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Phil Jones: Cheltenham’s very own aquatic virtuoso who was integral in the birth of the British Water Polo League

This August one of Cheltenham’s oldest sports clubs lost an integral member, it was with great sadness that Cheltenham Swimming and Water Polo Club announced the passing of 90-year-old Phil Jones.

At the age of eight, Gloucestershire-born Phil Jones followed a simple family tradition by joining the CSWPC, eight decades later he would end his playing career as one of the most influential figures in a historic British sport.

Born in 1932, Jones adapted to life in the water very quickly.

On 10th May 1947, he made his debut with Cheltenham’s first team, participating in an enthralling 5-5 draw with Derby.

A year later, his offensive prowess earned him a chance to represent the county – helping Gloucestershire steamroll Devon, 4-0.

Throughout his career, Jones was renowned for his ability to find the net, proving difficult for the opposition as an ambidextrous attacker who was capable of scoring with both hands.

Most notably, clinching the National Club Water Polo Championship in dramatic fashion.

In 1958, Cheltenham saw themselves pitted against London Polytechnic on a late Saturday evening at the Bristol Baths, a game which had ended in favour of the London outfit over the last two years.

However, a ‘dominant’ display from Cheltenham saw them overturn a two-goal deficit to win 7-5.

Despite a spirited fightback, a Phil Jones hat-trick and a collection of goal contributions from his brother Jack Jones, Cheltenham sent the crowd (which exceeded 500!) wild.

Scoring five in a 9-7 win over Manchester in the ultimate game of the club’s Lancashire tour was one of many highlights in a glittering career – he was complemented by his brother Jack Jones – who netted the remaining four.

Phil etched his name into Gloucesterhsire’s sporting royalty, housed in the CSWPC’s Hall of Fame alongside his brother Jack who had represented Great Britain on three occasions at the Olympic games (1948, 1952 and 1956).

Across a glorious 17 years, Jones had become a household name in the British game and held almost every role the sport had to offer.

A serial winner who spent 83 devoted years as a CSWPC and Swim England member, Phil spent his later years dedicating his spare time to the club’s committee. 

The CSWPC secretary, Sarah Witcomb, had worked alongside Phil for over a decade and could only admire how much respect he had earned himself throughout his career.

“He was a true gentleman.

He knew every single rule and policy in the sport, he could be pedantic and forceful with certain issues, but he was a professional if a decision did not go his way he would accept it and move on.

“I have been part of the club for 15 years and in every role Phil was committed, both water polo and general committee.”

Before moving into the world of water polo, Jones was a very talented swimmer.

Winning multiple championships, the Midwinter Cup and the Holborough Cup were the first titles to his name across a five-year spell beginning in 1946.

Adding more in between, Jones asserted his aquatic dominance throughout Gloucestershire by becoming the 100-yard Junior Gloucester County Champion and the Counties Champion in 1947 and 1948, respectively.

A stalwart in and out of the water, Phil Jones has etched his name into the country’s water polo folklore.

And, although he will be dearly missed, his contributions to the sport and the success of the British Water Polo League will be forever cherished in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire and across the nation.

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