History of the Luton Swimming Club from 1965 to 2009
When the Wardown Swimming and Leisure complex was built and opened in 1965, the council had a great number of clubs wishing to hire the facility. At the request of the local authority, Luton Amateur Swimming Club and the swimming section of the Vauxhall Motors Recreation Club amalgamated. In return the new club, Luton and Vauxhall Swimming Club, would have the new pool for club night on Monday from 6.30-9.30pm and water polo from 9.30-10.30pm, with the cost shared 50/50 by the Club and Vauxhall Recreation Club.
Derek Spratt was appointed coach and a very successful period began with the Three National Age Group Swimmers. With an average of 650 members, Derek was responsible for the formation of the Motorway League (which is now known as the East Midlands Speedo Swimming League). The idea behind this was that clubs close to the M1, such as Luton, could travel quickly long distances to club galas under League conditions.
Luton and Vauxhall swimming club was in the Top Gala 4 out of 5 years and competed in the national Swimming League Final in 1970. Shortly after this, Derek Spratt left the club and the coaching and teaching was undertaken by very willing helpers and parents who had taken Amateur Teaching and coaching courses and, by 1972, all lane coaches/teachers – totaling some 18 people – had passed ASA qualifications. By this time, the school pools in Luton were used for extra water time. However new swimming pools were also being built around Luton, and in Dunstable and Leighton Buzzard and, as a consequence, Luton and Vauxhall swimming club’s membership began to fall to the 450 mark.
In 1973, a very keen ASA coach, Roger Williams offered his services to the club. The club then joined the West Midlands Speedo Swimming League and gained promotion from Division 2 to the top division. Under Roger’s direction, club night training and training in other pools in the area began again to make Luton and Vauxhall swimming club a club to respect in the swimming sense, with the county team consisting of 70% Luton swimmers. The club’s success was measured by there being an increasing number of Midland District Age Group Finalists and National Age Group Qualifiers, plus English and Welsh Schools Representatives and 1 male and 1 female Junior International.
In 1976, the club entered a second team into both of the Speedo Leagues and began looking for a league that our young swimmers (9-12 years) could swim in, as by this time a very successful swim school was up and running, which took children from council-run learn to swim classes and from day schools. About this time, the interest in water polo was virtually non-existent so, to save money, club night was reduced to 3 hours.
In 1978, the club applied to the Milton Keynes and District Junior Swimming League which included Northampton, Banbury, Bicester, High Wycombe, Witney, City of Oxford and 3 clubs from North West London, giving membership of 18 clubs and a second division of 10 clubs. Luton and Vauxhall SC won this league between 1979 -1983, and also won the National Junior League Title in 1979, 1980, 1982 and 1983.
In 1982, Vauxhall Recreation Club decided that they could no longer afford the cost of supporting the club, so the constitution of the club was changed and became known as Luton Swimming Club.
In 1985 a second team had been entered in Division 2 of the league and the “A” were champions again and again, won the National League and now regularly entered 2 teams in the league, which had expanded to 18 teams in each division. The success of our swim school and Junior League began to show through the club and in 1989 Luton SC, after a gap of 19 years, again won a place in the National Speedo League Final, a competition to determine the top club teams from the 7 Speedo Swimming League champions.
The club continued to have a good quantity of age group qualifiers at both Midland District and National level with always a good number of members swimming for Division 10 in the ESSA Schools Championships. A total of 14 swimmers were selected at National level in the English and Welsh teams. Also during this period, Luton SC swimmers represented the Civil Service and the Combined Services Swimming Teams.
In 1991 a major reorganisation of the club training and administration was undertaken following a great deal of work by a sub-committee and, by coincidence, Roger Williams expressed his wish to retire after 20 years of quality coaching and devotion to Luton SC.
In January 1993, Sacha Djerfi was appointed Professional Club Coach, the first full time coach for the club, responsible for all teaching and coaching of swimming members, including the overall development of the teaching and coaching staff. This appointment was mainly financed by the expansion of the club’s young swimmers teaching and development programme already in progress in the small pool at Wardown and extended to include the pools at Lea Manor and Putteridge, overseen by a newly appointed Business Manager appointed from within the existing committee.
So with 32 hours of water time now available and a membership of over 400, the club was looking forward to a more successful period particularly with a forward looking teaching and coaching staff and a committee committed to advancement in swimming excellence. This was coupled with the upgrading of the Higher Education College to University status, so that it was hoped that a number of our older swimmers would stay in Luton rather than go to Universities in other parts of the country, coupled with the possibility that the club may benefit from swimmers using the university in Luton.
Over the next few years, a steady improvement both in numbers of swimmers being selected for the county teams and results in our league positions was seen. In 1999 our full time coach was offered a full time swimming development position with a City Council which he could not refuse, so Luton SC had to advertise and interview applicants, this process attracted some well qualified and good coaches. Neil Longridge, a former coach to the Welsh national team, was appointed as club coach and director of development of coaching staff.
The club continued to develop and improve its results in all aspects of swimming development. But as plans for a new pool were put on hold and all qualifying times for championships were required in 100m times, Wardown Leisure Centre was no longer an attractive venue for open meets and the attracting of quality swimmers to join and train at Luton SC meant a steady decline in the fortunes in terms of membership. A new committee was finally elected so that Luton SC could continue to exist and create enough interest and eventually improve its swimming prowess to be competitive swimming club once again.