Saturday, 2 January 2021

From the archives: 1986

 From the archives of Bill McGuirk:  Article by Alan Dobison, 1986

Controversy again at Harrier League

Oh Dear! Do people never learn?

After the South Shields disqualifications you would have thought that clubs would have double-checked that their athletes were correctly packed.  But no!  Almost all of the spectators at Chester-le-Street knew that Alan Lamb, winner of the Cockermouth Marathon, should have been in the fast pack.  The inevitable happened, Alan was disqualified and his afternoon ruined.

No-one can blame the officials, John Keefe and his volunteers have enough to do and they manage magnificently without the added burden of such basic inefficiencies.

More to follow: Willie Watson, in second place, was also disqualified.  Willie, a former Elswick Harrier, recently moved to Washington and joined that club - therefore had not completed his nine month suspension.  However , one wonders why Willie should have to serve one at all since his move was over a considerable distance (first claim committees please note).

The eventual winner was an embarrassed John Renney, who thought he had finished 3rd.  John, like Ritchie Ogle at South Shields, has been around a fair time for an 18 year old.  Gateshead easily took the team honors.

More success for them followed in the colts event, where Cramlington-based Johnathan Dearing came home first.  Elswick took the team award.

Rob Draper from Chester-le-Street took the honors in the Boys race from an unknown Crook athlete, who wasn't registered.  The club officials disappeared before a name could be supplied.

Morpeth swept the board in the Youths' event.  Kirk Groundwater finished a winner with Stephen Priest the fastest, and the club took the team honors.

What a day for the Priest family! Tony was fastest in the Youths' event and sister Susan was second behind Karen Foster in the Girls' race.  Where does Mrs. Priest put all the trophies?

Lisa Reilly must frighten our intermediate Ladies to death.  Only six turned out at South Shields and even fewer - five - at Chester-le-Street.  Come on Girls!  You never know until you try!

Alan Dobison

Saturday, 19 December 2020

Letter of thanks from George Patterson

 On behalf of Hudson Stoker’s immediate family, Sheila, and Jeff Lee, (Sister and Brother-in-Law), and his two nephew’s, Great Nieces and Great Nephew, and myself, I would personally wish to thank our many friends at Morpeth Harriers & AC, North East Counties AA, and Northern Athletics, and friends, for the many cards and kind wishes expressed at the time of our very sad loss.

We were all very much overwhelmed by the number of people wo showed their very kind concerns at a time when we very much needed you.

Hudson was, and still is a most wonderful friend, whom I will never be able to forget, and I will continue to treasure the memory of his wonderful friendship for the rest of my days.

I was very lucky in life to have met and known him, and our 52 years that we spent as friends, and close companion, will always be held most dearly to my heart.

He was very much a gentle, gentleman, something unique, who is thankfully now out of the pain that he very much bravely bore, without a grumble, and with the determined grace and dignity that was very much true to his character.

Neatness, and the need for everything in its place was very much Hudson’s forte, lessons I learnt from him throughout our lovely life together.

He will always be very sadly missed, God Bless.

Kind Regards

George Patterson

Tuesday, 1 December 2020

John Keefe & Hudson Stoker

 THE North East athletics family has been hit a double whammy with the news that long-serving officials John Keefe and Hudson Stoker passed away last weekend.

It’s a huge blow to everyone who knew the two superb servants who graced the field of athletics in a special style by going about their business in a quiet but exceptional way and with their passing the sport will be a lonely place without them.

The Harrier League in particular is hugely grateful and appreciative for the tireless work the pair put in over many years which, in a sense, helped make the NEHL the envy of other cross-country leagues throughout the country.

John Keefe

John started life as an athlete with his home-town club Jarrow Cycling and Athletics Club having notable successes giving the club a strong standing in the region. A move into the admin side with the likes of Tommy Power, Jimmy Hedley, Bob Charlton and Eric Huskisson after a name change to Jarrow and Hebburn Athletics Club, saw the South Tyneside outfit prosper even further especially when they had athletes of the calibre of Steve Cram and the largely unheralded David Sharpe, proud athletes who competed on the World stage in the famous gold with blue sash vest.

