I started the swimming club when I was around 8 years old, at that time my grandmother, Mrs. White, to those who may remember her, was the club secretary. She was also an ex swimmer as was my mother, Betty Daly, so it was my destiny to be a swimmer.
I wasn’t there long when it was time the annual Swimming Club Gala, there were only two of us entered in the one length freestyle race for ages 10 and under, for The Victory Cup. Lucky for me, the other competitor, Alison Tipping, didn’t show up! I swam the length by myself, 25 yards breast stroke, (the lengths were measured in yards in those days!) and won the trophy! In those days, the spectator’s gallery, or ‘the balcony’ was full of people, even people who had nothing to do with the swimming club; I suppose they came for the entertainment. All the trophies were shining on a table in front of the presenters, I remember one year we had a famous, (for Kilmarnock!) football player present the trophies; my grandmother was usually at the presenters table. The first, second and third place winners would walk on the side of the pool, through the water, up to our knees, as the pool was always flooded for galas, to be presented with our trophies, the swimmers, parents and spectators would all clap in unison, as we walked towards the trophy table, it was brilliant! A photographer from the Standard was always there too.
The Swimming Club dance was held a few weeks after the club gala and all the swimmers were again presented with the trophies they had won at the gala, only this time, the girls wore long dresses and the boys wore shirts and ties. If the trophy was in the shape of a ‘cup’ our parents filled it with ‘champagne’ (or sparking grape juice) and it was passed round the table for people to have a sip to congratulate us, although I remember the drink tasting like “Silvo” as I had polished the trophy before I got there!
That was the beginning of my ten or so years as a member of the Kilmarnock Amateur Swimming Club. During those years, my mother, Betty Daly, was the club secretary, she continued as the secretary long after I left the club. My brother, Alan Daly was also a member of the club.
Kilmarnock Swimming Club was one of the best clubs around at the time, considering we had to train in a pool that was too shallow to turn in! Many of our swimmers took home quite prestigious titles, Steve Dunlop, gold for the West Districts, funny I remember exactly what Steve Dunlop accomplished! I also was third in the West Districts for 50 m butterfly, when I was about 10. I can still remember to this day how exhausted I was at the end of that race.
During regular swimming galas we always met up with the same teams and swimmers, Motherwell, City Of Glasgow, Paisley and Zenith. Our competitors in the other clubs were; Paul Marshall, Sandy Rollo and Paul Dennis. I have memories of Linda McFall and her brother Willie, of Motherwell, who tragically died in a freak accident when he was in his early twenties, and their mother, Marina, who could be heard above the crowd cheering on her children.
Harry Stewart was the club coach and Gordon Coleman was involved in the club as a coach and also as a starter at our club galas as well as some of the West District meets. Gordon had a very distinctive voice, “Taaaaake Your Marks…………..bang”, he was English, maybe that’s why.
Looking back I don’t know how we all managed to get up at the crack of dawn to either walk to the baths, or catch a bus, a few of the swimmers had cars but the majority of us had to make our own way there, and be at the pool by 7am, even on winter mornings. It was quite a walk from Shortlees to the baths, although Harry would sometimes pick up my brother and I on his way from Bellfield, his sons John and Andrew were sometimes in the car. Usually there was a cockroach or ten floating in the water when we got there, the pool attendants, Effie, Jimmy and Stevie, would remove the cockroaches – or not. I was always worried about swallowing one while swimming; I don’t think I did, although I am not completely sure. We trained until 8am then walked to school, Kilmarnock Academy for me. In the winter we had icicles in our hair as in those days the baths didn’t have hairdryers, I am sure it made us all hardy.
At around 5pm all the swimmers who ‘qualified’ (never sure what this meant) went to Concession, two lanes were roped off from the general public and Harry would have the schedule resting against the window for us all to follow, we swam until around 5;45pm and then came back again at around 8pm for the club on Mondays, Thursday and the ‘Speed Club” on Fridays. In the winter months the club organized a room for the swimmers to stay in between Concession and the club, this room was in the building directly opposite the old picture house on Titchfield Street, the idea was for us to do homework between training sessions, although I don’t remember ever doing homework in that room.
