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Town and Club Pay Tribute

A celebration dinner was held at the Kenmore Hotel on November 10th.  The players of both teams received inscribed tankards to mark their triumphs.  George Thorburn delivered a speech of congratulation and reminded guests that he had been Secretary in 1928 when the club had been beaten in the final by Plaistow, and felt sure he would see the day when the club lifted the trophy.  He had waited 39 years.


There was a civic reception for the players and officials at the Town Hall on January 5th.  1968 was a year in which the club honoured its own, and there were honours bestowed on officials by the county and the ASAMD.


At the AGM, Maud Mander was accorded life-membership.  Her time with Walsall began in the 1920s: now President of the Ladies’ Section, she had occupied every administrative post since she first became a member of the committee in 1927.   Jack Hale also became a life-member: he had been Secretary for 17 years and, like Mrs. Mander, had made the efficient running of the club his life’s work.  He joined the club at 9, played for the senior polo team at 15, and went on to captain Walsall, Staffordshire, and teams representing Birmingham & District and the Midland District.  He had been coach and manager of the polo team, and of England and Great Britain teams.  The ASA had recognised his secretarial skills and made him Secretary of its water polo committee.


There were other appointments and honours for members.  Jim Salt became Secretary of the Staffordshire Branch of the Royal Life Saving Society.  Tom Bailey, already a life-member of the club, was made a life-member of the RLSS.          Dennis Hale was elected to the Presidency of Staffs ASA and the Birmingham & District League.  And a number of active members were selected for international teams.


Val Taylor became, at 17, Walsall’s third swimming international when she was selected for the match with the USA.  She was beginning to move up in distance, at the Midland Championships she repeated her performance of the previous year by taking two golds and a silver, but this time winning the 880 and 440yds and taking second in the .


John Bayley and Allan Jones played for the England under 18s against Scotland, and Mike Hale, Gordon Hodge and Bill Johnson were in the England under 21s team in the match with Spain.  There were senior caps for Winter and Whittington in England’s match with Ireland in Dublin.


The senior polo team’s attempt to hold onto the National trophy ended in the first round, they were beaten 8-5 at home by Sutton & Cheam.  Surprisingly, there were only a handful of spectators present.  The team produced some good results in the National League and when they beat London Poly 5-3 on September 7th there was an outside chance of them winning the League.  There were three games to play, Leamington and Cheltenham away, and Sutton & Cheam at home.  A 12-7 defeat at Cheltenham ended the speculation, but the club remained ambitious.  There was talk of entering the European Clubs’ Championship, only the sum of £1500 stood in the way.


The juniors did rather better in their attempt to retain the National, progressing to the semi-final before losing 10-5 to Penguin.


Polo was still the main attraction at Walsall, but there were some young swimmers showing promise.  Four 12 year olds qualified for the National age-group finals at Blackpool – Colin Morrison, Dennis Hale, Jane Seeker and Diane Woodward.  Morrison was 2nd in the individual medley and 5th in 110yds breaststroke.  Seeker was 3rd in the 110 butterfly.  Age-group swimming was the new format for the ASA.


However, for the time being the time-honoured Walsall Championships still continued and the 440yds Open Water was held in the Arboretum in August of 1968.  Mike Hale stood down after winning the race for six successive years.  The new champion was 14 year old Duncan Thornton.  On this occasion the lake’s cold water was not the only hazard the swimmers had to contend with, they disturbed a swan and for a minute or two it seemed to consider attacking them in order to regain its territory.  Fortunately it decided not to.

Polo Feels The Pinch

Age group swimming had quickly become established and Jack Hale, whose first love was of course water polo, expressed concern about the future of the sport in his report on the 1969 season.  He was worried by the shortage of young polo players; ‘We must make every endeavour to promote more interest from our younger members by including polo skill as part and parcel of their normal swimming activities’.


His concern was understandable for polo had carried the club’s flag for most of its existence.  He also spoke of the over-crowded conditions in the pool on club nights and said that membership might have to be restricted.  Coaches and instructors had mentioned their dissatisfaction with having to work in a crowded pool.  The contentious issue of restricting membership was discussed in committee, but Walsall decided against taking this step.


1969 had not been an outstanding year for the polo team but it still held its place as one of the best teams in the country.  There was an extremely poor start to the season with four successive defeats, one of them 14-4 to Polytechnic, but a 7-5 win over Sutton & Cheam at the end of May saw the club on its way to a mid-table position at the end of the year.  In the National there were victories over Aston (8-6) and Weston (9-5) before going down 8-7 to Otter in London.


