Tain Tennis Club
Attribution: unknown (Procession in High Street for Diamond Jubilee 1897)
Tain Tennis Club
Tain Tennis Club has a long history stretching back to at least the latter years of the 19th Century. From the latter half of the 1960s there have been fluctuations in the club’s fortunes and it even ceased to exist for a 10 year period (1975-1985) but the last few years have seen a definite upturn. During the season 2000, membership was 130 with 80 adult and 50 junior members. It is now thriving so well that it has been able to enter both men’s and ladies’ teams in the Highland League for the current season (2001) and also a team in the Scottish Cup Competition.
There are two club nights, a ladies’ lunchbreak session, a match training evening and 7 week sessions of Junior and Advanced Junior coaching are provided. There are also a number of special events take place each year such as the Annual Tournament.
The club has 3 all-weather courts which are situated on the outskirts of town on Knockbreck Road which is where the town’s tennis courts have always been. For the last few years a portakabin has served as a clubhouse. This was a marked improvement on the previous situation which was no building at all. Presumably the old tennis pavilion was demolished after the club disbanded in 1975. However the current success of the club justifies better facilities. Therefore, it is at present drawing up a 3-year plan to attract funding to build a new clubhouse and resurface the courts.
EARLY HISTORY OF TAIN TENNIS CLUB
It is not known when a tennis club was first established in Tain. Although records, in the form of a minute book, only date as far back as 1918 when the club recommenced after an interruption due to the First World War, there is a photo dated 1894 (see below) which means the club dates back to at least to the 1890s. The club continued to thrive, with a membership averaging around 80, until the Second World War when activities were interrupted once more. There were problems getting back to the pre-war level but by 1947 membership had got up to around 70. The club seemed to flourish reasonably well until the latter half of the 1960s when the first reference to lack of playing members is made in 1967. From then on problems in this direction increased until the club finally disbanded in 1975. Ten years were to elapse before the club was re-established in 1985 since when it has continued to the present day, though not without problems and not until the last few years has it attained the level of the original club in its heyday.
Throughout most of its early period there was a strong social aspect to the club. Annual/Tournament Dances and occasionally other dances being held every year and club teas seemed to have assumed great importance judging from the number of references in the minutes. These were sometimes a rather vexed issue as regarding the relative merits of ‘private’ and club teas. The former were usually provided by lady members, presumably at their own expense and, reading between the lines, there seems to have been some “kudos” attached to providing these and not a little competition. Occasional proposals/attempts to run club teas in their place usually met with failure although some form of this had to be resorted to while rationing persisted after the war.
The tennis side was, however, important also. As well as competitions for cups within the club, there was usually an Annual Open Tournament and Tain very occasionally competed for the Harmsworth Cup. It would appear that any club in the Inverness and Easter Ross area could challenge another club in the area to a match and the winner would receive this cup. Later on American Tournaments became popular especially as a means of fund raising. There are, however, only infrequent references to friendly matches against other clubs but perhaps they took place more often than their lack of mention in the minutes suggests.
Problems concerning the maintenance of the courts, club house and, latterly, car park, moves to change the surfacing of the courts and the related issue of fund raising, perhaps inevitably, have been recurring themes throughout the club’s history. The first mention of the bad state of the courts and the first appeal to an outside body, the Tain Council, for help goes back to 1921 – incidentally, the year in which a water supply was connected to the club by tapping a water main owned by the Northern Infirmary which ran to Knockbreck. (Electricity was not supplied to the site till 1970!) The original grass courts were converted to blaes and opened for play in April, 1924. If it was hoped that this would solve the problems of court maintenance. It was a false hope. Every few years repairs and new top dressing were necessary and it was the cost of this, together with a decline in membership rendering the expense unjustifiable, which ultimately led to the cessation of the club.