If his work at the club wasn’t enough – he filled all the major positions at one time or another – John took on the role as Harrier League secretary at a time when the organisation was struggling for funds. But he had the answer. He asked for volunteers on race days to go round with a bucket persuading competitors and their supporters to dig deep for the cause and it worked a treat so much so the league is now in a much healthier state now as the collecting bucket is no longer and in the archives of history!

Jonathan Gilroy presenting John Keefe with the Jarvis Award at Jarrow & Hebburn's 80th Anniversary

After passing over the league secretary position John continued to be a regular at Jarrow & Hebburn and local fixtures despite some atrocious weather working as an official at the finish line, a role he also enjoyed in warmer climes at track meetings throughout the region.

Hudson Stoker

Hudson, meanwhile, was, in comparison to John, a relatively late starter to the local athletics scene after linking up with the Northumbrians in 1986. However, he quickly made his mark after working alongside great friend George Patterson as members of Morpeth Harriers.

George & Hudson at the 2019 Northern's XC Champs

A gentle gentleman, Hudson proved an asset to the Northumberland outfit where he took on many tasks without question, a fact quickly recognised by the hierarchy which resulted in him being installed as a life-member.

Away from his club duties Hudson found a new niche when he took up announcing duties like a duck to water. While local events were the bread and butter, especially with the mic in one hand and his beloved camera around his neck ready for action before proclaiming in that immaculate voice of his: ‘Slow pack you have five minutes to the start’ at a HL fixture. His calm delivery quickly got him recognised where he was installed at Northern Athletics’ events as well as English Road Relay Championships.

RIP John and Hudson, our thoughts and prayers are with all your family and friends at this sad time.

*For further tributes to John and Hudson check the relative club websites

By Bill McGuirk

Monday, 23 November 2020

Aykley Heads Review

Aykley Heads Cross Country 2014-2019


As in previous years Harrier League fixtures in 2013/14 included a race just over the border in Gateshead but no running in County Durham. Venues which had previously been used in Consett and Chester-Le-Street were no longer viable. A suitable site needed a course and a large parking area. Three local clubs Elvet Striders, Durham City Harriers and Derwentside A.C. decided bringing a race back to Durham was a good idea and investigated a variety of sites settling on Aykley Heads. A suggestion was made at the 2014 Harrier League A.G.M. and we had a date of 22nd November 2014 for the first race.

Pre-race Planning

Now the easy part was over. The event needed the course to be mowed, new gates to be added, 60 volunteers to be recruited and most importantly signed agreements with landowners to allow access. Throughout the events the core team stayed the same Geoff Davis (Elvet Striders) volunteer recruitment and course clearance, Geoff Watson (Durham City Harriers) course building and dismantling and Mark Davinson (Derwentside A.C.) leases, landowners and general organisation. We were also indebted to Andy Niven volunteer Countryside Ranger who mowed the grass each year and helped develop the course while protecting the nature reserve we ran through. The fixture couldn’t have become a reality without the support of our masses of volunteers mostly from Elvet Striders who ensured everyone was parked safely, didn’t get lost and events ran smoothly.

Photographs show car park and course marshals from 2014

2014 The Chair And Crazy Corner   

When the original route was designed it went all the way round the edge of the land. On Facebook after the race the most discussed course features were the hairpin bend at the end of the course, which we called crazy corner, and the 3ft step 100 metres before that, the Chair named after the jump on the Grand National. As a new course replacing Blaydon runners didn’t know what to expect but most posts described it as brutal, muddy fun and one of the hardest courses. It was a proper cross country course was the consensus which was exactly what the organisers were looking for. All three organisers were determined to copy Saltwell’s Keith Wood and run. A trend which would continue in future years.

Innovative dance move on crazy corner

Juniors in the haze

Women approach crazy corner with the very helpful tree in photograph

All three by Hippie Nixon

2015 Tweaking The Beast

A second fixture was agreed for 21st November 2015. Any thoughts the course was too difficult were erased with approximately 40 extra runners in both the men’s and women’s races. In a couple of places where the paths had taken a battering new routes were cut through the grassland adding a different type of underfoot surface and a bit more elevation. Heavy rain leading up to the fixture made the top of the big hill very sticky with several shoes coming off.


