John Lake 1940-2021

With great sadness, we report the passing of John Lake, club member in the 80’s and 90’s. Steve Baker and Amanda Heath remember his swimming and water polo career.

John lived for his family and his sport.

John was a true gentleman in the sport of swimming and water polo, and no one ever had a bad word for him.

He swam for Spencer Swim Team where amongst other achievements, he held the inaugural British Long Course records for the 45-49 age group 50, 100 and 200 backstroke (in 32.87, 1.13.68 and 2.45.65) in the late 80’s. He also won the 100 and 200 backstroke at the first European Masters Championships at Blackpool in 1987, setting European records in both events. He also introduced the current head coach to the club in 1986 to improve his butterfly!!!!

He was a regular county masters swimmer, not only cleaningup his age group on backstroke, but also quite frequently on fly and free.

He was a more than useful water polo player, small but fast, agile and skillful he was very tricky to pin down.

He played for Sutton and Cheam but spent most of his career at Penguin.  

He played for Penguin and from the late 1970s was the first team coach which saw Penguin win the second division and regain their first division status.   He was the coach responsible for reformulating the club from an aging side to a young dynamic team with much potential, guiding young players to stardom and international success.

In the late 1980s when Penguin started a women’s team, he became the head coach for the women and remained so for the next 30+ years.

John was a tertiary level teacher of PE in colleges includingsome tough gigs in South London.

Latterly, he became the pool manager at the Shell Centre in Waterloo where he fostered swimming and polo by having a very vibrant water polo section there for men and women.  However, John was never elitist and often helped Shell employees coming for their midday swim to improve their stroke and speed.

Brother-in-law to the Penguin legend Ron Turner, family pressure meant John really had little option than to have a lifetime at Penguin even though Cheam baths was his closest pool!

John was also instrumental in forging contacts with the world-famous Italian club, Pro Recco, with whom Penguin have has a long association.

John passed away on March 14th aged a month short of 81 after a long illness. His wife Joan was with him at the end. 

We all send our condolences but celebrate a great supporter of the sport.  It can be said with confidence that he left an incredibly positive mark.


  1. Hi Amanda, I have known John for over some 60 years. We both swam for Surrey County in the early 1960’s. We were the senior backstroke representatives. He was with Sutton and Cheam. I was with Croydon Amphibians. In the 1970’s when he was the water polo coach for Hammersmith Penguin I played for him. He was a far better water polo coach than he was given credit for. In the 1980’s I swam with him at Spencer winning their first national medley relay title. You already have this appropriately documented. Over the years I would always bump into John so to speak. Many stories. Many happy times. A lot of people may not know this. John played for Tooting and Mitcham Football Club. I went along to watch them play one Saturday and spotted John warming up. He was a very good player. Enough of this. Please convey my condolences to his family. He was something special alright. I’m devastated. Tony Pearce.

  2. Hi Amanda. (Continued). In the 1990’s, 2000 and beyond I was the swim coach for St Paul’s Boys School. Any prospective water polo player I would entrust to John at Hammersmith Penguin where John would then nature them with the necessary skills and confidence for them to realize their potential as players to the highest level. Hence, County, District, National players and indeed an International player(goalkeeper) came to fruition. But, to me, the most important facet of his coaching was the fact that these players have continued playing well into adulthood. The true testament of the man himself. Tony Pearce.

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