The West’s Past – The Associated Swimming Clubs of Glasgow

Extracted from “One Hundred Years of Scottish Swimming” – Peter Bilsborough (1988)

The Associated Swimming Clubs of Glasgow
In the late 1860’s, a distinction had been made between amateur and professional swimmers. However, in 1874 the ‘national’ governing body of swimming, the Swimming Association of Great Britain (S.A.G.B.), allowed amateurs and professionals to compete against each other.
By 1880 in England this had created a variety of practical, social and moral problems amongst swimming supporters.
In September 1884 the S.A.G.B. put its house in order by adopting and rigorously enforcing a new amateur definition.
It informed every club, including those in Scotland, that after 1st January 1885 any amateur who competed in a mixed race would lose his amateur status.
Such a fundamental policy change required careful consideration.
In November 1884 the secretary of one of Glasgow’s leading clubs, West of Scotland Swimming Club, issued a circular to all local clubs, ‘inviting their co-operation for the purpose of, amongst other things, defining the status of our local swimmers, and coming to some definite settlement on the amateur question.’

Within a month, six of the city’s leading clubs — Eastern, Clyde, Western, South Side, Leander, and West of Scotland — sat down to consider the need for a Scottish national body which would ‘look after the manifold interests of the art’ and settle the vexed question of amateurism and professionalism.
John Lamont, Western S.C. suggested that the time had come to institute a Scottish association on amateur lines which ‘would, by exhibitions, lectures, the dissemination of literature, etc., extend the influence of the art of swimming’.
He proposed that the body should be called the Scottish Amateur Swimming Association.

Everyone agreed in principle that a national body should be constituted on amateur lines but it was decided that in the first instance it should limit its efforts to Glasgow and the surrounding district since the small number of other clubs scattered around the country had not been asked to deliberate. They decided to adopt the title Associated Swimming Clubs of Glasgow (A.S.C.G.) and after appointing a four man executive, two sub-committees were formed to draw up rules and draft a constitution.
The fledgling association agreed to forward copies of these to all known clubs in Scotland and to encourage them to form their own district associations with the ultimate object of amalgamating into a more national organisation.
The A.S.C.G. wasted no time in dealing with the status of local swimmers. It agreed with the S.A.G.B. that professionalism had no place in competitive swimming. It ruled that from 1 January 1885 only amateur swimmers could compete in contests organised by member clubs.
It defined an amateur as:

‘one who has never competed for a money prize, declared wager, or staked bet, and who has never taught, pursued, or assisted in the practice of swimming, or any other athletic exercise as a means of pecuniary gain, and who has not knowingly or without protest taken part in any competition with anyone who is not an Amateur.’

After the demise of the A.S.C.S’s Half Mile Scottish Championship very few money prizes had been offered at open events by clubs in Glasgow. A few local swimmers had accepted travelling expenses from East coast clubs but it was a rare occurrence. Consequently the A.S.C.G’s rule was widely accepted by local swimmers.
From its inception, the A.S.C.G. created sound structures for the consolidation and expansion of club swimming in Glasgow.
To guarantee consistency and fair play, it introduced a set of binding, universal rules for swimming and water polo competitions. It inaugurated annual swimming championships, introduced an inter-club water polo knock-out competition and a Glasgow North v Glasgow South representative game.
It also gave advice and assistance to young clubs who were holding competitions and entertainments for the first time.
During 1886 it began a series of meetings with Glasgow Corporation Baths Committee and through influence and agitation obtained favourable hire terms for evening practice sessions. Periodic
meetings brought further concessions.
It also arranged annual meetings for club secretaries to discuss dates and venues for local club galas and introduced an award scheme to raise skill levels and encourage further interest in swimming.
After 1885 the A.S.C.G. tried hard to encourage clubs in other districts to form local amateur associations. However, in most areas of the country there were not enough clubs. Those that were interested in associating were allowed to affiliate to the A.S.C.G. Clubs from Dundee and Dunfermline joined in 1886.
In Edinburgh there were enough clubs to make a local association viable but the A.S.C.G’s good intentions met with opposition from a couple of clubs who insisted on organising the occasional
mixed gala.
The A.S.C.G’s President, Hugh McCulloch, who was a firm supporter of amateurism and very keen to pave the way for the establishment of a national governing body , visited Edinburgh to ‘have a chat over the matter’. He returned to Glasgow with firm support for the A.S.C.G’s amateur clause.
By 1887 the Association’s positive contributions to swimming developments, the establishment of an increasing number of clubs outside the west of Scotland, most of whom were keen to be involved in national competition, and a more tolerant attitude from a couple of influential Edinburgh clubs, intensified the need for the establishment of a national amateur association.

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