07 Oct 2016
St Andrew’s runs through Barry Walsh like a stick of rock he might have bought in the 1960s on the Club’s walks from London to Brighton. He was one of the members carrying the Club banner at the 100th Anniversary in Westminster Abbey, and will be there this November for the 150th. He credits the Club for introducing him to the theatre, camping, football coaching, and a world beyond his early Pimlico home in Lillington Street (site of what is now Lillington Gardens).
Barry reflects that ‘the Club has taught me so much.’He reels off the names of Club leaders and trustees who have made St Andrew’s such a great place. Alec Wizard; John, Jim, and Peter Scott; Bill Andrewes, Paul Reed, who opened Club membership to girls in the 1960s; of course Paul Whittle and George Cooksey, the ex PT Instructor who set the highest sporting and moral standards for St Andrew’s members (after whom the Club sports hall has been named). And many others.
What he skates over is his own enormous commitment to the Club. As the young member representative on the management committee; the Under 16s football coach; and later - for a total of some 15 years - as Chair of the Club. He would deny it, but it is clear that Barry as much as anyone is why St Andrew’s is very much alive, well, and about to celebrate its 150th anniversary.
The way Barry joined St Andrew’s reflects the achievement of the Club in surviving with over 700 members to be the oldest in the world. His first youth club, St Stephen’s off Regency Street, closed down in the early 1960s. So Barry joined St Andrew’s Club with other friends from St Stephen’s. They were initially viewed with some suspicion, but quickly became accepted – they had some good footballers with a record of beating St Andrew’s! Barry claims not to have been one of them, but was nevertheless, encouraged by the Club to qualify as an FA coach. In those days, the opposition included Queens College Oxford – reflecting a connection with a patron of the Club at its founding in 1866.
But, as today, the Club had more to offer than football. ‘It was the first time I went camping, and to the theatre’. Some summer camps were held in Sussex and Scotland, which featured a stop en route in Cumbria at Lord Lonsdale’s Estate. There were also weekend outings to ‘Woodrow’ in the country near Amersham.
Barry remembers meeting the great actor, John Neville, at the Fortune Theatre on a Club outing. It clearly made an impression. After deciding that sociology at university was not for him, he got a job working for Sir Bernard Miles at the Mermaid Theatre. ‘I met some wonderful characters, including Jonathan Miller, William Trevor, Sir Michael Redgrave and, most memorably, Edna’ O’Brien.’
After a few years Barry decided to escape to Greece to write a book. He confesses that it did not get written on the beaches under the Greek sun. Defensively, he claims to have read a lot. In fact, ‘a whole suitcase of books that I took with me.’
Forty-five years on, Barry now lives with his wife – a childhood sweetheart – on the outskirts of London. But along with a family and a successful career, he has still remained hugely involved with the Club. He has clearly seen it through both good and difficult times. Asked what he is proudest of, Barry thinks and then modestly responds that he feels that he ‘helped keep things going.’
He is clearly pleased that the Club has both survived and maintained its independence and standards during a period when he feels that local and central government sometimes seemed to think it knew best. He welcomes government statements about improving life chances, but also contrasts them with the kind of interest and degree of support that the Club once had from the public sector. He notes that, over twenty years ago, the GLC’s Inner London Education Authority granted the Club over £100,000 pa. ‘If at any time in our history we’d become a fully-funded, local authority club, we wouldn’t be celebrating 150 years of youth work this November.’
The book that took him to Greece did eventually get written. Published by Harpers, ‘The Pimlico Kid,’ is fiction, but draws heavily on his early teenage years. He feels that St Andrew’s, like a home, was and still could be an essential aid to survival and understanding what it takes to live properly in a challenging urban environment. Both taught him the importance of trust and ‘a sense of the right thing to do.’
There is no doubt that supporting St Andrew’s is, for Barry, the right thing to do. He fondly remembers Alec Wizard, a former Club President. He describes him as great driving force behind rebuilding the Club after the war and building the present premises. Barry says that Alec once told him, ‘You’ll never go far wrong batting hard for St Andrew’s’. A keen cricketer, who used to play for St Andrew’s in its annual matches against Eton, Barry is still most certainly doing just that.
At his book launch, 2013
Barry Walsh, Irene Wizard, Paul Whittle, Alison Hopgood, Alec Wizard MBE, With Lord Mayor of Westminster, Kevin Gardner, 1986