Barney Miller RIP by Tony Pearce
It is the beginning of the 1980’s. The beginning of the Thatcher era. Masters swimming in the UK is still in its infancy. Spencer Swim Team Masters have not long been in existence since their founding in the late 1970’s.
It is a bright sunny summer’s day at the Tooting Bec Open Air Lido. Unusually, there are only two swimmers in the whole pool, 100 yards in length, 33 and a third yards in width. Both swimming front crawl.
One is Barney Miller swimming his medicinal recreational continuous ten lengths over distance swim. The other is Tony Pearce swimming through a tough competitive interval training set in widths.
Although they are the only two people in the pool they just happen to collide.
” I know you. I’ve seen you before. Your face is familiar to me. I feel that I’ve known you for years “.
I met Barney at Dave Mace’s funeral. Not really that long before he himself sadly passed away. He kindly gave me a lift home. He chatted continuously, particularly about his friendship with Dave at Spencer. It’s funny. Particularly in masters swimming it would seem that people gel together exceptionally well and invariably make things happen together. Masters swimming is really all about people.
It is now the late 1980’s. Masters swimming is beginning to gain popularity all over the UK and competition is becoming intense.
A strong indication of club ranking is it’s relays, particularly the medley relay where all the strokes are in the order of backstroke, breastroke, butterfly and then finally freestyle (front crawl).
The 1987 GB Long Course Championships are to be held in Wales. Who is going to challenge the esteemed Otter in the 4 x 50m Medley Relay?
So Dave, the then Spencer Team Manager, begins to formulate what could be a winning medley team.
Ring A Ringer Relay
Backstroke: John Lake, Breastroke: Bob Apel, Butterfly John Gordon, the Spencer Coach, and then finally …….who should, or could, now be the now vital last anchor leg sprint freestyle leg?
My name came up.
Unfortunately, I am to start at Loughborough University (as a mature student) on that particular week-end. After a number of heavy breathing telephone calls to me at the University I manage to gain permission from the University to compete.
It takes me the whole day to get to the pool at past midnight. A kindly pool caretaker, torch flashlight in hand, finds me a wooden bunk with straw for a blanket convenientlysituated under the pools spectator gallery.
Daybreak reveals me emerging out on to poolside and being welcomed by all the other Spencer Team swimmers. Oh yes! And of course Barney, now an established Spencer Swim Team masters swimmer himself, is there too.
This particular medley relay event itself becomes a spectacle to truly behold. Spencer Swim Team unexpectedly builds up a small but significant lead. Now comes the final anchor freestyle leg. I stand up on the block. I look up the pool. The long black line.
The Last Man Standing.
Anticipating John Gordon finishing his incoming butterfly leg I hear Dave scream, “Don’t breathe!!!” John touched the wall. I am in. Think fast.
I cannot remember anything of that 50m relay leg only that I am glad I had not cut my finger nails for some time. Head kept down to the finish, I just held off the Otter swimmer. Yes, the Spencer Swim Team had won its first national relay title. Team. Together. Each of us. Achieve. More.
Later that evening at the hotel all the Spencer team had their celebratory get-together culminating with Barney playing his guitar and singing a song. While Barney was singing, I distinctly remember a certain silence that fell throughout the team. An appreciation of Barney’s performance of course, but there was something else. Yes, as a masters club, Spencer had made the big breakthrough on the national scene, but not in winning that relay. Let’s not forget – the whole team had also exceeded all its expectations. One also had to remember that there were other teams emerging also. Masters swimming was changing into something else. Looking back now, I believe it was just beginning to emerge into a sport in its own right.
Come the revolution? Come? Masters swimming came way back in the late 1970’s. But how? Simple. Because as aforementioned, Masters swimming is really all about people. Yes. The Song Still Remains the Same.
Masters swimming is a pure example of Existentialism
I reckon Barney and Dave are probably happily chatting away to each other right now …….