There are Clubs and Clubs
By Frank Horwill
When Matthew Fraser Moat was asked by a Belgrave Harriers club official what club he belonged to, Matthew replied, "Serpentine." The official cynically replied, "Oh, a joggers’ club." Well, this "joggers’ club" has been promoted from its league for six consecutive years. Some joggers’ club!
The success of any club revolves around:
- Good administration.
- Sound financial management.
- Athletes improving their event.
- The creation of a brotherhood and sisterhood which virtually means that everyone helps each other.
Now, some clubs become successful using what can be called "The football mentality." They find, a generous sponsor or sponsors, and proceed to "buy" in the best athletes available. First of all, the annual subscription is waived, the sponsor pays that. Next, the athlete may be offered an inducement to join this can either be a "signing on fee" or an annual "training expenses" allowance. Whatever method is used, it does not take long to build up a formidable team, and that team remains powerful as long as the system is maintained.
The "football mentality" of building up a club has had disastrous results in the new professional sport of rugby football - many clubs just cannot find the money to pay their players and have become bankrupt. Even professional football clubs are getting squeezed by the system.
It’s a very funny thing that a hundred years ago, a football team that called itself Much-Binding-in-The Marsh, could only use players born, or residing in the town. It truly represented the town. If we take Chelsea, for instance, most of the team were born a thousand miles away. The team represents not an ounce of the local population. What does this all indicate? It indicates that athletic clubs that follow this mentality and the football clubs that continue it, are concerned mainly with the now. Their faith in the future revolves around getting enough finance to buy ever-increasingly more expensive players. Eventually, the bubble will burst. So, what’s the answer?
The answer was found by the British Milers’ Club, founded in 1963, to raise the standard of British middle-distance running to world supremacy. There was a never more pie-in-the-sky club formed. In 1963, British milers could not even make the top ten times in Europe. They were a laughing-stock, their method of competing was to jog three laps and sprint the fourth. They were gutless, afraid to run three fast laps and hang on.
So, the founder members, which included Gordon Pine and a number of Senior AAA. coaches, sat down and worked out a plan. It was a twenty year plan! World supremacy by 1983! First of all, regional secretaries were appointed, who had to be Senior AAA coaches, for example, one for Scotland, one for Wales, one for Northern Ireland, etc. Each secretary had to carry out specific tasks annually, which included:-
- Organise races with a "hare" in every race to record times which would compare favourably with European recordings.
- Organise once a month training days (Sundays) throughout the winter.
- Organise a residential/educational training weekend at the beginning of the winter and summer.
- Recruit as many under 17-year-old athletes as possible.
In 1972, the BMC received an application form from a 15-year-old boy, who stated that best times were: 4:25 / 1,500m and 2:12 / 800m. He lived in Sheffield. He appeared in a BMC race at Hendon, Copthall stadium, an invitation 800 metres. He recalled the experience to the writer, "You got us altogether before the race and said, ‘We haven’t paid for you lot to come here to f--k about. Get stuck in!’ The first lap was too slow for you, and as we came down to complete it, you stepped on the track and yelled out, ‘If you can’t do better than this - step off the track.’ Well, it was such a shock to me that I ran the next lap in 56-seconds and broke 2 minutes for the first time."
In 1981, this athlete ran 1:41.7 for 800m, a world record. His name was Sebastian Newbold Coe. At around the same time, another BMC member who joined in 1971 aged 16, ran 3:48.4 for the mile his name was Steve Ovett. In 1984, a boy who joined the BMC at 17, won a silver medal in the World X-Country Championship, the first for England in 10 years, he also did a PB, by 11 seconds in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic 5km, to come fourth - Tim Hutchings was his name.
These three had one thing in common: a club took interest in them as boys, encouraged them, provided races and courses for them and decorated them with awards for their achievements. In 1980, the newly established UK Coaching Scheme told the BMC, "You’re superfluous, we’re taking over." British middle distance running declined from then on.