I wrote "SALTC - the first hundred years" in 2004 when the Club celebrated it's centenary. It is now twelve years on and I am looking forward to my retirement on the Cornish Coast. Before I leave, I am passing the archives back to the Club which I hope will provide amusing ammunition for a future historian to reminisce about when he or she comes to write the next installment of the club's history. In order to bring the History more up to date, I thought I would write about some of my own memories of playing tennis and of the Club which has been a large part of my life for so long.
I was probably about 12 when I joined a very small club in Willifield Way, Hampstead Garden Suburb called Cranbourne 20 and can remember the thrill of playing my first junior match. Not long after joining, the Club folded and I was 'transferred' to Temple Fortune Tennis Club (TFC) in Bridge Lane. This was a bigger club and, I seem to remember, they had six courts. Unfortunately these were En Tout Cas red dusty clay which meant you were continually dirty. During my time there, they built two squash courts and I enjoyed playing although it didn't do much for my tennis as it was all wrist. When it was wet we played cards or table tennis and there was such a friendly atmosphere - families even had their Sunday dinners down at the Club.
As we got older, us teenagers would get together for all sorts of social activities as well as for tennis and we spent more than one summer holidaying together in small tents on grassy fields. I thought every tennis club would be like TFC and I guess I subsequently strived to recreate what was good about TFC at SALTC.
Sadly, after what seemed a lifetime, we all went our separate ways, to College or University, and most moved out of the area. A couple of years ago a lot of us met up for a BBQ and, even though it was 25 years since most of us met, it seemed like yesterday.
One day, I decided this wasn't good and I really needed to get some exercise so I thought "Why not join the local tennis club ?"
Open Day at SALTC
They say that first impressions are lasting impressions and this was so true on this occasion. Rather nervously, after a break from tennis of about 15 years, I turned up for the Clubs Open Day in May 1993. I was met by Anne Swallow on the patio and was immediately welcomed and put into a four which, I think, included Robert Thomson. The standard was fine and I was assured that even though the Club had a playing in test I wouldn't have a problem passing. That was how my love affair with SALTC started.
At this stage, the Club had three acrylic grass and four hard courts, all floodlit, plus six unlit grass courts. In September 1994 planning permission was obtained to put floodlights on the remaining grass courts - although the lack of money stopped any being erected.
Development Sub Committee
By October 1994 I had already been invited to join a long standing sub-committee looking into the possibility of converting the Clubs six grass courts to some form of new surface and adding floodlighting. There were lots of ideas floating around and numerous detailed reports on the pros and cons of different surfaces, or the possibility of even putting up a bubble. Unfortunately, for all of these options, funding was a major problem. The Club had previously paid for the replacement of court surfaces by borrowing from the LTA. As such, they had to make regular repayments and had a commitment to maintain a sinking fund to replace these courts after their useful lives - there was very little cash, if any, to spend. On top of this, the membership was falling as the Club couldn't afford to maintain the 13 courts it had. Any new expenditure was predominately going to have to be funded by borrowing.
At the AGM in November 1995 John Harris stood down as Chairman and Robert Graham took over.
Because of an EU ruling that members subscriptions should never have been subject to VAT, the Club were able to apply for and receive a large VAT refund of £17,000. I thought we ought to be making a Lottery application and wanted this lump sum to be earmarked as 'our contribution' but instead the Committee took the short term view and used it to fund new floodlights on the three new acrylic grass courts.
On 19th September 1996 I was co-opted onto the Main Committee along with George Conway and Carolyn Morris. At this date, there were allegedly just 210 adult playing members.
When I wrote my potted history of the Club it was too soon after to mention it. Even today, it is still only spoken about in hushed words. This was obviously a difficult time for the Club and we were approached for comment by both local and national newspapers. The fact Robert Graham, a lawyer by profession, was our Chairman and "spokesman", was very fortuitous as he was able to field all requests for interviews with a knowledgeable, friendly and indefatigable "No comment" in his broad Scottish accent.
It was a critical time for the Club and we had to appoint a suitable replacement coach. Luckily, Tony Wilkins, with his wife Frances, applied for the post. Tony had been a part time coach at the club throughout the 1980s but had moved away to further his business career. There were two other candidates but in all honesty Tony was the perfect person to steady, what was, a rocking boat.
My next blog will cover the transition from the old guard to the new which put in motion the building blocks to the highly popular club we have today.