20 Jan 2020

Armpits. Fingertips. Heels. Toes. Both the first yet unsuccessful draft of a popular song and the bane of every current premier league manager, pundit and fan as these oddbits of the human anatomy turn a player offside according to somebody sat in a dark room with only a family sized pack of Doritos for company.

The anger levels of these esteemed people as a result (not the songwriter we don't think) is only matched by their own previous anger levels when VAR wasn’t being used and basic human error was the root of all evil. Still, it’s not like the planet’s burning or anything else serious is going on so VAR it is.

Saturday night on 11th January saw the annual shindig of Sutton SC’s Free Press Relay Gala; a celebration of everything relay related and a great appetiser to 2020’s competitive swimming calendar. Breaststroke relays? Check. Butterfly? Check. The Health and Safety nightmare of Backstroke relays? For sure and then some.

Undeterred, the Green Octopus sent another band of swimmers up north to take on the challenge once again against from Kimberley, Falcon and Sutton SC whose A Squad was fully loaded in preparation for the upcoming County Championships.

The event always starts with potentially the greatest race of the year; the 10x25 medley relay. 1xBackstroke, 2xBreaststorke, 3xFly and 4xFree the opportunity for carnage is absolute and open age swimmers all asking the same existential question “What are we doing?” It’s Mario Kart in water but without the shells or banana skins.

Except this year unfortunately. It was all very professional and operated by all competitors who delivered good old-fashioned racing. The excitement in the crowd only matched by the disappointment of the officials who’d have to wait another year to dust off the obscure disqualification rules – next year for the banana skins perhaps.

A second and a first place respectively from the men’s and ladies’ teams set the tone for the evening as we went nip and tuck with Sutton A. The 10/U girls team produced a clean sweep of victories on the night and all the other age teams picking multiple victories along the way.

Stand out performances came from unsung heroes within the Leander Squad.

Hamza Tran and Paulius Gabrys transferred pace and performance from the Water Polo side into the swimming side. Abby Seddon continued to defy her own doubts about her potential as a fly swimmer to deliver a pitch perfect 25M masterclass.

Dan McLenan and Hugo Harris Burton carried through their form from Club Champs to great effect too.

Harriet Dickerson swam out of her skin in the 12/U team alongside great debuts for both Emily Wright, Ruby Wetherill and Oliver Patrickson. And any time Jimi Knowles gets in the pool you know things are probably going to be ok.

In the end, the quality of Sutton’s A squad shone through and we deserved winners on the night. However, there’s always the cannon. 2019 was defined by the charging climax to every gala and it looks like 2020 might be the same.

An initial lead was clawed back by Sutton into a deficit of a few metres with the final few legs remaining. We chased, we harried, we pushed and by the time for the final takeover by Jonny Higham from Annie Pearson it was as close as it had been but probably too far back.

Except nobody had told Jonny.

Trademark Eagle-dive went quickly into a spray of water as both he and Sutton’s anchor went at it. The amount of spray was equal to chucking a family of cats in a bath or feeding time at the shark pool. Metres became centimetres until it was as tight as two coats of paint. But then on the touch…? Well then.

One swimmer looked gutted. One had a massive grin on his face. What a finish what a race. It’s a good job there isn’t VAR in swimming as that would have been poured over for hours on end and taken the shine off a brilliant night of racing that was testament to quality of all the squads put forward. 

2020 is looking like a quality year. This is where it started.

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