A Brief History Of Haywards Heath Harriers

 

There was a running club in the town long before most of us were born, called Haywards Heath Athletics Club. There are no known records now in existence but we do know that it just about re-surfaced after the war but then sank rapidly into oblivion in the middle fifties.

In its present form the Harriers club began to emerge in 1965 under the guidance of Phil Nash and Tim French. The club became formally affiliated to the governing body, then the Amateur Athletics Association, in February 1966, which we consider to be the year of our formation. Other people instrumental in the development of the club in its early years include the Hayman, Heasman, Humphries, Jones, Pyle, Robertson, Rowe and Scott families

The club began with Cross Country as its main core of interest. At first it was mainly a club for juniors and intermediates (i.e. school age youngsters) but as some of these original members got a little older and some of the parents and helpers became more involved, a senior section developed. Over the last 40 or so years the demographic break down of the club has changed a lot with an ebb and flow of members in all age groups as well as the swing from one discipline to another from year to year.  For many years road races were much more popular than cross country, but the latter has enjoyed a great resurgence in the last few years. The track & field side has remained a summer core activity and during the winter months the juniors enjoy indoor competition with the Sports Hall league.  From small beginnings the overall membership has grown to its current level of about 250.

Over the years the club has gradually developed into an organisation that caters for all aspects of the varied sport of athletics from track and field to cross country to road races to ultra distance to trail races, indoor competitions, relays and fun runs. The club records would suggest that the only UKA governed discipline we have not at some time contested is the tug of war.

During its first 50 years the club has had many county champions and whilst this boast does not necessarily cover all events it certainly includes champions on the track, jumpers and throwers in the field as well as road and cross country winners. The club’s most famous “old boy” is, by far, Daley Thompson who started his athletics career with the club and stayed with the Harriers for some time until he had little choice but to move on so that he could develop his talent at a higher level. He became a big name in the British athletics Hall of Fame following his triumphs at the Olympic Games and other major international competitions.  He still holds the Club’s U17 records for 100m (11.1sec), 200m (22.9sec) and high jump (1.93m), all of which he set in 1974.

Several others have achieved international vests after starting out with the Harriers, notably Debbie Peel (Senior 3000 metres), Emily Goodall (Junior 800 metres), Duncan Malins (Junior 110 metres hurdles) and Kevin Holland (Junior cross country).

More recently, the club has enjoyed a lot of success in the Sussex Road Race Grand Prix.  The ladies showed the way when they won the title in 2009 following which the men followed suit with wins in 2012 and 2013. 2014 was a landmark year when the club won both ladies' and men's titles in the same year, becoming county champions for the first time in their history. The championship was successfully defended with repeat ladies' and men's wins in 2015.   On the cross country side our men have succeeded in moving up from Division 3 to the top tier and finished in a close second place in 2016/7.  At the same time the ladies got promotion to their top division and the men’s B team also gained promotion.  All very encouraging.   On the track our youngsters have won the Under 13 League Plate competition in 2013, 2014 and 2015.

For many years the club’s “home” was at Oathall Community College but in the late 1980s, it negotiated the setting up and the use of a grass track and field facilities at Whitemans Green, which remains its summer home to this day.  More recently the decision was taken to take up winter residence at Warden Park Academy to take advantage of the additional hall space and its focus on developing its own sports academy.  This is now slowly taking shape and should give the club more impetus towards its own development in the future.

The club’s first half century has seen a lot of action, and fun, and there is every reason to expect the next 50 to be equally as exciting and successful as the first.