To celebrate the Club’s centenary we are publishing a series of stories from Penguins past and present, recording what being a member of our Club means to them.
This post comes from longstanding Penguin and Club Vice President Malcolm Cromer.
I’m Malcolm Cromer. Born 15 September 1950, Lefroy Road, Shepherds Bush, West London.
Shepherds Bush in the late 1940s and the 1950s I remember now as being grey. There were still some bomb sites from the war that had not been developed. Rationing lasted until 1953. As a kid in the 50s there was not a lot going on. Sounds grim but it wasn’t.
My best friend, Jack Neivens, born 27 September 1950, just two houses and the width of a road away. We followed in the footsteps of my brother Frank and Jack’s sister Gillian who were born within two weeks of each other in 1947. Jack’s real name was Alan, but with a sister named Gill…
Around 1956-7 Jack’s dad, Ron, started taking us to a swimming teaching club called ‘The Water Gypsies’ run by Hammersmith Borough Council at Lime Grove Baths on Sunday mornings. The baths were opened in July 1907 so were already 50 years old when we started there. You were enrolled with The Water Gypsies for one year, it was free of charge and, if you were deemed good enough after the year, you were recommended to Penguin SC for a trial if you were a boy, and Hammersmith Ladies SC if you were a girl. After a year Jack and I were put forward and accepted by Penguin.
Our Penguin Life journey had begun.
From the age of seven our lives consisted of school and swimming training on Mondays and Thursdays at Lime Grove. Chain swimming length after length with our then coach ‘Spud’ Murphy shouting “There’s plenty of room out in front”. I mentioned that the pool was already 50 years old… the chlorinated water stung your eyes and nostrils, and I remember many a night crying myself to sleep to get rid of the stinging sensation. The situation was caused by so many by unwashed bodies and their effluent in the pool. Shepherds Bush was, after all, a working class area with some quite deprived areas of housing. I often quip that ‘at Lime Grove you did not swim, you went through the motions‘. Even now I think those of us who experienced the conditions and survived probably don’t need a COVID vaccination as we can withstand anything.
I joined Acton Swimming Club to get extra training and was ‘second claim’ to them if Penguin did not need me. After a dispute with an official at Penguin, I left and went first claim to Acton. As few years later, by the time I was fifteen, Jack had started playing water polo at Penguin and after a brief conversation with him I rejoined Penguin to learn the ‘dark art’.
Polo training sessions would see thirty to forty members vying for places in the pick up teams. Sunday afternoon training at Lime Grove consisted of one hour swimming training, one hour ball-work and one hour of water polo games. In one of the more grueling exercises we would line up along one side of the pool, dive in, swim the width of the pool, climb out, run across to touch the wall, run back, dive in, swim back, climb out, touch the wall, run back, dive in and repeat 20 times. The climb out was the killer as the difference between the waterline and the pool deck was some 25-30cm, not like the modern design where the water laps onto the side.
Our mentors were legendary:
- RT – Ron Turner – Olympian and everybody’s hero.
- Les Baldwin, who would kick you then tell you what you were doing wrong.
- Bryan (Swaz) Randall, first team goalkeeper who taught me the sling shot and push shot.
- Bill Wait, who taught me how to insert my finger into the opponent’s swimming trunks drawstring, twist, and then move him around at will: it was he also who said “Nod to the referee when you give away your first foul, look quizzically at him after he gives you a second foul, and you will usually get away with the third foul” – the Dark Arts.
1965 saw the formation of an under-18 side coached by Terry Bushell and managed by RT. Jack was elected Captain.
A three year programme resulted in us becoming National Champions in 1968. Along the way we had beaten our arch rivals Sutton and Cheam at Crystal Palace to gain the Southern Area Championship. We then went on to play Thornaby at their home town of Stockton-on-Tees in the quarter finals. Thornaby were so confident of be becoming the eventual champions they had bid for and were awarded the hosting of the final, but we beat them after extra time. The extra time made us late for the train home, but British Rail held the train until we got there. To this day I do not know who arranged that!
The semi final saw us at Walsall playing the Midlands champions. We won and retired to a local for a drink and a meal. The coach driver, who had watched the game came with us and celebrated with one too many Guinness and whiskies, couldn’t find his way out of Walsall. We stopped to ask a Police motorcycle patrolman – Terry Bushell doing the asking, not the driver. The patrolman very kindly gave us an escorted drive to the motorway.
It was during this coach trip that Jack got taken short, found a plastic bag, relieved himself only to find that the bag had holes in it. Several of us were anointed before the bag was jettisoned through the skylight of the coach.
