Saturday, 19 January 2013


  The banter from the other kids  on the estate  continued throughout the week following me saying that today, 50 years ago,  I would be competing in my first ever cross country race.   There was no malice in the jibes. As far as they were concerned, whilst they knew I could run around a football pitch from dawn until dusk, I would have no chance against lads who were already in their third season of cross country competition in either the North or South Manchester leagues. Particularly the kids'  "local hero" the famous Sankey who was enjoying another unbeaten season.
   I could say that I knew better; I would show them what an underdog  could do, today would be my day. Today I would emerge from the pack in triumph; to the astonishment of all and sundry.  But in truth I was more concerned to run fast enough to have the race done and dusted in time to do my Saturday evening paper round across the road from Heaton Park.
  My dad came home from his morning shift at the nearby AVRO's plane factory at lunchtime. He liked to have a bet on his way home from work and after lunch he would settle into the corner of the couch in the lounge and watch the racing on the telly.  Mam would continue with her chores; looking after nana, my two older brothers and my younger sister.  Meanwhile,  I  quietly packed a bit of kit together for the race, (including the football boots we'd been advised to wear!) slipped  out the door and said I would see them later.  Likely as not I didn't even tell anyone where I was going.  I was 14 after all!
 My school, St. Bede's College, was 7 miles away across Manchester  but the park was just a mile or so down the road so I walked down by myself to meet and  up with the teacher and the rest of the team.  No chauferred trip by parents.  Only one family in the entire street owned a car!
 The French teacher was the same one who had had me caned for doodling in the margin of my French exercise book but today his demeanour was somewhat different.  Smiling and reassuring. he reminded us that whilst we had never run cross country, we weren't exactly novices.  We had all done well, recording good times in our school sports events and a couple of us had won medals in the city championships only last Summer. I had managed a third in the 880 yards event.   But today would be longer than that and over rougher terrain.
 As we waited around  before the race I became aware that although they were wearing different school vests a lot of the lads seemed to know each other.  I sensed a lot of rivalry, but friendly rivalry.  I mentioned this to one of our team saying I felt like a foreign intruder. He told me they were at different schools but many of them ran for the local clubs.  Heck, I thought, we're taking on professionals!!
 The race started on the field where they started the English Schools a couple of years ago but unlike
  many events in the park nowadays; cross country and on the roads, it took us around the back of the lake and was comparatively flat.  Good thing: as I don't think I would have coped with any hills after the initial charge from the gun. I was way back.
   But gradually on the flat, gravelly path I was weaving through well as the fast starters began to fade.  The leaders were in view. Many of the lads I was curious about before the race visible up ahead.   I wasn't going to catch them but at least I was working towards what looked like a top ten place.
  A voice from the side shouted, "Come on Sankey, you're not going to make the team!"   as  I slipped past to his right.    A late surge took me past a few more, a final sprint and I was home.
The French teacher came towards me and congratulated me. I asked him the big question.
  "What time is it, sir?"  I was still concerned about my paper round!
"Never mind that, he said, " you finished 7th. You made the city team for the Lancashire Championships!"
 Back at the school changing rooms at the side of the park there was a lot of talk about the city team selection.  Several boys and adults came up and said, "You should join a club".
                It all sounded like a big commitment to me and anyway I was a footballer!
 Back at home it was just another Saturday as normal. Except that I'd gone off  to do some sport in the afternoon rather than the morning.  No big deal.
 As we assembled for the Sunday morning kickabout,   the kids on the estate never mentioned the race . Nor did I. We just put our coats for the goals as usual and got on with the game.   But they knew how I'd gone on. They'd have learnt from Sankey. He was first of the North Manchester lads as usual but been pushed back to 9th. He hadn't made the team. They selected the first 8. All those in front of him were  from the southern areas schools. All members of SALE HARRIERS,  MANCHESTER A.C. or MANCHESTER LADS CLUB HARRIERS.  
  I would come to know these very well over the next few years.  The lads  would become my team mates, rivals and friends particularly those from Sale Harriers. The club I would be asked to join after the Lancashire Schools event; back in Heaton Park where I would finish 17th. The second of over 700 races I would compete in over the next 50 years. Not just on the country but on the track, on the road , on trails and on fell.
 But just think if I'd have had said I couldn't compete in that race 50 years ago because I had to do my paper round.  Would I have have eventually got into the sport  and enjoyed decades of  running, training and racing, would I have set up the COMPLETE RUNNER and FASTRAX?  Clearly not.
                  This day 50 years ago was life changing and I'll never forget it!


  1. Terry,

    Great reminiscence - a lovely story. I must be going soft as it nearly brought a tear to me eye. You definitely made the right decision that day!

    Keep running,

  2. This could be a forward to your autobiography Terry. Great read.

  3. Your memory is a lot better than mine Terry. Great story, keep 'em coming!

  4. Awww brilliant story, you are such an inspiration!