HISTORY OF POOLE AC

An athletics club with a lot of history!

Origin

The Club claims ‘Established 1897’, but nobody knows where this date has come from. One track historian suggested that in the late Victorian period an athlete from Poole might be reported as ‘Poole AC’ even if there was no such club. The same source informed us that Poole & County Harriers was formed in 1920.

Poole AC certainly existed combined with the cycling club as ‘Poole Wheelers Cycle and Athletic Club’ (Poole Wheelers C & AC) during the 1930s. On 2nd August 1932, the Club enjoyed Olympic success at Pasadena Rose Bowl as part of the Los Angeles Games. It came from a cyclist, rather than a runner. William Harvell – ‘Harvell the Marvel’ – gained a bronze medal as one of a four man team in the 4,000m cycling team pursuit event.

Athletics at this time included handicap races, which attracted considerable crowds to Poole Park, including invitation races involving William Harvell and 1932 50K Olympic Gold Medallist Tommy Green. Amongst those who raced was ’scatch miler’ Stan Pauley, who also competed in the races against the illustrious Mr Green. Stan also competed in the 1934 London to Brighton Race Walk for Poole C & AC, covering the 52 miles in 9 ¾ hours. Stan provided guidance and support to grandson Mark who joined Poole AC in the 1980’s, and who has gone on to become Junior and Track Chairman.

Poole was much smaller in those days and struggled to sustain an athletics club. The history is one of frequent re-formations and disbandment as the sport slipped in and out of fashion. In 1963 the club reformed, following the running of 1962 Boxing Day ‘Around the Houses, Road Race’ with support from Weymouth St Paul’s Harriers, thanks to a very enthusiastic committee. The club soon developed some fine athletes such as Mike Burden. The coach at the time was Dave Long who, during a period living overseas in Africa, had become the Kenyan Mile Champion. In the growth period international coaches such as Tom McNab, Tony Ward and UK Lead Coach John Le Masurier helped in passing on their expertise. Track races were organised in Poole Park and on Turlin Moor Recreation Ground. Training locations included Henry Harbin School which was not the only time the school came to the club’s aid and on occasions Poole Stadium.

The modern club

The success of the inaugural London Marathon in March 1981 led to a boom in UK running.  The Borough Council tasked Dave Long with re-forming Poole AC. The fish and chip shop entrepreneur, who had been an active member before venturing abroad, became the driving force as the historic club returned to the athletics scene.

In its early years, The Royal Marines’ camp at Hamworthy provided seasoned recruits including the Regimental Sergeant Major, Willie Stocks, and Britain’s leading triathlete Bernie Shrosbree, Atlantic Rower Mark Stubbs and other fine runners such as Mick McCarthy and Billy Daniels. More members came from Dorset Fire Service, where coach Paul Whent was Deputy Divisional Fire Officer. Several members were Dave Long’s employees, such as Rick Hickson along with a number joining from Barclays International, encouraged by the club secretary of the time Bob Phillips.

Initial emphasis was on road running, along with Wessex and Hampshire Cross-Country Leagues. The club trained regularly from The Viking Club at Hennings Wharf on Poole Quay. There were Thursday sessions on Poole Park cycle track and invariably from Shore Road Beach Café on Saturday morning.

Around 1985 Club Coach Paul Whent invited juniors to join, starting mainly with members’ children and other keen young runners. One of the fledging group, Darren Moore, later qualified as a coach himself, and is still associated with the club. Permission was received to use the grass track at Henry Harbin (now Poole High) School for summer track sessions.

About 1990, Poole AC moved from the Old Town to a new base at Ashdown Leisure Centre on Canford Heath. There were few female members, but Jane Neal, Alison White, Mo Sweetlove, Sharman Barker and Lesley Ujvari made up in quality what was lacking in quantity.

Track and field

In 1991, the Club joined the newly-amalgamated South-West Athletics League. Starting at the bottom in Division 3, established club members such as Trevor Clark, Martyn Fisher, Ron Taylor, Bill Honeyman, Mike Taylor, Malcolm Maidment and Paul Drake tried their hand at often unfamiliar events.

Poole AC grew and, supplemented by siblings and their friends, gradually moved through to SW League Division 1, to hold its own against the region’s well established clubs.

Provision of an athletics track in the town had been discussed with the Council before the Second World War, with the reclaiming of Whitecliff being a potential venue . At the turn of the new Millennium, this came to fruition, boosted by profits from the Poole Marathon. The track was a great catalyst for the club, boosting both junior and senior squads.

As well as competing, Phil Croad became a committed coach, not least to two of his children, Ben and Alison. Alison moved from multi-events to triple jump and became our first International athlete when she gained her England U23 Vest. Her 11.68m remains a club record from 2005.

Poole AC had its most successful period in the SW League from 2003 to 2006, when we were overall League champions, a feat we repeated in 2014 and 2016.

The Club also entered the Wessex Young Athletes’ Track League to provide additional development opportunities. Its under-11 competition allowed many of our novice athletes the chance to shine.

The Club also collaborated with like-minded local clubs to extend its competitive opportunities. Initially this was with Wimborne AC with Southern Men’s and Southern Women’s League. With the establishment of Team Dorset this evolved into teams in both the Young Athletes Leagues and Southern Athletics League. Both Lower and Upper age group teams reached the Premier division during our involvement.

Other athletes have followed in Alison Croad’s footsteps to international honours. Richard Reeks did so in the Decathlon, Adam Carpenter in Heptathlon, Steffi Wilson in Junior 4 x 100m Relays, Melissa Courtney in 1500m and Ryan Long in Combined Events.

The Track and Field Section has also spawned a nationally renowned group supporting athletes with impairment. This has evolved over recent years. Numbers now approach twenty. Athletes include Scottish junior international wheelchair racer Nathan Blackie and Lindsay Chapman, 100m gold medallist in the 2017 Invictus Games.

Poole AC is now accredited under Team Personal Best and was also Dorset’s first Clubmark accredited athletics club.