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Peter Holmes' sporting life is full of achievement

Sport | Published:

With his 85th birthday fast approaching you would think Peter Holmes would be happy to sit back and reflect on a life of achievement.

Well think again.

He is on a mission to highlight all that is good about sport in Wolverhampton and more importantly to urge people, young and old, to get active.

And Holmes knows all about being active. He has an enthusiasm and drive that would put people half his age to shame.

The born and bred Wulfrunian has dedicated his life to sport through his work for Wolverhampton Council and is a well known and hugely respected figure in the West Midlands and beyond.

He celebrated 70 years as a member of Wolverhampton Swimming Club last year and has clocked up over 60 years treading the fairways at Penn Golf Club.

He has served the Staffordshire Swimming Association for 56 years, worked for Sport England, been president of the West Midlands ASA and is still involved with the governing body of swimming.

And, just for good measure, he was one of the driving forces behind the creation of the annual Wolverhampton Sports Council Advisory awards – where the borough's unsung grassroots heroes are honoured.

Peter Holmes, from Wolverhampton, is made an MBE by the Prince of Wales for services to sport in the West Midlands and to the community in Wolverhampton,

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Oh, and there is the small matter of an MBE, which he received for his services to sport, and also the honour of representing Great Britain at waterpolo.

Another one of his ventures has been the creation of a Wolverhampton Sporting Hall of Fame and having spent an hour or so in his company looking through the two volumes of citations and at the honours board at Aldersley Sports Village, it's quite clear that this is Holmes' pride and joy.

His knowledge of Wolverhampton sports stars is, quite simply, astounding. He has written the citations for each and every member of the Hall of Fame.

"I have always loved sport," said Holmes, in the comfort of his home just a few furlongs away from Wolverhampton racecourse.

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"Swimming, tennis, golf... most sports. And I am firm believer that we can motivate not only youngsters but some of the older population to get involved in sport.

"You don't need to be an Olympian, you can enjoy your sport as a matter of exercise.

"There are a number of governing bodies that encourage the older generation to compete – golf, tennis and hockey have masters events where people are competing at the age of 60 and above. That's brilliant.

"We should never forget, sport is fun."

And Holmes has certainly had his fair share of sporting fun, starting as a wide-eyed 16-year-old with a trip across war-torn Europe to play waterpolo for GB.

"I went on tour with Great Britain in 1948," he recalls. "We played Holland, France and Belgium.

"It was quite unique, we had a lecture from the Home Office on travelling. We went across by ferry, so that was something else. It was quite amazing, and there was no sweet rationing as there was here," he joked.

Mixing with the stars – Holmes shares a joke with one of Britain's great athletes, Sebastian Coe

"The war had just finished and we went to Arnhem when we played Holland. When we walked across the Nijmegen bridge all the buildings in the main street were still bullet-scarred.

"We went to the cemetery and that was awe-inspiring. We witnessed something that we didn't appreciate but it stuck in my mind. I was 16."

He also enjoyed his 15 minutes of fame on national TV.

"In the early days of waterpolo there was the no moving rule and we played two halves," he said.

"Then in 1950 they brought in what was known as the South American rules, where you could move all over and waterpolo was played in four quarters.

"I played in the first televised event of that, which, would you believe took place at Thimblemill Lane in Smethwick.

"It was demonstration game, two select sides by invitation and it was on BBC, there was only BBC in those days."

After ending his waterpolo-playing days in his late 20s, Holmes channelled his efforts into promoting sport through his job with the sports council and before that the central council of physical recreation at Wolverhampton Council.

And there is no doubt the city has benefitted. Along with director of education Dennis Grayson and a PE advisor named Trevor Churchill, Holmes saw a number of satellite sports centres built in the area which gave youngsters the chance to sample various sports.

Peter Holmes, with his certificate for his sixty years service to sports in Wolverhampton. He is pictured at Aldersley Stadium.

"Compton Park was the first one in 1971, the second one to open was Colton Hills, then Aldersley School was built, then Northicote," he recalls.

"On a Sunday everything was closed, there were no swimming pools open after 11am.

"Compton Park was the first swimming pool to open all day on a Sunday. That was quite amazing and we were surprised at how the public used it."

Holmes was also a driving force behind the Black Country Games, a concept that saw youngsters from across the region compete in a host of sports, with the Fair Play Award named in his honour.

"The Games was one of the great sporting events of the year and involved between two and three thousand children," added Holmes. "It gave youngsters the opportunity of representation. They were able to represent their town or city."

Hosting a sports day with Sir Bobby Charlton and helping former prime minister John Major with a query surrounding his father – "he played waterpolo for Walsall and I was able to give him some information about when he played, and he very kindly sent me a thank you letter," recalled Holmes – are two other highlights from a bank of wonderful memories.

And then there was that day at Buckingham Palace, accompanied by his wife of 60 years Margaret, his son Phillip and daughter Michaela, when he was presented with his MBE by Prince Charles.

"That was a magnificent day," he says proudly, before adding "did you know they had a swimming pool at The Palace?"

Picture from 1948 showing the Wolverhampton and Heath Town swimming club members about to head off to Tilburg in Holland for a swimming and water polo competition. Peter Holmes is 3rd from the right on the back row.

As for now, Holmes is currently putting the final touches to the short list for this year's Hall of Fame inductees – a task he relishes and where his pride in Wolverhampton's sporting stars shines bright.

"The Hall of Fame, which I am delighted to have been a founder member of, has recognised the people who have stood on the world stage and in some cases conquered it," he says.

"All in the name of sport, but also in the name of Wolverhampton. We have the most amazing group of sports men and women who have stood on the world stage."

And while recognising home grown stars who have competed at the very top level, Holmes is just as keen to see the grassroots heroes step into the spotlight – hence the birth of the Sports Council Advisory awards.

"My aim is to make sure that these people are recognised," he said "For years they had not been recognised but without all the wonderful people at grassroots level we wouldn't have people excelling on the international stage"

So with the latest set of citations underway, is there any sign of winding down?

"When am I going to stop? I suppose when I pop my clogs," he jokes.

"It keeps me young. On the outside people look at me and they see an 84-year-old, but if they scratch the surface I am still a 22-year-old.

"I have a lot of knowledge about the history of sport in the city and I am so grateful for that, and I hope to pass it on."

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