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John Band's Memories

John Band, swimmer at the University of Manchester 1949-1953 and elected to the XXI Club in 1952, gives us an account of his memories of his time in Manchester.

I started at Owens in October 1949 having spent two years National Service in the Royal Engineers. At School in Manchester (Burnage High School) I had been active in swimming, rugby and athletics and I was fortunate enough to come second in the Army swimming championships (backstroke) so became second string in the interservices swimming match and against the Civil Service. So when I started at Owens I was essentially a backstroker and water polo player and 'on the side' remained a member of the South Manchester Swimming Club based at the grand old Victoria Baths. I had hoped to continue with my rugby but was quickly told by the then swimming captain called Midgely (I think) that I would have to choose so I chose! However I did play rugby for Hulme Hall, my Hall of Residence, as their matches did not clash with the conventional Saturday and Wednesday Uni fixtures.

The McDougall Centre was the envy of just about every other University and I spent more time there than I should have done. My first year I was of course 'a fresher' and I recall very little of the swimming matches, I do however recall that my first University Championships were 1950 at the Marshall Street Baths in London. In the Backstroke I won through the heats to the final but Midgely decreed that as I was unlikely to get a place I should remain fresh for the medley relay (he was correct) and I think we came third! I received my maroon, unusual in those days for a fresher. In my second year we had a problem, two backstroke swimmers Ken Cleves and Tony Harding came up and whilst perhaps not as fast as myself I was quite a useful freestyle swimmer so switched to freestyle. At the same time my younger brother Colin, though some four years younger also became a member of the team.

I became Water Polo Captain and we had quite a good season, both in swimming and water polo. The Championships in 1951 were in Birmingham and we stayed in the Arden Hotel along with various other University Teams. Athol Still was a member of the Aberdeen Team and somewhat wild. I recall us playing some form of cricket in the corridor after it was all over and Athol charming some old ladies who came out to complain of the noise! I subsequently wrote to ask if the hotel management had found the towel I had left in my room, they wrote back to say that they had not found the towel but a large quantity of bottles in the bottom of the wardrobe. They were also curious as to how the angle iron on one of the beds had become bent. I could hardly tell them that this was as a result of Athol Still demonstrating a racing dive onto the bed to an admiring audience, male and female. Athol Still is better known now as the agent for various footballers including Sven-Goran Eriksson.

A fellow member of the club was Roy Nield who was at MUTECH [later UMIST] and also at Hulme Hall his son Peter subsequently became a distinguished member of the club. We spent some time plotting how to organise the club for my third year which resulted in Roy becoming captain of swimming and I cannot recollect what role I occupied. I had chosen to marry at the end of my second year. We had a strong swimming team in my third year, Ken Cleves and Tony Harding were amongst the top backstrokers in the UAU. Brian Snowdon and Chris Williams similarly in breaststroke, Vin Miller and brother Colin as freestylers plus a good supporting cast. Ken Cleves had become the Treasurer, a role he performed with great flair, he was very good at getting other clubs to share our coach (always Johnny Lloyd of Macclesfield) and hence built up a cash fund of which the Athletic Union were unaware. We had some excellent trips, one of the most memorable was to Aberystwyth who did have their own pool in a wonderful setting, we had taken members of the Uni mountaineering club with us - for a fee - and had been invited to attend the college 'hop' after the afternoon contest which we had won easily. I had my new wife with me and a number had very permanent girlfriends. We had two butterfly swimmers, one called Gregson and the other Johnny Harrison, they decided that a two wheeled beercase trolley would be useful for their flat in Manchester. A police car stopped them on their way back to the bus from the pub where they had acquired it. They solemnly explained that they had come to collect the foundation stone but that it had been too heavy!!

With the trolley duly loaded and stray members rounded up we set off back to Manchester. The road over the top put a strain on the coach fan belt and it broke! This was around midnight and some of the party were into songs of dubious quality. The Mountaineers claimed that they could splice a rope to make a fan belt. This lasted for about 10 miles before stretching. Then a pair of tights were donated and did slightly better. Johnny Lloyd kept going until the temperature gauge was showing overheating we then had a stop for the external gale to cool things down. Needless to say whilst the engine was cooling so were we! And so in steps of around 10 miles at a time we limped into Newtown where Johnny Lloyd was able to knock up a garage at 6am on a Sunday morning to get a replacement fan belt.