Shoes in hand photograph by Darren Fairclough

Laura Weightman winning the women’s race

Men halfway up the big hill Paulo’s Running Pics

2016 NECAA Championships Adding Length

Aykley Heads was lucky enough to host the NECAA Championships on 10th December 2016. A longer course was needed so a few new innovations were introduced including the woodland and removing the chair which were both retained for future events. The route through the sticky, deep mud to the right of the trees at the top of the bank wasn’t used and did not return. In the senior championship races Olympian Laura Weightman won the women’s race and GB cross country international Jonathan Taylor the men’s.

Chairman of Durham County Council Eddie Bell helps George Patterson start some of the championship races

For the last six years we have had the best maps in cross country beautifully illustrated by Juliet Percival

Footage from the men’s race at the NECAA Championships 2016 from Ian Twaddle

2017/18 Maintaining The Challenge

By 2017 the fixture was a regular fixture in the cross country calendar and hosting was by now maintaining the same blueprint which had been previously successful. Alterations from the NECAA Championships which had been popular were retained and the course reverted to its previous Harrier League length. In 2018 the course stayed the same. Both years were dry for November and numbers remained similar with a record of 416 finishers in the women’s race in 2018.

2017 A new way to watch the race by stationary train Dougie Nisbet

2017 A new way to watch the race by stationary train Dougie Nisbet

2018 women on the downhill John Jobson

2018 men near the start Stuart Whitman

2019 A Final Mudbath?

By 2019 Durham County Council had planning permission to develop a new headquarters and progressed plans to turn County Hall into an industrial estate. Northern Athletics had agreed to hold their 2021 Championships at Aykley Heads. With the new building expected in Spring 2021 the car park would be a building site by the Summer. Heavy rain throughout the Autumn had already led to postponements. In previous years thick, sticky mud had slowed runners down. In 2019 wet, slippy mud covered the course and made cornering difficult. Some runners hoped the crazy corner would be reinstated but the course remained the same as the previous year.

Club colours? Ben Heathcote

Juniors in the mist Stuart Whitman

2020 The Future

At the time of writing the Northern Championships has been postponed but may take place in March if restrictions permit. Building of the council HQ remains on schedule making it unlikely car parks will be available in November 2021. Thanks to all the volunteers, race officials, league officials and runners who helped make Aykley Heads cross county a great event. Durham County Council and Durham Police Authority have both been amazingly supportive of our cross country community ripping up their land. I hope you have enjoyed it as much as the organising team have.

Written by Mark Davinson.

2019 mudfest by Paul Dunlop

Thursday, 23 July 2020


Hi, hope everyone is ok in what are strange days indeed. Just a few notices from discussions we've been having over the past months and a meeting held earlier this evening to make some decisions about 2020/21 season. An e-mail with reports and details will be going out to all clubs in due course, but just to summarise discussions so far:
  1. Results from 2019/20 will stand (as at Micky has been meeting with our sponsors (Start Fitness) and we're looking to organise a presentation event, within the ever changing government COVID guidance and what will be acceptable to Start Fitness. Will obvioulsy keep you informed on that one.
  2. The AGM which would normally have been held tomorrow (24/07/2020) will hopefully be held towards the end of the year. We will circulate reports (General Secretary's and Financial) direct to clubs in the meantime. To be honest at the moment we don't have anything to discuss regarding fixtures for 20/21 due to the changing guidance coming from government, UKA, and we would also need to consider all landowners that we work with whether local authorities or private landowners.
  3. The plan for 20/21 season, and we'd draw your attention to details for road / trail events released by UKA / EA this week, is to tentatively look towards a restart in the New Year and hopefully get 3 or 4 events in across Feb - March, possibly January as well. Although as far as we are aware the North Easterns are still scheduled for December, a good marker will be whether the Northerns go ahead in January. As you'll be aware the nature of the Harrier League, numbers of people across the day, lapped courses etc means that at present we would be nowhere near meeting the current published requirements for events.
Will keep you all updated as and when anything develops. Keep training; hope to see us back in action in the not too distant future.
All the best
SFNEHL Committee

Saturday, 21 March 2020

RETRO Cross Country - March 26th 2000


WHILE there is no ‘live’ athletics activity at the moment – plenty of virtual running though thanks to Vicki - here is a brief report from the Durham Pine Harrier League fixture of 20 years ago. It was the first season of the coming together of the men and women as previously the women would more often than not hold their fixtures on the Sunday, following on from the men’s event at the same venue the previous day. 

