When the Paralympics were in Leyland.

The last two, Brian Smith, pictured here playing table tennis, also wheelchair bound but not letting that bother him as he ran and still does run a printing firm in Rufford and Joan Cross now Smith, was also at Southport Hospital and thereby assisted Barbara.

            The committee was later joined by John Naylor and Frank McDade as first Trevor when the Games left Leyland and Chris when work got too busy had to leave. At this point I should point out that for the first few years on the committee I treated it as a bank appointed job in which I turned up to the committee meetings and the Games itself dealt with the finances and that was it. I can remember turning up at Fox Lane at 9.30 am on the Saturday of the Games and being told by Keith and Chris that I was a part timer as they had been hard at work for two hours already.  At I got to know the rest of the committee and the Games I got more and more involved though my credentials for judging either the field events or the bowls at least were down to the use of a tape measure.

            So as the accommodation at Washington Hall give the Games a new lease of life, however the use of the Fox Lane site for the Games was creating more problems. The main one was that as the Games were held at the end of the cricket season, i.e. September, the weather could on many occasions (like this year) be very unkind for a mainly outdoor event. With this there was the matter of security, an expensive snooker table in a tent in the centre of a cricket field does not look well on an insurance cover request (this was another of my jobs – don’t get me started on Eagle Star). One year, we actually got a volunteer to sleep on the snooker table for the weekend as a security measure. The third problem was the escalating costs of the marquees which used to come over from Yorkshire and were making the costs of the Games go beyond our fund raising skills.

            It was then that we contacted Fulwood Leisure Centre which as it was attached to Fulwood High School could provide more than a usual leisure centre, the school canteen managing to feed everyone at both lunchtimes. So it was that the Games moved from Leyland to Fulwood in 1978, causing a few changes to take place. The first was the name as the Leyland Fox Lane Paraplegic Games became the North West Paraplegic Games, which lead to more letters to the Charity Commission as the Games was now a registered charity (yes me again).

In case you are wondering why I got involved as the treasurer, it should be pointed out that one of the first people approached to help get the Paraplegic Games started was Peter Jackson, a business man from Chorley who got the manager of Williams & Glyns Bank, Don Girling, to be the first treasurer. He got moved on after the first games so the job was passed to assistant manager, Frank Walsh, who then got moved on after two years.     

            So come 1976, I was persuaded by my colleague Paul Taylor (who also later got me into Rotaract and ultimately I suppose any future official position I’ve ever taken, so he’s responsible for me being Chairman – you know who to blame now) to ring the secretary of the committee, Cynthia Price, to get the low down on the job. I was told that as Weeton Army Camp had reluctantly had to withdraw their accommodation so there looked like there would be no games that year, so as I thought an easy job to start then. I should point out that I had been to the Games in 1974 working the full weekend in our Mobile Branch cashing cheques, taking money in and serving drinks, so I did not see much of the actual Games, just some of the diverse committee members who needed a quick drink as the rain poured down all weekend.

            Attending the first meeting at Fox Lane Sports & Social Club with the account books, I was surprised as I was introduced to the rest of the committee that there was a mention of a Mr Finney. This was not the famous footballer, but the commandant of the Fire Brigade Training Centre at Washington Hall, Euxton. But before I go on to him I should name the rest of the committee as you will understand that the whole event happened because of these people and their many family, friends and contacts.

            Besides me as Treasurer, there was only one other established officer, the already mentioned Cynthia Price, Secretary, who for her day job was Bursar at Wellfield High School. The other officer, Chairman, was passed round the rest of the committee at two yearly intervals. The committee members from the Leyland end were Keith Appleton (if anything needed sorting that was him), Chris Maddison (if anything needed purchasing or acquired at a reasonable price that was him), Trevor Kidd (was one of the main committee members at Fox Lane and acted as the liaison) and Cyril Scott (whose work in the international department of British Leyland enabled the committee to recover the trophy silverware from anywhere in the world it ended up.

            The paraplegic end of the committee was headed up by Dave Halpin, social worker and main speaker for the committee who whilst in a wheelchair did not deter him in the slightest from any project that he planned. (Years later, I would discover this to my cost when Chorley Rotaract took on an Access Guide for the Disabled, but that’s another story). Then there was Barbara Hoole who worked at Southport Hospital and was able to plan from both the competitor and helper view.

To give you a flavour of the Games Weekend, I’ll go through a typical Games from the Friday to the Monday from my perspective, believe me everyone else on the committee was as busy if not busier than me.

            Friday evening saw most of the committee either at the venue setting up or at the accommodation managing the arrival of the competitors etc and allocating rooms.

            Saturday morning started early for John Naylor and I as we headed for Adlington to pick up 500 pork pies and 500 sausage rolls for the two lunch time menus from Leylands confectioners. So with those in the back of John’s estate we made our way to the Games venue, I still have visions of going over the level crossing at Bamber Bridge on the way to Penwortham.

