John is a long-time club-goer from Darlington, and sent his story about his club experiences to us.
This very personal, sometimes funny, sometimes poignant, account brings in many aspects of club life. John incorporates here the important contributions clubs make to local communities, ranging from entertainment to charity, assisting the elderly, taking people of trips to the seaside and providing a venue for local people. He also is deeply concerned about the decline of clubs and has some very good suggestions for ways in which they could be saved for the future. You may agree with all or some of them - read on and you can decide for yourself!
‘My name is John and I first joined a WMC when I was 21 years old in 1971. I couldn’t join at 18 because my father was not a member. He was a staunch pub man.
I became a member of Haughton WMC in Darlington. Even thought there were 2 pubs within 100 yards of it, the club thrived for many years. Indeed it once won or was runner-up in the “Club of the Year” awards.
A pint cost about 10p and the light for the snooker tables 5p (disgusting – only 2p at Harrowgate Hill Club!).
Most of my schoolmates joined the club and so we kept in contact regularly. I still frequented pubs but not so often.
Clubs were cheap then, beer and entertainment. There was always something going on. Dancing (to a real band), bingo, singer, comedian, pop groups, etc.. Then there was Games Night and Ladies Night. Big name entertainment at affordable prices.
Brewery reps would call in regularly on afternoons and buy a pint for everybody in the club at that time (oh, happy days!).
Often the Club would have offers on such as 10p off a pint for one, or even two months. Breweries sometimes arranged promotional nights where you would get a free pint for every two that you bought, or they might have a “Mr and Mrs Quiz Night” with packs of cans for prizes.
In those days, I enjoyed a game of snooker (although I was never very good), dominoes and darts.
In my formative years, when I was young and still a virgin, me and my mates would all go to the ASE (Engineers Club) every Monday - WHY!!! Strippers and a comic or group. For some this was the first sight of a woman in the flesh and not just a picture in a magazine.
I remember one night that a stripper had not turned up, so an associate of theirs called “Big Julie” took to the stage for the last spot. She got the biggest cheer of the night.
Bingo was played at the interval - no money - you were paid out with beer tokens. An excellent idea, as it ensured that you would come back the next week. Not that we needed any encouragement!
In general, it was pot luck. You might see a future star, a fading one or ones who would never be either.
But if the turn never arrived we wanted our money back. In place of the artist would probably be an “open mike”. But after a while you got sick of seeing the same thing.
I have seen some good acts: Ace of Clubs, Paul Daniels, Les Dawson, Chubby Brown. And amongst others, Billy J Kramer and The Dakotas, who went to a night club with us afterwards.
After many years loyal support to Haughton WMC, I became ill with a form of heart disease called Cardiomyopathy - for which there is no cure but it can be managed. It is one of the Sudden Adult Death Syndromes. Dilated Cardiomyopathy, from which I suffer, is the single most reason for heart transplants in the UK .
I went to the AGM, a thing I always used to do. Afterwards I approached the secretary to ask if he would display a poster for me on the Club notice board. He said yes and I was grateful (I run a support group in my area).
He failed to display my poster and I was not pleased. I lived a long way from the club and needed to get 2 buses. I decided there and then to cancel my membership at the end of the year and started to go to a more local club, Darlington WMC.
After a few months, I offered to get my membership out but the secretary told me that he was happy for me to sign in on each visit. I told him that I was grateful but felt that I should become a member.
I was made very welcome and gradually people became aware of my medical condition. I asked if I might hold a one-off raffle to raise funds for the Cardiomyopathy Association. The answer was yes, provided that I got the prizes together.
Well. I called at every major retailer in the town and got a variety of prizes. These included: Argos vouchers, M & S vouchers, Macdonald’s meal vouchers, a jacket worn by Curlie Watts in Coronation Street with certificate of authenticity, a book from Waterstones, a bottle of rum from the Club.
I think in all we had about 20 prizes. I expected to make about £30 to £50 but received a cheque for £150.
Back briefly to my first club.
We used to take our children on the annual trip to Redcar . At one time a convoy of as many as 11 coaches set off for the day.
Children and wives went free and the kids also got a bit of pocket money. Games were organised on the beach with sweets awarded to winners. In later years, families were left to their own means. The men or most of them, went to the local WMC.
I couldn’t see the point of that. If I wanted a drink, I would have stayed at home.
At Easter was a party with chocolate eggs, crisps and pop. Some kind of entertainment was also provided.
My present club, Darlington WMC, put on a pantomime at Christmas and provide selection boxes too. Up until a few years ago, pensioner members were also treated to a Christmas dinner, cooked on the premises.
2009 and the Future.
Like most clubs we are struggling- afternoon sessions are shorter- 12.00- 4.00. Not many use the club at these times but, for people like myself, who cant go out on a night and people who work nights, the club is a vital part of our lives.
Some traditions from the past are not now practicable or of use in this modern era such as no women allowed in the bar, no cover charge for entertainment.
A club should be about its members needs and not just about profits.
To me, it looks bleak. Pubs offer food, cheaper drinks and in many cases entertainment too, live football on TV etc.
Some clubs need to consider down-sizing.
Supermarkets and off licenses must be made to charge more realistic prices for all drinks sold.
Women must be allowed to become full members in every CIU club and also have access to the bar. Member’s views must be listened to and considered seriously.
Let’s go back to strippers, if need be. Let’s be honest, women love them too.
Why not bring back the library? Members could provide books. Clubs might even qualify for Lotto or European Community grants to set up and stock them.
Make the WMC the centre of the community again. Offer the use of rooms (free) for local groups to meet. People will always buy drinks and crisps be they beer or lemonade.
Advertise rooms for functions (wedding receptions, engagement parties or even funeral parties). This could also lead to catering opportunities.
I think that suppliers should hold promotional events. Quiz night. Darts and snooker exhibitions.
Darts and domino fliers, i.e., £3 entry- when you are knocked out you get pie and peas. Any excess money after the cost of pie and peas would be paid out in prize money.
Without change, clubs will die!
An important part of British society will be lost forever!’
©2008/14 - Club Historians