Oliver Smyth has been playing Parks League tennis since 1977. Raised in Manchester, he grew up around The Northern Tennis Club, which hosted many top stars on its splendid grass courts back in the 50s and 60s. Young Oliver would go along with his autograph book, and you can see him photographed below with the great Margaret Court of Australia, winner of 24 major singles titles. Now retired, Oliver as been an active tennis coach (Badgers, Brighton College), while enjoying many seasons of competitive tennis on the parks courts of our city. Over 42 seasons, we estimate that Oliver has played 700 Parks League matches, and he is still going strong for Hove Park D.
We asked Oliver some questions about his own personal Parks League story.
Parks League Debut
“I made my Parks League debut for Queens A against Hove A in 1977. I played against Jim Denman, father of Brian and Tony. I then represented Queens from 1977 to 2014, only stopping because I needed a hip replacement. I started playing for Hove in about 2017.”
Parks League successes
“I was a member of Queens A which won the Division 2 title in 1977, and was captain of the Queens 1st team that won the Division 1 title in (I think) 1988, 1989 and 1990. I remember giving a speech at the Parks League dinner at the Old Ship Hotel in 1990! I never won a Parks Cup title. Partnering Tony Wellington (Woodingdean), I reached the semi-final of the men’s doubles but we were not allowed to play it. As a consequence, I decided not to enter any more. I also played quite regularly for the Parks 3rd Team in the County League with Tony Wellington, and occasionally for the Parks Vets, which does not exist anymore. I have a shoebox full of trophies that I won at Queens and Hove for all sorts of competitions.I was in five or six men’s singles finals at Queens, winning two of them, in 1984 and 1999. In 1999, I also won the men’s doubles, so that is the best year for me, especially as I was 52 years old at the time. I also won the men’s doubles at Hove in 2022.”
Favourite place to play
“Queens. It is such a lovely situation and it was close to work. However, the shale courts there were very dusty; the best ones were at the Rookery.”
“Mike Jenner, Ian King, Chris Tyler, Christian Salter.”
“Richard Nutbeam and Denise Taylor. Denise was here for less than 3 years, but was the best player I have ever seen in the Parks. She had been ranked 200 in the World and played for GB in the Wightman Cup.”
“Winning the first division for the first time. I think the final four matches were won 8-0 and we finished one point ahead of our rivals in the dark in Patcham. Also, the end of season dinner at the Black Lion in Patcham was really good fun.”
What does Parks League mean to you
“The reason the Parks League have survived is because it is one large family. There are no social divisions and everyone loves tennis for its own sake. There are opportunities to play both socially and competitively; you get out of it what you put in. Of course there are squabbles, but that shows how much everyone cares. We are all very lucky to be in a city with this league and we need to fight for its existence and independence.”