HISTORY 1: From NALGO to Telepost – the history of a chess club

Bill Clarke

Bill Clarke tells Keith Tabner about the origins of Telepost Chess Club

You have really set the memory going and I am very happy to tell the tale. Even better I have dug out the original NALGO Chess club record book which I still have. We played our first game on 23rd August 1978 and I kept a detailed record of every game played up to the beginning of the 1984 season, by which time we were running three teams. As the Telepost club historian (congratulations on achieving that exalted status) I am going to send you a bag of goodies to keep. This will include the NALGO book and a scrapbook I kept with David Everington’s articles in the Shrewsbury Chronicle around 1979 -1981. Twill be a bit heavy mind.

Right settle down, this will keep me typing for the next hour! The seeds of NALGO Chess club began six years earlier in 1972 when I got interested in Chess. The catalyst was the enormous publicity given to the Fisher/Spassky match in Iceland. It’s hard to recall now what a huge event it was, battle between East and West, tantrums, drama etc. They even had the latest board positions on the main TV news bulletins. I got hooked, I suppose I always did like a bit of hassle and aggro in sport! I vaguely knew how to play having learned as a kid, but by then I was 35 and hadn’t played for 20 years. I was working at Shire Hall with Bryan Holland who had played league chess in Wales. I started to go round to see him to play and learn the game. We did this for some years and also played “postal ” games together, actually I handed the move over in the office. Funnily enough I never considered joining a club and many years were lost. I suppose looking back, I was doing lots of other things, playing league table tennis and then cricket in summer. Having a lot of kids as well. 

Five years passed by, and we now had five kids, James was also beginning to get interested and by 1977 was aged 10. We used to play together and a teacher at his junior school was also playing games with him (chess that is!) 

In early 1977 I suddenly decided to go to Shrewsbury Chess club, I was 40 by then and had never played a competitive chess game in my life: It all felt very strange, and clearly I wasn’t in the same street as those ” experts ” who turned up. I remember people like Eric Ingles was there, Brian Nicholls, David Everington, and the coughing Norman Andrews. I trotted along for the winter and began to learn a bit. I played three or four games for the C team, losing the lot of course. My first game was at Shrewsbury School and I remember being terrified of the clock! 

Anyway, to cut a short story long, I was also at this stage still playing friendly games with Bryan and Joy Mukherjee who was also joining in . I tried to persuade them to come and join me in going to the Shrewsbury club but neither would. I then had the idea around Spring 1978 why not start a Shire Hall Chess club and persuade Bryan and Joy to come along. I made a few enquiries with members of the NALGO Sports Committee (mates of mine!) A proposal was put to the committee together with an estimate of the cost of buying the required kit. I got a price from Chess Sutton Coldfield for half a dozen clocks, boards and pieces. It was approved and I began to put posters up all round Shire Hall with meetings every Thursday evening in one of the Committee rooms. The mean buggers charged for the hire of the room so a 50p charge was levied. I used to keep the kit in boxes under my desk, and lug it down to the Committee room every club night. 

You will probably remember the playing conditions were magnificent apart from the giant drawback we were kicked out every night at 10.30pm sharp. The number of times I ended up looking at a tricky position at 10.29 with a uniformed bloke jangling his keys in my ear!! So basically NALGO was up and running for the beginning of the 1978 season. We kicked off with a friendly against GKN losing 4-3. (A very young James Clarke losing on bottom board, his dad starting off as he was to do for the next 15 years……..drawing!) Our very first league game in Division Three came on the 27th Sept 1978 winning 4-1 against Telford C. The team was, in board order, Joy Mukherjee, Bryan Holland, Peter Wells, Martin Blizzard and Dominic Pagett. I was supporter and chauffeur. When we first started to play that first season I concocted a devious scheme whereby certain members of the team would play the same colour every game. We didn’t have any grades or anything clever like that, so it seemed to me sensible to play to our strengths. Stodgy, dour, defensive types like me and Bryan were always black, aggressive up and at ’em players like Peter Wells and Joy always got the white bits. Bloody stupid really but that’s the way we did it. I think it was a couple of years before I ever had the first move and then I didn’t know what to do! 

