Victoria Park Harriers and Tower Hamlets Athletics Club

Friendly east London club for athletes of all abilities


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Victoria Park Harriers: The History of an East London Athletics Club, 1926-1976

By Gordon Everson

Chapter 3: Revival and Happy Days (1946 - 1960) | Contents | Chapter 5: Men Who Were the Club (Officials)

Chapter 4: Years of Uncertainty (1961 - 1975)

1960 was not a happy year on the track. Few new faces were being seen in the middle distance events and there was a dearth of sprinters. During that season V.P.H. could not win a single inter-club trophy and, in his annual report, the track secretary despaired of the non-racing members. This was a period when the training message was increase your distance - but those embracing progressive methods found, as others have since, that as their times improved, they feared more and more to commit themselves to the hurly-burly of competition and the Club suffered as a result. It was sad also that the death of Lord Trefgarne closed an association of over 30 years with V.P.H., but we were pleased that his son agreed to take over patronage of the Club.

The following year we looked like shaking free of the doldrums. Coming along were some of the most promising juniors to wear our colours and four of them, Danny Callaghan, John Schollhammer, Danny Collingwood and Dave Anderson combined to take the bronze medals in the Middlesex Junior Medley Relay. At Chelmsford, we won the junior section of the Coronation Trophy and it was the younger members who scooped the majority of the individual honours which fell to VPH athletes. Probably we had more young blood coming into the Club than at any time before and Tony Bradley became the first member to win a Southern Counties Youth Title when he won the Long Jump with 6.44m (2l’ 1-1/2”).

Road running was still sufficiently popular for us to take second place in the Highgate relay and for our 'B' team to win their section, but four of the five runners in our 'A' team were youngsters and later colourless performances by our teams on the road and country gave a more accurate reflection of our strength as a Club. However, there was another section of the Club which proved that a V.P.H. vest was not a bar to success over the country and it took the girls to show us. In 1960 we had, at long last, formed a ladies section and the enthusiasm they displayed was at first most promising. Diminutive Jean Nye won the Southern Counties Women's 13-to-16 years-of-age Cross Country Championship, a race in which we fielded eight runners all of whom closed in, but the section sorely needed officials who had an over-riding interest in women’s athletics and these we had not. Consequently, it was not long before our Ladies Section too was struggling and the general slide could not be arrested. Many of the powerful Essex Ladies A.C. used Victoria Park and even shared our meetings so it was not surprising a Victoria Park Ladies section could not take root.

The numbers representing us on the track slumped to only 37 in 1963 but, luckily, we still had a nucleus of reliable and faithful officials, not the least of whom was Alf Pearson who, after 20 years away from the Club, returned to throw himself into our affairs. George Hemsworth had resumed the responsibilities of General Secretary and he shouldered much of the worry during these difficult times, but Dick Everson and Arthur Coombes in particular were men to steady the boat.

In 1964 it seemed we were through the worst of the storm, at least we were holding our own and our track boys put our name on the Hornchurch 'Ingrebourne' Trophy for the first time. It was a progressive step to enter the Chingford and District League, a competition so organised that however weak and small a contingent was fielded in the road and cross-country races, the runners could still enjoy the participation. To see V.P.H. colours challenging for a cross-country title might have been taken for a mirage, but George Kicks almost achieved the impossible and was only narrowly pipped in the Middlesex Youths race. This honour was only deferred, for in 1965 he became the first member to win a major cross-country championship. Our seniors too performed well in the 1964 Middlesex and were second in the '12 to score' competition. In the Wadham Road Relay, we led by a minute with two stages to go, but then lost ground and finished 3rd.

General all round improvement continued during the next two years. We not only won the Chingford (Winter) League, but put our name on the League 5 Track Trophy, the 'Waller' Cup. Grafton's Friendship Cup was won by our cross-country runners and our juniors took the Barnet cross-country trophy for the first time, but during 1966/67 we showed signs of a relapse for officials became very thin on the ground and our active support also deteriorated. Fortunately, John Daniels, John Anstey, John Schollhammer, Tyrone Gibbons and a few others kept the flag flying in competition, even though they had no chance to secure team awards. It was in a 'Cinderella' event that we gained some small glory, for John Ferrary won the Middlesex Junior Javelin Championship - the first County field title to fall to us. Having been shown that such an achievement was not impossible, Roland Beckett registered a fine field event double in 1968 by winning the Middlesex Junior Shot and Discus and Tyrone Gibbons won the County Sprint title. This was the year in which we bounced back on the track with a vengeance by winning no fewer than six inter-club trophies - Southall's 'Farringdon', the 'Hackney Borough', 'Alex Meyer', the 'Wilson', our own 'Trefgarne' and Kent AC's 'Jubilee' Trophy.

