For the athletes, coaches, officials and other volunteers, there’s something about Liverpool Harriers that keeps them coming back for more.
Yes, there’s the stadium at Wavertree that sits close to the city centre and provides a base for a range of activities across all disciplines, covering everything from combined events to beginner running.
And there are the various competitions that the club enters, including the British Athletics League, the UK Women’s League and the UK Youth Development on the track and the area and national cross country and road relays.
But when Chris Jones. England Athletics CEO, attended a club night recently as part of his regular series of club visits, it was the more human aspects of club membership that people were keen to talk about.
Despite many of the club’s thriving endurance section having made the trip down the M62 for an open meeting in Manchester that night, the track was bustling with activity on the night of Chris’s visit, with athletes ranging from Commonwealth heptathlon medalist Jess Taylor (of Sale Harriers) to youngsters in their first season of athletics enjoying their training.
Chris was welcomed by club secretary and team manager Arwel Williams, a familiar face to many in the sport as an official at many athletic events and committee member of Northern Athletics, and Mike Dooling, current club president and former chair of the ESAA, who showed him round.
With an eight lane all weather track and indoor training straight, the facility at Wavertree, now 25 years old, is an excellent home for a club that prides itself on providing for all ages and abilities. The clubhouse that sits beyond the finishing line is the hub for members as they congregate before training.
Kristina Van Steen and Rose McCreith staff the popular club shop and find their products in high demand. “We’ve been doing this for seven years,” they explain. Having been 'roped into it' after hearing the regular requests for help, it’s not a decision that they regret: “It was a good decision. We have a ball. We do have a laugh. We get to know all the parents and most of the children. We’re down Tuesdays and Thursdays, but we had an event here today. And there’s stuff we do over the weekend.”
And what is their favourite thing about Liverpool Harriers? “The people,” is the emphatic answer. “It’s a community thing. We get to mix with people from all different areas and the club is friendly and welcoming, regardless of your ability or background. It’s inclusive.”
It’s the theme that a young trio of athletes are keen to reinforce. Daniel Corrigan, Audrey Matambo and Lucinda Van Steen-Shannon are regulars in the club’s YDL team and were training on the night of Chris’s visit. “I’ve been involved for 2 years after my dad asked me to come along,” says Daniel. “He thought I should come along to see what I thought of it and I’ve been coming along ever since.” Why does he like coming to the club? “I like meeting my mates and I like to run for enjoyment. I like to see myself progress and better myself. It’s not just one thing.”
It’s the same for Audrey: “I’ve been coming for two years. I like it. I do the YDL as well and the best thing is the coaches. When they know that you’re struggling, they help you to carry on.”
Lucinda agrees: “The club’s made me feel more confident and you get to meet loads of people.”
With numerous men’s and women’s national and area titles on the road over the years and a host of successes on the track, the club is one of the most successful in the North of England. Chris also met Mike Holmes, former club president and long-time statistician, who perhaps personifies the commitment of those at the club who tirelessly work on their athletes’ behalf.
A former national high jump coach and current coach to heptathlon star and Liverpool Harrier Katarina Johnson-Thompson, Mike joined the club in 1969 and has been a member ever since. “I’ve been the president and I also did an awful lot of British League matches,” Mike reveals. “In fact, I think I held the record at one point. I did 105 and there’s only four a year, so you can do the maths!” Mike’s coaching means that “I’m probably here about four days a week and I’m in the gym at least two days a week, so one way or another it’s six days a week of actual hands on coaching.”
His combined events group includes Katarina and Jess Taylor of Sale Harriers, the Commonwealth bronze medalist, and his philosophy matches many others in the sport when he says that he’s not club specific. “I just love to help athletes really,” he says. “I obviously have a club loyalty through my British League history, but it’s not important to me that they’re Liverpool Harriers. As long as they’re committed athletes, I’ll give them a hand.”
In an understated way, Mike explains what makes Liverpool so special. “I think the club’s pretty typical to be quite honest. I don’t know what would make us distinctive from anyone else, except that everything that we produce is usually home grown. A lot of other places, athletes come in because of universities for instance. While we have universities, most of what we see at the track is Merseyside born and bred. We find talent doesn’t flood in from other areas, whereas it can with other clubs. So we do struggle for talent. But there’s big numbers and this (on the night of the visit) is probably half of what we get normally.”
But surely there’s something else that marks the club out?
“Liverpool Harriers? Well we’ve got a yellow vest.”
There’s certainly more to the club than that.
Chris Jones said: “It was fantastic to attend a normal training night and see so many people, young and old, enjoying the sport. Liverpool Harriers are a great example of a community club that manages to offer coaching to newcomers to the sport as well as those competing at the sharp end of international competition at the highest level and it was great to see the hard working volunteers and athletes in action.”
Arwel Williams commented: “It was good that Chris Jones was able to find time to visit us and see what goes on in the city. We were able to discuss openly the club, its future developments and plans. We thank him and EA for their support.”