England Athletics Chief Executive Chris Jones, Regional Council Chair Mark Wall and Area Manager Matt Foad recently visited the Northampton-based activities of the club. They had the opportunity to speak to volunteers and find out more about the latest news on the club’s current activities and plans for the future.
The visitors came away with a very positive and optimistic impression of the club and its future. But the club is not without its challenges. Peering through the fence and into the gloom at the club’s former track at Sixfields Stadium what could just about be picked out through the darkness was not athletes training. It was evidence of building work in progress to develop the adjacent football stadium. This building work has seen the football stadium expand over the straight of the track where the athletes once ran.
So while the club is waiting for a new facility to become available, now in its second year without any recognisable training facility – more on that later – there are a range of innovative approaches in place to ensure that the training continues and it makes provision for the 500 of its members that operate out of its Northampton set up. (In total the club has more than 1,000 members). It is safe to say that it is clear that the club, its volunteers and members have a ‘can do’ attitude to making sure the athletics goes on.
Explaining the current lack of a track were Mark Exley, the club’s Chairman, and Dave Goddard, the Coaching Coordinator, but the pair quickly moved to telling and showing Chris, Mark and Matt the many activities taking place across the town on a training night led by the numerous number of hugely dedicated coaches that have worked even harder during these troubled times.
Seeing a coach on club night is normal. But this time there was one of the four wheeled variety playing an important role. The sprints and hurdles athletes and their coaches meet at the car park of Northampton Town Football Club to jump on a coach which takes them across to train at the club’s other base in Rugby. There can be 35 athletes or more making the way across to the next county. Dave explained the level of commitment involved for the athletes and their coaches who head off at around 6.30pm each session, “In the winter it makes it a long evening for the athletes, they won’t be back here until after 9pm. Then some of them have got quite a long trip home from here as well.”
Just up the road from the stadium a group of 35 junior endurance athletes (8-12 years olds) were in action. A car park had its gates locked to vehicles but the council have supported the club in allowing them to use it for training. By enabling them to have the lighting switched on while they are training the car park provides an open space for the athletes to do their sessions. Drills were underway and mini-cones showed where the interval session would shortly be getting under way.
But for Chris, Mark and Matt it was on to Abington Park to see more endurance athletes training, this time approximately 40 athletes between the ages of 12 and 18 years old. Additionally, the masters endurance squad were also pounding the streets around the park, all kitted out in hi viz vests. The park has street lit paths running all the way around it giving a lap of over a mile which can readily be used for training. The lampposts lighting the way also doubled up as markers for athletes running hill reps on one stretch of pathway. Different groups of distance runners could be seen running hill efforts or heading out on sessions using the full perimeter of the park.
Then over at Moulton College all-weather surfaces were in use for more training with multi-events squads among those also making improvised use of facilities to get their training done.
Chris commented, “It is clear from seeing what goes on and speaking to the coaches that the club is facing restrictions in their ability to train as they would like. Mark and Dave explained the challenges some families face when they have more than one family member who are part of the club and training with squads currently based at different locations, or indeed coaches in one location whilst having to ensure that their own children were elsewhere to train. But the club’s coaches were clearly working to train the athletes as effectively as possible with what is available to them. It is also obvious that there is a sense of camaraderie, determination and innovation that has come out of the current situation.”
At the end of the evening, Dave Goddard was keen to point out that despite the current situation, the club’s membership numbers over the last two years rose and they enjoyed probably the best set of competition results that the club had ever had including junior athletes picked to represent England and more recently one young man earning his Great Britain vest. It was Dave’s view that this is completely down to the commitment and dedication of a fantastic coaching team.
But after meeting the coaches and athletes Mark and Dave took the visitors on to Moulton College to see more of the work that is going on there. Gerald Davies, the college’s Deputy Principle, and Robbie Speirs, the Commercial Manager explained how the college is working with the Northampton Borough Council and Rugby and Northampton Athletics Club on the new track which is being built at the College. Much of the work on the track has been completed and it is due to be finished in the New Year. Gerald and Robbie also provided a tour of the college’s extensive existing sports set up including a range of top-end therapy and treatment facilities, including a hydrotherapy pool, cryo chamber, rehab pool with incorporated treadmill and the only swimming pool in the country with a fully movable floor Bill Boyd from Northampton Sport who works closely with the club explained how the college also now has an Academy set up that links in with Rugby & Northampton AC which will be given an added boost when the new track is opened.
Chris commented, “The phrase ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ was very apt when seeing and hearing about the new track coming to Moulton College. It was fantastic to see how as well as overcoming current challenges the club has also got strong plans in place for the future.
“It says a great deal about the commitment of the College and the relationship that they and the club have developed that Robbie and Gerald made themselves available at that time of evening and took the time to welcome us, show us around the highly impressive facilities that they already have and talk to us about the plans for the future over a meal.
“Hearing about the council’s involvement and the vision everyone shares for what can be done highlights what can achieved when club volunteers and community partners all share a vision and a passion for athletics along with a resolve to see plans through. I look forward to seeing the new track facility in action as it is clear it will make a big difference to not only the local club, but also potentially to the wider sport.”