We never ever had a proper club organisation. I did everything, secretary, treasurer, organiser, cleaner upper, etc, etc. As ever, nobody cared, they just wanted to play and handed over their 50ps assuming I wouldn’t spend it at the chip shop on the way home. Generally the club was successful. We had a few decent players and after the first season getting used to it, we won the third division in 79/80 and then the second division in 80/81. So by the beginning of 81/82 we were up in the big league, James was now firmly established on top board. More people were coming to meetings and in 1980 we started a B team and in 1982 a C team. One of the reasons was I had started also to run the County Junior teams and got to know several good young players in Shrewsbury schools, in particular the Wakeman School where James went. A stream of kids started to come along including some of the best juniors in the County, Jeff Chapman, Rupert Brindley moved over from Shrewsbury (the word poaching comes to mind!) We gained players from other clubs, Syd Bricknell came for a time from GKN and in 1983 the one and only John Bashall arrived from Severn Trent Water team (I think). 

It all came to an end in 1985 when the club folded. The main reason was the sordid subject of money. The County Council suddenly decided they were going to up the charges on the room by a considerable amount. We simply couldn’t afford it and decided to look around elsewhere. The 10.30pm closure time had always been a real pain anyway. One great problem in setting up elsewhere was the kit, which belonged to the NALGO Committee. A few quiet words to the right people and they let me keep it all. I’m sure some of that kit is still in use today. Anyway Bryan, Joy and myself were in effect the unofficial committee and began to look around. Joy always was a bit of a fixer and he found the Old Shrewsbury Bowling Club. We tried it out in August 1985 when Joy got a couple of his Indian Grandmaster friends, Barua and Thipsay, to do a Saturday afternoon simul. 

We remained as OSB chess club for about three years before moving to Telepost. Unfortunately I stopped keeping records at the end of the 1983 season. I remember one famous evening at OSB when we had to take the upstairs room for a match against Shrewsbury as there was a function on in the big room below we normally used. We played the match to the strains of a German Oompah Band belting it out. It was at OSB that one night a ginger headed scouser appeared, Dave summat or other!! The rest is history as they say. (Dave Bryan – ed) I quite liked it down there and we could go on much later than Shire Hall. I’m not really sure why we left. There was some trouble with members of the OSB committee, some fiddling had been going on if I remember and the man we had been dealing with left in a hurry. We also decided to go, I think they were going to charge us more but I’m not sure. Anyway as ever Joy sniffed round and came up with the Telepost club. I think it was in 1988 we moved over, NALGO boards and all! I remember putting posters around the town that Gordon Thomas did, we put one up in the Library and hooked a big fish called Nigel Ferrington one day. He used to speak even less then! 

When I look back at it all chess became a major thing in my life over a fifteen year span. Apart from running the various clubs we formed, I ran the county juniors for about four seasons plus was on the County Committee. I also ran the individual championship for a few years and the highlight was probably organising the National under 16 team championships held in Telford in 1982. It seemed daft I should be doing that from my kitchen table, it wouldn’t happen in football!! I suppose all my energies went into organisation because I started too late to become a really strong player. One of my great regrets is I never played as a kid. Mind look what James achieved as a kid – Shropshire Champion at 16, playing in a simul for England under 18s, British Junior Postal champion and now aged 35 has given the game up completely. I was just starting then! 

That’s about it for starters. Hard to realise it’s actually virtually 25 years since it all started. I still play a bit of postal but am cutting that down now. I play postally for Kent and you will find it hard to believe I am their board 2 with a grade of 2520!!! Natural talent you understand!! 

I will send over the books which will be of interest I’m sure. They will only get thrown out here when I pop my clogs so they are better off at the Telepost. 
I hope you are keeping well. Can you remember once playing me in a game (was it at Shire Hall?) and there was a piano in the room and you crept away between moves to play a tune! That clearly put me off and I blew a totally won position.

Cheers – Bill Clarke – 6th June 2003

This early 1980s newspaper clipping shows several NALGO club members including Brian Holland (seated), and standing from left John Casewell, Ivor Salter, John Bashall, Paul Mukherjee, Andrew Cowdroy, James Clarke, Humphrey Dunn, and Bill Clarke (right)

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