The way the juniors were dismissed from the Midland and National competitions was depressing.  They beat Leamington 8-5 in the first round of the Midlands on July 23rd.  Then came the sting, they had included an ineligible player.  Leamington were awarded the match and Walsall were disqualified from the competition.  It was particularly sad because victory in the Midland w3ould have meant automatic qualification for the National semi-finals.


It was the second time the club had erred in its registration of players.  In 1961 it was Keith Smith who had been registered for league matches but not for cup matches, this time it was Richard Ralphs.  It was an oversight but the ASAMD would not allow an appeal, even though Leamington were prepared to replay the match.  Jack Hale obviously had to accept the organisers’ decision.  He said: ‘It’s right we played an unregistered player, but there’s a difference between this and an ineligible player.  Ralphs is a Walsall member and has never played for any other club.’


There were some impressive performances from Walsall’s young ladies.  Four 13 year olds, Diane Woodward, Denise Hale, Deborah Taylor and Jane Secker, formed the team that won the Midland Tam Race Championship.  Val Taylor won the Staffs 220 freestyle for the fourth successive year.  At the National age-group finals Frances Bills won the 11 year olds 110yds breaststroke and was 4th in the butterfly.  In the 13 year old group, Jane Secker was 3rd in the butterfly and Diane Woodward 4th in the breaststroke.


Nevertheless, the Mayor chose to honour the men’s side of the club with a civic reception at the Town Hall.  It was represented by polo players Mike Hale,              Ian Bayley and Allan Jones, along with Jack and Dennis Hale, George Thorburn and Jim Salt. 


There would be fewer civic honours for the polo players in the years that followed, at national level the team’s fortunes declined considerably in the early 1970s.


There was a good start to the 1970 season with a 7-6 win over a Birkenhead team that included Walsall’s former captain, Noel Winter.  But for the rest of the season the team struggled and gained only one more league victory, a 4-3 success over Liverpool at Tower St.  There was a 6-6 draw with Cheltenham, and both matches with Aston were drawn, but more often than not the team was soundly beaten, narrowly missing relegation.

In the preliminary round of the National the club was drawn to play Weston who were now in the 2nd Division.  Before that the team travelled to Weston for the annual friendly game at Whitsun.  Mick Hands was now with Weston but Walsall were able to gain a confidence boosting 5-3 win.  Hands did not appear in the Weston team for the National tie at Tower St a fortnight after, when Walsall won 7-2.


There was another encouraging result when the team travelled to Oxford and won  9-1in the first round proper.  Then came the crunch; the draw for the quarter-final brought Birkenhead to Tower St and they ended Walsall’s hopes by winning 10-4.  Given the evidence of the team’s showing in the League, the result, if not the score, was to be expected.  However, Walsall did not go out without a fight – Hodges, Hakin and Baylie were all ordered to the dressing-room.


No Walsall players were included in the Great Britain under 21 team that met Spain at Tower St that year.  Hale, Hodges and Johnson had played in the corresponding match in Spain the year before.  Hale, however, was chosen to captain the British team at the World Student Games in Turin at the end of August.


The morale of the junior players once again took a heavy knock.  This time it concerned a clash of dates.  The Walsall Schools Gala was held on the same evening as the team’s Midland Championship match with Aston at the Victoria Rd Baths.  The polo players who swam in the gala, and they were under no obligation to do so, could not get across to Aston in time for the match.  It meant disqualification from the Midlands, and consequently from the National competition.


Any hope of the club recovering ground in 971 was blighted when Mike Hale moved to London to take a job and continue his studies.  Without him Walsall only managed to win two National League games that year, beating Penguin 5-4 and Birkenhead  2-1.  They were stuck at the bottom of the table all season and finally relegated.  Walsall’s spirit was broken, rather than face a season in the 2nd Division it withdrew from the National League and confined itself once again to the local competitions.

They say that history has a habit of repeating itself.  There was certainly a strange coincidence about what happened at Walsall in the early 1970s because there had been an almost identical occurrence forty years before.  In 1930, after a most successful period, the polo team went into decline, and a young girl swimmer came to the fore to keep the club’s standard flying at national level.  It was of course 13 year old Edna Hughes.  In 1971 the fortunes of the polo team slumped again, not as acutely as they had done in the 1930s it must be said, but the team was certainly not the force it had been in the 1960s.  And once again a girl swimmer stepped into the breach and captured the headlines.  Her name was June Green.

