‘Sleuth’ uncovers missing members of Canterbury tennis' 100 club

Canterbury tennis stalwarts Warren Edgecumbe and Diane McKinnel earned belated recognition for...
Canterbury tennis stalwarts Warren Edgecumbe and Diane McKinnel earned belated recognition for their winning exploits thanks to the research of Bevan Johns, who scoured old newspaper clippings to collate results of Tennis Canterbury’s new 100-club members. Photos: Star Media
When his opponent’s torn hamstring cut their club championship tennis semi-final short, Bevan Johns was soon inspired to embark on an exhaustive project to ease his adversary’s pain.

Richard Dalman was down - and out - after limping off the courts at Elmwood 10-months-ago but, after sharing a conciliatory chat, Johns launched research which culminated in seven of the local game’s stalwarts earning belated recognition last month.

Terry Mooney. Photo: Supplied
Terry Mooney. Photo: Supplied
Dalman, Ralph Webster, Brett Hibbert, Terry Mooney, Warren Edgecumbe, Stephen Harley, Diane McKinnel and Judy Philips were subsequently added to the Wilding Park honours board reserved for winners of 100 premier grade games.

Johns’ research was particularly poignant for 86-year-old McKinnel and Edgecumbe, 76, who had no officially recorded victories.

With the benefit of hindsight - and Johns’ eagle eyes - McKinnel was actually the first player to reach the milestone when she beat J Clarke (Shirley) on December 15, 1979.

The Avonside legend’s first victory was against another Shirley opponent, A Dalley, on November 12, 1955.

“There was very little recognition for tennis in those days so it was a very big surprise when Bevan presented me with a plaque,” said McKinnel, who was unable to attend the awards function.

Bevan Johns with a report in a local newspaper from 1962 that listed Warren Edgecumbe's first...
Bevan Johns with a report in a local newspaper from 1962 that listed Warren Edgecumbe's first tennis win, 9-7 6-1, against Eric Cormack. Photo: Star Media
“I can’t remember playing her (Clarke), I didn’t have any idea it was my 100th win.”

Elmwood veteran Edgecumbe recorded his first win on November 17, 1962, against Eric Cormack and reached triple figures by beating Sumner’s P Dawson on January 24, 1981.

“I’m pleased to have got this recognition. Bevan did great work, it was a massive effort,” Edgecumbe said.

Johns spent more than 1000 hours scouring microfilm of old newspapers held at Christchurch’s central library, Turanga, after comforting Dalman.

“We had a beer instead of a second set. He was a bit downcast because his body was failing him a little bit. We had a yarn about when his body was in better shape, the fellas he beat (from the 1970s to 90s).

“I asked him if he was up on the board or close. He thought he was probably pretty close but maybe not all of his results had been counted.”

Johns asked if there was any means of finding out and Dalman, who was on about 80 wins at the time before being upgraded to 101, mentioned the library archives.

Richard Dalman’s hamstring injury ultimately enabled him to join a select few Canterbury premier...
Richard Dalman’s hamstring injury ultimately enabled him to join a select few Canterbury premier grade tennis players with a century of wins. Photo: Patrick Rose
The ball was in Johns’ court.

“As it happened I was on a break between jobs,” he said. “So I had a bit of time on my hands.”

And he needed it to comb through thousands of editions for the results - typically in Monday’s sports section - before collating a spreadsheet.

“It was probably six months of late nights.

“I was only going to look at Richard’s results but my partner (Jo) said: ‘If you’re going to look up his and get him up on the board', she said, 'you’re going to have to go back the whole way’. I ended up going back to 1930,” he said.

So how are his eyes now? Is the ball fuzzy when he plays division one for Elmwood?

“They were burning,” he admitted.

“There were some days I’d spend eight hours down at the library and not find a single result because I was coming towards the end and I was looking for the missing ones.

“Warren’s was the most exciting to find, he was on 99 for a long time. I went through every missing week trying to find one more for him.

“Once I got in the flow you stayed there. When I got home it was onto the laptop, onto the spreadsheet until 2,3,4 o’clock in the morning.”

Warren Edgecumbe, Bevan Johns and Diane McKinnel. Photo: Star Media
Warren Edgecumbe, Bevan Johns and Diane McKinnel. Photo: Star Media
Johns, who is currently contracting for the Department of Internal Affairs, had always been partial to facts and figures.

“Cricket was my thing when I was a kid. I used to buy the magazines and look up the stats and records. I was always interested in my numbers. The calculator was my favourite toy,” said Johns, who joined Elmwood when he returned to Christchurch from the capital in 2018.

Johns, who has a solitary premier grade win on his record, was proud to reflect on a resounding success.

“It was a personal project that’s had a wider impact. There’s been a bit of division between the guys that played in the 70s and the guys that played in the 90s that created the (honours) board.

“I don’t know why all the numbers didn’t get counted. I think it sort of righted a wrong.”

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