This Sporting Life

Posted by in November's Magazine

W e were resting on the loungers at the deep end of Glenogle Baths when our reverie was disturbed by a young voice directed to my fellow bather.

“Granddad, can we go now? And can I get a £1 for sweets?” 



I butted in: “Sweets? After we had a swim my Dad used to get me a ‘shivery bite’, a bag of hot chips from a braw chippie on Lindsay Road you dinnae want sweets!” 

This intrigued my fellow recliner “where did you swim?” “The Vicky Baths with 1930 ASC.” He sat up all alert and said to his grandson “do another couple of lengths and we might have a deal on the sweets.” 

He settled into himself, “I played water polo for Warrender. I was scared of Willie Mellors. Did you know him?” When I was his grandson’s age I shared the same fear but learned, like many folk from Leith, that his bark was worse than his bite. “Well, he knocked out my two front teeth and a team mate who was a dentist did emergency work that night to repair the damage.” 

This struck a chord. I too played Water Polo and said that like him I had a plate, two capped front teeth and a gap or two elsewhere due to sharp elbows whilst playing the game. (I should point out that Water Polo is a ‘noncontact’ sport.) The laddie looked a little startled at our talk of violence inflicted on these two old men when we were younger and decided that maybe a few extra lengths was the better part of the deal.

The fierceness of Willie Mellors both verbal and physical was talked about but when it came down to it we both admired the man. He loved the story Willie told me, later backed up by Galashiels veterans, about how they liked it when he played them down there as club takings went up. “Why was that?” He asked. “Because they used to chuck pennies at him from the balcony as his playing style was so hard. Even Leith Swimming Club called us Dirty Thirty.” 

When folk couldnae afford a telly 1930 ASC would hang a notice on the railings outside Doctor Bells advertising who they were playing. They would turn up when Mellors was there, “it was better than the wrestling at the Eldorado” they’d say. 

When I told him that Davy Barr coached me when I was part of the Scottish Under 21 squad (I made the cut for the squad but not the team as I was too wee), he said, “I played against him.” I mentioned that Willie got my Dad and Bill Laidlaw of Porty to get their coaching badges so that they could help coach the next generation of players through.

They did as well and my first medals were for 1930 in the Eastern Junior League and the Second division in 1972 with my Dad coaching us. I still recall training sessions. Billy Doc, Mitch, John Williamson and me, the balls leather then, and once wet, heavy as bricks – swim across the width of the Vicky baths hit the 4 foot depth sign on the side then retrieve the ball pass to the next player and repeat. 

It was a technique from the Bela Rajki book on Water Polo. He was the man who coached the famous Hungarian team who beat the World champions Russia to Gold in Melbourne in 1956. This was an infamous game that made worldwide news due to the significance of the Hungarian uprising of that year.

“Oh, one of our players was a member of that team.” Said my fellow lounger, “marvellous player and so strong, he came out the water waist high to catch, pass and shoot the ball. A joy to watch and play alongside.”  

Still from Freedom’s Glory a documentary about the notorious ‘blood in the water’ Water Polo game depicted in Children of Glory

“Have you seen Children of Glory?“ He hadn’t. I explained it was about that team and the uprising and was the only film in my view that portrayed our sport the way we played it. I recommend it to all I meet who played our sport and it’s on the shelves of quite a few for that very reason.

He asked if I still played “Ocht no I’m too old for that now stopped in 1985.” By that time the game had changed, all you needed then was a pair of trunks and a hat with team number and colour (white or black). The referee checked all our finger and toenails to make sure they were short prior to starting the game to prevent scratching with both coaches carrying clippers just in case they needed cut. 

I told him that before I retired we were wearing two pairs of trunks with the top pair coated so that the oppositions hands slipped if they tried to pull you back or, as often happened, the top pair were ripped off, cricket box ‘where it was needed’, ear guards on the hats and gum shields so that you kept what teeth you had left. (Not bad for a noncontact sport!) 

He asked me the name of the film again. “It was called Children of Glory.” And we both agreed that we had been.

Gordon Munro – 1930 ASC

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