June was born in Bilston on January 18thy 1959.  She went to Loxley Junior School and then to Darlaston Comprehensive.  Her swimming started at junior school, she liked it and her parents took her to Bilston Swimming Club.  She was eight or nine.  A Mr. Ernie Reynolds was looking after the youngsters at Bilston.  He saw that young Miss Green had the makings of a first class swimmer, a champion perhaps.  He doubted that he had the ability to coach someone of that potential and advised her parents that they take her to a coach of proven ability.  A selfless decision from a man that June remembers with affection and describes as ‘a very nice man.’  So, June, now 10 years old, came to Walsall and was taken under the wing of Lynne Townsend who was coaching a group of promising youngsters at Tower St.  In fact, in terms of success in Staffs and Midland championships the Ladies’ Section was one of the strongest in the area.

June’s physical development was well ahead of her years and this, coupled with a natural swimming ability, gave her a head start over girls of her age.  In 1971, at 12 years of age, she produced some remarkable performances.  Selectors had already taken note of her showing in schools events the previous year and she was invited to a star spangled meeting sponsored by Coca Cola at the Crystal Palace on May 1st.

It was an event that had drawn swimmers from sixteen nations, many of them Olympic champions and world record holders.  In June’s race, the 800m, the opposition was formidable.  Debbie Meyer (USA) had won golds at 200, 400 and 800m at the 1968 Olympics. Karen Moras (Australia) finished 3rd in the 400m behind Meyer in the Olympics and the night before had not only beaten Meyer in the 400 but also improved the American girl’s world record for that distance.  It was a baptism of fire for June Green.

The battle of the stars produced a convincing victory for Moras, her time of 9:05.2 was only 3 seconds outside the world record.  Meyer finished 30 seconds behind her, June was 7th in a personal best of 10:10, but ahead of her in 4th place with a time of 9:52.86, a new British record, was Janice Hunter from Essex.  It gave the Walsall girl something to aim at.

Coming down to earth after the excitement of the Crystal Palace meeting, she turned to the Staffs championships and finished 5th in the 100m breaststroke as clubmates Frances Bills and Di Woodward took the first two places.  In the 220yds freestyle at Wolverhampton on June 12th there was a close race for first place with Val Taylor.  It was so close the judges could not separate them and declared a dead-heat.  They were asked to swim the race again half an hour later.  It was another close encounter but June got the verdict, clocking 2:23.5 against Val’s 2:23.6.   

At Coventry on the weekend of July 1st June was the leading light in the group of Walsall girls that took the ASAMD Aggregate Trophy at the Midlands Championships.  She won the 200, 400 and 800m.  Val Taylor was 2nd in the 200 and 400, and Debbie Taylor also made the finals.  Di Woodward son the junior 100m backstroke and was 2nd in the senior event.  A very young medley relay team composed of Frances Bills, Teresa Owles, Debbie Taylor and Mandy Beresford was 7th in that race, but there was victory for Walsall in the 4 x 100m freestyle team race.

Jane Secker, Valda Bills, Debbie Taylor and June Green served notice of their intentions by winning their heat in 4:52.1 – the fastest of the qualifiers.  In winning the final with a time of 4:44.4 they produced an average of 71 seconds for each swimmer, an extremely fine performance.  Yet Walsall could easily have formed another team which would most likely have finished runners-up in this race, such was the club’s strength that year.

Val Taylor turned her attention away from the pool and started to swim long distance in open water.  She made an immediate impact on the scene; only 10th she won the BLDSA 5 miles Championship in the lake at Trentham Gardens in 1hr 57.04 – only 90 seconds slower than the winner of the men’s championship.  It was the first time a Walsall swimmer had won a national senior championship since Edna Hughes back in 1934.  A month later June Green followed suit.
On Saturday August 6th Val Taylor swam a mile across Lake Windermere in 2O:30, and that same weekend June was engaged in the ASA Championships at the Westgate Pool in Leeds.  Favoured to win the 800m was 13 year old Lesley Allardice, she had already taken the 200 and 400s championships.

Lesley went straight into the lead and covered the first 100m in 66.6.  It was suicidal, a faster average speed than her winning time in the 200m.  Had she been able to sustain it she would have been inside Shane Gould’s world record for the 800m.  But the pace began to tell and the other finalists closed on her as she got to the 400m mark.  Although slowing considerably she managed to hold the lead until June Green and McHugh (Canada) overtook her at 600m.  Over the last 200m June proved stronger than the Canadian and went on to win in a time of 10:00.1.  McHugh was second in 10:02.9.  Allardice finished 5th.  The club had waited 37 years for its second ASA champion, now it had three and this one made history, at 12 years and 7 months she was the youngest ever.

She was selected for international matches in Minsk, Munich and Bratislava, and the European Youth Championship in Rotterdam.  It was there she finished 4th in the 800m and set a new British record with a time of 9:49.4.  Not least of all, the well known television programme presented her with the Blue Peter Gold Award.  One wonders which she valued most – her championship, her record, or her Blue Peter badge.

