A lad’s fear of going in at the deep end

IN his younger days, Walter Wiseman enjoyed his football...but dreaded his swimming lessons. That was many decades ago, but memories of playing in the Yarmouth Thursday League and his unhappy experiences in the old outdoor unheated pool have stayed with him throughout his life and resurfaced recently when I wrote here about those two sporting recreations.

“It was very interesting to read your article about Bandsman Jack Blake and Thursday football. I was involved in both cases!” writes 92-year-old Mr Wiseman, of Blake Road, Yarmouth.

“In 1931, I was a very junior Yarmouth Grammar School boy, aged 12, when swimming classes were introduced as part of the curriculum which I did not look forward to.

“In fact, my nose would bleed in the afternoon before going down to the pool to face Bandsman Jack Blake (a retired British middleweight professional boxing champion).

“There was no escape as I shivered at the shallow end of the pool (on Marine Parade in Yarmouth). To have refused to jump into the freezing water, I might have been switched to the deep end where the diving boards were situated. Needless to say, I jumped in!”

But Bandsman Blake met his match in young Walter Wiseman, for the schoolboy never learned to swim despite his instructor’s fearsome reputation. “I had no confidence,” he admits.

Four years later, having just left the grammar school at the age of 16, his Thursday soccer league experiences began with Newtown Athletic under their manager, Joe Watts, and he continued to play until the outbreak of war in 1939.

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“I was always goalkeeper, but I was the only goalkeeper who failed to save many shots,” he tells me with a chuckle.

“We once lost 27-1 to Burgh Castle, but I was not responsible for four of the goals – I was off receiving treatment for an injury when they were scored!”

Mr Wiseman recalls that during this period the following item appeared in the Mercury – a true story: “The Newtown goalkeeper, who had let four goals past him, was seen to be approached by his father, Percy Wiseman, well-known in the building trade.

“A wag in the referee’s dressing room remarked: ‘I expect the ‘keeper is asking him for an estimate to build a brick wall across the goal!’”

According to Walter Wiseman, over the four seasons from 1935-1939 the following teams were among those competing in the Thursday League: Yarmouth Co-Op A and B, St Luke’s, Lowestoft Co-Op A and B, Newtown Athletic, Swifts, Shop Assistants, St George’s, and Controls. Over that four-year period, the Newtown Athletic line-up involved some 25 players, including policemen Harry Wright and Joe Burniston, plus Len Warner, Les Lawn, R and Arthur Bowles, H Leak, G Browne, W Smith, R Blyth and F Beaney.

“The games on the Beaconsfield were well supported from the touchlines and sometimes on the Wellesley for cup games,” adds Mr Wiseman.

“The Beaconsfield chief groundsman, Charlie Barber, kept us all in order. I also played in the Saturday Borough League, but that’s another story.”

In an old grammar school exercise book he has meticulously recorded the scores of every football match in which he played, first for school teams, then Old Grammarians and their Wanderers successor, and for the Thursday and Borough League sides.

He has had a life-long love of the game, and has been a Norwich City supporter for 77 years.

During the war he served in the 4th Norfolks before transferring to the Royal Army Ordnance Corps.

At first Mr Wiseman was in the family building firm, but during the 1960s he decided on a complete change of direction by enrolling at Keswick College as a mature student and graduating as a teacher, joining the staff at the Greenacre Junior School in Yarmouth.

“I’ve enjoyed a very good life,” he declares.

In response to my feature about local businesses that delivered to your doorstep, Richard Kerridge, of Parkland Drive, Bradwell, tells me it reminded him instantly of his youth “when my mother did most of her weekly grocery shopping with Walter Halfnight, who had a small shop at 78 High Street, Gorleston.

“He regularly came to our house to take the weekly order which was followed very shortly with a delivery of the required goods by a cheerful young lad called Teddy.

“The delivery bike had a small front wheel to allow space for the large tubular framed carrier in which the various customer orders could be stacked. There was, of course, the usual metal advertising panel below the crossbar with Mr Halfnight’s name and address.

“He was a lovely man who always had time for everyone, including us children.

“He was a member of the Magic Circle, and often took the time when collecting an order at our back door to show us one or two of his amazing tricks.

“Incidentally, I don’t think many people knew but he had suffered badly during the first world war when he was gassed. The result was that his health was never very good but, despite that, he remained cheerful and was a wonderful inspiration to everyone who knew him.

“His wife helped him in the shop, and I remember they had a daughter called Joy, who was about my age. In fact, I recall being invited to one or more of her birthday parties held in their home above the shop.”

Also, Mr Kerridge asks if I remember Charles Harrison who appeared in some of the first Wellington Pier Pavilion shows after the last war (“He was a very funny comic with a rubber face, rather like Les Dawson”).

Yes, I do: as a child I saw him as the bill-topper in one of the first Showtime summer shows there after the war, if I recall correctly; Roy Barbour was another early post-war bill-topper there.