"Spirit of the Edwardians"

Extracts from an article in "Swimming" magazine, April 2003...

Camp Hill Edwardians Swimming Club: now there’s a name to conjure with. My mind’s eye evokes a club from the past - woollen costumes, handle-bar moustaches, cubicles around the pool, cork lane lines, joie de vivre, maybe including picnic hampers and turkey legs following an afternoon dip in a lazy river.

The reality is less romantic but equally intriguing. Birmingham-based, Kings Heath to be precise, south of the city, the club mainly utilises the facilities at the King Edward VI Camp Hill Grammar School. There are two schools on site, one for boys and one for girls, the words Camp Hill resounding through history from a site in more central Birmingham from where the school moved in 1956. And the Edwardian connection linking to Edward VI, son of Henry VIII and Jane Seymour, who was born in 1537 and ascended to the throne aged nine. His reign however, was beset by problems and he died at the age of 16.

In total contrast, Gerry Thain, now 76, coach, founder and ‘the spirit’ of Camp Hill Edwardians, assumed control of the school swimming club within a year or two of his arrival as PE teacher at the school in 1956. In those days, the facilities were non-existent and they had to use various public pools. But Gerry dived straight into the post and was involved in persuading the authorities to build a new school pool in 1972 and has never looked back. The club was initially for the schoolboys but over the years has developed into an open mixed club which now has 250 members. Their A squad finished seventh in the latest West Midlands Speedo League Division One, while the B team swimmers were fifth in Division Three.

‘Yes, we’ve been in Division One for years and years. In our heyday, we made the national final eight times in nine years and our best ever position was third in 1982 when I had swimmers like Jo Seymour and Lido Badawy. Since then we’ve had to be satisfied with our best being third in Division One. Mind you I can remember when we swam in three leagues at once. We were a founder member of the Motorway League, Paul Matthissen approached us to join the Speedo London League and then later we joined the West Midlands League!

Busy club, busy man. His CV reads well. GB team manager at World and European championships and also the 1988 Seoul Olympics; member of ASA swimming committee for 18 years, ASA Midland district president in 1975, member of the district executive for 40 years, life member of Warwickshire county, winner of the ASA’s Harold Fern Award in 1989 - and those are just the highlights. But Gerry remains the driving force behind his club, taking in his role of chief coach, every training session - six nights every week and Saturday morning.

‘Gerry is the club,’ says Liz Hindson whose two daughters, Gemma and Kate, have both grown up with the Edwardians. ‘He is the same to everyone, encourages them at every level from the youngsters to the internationals and through to the masters. They idolise him.’

Indeed such attachment to the club is well illustrated by the fact that Gemma, in her last year at Cambridge University studying maths (and captain of the university swimming team) travelled back from Cambridge late last year for each round of the Speedo League, as did Nicola Sheasby from Leeds just to swim in the relays. Gerry has undoubtedly forged a dedicated bunch of swimmers to the club he has built up. ‘Yes,’ continues Liz. ‘People put themselves out because of what he has done for them. Gemma would walk on water for him if he told her to.’

Continued >>

CHESC represented at the Olympic Games
CHESC represented at the Commonwealth Games
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