            The competitors would have had breakfast at the accommodation and then made their way to the Games venue under their own steam or using the Lancashire County buses. When the competitors arrived, they had details of their event with time and place, each room with its game detail on the entry. Personally, that was when I retired to the First Aid Room or “Control” to undertake the duties of announcer, collator and of course treasurer, with a quick break for lunch.

            At the end of the afternoon it was back to the accommodation for dinner which always included the dessert of Angel Delight and Dream Topping or so it seemed. I meanwhile had got home, counted and balanced the money in and out for the day, had some tea then headed out to the accommodation for the high point of the weekend for the competitors, the disco.

            This was my responsibility, when I booked John Foley for the PA; he also provided the disc jockey for the Saturday night. I can’t remember who started this tradition, but John and I never told the DJ what sort of event they were coming to. I think this worked as there were no preconceptions, only a question “What do I play?” to which I always replied “Whatever they want”. To be honest they were a female DJ who loved the event and asked John to book her on it each year until she moved away.

            This event has three particular memories for me – 1) You want to talk about wheelchair dexterity, watch a wheelchair user doing the twist on their two back wheels with a girl sat on their lap; 2) Never try and out drink someone in a wheelchair, when they have had enough they don’t need to stand up, you do, I saw this happen to a senior fireman, it was not pretty and finally 3) how do you round the night off, well if you are in a wheelchair with the largest team being from Southport though a lot of them came originally from Liverpool or its environs, there was only one song “You’ll never walk alone” but the Para’s being the Para’s the last word was changed to “Again”.  

            As I said this was my event to sort, being the youngest on the committee, (started at age 20 and last games I was 31 - history does replete itself), so it was usual for the rest of the committee to slope off to get some rest whilst John Naylor and I carried on to the end. 

            The following morning was the repeat of the previous day though some of the teams that had socialised too vigorously the previous evening saw their sporting potential diminish as the lack of rest and hangover took over. The prime example of this was the Dublin team who came over for a number of years and at the end of each Saturday’s competitions were usually neck and neck with Southport, the following day however their spirit was willing but the flesh was knackered.                

Now you might be wondering how the committee managed to fund the Games, so did we every year. We tried most things with stalls at Leyland Festival and Chorley Carnival, my favourite being the Chorley Carnival when we ran a hot dog stall and game of chance stall combined, one minute shouting “Prize every time, every one a winner” to “Get your hot dogs”. It didn’t last long as for once the weather worked in our favour, lovely sunny weather until everyone was on the park, then it through it down and everyone feeling cold that wanted a hot dog, and we sold out 200 hot dogs in an hour.


We got donations from the Co Operative care of the local director, the problem of course, was having to explain what the Games were. Eventually we produced a guide to the Games we could show to any prospective donor, which I still have.

This article for the Leyland Chronicle was written after the Paralympics took place in London during 2012. I have included it here on the website as the 2016 Rio Paralympics are about to begin.

The only outdoor events were now the archery, the field events and the bowls (using the school’s cricket square as I remember it) until it too came indoors later with the use of a bowls carpet. The wheelchair basketball benefited from being indoors, together with the other sports having a room to themselves. To co-ordinate these events, the committee needed a centre of operations, so it was welcome to the first aid room, where Jon Foley each year tapped into the centre’s PA system with microphone and outside speakers as some volunteer would announce events, request competitors to attend events, announce food, find children and co – ordinate the results that came into that little room. (You may have guessed, yes it became my job).

            So with the accommodation at Washington Hall there was the daily transport to Fulwood Leisure Centre which whilst a distance was almost all achievable by motorway though this could not last forever. After a number of years, Mr Finney retired, and whilst we weren’t exactly told to go by the new commandant we weren’t high on his agenda and the little extras that Mr Finney and his staff provided slowly disappeared under they could not provide a weekend for the following years Games.

            At the next committee meeting it was the usual what are we going to do, I innocently said “well we’ve been with the fire service, why don’t we try the police”. Therefore, we found ourselves being accommodated by the Police at Hutton Headquarters.  Here we would stay until the last Games in 1987, the only reason that the Games ceased being that due to new procedures, the police could only give us two months notice of which weekend would be available, much too short to organise the Games.

            The Games venue had a final change too as redevelopment at Fulwood Leisure Centre meant that the venue was not available so in 1985 we took the Games back to South Ribble as we took over Penwortham Leisure Centre for a weekend. So for the final three years, we actually had the most local Games as the accommodation at Hutton was just down the A59 from Penwortham Leisure Centre. It was at Penwortham in 1987 that we were asked if a group of competitors could demonstrate a new sport called Murderball which is now known as wheelchair rugby, it did make basketball seem very tame.       

           

At this point I think I should mention Bryan from Dublin, one lad I got on with well, we had the same mad sense of humour – see the photograph, he is aiming that javelin at me. Bryan, one year, had a few too many drinks at Dublin airport and had to be carried onto the plane (nowadays they would refuse to take him or in Ryan Air’s case would probably charge him for the excess alcohol), but no one thought to mention that he needed the wheelchair when he wasn’t drinking, it was therefore left behind at Dublin Airport.


