Sedgefield Water Polo Club’s George Carpenter Retires after 47 years in the Sport

19th May 2017
George Carpenter, the head coach of Sedgefield Water Polo club has decided to step down from his role in the club after 20 years coaching and 47 years involvement within the sport. George has kindly taken the time to speak to the North East Region about his illustrious Water Polo career.

The first time George picked up a ball was in 1970 when training with Durham swimming club, he was asked to give it a try. Initially he didn’t take to the sport, until 1972 when he started to make slow progress under the coaching of the late Billy Mitchell, the late Norman Naylor and Peter Johnson. ‘I sat on the bench as Northumberland and Durham the ASA County title for the only time at Preston against Lancashire in 1973’ George said. ‘I marvelled at Ray Mallon’s domination in mind and body. After this, I gradually worked out the best and my unique ways to put the ball in the back of the net playing in the Northern League till Durham took the big step into the National League in 1978. We won the 3rd division dropping only one point and I was the league top scorer’.

By 1981 Durham were in with the ‘big boys’ in Division 1 and for the only time in George’s 10 years in the National League he finished 2nd in the scoring charts. ‘These seasons in the first division were tough for Durham but very enjoyable. The highlight for myself and Durham was 5th in 1984 and I set a new first division goal scoring record of 76 goals which stood for 11 years’.

George never managed to get any junior recognition for Great Britain but in 1984 he got to his first trials at the Palace for the England Senior team and after a hard weekend made the squad and subsequently the team for a tournament in Sweden against the USSR, USA, the home team and Australia. During the tournament, George got in against Australia and scored after 30 seconds of being in the water. This meant that he was consequently promoted to the first 7 in the match against the USA where he found himself going for the ball at the start of the quarter against Tim Shaw the world record holder for 400 metres freestyle who ‘ just got the ball by a fingertip’.

A reasonably satisfied George, the first Durham player to ever be picked for the England / Senior team finished this tournament as second top scorer for the team. Unfortunately he was then banned for 6 months in 1985 due to a referee at York allowing the opposition to try and rip his trunks off in the NEC final against Bradford. ‘At the end of the period I took them off on the poolside and threw them at him because he had been determined for someone to get them off and walked trunkless around the poolside to the changing rooms to the amusement of a full balcony. The same happened in 1984 at Bishop Auckland, I had both pairs of trunks ripped off and Leo Beaty sent me out but I mentioned it might be difficult but I always do what refs ask me and strode around the poolside to our bench nude and for once Leo was speechless’.

Unfortunately being banned for 6 months meant George couldn’t play in the National League Division 1 and Durham were relegated to Division 2. During this time, George became the first player ever to score 100 goals in a season in the National League and the Northern League.

1987 was a big struggle for Durham as many players left and the club finished 3rd from bottom in the National League, even with George breaking his own goal scoring record scoring 106 goals during in the season. 1989 was the last season for Durham in the National League in Division 3 and they finished 3rd and in January 1990, after 20 golden years the Water polo at Durham finished.

George then missed a couple of years but made a return for Sheffield where he made it onto the Great Britain over 35 team for the 1992 World Masters Polo tournament in Indianapolis USA where the team managed to win a bronze medal. Following this, in 1993 George played for Newcastle in the Northern League however he was then banned for two years at the end of 93 over serious disagreement with a referee. George then briefly returned to the pool in 1996 where he helped Newcastle get promoted in the National League however he called it a day at the end of 1997 to concentrate on the second chapter of his water polo career, coaching in Sedgefield.

George was initially asked by the Swimming Club if he would be interested in starting water polo sessions there as they were losing a lot of children between the ages of 13/14 years old. At the time, his two boys George and Scott were members of the club. ‘I had never really fancied coaching as I was bad tempered and impatient but it finally got off the ground in January 1997. Lee Cooke did some valuable work with the children as he was playing for Lancaster, the best Men’s team and was right up to date with the latest stuff. The first six months were very hard as the training session was 9-10 pm but when the Summer Holidays started it took off. Wanting to see how far we were away from the best teams we entered the ASA Club under 17’s in March 1998 and were demolished 32-1 at home in front of a full house by Rotherham who won the trophy that year’.

The next year in the same competition the club only lost to Rotherham 13-6, good progress was being made. Twelve months after that, in 1999 they beat them 16-3 and progressed to their first semi final where we were beaten 15-9 by Stretford.

The highlight for the club in 1999 was when Mathew Bowden became the first junior international with the Great Britain team. He then later swam for Great Britain juniors in the same year too, which was and still is a unique achievement. He was soon followed by Angela Winstanley Smith, Carol Mohan, Sam Mitchell and Charlotte Nichols (George’s niece) who also represented Great Britain. Angela managed to do the same as Mathew and represent the two aquatic disciplines in the same year. ‘2002 was a proud moment for the club when all four girls represented Great Britain in Manchester in the European Junior Champs. In the same year Scott, aged 14, played in an under 17 tournament in Ireland. Also in this year I won my first National title with a Division 1 Girls team with most of the girls from Sedgefield beating Lancaster in the final at Walsall’.

