Crawley Swimming Club History
In 1964 the last steam trains were passing through Crawley, and British United Airways brought the magnificent Vickers VC10 jet airliner to Gatwick. What brought about the inception of Crawley SC was the building of the Haslett Avenue pool, by local builder Longley.
As works advanced a group of local aquatics enthusiasts proposed to form a swimming club at the new pool. Their proposals were accepted by the council, and the club was formed in February, ahead of the pool opening in May. The first chairman was Doug Trill, with Lin Dauncey as club secretary. When the pool opened that May, demand was intense enough that membership had to revert to a waiting list on the 2nd club night, with membership capped at 700.
Success in the hotbed of Sussex aquatics would take time, Crawley was the upstart new town club, pitched against some highly regarded, long established, coastal clubs, milestone achievements would take time. At some point during this period Southern Counties ASA seconded John Hogg to Crawley as Head Coach, adding expertise to enthusiasm.
Initially Crawley SC encompassed four disciplines, Swimming, Water Polo, Diving and Lifesaving. Necessity and evolution would lead to the latter two becoming separate entities by the early 1970s, the water polo story is told in a separate article within this feature. During the early days diving provided an early county champion in Brian Tarrant. In these early years membership was fed from the network of sports and social clubs among the firms that had moved to Crawley, as well as the likes of Crawley Boys Club, Crawley RFC and the NTC, some experienced members transferred from Reigate, previously the nearest indoor pool.
Hereon, this passage becomes a swimmers story. With 50 years to cover, there will inevitably be omissions, however, what follows are the available documented highlights. Linda Perriman became the 1st Crawley swimmer to gain county representation in July 1966. In 1967 Hogg would state that the swim team needed to find stronger opposition. To underline Hogg’s point 11 year old Nigel Smith, at Blackpool, shown live on national television, won the Boys 11 and under, National Butterfly title. Smith would go on to be a Crawley, Sussex, and Southern Counties swimming legend, continuing to swim for the club until 1981, winning county championship in fly and backstroke, for nine and ten years consecutively. Smith’s parent Gwen and Arthur would also become mainstays of the club’s organisation, spanning three decades. Extraordinarily, Dave Molloy would win the same title 20 years later in 1987, son of John and Mo Molloy, also great servants of the club, spanning three decades.
Through 1967 there was a drive to raise funds, to support Crawley joining the National Swimming League (NSL), club competition. Successful application lead to Crawley entering the NSL Swimming League South in 1968, therein Crawley has been ever present to date, in one of the three regional divisions. In May 1968 Amy Charlier became the 1st Crawley swimmer to represent GB Juniors in 400m freestyle. These years were the first golden spell for the club, with a long list of swimmers qualifying for the Southern Counties championships at Crystal Palace, Richard Tilson breaking county records, Tobagan Commonwealth swimmer Laura de Neuf joining the swim team, all in a time when club championships, with event cups sponsored by a long list of local businesses, were very memorable events.
By 1969, Ken Niepold was Head Coach, and he had a number of major talents on his hands, Nigel Smith was joined by Simon Meredith and Howard Laurie, as this trio of buddies, sometimes rivals, grew into major prospects at county, regional, then national level, over the years 1969-1973. This was a spell where Crawley dominated sections of Southern Counties swimming, in a manner that was not rivalled again until the 2000s. Yet there was friction, available pool hours, development of younger swimmers, and other issues would frustrate the fiery Niepold. Meredith would go on to represent GB in 1973, in Germany, shortly before departing the club, for further education at Millfield, having narrowly missed out on the Munich 1972 Olympics.
The club was worn by a period of massive over-achievement, Nigel Smith would be on hand many a time, to bolster a very young swim squad through the decade, abetted by Philip Druce and Paul Gilliat. Linda Sprigge, and later Anna Dadswell would emerge as forces within county and region, Linda swimming at the 1973 Nationals. In 1973 Crawley hosted their first international exchange gala at Haslett Avenue, sponsored by British Caledonian Airways. This would lead to years of cooperation with Paris clubs Maisons Lafitte and Rosneen.
As the club entered the 1980s, with a young squad, successes were measured at local level, as coaches Vic Lambarth and Barry Richardson worked with a very young squad, with limited resources, seeing the club through perhaps its most testing times. In 1985 Crawley engaged Jim Hartley as Head Coach, wife Lis, and son Tim, who succeeded Jim in late 1996, steered the club until 2012. Dave Molloy’s 1987 success was harbinger of a spell where Crawley unearthed serious talent, as into the 1990s Mark Wheatley and Alexa White came to the fore. Alexa joined the club as a learner, made her name as a butterfly swimmer, winning her first county pennant in 1989, age 10, gaining a 1st regional pennant in 1992. Alexa would go on to become Crawley’s only National Open champion to date, in 2001, winning the 50m fly, adding to a host of other medals and titles. She also swam for GB in Rome and Berlin 2000/2001.
Alexa’s achievements were the bow wave of a new golden era for Crawley swimmers. Mark Harrington, and breaststroke specialist, Adam Jones, Derrick Lee, the Hutchinson twins, Ben and Chris, Adam Harrington, Cali Stanton, Hannah O’Grady, to name a few, would all raise the standards of Crawley swimming to new heights. Mark Harrington’s achievements are often overshadowed by the southern swimming phenomenon that younger brother, Adam, who gained unprecedented levels of titles and broke a British Junior record in 200m Backstroke, whilst the massive achievements of Ben Hutchinson propelled him to GB junior status. The greatest testaments to this era come in terms of the strength of teams. In July 2004 the Under 18 4x100 Freestyle team won the Nationals at Sheffield, Ben and Chris Hutchinson, Mark Harrington, Derrick Lee, in an achievement that coach Tim Hartley was particularly proud of. At this time Crawley became Sussex League champions for the 1st time, and carried off a mass of county titles in these years, the swim team, achieved, and retained NSL South East Premier Division status, for the 1st time.
Into the second half of the decade and beyond, the girls again came to the fore, Sophie Brooks becoming a major force in the South East swimming, Zara Williams a top Sussex and South East sprinter, joined by Mai Alland, both would reach national finals. Fede Williamson dominated South East age group breaststroke, as well as being a major force in other events, Lucie Street, in her time at Crawley, would also win all 12 of her county age group events, an unprecedented two years running. During this spell Callum Hillicks also came to the fore, taking South East and Scottish titles in fly and backstroke.
The history stops here, with Ron Philpot joining the club as Head Coach in October 2012, inheriting both established talent and promising youngsters, Crawley rises to the challenge of fulfilling its great promise.
This is an all to brief reprise of the club’s top achievements, that misses tens of names and milestones, however, we should remember that none of this would have been possible, whether swimming of water polo, without the committed band of volunteers, many parents, or starting as parents, who have made the club run over 50 years, some through their adult life, such as Lin Dauncey, John Earwicker and Liz Smith. But many others who started as swimmers have gone on to shape aquatics in the Crawley area as teachers and coaches, professionally and voluntarily, among them, Linda and Jackie Sprigge, Lynn Ford, Pam Burris, Barry Richardson, Richard Thompson-Balk and Gary Lee, to name a few. Regardless of the splendid achievements of the swimmers that the club has produced, this is the growing, lasting legacy that Crawley Swimming Club has brought to the town. The many thousands of kids taught to swim, or who have enjoyed the experience of club life at Crawley Swimming Club.