A History of Sale Harriers

1910 - 2018

By Fechin McCormick

The present club was formed in 1910. Typical of the era were a number of church clubs and gymnasiums whose members went for a run in the evenings. Eventually, a joint meeting of these clubs were held and took place in the Temperance Rooms, Cross Street, Sale and it was agreed to organise Saturday afternoon competitions. A committee was formed and inter-club fixtures arranged. Sale Harriers was born!

Two names were outstanding - Henry Wilson and his son Richard. Henry was the mainstay of the club from 1910 until 1936. He rose to become vice-President and later Treasurer putting the club on a sound financial footing. He died in 1937.

Dick was the club/team captain for more than 20 years. Records for 1930-31 show a hearty vote of thanks was extended to Henry & Dick Wilson for the numerous dances and social functions they jointly organised that gave the club a sound financial balance.

In September 1911 the first AGM was held, officials were appointed, rules drafted, subscriptions fixed at 2s6d a year and the following year the first membership card was introduced. Affiliation was made to the East Lancashire Association. On September 30th 1911 the club’s first run was held from the Temperance Rooms, Sale.

In the period leading up to World War1, the club utilised tea rooms, public houses and member’s cellars for changing and accommodation.  During the club’s first year after the war, nine of the twenty - four runs that took place were inter-club fixtures with the embryonic Sale Harriers victorious in four of them. As well as running, there were also club walks from Sale to places like Chester. This was also the period the club first entered the East Lancashire XC Championships. Sale Harriers will eventually dominate this league in the boys, youths, junior and senior men’s competitions. The success really began in 1922 when the club, for the first time, was placed in this (or any other) championship.  Of interest, The Leech Cup winner of 1922 was Les George, the father of current member Don George (who has the distinction of being one of the club’s longest members).

The club closed during the 1914-18 World War 1. When it re-opened in 1919 it used the Avenue in Sale for speed work which, in those days, had a cinder surface.  Members changed in the bushes! Despite money shortage, the club launched the Knutsford to Sale ‘10’ mile race and this was to become an annual club fixture until the 1980’s.  By 1923 the course record was reduced to 54 mins 34 secs by the club’s top runner Wilf Davies. He was the first Sale Harrier to win a Championship title, the East Lancashire Youths Championships.

In 1923 the club first showed interest in track and used Altrincham football club’s ground for training.

In 1923 Club membership exceeded 100.  The Temperance Rooms were closed and Sale Harriers found alternative accommodation at Sale Baths. These remained the club facilities until the club moved to the Sewage Works, next to the current Crossford Bridge track.

1927-28 was one of Sale Harriers most successful seasons. The club won the Youths East Lancashire Championships, the Senior Cross-country Championships and numerous members won individual prizes at track meetings. The Harriers staged an inter-club match with Manchester Harriers and this was the first ever recorded inter-club match in the North and possibly in the whole country.

In 1928-9, it was decided the new club colours would be a green vest with red & white bands, together with the club badge - the colours still in use to-day. This same year, for the first time, the club staged the East Lancashire Championships on the Hovis Ground at Washway Road (houses now occupy the area). The club was later given free and regular use of this Hovis ground for training.

Some regular names that brought the club success from 1935 -1938 were Harry Loftus, Horace Partington, Jackie Fearon, Jack Carr and Harold & Walter Wilson who’d joined the club in 1932 (no relation to Henry & Dick Wilson).

It’s in this period 21-year old Harold Wilson and his brother Walter emerged and for the next 50 years they’re central in developing Sale Harriers foundations and giving it direction. As runners in this period, Harold won several junior and senior East Lancashire & placed 2nd in three Northern Cross-Country championship titles. He was club captain for a number of years and in 1954 he became club secretary which he held for 45 years before becoming President until his death in 1999. Similarly Walter was a keen administrator and passionate Sale Harrier who also became President. He is especially remembered for his history of Sale Harriers, “The First 75 years”.

With the outbreak of World War 11 club championships and most other fixtures were cancelled but members continued to train at the Hovis Ground on Washway Road.

After the war in the 1950’s club facilities were extremely limited. With little or no throwing facilities, the club focused on cross-country following the national ‘harrier’ tradition.

