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Ian McCellan's Memories

MANCHESTER UNIVERSITY SWIMMING CLUB 1962-5

I came to Manchester in October 1962 to study Physics from St Clement Danes GS in West London. I also swam for Penguin SC, and was in the medley relay at the National Championships at the Derby Baths in Blackpool where I saw Manchester University had entered a team in the Mens 4x110 yards freestyle relay. This was most unusual in those days since swimming was dominated by the big clubs like Otter, York City and Stoke Newington and any student swimmers would swim for their clubs. Even more unusual was they not only got to the final but finished 4th with a time of around 4min 6sec. Throughout this account the times (where I can remember) and the distances are going to sound strange and unimpressive to the present day reader. However it did alert me to the fact that I was going to join a very active swimming club.  One of the team, Eddie Pettitt was from Ealing SC and knew me and performed the introductions to the MU team. I met the club president Vincent Miller who was a Manchester based lawyer and had swum at a World Student Games. Vin was hugely generous to the team and a great supporter. Two swimmers in that team were to figure centrally to the success of the club. Both were international swimmers from Southern Rhodesia (yes it was that long ago), Mike Blowers and the club captain Nick Collins

I therefore arrived at MU having met a few of the established team and the star fresher who was to achieve so much for the club Alan Briggs. Alan came from Preston so was well known in northern swimming circles and had represented GB in all the international matches at 110 yds backstroke the previous season. In the years we were there I can’t recall ever seeing him training at the university pool in the McDougall Centre. I am positive he was not training elsewhere, but natural ability and a slight body frame kept him in good condition.

Manchester was very well provided for sports facilities for those days and had a 25yard pool with tiered spectator seating. It was located in the McDougall Centre which also had a huge sports hall where less happily we all sat examinations. The centre was run in truly military style by Col Roly Harper who was a noted athlete in his day; 120 yards high hurdles I think. The whole place was immaculate and the floors polished daily. Roly proved to be a great friend of the club and a key supporter. By contrast most other university clubs relied on one or two hired sessions in council pools generally at a late evening session.

The autumn and spring terms were when most of the swimming and water polo matches took place and the secretary (of which I had the honour of filling for two years) arranged a programme of matches generally each Saturday and occasionally on a Wednesday as well. Events were over 100 yards with the relays over 4x 50 yards but in practice we arranged as suited each club. Home and away fixtures were against Leeds, Liverpool, Birmingham, Sheffield, Durham, and Loughborough Colleges. The latter was for men only since Loughborough was a men’s teacher training college in those days and allowed to join the predominantly northern Universities Athletic Union (UAU) but not the British Universities Sports Federation (BUSF). Away fixtures were great fun and we always stayed for the craique at the student union and arrived back in Manchester in the early hours and faced long walks back to lodgings. An annual match was against London University who had a large modern pool at Malet Street (they also had a large number of students!) where we stayed the weekend at the homes of team members like myself who lived there. We would generally win all the mens matches except for Loughborough and London and thus held the Christie Shield fairly continuously. The womens team also held their own and were captained by Janice Broadbent who was a fine swimmer from Bolton SC and a number of girls who had swum at clubs such as Gateshead and Beckenham. Water polo was very popular and had its own club night on a Thursday. Curiously there was no women’s section presumably because the ASA didn’t allow it? Chris Elvin was the mainstay of the club who had played at Ealing SC and seemed to have been at Manchester forever as he was a PhD student as well as having been an undergraduate. Howard Blakeborough (Halifax SC), Gerry Pogmore (Sheffield), and Roger Edmunson were also prominent I remember. We won most of the matches except predictably against Loughborough and London.

The first major gala was the UAU champs which was held in 1963 in the new Sheffield University pool (362/3yds long!). All went well with medals for Alan Briggs (gold) Nick Collins and I think for Martin Hanson in butterfly. Martin was a fine athlete who went on to represent British Universities and came from Stockport SC. However it was the relays where we picked up crucial double points, although still beaten by Loughborough. Unnoticed in the programme were two diving events; 1m and 3m springboard. Graham Walker who dived as well as being a member of the swimming and water polo club had noticed and had entered  and won them both with no Loughborough entry! When the points were added up we had beaten Loughborough and were UAU Team Champions. Naturally Loughborough claimed a foul but it was no good as we left Sheffield with a shield and a small bronze medal which I have to this day.

