Athletics has lost Stan Allen. With his passing, a part of Herne Hill Harriers has died. Stan was an athlete, coach and wordsmith, but – more important than splits and positions – he was a shining example of humanity. His association with Herne Hill Harriers spanned an astonishing 62 years.
I knew Stan only in his twilight years, with our first meeting soon after I came to London as a reluctant capital-dweller in August 2010. He introduced me to a hushed assembly of runners on the track at Tooting, as he did to every newcomer. There must have been hundreds over the years. Runners come and go, but I stayed. Stan was encouraging, but praise had to be earned. ‘Elbows,’ he would bellow at various runners as we belted around Tooting. Before training on a Tuesday, he would silence the throng with the immortal call, ‘it’s Tuesday, it’s Tooting.’ He would give a short resume of weekend success, from top to bottom. And then there was the Heath Technical Services-sponsored Common Runner. Stan – a 4min 15sec miler and a 2hr 33min marathoner who once ran 18,202 metres in one hour – was not a man to discriminate on ability. Always kind. Always sharp. Always generous. That was Stan. It is a tragedy he will not always be there.
Stan did not have an ‘it’s-Tuesday-it’s-Tooting’-style cry on Thursday, but he could have easily invented one. If he was not standing at the top of Covington Way on Streatham Common something was wrong with the world. There he would oversee a weekly hill repeat session and distribute fluorescent bibs in case the ice cream van man was feeling reckless. Stan Allen will always be on Covington Way at 7.30pm on a Thursday.
It was back to the track at Tooting on Sundays. After long runs, Stan would be in the hut cooking breakfast. ‘Do you want beans with that?’ he’d mock from the hut. I visited Stan and Joan at their home in Thornton Heath before Christmas in 2012. Stan had the 107-year-old Dewar Shield I had won by virtue of being the club’s 10-mile cross country champion to give me. He told me about the glorious names on that trophy, the Olympic champions who were proud to call themselves a Herne Hill Harrier.
And there was no-one more than Stan who knew what it meant to pull on the red and black of Herne Hill; he did it on 20 occasions alone in the annual national cross country championships. We had tea and biscuits. We talked about adventures and journalism, but mostly about running and runners. Always running. A hero of amateur athletics, Stan Allen will forever be running.