In 1950-51, the club appealed to Sale Borough Council to rent a piece of grassland for a running track. The request was granted and the location was Crossford Bridge in the children’s play area. They had a 330 yard grass lap where members had to cut the grass, mark out the lap and insert the white lines. The dressing rooms were the premises used by the cotton dump staff on Cross Street opposite the Bridge Inn.  

In 1953 permission was given to construct a cinder track on the site of the old cotton dump near the banks of the river Mersey. Members toiled in the evenings and weekends. Forty-five tons of bricks were excavated and deposited on Sale tip. The outer edge of the track was lined with some of the bricks. Whilst Harriers were constructing the track, contractors were widening the road bridge over the Mersey and they kindly let the club use a five-yard length of railway line which Harold Wilson towed to the back of his car and dragged it round and round to perfectly level the track. The first track meeting was held at the end of August 1953. In 1955 a supply of cinders was obtained from Metro Vickers. Later Sale Borough Council spent £6000 on resurfacing the new track.  With the track completed, the club abandoned the original track and vacated the dressing rooms on Cross Street. (Part of this site is now under the A56 carriageway). The new rooms were situated in the old Sewage Works pumping station. A considerable amount of work was undertaken by members to make the place habitable.

All club sections and individuals, including a small women’s section were regularly using the track and winning events on it as well as on the roads and country.  The Harriers hosted many successful competitions on it. Mo Jefferson recorded the fastest United Kingdom times in the half and one mile on the track and in 1962 Mike Beresford won both the 880-yard and broke the one mile Scottish records.  In 1970/72 floodlights were installed by Sale Borough Council.

In 1964/5 the club officially took over the tenancy of the sewage works and members decorated and furnished the rooms. In this era, the summer training was also based in Wythenshawe Park on a rough, grass track used as a horse training exercise area. In that same year the club staged the Northern Cross-Country Championships in Wythenshawe Park and for the first time a male team was placed in the National Cross-Country Championships.

Some noteworthy victories of the early 1960’s were the club created a record in winning the boy’s, youths and junior East Lancashire titles; the boys and youths won the Northern XC Championships; the men’s team recorded the fastest time in the Manchester to Blackpool Road race (4 hours 44 minutes). In this period the club also hosted a foreign club competition with a Swedish club. Sale’s middle distance team of Peter Abell, Malcolm Rothwell, Mo Jefferson and Robert Brett failed by just half a second to break the 4 x 880 yard British record.

This success and the growth of the club from the 1960’s until 2006 is centred around Reuben and Alan Robertshaw. The minutes of 1957-58 already records the great work being done for the club by father Reuben (known as ‘Robbo’) and his 22- year old son Alan. Reuben’s wife Florence Robertshaw is also involved and also is to dedicate much of her life to Sale Harriers. She took over the office of Treasurer and, in her first five years, she’d already put the club on a much sounder financial footing.

The club’s success in the boys and youths sections and later in all the male sections up to seniors was attributable to Robbo’s and Alan’s fifty years of charismatic service. Alan especially transformed Sale Harriers from a small running club for men to the largest club in the country for  all ages with a national profile. It’s gone into club folklore the thousands of miles Alan, Robbo and colleagues like Brian Thorley travelled transporting hundreds of youth’s to races. The complete story of Alan’s contribution to Sale Harriers and his charismatic modus viviendi can be read in the special tribute Harrier magazine published on his death in 2006.

Again, largely due to ‘Robbo’ and Alan, in 1964/5 Sale broke the 4 x 1 mile National Relay record with the team of Peter Abell, Jack Frost, Malcolm Rothwell and Mike Spriggs. Sale also broke the British 4 x 880 yards record with the team of Dick Bratt, Mo Jefferson, Peter Abell and Malcolm Rothwell. Malcolm and Peter were later called on to represent Great Britain and Janet Champion from the women’s section.

1965/66 The youths created a new record by winning the National Youth’s Cross-Country championships for the 3rd successive year. On the same day the juniors also won the National title. The boys and youths teams also won the East Lancashire & Northern Championships. Sale also won the Oldbury Youth Race for the 8th consecutive year.