On the country, we were absolutely in the doldrums. Abandoning all attempts to keep open a winter Saturday quarters of our own, we accepted the bounty of Woodford Green AC who kindly allowed us to share the Woodford Working Men's Club for training and Club Championships. Few took advantage of the offer to train there, but being near to our old course, we could keep to familiar ground, but we were inundated with schoolboy members introduced to us by half-miler John Flint, who had gone into teaching. Although few of them stayed with us for any length of time, in the short term, they enabled us to win our own Open Boys' Relay for the first time since it was established in 1959. The youngsters then went on to take the Ilford Boys' Road Race and, if our older members couldn’t show anything like this form, at least our Annual Spring Open 5 miles Road Race attracted a then record field of 68 runners. The event continued to thrive for many years and attracted entries approaching the 200 mark.

However, the year was overshadowed by the death of George Hemsworth. He had borne indifferent health for several years, but it was still a shock when the end came so suddenly. In the 1967 Annual Report, George had written, "If I am elected as Secretary again, this year will be my final one. I never envisaged, when taking over the position in 1937, that I should still be occupying it some 30 years later". His words were tragically prophetic.

A few short years had seen the passing of Wally Stokes, Lord Trefgarne, Tommy Harrell, Bill Baker, Wally Sapsford (who had been track keeper since the beginning), Harry Peck, Harry Marshall and Major Villiers and it was sad to see our links with the infant V.P.H. slipping away.

Peter Seabrook took over the position of General Secretary and stepped into a disaster area. An alarming decline in our active strength gave us our bleakest winter season. We could not even field a scoring team in some of the Chingford League races and blushed at our failure to contest the traditional Christmas 'Friendship' Cup race. Nor could we sustain the promise that had been evident on the track, but we were grateful not to be disgraced in the Middlesex and Southern Leagues, the revivals of which began to crowd out the familiar trophy meetings. Yet there were still members capable of setting new Club Championship records and fresh faces still came to the fore. Young men and girls from immigrant families came to the Club in increasing numbers and soon displayed their natural talents in the sprints and jumps. Andy Hyde won the Southern Junior 100m title and, after placing second in the A.A.A. Juniors, became the first member to gain a Junior International vest when he was chosen to represent England.

As we entered the seventies, the junior section continued to flourish. Our senior teams were greatly bolstered by the more outstanding of these youngsters and they were reinforcements sorely needed. We won the 'Hackney Borough' in 1970 and Mike Quanne took the Middlesex 10,000m title the same year, but this was a period which was unfruitful and it was not until 1973/4 that we began to get things together; winning the 'Ingrebourne', 'Trefgarne and V.P.H. Junior Trophies. The Club also topped the Middlesex Junior League and secured promotion from Division 4 of the Southern League. The latter achievement set V.P.H. on a remarkable run of success in this competition and, in the next couple of years, the Club won all twelve matches in which it engaged, rocketing through the 3rd and 2nd divisions and into the highest sphere.

A prolific points scorer for us was Wayne DuBose who finished 2nd in both the S.C.A.A.A. and A.A.A. under-20 Decathlon championships of 1973 and, subsequently, earned selection for the British Junior Team. The following year, he finished 3rd in the A.A.A. under-20 Decathlon championships and was once again selected for the British Junior Team, competing once again against France, this time at the Colombes Stadium in Paris. His score of 6193 in this latter event placed him 6th in the British under-20 all-time rankings.

In 1975 the coaching of John Isaacs really paid off for our young sprinters. After winning the Southern 4 x l00m Youths Title in 45.3 secs., the team of Neville Douglas, Colin Francis, David James and Mike McFarlane went on to win the A.A.A. Youths Championship in 43.94 secs. In the A.A.A. Junior race, our quartet of Phil Tapper, Hugh Boatswain, David Baptiste and Vernon Bramble placed third with a Club record of 42.98 secs., but this was no more than a taste of things to come. In 1976, the Southern Youths title was retained in 43.6 secs. and, although we couldn’t hold the A.A.A. Championship, David Baptiste, M. Martin, Wayne Campbell and Neville Douglas were 3rd in 44.32 secs. In the A.A.A. Junior sprint relay however, our team of Tapper, McFarlane, Boatswain and Bramble ran brilliantly to win in a new U.K. Junior record time of 41.3 secs. This record wasn’t beaten until 2004!

Mike McFarlane had a sensational season for he scored a sprint double in the A.A.A. Youths Championships with records of 10.7 secs. and 21.4 secs. and then went on to snatch 3rd place in the A.A.A. Senior 100 metres in 10.69 secs. In the same Championships, Danny King reached the 400 metres final and, although he was unplaced, was rewarded with a Junior International Badge, as was McFarlane.

The same hot summer, V.P.H. also managed to win the 'Legion' Trophy for the first time as well as picking up the 'Waller', 'Trefgarne', and V.P.H. Junior Trophies. It was a good year for the Club to celebrate its 50th Anniversary. In half a century, Victoria Park Harriers knew good times and bad, happy and sad; it was a notable achievement to have reached such a landmark when so many other clubs went to the wall. Fortunately, we have always had enough selfless men to see the Club through its difficult patches. May that always be true.

Chapter 3: Revival and Happy Days (1946 - 1960) | Contents | Chapter 5: Men Who Were the Club (Officials)