The club managed to win their first National title in 2004, six years after losing 32-1 to Rotherham, winning the under 17 Championships at Manchester beating Sutton and Cheam 9-4 in the final. The same year Scott was picked for the Great Britain European Championships under 19 team in Malta and at 15 years of age, was the youngest player on the team.

In 2006 the club once again won the under 17 National title, and narrowly lost in the under 19 final. This was nearly a double title for little old Sedgefield against all the big City teams. Scott, now aged 17 was the youngest player picked for the England Men’s team for the Commonwealth Water Polo Champs in Melbourne and Angela, Chloe and Carol were picked for the Women’s team. ‘I was very proud. Scott also led Great Britain to win their qualifying group for the European Junior Championships for the one and only time with a dominant display. However after Scott reacted badly to some crazy training tactics by the coaches and subsequently didn’t go to the championships in Rumania and Great Britain were decimated’.

‘Scott however showed Great Britain who was the Daddy though by scoring 100 goals in the first Division for Lancaster in the National League in his first full season. The first time it had ever been done and he repeated that again in 2007 with 109 and won the trophy for the third time in 2008. He had 5 marvellous years with Lancaster winning many National titles and a lot of friends. I am very proud to say that myself and Scott are the only players to score 100 goals in a season in over 50 years of the National League but as he points out his was in the first division not the second’.

In 2009 Scott agreed to join the Victoria Tigers in Australia before the B Euro Champs in Lugano where Great Britain finished 4th and Scott was the top scorer in the whole tournament and received a nice Swiss watch. At the tournament Scott was approached by a few Italian teams to go and play there but he explained he had committed to a good financial offer in Australia. In Australia Scott was instrumental in the Tigers winning the title for the first time in 18 years and the top scorer in the League. He was also asked whether he fancied playing for Australia in 2012 in London as they could fast track him. ‘Scott asked me what I thought and I said take their hands off as you won’t play for Great Britain in 2012 but he said he did not want to let his mates down’.

In 2011 Great Britain players were told they had to stay in Europe so by now Scott’s agent had 4 offers from Italy on really good money but he was persuaded by Great Britain to take a much lesser offer from one of the legendary Spanish teams Terrassa from Barcelona and Great Britain would top his money up. After the season had started, Great Britain went back on this agreement so Scott withdrew from the Great Britain team despite the Olympics being around the corner.

Scott was a revelation in Spain despite having many injuries, being their top scorer in the Euro League and helping the team to second in the Spanish Championships and being sounded out about playing for Spain in the future.

Scott’s heart however was in Australia and returned there in 2012 after a fantastic offer from the Tigers owner Jeff Barrow which made Scott the highest paid water polo player in the world in 2012 and 2013 at a time when Jeff could have had any players in the world for that money including Olympic gold medallists. ‘Scott’s Great Britain team mates and the coaches wanted Scott back for the Olympics but UK sport and the BOC said he had broken agreements by going back to Australia instead of staying in Europe. Fortunately the two Sedgefield girls Chloe and Angela played for Great Britain in 2012 and Angela was recognized as our best player’.

After serious shoulder operations hit 2014, 2015 Scott finally made his debut for Australia at the age of 27 against the Olympic Silver medallists, Italy, in December 2015. Despite being half fit, Scott got on the score sheet and helped the team win 10-9. During his time with the team, he had been made very welcome by Elvis Fatovic the Australia coach who had won a gold medal in 2012 with Croatia and said Scott would be the missing link for Australia in Rio but 3 months later Scott was forced to retire when the specialist said he would never be able to play 6 intense games or more in a major tournament or do 20+ hours intense training a week. Scott is now part of the Aldi Australia senior management team.

In the meantime, since their last National Championship win in 2006 the Sedgefield squad had been totally rebuilt to challenge again for National Championships by winning in 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017. They are also in good shape to retain the under 19’s trophy in 2018. The club has now produced 20 international players.

Presently, the club has six sessions per week and George has coached the last 7 international players right through from the pools learn to swim programme. ‘The achievements of the club in Sedgefield have been down to a team effort from day one by the coaching team, a vibrant committee and the parents buying into my plans to produce good players and teams. It gets tougher each year as the resources of all the big teams improve and we being the only team these days who train in mostly shallow pools. After all my years involved with the club, I’m happy to be stepping down at this time as we have a good coaching team of seven and an excellent committee and the club is in good shape in general’.

The North East region would like to congratulate George on his remarkable career and for his achievements within Sedgefield. His skills and knowledge will be greatly missed however he has built a solid foundation on which many more players will thrive.