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David Coleman

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Last updated 17 December 2015



A big warm ‘welcome-back’ to the Manchester Mile

I can well imagine that in that great Olympic Stadium in the sky, both David Coleman and his all time athletics hero, Sydney Wooderson, are well pleased as they chew over recent developments in Manchester. As former winners, they would both be delighted that Manchester H & AC have brought back the Manchester Mile and in memory of David who won the race in 1949. Sydney was the first winner in 1943 and David was so proud to receive a trophy with his hero’s name on it that he admitted to me that he took it to bed with him that night. The superb Harry Sharp Challenge Bowl had not been competed for since 1952 when it was given to Frank Evans who had won the race 3 times in succession, 1950, 1951 and 1952. After his death his widow returned the trophy to Manchester Harriers and Wednesday 16th July at Sportcity in Manchester saw the return of this great event that used to take place at Fallowfield.

There were 103 entrants in 8 races for all ages and abilities with a great 5.01.59 performance from the host club’s Beth Barlow recently crowned under 15 Champion for 1500m at the English Schools. It was great to see two members from David’s other club, Stockport Harriers, and their Louise Rudd, a V35, took the ladies honours with an excellent time of just 5.05.87. Both Beth and Louise’s performances would have improved on the women’s World record in 1953. The winner of the Bowl was Preston Harriers’ Chris Livesey who front ran for a very useful 4.19.79.

During the meeting we chatted about Sydney and whether as an amateur in 1943 he would have had to pay his own expenses to get to and from Manchester. Sydney, like me, was a past President of Blackheath Harriers and on 30 August this year we celebrate the centenary of his birth, so I was pleased to run in a Blackheath Harriers vest and delighted with the very warm reception for me and my PW (personal worst!). All in all, it was a very worthwhile pilgrimage for me.

Well done Manchester H & AC, lets hope that after this superb rebirth, the event can be built into something great and enduring that is a fitting memorial for David Coleman and also for Sydney Wooderson. Sydney enjoyed other trips to Fallowfield and in 1939 set a three quarters of a mile World record of 2.59.5 (I wonder whether David Coleman was there for this). This also stood as a UK record until 1951 when Bannister, paced by Chataway, ran 2.56.6 at Motspur Park.

Mike Martineau
18 July 2014

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DAVID COLEMAN OBE (26 April 1926 – 21 December 2013)

Arguably two of the most important tasks that a Blackheath President has is firstly the selection of a successor and secondly obtaining a good guest speaker for the Club Dinner. I thought I was ahead of the game as nearly three months before I became President I made my first approach to a potential guest speaker for the Club Dinner. It was David Coleman. I ended up belatedly with a sixth choice in Richard Nerurkar courtesy of the good offices of Jerry Barton. I had also asked the likes of Tessa Sanderson and Chris Brasher. Chris turned me down with a delightful letter. He was brilliant company and a very entertaining guy to drink with but he claimed to be a lousy after dinner speaker, something I found hard to believe.

I expect that everyone has their own memory of David Coleman. Mine comes from trying to get him to come to Blackheath Harriers as a guest speaker for the Club Dinner and also trying to get him to come to the Sydney Wooderson Memorial Service which it was my privilege to organize. Conversations with him indicated that it was his commitments, particularly with Question of Sport, that prevented him from visiting the Blackheath Harriers Clubhouse. He knew of the Harriers as he was well aware that his all-time Athletics hero, Sydney Wooderson, was a member. He told a story about winning the Manchester Mile in 1949, the only non-International to do so. This race had been previously won by Wooderson and the great man’s name was inscribed on the trophy that David had been presented with. David was so proud to receive this trophy (worth 130 guineas in 1949) and admitted taking it to bed with him that night! He said he felt as if he had gone to bed with Sydney!

He knew Athletics so well and why wouldn’t he? He had excelled as a schoolboy and represented Staffordshire as a quarter miler. He took up running seriously in 1944 while in the Army and won the British Forces 3000m Championship in Southern Greece. He was demobbed in 1947 and joined Stockport Harriers soon after. He had clocked 4.16.5 in winning the Manchester Mile when a member of Stockport Harriers and he ran for Manchester AC twice in the ‘National’, coming 89th in 1952 then 105th in the 1953 race won by Gordon Pirie (Sando 2nd, Peters 9th). David even has a bronze team medal from the 1952 race as 5th scorer! First team scorer was Walter Hesketh who had won the race beating Pirie by almost a minute (Peters 4th, Sando 5th). In 1953 David was 3rd scorer in a depleted Manchester team that was without Hesketh. Manchester had more or less come from nowhere in the 1952 National so possibly they were recruiting quite heavily during the year before and David was obviously a useful acquisition. By that time he was being coached by a Manchester member. As a miler it was something of a coincidence that David’s first TV appearance on Sportsview was on the very day that Roger Bannister broke 4 minutes for the mile.

