The 1970 originals (from left): Gordon Lloyd, Mike Wiltshire, Zia Mehmet, David Horton, Gordon Botley, Mick Micklethwaite and David Howdle
Various ideas were suggested as to how the 50th Thanet Congress could be celebrated but one was unanimous: we should invite back all those that we could trace who played in the first congress. Fortunately, we had all the documentation, meticulously collected with the pairings from the ‘Premier’ as the main competition was called. There were some we knew would not be returning – Mick Croft, whose handwriting was easily recognisable on the results sheet, George Stiggers, Secretary and Treasurer of Broadstairs Chess Club for over forty years, and Geoff Steele, Thanet stalwart and former Congress Controller, are no longer with us – and others politely declined including Leonard Barden, who recently celebrated his 90th birthday and no longer plays much, and Stewart Reuben who restricts himself to one game a day in competitions. However, we were delighted to welcome back six of the originals who all agreed to play (it was thought that some non-active players might return but only as spectators).
The first Thanet Chess Congress was held from September 4-6 1970 at St Lawrence College, Ramsgate where Gordon Lloyd, the Controller, was Head of Classics. 55 players entered the Premier and the remaining 24 were divided into four all-play-all groups. The winner of the Premier was guaranteed a minimum prize of £10 while group winners – as Mike Wiltshire remembered – each received £4. Gordon not only controlled the congress for the next fourteen years but his wife was in charge of the catering. Gordon tells how their young children slept at the school during the evening rounds and had to be woken up and taken home at the end.
Initially, Gordon thought he would be unable to attend the reunion but a change of personal circumstances within weeks of the congress meant that he was a late addition. Not having played for over thirty-five years, and having once being graded at 191, Gordon was given an estimated grade of 151 and played in the Challengers alongside David Horton and Zia Mehmet. (David and Zia played each other in Round 1, a game that ended in a draw which, according to David, was the result the last time they played fifty years ago!)
Once it was known who was going to be attending, it then had to be decided what should be done. With all the original documentation available, it was felt that a display would be a good idea and Andy Flood, the current Controller, assembled photographs, newspaper articles, the original programme with all the results together with random information from the time including the winners of the Eurovision Song Contest and the F.A.Cup! In order to provide each of the original participants with something more tangible to remember, Andy photocopied and framed some of the congress documentation to give each player a personalised record of their achievements in the 1970 congress. They were also given a souvenir mug – dishwasher-proof, according to Andy! – with the slogan ‘From Rookie to King 50th Thanet Chess Congress 2019’ together with the ECF logo. Finally, Gordon Lloyd was also given his own personalised ‘Johnny’, one of the special trophies John Couzens made to celebrate the 50th Thanet Chess Congress.
It was a simple ceremony that took place on the Sunday morning before Round 4 but it was pleasing to see so many people turn up a little earlier than usual to witness a special occasion. Andy Flood made a short speech as did Gordon Lloyd and then, as if nothing had happened, everyone settled down to play chess.