TENNIS: David continues to raise the Barr at Duston

Duston United Tennis Club coach David Barr along with Dean and Ollie Conopo, Connor Evans, Rachel Johnson, Ellen McIlwaine and Abigail Ward (Picture: Kirsty Edmonds)
Duston United Tennis Club coach David Barr along with Dean and Ollie Conopo, Connor Evans, Rachel Johnson, Ellen McIlwaine and Abigail Ward (Picture: Kirsty Edmonds)
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If a tennis club is going to survive and prosper in the face of an uphill challenge in Northampton, Mendip Road appears an appropriate location.

Surrounded on an estate which includes Malvern Crescent and Pennine Way to name but two challenging peaks, Duston United Tennis Club can perhaps count itself lucky to be experiencing a boom time with coach David Barr at the helm.

After all, where are Kingsthorpe Imperials now? Or for that matter, tennis clubs at Mascot, British Timken, Express Lifts, Electricity or Old Northamptonians? Long gone it seems, in an ever changing world. Progress!

When Barr reflects Mascot and Timken were ‘just around the corner’ and the Express Lifts club barely an overhead smash along the A45, the survival feat assumes greater enormity. At least Barr can carry out some of his winter indoor coaching at the Duston Sports Centre on the old Timken site.

Yet this state of prosperity is a far cry from the club’s position in 2004 when the coach returned from working two years at Walmer Tennis Club, near Deal in Kent.

He said: “I applied for a position down there when they were looking for a first full time coach. It went quite well but it was always my intention to come back. I am Duston born and bred and have this club’s interests at heart.

“When I returned, membership was dwindling and on the verge of dying out but then I started the coaching. Now we have a mini tennis coaching programme in place.

“It helps that people have been able to see the improvements made with the courts and the clubhouse. When people can see you are making an effort they are more likely to come along and support you.”

Strength in depth with league tennis means Duston United will next summer be entering a men’s G team, putting them on an even footing with bigger clubs such as County and Dallington.

The upward profile is confirmed by the fact they seated 27 at last month’s annual League Dinner/Dance and last week hosted the League’s AGM for the first time ever. All due to that extended clubhouse...

Barr acknowledges an ability to find the right people to run teams – a constant headache with modern lifestyle pressures – but has had fortune smile on him by working alongside Dean Conopo, who last year won a county Volunteer Of The Year award.

He says: “Dean has been a godsend with many of those little jobs that need carrying out.”

One in, all in... not only has the industrious Conopo proved value with off-court chores but he has introduced his wife Debbie to the sport while son Ollie was one of two club junior nominations for the recent Barritt Salvers for Young Player Of The Year.

Then there is Rachel Johnson, the 15 year-old who plays ladies ‘A’ in Division Two and pays down the fact she is diabetic and has to take daily medication, typifying a feisty spirit from all who look down from the lofty Mendip Road peaks.

Barr says: “Everything seems to be on an upward spiral now. The habit has been for us to be picking up four or five trophies at last few annual dinners. It will have to level out at some stage but we are enjoying it as much as we can.”

NORTHANTS’ senior county squads will be tackling Aegon Winter Cup opponents over three days at Gosling, Welwyn Garden City this weekend.

The men’s side captained by Mark Taylor is in Group 6A and open up against Shropshire, before going on to face Avon and Cumbria, the order depending on first day results.

The ladies side is being run by Amie Norman and will see them tackle Cornwall on Friday before weekend dates with Gloucestershire and Staffordshire.

A strong ladies squad is confident of acquitting itself well in Group 5B, with Norman, Rachel Kings, Catherine Thompson, Laura Mineards, Jemima Potter, Steph Sierwald, Alice Johns and Kate Clayson all entering the mix, the latter set for a county cup debut.