It’s an honor and a privilege for me to pay this tribute on behalf of Leander Swimming Club to Tony Holmes who, with no disrespect to anyone else, was our greatest Chief Coach and probably his achievements, endurance, dedication, passion and inspiration will never be matched again in the history books of Nottingham Leander Swimming Club.
His remarkable journey spanned 32 years with Leander, having previously coached at Carlton Forum, I have been fortunate enough to have been around over those 32 years to see and experience Tony’s skills in Technicolor.
Lets just reflect for a moment and think about the commitment and dedication required to consistently deliver over that number of years balancing as he did so well, a full time job, being a full time husband and father with many many hours on the poolside inspiring and motivating swimmers who let me tell you had every excuse in the book not to train and skip a few lengths…… from wanting the loo, feeling sick, pretending to get cramp, feeling dizzy and the all time classi…..my goggles are broken!!!
The hormones, the tantrums, the winning, the loosing, false starts, the bus trips, hot pools, children crying, writing race numbers on hands, chip shop suppers, pub visits……with older swimmers of course, bus drivers getting lost and of course the dreaded parents yes they think they know best!!!
Tony went through this roller coaster ride for 32 years and he had a fantastic knack of staying calm crossing the generation gaps, being able to handle a distraught 9 year old, a teenager with mixed hormones that nobody but Tony could get the best out of and many of those “loving” parents who he cleverly got involved on the poolside over the years to keep them out of mischief.
If Tony was standing here now I know he could recount many of the achievements of the Swimming Club and individuals over the years locally, in the Midlands and Nationally. We also know that he could sometimes use 100 words when 10 would do and we loved him for that…You will be delighted to know that I’m not going to recount all of Leander’s successes but just one… as it’s very vivid in my memory and I remember clearly the pride and twinkle in Tony’s eyes on the day, I went along as a supporter and although we did not win achieving the National Speedo League final in 2009 was a fantastic achievement, we also got a splendid trophy for reaching the final……..I thought I would just read part of the blog for that day…
The squad and Leander supporters climbed onto the coaches at the David Lloyd centre Aspley on the sunny morning of Sunday 26th April in high spirits after a squad photo session to record everyone in their new kit. The supporters complete with flags, balloons, ‘Robin Hood’ hats, wigs, rattles, drums and Leander banners (we were determined to make our presence felt) boarded one bus, whilst the squad and coaches travelled on the other. On the way – relatively trouble free apart from a small delay on the final stretch into Sheffield – hand-waving flags were distributed to the spectators, and the squad were given a pep talk by Tony Holmes.
How he loved his pep talks…….
If you want to see the joy and happiness that Tony helped bring to this Swimming Club look no further than the photographs on our website of that great day in April in 2009 as a perfect example……..and the footnote to this story….
Tony said to Katie (as he cried on poolside) ‘I have waited 26 years for this’. Then when he got on the bus he dropped the trophy and the lid clattered down the stairs!
As Chief Coach he also worked with the Leander Committee, the team of coaches, my wife Sue who is club secretary, let me tell you he could always manage Sue far better than I ever have ……..they have so many great moments to share about Tony…….here is just a few…
The younger swimmers at Counties were always judged as much on their ability to supply sweets as their swimming, he loved the chewy haribos.
Tony’s Black Brief case…………. yes Tony and the brief case went everywhere together and it was regularly said if anything was missing, check Tony’s briefcase and like magic things would be found.
I was talking to Tony on his way out of a pool one evening and he said he couldn’t stop because he was off in his caravan for the week end purely from a social courtesy point of view, I asked him where he was going……. his answer…
“Anywhere Mrs. Holmes tells me to…….!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”
Hmm Tony we all have that challenge…….
I always remember him saying this to the swimmers when they used to ask if they could do something different to the sessions he had set:-
“When you are as witty, charming, good looking and sophisticated as I am, then you can set the sessions”!! (Said with a cheeky smile on his face) Hence, no one ever got to set the session!!!
On poolside he always used to speak to our girls about “Who invented the light bulb?” and then discuss Edison with them! Something they will always remember.
Must admit……..I’m glad I never had to suffer that one……
“I genuinely don’t have the words to express the way I feel currently. I just remember all he great times we had together at Carlton Forum where you were my coach. Then at Nottingham Leander where we worked together. It was never coach and apprentice just a partnership”
However his greatest legacy in my mind will be the hundreds of children who like me have also become parents, he has given one of the greatest gifts you can give a child the ability to swim and swim well, you don’t have to be a world champion the gift gives you a sense of purpose, discipline, responsibility, learning to win and loose the right way, a work ethic and of course when I was a lad a hot shower every day.
The greatest tribute I can give Tony is what some of those inspired youngsters and parents have said……I’m not quoting any names but thank you for every ones contributions I wish I could read them all;
Such a lovely man who will be greatly missed by everyone – your register taking antics at the front of the coach were legendary”
Tony will be missed and his contribution to Nottinghamshire Swimming will always be remembered
And that’s Tony really- he made dreams come true for so many.
“Thank you Tony for everything.”
“I’ve been speaking to the girls about Tony and they were both saying although they both liked it when their coaches said “well done” after a swim, if Tony said “well done” it meant an awful lot to them, something special.”
“Tony always being there. Supporting, caring and nurturing the swimmers. His complete dedication and commitment to Nottingham Leander and his total love of the sport.”
“……it was not just about swimming; he was a people’s person”
“There are no words that can portray what an amazing man the world lost. Tony not only touched so many lives, he changed them. So many of us swimmers are the people we are today thanks to Tony…”
“We are still trying to come to terms with the fact that Tony will no longer be on poolside cheering on the Leander swimmers.
A pat on the head or a “well done” was seen as a job well done in the swimmers eyes. Every single gala that we went to he was there! What a lucky club Leander is to have had him coach our children.
Our thoughts are with his Family at this very difficult time. Leander may never be quite the same again, but I know the children will keep on winning to make him proud.”
His legacy is there for us all to see and for that we have to be grateful and positive that Tony gave 32 years to this Swimming Club and I’ll leave with my own words if I may and that’s to say……
Tony you will always be in my heart and what you gave to me and so many over the years especially in the Swimming World will never be equaled, you inspired me and many generations with your passion, energy and commitment to the sport I love…….
We all know death is the meeting ground for all mankind ……I think we’ll have a glass or two of red wine mate when we next meet up……..