More Records …. and the Munich Olympics

Edna Hughes had not been an obvious choice when she made the Olympic team in 1932 and 1936, she fought hard to gain selection.  In 1972 June Green’s position was different, she moved into Olympic year as ASA champion and British record-holder, and was expected to make the team if she showed anything like her form of the previous year.

By mid-April there was no doubt.  At the ASAMD Short Course (25m pool) Championships at Tamworth on February 26th she swam 9:36.8 for a new British record.  This was followed by a record breaking spree in two 800m races on the Continent over long (50m) courses.  In Rome on April 15th she brought the British record down to 9:35.7 and at half-way set a new British 400m record with 4:44.5.  Three days later in Hanover, West Germany, she improved the records still further; 9:31.4 for 800 and 4:43.8 for 400 en route.  The times were within the ASAs qualifying marks for Olympic selection.

At the ASA Championships at the Crystal Palace in July she competed at both distances.  At 400m her main opponents were Lesley Allardice and Sue Edmondson.  Edmondson was advised by leading coach Hamilton Bland and had taken June’s record with a time of 4:36.2.  It was reported that Mr. Bland considered his girl capable of 4:25.

Allardice went into the lead and was 5 metres in front at 150m.  At that point she began to fade and Green took over, followed by Edmondson.  It stayed that way through to the finish.  June’s time was 4:35.2.  She had taken the record back.  In second place Edmondson showed 4:36.1.  Allardice faded badly after her early lead and finished 8th and last in 4:55.5.

In the 800m Edmondson went out fast, covering the first 100m in 63.9, but Green went into the lead after 300m and went on to win in 9:31.3.  It shaved .1 off her record.  Swimming Times  recorded her 100m splits as: 65.8 – 71.7 – 73.0 – 72.6 – 72.4 – 72.4 – 73.7 – 70.4.  To take both championships in record time was one of June’s finest achievements.

Although British swimmers had little chance of success in Munich the selectors chose a full complement of three for most events.  Few of them had a realistic chance of reaching a final.  The fact that only three individuals and two relay teams did so represented the strength of swimming in Britain at the time.  David Wilkie was the only one to excel, he was 2nd in the 200m breaststroke.
June’s performance in the 800m was reasonable, but not as good as expected.  She was 4th in her heat with a time of 9:39.1, but faster than the other Britons, Sue Edmondson and Avis Willington, and her time rated her 20th of the 36 competitors.

She also failed to produce her best form in the 400m, finishing 6th in her heat in 4:45.81 – 10 seconds slower than her winning time at the ASA Championships.  It seems likely that entering a race with no chance of success took some of the edge from her performance.  But of course she earned a niche in Walsall’s history as the club’s second Olympian.

After the Games she won the 100m in the 12-14 age group at the English Schools Championships, and showed her versatility by winning the 100m medley at the Midland Inter Counties Championship at Coventry.  Her contribution helped Staffordshire take the title.

In September 1973 the first World Championships were held in Belgrade.  The British selectors changed their policy; for the previous year’s Olympics they had taken a large team, many of them to merely gain experience of the big occasion, this time they decided to be more selective.  They made the qualifying times so tough many of them were faster than the British record.  As a result of this only four Britons swam in individual events.

June did not make Belgrade, but she did appear in the European Youth Championships in Leeds, placing 4th in both 400 and 800m.  She also retained her ASA Championships in these events.  Her fastest swimming was done early in the season.  This is what the Swimming Times had to say about her 400 and 800m victories at the Short Course Championships at Cheltenham on March 29th.

It was certainly in the women’s 400 and 800 that most of the spectator appeal came and some very exciting finishes resulted.  In these events it was another Midlander who dominated; June Green (Walsall) has certainly matured and even at 14 now shows she has pace judgement down to a fine art.  In the 800m it was all eyes on Diane Walker (Thistle Ladies) and Carine Bodle (Gloucester) who stormed away from the rest of the field to fight their own personal duel.  It was only in the latter stages of the race that June Green and Sue Edmondson (Coventry) took over with methodical precision.  Green overhauled all the opposition to win the title in a new British and English Senior and Junior record of 9:22.  The 400 was a repetition, with all four – Edmondson, Bodle, Green and Walker in close contention throughout the race.  Result …. another Green win and another British and English Junior record – 4:35.2       

On April 23rd at the Coca Cola International at Crystal Palace she swam the 800m against the three best swimmers in the world at this distance, Shane Gould, Shirley Babashoff and Keena Rothammer.  She was not overawed, tried to hold on to the leaders for as long as she could, and came home in 4th place with a time of 9:24.8 – a new British long course record.