General repairs to the courts, boundary fences, clubhouse etc., the need to replace nets and lines and the cost of groundsman’s wages, meant that fund raising was always an issue, especially when the debt incurred by the conversion to blaes had to be paid off. Concerts, Cake and Candy stalls, Bazaars, Bridge Drives, Raffles and Dances, even a Stop Watch competition, were all resorted to in an effort to reduce debts. In 1950, a Coffee Morning with a Bring and Buy stall was introduced and this along with American Tournaments became the main means of raising money. In 1957, the car park was let as a caravan park. Although not an immediate success, this venture eventually produced a steady and increasing income and led to the club being more financially sound than ever before. Ironically, however, this co-incided with a falling off of interest in tennis and by the late 1960s things were reaching crisis proportions in that regard. Also the income from the caravan park was insecure, in that what had started out as a holiday park had become a residential site and was in fact illegal. Shortage of housing had probably led to the council turning a blind eye up to that point. After appeals to the Town Council, the Education Authority, past members and well-wishers, for financial help and attempts to enlist the help of the schools to encourage pupils to play more tennis, had failed to substantially improve the situation, the club struggled on for a few years before the final disbandment became inevitable.
It was 1985 before the club was re-established after being disbanded in 1975. The old blaes courts were done up with financial assistance from the Ross and Cromarty District Council’s Development and Leisure Services Department. The former club house seems to have disappeared meantime. A couple of years later, a successful Short Tennis programme was initiated as a winter activity in TRA Games Hall to stimulate interest in tennis among youngsters. However, it was not long before the old problems of court maintenance resurfaced. Starting in 1987, the club’s affairs are dominated by attempts to raise funds and trying to find out what was the best way forward for tennis in Tain. Tain Common Good Fund, the R&C D C, the Highlands and Islands Development Board and even the Beatrice Fund were targetted as sources of funding. Failure to be granted Charitable Status, however, disqualified them from the Beatrice Fund.
1987-1989 saw various meetings taking place with R&C D C officials, resulting, at one point, in a proposal to provide Common Good funding over three phases to include resurfacing courts, building changing rooms and the provision of one all weather court, but the club would have to raise £3000+ themselves. A concerted effort of fund raising followed. Street Sales, a Candy Stall at the Tain Gala, an appeal to local businesses for donations, a Fashion Show, a Car Boot Sale, a Coffee Morning, an Open Tournament, a concert by Spectrum Orchestra and a Sponsored Walk, were all undertaken. By January 1990, funds were at £2102.32. In despair of raising all the necessary funds by their own efforts alone, The Moray Firth Radio Charity Auction and the National Playing Fields Association were both appealed to.
Meanwhile, various ways of improving tennis provision in Tain were investigated, including different types of surfacing, the possibility of re-siting the courts elsewhere, for example the site of the former sawmill, and the hire of a portacabin type building from mid-May to mid-September. By now another problem was recurring. In August, 1990, the club president felt compelled to send a letter to club members for more support as participation in playing tennis was so low. With no definite solution yet on the horizon, the club was given a proposal by Martin Ramsay, Tain, in October, 1990, whereby he would purchase the site of the tennis courts and adjoining car park, organise and finance the building of new courts (probably cement) at another location (to be decided later) and he would build a club house. The legal aspects of this needed investigating and the club was still pursuing a proposal of their own with Tain Royal Academy Community Centre, to upgrade and have the use of the TRA courts with access to snack bar and toilet facilities. It was hoped these facilities along with the more central location would help in increasing the membership. However, a consultation by TRACC with the local council plus the advice of two different tennis equipment suppliers, established the existing courts as the ones most worth developing as they were level, solid, were of the correct measurements and had good boundaries. The council agreed to finance the equipping of the courts for the next two years but expected the club to have upgraded the courts by their own means by then. At this stage the club was in a vicious circle situation. The prevailing conditions and lack of facilities made it difficult to attract members. Lack of members made it difficult to attract funds so it was not able to improve facilities in order to attract more members.
Another ironical twist was to resolve the situation. In December, 1995, the Highland Regional Council’s Planning Committee turned down an application to build a £1.3m Leisure Centre in Tain and the Common Good cash earmarked for the Leisure Centre was redistributed to 13 projects in Tain, £70,000 being allocated to resurface the Tain tennis courts. Thus, after many fruitless years of endeavour, three new all weather courts were finally constructed and completed in June, 1996.
Margaret Urquhart, August 2000, from information gleaned from minutes and other club records.