The Athletic Club was originally formed in 1921, three years after the First World War. It was disbanded in 1939 at the outbreak of the Second World War. No record of the club in that pre war period can be traced.
In July 1948, the year of the Olympic Games at Wembley, the club was reformed and athletics was returned to Basingstoke. The inaugural meeting to reform the club took place at St Michael’s Church Cottage and chaired by Mr R.B.Curtis. Mr Don Plester was the new secretary and amongst those who got the club up and running, so to speak !, was Mr Wilf Stocker and Mr John Lansley. Wilf Stocker was to eventually become the secretary until he died in 1967. A ladies section was included in the club a little later.
The club’s headquarters in those days was the old Queen Mary’s Grammer School (now the Vyne School). By kind permission of the head master we had rent free use of a grass track and jumping pits (all sand and no landing mats), and the school gymnasium with changing and shower facilities. It was a very small club with members recruited from the Air Training Corps, Army Cadet Force, Youth Centre, Boys Club and various individuals from schools and local industry.
Coaching for track and field was, as I recall, supervised by Wilf Stocker and supported by a Mr Richard Lamb and Mr Bill Yates during the summer season at the school. Most of the club members at that time were into other sports during the winter, but some did gym sessions in the school. Football and handball were vigorously played (to say the least) and there were casualties!
Much of the activities were confined to inter club events, open handicaps, trophy meetings and of course the Hampshire A.A.A County Championships. With a membership of around 35 to 40 athletes and officials in the early days of the club it was not easy to field a full squad for all the events, so those who attended a meeting competed in as many events as they could. Coaches to transport members to an athletic meeting were normally well supported. Porter’s Coaches were used and Mr Porter would supply a 25 seater coach and sometimes he would drive us himself. Mr Porter was to become one of our first Vice Presidents.
Winter cross country and road running was organised from Vyne School as well. Oakridge and Popley fields were used for training courses over the country. That area of fields were eventually swallowed up by the housing estates built in the 50s and 60s. New courses had to be found, so the Memorial Park and the old Common was used for the cross country team. For the road runners, the roads usually used were on the South View estate and the unbroken road out to Sherbourne St John, through to the Tadley Road (A340 ) past Park Prewett and back to the school via the Aldermaston and Merton Road route. The roads where not so busy in those days, so the traffic was not so much of a problem as it is to-day.
The Old Basing Flower Show was a show piece for the athletic club after the second world war. This was promoted at the Basing Recreation Ground on a 330 yard grass track. The whole event attracted many spectators, athletes and cyclists from the top Southern and Midland Clubs. Most of the track events were open handicap races of 100 yards, 200 yards, 440 yards, 880 yards and the mile. There was some excellent cycle races, with a few spills for athletes and cyclists, if there had been rain. There were many other attractions to the Flower Show, including many side shows and of course the renowned horticultural exhibits. This popular local event ended around 1960, which was a sad loss to local athletics and cyclists as well as the flower and vegetable exhibitors.
However, there was the Basingstoke Carnival Athletic Evenings in the Memorial Park, which was another show-piece for the club and again was an attraction for many spectators. At some events there was floodlit athletics in the park arena, where top shot putt and discus events were staged, which was quite spectacular. A selection of track events were staged on Tuesday evenings in the park’s fenced off grass track for the Athletics Night, which was a regular attraction from 1956 until the mid 1960s. This popular evening raised quite a lot of money during its time in the park. But sadly the track athletics programme was withdrawn, due to the Carnival Committee’s insistence that athletics should be moved outside the park arena. However, the club was persuaded to bring athletics back into the Carnival later around 1980. So eventually it was decided that the 10Km annual road running event was chosen to replace the track events.
The club’s early A.G.Ms were held at various venues and were usually fairly well supported, especially when a controversial topic was on the agenda. The early annual meetings were normally held at St Michael’s Church Cottage. Later they were held at All Saints Church Hall in Victoria Street and Queen Mary’s School was also a venue for later A.G.Ms. Club committee meetings were often held at 18 Norden Close, the home of the then Secretary, Wilf Stocker and were later held in a class room at Queen Mary’s Grammar School.
In the early 1950’s the female membership began to blossom and in 1954 a young lady athlete began to emerge as a potential star all rounder. Her name was Janet Ruff and was coached by Wilf Stocker. She later went on to set, a then, world best for the 440 yards at the White City Stadium, London. It was on 11th August 1956 she clocked 56.6 secs and on the 6th July 1957 she lowered it to 56.4 secs. No women’s world records were accepted for distances over 220 yards in those days. She also excelled at the 220 yards, 880yards, the mile, shot, discus and javelin, setting them as club records which still stand today.
Race walking (see club records) began in the club in the mid 50s and club records were first listed in 1959. Joe Wrey joined the walking team in 1963, having been converted from road and cross country running. Joe still holds the 100 miles club walking record he set in Bristol in 1969, covering the distance in 22 hrs 16 mins 24 secs. David Lawrence set a national junior 20Kms (12.4 miles) track record of 106 mins 02 secs at Plymouth in 1989. This record had stood for 13 years and was only bettered in 2002.
