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1918 The Early Years
In 1918, the sports committee minutes of the College Union of Loughborough Instructional Factory noted that … ’Two courts were available at Red House’ … and that ‘2 nets, 12 balls, 2 racquets and sufficient fishing net to cover the foliage at the sides of the courts would be sufficient to start a club’. Since these humble beginnings, the tennis club continued to develop with the addition of winter tennis from 1922, following the building of two hard courts. The records prior to 1936 indicate that a flourishing club with individual championships, local matches and colour awards existed. Despite this obvious enthusiasm for the sport, it is interesting to note that in 1928, the tennis club was not categorised as a senior sports club and by 1936 this description was still restricted to rugby, association football, hockey, cricket, swimming and athletics. Tennis is not mentioned in the prospectus of the School of Athletics, Games and Physical Training and did not merit a full-time lecturer, but clearly the presence of a visiting lecturer in tennis indicates that it had a place in the games experience. Somewhat surprisingly, the women’s evening courses also had no place for tennis, concentrating instead on keep fit, Greek, tap and country dancing.
1939 The War Years
War time paper restrictions forced The Limit magazine (a source for records for the then College) to cease publication in 1942. The last full Tennis Club report in ‘The Limit’ was for summer 1939, the last photo of the team was printed in 1941, and the very last mention of the Tennis Club was a brief note encouraging students to join in Easter 1942. We have no written reports but it is probably safe to assume that the College tennis club carried on throughout the war.Loughborough College’s various courses in physical education continued. The Department of Teacher Training still taught its specialist courses in Physical Training and the School of Athletics, Games & Physical Education, opened in 1937, continued its own three-year course and also offered special National Emergency Courses, all of which might qualify students as PT Instructors in the forces. The annual Summer Schools also ran and still included some instruction in tennis.
For a time the RAF Physical Training School had its HQ at the College, so plenty of athletic activity was taking place on campus and the College tennis courts must have been in use. In addition, from 1942 Loughborough College accommodated the RAF Rehabilitation Unit, run by Flight Lieutenant Dan Maskell, the famous tennis professional and coach. While here Dan Maskell was responsible for organising several local fund-raising Exhibition tennis matches, featuring well known tennis players, and there are a couple of programmes for these events held in the University Archives. Dan played a major role in the acquisition of the Victory Hall, for which generations of tennis players (and other sports) have been grateful. The University recognised his services to tennis and communication by awarding him an honorary masters’ degree in 1982 and naming the first dedicated indoor courts (the Dan Maskell Tennis Centre) on the University campus in his honour in 1996.
1945 Two Separate Institutions
From the end of the Second World War until 1976, two of the major constituent Colleges, the College of Advanced Technology (that became the University of Technology), and the Teacher Training College (that became the College of Education), operated largely as two separate, relatively small higher education institutions. It is also important to note that as a technology university (with few women) and a male college, with the exception from the early 1960s, of a small cohort of female primary teachers, competitive sport was largely restricted to men.
During this time, tennis was part of the Physical Education course and an active, but somewhat minor, club existed. Few references to tennis appear in the student journals of this period – perhaps the traditional games-playing ‘jocks’ played two terms of the winter games, e.g. rugby, football, and then ‘turned a hand’ to tennis in the summer. Even so, Loughborough had always had its smattering of good players of county-level players and sometimes they coincided to provide teams capable of winning the UAU (now BUSC) title. Victories for the College side were recorded in 1956, 1958, 1959 and 1961. Unfortunately during the late 1960s and 1970s the UAU title eluded Loughborough, perhaps because the resources on campus were divided. This was best illustrated in 1972 when Colleges won a closely fought Midlands play-off with the University. Despite gaining nothing from the University first pair of Whitehouse and Runce, the Colleges solid team based on county players Paterson, Graham, Stevenson and Eastgate reached the final. Eventually the College team lost a tight match in the final. There is little doubt that a combined team would have been more successful.
1977 A Coming Together
In 1977, the amalgamation of the University of Technology with the College of Education was a major milestone in the history of tennis at Loughborough. Suddenly, there were many more male players eligible to play for a single institution and there was also an influx of women to sport-related programmes. This resulted in the establishment of a women’s team and a greater demand for tennis overall. These changes coincided with a move for all sports, including tennis, to extend their playing seasons – a further reason for an increased demand for tennis.
