Those who don’t follow athletics may not be aware of this — some of the best athletes in the UK and the world hail not only from Merseyside, but from one Liverpool athletic club in particular. Liverpool Harriers, formed in 1882, is one of the oldest running clubs in the country, the only one in Liverpool and it has developed some big names in the world of athletics — especially in recent years. We visited the club on a cold winter night to find out a bit more about the club, its history and some of the top sportsmen and women it has helped mould.
When we arrived at the Wavertree Park sports facility, we were greeted by Club Secretary, Taf Williams, and Club President, Mike Dooling MBE, before being shown around the track and the club house. Taf explained that the new state of the art track and flood lights were recently funded by Sport England and in fact the athletics club had no permanent home until it moved here in 1990 — thanks to fundraising and a big effort from club members. He also explained how the club does not run on profit and charges next to nothing for membership, with officials, coaches and committee members working voluntarily.
We attended on a Tuesday evening, as Tuesdays and Thursdays are the busiest club nights. The large running track was a haven of activity as runners of various ages and abilities were being pushed hard by their respective coaches. As we walked around the track we were introduced to one the members, Dr. Neil Chester of John Moores’ University Sport Science department, who talked to us about the strong affiliation between the club and the university. When we got to the clubhouse, we noticed the various trophies on display and a history board featuring some of their most decorated Harriers athletes. Lacking in knowledge of athletics, this prompted me to ask Taf to tell us more about the top athletes who originated from the club.
Liverpool Harriers’ list of famous athletes is quite impressive. In the early 1900s, club member Benjamin Howard Baker was, and still is, considered one of England’s best all-round sportsmen of all time. In the 1980s, Geoff Smith won the Boston Marathon twice and competed in the Olympics, whilst in the 1990s Steve Smith won a Bronze Medal at the 1996 Olympics and set a British High Jump record in the process. The club has actually had no less than 53 international athletes and has seen 16 of them represent Great Britain, Northern Ireland and Republic Of Ireland in the Olympic or Paralympic Games, such as Paul Brizzell and Paul McKee.
Possibly the most notable athletes to have come from the club are Anyika Onuora and Katarina Johnson-Thompson. Anyika Onuora achieved a Bronze Medal in the 400m relay at the 2016 Olympic Games, a Bronze Medal in the same race at the 2015 World Championships and various Gold Medals, Silver Medals and Bronze Medals at the European Championships and Commonwealth Games respectively. Katarina Johnson-Thompson is a multi-event athlete branded the new Jessica Ennis and won Silver at the 2014 World Indoor Championships and Gold at the 2015 European Indoor Championships to accompany her multitude of Youth awards. Other top athletes include Jonny Mellor, second only to Mo Farah in UK at long distance running, and Jamie Webb. The club has some exciting stars of the future too, such as Dan Jarvis, Tim Duckworth, Ella McNiven and Emma Alderson.
It’s important to mention the strong emphasis on inclusion at Liverpool Harriers. There is great diversity amongst its membership of over 500 people and the club has produced some top disabled athletes. Blind Paralympian David Devine won a Bronze Medal for the 800m at the IPC World Championships in 2011 and also for the 800m and 1500m in the 2012 Olympic Games. The award winning documentary, Paragon, about war veteran and Paralympian Andy Grant was filmed at Liverpool Harriers as he trained there with his coach, Tony Clarke.
Following the visit, we talked to Tony Clarke — the coach who featured in that award winning documentary and who has also trained the likes of v35 European Champion and Senior England International, Rachael Burns. Tony told us about the roles of the coaches and the many committee members who help to keep the club going. There are some amazing people involved in the running of Liverpool Harriers and all their work is unpaid! On a purely voluntary basis, these people are responsible for training, mentoring and supporting athletes of all abilities, including some of the top stars, and drive all round the country for competitions. It’s clear that Liverpool Harriers is a very special club and somewhere that the people of Liverpool should cherish and be proud of. There has been rumours of the council potentially looking into its closure — let’s hope that this doesn’t come into fruition and that this historic sporting association continues to flourish.
For more on Liverpool Harriers CLICK HERE
To apply for membership CLICK HERE
Images courtesy of Liverpool Harriers and Tony Clarke