My dad, Bobby, joined Penguin in the 1950s as a junior. He started his aquatic career with Amateur SC who were based at the Prince of Wales swimming baths in Kentish Town. Dad soon became a regular with Penguin and his swimming background helped him become a workhorse of the team.
Dad was a loyal person and continued his association with Amateur for many years taking part in their annual relay race with the Northern Lights club which was then based at Hornsey Road baths. This annual race was in the Guinness book of records as the oldest annual swimming event in the world.
At a time when Penguin regularly put out four teams in the local water polo leagues, Dad progressed through the ranks to the first team.
In 1961 Dad married my Mum, Cathy, with Penguin teammate Lew Bloomfield as his best man. Then two years later I arrived.
Most people of a certain age can remember where they were when England won the World Cup. In 1966 I was on my very first Penguin tour to Malta at the age of three where I was in safe hands with Shakey helping out on toddler watch!
Dad continued to play first team polo and my early memories were as a toddler either sitting in the footbaths of Lime Grove, Nine Elms and places like Ironmonger Row whilst Dad was playing, or swimming behind the goal at the shallow end dodging the wayward shots.
Training sessions usually ended with me being kept quiet with a Coke and a bag of crisps while Dad and his fellow Penguins frequented the famous Shepherds Bush Cricket Club on the way home. Years later Dad would recount how Les Pickles once gave him a lift home from the Cricket Club after a lengthier than usual night. When Dad told Les to go straight ahead at the next roundabout, Les asked, “Which roundabout?”. Dad’s reply: “The one you are on!”. Members such as Les Pickles, Jack Dengel, Ron Turner and Bill Usher were always there in the background helping the Club run smoothly.
Dad would talk about the epic games against Cheltenham or the games in the bleak outdoor pool in Birkenhead, and how local rivalries were cemented against Sutton & Cheam.
Penguin has always been a great family with great relationships with many pool managers. Uxbridge Open Air Pool used to be a regular venue on a Sunday afternoon; once the public left our Penguin players and their other halves would help tidy up, then use the facility until it got dark. This approach was repeated with Pete Kerslake at Clissold Road and Dave Webzell at Potters Bar, allowing us to benefit from a whole host of extra training time.
Following in Dad’s footsteps I started my aquatics career as a swimmer and, with my sister Jayne and brother Alan also swimming, as a family we spent most of our early lives travelling between pools. Even with the three of us children training seven days a week, Dad still continued to not only play in the local water polo leagues but he also became a grade one referee travelling the country.
Having spent my younger years swimming and diving, I decided to take up water polo at around the age of 14. Dad then got even more involved. He started running the Penguin junior team from which many became regulars in the Penguin first team – Paul and Dave Bryan, Ian Spooner, Peter Falcini and Mark Harmon to name but a few.
Being a lefty put me in good stead for my career. I started in the fourth team playing alongside Dad and a number of other Penguin legends, including Ron Turner and John Lake. I look back on fondly on these memories and the experience I gained was invaluable.
I progressed through the Penguin teams as well as representing Middlesex and the Southern Counties at all age groups and playing for both the England and the GB junior side.
Dad continued his involvement with the Club, stepping in to coach the first team as a when needed as well as serving for many years on the Middlesex Water Polo Committee.
Perhaps one of Dad’s proudest moments was when, as President at a Penguin Dinner, he took wine with the Jayne, Alan and I as we had all represented GB internationally in water polo and synchronised swimming. In fact between the three of us we had national medals in swimming, water-polo, synchro and diving.
There is obviously something in the Wollaston genes which ties us to the water as even now Alan continues to play water polo and Jayne and I coach swimming and synchro respectively.
Dad’s passion for the sport certainly was passed on. I have a whole host of fantastic memories and many that can’t be written down in full – what goes on tour stays on tour – involving trips to Malta, Naples, Belgium, Liverpool, Germany, Holland and Denmark with the likes of Ian Spooner, Robbie Arnold, Graham Forbes, Paul Whatley, Paul Howard, Gary Simonds, Robbie Arnold, Martin Blenkinsop, Paul Whatley Steve Baker, Ian Grimwood, Miguel Ortiz and of course Shakey. I even had my stag do as part of the St Niclaas Water Polo Tournament!
Being part of Penguin is more than being a Club member. In the latter stages of Mum and Dad’s illnesses the support that Paul and Jayne and I received from the Penguins was humbling, borne out by the numbers of Penguins past and present who came to both their funerals.
I am still playing and enjoy doing so. The other week I turned out for Enfield against Penguin and managed to get on the score sheet a few times in a convincing win – Grimbo will vouch for this! It is so good to still be able to catch up with many my former Penguin team mates from over the years when I see them at different games and tournaments.
Penguin is a rare and unique Club; it was Dad’s passion and something that he always held close to his heart. He was the proudest Dad ever while he watching Paul, Jayne and I compete. For me he was, and always will be, my hero who is sorely missed by many but never forgotten.
This post is part of our Penguin100 series of stories from Penguins past and present, sharing what being a member of the Club means to them as we celebrate our Centenary.