During these exciting times, the University club’s President was a retired naval officer, Captain Muspratt. Rod Thorpe was a lecturer working in the College of Education, coaching rugby and keeping a weather eye on the tennis. With the retirement of Captain Muspratt, and as the only tennis coach on the staff, it seemed only natural for Rod to take over responsibility for the tennis programmes.
Fortunately, the University had employed, for many years, one of the best tennis coaches in the UK, Jim Lee, to run Wednesday recreational coaching sessions. Somehow Rod managed, on amalgamation, to retain Jim’s services, allocating some of Jim’s time to focus on improving the better players, whilst at the same time developing the tennis programmes for all. Jim, a former student in the late 40s, not only returned to Loughborough as a coach, but also played an important role as the club’s president during the 70s and 80s. For the first time, tennis had a lecturer dedicated to teaching (this included a 3rd year course in the application of the sports sciences) and supporting the club.
Rod took team sessions in the Victory Hall on Tuesday evenings and in the PE Centre (now Powerbase) on Friday evenings. Current students, with 8 indoor courts to play on, might reflect on the fact that these sessions often involved 8 players on one very fast court. Rod comments that whilst this was tough, it actually produced great camaraderie. No doubt this, together with an entry of talented players, contributed to the success of the University sides who won the UAU and WIVAB (male and female equivalents of BUSC) and BUSA (forerunner of BUSC) consistently. The coaching partnership of Thorpe and Lee also built up an extensive coach education programme, working closely with the LTA. This enabled many students to gain the necessary skills to find employment in the sport following their degree.
During this period Rod also setup coaching courses at the then 3 levels (usually running one dedicated Part 1 and Part 2 each year and hosting the Professional Course on a number of occasions). A number of students started successful coaching careers as a result.
Rod was also part of a team, working with two other alumni, Pauline Harrison (MSc) then Coaching Officer at the LTA and Paul Dent (BSc) and a local coach educator, Keith Reynolds. This team totally revised the Professional Course (from a two week course to a year long development based on workshops and monitored coaching experiences) in the early 1990s. Development, the workshops and subsequent courses were based at Loughborough during this period.
Rod had a passion and a vision for Loughborough tennis that has taken the club from its humble beginnings to a highly successful tennis establishment. With Jim’s support, he was able to put in place a structure for the club to enable all tennis enthusiasts to flourish from their association with tennis at Loughborough. From social player to budding professional, Rod successfully endeavoured to support all players whether that be encouraging students to organise a social tournament or ensuring the highly committed players gain access to the sports science expertise on campus. He established links with the community, schools, local and national LTAs, and other interested parties which have given Loughborough tennis diversity and a reputation of which to be proud. Perhaps one of Rod’s greatest attributes (there are many) was his genuine interest in helping the students. He encouraged many young people to take on responsibilities that gave them experiences, rewards and a greater confidence in life. Amongst many things, he instilled a philosophy of players at Loughborough working together to help each other and respecting each other’s needs.
In 1997, Rod moved on from Director of Tennis to Director of Sports Development, but not before he had, with the aid of Stan Stevens (a member of University staff who helped develop the partnership with the Leicestershire LTA) acquired the money for the first 4 indoor tennis courts, with the help of grants from the LTA and the East Midlands Sports Council. As well as benefiting the students, this also opened the door for increasingly close relationships with the county, regional and national LTAs.
1997 A change in leadership
Rod’s promotion to Director of Sport Development dovetailed with the succession of Chris Harwood to the position of Director of Tennis. Chris had joined the University as a student of PE, Sports Science and Recreation Management in 1989, gaining an MSc (1993) and PhD in sport psychology (1997). From 1993, under Rod’s guidance, he was given the remit of managing the coaching of the tennis teams on campus. Loughborough men’s and women’s teams continued undefeated throughout the entire 1990s with representations for Great Britain at the World Student Games and international matches, national university singles and doubles titles, and success in the National Club League competitions. At this time, the top University players were competing on a par with their professional counterparts in the UK. With the new indoor centre in place by 1996, the number of squads expanded and the depth was strong. The LTA established the University Scholarship Scheme with Loughborough as one of four institutions receiving funding for talented student-athletes and for coaching support.