The Harriers were now aiming very high and another new venture was to break the 24-hour World Relay Record for ten runners. With the team that included some familiar names to-day were Dave Farmer, Norman Carrington, Brian Goulden, Steve Edmunds, Kelvin Breeze, Barry Watkins, they broke the world record with a new distance of 287 miles and 200 yards. The following year in 1972/3 they improved it further to 293 miles 378 yards. Another annual event that continued into the 1980’s was the 100 x 1 mile and Sale improved the British record several times eventually to record in 1975/6 a time of 8 hours, 1min, 3.5sec. Sale also lowered the record for the 270 mile Pennine Way to 32 hours 10 minutes. During this era the Harriers also promoted an annual 15 mile race around Wythenshawe Park. This became a major race with 600-800 runners organised by Jack Frost and his wife Ann.

So successful had Sale Harriers become a superb display  of club trophies, vests, international vests medals and an Olympic vest was exhibited in Sale Leisure Centre.

Up to the 1970’s children under 11 were rarely involved in running clubs. Sale Harriers had a small group, supervised by Graham Marshall and Peter Beevers who met at Crossford Bridge for fun and games whilst their parents trained. Over the next three decades this embryonic group grew to become one of the largest and most successful Primary Sections for children aged 6-11 in Britain. Central to this development from the early days were Graham & Ann Marshall who developed tailored ‘fun’ coaching for children for all abilities by co-ordinating volunteer teams of coaches and team leaders who motivated and inspired up to 150 children every Tuesday evening for more than thirty years.

In 1978/9 the wooden pavilion that was the club house and changing rooms at Crossford Bridge was destroyed by an arsonist. Trafford Borough Council announced a new building would be erected on the site. To assist the re-building, the club set up the “Phoenix Fund” and by December 31st it had the fantastic sum of £9000 largely donated by members or through their fund-raising. The new (and current) pavilion was opened on December 5th 1981 by the Mayor of Trafford.  Soon afterwards, Alan Roberthaw attended a meeting of Trafford Borough Council to be told the rent would be a colossal £5300. To meet this demand a Development Association was formed to ensure the club’s financial security. It was initially administered by Jim Stapleton who developed a 200 club that later became a 300 club. Other fund-raising projects were Christmas Draws run by members.  It alone raised £1000 the first year. Pat & Dave Steward ran a very successful charity shop and the club shop. Beryl & Norman Fleet ensured the canteen was always open and it also raised thousands of pounds. The financial success of the Development Association exceeded all expectations.

To promote fund-raising schemes a club magazine was launched called “The Harrier”. Mo Jefferson became the editor for 20 years. He expanded it to promote the club’s wider interests on and off the track. In 1994 Fechin Mc Cormick took it over and developed it to a colour magazine using emerging IT technology. It aimed to record and applaud individual and team achievements of a club which, in this era had close to one thousand members based on three sites.  He also developed the club’s wider communications of the first  club website, social media and electronic mailing.

As Alan & ‘Robbo’ were catalysts in the successful development of the boy’s and male youth’s sections, Eric Hughes put Sale Harrier’s women’s sections on the map of British and European athletics for more than 25 years.  His commitment began in 1969 when his daughter Lisa and son Stephen joined the club. So successful was he that between 1972 -1980, the club’s younger women had won so many national and other titles, that Sale were being recognised as a dominant national force in middle distance and the senior women claimed their first titles in 1977/78.

When the UK Women’s League was formed in 1975, Eric’s renowned achievements resulted in Sale Harriers being immediately elected to the Premier Division where they’ve remained for thirty eight years and are the only British club to have done so.  When the UK League changed its formation to seniors in 1994, Eric went on to win a hat-trick of senior titles in the following three years. Then, from 2000-4, his teams collected an unprecedented five successive UK Division 1 titles and smashed the leagues points record on two occasions.  In the 38 years until his death in 2012, Eric’s teams won no less than twenty three UK Premier League titles; were runners-up on nine occasions; third on three occasions and fourth twice.

Then there were the National Jubilee Cups and in 1998 when the club eventually won it, it took Eric into managing Sale Harriers women’s sections in European Club’s competition.  He led Sale Harriers into no fewer than thirty-five European contests over twenty-two years and was so admired by the European Clubs Cross-Country Federation, he was elected their vice-President.

