Tucked away, and often unnoticed, down a short drive between two houses on Morland Avenue lies The Sir Philip Game Centre.
The Centre is named after the late Air Vice Marshal Sir Philip Game, G.C.B., G.C.V.O., G.B.E., K.C.M.G., D.S.O., who was Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police from 1935 to 1945 [yes, that’s an awful lot of letters after his name, but I’ll save that or another article]. Sir Philip died on 4th February 1961, and the centre is a memorial to him.
These days if one solely relied on mainstream media one would have the impression youth crime is a modern phenomenon that didn’t exist after the War, but that would be far from the truth. Single parent families, absent fathers, poverty and readily available firearms led to a post-war crime wave, and it is against that backdrop the Metropolitan Police decide to open a Boys’ Club.
Although there was nothing original in the idea of police running a Boys’ Club, there was a lot of publicity during the war years of other police forces contributing to youth work, and this only served to make Sir Philip more determined that the Metropolitan Police should also take a hand. He realised that, by close and continual contact with the youth of the day and the public in general, police officers had the potential to make a positive contribution.
During August 1943, Sir Philip visited Croydon where he met and talked with Superintendent David B. Deller who had just been appointed to take charge of ‘Z’ Division.
The Commissioner mentioned his Boys’ Club scheme and outlined the objects which are contained in the Constitution of the Centre. It was agreed that Croydon was an ideal place in which to begin the project and Mr Deller began by talking to other police officers and prominent local citizens.
Soon he had stimulated sufficient interest, and on 25th February 1944, in the Croydon Education Office in Katherine Street, twenty-six persons representing social and commercial interests in the Borough met to launch the Boys’ Club. A draft Constitution was approved. It was unanimously agreed that the name should be “The Sir Philip Game Boys’ Club” in recognition of the Commissioner’s work and interest. Sir Philip was also elected the Club’s first President.
The Cedars, an old house, standing in an acre and a half of grounds in Morland Avenue, which came with four tennis courts, was acquired at an extremely low rental with an option to purchase. Everything had been planned to get the Club premises fit for occupation by mid-September, 1944, but the German V-1 (doodlebug) bombing campaign intervened. Even though the premises were not directly affected by the bombing, the planned renovations could not be commenced as the necessary licence from the Ministry of Works and Planning was unobtainable. Accommodation had to be found for the storing of furniture and effects of bombed-out families in the borough, and the Executive Committee of the Club decided to offer the house for this urgent purpose — an offer that was accepted.
Although progress was difficult because of war-time restrictions, the house was gradually made suitable and a wooden gymnasium built. Eventually, on 11th January 1946, the Club was opened, and by the end of the day, 50 boys had enrolled. By the end of the year, membership had increased to 200
The Club was officially opened on 19th July 1947, by the then Home Secretary, the Rt. Hon. J. Chuter Ede, in the presence of Sir Philip Game and many distinguished guests.
The Club prospered, and funds were raised to improve many of the large rooms so that instruction and educational work could be carried out.
In 1952, a then modern brick gymnasium, fully equipped, was built and officially opened by Vice Admiral The Earl Mountbatten of Burma, the last Viceroy of India, who was later assassinated by members of the Provisional Irish Republican Army in 1979.
The gymnasium was known as the “David Deller Hall”, a permanent reminder of the Club’s first Chairman. Despite the acquisition of the new gymnasium, it was apparent the old house was becoming unsuitable for a modern club and that the available space facilities limited activities.
Following the Albermarle Report in 1960 plans were made for the building of a new Club to form an integral part with the existing gymnasium. The Sir Philip Game Memorial Fund was launched in 1961 and by 1963 sufficient money had been raised. A new clubhouse, games room and bungalow were built and completed in 1964. The new premises were officially opened on the 8th of May, 1966, by the then Home Secretary, the Rt. Hon. Sir Frank Soskice, in the presence of Lady Game who unveiled a plaque in the memory of her husband.
Boxing was an integral part of our club from the beginning. Several champions passed through our doors including, British middleweight champion Frankie Lucas, three times world champion Duke McKenzie and WBC heavyweight champion Frank Bruno. Frank boxed for the Sir Phillip Game Amateur Boxing Club from 1977 to 1980, wherein his final season as an amateur, he was the youngest ever ABA heavyweight champion, aged 18. Regrettably, due to outside pressure, the boxing at the club was brought to an ignoble end in the early 1980s. At present, SPG doesn’t have a boxing club.