Val Taylor had an outstanding year, she was on a short-list for the Walsall Sports Personality of 1973.  Almost every weekend she was engaged in a distance event somewhere in Britain or on the Continent.  On July 14th she won the ASA 5 miles at Trentham Gardens for the third successive year, only two men finished ahead of her, and she was half an hour ahead of the second placed woman.  24 hours later she swam the 9 miles across Morcambe Bay in a sea that was so rough only six, four men and one other woman, made their way across from the 26 that entered.  The following weekend she swam Coniston Water in the Lake District.  Her appetite for long distance swimming was prodigious.  There was another back-to- back performance in September; on Saturday the 16th she won the 3 miles Poole Harbour race, then returned to the Midlands to retain her BLDA Championship over 3 miles in Trentham on the Sunday. 

She swam in 15 BLDSA/ASA Championships that year, setting 13 British records, and 5 of them were faster than the men’ records.  Her performances that year made an indelible mark upon British long distance swimming.  She would eventually be honoured with a place in swimming’s Hall of Fame.

We must look to the future, not rest on our laurels

The early 1970s was a time in which the club’s Coaching, Training and Championship Committee dealt with some fundamental issues concerning the club’s future.  In order to engender the sort of ‘club spirit’ that had served the polo team so well, it decided to expand its involvement in team swimming and inter-club fixtures.  So Walsall entered the West Midland League and the Motorway League; both leagues covered events for male and female swimmers over all the age-groups.  The ladies were, of course, still involved in the Birmingham & District League.  But providing competition was an issue that was quite easily solved, there were other, more important matters that concentrated the club’s attention in these years, and they threatened Walsall’s standing as a leading club.

New clubs were sprouting in the area, clubs that admitted only accomplished swimmers.  The implication was obvious; these clubs would cream off Walsall’s best swimmers, and there was a chance the club would be relegated to the role of a ‘feeder club’.

The C, T & C Committee was comprised of – Ken Bills (Secretary), John Hare (Club Captain), Terry Blyde, Dave Gillard, Mrs. Mander, Mrs. Turner, Val Taylor and Jane Secker.  They issued reports illustrating the club’s dilemma and outlining future policy. The following extract from one of them indicated the problem.

As standards of performance has risen so has competition between local clubs, with swimmers gravitating to those clubs providing the best facilities and greatest success, which are so obviously related.  To meet this situation so-called ‘super clubs’ have been formed during the last year; locally, good contrasting examples are the Wulfrun Squad, an amalgamation for training and specialised competition from several clubs in the area without seriously affecting the autonomy of each, and nearer still, Junction 10 which operates as a bona fide club in its own right but like its Birmingham predecessor, Orion, has a restricted entry.  Movement of swimmers from club to club has been eased or indeed made technically unnecessary by the recent re-stressing of the first claim rule and it is clear that many swimmers are prepared to travel considerable distances to train with a favoured club.  Thus the wave of competition that affected the smaller clubs is now beginning to press on the larger clubs such as Walsall.

The new clubs, or squads, were able to concentrate their resources on a small group of elite swimmers.  Walsall was dedicated to teaching youngsters to swim and coaching people of any ability, from the star performers to the ones that merely wanted to swim to keep fit.  Because of the congestion in the main pool, it was even more congested when the second pool became a brine bath during the winter, the club’s top swimmers were the ones most likely to seek better facilities elsewhere, and the club’s best swimmers at that time the ones most likely to succeed at area or national level, were young women.

The C. T & C Committee responded by dividing the members into four categories; learner, improver, trainee and competitor.  With the cooperation of the Council the small 25m pools at Palfrey and Blue Coat school were utilised for learners.          Terry Blyde took on the responsibility of coaching the trainees at the full sized pool at Darlaston.  It eased the pressure on the Tower St pool on club nights and the coaches were better able to organise the training of the top swimmers.  The committee saw the necessity of providing the best possible conditions for these swimmers.

This group, at the moment 36 in number, is in effect the competition squad of the club and gives it its public image and prestige.  Although only a few per cent of the total book membership, its importance is far greater than mere numbers would indicate – keeping the club’s name in the public eye, providing an incentive to other swimmer and attracting new members.

Nevertheless, swimmers were attracted to other facilities.  Junction 10 was a club that operated from the pool at Alumwell School close by the M6 motorway junction from which it was named.  The Committee had this to say.

A number of trainees (about 6) clearly find this training provision inadequate and have joined Junction 10 to secure perhaps a 2-3 fold increase in swimming time plus, of course, full-time professional coaching. One or two clearly feel that their first allegiance is to Junction 10; the majority have remained first claim members of Walsall and no pass holder has refused to turn out for the club.  These swimmers have given invaluable service to the club and it is felt to be in the mutual interest to take a liberal view.  It is more to be regretted that ambitious, willing swimmers should find the club facilities inadequate.   

