The summer is edging ever closer as footballers swap their boots for pads and some even get caught up with the events at SW19.
This week Angela Kelly talks to local tennis official Andy Taylor about his love for the sport
WHEN young Andy Taylor joined a tennis club as an enthusiastic 13 year-old inspired by the magic of Australia’s Wimbledon champion Rod Laver he was lucky to get in at all.
“Tennis clubs then mainly had adult members and there were very few youngsters allowed in,” explained Andy, now 61 and vice-chairman of the Bolton Sports Federation Tennis League.
The keen lad and his friend, Rob Whalley, however, must have impressed officials of Holcombe Brook Tennis Club because they allowed the duo to join – provided, of course, that they wore the obligatory white kit, had their own racquets and behaved themselves.
This was the first official experience of tennis for Ramsbottom-born Andy, and proved important not only in his own life but in the subsequent lives of his family. The two lads were eventually joined by a few other youngsters “but it was very much a ‘them and us’ situation with the older members,” recalled Andy.
He continued to play there while he was a pupil at Bury Grammar School but only played tennis occasionally when he went to Southampton University to study electrical engineering.
Back in the North again, he met and married his wife Kath, who is from Bolton, and they lived in Blackrod. She also played tennis, and the couple joined Bank Top Tennis Club in Bolton where, with other similar couples, they played regularly and had a thriving club of around 40 members. They took part in mixed and handicap tournaments and Andy and Kath’s standard improved.
As time went on, however, and children intervened for the young couples there, dedicating voluntary time to maintaining the club waned and it closed in the 1990s. So the Taylors joined Lostock Tennis Club and, when their son and daughter came along, they also became interested in the sport and the Taylors played as a family.
“I think that’s one of the great strengths of tennis generally and the Lostock club in particular that families can play together,” added Andy. “Often, children start playing and then their parents start, too.”
Andy has enjoyed a lengthy sporting “career” playing at the club, including competing in the Bolton Sports Federation Tennis League, reaching Division Two standard.
He got involved in helping run competitions when he was match secretary of the Federation’s mixed league in the late ‘90s, and moved on to a variety of administrative roles, including chairman. Lostock Tennis Club now has a membership of more than 100 adults and 30 juniors – including one just two years old! The league, however, peaked in membership about five or six years ago and, as Andy explained, “there has been a bit of a tail-off since.” The league now has 24 clubs involved and runs a senior men’s league and a mixed league from the end of April to mid-August as well as a junior competition. There is now also a winter league and an over-50s afternoon league, which are both well-supported.
Much has changed in tennis equipment since Andy’s first wooden Slazenger racquet, which he believes has helped the sport for everyone. “I don’t think older players would still be playing if it weren’t for the lighter and better racquets now,” he stated. “I know I couldn’t play with a wooden racquet.”
He welcomes the greater interest in tennis through TV and admires stars like Novak Djokovic, but believes that the long-awaited “Murray effect” simply hasn’t happened.
Andy still believes in the potential enjoyment for all and points to two Sunday open days – at Lostock Tennis Club on May 18 and Markland Hill Tennis Club on May 25 – when anyone can go along and have a go.
“It’s well worth it,” he encouraged. “Everyone can enjoy tennis.”
- To find out more about local organised tennis go to www.bsftennisleague.co.uk