Injury ended his career and problems with his hamstrings prevented him competing in the 1952 Olympic Trials. He often said how he would have given everything up to have been an Olympian like many of his colleagues. He did however receive from the IOC their Olympic Order Medal, the first broadcaster or journalist to do so, and joined people like Owens, Blankers-Koen and Zatopek.

Probably like a lot of people, I’d love to find out some detail on his Athletics career. We know he ran for Staffordshire in the quarter mile and we know he was also once a member of Stockport Harriers and then Manchester AC and that he represented Cheshire at the British Games at the White City being beaten in a heat by Doug Wilson who won the final from Bill Nankeville in 4.20. He also represented Cheshire in the Inter Counties Cross Country. But what else? I thought it would be fascinating to know.

So I enquired of his Clubs and received from one a copy of an article from the Stockport Express that recorded his victory in the Manchester Mile on 6 August 1949 and had a photo of David being presented with the trophy. I received a comment that he was basically a far better journalist and commentator than he was an athlete although he had won several mile races which were mainly handicap races. Possibly therefore he was someone who could regularly get the better of a handicapper. Chris Haines and other Club handicappers know all about this sort of person! The article also puts forward the view that he was a ‘possible’ for selection for the 1952 Olympics.

I also trawled through all of Blackheath’s Athletics Weeklys from 1945 to 1953. For those who are nostalgic and for those who love Athletics history this was a fascinating exercise and one I have embarked on a couple of times for other reasons. I could only find three mentions of David. The two ‘National’ performances and his 91st place representing Cheshire in the 1952 Inter Counties Cross Country where his County were 7th team. To put it into a Blackheath perspective, in the 1952 ‘National’ David was 89th with the first Blackheath runner being Choat in 91st with Alan Brent in 120th. In 1953, Manchester AC, with David in 105th, were 10th team one place behind Blackheath who had Jack Braughton in 64th and Alan Brent in 119th.

The 2nd Jan 2014 AW claims that David was Cheshire Mile Champion in 1951 but the AW for 16th June 1951 shows the Cheshire mile winner as J F Green. I suspect he did actually win a County Mile title but it wasn’t in 1951. And that rather sums up AW at the time. Reporting showed a distinct Southern bias, its amazing how much coverage that Blackheath received! But Northern results are quite scanty and often important events are not recorded at all. Cheshire County results are mostly ignored. Even his 1949 Manchester Mile success is not recorded in AW although the Fallowfield Games that included the event gets a brief mention but wasn’t ever in the AW fixture list. Its also impossible to establish exactly when Sydney won this race. However I did find out that at another event at Fallowfield on 6 June 1939, Sydney broke the World three quarters of a mile record with 2.59.5. This also stood as a UK record until April 1951 when Bannister, paced by Chattaway, ran 2.56.6 at Motspur Park. Also recorded in a 1953 AW, a year before the first 4 minute mile, Bannister, again paced by Chattaway and also at Oxford, ran 4.03.6 to beat Sydney’s UK record for the Mile.

Fallowfield itself has an interesting history. Now demolished, it is Halls of Residence for Manchester University and has been since 1994. But it hosted a Wolves/Everton Cup Final in 1893, the AAAs Championships in 1897 and 1907, a Rugby Union International in 1897 and the Rugby League Cup Final for a few years. It also had a Velodrome and the Stadium was once owned by legendary racing cyclist Reg Harris.

What else did my trawl through the old AWs produce? Competition for the UK record at an unusual distance, a mile and a half! Lots about the great career of former Past President and a British International, Roy Morley. A cover photo showing Jack who led after the first leg of the 1951 London to Brighton Road Relay. AW also showed our Jack representing London in a match against Paris in 1952, Corporal Weeks-Pearson winning the Army Mile in 1952 and Sydney opening the Finchley Harriers new Clubhouse in 1949. Also showed in 5th place in the 1947 AAAs Marathon Championships, a certain Alan Turing, recently pardoned. Showed Jack as coming 4th (but 3rd Brit) in the 1952 selection race for the 5000m. Showed my Dad’s 3rd place in the National 50km Race Walk Championship a mere 6 weeks before his Olympic race at the same distance. So not a brilliant opportunity to make a good recovery!

The detail in AW then was not as good as it is now and it is likely that David was in the Manchester Road Relay teams that took part in the London to Brighton and also in the Manchester to Blackpool Relays. So whereas some races that David may have taken part in are included in AW, there is no detail to confirm one way or the other.

Amateur rules at the time might also have caused David some difficulty as you couldn’t earn from writing or commentating on Sport. So once he had started his brilliant career with the BBC there was no turning back.

The Sportsview Personality of the Year show has for some years included a list of those notable Sports persons that have died during the previous year. I expect that David will rightly take pride of place in next year’s list, unlike his hero Sydney Wooderson who was completely forgotten. I have a letter of apology from Gary Lineker for this omission which was never corrected!

Mike Martineau
9 January 2014

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