In the summer months all the swimmers would go to the Howard Park between Concession and the Club, Tommy Laidlaw, Graeme Thompson, Jim McCormick and Jay Bolland to name a few. For a few months we also went to Marion Millar’s dads pub, The Crown, at the Netherton, we had a room upstairs again supposedly to do homework.
On Fridays the pool was flooded which meant that we could swim an entire length and tumble turn at the bottom, as opposed to Concession when the pool wasn’t flooded and we all had to stand up after reaching the green line at the 9 inches (was it really 9 inches?), dive in and swim back to the 9 feet, I know it was 9 feet as the tiles on the side said so. Usually on a Friday the pool attendants put on the wave machine which was great, the machine was built by the Glenfield and Kennedy, Kilmarnock, a plaque stated this at the turnstile located at the right hand side of the entrance, next to the ladies changing rooms. I was always proud of this fact as my grandfather, mother and father all worked at the Glenfield and Kennedy.
On Sunday afternoons, we all went to Loudoun Academy to train in the schools’ 25 meter pool, which was full of chlorine, the water was also very hot, a horrible experience to say the least. Every Sunday night my brother and I used to sit at home watching TV with tears streaming down our faces, an after effect of the chlorine. Funnily, no one thought to ask if this was harming our eyes! Goggles didn’t help, although I never wore goggles or a swimming cap, thought I looked much better without them……..
I used to ‘give up’ every winter as I hated winter training, which usually consisted of repetitions of 200yds and 400yds, boring and hard work. Although I still went to the pool and watched my friends train from the balcony! During the better weather we had meets every other week, sometimes we would go in some of the parents cars, but the best way to get there was by bus, all the swimmers would sit in the back and the parents would sit in the front, the bus drivers were always included in the days events and usually sat with the parents and cheered for the Kilmarnock swimmers wherever we went. We never ventured too far, in and around Glasgow or to Edinburgh for the short course championships.
When some of the swimmers reached 18 and started college or just left school they would come back to the club to volunteer as coaches, the truth is after spending your entire childhood at Kilmarnock Swimming Club, it was hard to leave. John Stewart, John Dakers and David Johnstone were all involved in coaching while I was still swimming. Margot King was also the coach for a time; she had four sons, three of them used to swim, Sandy, John and Alistair. The big gold clock on the pool side between the male and female changing room was gifted to the pool by Margot Kings father, Mr. Sinclair, who was, I think, a Jeweler.
We used to have club meetings, in the room next to the turnstile, where the plaque was located. Permission for the meetings had to be given by the manager of the Baths, Mr. McMonogle, who didn’t smile very often, his son David was also a swimmer for a while. The meetings were taken very seriously, usually only the older swimmers would attend, votes were cast and seconded, words like the ‘Status Quo’ were used which was very confusing as in the late 70s early 80s the group Status Quo was in the charts…………….maybe it was only me who was confused.
Many of the adults who attended the meetings had been members of the swimming club for years, Jackie Little, John and Betty Orr, John and Naomi Campbell, Nan and Roy Colvin, John Anderson, Tom and May Laidlaw, Harry and Grace Stewart, Muir and Sylvia Robertson, Bill and Betty Kenny. All had at least one child who was involved in the swimming club.
The club had a huge amount of swimmers, parents and supporters. To be involved in the swimming club during the mid 70s to mid 80s meant that your social life was taken care of. Your best friends were swimmers, your boyfriends were swimmers, most of the parents had been swimmers too and so had known each other for years. Most Saturday nights the parents would take turns having a ‘wee night’, in their houses, swimmers and parents would get together, the parents would usually have drinks and snacks then the dancing would start after pushing tables and couches out of harm’s way, the dancing would continue into the wee hours of the morning. Grace Stewart usually tried to get the swimmers involved with some dance she has seen on Top of the Pops – “Tell Him” by Hello was a favorite of hers, although the swimmers were usually all together upstairs “watching TV”…………………………..or so we said. John Campbell danced until he needed a dry shirt. My dad would take photos with his wide angle camera lens.
