Swimming – “The Not So Swinging Sixties ! “
Throughout the 1940s and 1950s, Scottish competitive swimming went from strength to strength and Scottish swimmers were well represented in British teams and Scottish clubs made their mark at the A.S.A. Championships.
In the seven years 1953-59, 11 Scottish swimmers won 36 A.S.A. Junior and Senior titles: S. Watt (Thistle), R. Sreenan (Whitehall), A .Galletly (Pullers),
I. Blyth (Whitehall), I. Black (Robert Gordon’s College), M. Girvan (Motherwell), H. Gordon (Hamilton), J. Wardrop (Motherwell), F. Hogben (St Thomas),
M. McDowell (Kilmarnock) and H. Smith (Paisley).
In the 1960s the bubble burst. Scottish clubs lost ground to the English and in the seven years 1963-69, only R. McGregor (Falkirk Otter) and E. Hodgson (Huddersfield) won Junior or Senior A.S.A. titles, with the former winning seven and the latter one.
McGregor did a great job in keeping Scotland in touch, but there was no other Scottish swimmer around to help him. In 1964, he won a Silver Medal at the Olympic Games in Tokyo and he also broke the World Record for 110 yards freestyle 5 times in 3 years, his final 53.5 being set in 1966.
The second half of the 1960s was a particularly depressing time and in 1965, for the first time since World War II, no Scottish swimmer brought back a medal from the A.S.A. Championships. In 1966 and 1967 the Scottish team finished last in the Bologna Trophy contest and in 1969, no Scottish swimmers were selected for the British team.
In 1968 Jock Coutts, the S.A.S.A. Secretary, wrote:
“Our achievements in all branches of the sport does not make very good reading, and with only a little over two years to go until the Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh we have a hard row to furrow to produce a team worthy of Scotland.”
Understandably, morale was low and some people looked for scapegoats and explanations. The Association’s administrators came in for some criticism and they were even blamed for not producing winning teams.
Alec Spence, the S.A.S.A. President,replied on their behalf and outlined the way ahead. In a forthright address to 188 delegates at the Annual General Meeting in 1968 he said:
“Your Executive, Council and Committees have received much criticism for failing to produce winning teams. Today I shall place the ball firmly in your court and suggest that the blame lies with you. It is the duty of the administration to govern and legislate, to provide the opportunities for top competition, it is your duty to provide the broad base of swimmers from which to select District and Scottish teams. This you are failing to do. We exist to promote swimming. . . and promote means to raise to a higher level.”
Although a lot of clubs had worked hard in the 1950s to improve their competitive standards, some others did little. Spence was critical of their approach and asked them to improve their standards or leave the Association. He said:
“We do not raise the standard by having a regular club night, opening the doors and smiling benevolently upon a horde of youngsters enjoying a “free-for-all’. If this is a picture of your club I suggest you are wasting your time in the Association.”
The clubs were left in no doubt about what was expected of them but at the same time the Association examined its own promotional strategies and adopted three new initiatives:
(i) took steps to increase its income to pay for an expanding international programme.
(ii) appointed a National Technical Officer.
(iii) formulated a National Development Plan.
It was expensive to provide potential champions with top class International competition. Sponsors provided some extra monies, but the Association had also had to do so and to be seen to help itself.
Clubs paid an Annual Affiliation fee of 30s (£1.50) in the first half of the 60s and a membership of 173 clubs in 1966 generated £264, which was only 8% of its total income. The fee was raised in 1967, as part of the drive to give more commitment to the Association and generate additional income and it was set at £7, which raised £917 or 16% of the annual income.
As fees were increased the membership declined. In 1966 there were 173 affiliated clubs, but a year later only 131, so it appeared that a quarter of the membership was not prepared or financially able to meet the Association’s challenge. Additional income was generated from the introduction of a Competition Fee and any swimmer competing in a District or National Championship was required to register with the Association before being allowed to compete. The fee was set at 2s. 6d. per annum and both initiatives provided a welcome boost to the Association’s coffers.
The Association appointed its first National Technical Officer, Robert Gauld, in 1967 and one of his first duties was to organise a Training Scheme to produce “a team worthy of Scotland” for the 1970 Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh. A scheme sponsored by Coca-Cola was put into operation during 1968 and a little later a National Development Plan was formulated and arising out of both, a National Training Squad was established. On the resignation of the National Technical Officer during 1969, Hamilton Smith took responsibility for the squad and with help from John Ashton, Jack Queen, Frank Thomas and John Hogg, preparation for the Games continued.
Between September 1969 and May 1970, eight Residential and two One-Day Training Courses were held. The swimmers worked hard, produced some good results and reached ten individual Finals and David Wilkie (Warrender) won a Bronze Medal in the 200 metres breaststroke. It was a better performance than 1966 in Jamaica, when Scottish swimmers reached only five finals, although Bobby McGregor (Falkirk Otter) won a Silver Medal in the 110 yards freestyle.
The attitudes of all concerned were as important as the results. After the Games Jock Coutts noted that “the enthusiasm of the swimmers and the coaches had to be seen to be believed”. Similarly, A. R. Mitchell, the Team Manager, wrote that:
“On the subject of morale, team spirit and discipline . . . the overall picture is of an enormously loyal team, desperately anxious to justify themselves as swimmers and to be a credit to Scotland in the swimming scene.”
The creation of a National Squad, training regularly and supervised by expert coaches was very successful, both in terms of performances and morale. As a consequence, it became a permanent feature of Scotland’s international preparation.