Because of its ideal of supporting swimming at all levels it was a problem the club had to live with.  Certainly the thoughtful way the C. T & C Committee dealt with this problem at the time is commendable. 

Faster than the Men

In the summer of 1974 the tireless Val Taylor once again took on almost every distance race on the calendar.  An example of her stamina; June 29th, 8 miles from Invergowrie to Broughty Ferry, won the race in 2 hours 6 minutes and finished ahead of all the nine male competitor.  The following day: one and three quarter miles in the Tay, beaten by two men but 24 minutes ahead of the second placed woman.  A week later: won ASA Championship over five and three quarter miles in Trentham Gardens in 2:25 beating all the 18 men, then dashed away to swim in the Staffs 440 Championship.  She hated to be out of the water for more than an hour or two.

In September, in the BLDSA 3 miles race at Trentham she was beaten for the first time by a Briton when finishing 2nd to Wendy Brook of Ossett.  Both finished ahead of all but two of the 25 men.

The next weekend it was 3 miles in Poole Harbour and Val won in 1:08:59, second only to the winner of the men’s race, Ronald Evans, but a minute or so in front of Roger Parsons, her future husband.

The distance swimmers quite often had to contend with inclement weather and Gerald Forsberg described the conditions when a 4 mile race in the sea off Torbay had to be called off.  (Swimming Times – December 1974). ‘Sadly the wind blew Force 9-10 and whipped the tops off the waves like bits of shrapnel.  All the boats were confined to harbour and Torbay was crowded with merchant ships.  One canoe was available as escort and that was upside down at least part of the time, so we swam a ceremonial lap of a mile each way along the beach at Paignton and back, giving each other mutual support and encouragement.’

With some players reluctant to commit themselves to National League fixtures the club confined its efforts to the Midland League – a competition that once again became a struggle between Walsall and Aston.  Aston, who were in the National League, were strengthened by using two of Walsall’s best players, Tony Whittington and Gordon Hodges, and achieved a high placing in seasons 1972 and 1973.  But both men returned to the fold for the Midland League and played for Walsall against Aston.

There was no doubt the club was strong enough to do well in the National League.  In March, before the 1973 season started, there was a four cornered tournament at Tower St and Walsall won it, beating some formidable opposition – Aston 3-2, Birkenhead 1-0, and drawing 3-3 with Cheltenham.  At the end of the season it became apparent that the Midland League would be decided by goal average and the club rose to the challenge, beating Nechells 18-0 and 15-0 to make sure they finished ahead of Aston.

A Sad Loss

The club was deeply saddened by the passing of Jack Hale in December 1974.  When he died he was still Secretary of Walsall.  The club’s records show the following tribute written by the hand of the new Secretary, Barrie Davenport, at a meeting of the Executive Committee on January 9th, 1975.

The Chairman spoke of the great loss to the club by the death of the Secretary, Mr. Jack Hale, who had served the club for more than thirty years.  A life-member, Jack was Secretary for twenty five years and was a dedicated servant who had set a standard in all club activities by his tenacity of purpose, his determination to achieve national recognition, his raising of club competition in all fields, and the building up of an organisation in Walsall which enhanced the club’s prestige throughout Britain.  Jack served on many ASA Committees, particularly in the field of water polo, and with his passing the club has lost one of its finest ambassadors and most enthusiastic workers.


At the beginning of the year June Green represented England at the Commonwealth Games in Christchurch, New Zealand, and swam in the 200 and 400m.  Although not making the finals she produced a personal best of 2:13.2 for the 200, and her 400m time of 4:33.9 was close to her best. In Harrogate, on March 28th, she relinquished her ASA Short Course Championships, finishing 3rd in the 400m and 2nd in the 800 to Joanne Atkinson of Millfield who also bettered June’s British record with 9:20.8.  She was, however, still supreme at local level, winning three senior and six junior titles at the ASAMD Championships.

The 1974 ASA Long Course Championships could hardly claim the hallmark of national championships, a team of 17 Canadians were admitted and 14 of them won titles.  June finished 5th in the 800m in a time of 9:29.5 – the four swimmers ahead of her were Canadians.

Val Taylor travelled to Israel and won races in the Sea of Galilee and at Eilat, both, as one would imagine, in much warmer water than she was accustomed to.  It must have been a pleasant change, the conditions she faced in the 6 miles Folkestone to Dover race a week before she swam in Israel were described as ‘vicious’.  She won the race, again beating all the men, and Gerald Forsberg had a word to say about their landing at Dover – ‘As swimmers finally touched down on the shingle with relief, the next breaker – unkindest cut of all – knocked them flat.’

