Brief profile of Heaton Harriers
Using former Chairman Bill Allen’s 1990 Centenary Book as a point of reference, present Chairman George Routledge outlines a brief profile of Heaton Harriers:
It’s not clear exactly how the club was formed as records of the time have long since been lost but it seems probable that the club evolved out of the Newcastle Harriers club who were the largest in the area at that time. The club began on November 4th 1890 and although organised athletics was still in its infancy, there were quite a few clubs in existence at the time – Hexham Harriers, Felling, Gateshead Congers, Saltwell, Tynedale, Alnwick, Elswick, Berwick and Newcastle Harriers. Even in those early days Heaton performed well in cross country, distance running, sprints and track & field events.
(Photo: Heaton Harriers in 1910)
It’s not clear how the clubs original colours of mertyl green vests and white shorts were decided but the club HH shield and victory garland logo has remained constant. It is thought that the club changed to its present white vest in the late 1960’s on the advice of the clubs sprinters who thought their dark green vests were a disadvantage in sprint finishes!
The very first Heaton Memorial Road Race took park in 1920 to remember those who died in the Great War. Heaton, in common with many other North East clubs lost many of their young men in the conflict between 1914 -18. Out of the 120 Heaton members registered at the time – 100 served in the forces – 12 never to return.
The first “golden decade” of Heaton Harriers team success was undoubtedly the 1920’s- winning the forerunner of today’s North East Harrier League every year from 1921 – 1930, the Elswick road race six times, the Morpeth to Newcastle six times, the North Shields road race seven times and the Heaton Race seven times.
Heaton competed consistently over further decades until returning to “Glory Days” in the late 50’s and the 1960’s with the help of members familiar to many runners today – Joe Hawes, Dick Balding and Reg Checkley. Centenary Book author Bill Allen also paid tribute to Ron Nicholson who many considered to be Heaton’s and perhaps the north east’s greatest ever sprinter at that time who gained international honours. During the era when Morpeths Jim Alder was winning virtually every local road race – Heaton’s own star Maurice Benn was emerging. He became the first North Eastener to break four minutes for the mile and went on to clinch a place for the 1968 Olympics.
In the early 1970’s the club reached its lowest point with only a handful of stalwarts – Balding, Hawes, Checkley, Dickson,Colin McEntee and Les Venmore competing. Thankfully they saw the club through the bad times and emerge into the running boom of the 1980’s to prosper once again. In the late 70’s and early 80’s it was the veterans Balding, Hawes and Checkley who were regularly winning medals at North East, Northern and National veteran level. Eventually more youngsters joined the club and of these Peter May looked a good prospect who could hold his own with future stars such as Steve Cram, in his early days. With others like Chris Marshall joining the club, the future looked rosier than it had done for some years. May finished 9th youth in the 1979 National Cross Country at Luton and then 11th in the English Schools as part of a successful Northumberland team. In 1980 Phil Jones began to make an impression on the track – first as a 100m runner in the Tyneside track league and then to finish second in 200m and 400m in the North East Counties Championships. An even better result was Peter May’s first place in junior 3000m at the same meeting. His time of 8.43.8 was a worthy effort and he bettered this time later in the season, with an 8.30 to confirm what an exciting prospect he was. One of Heaton’s girl runners was also a good prospect. Susan Renwick was regularly placing in the first five in road races and won the North Shields road race in record time. Meanwhile the vets were still performing well, with one of Heaton’s great characters, Eric Appleby beginning to show excellent form. Eric went on to win his age group in virtually every race he entered- setting British veteran record times and representing England many many times in Veterans Cross Country International events.
During 1981 another Heaton stalwart – Albert Gallon made great progress, dramatically improving as a long distance runner and later became club secretary. At the revived Blaydon Race of 1981 the vets team of Balding, Checkley, Hawes and Bill Allen won the team trophy for the first time. The following year saw one of Heaton’s best athletes Micky Miles establish himself as a great prospect and a great club man. Several young runners, Lloyd Lemmon, Paul & Ian Gallon and Steve Allan would emerge during that period and perform well for the club for many years. In 1983 Sally Reid became the clubs top female athlete and youngsters Isaac Philip, Phil Handrihan and Victoria Checkley (daughter of Reg) became Heaton’s brightest prospects. Heaton’s veterans continued to perform well with Eric recording 75.51 as a 52 year old in the Tynedale half marathon while Micky Miles was sixth in the race in 68.17. In the North Tyneside Marathon, Gerry Shirley had a great run to be the first over 55 in a time of 2.55.06. During this time as the veterans were strengthened by Joe Walker and Joe Lancaster, the youngsters were strengthened by Michael Scott, Micky Brooks, Davey Wright, Les Smith, Malcolm Gibson and John Moore. During the 90’s Robert Brown proved to be the clubs finest youngster – winning many boys and youths races on the track, road and cross country. Geraldine Beedle emerged as the clubs best female runner for many years progressing from senior to veteran. In the late 90’s Anita Nott took over that role but tragically died in a traffic accident while out running. The annual Women Only Run is staged in her memory each July.
Moving headquarters from Sam Smiths – first to Walker School, Lightfoot Stadium and then to Benton saw the club improve beyond recognition by establishing a young athletes group and a women’s section. Since the 1980’s Heaton have produced many fine and loyal athletes, most notably those who have won the club’s own “Ringtons Cup” road race championships – Micky Miles (9 times) John Moore (13 times) and more recently James Buis who has quickly established himself as Heaton’s best runner.
In latter years the club has returned to enjoy success in the North East Track & Field League (most recently by joining forces with TyneBridge Harriers). Heaton’s proudest moment was being the first club to win the men and women’s cross country team title in the North East Harrier League in the same year and to win the women’s team title four years in a row – with Jo Zoppi playing a prominent role. (Photo: part of the XC winning team)
The clubs membership is over 250 and rising and includes a thriving junior section which was re-established in 2008 and who have competed at under 11, 13, 15 & 17 level this year in the NEHL- thanks to the sterling effort and hard work by Ted Baty and James Buis. Athletes have also competed in the indoor standards meetings at Gateshead. This hard work was recently rewarded when the club received the England Athletics North East Development Club of the Year award. The club has also had a recent influx of many new excellent senior runners – not least Lorna Young and Jamie Barber – who are sure to continue the success of Heaton Harriers. It’s fair to say that the administration of the club is just as important as the athletes and in this respect Heaton, like many other clubs, has had many dedicated officials who deserve special mention. From the early days of the first secretary F.J Hutchings, founder member W.T.Rainbow A.W.Turner to Bill Dewing, Jock Old and Sam Smith, more recently it’s the likes of Les Venmore Dick Balding, Norman Hall, Norman Anderson, Peter Clark, Reg Checkley, Albert Gallon ,Chris Marshall, Steve Padden, Bill Allen, Kevin Bray ,Ted Baty, George Routledge, Allen Mulliss and Paul Inskip who should get all the plaudits and who have contributed hugely to the tradition of friendship and efficiency that has been the hallmark of Heaton Harriers over the years. New members are always made welcome. Seniors train at Whitley Park Sports Ground, Whitley Road, Benton Tuesdays & Thursdays at 7pm and Juniors train at Heaton Manor School on Wednesdays between 5 – 6 pm. Further details can be found on their website – heatonharriers.org.uk and on facebook.