heroes the Bracknell team was raised to ‘magnificent’ and this started for many years the acme of Bracknell success.

In the days before the era of all main competition being for individuals at ‘Meets’ the most exciting competition was ‘Interclub’ galas.  We chose our competitions and we were excellent at it. Luckily one such competition remains which is why I still look to the National Arena Swimming League (in those days The Speedo League) for the measure of our Club competition success.

When Rosa became Chief Coach we immediately made the National Final being the runner up to our Southern Speedo League Champions, otherwise dominated in those days by Portsmouth Northsea SC. We then continued to make the National Final for many years running into the period when the National Leagues were evaluated via a ‘virtual gala’ successfully developed by the National League Secretary, Ian Mackenzie. This was of course before it was all ‘automated’ by computer and before including ‘B Finals’. 

Bracknell became THE Southern Club [together with PNS of course]. This success was also evident in the large and successful National Age Group Teams that the club mustered, and indeed the Nationals. Maybe others will be motivated by my musings to add meat to the dates and representatives of the swim teams in those days and indeed to update the history beyond my reflections. It was these successes that motivated first Sharron Davies to join Bracknell in 1989 ready for her successful international medal winning comeback at the 1990 Commonwealth Games and similarly Sarah Hardcastle joined Bracknell in 1992 for her successful international comeback in 1993/4, as mentioned above.

Other later random thoughts:

Recognition in the sport. Apart from the competition success as above, Bracknell became a force to be recognised Nationally, starting at County Management level. When I joined the Club had one representative at County and the then District (now Regional) level – that was Len Lindsell. Len was a very good mentor for me and identified for me the advantages to be involved outside the Club itself. At that time the County Committee was absolutely dominated by Reading S.C. who looked down on the other Clubs as ‘minor’ – they had been the County dominant force since inception .

I actively pursued Len’s policy advice. First I got myself elected onto the County Committee and then continued for years to encourage my Club colleagues to follow. In the end BSC were the progressive force in County management for many years. To date we have provided 5 presidents. First Len Lindsell 1986, although he was really active with Reading S.C. by then, then 1994 myself and my wife Madge in 2005, Rosemary Large in 2006, and John Rowley 2015. This is not to detract from the many other BWSC members who served very actively in the other major roles, leading to this day where BWSC dominate the Competitive Swimming interest through Stewart Fillingham et al.

Also following Len Lindsell’s example I got myself elected onto the Southern District Management Committee where I eventually took on the mantle as their Treasurer for 13 years – at the end guiding the dismantlement of the District to reform as the Region, and serving on the New region Shadow Board for the transfer year.

In the early days I was the Club representative for the then renowned Speedo Swimming League South and behind the scenes gave so much assistance to the then League Secretary that when he virtually broke down with overloaded responsibility and workload he proposed me as his successor and I then served as League South Secretary for 13 years. I brought in the first computerisation of the job (my poor predecessor did it all by hand – indeed I inherited all the gala results on paper carbonless-copies and all paperwork was distributed across the nearly 90 clubs by ‘snail mail’ ).

In those early days there was no National Swimming League but 6 individual Leagues that agreed to deliver their individually selected ‘Champion Team’ for an annual National Final gala. I was a vociferous Secretary arguing with the other League Secretaries to set up the National Speedo Swimming League. My successor, Kathy Hook, has been brilliant taking on my role and driving on to today where she has achieved virtually total computerisation of the all the galas. Recognise that in those early days there was no so such thing as AOE timing equipment – except at our one International Pool, Crystal Palace. Crystal Palace was also the only Olympic sized 50 metre pool that all the Clubs in the South had virtually no access to (except the local Beckenham S.C!). Imagine the daunting experience for young swimmers in their very very rare need to swim Long Course! I have what I consider interesting tales to tell about my Southern District Treasurer’s experience using politics to support GB’s attempt to bring the Olympics to London – e.g. cheaper for the District Championships to be held in rival France if they closed the Palace Pool! Thank you Ken Livingstone as The Palace saviour and it’s still there, just.