The final back up in Stockton saw us playing Birkenhead, the North West Champions. We won!
While all this was going on Jack and I had been working our way upwards from the Penguin fourth team. My debut in the first team was at Nine Elms against Cheltenham.
From 1965 to 1975, with all my friends in the first team apart from Jack being several years older, my life was water polo and Penguin. Gerry Jarrett (who lives next door to me), Bobby Wollaston, Eddie Rowe, Terry King, Roger Roberts, Mick (‘Dodge’) Rogers, John Lake, John Martin-Dye. Eventually Peter Berry and Derek Fraser gained places in the first team too and went on to gain representative honours. It was during this time that Steve Baker joined us to become one of the legendary Penguin goal keepers and later stewards of the Club.
My brief sojourn into international representation occurred around 1969 or 70 where I was selected to play for GB under-20s in a friendly against Spain. We had a get-together as GB Lions at a tournament in Sutton and Cheam before being thrown into the game against Spain at Walsall Baths. We were due to play Spain twice, once on the Friday evening and again on the Saturday. At our team talk on the Friday we were told that most of our opponents had played in the Spanish senior team in the 1968 Olympics, they had been together as a junior team for four years, and they were financed by a millionaire – “Go in and do your best”. Well… Friday’s result was 22-1, Saturday’s result was 22-2, neither in our favour! I remember Brian Flook of Sutton and Cheam (who was there to play Walsall on the same programme) coming into the changing rooms after and saying “Well done lads, remember they are professionals”. That sentence saved me. I was in shock and felt that we had been sent into in an ambush. Thank goodness that things have improved.
Back to 1967 – not yet 17. Penguin were invited by the Maltese water polo club, Balluta, to a tournament in August. We flew out from Heathrow on a chartered Bristol Britannia turbo prop aircraft. This was my first trip abroad to anywhere exotic and hot.
I presented at Heathrow early enough to get a drink at the bar with the rest of the Penguin party before the 10.00pm flight. Jack was with me. I was wearing my one and only suit – a blue John Burton creation complete with white shirt and Penguin Club tie, all designed for the rigours of the British climate. I looked and felt smart, and somewhat sophisticated.
In the bar Dodge Rogers came up to me and asked “Are you all right Malc?” I said yes looking at him dressed in jeans and a t-shirt. As we took our seats on the plane Dodge came up to me and asked, “Are you all right Malc?” and I said “Yes Dodge”. Halfway through the flight Dodge came up to me and again asked “Are you all right Malc?”. Again I said “Yes I’m fine”. The flight landed around two o’clock in the morning. As I made my way towards the exit of the plane a wave of hot air hit me and it got progressively hotter as I got to the door. I started sweating in my Burton suit, my shirt clung to me and I loosened my Club tie. I made my way stickily down the steps onto the excessively hot tarmac to find Dodge Rogers waiting at the bottom. He smiled at me and said “Are you all right Malc?”…
The suit stayed in my room for the rest of the tour.
Our accommodation was a newly built college in St Julians. We finally got to bed around 3.30am only to be woken by the sound of a compressor and road drills at around 6.00am. I went back to sleep but was woken at around 8.00am by an explosion that shook the building. I leapt out of bed expecting a scene of devastation, but all I saw was the workmen eating sandwiches around the still intact compressor. Back to bed only to be awoken by another explosion. I was experiencing the prelude to the St Julians fiesta weekend where they set off loud fireworks called petards every morning leading up to the saints day fireworks display.
The tournament consisted of four teams: Balluta the hosts, Penguin, an RAF representative side who seemed to spend all their service life playing water polo around the Mediterranean, and Otter from London. The first game was on the evening of our first full day in Malta at the outdoor Balluta pitch.
Jack, Terry Bushell and I found ourselves at the front of the spectators area behind the journalists table. (Water polo was – and still is – a big sport in Malta and games were reported in the daily papers).
The first game was Balluta vs Otter and was an ill tempered match; I know not why. At one point when the match was stopped by the referee, one of the Balluta players got out and remonstrated with the ref. An Otter players came to the side of the pitch, still in the water, and asked the referee what was happening. Suddenly the Balluta player took a run off the side of the pitch, leapt, and did a scissor kick into the face of the Otter player, knocking him senseless, and subsequently hospitalising him.
