As we close out the second decade of this century, it is timely to reflect on the Club’s standing over the last twenty years. Into The Millennium (a perfect Christmas gift for anyone who is still looking), a history of the Club from 1889 to 2001, written by Kevin Kelly, brilliantly chronicled the Club’s successes and challenges over those 112 years. Few of us at the beginning of this century would have anticipated the success Herne Hill Harriers have enjoyed during the last twenty years.
A total of 220 new club records have been set or, to put it another way, almost 70% of the Club’s leading marks have been revised. Amongst these records, there are some that are of true international standing. I cannot do justice to them all, but by way of example would cite Michael Wheeler’s 18.86 U17 shot put, Terry McHugh’s 75.57 M40 Javelin, Kristal Awuah’s 11.16 U20 100m, Katie Snowden’s 2.00.92 800m, Saskia Millard’s 2.08.2 U15 800m, Charlotte Alexander’s 9.31.12 U17 3000m, Jade Johnson’s 6.81 Long Jump and Michella Obijiaku’s 16.23m shot put.
At an individual level, our recently appointed Club Patron, Jade Johnson, contested the most prestigious championship when competing in two Olympic finals, whilst many others during these twenty years have secured international vests at European, Commonwealth and global championships. We have also had multiple English Schools’ medalists and finalists, so often the platform for future achievement in the senior ranks.
The Club men’s track and field team achieved new heights when it contested the British Athletics League Premier Division, whilst our women’s team consolidated themselves in the UK Women’s Athletics League and our young athletes have contested the Premier Division of the Youth Development League. Looking forward, we will contest the second tier of the combined men’s and women’s National Athletics League. We have also witnessed significant success amongst our Masters’ track and field athletes, both individually with our athletes winning regional, national and international medals, and as a team winning regional finals.
This success has been more than matched by our achievements on road and cross country. Having won one Surrey League Men’s Cross Country team title prior to 2000, our men triumphed on six occasions in seven years beginning 2005/6. This ten to score event is the pinnacle of strength and depth, which we had in abundance during that era and are beginning to see resurface in the last few years. We won medals at the Southern Cross Country team championships, but these achievements have been surpassed by our Senior Women where we now boast one of the strongest distance squads in the UK. On 6th April 2019, our senior women’s squad came of age, when they followed up their victory in the Southern Six Stage Road Relay with silver medals at the National Six Stage behind Leeds.
Sutton Park has been a happy hunting ground for our teams across the age groups. Our men’s M40 team won two National Eight Stage Championships, the pinnacle of the masters’ team events, plus numerous other Southern and National team titles, including seven successive Southern Road Relay wins. But none of us would have anticipated the storming success of our young athletes at regional and national road and cross country events over this period. Prior to 2000, we did not as a Club have a consistent record in contesting these events, yet over the last twenty years we have seen amazing podium success to the point that, on visits to Mansfield and Sutton Park, it became more a question of which medals we would win, rather than whether we would be fielding teams.
Two highlights stand out for me amongst the many triumphs. First, when our U13B team dominated the National Road Relay at Birmingham from gun to tape, smashing the course record in the process. Second, the winning team performances of our U17W and U20W at the National Cross Country Championships in Leeds, which contributed to the Club’s securing of the overall trophy for the cumulative female points score. Surely one of the Club’s finest hours. I travelled with the team to the National Cross Country Championships, Sunderland 2013, when our U13G won the team gold in the snow. This was the portent of things to come. Part of that winning team, alongside Saskia, was a girl who was set to become one of our most successful female athletes, Alex Brown, a stalwart of team triumphs on road and cross country ever since, who has also won individual championships plus English Schools track and field title/medals.
I am so proud to have been a member of the Club, and now President, over this incredible time in our history. Underpinning this success has been the tireless work of our Club officials, coaches and team managers, a good many of whom held key positions in 2000, just as they do in 2020. This incredible voluntary service provides the backbone to the Club and enables our athletes to flourish. I would give special mention here to two of our greatest contributors, our Secretary Steve Bosley and Geoff Jerwood. Both have contributed in so many ways to our successes over these two decades, selflessly juggling multiple roles with humility and immense enthusiasm.
We do not get everything right, but we are highly regarded in the athletics community. Our athletes and those from other clubs have welcomed the positive approach we have taken to training and competition during the pandemic, and we are at the vanguard in other areas that include diversity and inclusion. Our finances are sound, and we have an energetic Executive which is as well placed as it has ever been to represent our broad membership. We have our challenges as we move into 2021. We must fully re-engage all of our athletes as we emerge from the pandemic and lockdowns, and we must ensure that the Tooting Bec track, our home, is relaid to enable future competition.
Working together, I believe we can make the next two decades as successful as the last two. For all those who are due to have some downtime over the coming weeks, please do enjoy the Christmas break and come back refreshed for 2021.
Keith Newton, President, Herne Hill Harriers