Roly – A reflection on engagement in physical activities

Born in 1925, Roly was brought up in Birmingham and attended a Golden Hillock Road School from the age of five until fourteen. He used to walk to school with other children. In his road there were trees and gas lamps and as children they used to play game such as hop-scotch, whip and top, tip cat, kick the can, Sally on the mop-stick and Finger and Thumb, Dumb (a game where one team leapt onto the backs of another, who were leant against a wall, to see if they collapsed or you could hold them up. Essentially as children they were left to play in the streets, use their imagination and be active.


At school they had a vaulting horse in the hall, which was rarely used. All PE was in the hall, although they did have a playground outside. Very occasionally they were taken to the local Sparkhill Swimming Baths, although there was limited instruction. Once a year some of the pupils took part in an inter-school games competition, which included athletics (high jump) and sack races. One day they were doing PE in the hall and were running on the spot. Roly was not lifting his legs up high enough, so the PE teacher (Army Instructor) slashed him with a cane across the back of his legs. Other activities that were enjoyed by children were leap-frog, skipping and British Bulldog.

Roly had a pair of roller skates as a Christmas present when he was about twelve and used these to go skating at the local skating rink. At the age of fourteen his father died and Roly left school and started working 48 hours a week, so had limited time for any sport or physical activity. Roly was given a bicycle at the age of thirteen and brought a second hand bike when he was sixteen. Most people used bicycles to travel to work and he joined friends and cycled to Rhyll (about 100 miles away) for a week’s holiday. At sixteen he decided to learn to dance (in order to meet the girls) and went to modern dance lessons, learning the quick step, fox trot and waltz.


Roly was called up for National Service at the age of nineteen, where he did PT, cross-country running as well as square bashing on the parade ground. He was posted to Jerusalem where he had more opportunity to take part in sport. He played basketball, water polo and athletics (shot putt, discus and hammer) and joined a team in the running events – specifically the 440 yards.

When he came out of the Army after three years he brought a new bike and joined the Earlswood Road and Path Cycling Club and used to go out on a Sunday in a group of thirty or more people. Time trials over 25 and 100 miles were part of the group’s activities, as well as cycling holidays.

Working for Rover, Roly had the opportunity to play football in the works team, before his future brother-in-law introduced him to rugby. He started playing rugby at Erdington Rugby Club at the age of 24 and played until he was 48. Roly thought that the friendship and camaraderie established at the club were important in his long career.


On meeting his wife to be, he was introduced to Badminton and used to play this in his new job as a lecturer at Garretts Green Technical College, where they had a gym. He joined the local Blossomfield Tennis Club and played there for a few years. He continued to play badminton until he was seventy. When he retired Roly continued to swim, took up short mat bowls, started playing snooker and in his late 80’s took up table tennis again. Roly is a very active 90 year old who looks after his own house and extensive garden, plays bowls twice a week, table tennis once a week and sings, plays the guitar and goes ball room dancing at the weekend.

Roly introduced his three children to a wide range of sporting activities, always encouraging and supporting them. He believes that his interests in physical activities were often prompted by people around him who were interested in particular activities and encouraged him to get involved or the situations he found himself in (such as the Army) where he had the opportunity to try different activities. Roly believes that being involved in sport and physical activities have given him confidence and opportunities to lead others and be part of teams. Being physically active has also allowed him to maintain his independence into old age.  He thrives on competition and enjoys the camaraderie that these activities provide. He has enjoyed a range of activities throughout his life and has modified his involvement according to his physical capabilities. Roly will continue to enjoy purposeful physical activity for as long as he can.

What can we learn from this?

What has motivated Roly to be active in such a wide range of pursuits over such a long period of time?

What or who has influenced Roly throughout his life course?