At the end of the year Val retired from competitive distance swimming and turned to administration.  She was elected to the Executive Committee of the BLDSA, and then took the job of Secretary to the international side of the Association’s affairs.  She left the sport with an impressive record.  In three years she had won 38 of 43 races in the UK.  Of the five she failed to win she was 2nd in three and was forced to retire from the other two.  She finished ahead of all the men in 17 of her races.  Her favourite race was the Morcambe Bay crossing which she won five times, and her proudest moment was finishing 2nd in the 25k International in Windermere in 1974 – the first time a Briton, man or woman, had been placed in that race.

June Green retired in 1975 – at 16.  She went out with a flourish, winning four titles, 200, 400, 800 and 400 Medley, at the ASAMD, and recapturing her British 800m record in an Eight Nations meeting in France.

She was beaten narrowly by Atkinson over 800m in the ASA Championships in March, turning in 9:24.0 against Atkinson’s 9:23.3.  They both travelled to Rouen to swim for Britain in the Eight Nations in different events, June swam the 800 and Joanne the 200 butterfly.   Both girls produced British records, June was 3rd in her race in 9:18.6 and Joanne was also 3rd in 2:22.8.

Too Much Tradition

With the ASAs second claim rule causing a great deal of flitting between clubs in the area, Walsall’s executive was sometimes assailed by thoughts of amalgamation with another club.  The minutes of a committee meeting in February 1975 show that a sub-committee was set up to consider the possibility of linking with Junction 10.  In fact in never met, and the matter was quickly forgotten.  The club had too much tradition to seriously consider a move like that, and the motives for its existence were entirely different to those of Junction 10. 

Anyway, the policy introduced by the C. C &T Committee was bearing fruit, the ‘learner pools’ at Palfrey and Blue Coat schools were producing plenty of aspiring young swimmers and were so popular that an AGM report stated there was a waiting list of 74 ready to take the places of those who moved on to Tower St or Darlaston.  Some were as young as 8, and the club organised competitions for them in the shape of Diddy Galas, even entering a team in the Nuneaton Diddy League.  Although it must be said that encouraging competition for ones so young was frowned upon in some quarters.

The club secured some financial backing in the 1970s, T.S.B. and Ready Mixed Concrete sponsored some of the annual galas.  The T.S.B. sponsorship was obtained by Terry Owles who was one of the bank’s managers.  Terry joined the club in 1966 and became Treasurer in 1971.  He was never a competitor in the acknowledged sense, but he got involved in a form of competition in 1974 that developed into quite a marathon.  The ASA introduced a Supreme Award in the form of a badge for anyone logging 1 million yards.  Swimming whenever he could, lunchtimes and evenings, in whichever pool happened to be nearest at the time, he reached 1 million on September 14th, 1974.  He was not the first to reach the magic mark, that distinction went to a baths superintendent from Essex, but he was really ‘into’ distance swimming in the pool by then, going on to complete 2 million and then 3 million in December 1977.  There was no let up, he went on clocking up the millions until the ASA discontinued the scheme in 1988, by which time he had recorded 15 million!  He had 15 badges to show for his efforts and then turned his attention to another gruelling test, the Triathlon.

There was an upturn in the fortunes of the club’s young polo players in the mid 1970s.  Barrie Davenport was appointed assistant coach to the Great Britain squad.  He brought a great deal of top level knowledge back to Walsall and stimulated interest among the youngsters.  Teams were formed for players under 16, under 14 and under 12.  In 1976 the under 16s entered the Winter League and later that year reaped the benefit of extra competition by winning the National Under 16s Championship.  The senior team was also on the move, they reached the last eight in the National Championship before going out 4-3 to Cheltenham, and decided to enter the National League the following season.  There were now three divisions.

The club’s funds were constantly stretched to meet the almost yearly increase in the cost of hiring the Tower St Pool, and another matter of utmost importance, the cost of employing a professional club coach.  From 1976 this job was done by Alan Jones. 

Still bent on keeping the main pool as free as possible for its competitive swimmers, the club used Manor Farm School as well as the other facilities.  There was another string to the club’s bow, it secured the Whittimore Centre, close to the baths, as a club room.

Boy Swimmers Make Their Mark

1977 was the year of the Royal Jubilee and the club celebrated by staging a gala for 8 to 11 year olds.  It took the form of an inter-club contest with Leeds providing the main opposition.  Walsall won, registering 334 points against Leeds 287, but more importantly, the club’s scorers were a group that would form the nucleus of a strong squad in subsequent years.

