Chris Jones and London Council member Jacob Hood headed to the Leyton-based club to meet volunteers and watch the action as over 100 runners from Eton Manor AC and Victoria Park Harriers and Tower Hamlets AC renewed the friendly local rivalry in the two clubs’ annual mob match.
While Eton Manor AC and the area it is based in has seen many changes, the club and the match against Victoria Park Harriers and Tower Hamlets AC have a long history. Eton Manor AC has been around since 1913 making it one of the oldest running and athletics clubs in east London and the mob match fixture dates from the 1930s.
Before the runners started gathering Chris and Jacob met up with volunteers including Trevor East who is the club’s Head of Junior Development / Co-ordinator and treasurer Steve Adams to find out more about its activities. Eton Manor AC have a club house on Marsh Lane right next to Leyton Jubilee Park. This has recently been renovated with the park and wider location providing a good venue for distance running.
Trevor explained, “The Seniors meet on Tuesdays and Thursdays. That involves long runs and sessions such as training on the service road that runs across the park.”
The traffic free road is about a mile long so lends itself well to interval training for the club. Trevor told Chris and Jacob about the activities involving the Junior section of the club. The 10-17 year olds train at the track at Waltham Forest Feel Good Centre each Monday night with a track session for senior members after this.
Aside from the track and park the club is in an ideal location for accessing number of places to run. It is close to the Olympic Park and the club makes the most of nearby Hackney Marshes for training in the lighter summer months.
The club’s membership consists of about 180 people most of whom are seniors, with 35-40 juniors.
Around seven years ago the club started up its Love2Run activity which is specifically to give newcomers a well-supported route into the sport. Many people benefit from the encouragement of the group and trained leaders as well as the camaraderie. Trevor said, “It’s not just the safety element it is also the social element.”
The success that the group has been is highlighted by the current coordinator for the programme. Sue Unsworth originally became part of the club through coming along to the Love2Run sessions herself. Now position now sees her playing a key role in bringing more people into the club and into the sport. The Love2Run groups are part of England Athletics’ RunTogether programme and as well as offering Couch to 5k types of activity the club also has held sessions specifically for people wanting to progress from there – to go from 5k to 10k. Sue explained this was because after reaching the 5K goal of the initial series of sessions some people wanted another supported level of progression before joining in with other club sessions.
As they got ready for the upcoming mob match Steve and Trevor explained how they had seen the club grow over recent years. Trevor said the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games had helped to bring new young athletes in. “Prior to the Olympic and Paralympics I was coaching half a dozen,” he said reflecting on the growth of the sport in those years. The Paralympics had an impact with Under 17 T38 athlete Toby Markham part of the club and inspired by the performances of the likes of Jonnie Peacock.
Steve recalled how he had joined in the early days of the last running boom, “I joined in the early 1980s when there were only about seven of us,” he laughed.
He said in those days, “The club was a bit nomadic.” Now it has the base at Leyton Jubilee Park and as well as the development of the clubhouse and park the wider area has also seen changes. Steve said, “Some clubs do some things better than some others but there are always similar traits. We are seeing another running boom.
“The area is also becoming more affluent. We are seeing professionals coming into the area and into the clubs.”
Steve said that the growth of the club has seen a greater increase in the number of women than in the number of men. The club has also worked on developing ways that make the growth and becoming part of the club easier. He said, “We are trying to make it easier for people to use online membership. We have got people doing new things with the email newsletter and have revamped the website.”
But some of the attractions are those that have stood the tests of time. The club members have social activities and the nearby Hare & Hounds pub is often used as a base for these.
The club includes people who run for enjoyment or personal fitness goals as well as giving competitive opportunities for those who want them in events such as the Chingford League, Assembly League, and regional and national races. Eton Manor AC also works to be a key part of the local community, with social events and an annual family run day supported by Waltham Forest Council.
The sense of camaraderie between members, and also with members of Victoria Park Harriers and Tower Hamlets AC, was evident as members of both clubs arrived, found their numbers and made sure they were clear on the 5K course that lay ahead of them before heading to the start line. As you would expect the mob match scoring system is based on large numbers scoring for their club. The number of scoring athletes is determined by taking the number of runners fielded by the club with fewest athletes and then subtracting two from that.
After the race was started by Chris the home club recorded a win by just 68 points with athletes ranging from newcomers brought in through the Love2Run groups through to Masters with many years of membership of the club all contributing to the winning score.
Chris Jones said “It was an absolute pleasure to be able to be at the event and to learn more about the club, its history and plans for the future.
“It was great to meet some of the volunteers and see their obvious enthusiasm for the sport and their club. It is important for me to go along to clubs to learn first-hand about people such as Tom and Joan Everitt who have given so much service to the sport over many years, like Sue Unsworth who came into the sport relatively recently and is now a fundamental part of bringing more people into the athletics family, and all the others in the club who play such important roles.
“I would like to thank those volunteers who took their time to speak to me, especially while in the throes of putting on an event, and a big well done to all the athletes from both clubs who took part in the mob match.”
Eton Manor AC Club Secretary, Dan Hall said “We’re really grateful for Chris taking the time to come and visit. Our club, with all its wonderful history, has been going from strength to strength over the last few years. Our England Athletics affiliation is as important as ever to us, so having the EA team stay connected and supportive of what we’re doing is a great boost for all our members.”