Cross country and road running in the 1950s was organised by a young lady named Thelma Reid. She served on the committee, as did her father who was the club treasurer. Cross country and road running was not organised as it is today. There were no Hampshire or Border Leagues then, but was just arranged on an inter club basis. Hosted cross country meetings were organised on the old Basingstoke Common.
The inaugural major club road running fixture was organised by Wilf Stocker, who supplied cups for the events and were called the ‘Round the Houses’ 6 mile senior and 3 mile junior. The venue was by kind permission of the Basingstoke F.C at Camrose Ground. A three mile circuit down Winchester Road to Winton Square, down Sarum Hill and Worting Road finishing back at football ground via Western Way. The first event started in December 1965 and after the death of Wilf Stocker in 1967, a young man named Ian Byett took over the event and carried it on. The race name was changed, when it was sponsored by KLIX and it continued with that title together with two moves to Down Grange and finally to the Memorial Park until the event was dropped in 2001.
Wilf Stocker also organised the inaugural club walking event in February 1967. This was a 10 mile road walk routed around the South Ham Estate, sadly Wilf was to see only the first walking event, as he died later that year. The walking events were then taken over by Joe Wrey and later moved to the Vyne School venue and a better course away from the major traffic roads. This went through the South View estate and along the country roads via Sherbourne St John to Vyne House and back to finish outside the entrance to Vyne School. The club hosted the Southern Garnett Road Walking Championships at the Vyne School venue in 1972. After which the roads became dangerous through the estate and along the Reading Road duel carriage way. The events were then moved to the John Hunt of Everest School, using the same course, but moving it two miles further along the Brambly Road and into Morgerston Lane. The club added junior events and a ladies 5 mile walk to the programme around 1975 and were to continue until 1998, when sadly new junior and senior walkers could not be recruited so walking went into decline. Read the account of one of Reg’s race walking adventures
In the 1970’s the club began to develop further when the Southern League programmes emerged and the junior members joined the likes of the Wessex, Macdonalds and the Hampshire Young Athletes leagues. The winter season was to also have a league system for the cross country with the Border League for the junior members under 11 and under 15 boys and girls and of course the Hampshire Cross Country League for the junior and senior male and female members. The road runners section was also formed, when former chairman Leigh Henderson started the fun runners group off and was to develop over the years to the strong section it is today.
The Race Walking section had been formed in the mid 1950s and was also to join the Southern League of race walking in the early 1970s and was associated with the league programme until its demise in 1998. The club’s annual open 10 mile walk was to become a league match in the annual series of walking events fixture operating from the Vyne School and later the John Hunt School venues. In 1972 the club hosted the Southern Garnet race walking championship at the Vyne School. I was proud to represent the club in all those events and was associated with the organisation of the club’s 10 mile and ladies 5 mile and junior events for nearly 30 years.
From these leagues was to emerge amongst our membership a flow of international standard athletes. The first one I recall was Robert Swann who was to gain a junior international vest. He was followed by Linda Keough (Staines) and Tracy Goddard (Joseph), who were to gain Olympic and Commonwealth Games selection. Bill Jewers was also to join the list of club internationals. These were some of the club’s initial G.B internationals and in more recent times to-day we have had Katie Watts, Simon Williams, Ben Hazell and Robert Tobin, who has just recently gained selection for the Great Britain Olympic team for the Athens Olympics in the 4 x 400 metres relay squad.
The club celebrated its Golden Jubilee during 1998, with an event organised by various club members each month of the year, with a Gala Dinner in September held at the Basingstoke Golf Club and finally the club hosted the Hampshire A.A Cross Country Championships as the last event in the December.
On the active side over the years the club has produced male and female members, who have attained up to international standard at junior nad senior level. All credit to the coaches for these athletes progress.
The club can also boast of a team of first class officials, the envy of many clubs, some of whom officiate at international level, including one under 20 field events official.
The lifeblood of any sporting organisation is of course its volunteers on the committee. I have witnessed the various committees over the last 50 years or so and the progress this club has achieved, has been due to those many men and women who have served this club over those five decades. No less than the stalwarts who have been serving the club in other capacities. It has all culminated in the athletic club we know to-day, long may it continue.
This is a very brief history of the club since its 1948 reformation, there is so much more to record on the club’s 59 year history, but sadly much of the club’s records were lost some years ago, so its all down the memory of the older members to try and record what we can from our trips down our sporting memory lane, this is my contribution. I have been a member since the club was reformed, except for a 4 year gap, due to service in the R.A.F from 1950 to 1954. However, I retained an honorary membership during that period and returned to the club a full member again. Over the years I have seen the club continue to grow in strength and in October 1990 the club merged with Mid Hants A.C, the club now has a membership of about 400. I hope this brief history has given members some idea of how the club has progressed through nearly six decades and I hope the club will continue to thrive on the success of the last 59 years.
Reg Eade. Club President.