This page contains links to various documents of the Manchester Disabled Athletes (MDA), initially known as the Manchester and District Disabled Sports Club. It ran from 1970 to 2009, and by 1980 was known as MDA.
The club was formed in June 1970, possibly timed so it could enter competitors in the Commonwealth Paraplegic Games in Edinburgh in July that year. A press cutting from the Scottish edition of the Daily Mail, 1 August 1970 said:
- “The Scottish National Party yesterday criticised the BBC and ITV for failing to give adequate coverage … Both companies replied that the Games were designed for a minority interest and the cost of covering them would be prohibititive.”
MDA’s constitution required the membership and committee to be always at least 75% disabled people, and the club was a pioneering radical organisation which could be said to have prepared the ground for UPIAS in Manchester, which in turn prepared the ground for GMCDP.
One of the founders members was (Mrs) M Bone, then living in Ashton-under-Lyne. The club records found so far are mostly from 1973 to 1976, mostly held by the late Kevin Hyett, a member.
On 23 May 1973 the newly-elected club committee met, but with no minutes from the previous meeting of the previous committee. The Chair is now Marjorie Cooper (international games gold medals winner), Fred Needham is Vice-Chair, and the Secretary is Neville Strowger. Anne Miller becomes the club’s public relations officer, and Joan Clarke was the treasurer. The club photographer was Ken Barnsley, and his pictures were shown in an exhibition, possibly in Wigan.
The club had around £128, plus sports equipment stored at a school. The club also had junior members. Sports meetings were initially at Medlock Primary School, Ardwick. Some sports equipment including three table-tennis tables were stored and used there.
Meetings there were usually Monday evenings from 7.30pm. The club’s teams often won their matches against teams of non-disabled players in the Manchester Table Tennis League. In later years sports events also were held at the Abraham Moss Centre and at the Stretford Leisure Centre.
Committee meetings were held at the Frank Taylor Centre in Ardwick, Manchester. Jean Lee was a continuing member from the earlier committee but resigned after the first meeting of the new committee. At the 26 June 1973 “the club’s wedding present to David and Janet Foden, (a tray), was shown round and admired.” Also, “the Silver Wings Club at Manchester Airport is agreeable to our holding our Sports Day at their premises.” The following meeting received a report that the bar was also accessible.
The “L Gradwell” in the minutes up to 1978 is Les Gradwell, the future husband of Lorraine Mahoney. Lorraine was active in a different disabled sports club – The Teesside Disabled Sports Club in Middlesbrough – but she met up with the Manchester club members at sports weekends which moved around the country, including the national and international games at Stoke Mandeville.
In 1974 Marjorie Cooper from Manchester and Lorraine Mahoney from Middlesbrough both attended the Paraplegic Commonwealth Games in New Zealand, each winning a gold medal. In that year 28 members attended the club’s annual general meeting, with 60 members on the books. Membership subs were the same for juniors and for adults, 25p.
Later, as the politics developed, there are a couple of examples from the MDA newsletter in April 1983 on the local and world politics that ran through the group:
- “In 1981 … Councillor Winnie Smith, then Lord Mayor of Manchester made the conversion of Whitworth Street Baths, Openshaw, into the project for her Appeal Fund. This conversion into a Sports Hall, which is to be totally accessible for people with all sorts of [impairments] … the opening day is to be 1st May 1983.”
and in the times of apartheid this item on the South African team attending the International Stoke Mandeville Games with a token minority of black athletes:
- “As someone who withdrew from the 1981 [international games] because of the South African participation [Bernard Leach’s] views are well known. … [At last the] Minister of Sport, Neil McFarlane, has confirmed that South African participation at [these games] is in violation of the Gleneagles Agreement … [and] many countries are now refusing to participate … last year the number of competitors was down from 800 to 500.”
Bernard’s withdrawal in protest in 1981 earnt him hostile press coverage including on the front page of the Daily Mail (below).
By the mid-1990s MDA had around 25 regular members, meeting every Thursday evening at Stretford Leisure Centre for swimming followed by table-tennis. The membership was older, no longer in competitions, and with no junior members. Then gradually as members left or died the club diminished and eventually became dormant.
But the principles of integrating disabled people’s sports into the mainstream were still being driven by MDA members. In 2002 Manchester hosted the Commonwealth Games in a newly-built stadium. This was the first time worldwide that every medal in international games was counted equally, whether achieved by a disabled or a non-disabled athlete. And the stadium had a record number of places for disabled spectators including wheelchair users. As a fringe event Lorraine Gradwell organised a reception evening for all the visiting disabled athletes to meet with other disabled residents in Manchester.
Martin Pagel, a disabled activist and a former Deputy Leader at Manchester City Council, credits MDA for its determination in pressing for this political and sporting watershed.
Many sports insiders will also now admit that Manchester 2002 was the critical pitch for London 2012. It showed that the UK, once again, could run an international multi-sports event such as the Olympics without messing it up, and Manchester’s organisers were part of the Olympic Bid Team. And while equality of medals is still too radical for the Olympic movement, the 2012 Paralympics inspired the country and showcased equality across the world.
In particular, Neville Strowger had been a very active founder member and driving force within the club throughout, and he was winning national medals during the 1970s. He also worked for Manchester City Council as an access officer. He stayed involved in the club committee throughout its time, but the death of their close friend and fellow club member Kevin Hyett in 2004 took its toll on Neville and Lorraine Gradwell especially. Neville died in 2015 and Lorraine in 2017.
A closing meal of the surviving members was held around 2015 and all the dormant funds given to a refugee charity in Manchester to help with their sports and leisure costs.
HISTORY PARTY SOON?
Plans are being made for an MDA “History Party” for a Saturday afternoon hopefully sometime in the summer 2018 to be held in Manchester’s iconic Central Library, St Peters Square (M60 2LA).
This will be a reunion of surviving members, all invited to bring photos, documents and memories ‘to the party’ to create a new archive for MDA. Possibly with a film crew.
SOME ARCHIVE FILES: