125 LENGTHS: Swimming club celebrating its landmark year

BURNTISLAND;'Longest-serving member of the Burntisland Swimming Club committee, Bob Main, with current chairperson, Yvonne Coull, as the club celebrates its 125th anniversary'Photo ; WALTER NEILSON
BURNTISLAND;'Longest-serving member of the Burntisland Swimming Club committee, Bob Main, with current chairperson, Yvonne Coull, as the club celebrates its 125th anniversary'Photo ; WALTER NEILSON

THE hard copy of The Kirkcaldy Times that reported the formation of Burntisland Swimming Club sits on a shelf in a disused part of our office.

Its pages, stained brown by time, are as fragile as butterfly wings, the corners have all but crumbled into dust, and the smell of rotten 125-year-old paper stings the back of your throat.

Contrast that with how the swimming club itself has survived, and the differences are easily discernable.

While our archived newspaper may have seen better days (and was probably on its last legs in the 1950s), Burntisland Swimming Club has only gone from strength to strength.

With around 70 members, and a 15-strong committee, the club has remained a focal point for the swimming scene in Burntisland since it was founded, way back in August 1886.

Beach party

Over the past week, the proud membership celebrated the club’s 125th anniversary with a beach party, and a fun night in the town’s Beacon Leisure Centre.

And the longest serving committee member, Bob Main, believes the club’s surivival is a testament to the volunteers who have served it for well over a century.

“I’ve been involved in the club for 25 years, and there’s always been a pretty strong committee,” he told SportsPress. “The dedication of the committee is the reason why the club has reached 125.

“Lots of clubs, not just in swimming, have problems getting volunteers. If you don’t have a committee you don’t have an organisation, and if you don’t have an organisation, you don’t have a club.

“Obviously you need the swimmers as well, but there doesn’t seem to be a lack of youngsters wanting to come through. The Beacon is helpful in that they run basic lessons and take them so far, then we take them into the competitive aspect of it.”

Summer’s day

Despite its deteriorated state, the 125-year-old copy of the Kirkcaldy Times is still readable, and it details how on a summer’s day in August 1886, the Lorne Club, a flourishing Edinburgh swimming club of the day, chartered a steamer and sailed from Trinity for the annual Burntisland regatta.

Their 150 members put on a show for the thousands of spectators who flocked to the shore, demonstrating the art of competitive swimming, diving and life-saving in the harbour.

This was so well received that a local club was formed and within a week held its first competition at the West Breakwater for the club captaincy, which was won by John Hardie. 

The full title of the Club was, as it still remains today, Burntisland Amateur Swimming Club and Humane Society; the ‘Humane Society’ reflecting the great interest in life-saving.

The club has seen many changes since the early days spent swimming in the Firth of Forth, until the Burntisland outdoor pool opened in 1936.

When it closed in the mid 1980s the club’s future was under threat, but it survived by sourcing water time at Kirkcaldy Pool, before the opening of the Beacon Leisure Centre in 1997 gave Burntisland the luxury of an indoor pool to call home for the first time.

Competitive club

It remains a competitive club today, with qualified coaches teaching young swimmers aged five to 17, who represent the club at a number of local, and national events.

Bob added: “It was a big shock when they shut the open air pool in Burntisland, and it’s fair to say it was a threat to our existance.

“At that time we didn’t have any water time, but thanks to the efforts of the committee, and co-operation from the council, we got water in Kirkcaldy.

“I’m absolutely proud to see the club reach 125. It’s amazing to see youngsters who can barely swim a length when we get them, but they go through the system and end up doing thousands of metres in training every week in life, reaching quite high levels.”

In the past, the club has had two Scottish champions, the most recent of which was Daniel Del Vecchio in the 1990s, while two current swimmers, brother and sister Greg and Rebecca Turner, currently compete with the Fife Performance Squad.

The club is a member of the Scottish Amateur Swimming Association East District, competing in the Novice League and Fife League, with a great deal of success.

Top swimmers

Current club chairman, Yvonne Coull, is proud of the club’s record of producing top swimmers. “We are very competitive,” she explained. “It’s not so much age we’re interested in, it’s swimming ability.

“The main aim is to improve our swimmers and introduce them into competitive swimming – but we hope to do that within a fun environment.

“The amount of choices for children these days is so great with things like gymnastics and disco-dancing, so it’s a tribute to all club members that our club is still going.”

Should the club survive another 125 years, modern archiving advances should mean that looking back on this 2011 article won’t require a respirator.

It will however show a club blessed with committed volunteers swimming towards a bright future.