With the Olympic Games starting tomorrow, this month’s Looking Back column takes a nostalgic look at sport. There is special local interest as Ripon Grammar School pupil Jack Laugher is taking part in the diving event. I’m sure all Gazette readers wish him well.
One thing Jack won’t have to worry about is those woollen trunks we wore back in the 1950s. When you dived into the pool, you had to hold them with one hand or else you know what ... . Those woolly swimming trunks were indestructible and would absorb so much water you had to swim or sink with the weight of them.
Sometimes we would even wear a ‘snake belt’ with them to help keep them up and, of course, before you got them wet you would be scratching like an old sheepdog with the itchy wool.
But I did eventually receive a 25-yard swimming certificate for swimming a length of the pool at Ripon Baths. This was only because I couldn’t reach the long pole that was dangled in front of you to encourage you to swim. Older Riponians than myself might even remember learning to swim on the River Ure, just up from NorthBridge where a bathing pavilion was built in 1870 and was used up to 1950. I think a Mr Duffield used to teach swimming there.
Traditional games have always been part and parcel of school sports day. Youngsters revelled in the competition and fun of them. Races such as the egg and spoon race, sack race and three-legged race were always very popular with the skipping race for both boys and girls to finish off the day.
Of course, corruption was rife in those school days, with chewing gum used on the spoon to hold the egg down and making a hole in the corner of that hessian potato sack which helped you run faster and stopped you from tripping up.
With Ripon Children’s Sports Day now going for 63 years, it’s a great way to introduce competition activity and team work, and of course not forgetting the school marathon. The cross-country run – memories of being frozen, running over rustic bridge, up the fairy steps towards Hellwath, past Duck House and then onto Studley, covered in mud and shivering with those icy winter winds. The cross-country was also open to some cheating, with some runners staying under Bishopton Bridge until the runners came back from Studley. Then after rubbing mud on their legs, would mix-in with the front runners on their way back into the school.
Some of the PE teachers from those days at secondary modern school days were Miss Horner, Mr Rob, Mr Clegg and Jerry Grant. You were also put into house teams which were identified either by colour or a familiar name, ie saint or place, which is still incorporated in schools today. House teams in my day were Norton (Blue), Starley (Yellow), Aislabie (Red) and Mallorie (Green).
On May 17, 1974, Ripon held its own mini-Olympic Games in the form of television programme It’s a Knockout which was held at Ripon Racecourse, with Ripon taking on Rotherham and Stuart Hall and Eddie Waring doing the commentating.
Later that year, on September 4, Ripon represented England in the international show Jeux Sans Frontieres, which was held in West Germany with Ripon up against Bayreuth.
The event was described as a school sports day for adults. Ripon’s best all-round sports man in my opinion has to be Peter Squires, who played for England’s rugby team 29 times and also played cricket for Yorkshire.
Ripon City’s most famous footballer was Derek Kevan who earned 14 caps for England during his career, scoring a total of eight goals including two in the 1958 World Cup.
During his West Bromwich Albion career, his nickname was “The Tank”. In 10 years he scored 157 goals. Some of the other teams he played for were Chelsea and Manchester City. Other Ripon footballers who played professionally were Billy Goundry – Brentford, Bobby Swain – Bradford City, and Frank Marshall – Sunderland.
My own early memories of football were at Ripon Cathedral Boys School in the late-1950s to early-1960s, days of playing with hard-toed boots fitted with wooden studs – not like the slipper-like boots they play with today.
Thankfully the shin pads of yesterday had cane inside them. The footballs became so heavy when wet they nearly planted you into the pitch when they landed on the top of your head.
I also have fond memories of playing for the YMCA and Red Arrows teams when leaving school and, to finish off this Looking Back sports special on a personal note, I have only one regret in my life: that was to finish playing football aged only 19. People said I was an idiot for doing so back in 1970 and they were right! Always play sport as long as your body allows, until age kicks in, but most of all – enjoy it!
l In next month’s Looking Back we are taking a trip to fairs and circuses. See you on August 30.