Both boys and girls relay teams won their races in the 11/under group.  The boys – Darren Dyke, Kevin Fisher, Robert Preston and Simon Coldrick; the girls – Tracey Whitehouse, Lisa Bird, Jane Bird and Stephanie Kelly.  They were all Diddy-Leaguers.  Prizes were presented to the best performers at each age: for Walsall, Wendy Holland was adjudged the best 9 year old, Jane Bird the 10 year old, her sister Lisa the 11 year old, and Simon Coldrick the best of all the 11 year old boys.

There were more successes later in the year.  The boys were 3rd in the National       4 x 1 length freestyle, and 1st at Leeds in what was described as a Multi National Meet.  It was the springboard to further successes in 1978.  An 11/under medley team of Robert Preston, Simon Coldrick, Nick Gillingham  and Warwick Hopkins was 2nd in the Nationals.  The club was 7th in the freestyle relay, Preston 5th in the individual medley and 7th in the butterfly.  Coach Alan Jones was credited with the development of these youngsters.  Walsall finished 2nd in the Diddy League that year.  It was a form of competition that was booming – the league was extended to three divisions.  Whether it was considered desirable or not there was certainly no lack of competition for the youngest swimmers, ‘diddy galas’ drew large crowds.

Darren Dyke emerged as the most outstanding of these boy swimmers, in 1981 he won the ASAMD Short and Long Course Championships in the 14/15 group at 100 and 200m.  His 100 times of 55.61 for the Short and 56.78 for the Long were exceptional for a 14 year old.  He was 3rd in the National Age Group Championships with a time of 55.86.  His performance made him the fastest freestyler in the club’s history and he received a letter of congratulations from Walsall’s Committee.

At a gala at Coseley Baths the swimmers took on Junction 10, with the sort of keenness usually reserved for the club’s polo encounters with Aston.  It was close, but Walsall lost out 202 to 196.  However, there was some impressive swimming by Dyke who won the 16/under 220 yards and the open-age 110 yards butterfly, and by Nick Gillingham who doubled the 110 yards breaststroke with wins in the 14/under and 16/under groups.  Another to impress was Tim Jones who won the 14/under 110 butterfly.

There was activity at the opposite end of the age range.  Masters swimming was becoming popular, competition for those of 25 and over divided into 5 year age-groups.  It had started in the United States and had quickly taken root in Britain.  A Masters gala was held at Langley on June 25th,  part of the Sandwell Sports Festival, and Walsall provided four swimmers, two husband and wife couplets, Val and Roger Parsons and Valda and Gwyn Davies.  With wins in the 100, 220 and 440yds, Val Parsons took the honours in the 30-34 group.

The first established and most prestigious meet on the calendar was the Otter Masters and Valda Davies won the 100m breaststroke (1:24.2) and 50m freestyle (31.5).  From the diddies to the veterans, speed swimming had now taken centre-stage at Walsall, polo was not as prominent as it had been, but the senior team was regaining ground.  

When the team entered the 3rd Division of the National League in 1977 its prospects looked quite good.  A number of stalwarts from the championship winning team of 1967 had made themselves available, they included Bramwell Stone, Ian Bayley, Gordon Hodges and Bill Johnson, and there were promising juniors like Ian Davenport and Robert Seager.  The team performed well and missed promotion on goal average.  The following season they were again denied promotion, finishing 4th.  In the National Championships they progressed to the 3rd round before going out 5-1 away to Polytechnic, the eventual winners.  The club’s success story that year was provided by the B team who won the 3rd Division of the Birmingham League, winding up their fixtures with emphatic wins over Bournville (16-2) and Bilston (13-5).

After knocking on the door for two years the senior team finally achieved promotion to the 2nd Division in 1979, and quite decisively, they were undefeated.  In the Midland League they were 2nd to Aston, it was Aston’s sixth successive League Championship, the best run since the competition started in 1948.  Walsall’s B team continued their march through the divisions by gaining promotion to the 1st Division of the Birmingham League, and the juniors were 2nd in their league.  It was evident that the club had recovered the ground it had lost following its withdrawal from the National League in 1971 and it seemed to indicate that having a team in the National League was an inspiration to the players in the other teams.

The club acquired the services of Gwyn Davies, a prominent Welsh international, but only for Midland League matches, he was first claim to Maindee Olympic, a team in Division 1 of the National League.  He went on to become the first home counties international to gain 100 caps for his country, and help Maindee to three Division 1 titles and two National Championships in the 1980s.  He strengthened the club’s Midland League team but when Aston were finally toppled, in 1980, it was not Walsall who took the honours, but Camp Hill Edwardians.  It was the first time in twenty years that a team other than Walsall or Aston had won the Midland League.

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