Even though I was in attendance at Prudhoe that day – can someone enlighten me why it was on a Sunday - please excuse the fact that in some cases I don’t know the Christian names of some of the athletes! – feel free to add them if you can.

IT’S only right to kick off with the senior women’s race for it was won by the promoting club’s – Tynedale Harriers - Karen Robertson, and even though there was no pack system at the time, managed to win by over a minute with Scottish Commonwealth Games marathon representative Lynn Harding (now Cooper and the NECAA cross-country team manager) finishing in second place ahead of Jarrow and Hebburn’s Clare Smallwood (now Simpson). Compared to the huge women’s fields now witnessed at harrier league fixtures on this occasion, I don’t know how many dropped out because of the severity of the course, but the results state that only 21 managed to finish. 

On a pleasing note however, it’s good to see that the leading three athletes home are still involved in the sport we all love.

The under-17/20 women’s race attracted just 11 competitors and was won by Gateshead’s Claire Taylor (formerly North Shields Poly). L Davies of the Poly finished runner-up while Tynedale’s L Wallace completed the one-two-three. Only one under-20 athlete was involved with Angela Hunter (now McGurk) of Jarrow & Hebburn, finishing in fourth place.

The under-15 girls contest, which had 15 competitors, was won by Tynedale’s H Pearson with Blaydon’s N Batey in second position and Danielle Watts (Morpeth) finishing in third place. A young Danielle Hodgkinson (Wallsend) finished half-way down the field over a minute adrift of the winner.

The under-13 girls event had 31 finishers with representatives from 12 of the region’s clubs. First across the line was Julia Orr (Quakers) who had four seconds in hand over second-placed Emma Nesbitt of Morpeth with Birtley’s A Barter holding off Gosforth’s Joy Fenwick for third place.

The senior men’s course must have been short of 10km on this occasion for first home in a time of 30min 53sec was Crook’s Kevin Archer who crossed the line over a minute-and-a-half clear of Morpeth’s Stephen Munday who, like third-placed J Bent (Blaydon) ran from the medium pack. First fast-pack runner home and quickest on the course, was Jarrow and Hebburn’s Kevin Corr who, from a five-minute handicap, worked his way through the field to finish in 11th place. 

There were 201 finishers and, as he has done on many occasions since, George Routledge (Heaton) was last man home! Also amongst the finishers that day were Blaydon’s Bill Courtney in 79th place and following him across the line was the current Start Fitness Harrier League sponsor’s owner, Tony Wallett of North Shields Poly.

Only 13 competitors lined up in the under-17 men’s event with victory going to A Hudson of Durham City who crossed the finish line 20 seconds ahead of second-placed fast-pack runner R Smee (Elswick,) with Quakers’ C Bedford, also from the fast pack, 13 seconds further adrift in third spot. Despite the small field, two clubs managed to close in a three-to-score team with North Shields Poly totaling 23 points to Quakers’ 24!

The under-15 boys’ race with 24 competitors, was won by Blaydon’s Matthew Armstrong who held off the challenge of fast-pack runner Marc Elliott of Gateshead by 15 seconds. Also running from the fast-pack was third-placed S McCarthy (North Shields Poly) who crossed the line just five seconds behind Elliott. Gosforth won the team race led home by Drew Graham in fourth place.

The under-13 boys’ event attracted 43 competitors and it was the only triumph for a fast-pack runner with Nathan Shrubb (Wallsend) managing to cross the line five seconds clear of his rivals. Elswick’s Jonny Pearson finished runner-up while Nick Swinburn, then of Blaydon, claimed third place ahead of Gosforth’s Lewis Timmins. Pearson and Swinburn ran from the slow pack while Timmins was a fast-pack entry.

The harrier league has come on leaps and bounds since that day thanks to the leadership of a series of hard-working committees and while the sport is in limbo at the moment with the present team at the helm it is sure to move up another notch as soon as they get the ok. 

Roll on next season – bring on the mud!

