The University of Manchester XXI Club was formed in 1932 and exists to promote sporting excellence at the University. Traditionally, elite sportsmen and sportswomen at The University were selected for membership of the Club. Most members have gained Full colours for representing The University and many have excelled at a British Universities or National level. Scroll down to read descriptions of the Club's history written by members.
As the club moves forward, membership of the club is broadening to encompass dedicated athletes at all levels.
Three members of the XXI Club have written about periods of the Club’s history, read more below.
Club History Overview
Bill Littlejohn - former Keeper of the Records
I was born in 1933 so my life has coincided with that of the XXI Club. I was elected in 1956 when the founder members were about 50, in the prime of their careers and still very much involved. Since then I have attended many of the dinners and have met a significant proportion of the members elected over 74 years. In that time sport in England, the raison d’etre for the club has been transformed form an activity for ‘flanneled fools’ into a business typified by the multi-millionaire players at Chelsea FC who have taken over the town of Cobham where I live.
The XXI Club is unusual in that it has no clearly defined objectives. Over the years, as explained in the 25 year slots described by Allister Cranna, Bill Littlejohn and John Anderson there have been efforts to focus onto objectives but none of these has been fully effective. As Allister explains the club started to extend the fellowship of the AU clubroom in the Men's Union in Burlington Street. Since then it has drifted according to the inclinations and objectives of the few people who have been closely involved over the 75 years. The reason for that is inherent in the structure. It is an exclusive community, members are elected by their peers in a vague recognition of ‘sporting achievement’. Everyone elected sees that ‘honour’ in their own interpretation. With a thousand members there are 1000 different reactions and motivations. The club has therefore followed the broader relationship between sport and society as it has evolved.
In 1932 University sport was SPORT. Even the professional sports depended heavily on amateur involvement. At Manchester the Firs dominated and Rugby Union, Cricket and Athletics provided most of the members. Indeed Allister refers to the team sheet in just the Rugby context. Annual membership of the XXI Club cost 21 shillings (one guinea) a very significant sum in those days, probably enough to fund the dinner without extra charge. One member (number 19 in 1932) was barred a year after election, being re-instated in 1946 when he was probably earning enough to pay (the book doesn’t reveal whether he paid the backlog!). The first member to have a specified sport was number 94 in 1940, J Gregory (Lacrosse) ie still a Firs sport but non-mainline enough to merit a mention. By the end of the first 25 years we see members from the Boat Club, Peter Andrews and the Squash Club, Peter Gracie and David Dugdale.The Firs stranglehold was beginning to break.
Soon after the war and in the 1950’s the McDougall Centre sports begin to appear. The Rifle, Swimming, Basketball and Squash Clubs appearing regularly even though Athletics, Boat and Rugby provided a steady contribution. From the mid 50’s the elections begin to record the member’s sport fairly regularly as the elitist flavour begins to replace the social one. Thenadays it was possible to be a University sportsman and an international star. We didn’t have Bannister, Brasher and Chataway but we did have Ron Hill, Dave Parker and Bev Risman amongst others who maintained the Manchester reputation established by the Club’s founder members.
In the last 25 years as sport has become more professional and the rewards for world class performance far outweigh those available to teachers, scientists and medics the Club has continued to elect members who excel at the level of university sport and, as explained by John Anderson it has made a good contribution helping students to improve their performance by offering Bursaries whilst encouraging participation at all levels of achievement in the increasingly ordered and organised world of University sport. Where possible the Club elects international class sportsmen (and women), James Hickman and Graeme Smith being two notable examples but it is increasingly rare for them to have come through the standard undergraduate channel.
The next 25 years will, I am sure, involve the Club dealing with an ever increasing spread of sponsored sport and selection of elite athletes at ever younger ages. As always the Club will adapt to the changes and, with luck will help Manchester and its ambitious University to ensure that sport remains a significant part of the experience leading to a Degree from that well known establishment.
The First 25 Years
allister cranna (cross country 1944)
The Club was formed in 1932; when I came up to the University the Club was already 5 years old; and it was another 7 years before I was elected a member. There were many sporting, "larger than life" characters, leaders in their own sport(s) and legends in their lifetime.
I well remember the first time I entered the A.U., which was a small room off a corridor in the Students' Union - then in Burlington Street. The room contained a massive dilapidated couch, two easy chairs, a table and pigeon holes for the various clubs. In the corridor was the notice board for each of the clubs to display the selected teams and any other information. At the far end of the room was a staircase to a tiny office "hung" from the ceiling like a swallow's nest. It was there that Arthur S Triffitt (the paid Secretary to the A.U.) worked. Arthur was extremely efficient and very obliging. He had a slight stammer and was somewhat shy - until he had been plied with a few drinks; it was then that he would burst into a loud melodious pub voice singing. "You always hurt the one; you love", at this stage we would interject, "Bobbing up and down like this". In 1946 Arthur was elected an ex officio member of the XXI Club - an election he fully deserved. When I was asked my name and replied, "Allister Cranna," I was then asked, "Any relation to Duncan Cranna?" "Only a brother." There was a roar. "Good God! Listen! This is Duncan Cranna's brother".