This caused uproar. Parts of the crowd started to riot and the police took time to settle things down. When the Balluta goalkeeper got out and stated that his team mate was in the wrong, his teammates started to push him around and he was ‘sent to Coventry’ by his team the following day!
at the end of the game our goalkeeper, Terry Bushell, asked for the name and address of the Balluta goalkeeper and the next day Terry, Jack and I went to visit with him. This was our first introduction to a man who was to become a lifelong friend and comrade – Charlie Mock.
Many of you will have seen Charlie unknowingly as he has been an extra in many films made in Malta. If you have ever watched the 1971 film Murphy’s War starring Peter O’Toole, Charlie plays the German submariner sonar operator who hands the sonar earphones to the Captain just before O’Toole drops the torpedo on them. In the more recent film World War Z Charlie is standing just behind Brad Pitt in one scene.
Charlie has been a great friend to Penguin and me over the years. He asked me several times to go and play for Balluta, but like an idiot I declined because I did not want to lose my amateur status. Balluta later changed their name to San Giljan and many years later hosted our women’s team for a short tour. In recognition of his great friendship with Penguin Charlie was made and Honorary member of the Club a number of years ago.
Penguin toured Malta again in 1970, and this time I collected all the newspaper clippings and put them in a scrap book. Given the passage of time they are sepia-like now.
Steve Baker’s blog post outlines and records the fortunes of the Club in terms of our results over the years. From 1965 to 1975 I was taking part in those Penguin results.
Having played water polo at a high level for 10 years I had to concentrate on work and some semblance of a career. I had married ‘the management’ Carol in 1972 – one of the few sound decisions in my life – and she had been a constant support during the polo days.
In 1975 I took two years away from Penguin after purchasing our first house in Bracknell, Berkshire. The mortgage left us with only £5.00 spending money at the end of the month. Instead I played water polo locally with Bracknell, and that brought me back together with Brian Flook who I mentioned earlier. Brian was working at Bracknell Sports Centre and a member of the team.
I got back to Penguin in 1977 and carried on, as before, spending most of my spare time playing polo with the Club. A typical day would be: drive to work in Basingstoke (25 miles) – do a days work – drive home – dinner- drive into London (either Imperial College or Highgate School) for a 9.00pm game start – go for a post-match drink – driving home arriving around 12.30am. I did this a couple of times a week, plus Sunday afternoon training at Clissold Road baths in Stoke Newington.
I finally hung up my cap around 1985; I can’t remember my last league game, but have remained a member of Penguin.
A number of years ago Carol, my wife, and Lew Bloomfield got together and enlisted some of the old players and their wives (some now widows) to create an informal club called the Pearl Club. We keep in regular touch in order to stay active, both mentally and physically. Old friends like Gill Turner get together with Fi Rowe and Jean Harmon. Before COVID we would spend a weekend every year in Bournemouth. All this from our association with Penguin. We are looking forward to getting together again next year after a two-year gap.
Many of the players with whom I played and made fantastic friendships are now no longer with us: RT, Eddie Rowe, Bobby Wollaston, Peter Harmon, Shakey Lake, John Tozer, Bill Wait, Dima Gallitzine, Derek Roberts and others.
But the biggest loss to me was Jack.
Jack Neivens – the mate that I had grown up with – died of a heart attack in October 2000 at the age of 50. I go to his grave in Croughton, Northants every year on his birthday, 27th September, and leave a birthday card. The story is even sadder. After winning the National Junior Championship in 1968 the junior team was invited by the Club to attend the annual dinner and dance then held at Hammersmith Town Hall. We were all seated together, lauded by the Club throughout the evening and given presentation tankards. Jack’s father Ron was, like all the parents there, as proud as punch especially as Jack was the captain. During one of the dances Ron collapsed and later died of a heart attack.
I make no apology for reminding those who remember these incidents. They are a part of life and if any of the younger Penguin members reading this post go on to have similar life friendships with fellow Club members then be prepared but don’t dwell on the bad times. Treasure the good times and the comradeship that being a member of Penguin can bestow.
In his blog post Steve Baker has already highlighted the nomadic existence of the Club since the Lime Grove days. When considering the future of Penguin, my one wish would be to have a stable home pool where all the sections of the Club can meet together. The meandering delusions of an old ‘has been’? Maybe, but it would be great to give future Penguins the chance to have the same life-enhancing exercise, sport, and above all comradeship that I have been lucky to have throughout the greater part of my life.
See more of my Penguin friends across the years in the gallery below.
I train every weekday at 7.00am at my local David Lloyd club. 1500 metres a day. Not bad for a 71 year old, but I owe it all to Penguin.
With Hands And Feet