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"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.’

Gerry will mention other swimmers if pressed. Martin Edwards who made the Olympics in 1972, Craig Norrey, Graham Brookhouse and others. But his priority comes across as the team not the individual.

I probed for problems within the club, chinks of disharmony in the Edwardian set up, but found none. ‘No, no real problems, we’re reasonably successful. As coach I am always looking for things to improve but the children are working quite hard at the moment,’ says Gerry.

No problems with pool hire?

‘No, the pool is good, 25m six lanes, and it has been well maintained. We hire it from the school at a reasonable cost, probably better then going through a local authority.’

And of course, Olympic representative and Commonwealth gold medallist Georgina Lee is Gerry’s current star pupil, albeit now at university in Texas. ‘Yes,’ says Gerry. ‘She deserves all the success she has had. She started with me at the age of seven and her first success was winning the national age groups at 13. She is a bright girl and a good worker.’

The respect, it would appear, is mutual as Georgina herself says: ‘The whole club is thrilled for him. He is so modest about his swimming achievements throughout his life. He has done all of it because he loves it and we love him for it. There is no club without Gerry. He is the club.’

Another swimmer who did not wish to be named told me that when swimmers get to a certain age, Gerry tells them to call him by his Christian name and not ‘Mr Thain’. After being told this many times, the swimmer in question still can’t bring herself to call him by his first name. She says this is partly through the great respect she has for him but also the fact that she still calls him ‘Mr T’ is a term of endearment that reflects the affection she, in common with so many past and present members, has for him. ‘He is one of the most laid back, mild-mannered and genuine people I know. I appreciate his commitment and dedication, qualities that he inspires in his swimmers who show their appreciation not least through their loyalty to the club.’

One man who has known Gerry for many years is the ASA chairman, Mike Beard: ‘Although I coach another discipline of our sport, I have always looked on Gerry as a role model who I have tried to emulate. His dedication and loyalty to his club and its swimmers is second to none and his enthusiasm for developing young athletes remains as strong as ever after so many years. He has made major contributions at county, district and national level but has never allowed this involvement to deflect him from his number one priority, his swimmers.’

So there you have it. Long live the ‘Edwardians’. The King, Edward VI reigned for seven years. Gerry Thain, king of his swimming club, is going for his half-century.


More information about the history of Camp Hill Edwardians is available through the newsletter archives in the Clubroom area of this website.

 

Sadly we lost Gerry in January 2013 but the club continues on in his memory.