There had not been a lot of cohesion between the various clubs; on the other hand there was great bonhomie and banter in the A.U. room. It was this spirit among the top sportsmen that led to the formation of the XXI Club - a club limited to not more than 21 active undergraduates. In those days it was necessarily only the highest sporting achievement which earned election. Later on an element of good general sportsmanship was also taken into account.
The first few dinners were held in the city centre; in due course, because of the post prandial revelry, there was no returning to that venue next year. It was becoming increasingly difficult to find a restaurant which would accept them. Nowadays the dinners are more orderly.
Our first president was Harry M McKechnie. He was the "permanent" Honorary Treasurer of the A.U. He had been a fine sportsman but by the time I met him he was crippled with rheumatoid arthritis later confined to a wheel chair. Even this did not stop him attending all A.U. meetings and frequent attendances at The Firs.
The second President was Duncan Cranna. Early on in his sporting career he had, not surprisingly, lost one or two front teeth in various scrums; he wore a plate holding teeth to fill the gap and to make him appear more respectable looking. This plate he would forget to remove till he was on the pitch. He would put it on a convenient wall; but then, at the end of the match, forget to retrieve it. Replacements became expensive so he devised a plan: Before the match he would put the plate in a pint of beer and, when the match was over, he drank the beer and, with the last drop, click the plate into place. Duncan was an entertaining after dinner speaker -in demand at varied sporting dinners in the region.
Another founder member was Henry Toft. When the 1st XV team was put up, the list read (alphabetically):
D D Cranna
D H Drummond
D P Hickey
G M Komrower
G H Moore
It became very apparent that Henry Toft was the only member with only one forename. This was easily remedied by "Christening" him: "Henry Bloody Toft". Thereafter, in rugby circles at least, he was known as H B Toft - the name he used as the rugby correspondent on the Observer.
Bulldog Drummond was a hefty South African, graduated in dentistry and, with his fiancee, returned to Johannesburg. Dennis Hickey was the clown and practical joker. George Komrower was one of three rugby brothers. Their father was always invited to the MURFC Dinners and, during the war when the lads were in the Services, would come to represent them. I can't remember anything about G H Moore except that he was nicknamed Babe. Jack Smith was elected in the Club's second year. He was a dental surgeon and an ardent attender at all our meetings. Early on he died from rheumatic heart disease, but not before he had established the Jack Smith Cup, an award to be presented if and when it was thought that a member had shown particularly good evidence of all round merit. Laurie Liversedge first took a B.A. (later an M.A.) and then medicine. He played soccer in the winter and cricket in the summer. He had been President of the Student's Union. He became a noted Manchester neurologist and was a brilliant after dinner speaker. A typical story he told concerned a business tycoon who often flew abroad. He asked his chief accountant, "What are the odds of a bomb being on my plane?". "A hundred thousand to one". "What are the odds of there being two bombs on my plane?". " Astronomical" . So every time thereafter that he flew, he took with him, a bomb. Mike Winstanly was in my year. He, later, became famous when he won a surprise victory in a by-election for the Liberals in a Cheshire seat. He finished up in the Lords. He also was a first class after dinner speaker. Our Keeper of the Records, Bill Littlejohn, recalls a XXI Club Dinner at which the three speakers were Duncan, Laurie and Mike -what a feast. Mike's famous story referred to a bitterly cold, wet and windy Sunday afternoon when the local Salvation Army was playing and preaching in a small village square. At no time had there been any congregation. Eventually the Captain announced, "Right lads, one more verse of 'Oly! 'Oly! 'OIy!, then we'll all bugger off home".
When the XXI Club Dinners finished, the members, naturally, would repair to The Firs until the early hours. The Steward was Len Langford (Snr) - a retired professional soccer goalkeeper; his wife, Tilly, looked after the catering, aided by their daughter, Hetty. Len was made an ex officio member of the XXI Club - like Arthur Triffitt - fully deserved.
In my days it was expected that the new boys would circumnavigate the four inside walls of the bar area without a foot ever touching the floor - an impossible task -but that didn't stop us trying.
Here endeth an old man's blethering.
Written in June 2007
The Second 25 Years
bill littlejohn (squash 1956)
After the war in 1945 the Club adapted to the changes in the UK. Austerity and rationing continued for several years as the returning combatants took the majority of the University places. The first post war member elected was number 131 S Pannikar.and the early names that stand out are Eric Evans and Ron Unsworth an England Rugby captain and London Olympics hurdler respectively both elected in 1947. Ron went on to become a pillar of Manchester University sport in the Athletic Union and XXI Club and who will hopefully be at the 75th Anniversary Dinner wearing his Olympic Blazer.
