Sports clubs – and in particular tennis clubs – have been really important to me. Apart from the exercise involved in playing sport both competitively and socially, it is a great way to meet people and make new friends, many of whom will share the same interests.
The first club I joined after I had moved to London, in 1976/77, was the Ealing Lawn Tennis Club. The club had great facilities and a large number of members. I did not find it to be a very sociable club but I was not there long enough to find out for sure, because I soon moved to Neville Road in the Pitshanger area of Ealing, where the local tennis club was the Brentham Lawn Tennis Club
The club was in Meadvale Road and adjoined Pitshanger Park, within easy walking distance of my home at the tme. I was a member between 1978 and 1985 which coincided with the time period of my first marriage. The club was excellently run with a large clubhouse, and had grass tennis courts – which I preferred to play on whenever possible – as well as one or two hardcourts for winter tennis. They also had an active cricket team with home pitches, and the games I remember watching were of reasonably high standard. I played in one of the mens tennis teams for many years – the format was three doubles “pairings” per team and we played in the West Middlesex Tennis League, the aim being to win our “division” and get promoted to the next level – or to avoid relegation! I enjoyed my time there – it was a social club – but I do not remember any specific friends from that period.
Although this club is now part of the Virgin Active Group, when I became a club member with my second wife Michele in about 1986, it was a privately owned club – part of the Beckwith Brothers property empire – and set up under the Business Expansion Scheme (BES), a scheme which I later used to raise finance for my Telecoms business. I had noticed the new club listed as a BES opportunity a few years earlier and had applied for a small number of Shares.
The club, near the River Thames in Dukes Meadows Chiswick, had every facility you could wish for in a modern Health and Fitness club, with dance studios, a fully equipped gymnasium, a large heated swimming pool with sauna room, and even a creche for overburdened parents. The tennis facilities were superb with indoor courts, outdoor courts with astro turf and even some clay courts – the only disappointment for me was that there were no grass tennis courts.
Friends from The Riverside Club
Tony Haslam The Manager of the club at the time and a great friend of mine to this day. Tony knew the Beckwiths personally, and under his guidance, the Club was well run and in excellent hands! Unsurprisingly, the club membership flourished – at one time I believe there were about 2,000 members – and Michele and I both met and became friends with some special people, most of whom like myself were entrepeneurial by nature.
Amongst those friends and tennis buddies were also:
“Cynical and obsessive. Excited about things that change the world, skiing, mountain biking and surfing.” I was doing some research to see if I could find a Linked In profile for Marcus, or something similar, and came across the above quote for somebody called Marcus Cullen: if tennis was substituted in place of the other sports I would believe it was the Marcus Cullen I know from Richmond! The link provided does show that he remains very active in business, and still trading from his Kew Bridge Road property.
Marcus is a great fellow, and a very generous person: he is also an entrepeneur with some past experience in telecoms, and like myself, he has family history involving Africa. He is also a pretty mean tennis player with a wicked top spin shot – of which I was forever jealous! I remember him telling me one story about him (nearly) being drummed out of one tennis club for drilling a ball in the middle of one supposedly social game, which nearly took out the lady on the other side of the net! Michele and I socialised many times together with Marcus and his wife Claire.
Charlie probably knows more about me and my personal life and business history than any other friend, and I have covered our friendship in more detail elsewhere. He shares my passion for both cricket and tennis. Suffice to say that as my neighbour in Chiswick, we were both members of the Riverside, and played a fair amount of tennis together, including sometimes on our Sunday morning sessions when we were a player short – see below.
Fuad El-Hadery, Paul Webster and Mark Oppe
Fuad Paul Mark and myself made up a reglar foursome for Sunday morning tennis at the Riverside Club, which was followed by coffee and doughnuts and gossip. This went on for many years until I left the Riverside in about 2006, but I did invite them to the new club at Richmond so we could continue the sessions on grass courts! All three were great company: Fuad lived in Barnes and was a computer software consultant, and a very good friend and neighbour of Paul – who was/is a professional photographer specialising in the food industry with offices in Hammersmith. Mark was an independent consultant for various businesses in the Courier industry, and a keen sailor. He also played for one of the local cricket teams as wicket keeper. The last time I heard from him, he was on his boat in some exotic Caribbean location!
Carlo Vagliasindi and Bridget Hunt I met both Carlo and Bridget first at the Riverside Club, and they became great friends of ours. Carlo played tennis to a good standard, and we often played together during the week. Bridget, on the other hand, could be found in the Gym or in the dance studio. Carlo was from Sicily, and I think his family were well connected He drove at the time a black Ferrari, and I remember on several occasions all four of us proceeding at very high speed down the A3 road to one of the clubs where Salsa music and dancing was the chief attraction – both Carlo and Bridget (who was excellent) were “into” Salsa at the time, and I think that is how they first met Always immaculately turned out, Carlo owned an upmarket Men’s Clothing shop in Richmond: some years later they both invested in another upmarket shop called Danielis Gelateria which has had rave reviews and I can confirm that the icecream is outstanding! Bridget also has a strong “on-line” presence with her workout programmes, Six Pack Chick. As fellow entrepeneurs, I am glad to see that they have both achieved great success!