Chris continued as Head Coach and subsequently LTA University Scholarship Coach until late 1997 when he secured a position on the University Sport Science staff as a sport psychologist. Although he inevitably had to pass on his coaching responsibilities, he continued as Director of Tennis to work with Rod on further developments in the sport on campus. During this period, Jeremy Cross (1998-2000), Anne Simpkin (2000-2002) and John Thompson (2002-2004) all served as Head Coach/LTA Scholarship Coach as the University programme continued to flourish, producing many quality players and coaches.
Due to sterling work of Rod and Chris, the relationships with the county and national LTAs were further enhanced and the Dan Maskell Tennis Centre became home to the Rover Performance Squad led by Martin Weston. By 1999, it was clear that the overall programme (from mini tennis player to University scholar) would soon outgrow the space available to provide an optimal environment. Therefore in January 1999, Chris and Rod, supported by Martin Weston and Leicestershire LTA, submitted an extensive bid for LTA Centre of Excellence status and a strategy for developing tennis at the University across an 8 indoor court facility, with additional outdoor clay and hard courts. Having successfully secured this bid and laid the outdoor hard and clay courts, the LTA Academy Indoor Courts were opened by the Duchess of Gloucester in 2002. This allowed all the tennis programmes at Loughborough to expand naturally. Whilst still supporting University tennis, splitting his time as a Reader in Applied Sport Psychology and LTA sport psychologist, Chris stepped down from his official role as Director of Tennis in 2007.
A brief summary of the coaches 1998-2004
Jeremy Cross (1998-1999) took over as coach while studying for an MSc and acting as a sub-warden. This was a time of change as the coaching position was no longer filled by a member of academic staff coaching as ‘a voluntary extra’, but was now a paid role, albeit not yet a full salary. During this time, there developed a strong link between University tennis and the LTA junior development programme – Jeremy remembers his squad hitting with the young Jamie Baker, who later became ranked British no.3. As Jeremy moved onto a PhD programme, he decided to return to being a student player on the Scholarship programme, passing the coaching role to Anne Simpkin.
Anne Simpkin 2000–2002 (now Anne Meredith) was a Leicestershire county player and had spent 3 years on the world circuit, before coming to the University to study for a degree in PESSRM (1991-1994). She continued to play at a national level in singles and formed a formidable doubles partnership with fellow student, Ann Driver. Anne took an active role in coaching during her student years and in 1995, she started working in the publications department for the National Coaching Foundation (later scUK), and then for Coachwise Ltd. In 1999, Anne returned to Loughborough to take over the role of University/LTA Scholarship Coach from Jeremy Cross and to work with young local players on the LTA county and national programmes. Anne was a product of the ‘8 on a PEC court’ squad sessions in her student days and felt very privileged to have the opportunity a few years later to coach the students (in squads and individually) in a paid role within a purpose-built indoor facility. In 2001, Anne married and moved to Yorkshire in 2002 where she continued coaching and editing part-time for the next 10 years. She now works as a teaching assistant.
John Thompson 2002–2004. As a student at the University, John, initially a 2nd Squad player, worked hard on his own game and his ability as a coach soon became apparent. During his time the Men’s and Women’s 1st and 2nd teams continued to win the BUSA championships. More significantly the men’s team reached the semi-finals of the national club league finals in 2002 and it was during John’s time that Jim May won his World Student Games Medal. After a short break from tennis, John moved on to run a highly successful tennis programme in Shropshire, and became a regular member of the Shropshire County team.
In 2004 Jon Pankhurst was appointed as Performance Coach and continued to develop tennis at Loughborough. The student side continues its success in BUCS, European Students Competitions and National Leagues. In addition Loughborough now hosts Aegon Tournaments that provide opportunities for the very best students and brings some of the best UK based players to campus. During this period in 2011 the Friends of Tennis was set up as part of the Loughborough Sporting Club. Roger Draper (CEO LTA and LU alumnus) agreed to act as Patron and Prof Clyde Williams (ex Staff member) agreed to act as Chair.
Many people have contributed to this article, but special mention must go to Jenny Clark (the Archivist) Anne Meredith (nee Simpkin) for editorial work and the coaches for their input of text and photographs. Additional photographs have been supplied by Julie Thompson (nee Goodacre), Barbara Snapes (nee Stewart) and Andy Bird.