The pinnacle of Eric’s very successful commitment to Sale Harriers and to UK athletics may well have been in 2002 when Sale’s women won all top domestic honours – the UK Women’s League, the National U20 Cup, the National Senior XC Championships and the National Senior Road Relays and by winning the senior trophy in the European Clubs competition that year also, Sale became the first club to contest three European Championships in the same year – Senior T & F, U20 T & F and Senior Cross-Country. Eric was club President when he died in 2013.

In this significant of club success, two other club stalwarts became similarly renowned –Frank Starkie and Jack Frost. They did so much to build Sale Harriers into Britain’s most successful club. Frank Starkie was a colossus behind much of the club’s structure and strategy as an Executive Committee Member, Secretary and Chairman and in his roles for Northern Athletics and UK Athletics until his unexpected death in 2006.

Jack Frost also devoted his life to Sale Harriers and been similarly significant in the development of the club. An accountant by profession, he’s been the club treasurer for 30 years and has steered the Club's finances through the very changing circumstances of the modern era - governing bodies, computerisation, negotiations with Manchester City Council, and commercial sponsors, and combines this responsibility with being a respected jumps and throws coach, a most experienced track and field official, team manager and the manager of the very successful Winter Indoor T & F Grand Prix at Sportcity.

In 1981/2 Eric Hughes, Alan Robertshaw, Jack Frost and former club international steeplechaser John Davies had prolonged talks with Trafford Council regarding the construction of an all-weather track at Crossford Bridge. It ensued this was impossible because the track is built on a cotton dump. With the club’s increasing need for a tartan track talks then commenced with Gtr. Manchester Council for a synthetic track at Wythenshawe Park. A precondition for it was that the club would change its name to Sale Harriers Manchester’. The issue was controversial so much so that when the issue came before the AGM of 1990 the largest ever number (hundreds!) of members attended it. The motion to change the name was carried by just one vote.

The new track opened in 1992. Initially, it was for the sole use of Sale Harriers. The club hosted BMC Grand Prix matches on it for many years and other important Track & Field events. It was also one of the warm-up track facilities for athletes attending the 2002 Commonwealth Games. Years later, it lost its competition licence through lack of investment by the City Council but it continued to be used as a multi-club training facility only. Manchester Harriers made it their ‘home’ site when their Gatley venue had their investment withdrawn. To date it has been used for more than 20 years by Sale’s nationally recognised endurance coach Norman Poole middle distance squads and in more recent times by several other established club coaches.

Following the 2002 Manchester Commonwealth Games Eric Hughes, Alan Robertshaw, Frank Starkie and Jack Frost were again at the forefront of developing a unique partnership between Manchester City Council and Sale Harriers. What became known as Sportcity - the Commonwealth Games warm-up track and indoor area adjacent to the main stadium, became the Regional Athletics Arena for Manchester. Eric, Alan, Frank and Jack were at the centre of the decision-making for Sale Harriers sprints and throws sections to re-locate to it. They negotiated Sale Harrier’s further responsibility to deliver an innovative athletic programme for Manchester. Their input was further significant in Sale’s Premier Division men’s and women’s teams competing as “City of Manchester Athletics” as a further element of the partnership for Sale Harriers to deliver a city wide athletics program. When the partnership ended in 2016 the club returned to using Sale Harriers in their Premier Divisions.

In 2018 Manchester City Council developed a Wythenshawe Park 10-year Strategic Framework following successful implementation of similar programmes in other Manchester Parks. Included in the longer term part of this strategy is the objective to extensively upgrade the Wythenshawe Park facility.  This could be the next phase in Sale Harriers development?

Join Us

There are many ways to get involved at Sale Harriers Manchester. Please click on the links below - we would love to hear from you.

Please do not be put off by thinking that, because Sale Harriers has some of the fastest runners and best field event athletes in the country, the club doesn't cater for all abilities. Whether you want to be part of a strong competitive Club or simply part of a group of keep-fit enthusiasts, Sale Harriers welcomes you.

It also pays to belong to a running/athletic club!  You'll be affiliated to the National body, UK Athletics and, therefore, entitled to reduced fees for road races and other events and you'll also be covered by their insurance in the event of an accident.

You can also benefit from some fantastic member discounts from a wide range of local sports therapists .