So he got to the Games without one, having to borrow, i.e. kick someone out of their own chair when he needed to complete in an event, that was Bryan, I worry what he’s doing now, (saying this, just did a google search for Bryan and found an Irish MEP who is a wheelchair user called Bryan who updated the mobility issues at Dublin Airport – ho hum).      

With all the attention that the media has provided for this years Paralympics in London it may come as a surprise to members (who weren’t at the September meeting) to discover that an early Paraplegic event was established in Leyland back in 1973, nearly 40 years ago.

            Back then, the Southport Spinal Unit then based at the Promenade Hospital was looking to establish a sports event for their patients to take part in which they could invite patients from other hospital spinal units to. A group of interested volunteers from the hospital met with members of the Fox Lane Sports and Social Club and a small committee of approximately ten people took on the organisation of the Leyland Fox Lane Paraplegic Games.

            From the beginning it was conceived as a weekend event as opposed to the sports day that most other hospital spinal units arranged. This, of course, meant that in addition to the sports venue the committee had to find accommodation for what turned out to be a regular influx of 150 paraplegic sports persons, their partners / able bodied assistants / coaches and the judges / officials.  This was provided by the Weeton Army Camp between Kirkham and Blackpool where the wooden huts were hardly ideal but were home for the first three years. The transport was provided by the Lancashire County Disabled bus drivers.            

            The Games themselves took place at the end of the cricket season as the cricket pitch would provide a home for the numerous tents / marquees required to conduct the various sports. Within these marquees the games included table tennis, fencing, snooker and weight lifting. Whilst on the tennis courts the most exciting event was the wheelchair basketball. Other outside events included the panel bowls which were played across the crown green bowling green and the field events of the athletics namely javelin, discus and shot taking part out of flight space in the corner of the cricket field.  There was also the Archery which was in another corner of the field and the slalom which was usually fitted in between basketball on the tennis court. If this wasn’t enough for the first few years, swimming was also included at Leyland Leisure Centre on the Friday night as the competitors arrived, being discontinued due to the amount of time involved.   

Meanwhile back to the Games, the various events gradually came to a conclusion, the table tennis always over running due to the large number of competitors. The high point was always the final of the wheelchair basketball which was usually Southport verses another team.  This was followed by the presentation of the major trophies with the sponsors usually on hand to do the presentation with that years chairman tidied up to officiate. Mr Krishnan from the Southport Hospital always used to thank the organisers and the helpers on behalf of the competitors.

There only remained us to clear everything away for another year then head home, count money, then head out again to the committee meal which usually included the members of the foreign team as they would only be flying out the following day and various members of the Southport team who had assisted over the weekend. One of these, to take this article back to the introduction was the captain of the Southport Basketball Team, one Phil Craven, who could be seen at the opening of the Paralympics next to the Queen, he is now Sir Philip Craven, the President of the International Paralympic Committee.  

            After that weekend I used to go back to work on the following day, Monday, paid the money into the account and had a rest at my desk, which was allowed as it was a bank appointed job I had done all weekend.               

            So this is just my personal version of the Games story, I have contacted the rest of the committee still around, and I hope with the help of Dave, Barbara, Chris, John and anyone else I can find to write the full history of the North West Paraplegic Games in due course. So if any one can remember those days, please let me know.

Peter Houghton

On one occasion when we were really short of money, our old home Fox Lane provided a very successful evening when Phil Cool’s new comedy night invited Jasper Carrott and the funds from the raffle that night kept the Games going. Another year we got a brewery on board, they had pub games nights to raise funds all around the area, I remember the first one in the Lancs. & Yorks pub in Bamber Bridge and another one in the Roebuck in Leyland.

            A major aid to the committee and the Games were the helpers that we as a committee could muster, Brian with his extended family and friends not only provided the fresh produce for the meals but also the helpers to prepare it, any relation of the committee was pressed into service, I managed to get bank staff, family and later Rotaract involved.      

            As I said the teams were usually based at a hospital with a spinal unit, Southport being the home team with the largest number of competitors which was handy as they usually won a lot of the major trophies so we did not have to employ Cyril to recover them. The other teams included (I can’t remember them all) : Ponteland – based at Newcastle Spinal Unit, Pinderfields – Wakefield, Leosowe – Wirral, Lodge Moor – Sheffield, Oswestry, Hexham, a Scottish team and the team from Stoke Mandeville which had varied names over the years including SPAC. From the start, there was an international presence as team flew in from Sweden, Switzerland, France, Holland and the most consistent foreign visitors from Dublin in Ireland.

            This was the cause of our only disagreement with the Paraplegic Hierarchy at Stoke Mandeville as they discovered that we called our event one year, the Leyland International Paraplegic Games, they complained that there’s was the only International event, our response, if some teams were from another country the event was international, anyway the posters had been printed and distributed so it was too late to change.     

            After the first few years, the little trophies we gave to the winner of the various classes while being received well were not as popular being just something else to dust. The committee then each year came up with different useful items that could be engraved with “North West Games 19xx 1st” or 2nd as we provided trophies for both. These included mugs, cups, beer glasses and wine glasses.