The next gala was the BUSF gala at Walsall again in a 36 2/3 yds pool. This time we had to contend with Oxford University (who were captained by a very modest Rhodes scholar called ‘Titch’ McGloughin who had reached the final of the Rome Olympics in 1960 at 400m and 1500m freestyle) and of course London. One unusual event was the 6 x 36 2/3 yds squadron freestyle relay. We won this and got off to a great start made better when Alan Briggs won the backstroke. Points kept coming when Nick Collins and Martin Hanson finished just out of the medals but gained good team points. Almost by premonition Mike Blowers was entered for the IM which was cruel since he was by his own admission several yards short of training. Without complaint he swam almost to exhaustion and gained a crucial single point for 6th place. The standard was very high with international competitors in all strokes. Titch and Jim Kennedy (London), Paynton Cowan (Cambridge) ,and Nick in freestyle, and in breast stroke Chris Wilkinson (Durham), PP Seah (London) had all represented their countries. At the start of the afternoon session I sat with Martin Hanson and we did a quick calculation of our points position and saw to our surprise we were in contention. The last two relays (4x110 freestyle and 4x 110 medley) represented our best chances of points which would be doubled. A second place in the freestyle to Oxford (with Titch cannily swimming the first leg and opening up a big lead) but surprisingly beating London. A quick chat to Nick and it was agreed I would scratch from the 110 breastroke where there was little realistic chance of points and swim only the medley. Alan Briggs handed over his normal lead which your writer managed to lose left Martin Hanson and Nick Collins enough to pull us to a silver medal behind London with Oxford nowhere. Points were added up and we were now BUSF Team Champions by one point. We called this the Mike Blowers point! Celebrations in the Queens hotel where the Athletic Union had generously paid for rooms, were amongst the most memorable experiences of my sporting life.

Back to Manchester and examinations with no swimming matches but one annual water polo match against the old University players. Afterwards Vin Miller hosted a barbeque at his stately home in Alderley Edge which ended late into the night with at least two making their way back to Manchester on foot! My recollection of Vin’s saying that ‘its all right it will be covered by the insurance’ should give a good idea of the standard of celebration!

So having somehow satisfied the examiners after resits I returned for a second year to a much changed swimming club. Alan Briggs had had a disagreement with the examiners and Nick and Mike decided a degree required their full attention. However, the Athletic union rewarded the club for winning both the student trophies by giving us funds for an Easter tour which we decided to go to Ireland. Waterpolo and swimming were matches were arranged against Queens in Belfast and Trinity and UCD in Dublin. We travelled by overnight ferry from Liverpool on a ship that has little resemblance to the ships now in use. The swimming gala turned out to be open to clubs as well but we did beat  Queens in the match as well as in water polo. On by train to Dublin where the customary stop was made to take on more bottles of Guinness on crossing the border to take advantage of lower prices. Matches against Trinity (in those days almost entirely English Public School it seemed) and UCD (mostly students from Eire) were won. It was thankfully before the outbreak of sectarian troubles and both Belfast and Dublin were very relaxed places.  Having noted we had won our three water polo games, the UCD lads suggested we might like to play a local club as we had a free evening before returning home. They didn’t mention they had fixed us up to play Clontarf who were all Ireland champions at the time. To add a bit of interest it was played in a 20 yard pool that was never deeper than 6ft.  Naturally we lost easily and I still have a slight buzzing in my head to remind me of a robust encounter.

The BUSF and UAU galas were never going to be as successful as the previous year but we still entered full men’s and women’s teams. The end of term also marked the graduation of Nick Collins, Mike Blowers and Martin Hanson who had done so much for the club. Nick was elected a member of the XXI club which is for the twenty one best sportsmen of their generation which pleased us all.

My final year involved little time spent on swimming, but the club still held their own in all but the top competitions Paul Murphy and Gordon Walkden were now Captain and Secretary respectively. Several prominent swimmers came up including some much needed breast stroke swimmers. Richard Hall from Camp Hill broke the club record as well as competing in the international trials and a Greek junior champion with such an impossible name he had to make do with Pythagoras. He didn’t seem to mind but got his own back by ordering a gin and Babycham when his captain offered him a welcoming drink!  The UAU champs were held in Manchester and we opted to hire the Wythenshawe baths rather than use the McDougall Centre on the grounds of the large numbers of competitors. Unfortunately, the anticipated numbers of paying spectators failed to materialise and the university lost quite a bit of money which was the only time our relationship with the Athletic Union came under strain. The BUSF gala had moved to the new pool at Crystal Palace and I think was swum over metres for the first time. I hadn’t expected to swim so was surprised to get a call at home to come over to swim in the medley relay since all our breast stroke swimmers had gone home after their individual events. There may have been good reasons (other than us having no chance of medals) for this but I could not but reflect  this was not the spirit that won the Mike Blowers point.

I must finish this on a sad note in that Nick Collins died some years ago. 

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