Water Polo History
The Crawley Water Polo Story
The Crawley SC water polo story is one of perseverance, sometimes bloody minded determination, in the face of adversity. There was enough interest in water polo in 1964 for Crawley to field a men’s team that won away at Burgess Hill that May, at some point around 1968, water polo ceased to be played at Crawley, for reasons unclear. In 1972 it was proposed that it be dropped from the club constitution, at the same time as Diving and Lifesaving left the club. A late amendment by Lin Dauncey allowed the section to be reformed, in the event of enough members wanting to take part.
Dauncey had played in the hotbed of west country polo, to large crowds in the 1950s before settling in Crawley, it would take him until 1975 to get a enough members to restart, with Richard Foot as Senior Coach and Tim Jarvis Junior Coach. Any early victim of wayward shooting was the long window behind the diving boards, it was later panelled over. A good number of junior swimmers took the sport up and junior and senior male teams were formed. A first match was won versus the Haslett Avenue pool staff, and Crawley returned to the Sussex League in 1976. This was a tough league containing two National League sides and Crawley endured many heavy defeats in these years, although there was an early 3-2 victory against Brighton B. From the junior section, Ewan Partridge and Dave Lee emerged as the first Crawley players to play for Sussex Under 19s.
There was a further setback in 1979, when club politics led to the withdrawal of the senior team from the Sussex League. Crawley returned to this competition in 1982, with a very young squad, that found the competition tough. Gary Lee, coached, captained and later managed the squads between then and 2006, in efforts that ensured a platform for today’s achievements.
Peter Igaz became the first Crawley junior player to represent Southern Counties during the mid 1980s. Resurgence in the juniors playing, over a number of seasons, culminated in Crawley Under 19s winning the club’s only Sussex silverware, in 1993 winning the Under 19 Knockout Cup in a 9-7 win over Worthing, notable swimmers Dave Molloy and Mark Wheatley included. Around this time Crawley senior team won their first tournament, the Annual Cranleigh Shield, Crawley held their own annual tournaments at Southwater Lake. Team progress was greatly helped by an extra session being sourced at the old Horsham pool. The loss of this session, in 2000, was a body blow to the water polo squad, now with only one late night session at Haslett Avenue, numbers dwindled to barely enough for a team in the year prior to the move to K2.
A last commemorative match was held between members past and present at Haslett Avenue, in late October 2005. K2 offered new training opportunities, having a large, discrete diving tank. There would be further challenges ahead, to gain session time, as the team rapidly re-expanded, attracting experienced players, such as former South Africa captain, Craig Roy. Junior polo was restarted, experimentally in 2006, and formally in 2008, so new junior talent emerged.
Female water polo started formally in the 1980s, although some girls were training in the 1970s, Jackie Beed being the 1st at Crawley, later there would be informal girls teams, but from the class of 2008 would spring new talent, more of later.
Early in the reformation of juniors we were asked, by Mid Sussex Marlins, to form a joint mixed gender Under 12 team to play in the London League, this team went on to win that league, suffering only one defeat all season. Three of the girls who played in that team are now junior internationals, one, Fran Collings, is also a senior Scotland international, and is coaching juniors.
From 2009, Crawley began to have male and female junior players selected for Sussex and South East Region teams, as well as playing club Nationals in Invicta teams. First of the new wave was Sam O’Connor, many more would follow, among them Ben Maloney, Joe Callus, Alex Burns, Jo O’Connor. The trio of Fran Collings, Hannah Patchett and Lara Partridge would become key components of very successful Sussex, South East, Invicta, and later, for some, Crawley, teams. Tom Kane, Toby Underwood and the O’Dell brothers, James and Matt all competing in similar arenas for the boys, and later in the Crawley men’s team.
The men’s team joined Division 2 of the South East League in 2011, and were promoted to Division 1 in their 2nd season, retaining that status this year, also winning the Hastings tournament in 2013, captained by Richard Woodman, with veteran keeper Barry Hurst in goal, Wheatley back in defence, supported by the roaming talents of Chris Cook and Jack Sheppard, the team looks forward with confidence to the positive challenges that lie ahead.
Crawley stepped up in 2013, when Invicta withdrew from the Girls National Age Group competitions, attracting a number of talented players to play for Crawley in Invicta’s lieu alongside our home growns. Home club player, Lauren Hand, became the 1st player to captain a Crawley team in a national competition. In our 1st year, 2013, we finished 4th in two age groups, and 5th in the Under 18s. In 2014 we finished 4th in the Under 18s, and 3rd in the Under 16s, gaining a 1st national water polo medal for the club, after the agonies of penalty shootouts against Liverpool, but prevailing over Manchester.
The story comes up to date in Crawley’s 50th year, with Lara Partridge gaining the club’s 1st GB Junior water polo representation, and both Lara and Tom Kane contesting places in the Under 18. We have widely respected juniors at county, regional and national level, including Lily Turner, Elouise Robb and Matt O’Dell in national squads.
This is perhaps a story best read by anyone grappling, studying, or simply interested in adversity in sport, or sports administration, we certainly have some stories to tell and experience to impart. As something of an epitaph, Sam Dauncey, grandson of Lin, age 10, is one of our newest recruits.