by Mike Russel

I was delighted to read Sanch’s interesting article on sport at Hathershaw because it took me back to those halcyon days of wet, mud and cold showers! And he’s right; all our tales are merely anecdotes that feature us and our friends in humorous or desperate situations. How much ‘truth’ there is in them depends on the clarity of the memory, sometimes slanted in our favour.

At primary school I can’t remember playing cricket against any other school and I we didn’t play soccer - the playground was too small for that. However I had read Roy of the Rovers in the Hotspur or Wizard and how he could dribble past all of the opposing team and I fondly thought that when I’d been taught how to dribble at Hathershaw, I would be on a par with Roy. I had never had much interest in football but was sure that, with my new studded soccer boots and dubbin, as soon as I was taught how to pass, how to set up a shot, how much power to put behind the ball, I would be a competent footballer. The first lesson disabused me of that fond hope. I suppose there was some sort of match and that we all got a chance to kick the ball but there was no teaching for me - I was exiled for five years to the Cabbage Patch to play Charge of the Light Brigade, Custer’s Last Stand etc along with Vinnie and Brian Heywood. Strangely I don’t remember Keith being a part of our useless crew; he was obviously much too good for that. I don’t remember Tats ever coming near us or enquiring about our enjoyment of the lesson. He was only interested in developing those with talent; the rest of us didn’t matter.

I remember in our first year we had baths first thing on Wednesday morning and we reported there instead of going to school. This was a sport I enjoyed. My Father had taught me how to swim and dive and we went weekly from primary school to Robin Hill baths just round the corner. I used to go to the Central baths or Lowermoor baths in the holidays and sometimes Jean Cornwall’s Auntie Margaret, who lived on our street, took us all to the very plush Chadderton baths. There had been a big push in Oldham to ensure all primary school children could swim, as there had been drownings in mill lodges, which were always a magnet to children. I was therefore shocked when we all entered the water to see how many 59ers were poor/non-swimmers. There were only about 8 of us who could swim well and the rest were confined to the shallow end.

It was here that I first met the Laws of the Medes and Persians. I had forgotten my swimming kit and duly apologised to Tats.
“No problem, you can go in without trunks, Russell.”
“But sir I haven’t got a towel”
“You have a handkerchief haven’t you? That will do.”
And so in I went, starkers, all 5 foot 9 and vast pubic forest of me. Humiliation was something I learned at Hathershaw and although I was mortally embarrassed, I never forgot my swimming kit again. Not that we
Went to the baths after the first year. It was only recently that it struck me that with so many poor swimmers, it would have been too much like hard work for Tats to try to teach them all to swim. Better to drop the visit to the swimming baths. I don’t remember doing life-saving. Perhaps I was still tarred with the Cabbage Patch brush instead of the Good Swimmer brush!

Cross country running wasn’t for me but each year Tats told me to see if I could improve, but it was a futile hope on his part. Considering how quickly he gave up on non-star pupils, I’m surprised he bothered to get me to try each year. I can however categorically deny lurking down manholes waiting for the second lap to pass and join on to pretend I’d done the whole course. I will confess to taking my cigarettes and having a fag half way round when we were in the Fifth form! Gym was another area I did not enjoy, probably because alphabetically I was always in the proximity of Titch Taylor, who was a superb, compact gymnast. I remember we had to stay behind frequently to do demonstrations for visiting PE teachers whom Fatty Etchels had invited to demonstrate how to do gymnastics with a class. No doubt it all contributed to Denis Taylor’s CV whether we liked it or not. But in those days, you did what you were told and didn’t complain, well not to staff! Like Sanch I remember being ‘slippered’ but I can’t remember what for, probably a minor transgression against the Laws of the Medes and the Persians!

When we came back after the Easter holidays, I expected some new form of disinterested torture. Instead we got athletics and I suddenly found sports I could not only do but was good at! This was quite a revelation to me but thinking about it, at 5 foot 9 inches tall, head and shoulders above all my classmates and with long powerful legs, it’s no wonder I was good at the 100 yard sprint. Not only that, but I found I enjoyed sprinting - and relay and discus and triple-jump. I went out and bought my own tracksuit and a pair of spikes, that’s much I was taken with athletics.

And I also discovered that Tats could teach! I was the recipient of his time, encouragement and interest. I spent hours after school with Ian Wrigley, Tony Peck and Jeff Hayes practicing the relay change-over so that we got it prefect. Tats taught us to work out the distance behind our relay box so we could set off running and effortlessly receive the baton from our colleague. He had us mark our and try and try again until we had it down to a fine art. That is why in both the Inter-Schools an Inter-Grammar School Sports, as Junior or Senior teams we were never beaten! He taught me how to do the spin-turn for throwing the discus and again I was winner over other throwers. My best ever throw was 119’ 8” in the Inter-Grammar School Sports. Tats taught me how to do triple-jump and again, this was another winning event for me. I could also do shot-put  and Tats  taught me how to do it properly, with the balanced, power-throw. Although I won many of these events, I didn’t really like it.

My great love was the 100 yards sprint and again Tats took time to analyse my style, with its strengths and weaknesses. Compared with Ian or Jeff, I was a slow started but I made up ground from the half way point and my long legs carried me on generally to win. I remember in the Third Year going to the heats at Snipe Clough playing fields near Alexandra Park and being beaten into second place by a Fitton Hill lad called Gill, whose sister was/had been in Hathershaw’s Sixth Form. I was mortified, as this was the first time I had ever been beaten so I practised and practised my starting and on Merton Playing Fields, spurred on with cheers from the massed red of the Hathershaw block, I left everyone standing and hurtled through to victory! (I will admit to taking a performance-enhancing substance - a glucose tablet for instant energy!)  After that Tats made me do half a dozen 100 yard sprints each PE lesson and he timed them all. Through this attention to detail, we both discovered I ran my best time after three warm-up sprints, so each athletics match, I would run three warm ups before the main event and that is why I won.

I am grateful for the time and effort Tats put in with me at athletics and having been on the receiving end of his teaching, I found it hard to reconcile that this same excellent teacher did not put in the same effort not only for me but for other pupils in other sports. Whilst the summer term was all-glory for me, come September I was back with the duffers, exiled to the Cabbage Patch! How are the mighty fallen! Still I do have (somewhere) my Town-Team Badge for Athletics and I am still very proud of it.
So thanks Sanch for liberating all these sporting memories, I really appreciate it.