The changes in education occuring then meant that many grammar school boys became involved in University sport. The MacDougall Centre had opened before the start of the war and the swimming, rifle, squash and to a lesser extent basketballclubs all prospered as the new, larger and wider intake began to make an impact. The social element in the background of the Club began to recede and under the influence of Roly Harper, Mike Scotts and Arthur Triffit the ‘elite sportsman’ role became associated with the accolade of membership. The ‘aerial’ nature of the ceremonial mentioned by Allister continued and new members stood on the table whilst their achievements were read by the secretary and the dinner speeches were delivered from table top. The destructive revels continued to rule out returns to restaurants and hotels and the refuge provided by the Firs Bar for the nightcap session continued until long after Len Langford retired lasting almost until the end of this period. Wythenshawe ground opened but had little impact on the XXI Club world. The Firs, the Macdougall and the River were still the focus of the Club’s activities. Len Langford’s relevance to the Firs was matched by the avuncular management of Cliff Steele at the MacDougall and the involved style of Walter Saul at Wythenshawe. Manchester was indeed fortunate that these dedicated managers contributed so much to the ambitions of their young friends. Both the Firs and Wythenshawe had welcoming and active bars which encouraged after match conviviality and the coffee bar in the MacDougall provided a wonderful lunchtime meeting point suitable to the shorter timespan involved with that Centre’s sports.
Throughout the 1950’s and into the 60’s the swimming, rifle and squash clubs were always represented on the elected members register with names like John Band, Brian Snowdon, Ken Cleves, Vin Miller, Chris Williams, Jim Roberts, John Deacon, Roger Horsfield, Geoff Hazzan, John Howcroft and Robin Barlow all featuring. The Centre’s contribution was not limited to university sport, in 1955/6 the squash club initiated and organised the first season of competition in the Lancashire League. That year there were 8 teams of three people competing in a 14 match season and the University Team won the Title. In 2006 a dinner celebrated the 50th anniversary with a meal attended by 300 people. The North West Counties Squash League is now the biggest unified competition in the world with about 80 clubs fielding teams of 5 in leagues of 12 teams each playing a 22 match season ie about 400 people involved every week for almost half the year.
The Firs sports continued to contribute their share during the second quarter century with, in particular contributions from Rugby Union, Cross Country & Athletics, Soccer and Cricket. Notable members were Lol Carroll (Soccer 1957) one of the last amateurs to play for Manchester United, Dave Hancock (Cricket 1966) a long serving Club Secretary and opening batsman for Cheshire with International Athletes such as Chris Goudge, Bob Birrell, Ron Hill, John Whetton, Geoff Hignett and Andy Carter. The XXI Club’s quarter century of excellence certainly lived up to the ambitions of Roly Harper and Mike Scotts.
The Thirds 25 Years
The years around 1985 saw major changes to the role of the Athletic Union and as a spin from this the Club changed. In the 1960’s there were two separate Athletic Unions, Men’s and Women’s. The Men’s union ran the university sports grounds with moneys granted by the university directly. It employed labour all through a management committee composed of both past members (most club members also) and students. Sports clubs had tended to reflect the traditional disciplines such as Rugby and Boat (strongly supported by medical students) but with the changes came new athletic groups and members of the XXI club became more diverse in their particular sports participation, Karate, Surfing and Ten Pin Bowling come to mind. This year (2007), there are 44 clubs in the Athletic Union.
Along with national pressure for equality in the 70’s the Athletic Union became one body. With this change the university stepped in and took over the management of the playing fields. A university sports office was established, and the role of members of the XXI club in running the sports grounds ceased. It became possible for the senior student elected by the athletic union to be of either sex. The post of Honorary Secretary was changed to Chair. The knock on effect was that as this post carried with it the automatic election to the club, ipso facto, women were now eligible for election; resulting in increase in glamour which now graces our annual dinner. The first woman was elected in 1990 and the first woman President, Alison Odell (Director of Sport) in 1999. The post of Sports Sabbatical Officer replaced the Chair in 2005, reflecting the need for a full time person in this important post.
The role of the club also came under examination. It was felt that we should be doing more to help individual athletes. With help from the University Sports Office the Bursary Scheme was started in 1991; at first only one or two were funded, but by the turn of the century the menu cards at the dinner show over a dozen recipients every year. In 2002 some £25,000 was invested directly to support athletes training needs. Since 2002 Club Captains have had a personal invitation to our dinner (at a reduced price) keeping the link between the XXI Club and active students. Automatic election of captains is an open issue.
The latest change the unification of Manchester University to include MU Tech and the College of Art will result in a changed role for the University Sports Office and the relationship with the Club. Some of the AU Clubs had always drawn members from both Tech and Owens (Boat for example). This is a good example of early co-operation between the then two universities. The Boat House on the Bridgewater Canal was funded by Tech in the 1960’s to be used for the one club with members from both universities.
In the 1990’s the active presence of the XXI Club at Fresher’s Weekends started. This gives valuable publicity for the club and helps to promote sport. It also provides a link between students and members of the Club. Even if Club members live too far away to be on the management committee or to support Fresher’s Weekends they can always help university sport financially. If one makes out a covenant to Manchester University it is possible to stipulate where the money is to be spent. University Sport is the obvious option. There are going to be more changes and there will be a need for more and better sports facilities for more students. The XXI Club is well respected and we can be good lobbyists. If our members support sport with cash we will be that much more influential. Decisions have to be made; for example, do we want a new Firs Pavilion?