Bill McGuirk
NEHL Reporter

Full Results:
Senior men

Tuesday, 17 March 2020


Hi Folks,  It is with regret that the final Start Fitness North Eastern Harrier League fixture of 2019-20, which was to be held at Druridge Bay on the 29th of March, is now cancelled.  We will also be postponing the NEHL Presentation till September (or before the start of the new season).

In accordance with NEHL rule 4.3, the individual grand prix will now be the best 3 performances from 4 fixtures (Wrekenton, Aykley Heads, Alnwick Castle, and Lambton Castle).  Team grand prix stands from all four fixtures.

It has been a challenging season for the NEHL, with torrential rain affecting three fixtures in the season, to the Covid-19 virus at the end, and we can only hope that next season we can come back stronger.

We will keep you up to date with a date for the AGM.

Your support throughout the year has been fantastic, and the committee pass on our thanks.

Vicki Thompson
NEHL Ladies Sec.

The following statement is from England Athletics:

Coronavirus Statement: last updated 17 March at 9am
The UK government has advised that everyone in the UK should now avoid “non-essential” travel and contact with others to fight coronavirus.  Whilst it has not issued any ban on public gatherings of any size either indoors or outdoors at this stage, the advice is to avoid non-essential contact with others, including going to sporting events, pubs, clubs, theatres and social venues.

As a result, England Athletics advises that all face-to-face activity such as club training sessions, events, competitions, club committee and face-to-face meetings, athlete camps, running groups and social events should be suspended until at least the end of April.

The decision has been taken in the interests of athletes, runners, officials, coaches, volunteers, supporters and the wider athletics and running communities. This decision is also in alignment with actions taken by the home country athletics federations in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland and is similar to action taken by other sports.
Where possible, athletes and runners at all levels are encouraged to maintain their own personal fitness and keep active during this time, while following government guidelines about safe distance and safe exercise environments.
England Athletics will continue to review and monitor government advice and will provide detailed updates on the impact to our sport in the coming weeks. We appreciate that the current situation will undoubtedly place our member clubs in a difficult situation and we are working with UKA and the other Home Country Athletics Federations on the best way to help alleviate the situation and will update you as plans evolve.

Social distancing and advice

Social distancing measures (as defined by Public Health England as spending more than 15 minutes and within a 2-metre distance talking to someone) are now advised not only if we test positive or have symptoms, but in day to day life.  As well as current travel advice, the current UK government is advising anyone with a “new, continuous” cough or high temperature and those they live with need to self-isolate for 14 days.

At Risk groups

The latest advice from the government’s chief medical adviser is that those over 70 currently do not need to be self-isolating. However, in the coming days, every Briton over the age of 70 and those in at-risk groups over the age of 70 will be advised to be “largely shielded from social contact” for 12 weeks to help protect themselves. Those with underlying medical issues such as high blood pressure, lung complaints and weakened or compromised immune systems are more likely to develop serious illness as a result of the disease.
Anyone with a higher risk from viruses such as cold or flu should take sensible steps to reduce the risk of picking up infections. Click here for NHS advice on infection control – it is summarized below:
  • wash your hands with soap and water often – do this for at least 20 seconds
  • always wash your hands when you get home or into work
  • use hand sanitiser gel if soap and water are not available
  • cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when you cough or sneeze
  • put used tissues in the bin immediately and wash your hands afterwards
  • avoid close contact with people who have symptoms of coronavirus
  • use phone, online services, or apps to contact your GP surgery or other NHS services


All qualification and development courses have been postponed.  Everyone who has booked onto a course will be sent an email asap informing them of the postponement and will be able to defer their booking.
Where we can, we will attempt to continue with education via online methods (e.g. webinar, Skype etc). However, this may not be practically possible for all activities. Where not, the aim will be to re-schedule courses to a later date wherever feasible.

Qualifying races

We are currently undergoing a contingency planning process for qualifying races and will keep everyone updated as soon as possible.

Road Races

We will be working with our partner runbritain to coordinate a communication detailing appropriate advice and guidance to road race organisers in the immediate future.


No emergency services will attend large gatherings so it is unavoidable that competitions will now be suspended until at least the end of April.  We are in contact with event organisers to find suitable alternative dates within the competition calendar and our cancellations page link is kept up to date:

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