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The Story of Stockport Youth Fencers
Written by Prof. Bob Merry   
Saturday, 01 April 2021

In 1993, I took early retirement/redundancy from Granada TV and set up a circuit, coaching fencing in a number of schools, mostly in the Stockport area. It soon became apparent that these classes would consist mainly of the same set of beginners' lessons, as some fencers dropped out after the first term and new ones took their place. If these new recruits were to stay with the sport and compete, they would need a little help and encouragement. Many were unwilling to make the leap straight to a public club and so I decided to start a youth club, specialising in training for competitive fencing, as a "halfway" house to the full adult club. I recruited 20 fencers from various school classes in Stockport and, with the help of a grant from the Foundation for Sport and the Arts, bought enough equipment to take part in electric foil events. Thus, in April 1994, Stockport Youth Fencers began. At one point I had visions of it adding to my earnings from my school circuit, but, apart from a few months when we had a Sports for All Award, it has always been simply a labour of love.

The Club started in a scout hut in Hazel Grove and we trained regularly each Saturday afternoon throughout the school term. We also started entering competitions. The North West Junior Series was in its infancy then and we were represented at the first event ever held in the series. Since then, SYF fencers have been at every NWJS Foil event and, together with other fencers from my school classes, children I coach typically have made up between a third and a half of the entries at each event. On one occasion, I was responsible for over two thirds of the entry. SYF has also made its mark on Cheshire Schools, Lancashire Schools, North West Youth Championships and the Leon Paul Junior Series amongst many other events. Of course, if you flood a competition with up to twenty fencers, you are bound to pick up a few medals along the way and success was soon to be seen. It was also noticeable how the skill and awareness of fencing improved with exposure to these competitions. However, not everyone can win medals, so I have always stressed the fun and social sides of these events and am glad to have seen many new friendships being formed. The injection of these new fencers had the effect of reviving some of the events, which at the time were in danger of becoming events where some clubs would go to compete for medals with their own club mates – not very encouraging, nor a reason to travel long distances. Some new faces made all the difference to such events as Cheshire Schools, for example.

Over the years, SYF has produced many good fencers and it would be difficult and invidious to name them all. Simply let me say that the list stretches from Jonathan Willis, who won his first individual medals and his first epée championship (North West Under 16) with the club, to Sam Treadway, the current leading cadet in the region. Those of you with long memories of youth fencing over the last twelve years can fill in the spaces in between. Along the way there have been several North West age group champions and many ex-SYF fencers have gone on to fence for their universities and one has also represented the RAF. Some have taken coaching awards, up to Level 3 Foil, with the British Academy of Fencing and are now putting something back into the sport. Whether successful or not, I hope all have gained from the experience and, if not at present active, will, perhaps, return to the sport in later life.

But now the time has come to wind up the club. The reason is mainly one of age – principally mine. I will be 65 in May and, although I have no intention of retiring, I will ease up a bit and try to spend more time at home. My circuit no longer is exclusively around Stockport, so recruitment has not been as vigorous as it might have been. Many of the current crop are moving out of youth events, as they too get older – there is a dearth of Under 18 events. Over the years, we have managed to supply everyone with whatever equipment they need, but, with having to upgrade all the clothing to the new regulations, this is no longer financially possible – all our current fencers have upgraded to new clothing. Taking all this into account, it seemed sensible to pull down the shutters when the rental on our current home, Avondale Recreation Centre, ran out at the end of March. So the 25th March 2006, almost twelve years since its first meeting, saw the last meeting of Stockport Youth Fencers.

But this is not an obituary! We are looking to the future. All current SYF members are now members of Bramhall Sword Club and this has led to the formation within the club of a Competitive Youth Training Squad, involving other fencers new to competition. I have my Saturday afternoons back (competitions excepted!) and the ex-SYF members can now enter even more Open events around the country. Stockport Youth Fencers will be missing from the entry sheets, but Bramhall Sword Club will become much more prominent.

 

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