- Published: 13 October 2017 13 October 2017
Dave Cowell, Crawley AC Marathon record holder since 31 January 1974 (2 hours 23 minutes 34 seconds), recalls his early years as a runner at the Club.
My time with Crawley AC
I arrived in Crawley August 1969, my first teaching job, as more of a footballer! Joined Three Bridges FC, and in my first game, my marker tried to kick me over the stand - what sort of sport was I playing? The following week, I ran into a gas fitter who was working at a neighbour's house (I was collecting my son from neighbour). Gas fitter, Chris Bridgwater, had been mentioned in the local paper for his weekend run. I mentioned that "I had done a bit of running". From that moment, I little realised that I had played my last game of football, and also fallen into the "Bridgwater Web of Enthusiasm for Athletics and Crawley AC" (or BWEFACC).
Chris: "We have a race in Brighton this weekend, four miles road, I'll send someone round for you". And he did. Tim Butters knocked on my door, and I went to Brighton. My calf muscles ached for the best part of the next week, and I came nowhere. For the next six years until 1975 when we moved to the Midlands, our lives revolved around Crawley AC.
I pitched in with a great bunch; Alan Hayes (I still see Al, and I still marvel at his contribution to athletics whether running then or coaching for many years afterwards). Chris Bridgwater, who seemed to be able to run further and faster as his feet bled more. Ray Bridgwater, Chris' Dad, was our wonderful team manager for years. John Roberts, looked more like a middleweight boxer than a middle distance runner, but could run for ever - he must have been doing something right though as he ended up driving a Rolls Royce. These were the days of runners being still a bit of an oddity. The jogging boom hadn't started, car drivers just had to shout (for the seven thousandth time) "Get those knees up", and "You're going the wrong way". Kids were regular shouters, although the one who was popped over my shoulder and run up the road for a while possibly watched his tongue a bit more (I would be arrested now for kidnap!).
The whole Lintern family were simply the most "athletics" family I have ever come across. Pleased that Tony Lintern still running - a real dynasty. Karl and Judy Lasis, the cheeriest hammer throwers ever, Mick Stoneman, javelin thrower with great one-liners, and his co-pilot John James. A visiting French team with an international javelin thrower along with John and Mick gave an amazing evening display at a match at the track. Pete English and Dick Slaney who I taught (clearly a distance runner had valuable advice for throwers!). Neil Toward never ran cross country, but at the beginning of each track season he would hone himself for his 800 metre races by regularly doing 50 x 150 m (or was it 100 m?). Pat Gallagher (14-34 for 5 km) was the most average runner you have ever seen - until an iron deficiency was diagnosed. A few tablets later (don't worry, absolutely legal and above board) and he was one of the better athletes in the South of England - like magic.
As a PE teacher at Hazelwick, many fine athletes were fed into the Club set-up. Dick Slaney for one. He had hip/knee problems until 15 years old, then was able to train properly. In the Sixth Form, he was six foot six inches tall and about eighteen stone - and he wasn't fat! The rugby team loved him - as long as they were on his side. One year, Hazelwick provided seven athletes to the thirty strong Sussex team for the English Schools championships. From my fading memory, I think that Dick won the discus or shot, Pete English the hammer. Janice Deeks and Theresa Goodson might have been in finals for 200 and long jump. Barry Holder (Brian's son) did the 800). I think Kevin Weedon might have gone for hammer (those hammer boys at the Club were a fantastically encouraging and tight knit group). Can't remember the seventh athlete. I was so proud of the Club and the school that weekend.
Pete Bennett, the "quietly spoken man" of the Club, really was one who didn't, indeed hasn't, just talked about a life in athletics. His commitment and thoughtfulness back in the day was always so valuable. Not a man to force opinion but to really think it through, and offer advice if he thought it might help.. He was obviously going to lead an athletics-led life. How have those knees lasted so well?
Rod Chinn, although I didn't realise it at the time, was possibly the most gifted young athlete I ever taught. Summer in his first term at School (he would be 12 or 13 years old) on the rough old grass track at Hazelwick did under 60 seconds for a 400m. No other student of mine in the next 40 years as a PE teacher could do that! He loved his rugby though. Delighted he is still running and rowing.
Mind you I remember my first view of Dave Buckett as a young athlete. Crawley track and Dave representing Thomas Bennett at town Inter Schools. He flew the 100 and 200 and looked like a real engine. Bit "Michael Johnson" with his running technique.
Chris Cheeseman was a great example of diverse interests in athletics. Taught him at Imberhorne School East Grinstead. Turned from being a good average runner to being an Olympic walker!
In the early 70s, training was not in the slightest complex; you want to get better - then train harder! Tuesday evenings at Hazelwick Gym, and out on a mob run. The other big "mob" run was Sunday morning. Led by Tony Weeks-Pearson the Sunday mileage gradually crept up as the years passed. Twenty milers eventually, and quite a gang. My standard run was round the cycle path bordering the A23; well lit and perfect for an eight mile run from my home in Forestfield. I strangely enough always went "anti clockwise", i.e. through the Industrial Estate to join the path then round and past Thomas Bennett school eventually. When I was really fit it was great to overtake the workers cycling home along the cycle path.
Brian Williams became the fittest solicitor in London (how the hell did Brian eventually crack two hours for 20 and get under three hours for a marathon). Barry Worrell became our group eccentric (as in "wear a lettuce leaf under your cap whilst running in hot weather"). Barry also ran out of sugar at the track once - it was in a 1500 metre race! He was weaving all over the track. Losing his teeth at the Windsor marathon, he ended up with a group of Guards soldiers helping him search the changing rooms in the Royal Stables for them.
Gerry Mooney thought he was going to end up in prison on a training run in Tilgate once. He found a pheasant wandering the forest with a full crop of nuts. The pheasant couldn't take off as Gerry ran it down (only time Gerry overtook anything). Wrung it's neck - bear in mind he was in effect poaching - and brought it back to his covered sidecar which was in the car park. Got on the bike to ride away, and the "dead" pheasant had revived enough to wander around his sidecar peering out! All this whilst a police car did a couple of circuits of the car park.
George Bremner, unflappable chief timekeeper brings to mind the Upjohn mile one year with International Jim Douglas running. I was delegated to get fourth place; a terrific finish left my stopwatch unpressed! "George, George - I forgot to stop my watch".
"Don't worry, Dave", said George, and he swiftly recalled his mental "photo-finish" and calmly wrote down the fourth place time.
Bob and Kay Judd, wonderful athletes and wonderful couple. Sort of a Posh and Becks equivalent for Crawley AC. Dick Hardwick, John Simmons, and so many others.
I remember the athlete/footballer who got away, both from Chelsea and Crawley. Brian Bason, from Thomas Bennett. A fabulous sprinter who, again I think I am correct, Captained a Young England age group soccer team. Chelsea debut at 17 years and 13 days, had fitful starts with Chelsea, then went to Plymouth Argyle and Vancouver in Canada. What an athlete.
However, the most vivid memory of an exceptional talent was seeing Steve Ovett, at sixteen on the old Withdean track at County Championships running 800 in about 1-52 on a porridge like inside lane on a very wet day. He looked like he would rule the World - which of course he did. A wonderful Club man for Brighton, and very popular County athlete. I remember thinking that day that I was "pleased I wasn't looking after his career and coaching because he could win an Olympic gold". What a responsibility.
A fabulous, fabulous, Club and team atmosphere that gave me memories and friendships that still resonate. All through my teaching career I loved teaching and being involved with athletics. I helped organise Warwickshire athletics for over 30 years, all made possible by the inspiration I gained from Crawley AC.