When I had just turned 18 and had just left the swimming club, my mother, who was still the club secretary informed me that the swimming club was going to Kulmbach in Germany for a gala, Kulmbach is Kilmarnock’s’ Twin Town. So of course Fiona Campbell, my lifelong best friend, who I met when I was 12 and she was 10 at the swimming club, decided to join the swimming club again, as we felt we had never been further than Edinburgh with the club and had given it a good 10 years of our lives, so off we went. Fiona’s gran met us outside the baths with a poke of sweeties to keep up our strength on the bus journey to London, to catch our flight to Germany, yes… a BUS to London! Anyway Fiona and I finished the sweeties by the time the bus passed Riccarton! It was quite a scene as we were leaving the baths for Germany; it seemed like Kilmarnock turned out to see us off. On the flight to Germany Rita Coleman patted Fiona and I on our shoulders for what seemed like far too long, as we mentioned once or twice we were nervous about never having been on a plane before – we were 17 and 18! Fiona eventually went on to be a Flight Attendant for BA for a few years – maybe thanks is due to Rita Coleman?
Germany was a great experience; we swam in an outdoor pool, which didn’t need to be flooded. The weather was great and the hospitality was superb. I remember a skinny wee boy from Kilmarnock Swimming Club, Duthie Wilson, who wore more clothes in the summer in Germany than he did in winter in Scotland because he “didn’t want to get sunburned”. Fiona and I stayed with Petra and her family. The following year the Germans came to Kilmarnock, Katrine stayed at my house. We had at least one or two nights at the Craigie Inn with the German swimmers, it’s amazing how great my German was after a drink or two! I remember beautiful weather and days spent in the Howard Park, playing football and trying to engage the German boys, especially Bernd and Thomas in conversation.
Not long after that I left Kilmarnock to work in London, and then moved to Spain. I now live in the Cayman Islands in the Caribbean. In 2004 a hurricane devastated Cayman and I returned to Kilmarnock for two years with my two daughters, Jade and Holly. Both of my daughters joined the swimming club, by this time in its new home across the street from where the Old Baths used to be located, sadly, now a car park. The swimming Club is now housed in the Galleon Centre, which really doesn’t hold a candle to the Old Baths. At that time Ron Robertson was the coach assisted by his wife Sylvia. My eldest daughter Jade Webster, won the George Clark trophy for 100 meters freestyle, which was one of the trophies I had won and which had my name engraved on it, and was, coincidentally, presented by my mother who, as previously mentioned was the club secretary for years. Quite a moment!
My mother, a lifetime member of the swimming club and Grace Stewart are still invited yearly to present trophies at the swimming club galas, and did so as recently as 2010. Grace presents the Harry Stewart Trophy, named after her late husband, and swimming club coach, who passed away in 1991.
Gordon and Rita Coleman have both sadly passed away, as has John and Betty Orr. My grandmother who was a lifetime member of the swimming club for the best part of thirty years passed away in 2003, my father, who never actually joined the swimming club, but was always present at galas and of course, parties, and who was my biggest supporter, passed away in 1991, just 10 weeks after Jade was born.
Fiona and I are still in constant contact even though I left Kilmarnock at the age of 18. We have managed to stay friends for almost 40 years. #*&@ !! Is it really that long? We have two (almost) grown children each, I have two girls and she has two boys, when we get together our children tolerate our stories of the swimming club, they usually roll their eyes and tell us they have heard the stories before, but we tell them again anyway! Everyone should be so lucky to have a “Kilmarnock Amateur Swimming Club” in their lives!