So we didn’t have widespread AOE – which put a great onus on Officiating. Again following Len Lindsell’s guidance I was the first true BSC member to pursue an active Qualified Officials path.  In my early years Len was the only ASA qualified official (but from a Reading S.C. base) plus one Len Bradley who was just accepted as a County Starter. He used to use a massive blank firing revolver that needed a firearms licence to hold. What an explosive start signal – probably frightened the life out of inexperienced swimmers!! The modern electronic starter box is a relatively new advance. Apart from the progressive reasons, I started timekeeping, eventually leading through to Refereeing, to get off the uncomfortable seating at galas. Again I successfully persuaded numerous Club members to take on an officiating role till, again, BSC was seen as a model for officiating. I personally tutored most of the stalwart officials through their first qualifying process. Unfortunately with the passing of time most of these have ‘retired’ and I have no idea of the current status of our Club Officials.

Most of the above has been ‘good stuff’ but there have been some bad moments. Two of our swimmers have been killed in car crashes returning from galas. Beautiful Charlotte Maggs was a passenger in another swimmer’s car and was killed when they crashed on Saturday night in a country road in Surrey. What a tragedy! Many, including myself, were moved to tears the immediate following Sunday when the whole Southern Counties Swimming fraternity at the Southern Counties Championships at Crystal Palace where she was expected to swim successfully, paid silent tribute to the young lady. She had a wide circle of beloved friends and this included the well known millionaire John Paul Getty (noting some 17 or so of the approx. 130 annual swim trophies carry his name when in 1984 we used one of his donations to supplement donations of parents etc to provide trophies for all strokes through the age groups). He generously donated a significant sum to the Club as ‘Charlotte’s Memorial’.

I trust that the Charlotte Maggs memorial trophy is still awarded each year. The original trophy was a very nice plate specially commissioned from a local student silversmith. Further you may see our Trophy Cabinet also commissioned as another Charlotte Memorial at the Sports Centre. The two halves were originally built side by side, but the Sports Centre had to move and separate it eventually. And finally the balance of his donation set up a Trust Fund (I was one Trustee) to be used as a Benevolent Fund as swimmers were assessed to need financial assistance. When I ‘retired’ the then small remaining balance was transferred to the Club funds where it was to be ‘ring fenced’, and supplemented, with the Club Committee honoured to administer it as a continuing Benevolent Fund following the original aims. I trust your Treasurer to advise the Committee.

We also suffered when a very energetic young man, Chris Chamberlain, was killed when as the driver he lost control of his car on a slippery downhill road, Cricket Hill in Sandhurst, while returning home with swimming colleagues from a gala. His parents, where his father Dave Chamberlain had been an excellent Club Chairman taking over from me, donated a unique memorial trophy loved by the family. This was to be awarded as deemed appropriate where a swimmer went the extra mile to broaden the welfare of the club, as per Chris as the model. I think that unfortunately the Committee decided to stop announcing and recording the winners of Annual Trophies at our AGM and there is then no record of the last winner who has unhappily failed to return the trophy, sad.

And then there was young Nikki Park. She was a model of the ideal devoted swimmer in what was then called the Devil’s Squad (the young swimmers aspiring just below the A Squad). She succumbed to a deadly illness after some loving hospice care (I think it was a blood leukaemia disease). Her parents donated the Nikki Park trophy in her memory to be awarded annually to the swimmer who that Squad Coach deemed to most closely follow Nikki’s training example.

All in all, ‘Competitive Swimming Management’ has dominated my life, and thus also that of my family, for so many years. Why?  Well the sport is so rewarding to see the swimmers’ benefits …. and I have many times said ‘how amazing it was to see the delight on the faces of the very youngest swimmers as they came running across the poolside towards me when I was lucky to be asked to award ribbons, medals and trophies’. Unfortunately the concerted demands of the modern sport has virtually done away with the ‘presentation ceremonies’, so my successors will have to find other examples of the love of the sport. To the end I still loved to see the presentations at the Ribbon Galas where tiddlers still proudly show off their ribbons from their first, or maybe second, competitive swim.

See the club’s history timeline