The Bevans – Chris and Fiona, Simon and Anne-Marie
Chris and Simon are brothers – twins if I remember correctly – and they both married very attractive girls who were formerly air hostesses! Chris and Fiona at the time lived near us in Chiswick, and became great friends. As I recall, Chris did not play much tennis, but they both used the other facilities on a regular basis – particularly the gym. Chris was an Air Traffic Controller for many years, and had a PPL (private pilots licence) and part ownership of a light Cessna aircraft (I think it was a Cessna) which was serviced at an airfield 40 miles out of London. Knowing my interest in flying, Michele and I were invited several times on private flying trips – normal destination Brittany, France. Just as my parents had done, Chris and Fiona work together on “doing up” properties using Fiona’s skills and contacts in design and property refurbishment. Simon Bevan was a Captain in the Royal Navy, and when I met him, he was doing a desk job at the MoD (Ministry of Defence) and pondering his future. We visited them and their daughter Lia at their home in Esher on several occasions, and I remember some particularly special “black tie” events that we attended with both Bevan families. I notice that Simon and Anne-Marie moved home in 2014.
Julian Feinstein – Deceased Julian was South African and formerly a professioal bodybuilder, with a great sense of humour. He lived in Richmond and was often at the gym at the Riverside. He was a terrific character, and he knew some of my previous friends and colleagues from Merchant Investors, in particular Chris and Jenny Efstratiou, and Robin Fielder. He was a Director of Robin’s company Leadership Development Ltd and a popular public speaker and motivator. Michele and I spent enjoyable times socially with him and his wife, and I was very sad to hear of his death in Feb 2016.
The club had five teams of men’s tennis, playing in the same West Middlesex League as my previous club, Brentham: the first team had seriously good (young) players which often included our professional coaches. During my time there, I played in all five teams – on only one occasion for the first team when they were desperate, and short of a player. I seem to remember that my unfortunate partner was Marcus, and – unsurprisingly – we lost every set.
After my temporary business set-backs in about 2002/2003, I left the Riverside Club and joined the Richmond Lawn Tennis club which is in Old Deer Park about a 5 – 10 minute drive from my home in Chiswick, and very close to Kew Gardens. There were other good reasons apart from financial considerations – Riverside membership was more than £230 per month. For the preceding 10 years or so the Riverside had for me lost the ambience that it once had. The facilities were still excellent, but the club itself was not the same as before.
The Richmond Club at the time had 9 grass tennis courts as well as hard courts, a large club-house (part of which could be rented for any event – I remember running an “open mic” music event there for several months) – a large car park, Cricket, Archery, Rugby fixtures in the winter months and – probably most important – the members were very sociable. Many of the members I played tennis with were also refugees from the Riverside Club. The only downside was that all courts were “outside” and so we were at the mercy of the English weather.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time there, and again played tennis for the teams in the same West Middlesex League. Weekends in the summer were idyllic, when on a sunny day and armed with a Gin and Tonic or Pimm’s, one could sit and survey the various social tennis games under way, and check out the talent!
Friends from the Richmond Club
In common with the Riverside Club, there were many great characters at Richmond, but to name a few that I remember particularly well:
Jason Squire Jason is an entrepeneur like myself, and we did have an unsuccessful attempt at winning the club doubles senior tournament together. An experienced tennis player and all-round great bloke, I see on his LinkedIn Profile that he is also an author – something he never mentioned to me! I see also on Facebook that he has now gone south to live in Brighton and Hove and still playing tennis – good for you mate!
Andrew Billinge Andrew was a regular member of a mens doubles that we organised, and we played together many times. Another really nice guy, some years later he and his family – they live right next to the Richmond Club hard courts – visited Crete and stayed in the same Villa that I had previously rented, and so he understands better than most why I left the UK!
Colin Pow I lost touch with Colin but he was one of our regular foursome for men’s doubles. He has a twin brother Andy, and both were originally at Riverside Racquets. Despite being Scottish, both are all-round good guys and decent tennis players!
Peter Brook (deceased) Peter was a lovely man, one of the world’s true gentlemen, and we played social tennis together on many occasions before he became too ill to play. There is a Peter Brooks Memorial Mixed Doubles Tournament in his memory. Sadly missed.
Lee Neale Lee, another great character, is a Community Tennis Coach, and was on the winning side of the men’s doubles final that Jason and I lost – see above! Apart from his interests in tennis, Lee is a very talented guitarist and performer, which meant that we had more in common than tennis.