Bob Cliff

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Last updated 23 March 2012

Bob Cliff, President for 2013/14

Bob was born at an early age into an Army family in Ismalia, on the Suez Canal in Egypt, in February 1951. Due to some small problems in the area, which made the British rather unpopular with the locals, he left soon after with his mother and sister, in a landing craft. He then spent the next 5 years or so in Pakistan where he became fluent in Urdu and developed a lifelong love of curry, followed by several years moving around the UK. He does not remember going to school until he arrived in Eltham at the age of 9 when he attended Eltham Church of England School. Here he excelled neither academically nor athletically. His major sporting achievements were scoring a lifetime best of 7 runs in a cricket match against another school and getting into the final of the Greenwich Schools Breast stroke championships.

Bob then moved on to Aske’s in New Cross where he was an enthusiastic but unskilled sportsman. However he discovered that he had a talent for distance running when the usual rugby lesson was abandoned due to a waterlogged pitch. He competed for the school at cross country, middle distance on the track and the high jump, which may explain why he ended up running the steeplechase for Blackheath for many years, where he combined his talent for running and high jumping to good effect. Those of you who have seen him steeplechase will know that Bob treated these two as entirely separate disciplines – a stylish technician he was not.

He joined Blackheath in 1967 at the suggestion of his maths teacher, Mr Haines, who coached the school cross country team to 1st place in the London Grammar Schools Championships. Bob competed for the club regularly until he went to Cambridge University where a persistent knee injury stopped him running seriously. Rowing, which as you know is done sitting down and does not stress the knees too much, seemed a perfect substitute to running; he rowed for his college 1st boat in the “bumps” and at Henley, where he did more drinking than rowing if the truth be told. He also rowed for Blackheath in the annual race against our mob match rivals, a race which has now sadly fallen by the wayside.

Bob started work in London for Post Office Telecommunications (now BT) in 1973. After his then future wife, Vicky, commented unflatteringly on his skinny legs he rejoined Blackheath in an attempt to get fit and develop legs he could be proud of. He continued to work for BT for the next 25 years in and around London, which initially allowed plenty of time for training including some great burn-ups on Wednesday evenings with PPs Les Roberts, Tim Souter and Mr Haines. Bob competed for the club at cross country and on the road and track. He managed to come 2nd in all the club cross country championship distances (he will never forgive Tim Souter, Andy Frankish and Richard Coles beating him!) but he did manage to win the Club 10K and 5k track races in 1977. Tim, Andy and Richard must have been away for these races. He also represented the club in the Southern and National League at 5 and 10k and steeplechase. Bob was Cross Country Secretary for a number of years, a role he has recently taken up again.

The arrival of three children in 4 years and more senior and demanding jobs with BT, where he became Network Planning and Operations Manager for the whole of London, curtailed Bob’s running but he occasionally ran in mob matches. When he attained the milestone of 50 he started to take things a bit more seriously as he had to be sure of beating his two sons Harry and Alastair, who had also joined Blackheath and Bromley. Alastair was the more enthusiastic of the two, winning the Bennett Cup in 2005, with Bob yet again 2nd!

Bob left BT in 1998 when he joined a small technology consultancy, based in Maidenhead, where he spent for 8 years, most of it on the M25, but with trips to Dubai, Washington and Watford in between. He then decided that 4 hours a day on the M25 was not very fulfilling and a complete change in direction was needed. He finally found a use for his degree by training to be a teacher followed by 4 years teaching Physics at St Dunstan’s College. He retired from full time teaching last year but continues to tutor individuals and small groups who find physics rather challenging, or who have pushy parents.

A minor heart problem prevented him continuing to run competitively some years ago and after a little arm twisting from John Baldwin he took over the role of Chief Trail Layer and more recently Winter Athletics Chairman and Secretary. In the 45 years since Bob joined Blackheath he has made many friends and had some wonderful experiences and hopes to continue to be associated with and contribute to the club for many more years to come.

Stephen Hollingdale

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