The 1952 Championships were hosted by Liverpool at the Dovecote Municipal Baths. Liverpool had Gerry Worsell as their key man, at the time he was playing in the England water polo team, I think he even captained it. However, due to our strength in depth we managed to amass enough points to become overall champions with the right to nominate the following year's venue. We also had a formal group photo taken on the bath side at the McDougall Centre with the proud inscription that we were the Christie and UAU Swimming Champions for 1952.

Armed with our achievement we applied for and got permission from the AU to have an Easter 1952 trip to Dublin as a reward. Ken Cleves produced a budget for the AU which showed us contributing a major portion of the cost as individuals whilst not revealing that the secret funds would in fact meet this expenditure. Our trip to Dublin was by ferry and we travelled steerage, not an enjoyable experience. We stayed in a large Boarding House used by a variety of sporting teams. Our first match was against a combined UCD and TCD team in the Black Rock Pool, this was an open air pool and was truly cold. So much so that our sole supporter, my father, was despatched to purchase rum to have at half time in the water polo match. This was badly needed and the result reflected that our only objective was to stay alive. Afterwards there was a hop that had been organised in our honour. My father was of the opinion that as a married man I should not be exposed to temptation so took me drinking in a local pub. My brother had a much more enjoyable time than I did.

Our next match was against a Clontarf Selected, again in an outdoor pool in which I seem to remember that Brian Snowdon set a record of some sort. My principal memory is of being fed Guinness prior to the match as we were changing in the cellar of a pub. We did manage one match in an indoor pool which is all I do remember. Ken Cleves finest achievement was to arrange for us to travel to the local Butlins at Mosney to give an exhibition, for which we were handsomely rewarded.

After considerable discussion on the feasibility we offered to stage the 1953 Championships at the McDougall Centre. This required us to have the whole hearted support of Roly Harper and various officials of the Manchester and District League for judges, time keepers etc. though I say it myself, the championships were a great success and possibly a highlight in the history of the McDougall Centre. I quote a letter from Roly Harper dated 30th September 1953 written to my father after a particularly successful 'Freshers Evening' at the McDougall the same year.
Dear Mr Band
I feel in a way it is like thanking one of the family in writing to you but as this was an official occasion I would just like to put on record the gratitude of the University for your assistance on Saturday evening. I think it was a most successful occasion and I very much hope that it is a prelude to still further increases in the activities of the Swimming Club to which you and your family have contributed so much during the last few years.
Yours sincerely
R.St. G. Harper

On the back of our success in winning the UAU Championship I became a member of the Grounds and Finance Committee as well as the Colours Award Committee and was elected to the XXI Club in 1952. After graduating, I had planned to do my Teaching Diploma at either Loughborough or Carnegie to build up my qualification to ultimately become a Director of Physical Education with an Education Authority after teaching experience. This plan A had to be changed to plan B when we discovered that my wife was pregnant so I stayed on at Manchester in the Department of Education to do my Teaching Diploma, This enabled me to fill all the great offices of the Club, Water Polo Captain, Swimming Captain and Secretary as well as acquire 4 maroons.

My first teaching post was to teach Maths at Whitehaven Grammar School where I enjoyed taking an active part in the schools rugby activities and starting a swimming club. I also started playing rugby for the town becoming Captain in my second season as well as swimming and playing water polo for Cumberland and Westmorland. For financial reasons I switched to Industry which involved shift work and brought an abrupt end to my sporting life, however I can claim that many years later when working in Lagos I joined a small group coaching the Nigerian water polo team prior to their winning the Africa Cup.

I could ramble on for much longer, such as my having to look after a very drunk Chris Williams, subsequently a bishop, who would insist in travelling up and down in the lift when we were at the Arden Hotel in Birmingham. Or Geoff Pocock, a dentist and water polo player who claimed that he gave himself a dose of X-rays to the genitals as a guaranteed prophylactic. Or John Howcroft, a fine breaststroke swimmer, who chose to concentrate on his squash, becoming an international player.