History of HAC and Athletics in Hastings and Bexhill:
Organised athletics can be traced back to Ancient Greece, however the first reference to athletics in Hastings was in the Hastings & St Leonards Observer 4th December 1866: “On Tuesday and Wednesday last, several young gentlemen connected with the private schools in St. Leonards took part in these fine old sports and pastimes on St. Leonards Green. There was a goodly number of the elite of the town and the feats accomplished, as reported by a contemporary, were truly marvellous.” The history of athletic clubs in this town has been many and various.
The Herald and Observer of 24th July 1869 reported on the ‘Pedestrian Fete’: “We want to see the desire for athletic sports inculcated into the minds of our youths; the present generation do not value physical exercise at it’s true worth, but they are beginning to awake to its importance.” The crowd at the cricket ground to see this spectacle was estimated at 2500.
Following a meeting in 1874 of the Hastings and St. Leonards Amateur Athletic Club, a resolution was brought forward “that it is desirable for Athletic Sports to be started under the management of the Club, and that a special Committee be appointed for that purpose”. The Club went on to become affiliated with the Amateur Athletic Association (AAA). It was “proposed to throw open the races of the members of the Rowing and Cricket Clubs, the Mechanics Institute and the local Volunteer Corps and a date set for the 30th September”.
In 1893 ‘Hastings Athletic Club’ held their first evening race meeting in the Central Cricket Ground to a “fair number of spectators”. The events reported in the Observer were the 120 Yards Handicap, Half Mile Cycle Handicap and a Half Mile Flat Handicap – which was won in a time of 2min, 11secs.
In 1894 the first modern Olympic Games was held in Athens which only increased the popularity of athletics across the world. It was reported in the Observer on the 31/8/1889 the Hastings and St. Leonards Amateur Athletic Club held their 6th annual race meeting at the Central Cricket and Recreation Ground. “The most amusing part of the programme was the obstacle race which created roars of laugher among the spectators”. The Victorians were not ones for all positive post-match analysis, with the winner of the High Jump being described as “perhaps the most disappointing” part of the event clearing only 4ft 9inches.
In 1900 “The County of Sussex Cross Country Association” was formed at a special meeting held at the Devonshire Hotel, Bexhill. Mr J.E. Sanders of Bexhill was the initiator of the movement. The first Championship race was fixed for February 24th at the Bexhill Ground. The Hastings Harriers existed during the late 1800’s and into the early 1900’s. C.E. Groom was the dashing Captain. A favourite training location was the land which lies behind Bexhill Road – from Kites Farm to where the Bull Inn stands today along to South Saxon Fields. ‘Filsham’s Jump’ took runners into a stream where they had to scramble out via steep banks. Throughout the past 100 years the “excellent cross country” routes in Bexhill have kept the sport thriving – today Bexhill continues to host the Sussex AAA County Champs at Bexhill Downs.
The Olympic Games in 1928 created ‘marathon mania’ and a marathon took place in Hastings on the 16th December starting and finishing at the Central Cricket Ground.
We know that cross country continued in popularity in the area during the next 30-year period as it was reported in the Observer (October 13 1928) that the Sussex AAA Championship fixture would take place in Hastings in December of that year. Hastings and St Leonards Cycling and Athletic Club were to host the event and asked for more members to join and posted that several vacancies existed in the club team.
In 1939 The Hastings and St. Leonards Cycling and Athletic Club reported in the local Observer that “the revival of the athletics section was welcomed, but attendances at meetings were disappointing”. An appeal for this new section was made asking new members “to join up and train earnestly under the expert supervision of Mr J. Howard, who has kindly undertaken to teach members the best methods of training”. During the 1930’s other rival athletic clubs formed – however it is important to note that the term “athletics” had a much broader meaning that it does today, and often included cycling, gymnastics and other sports.
In April 1941, in the midst of the second World War, an announcement in the Hastings & St Leonards Observer of the Summer Sport Facilities was made “For local Youths at Central Ground” calling for local boys and young men. It stated that a new quarter mile running track was being marked out as part of a new Youth Service Committee Scheme. This scheme looked to have worked, with a prominent young athlete E.A Philcox going on to represent Hastings in the same year at Lewes YMCA Sports Meeting where he retained his Sussex Championship titles for the 100 Yards (11 2-5s) and Long Jump (17ft, 4 ½ inches). In the same year “Phil” (as his friends reportedly called him) ran in the Services Gymkhana (which was arranged by the Hastings Physical Training Club in aid of the Mayors Air Raid Distress Fund) and won the 100 yards in 11 seconds flat, 220yds (26 2-5s) and 440yds in 66 seconds. “This tall, finely built lad” also walked away with the Long Jump (17ft 10inch). The inclusion of a Veterans race “caused quite a sensation” as one real Vet at the ripe old age of 76 came in 1st place “inspite of his beard”. The Meet was won by the 10th Platoon.
The Second World War must have negatively affected athletic clubs across the country as post war Britain began to rebuild itself, and records begin again in 1951 where a classy athlete by the name of Tony Pearson features. In the February, Pearson (who was originally form Hastings) a member of the Home Counties Training Centre won the Eastern Command Cross Country Champs. In March 1951, an advert was placed in the Hastings and St Leonards Observer asking for members for the
newly formed “Hastings and District Athletic Club”. Hastings & District AC started began with members from Hastings & St. Leonards Cycling & AC who were dissatisfied.
In the August the ‘Hastings Warriors’ Festival took place, which was a Cycling & Athletic event at the Central Ground and was opened by Max Miller. It featured a 10-mile running race with 53 entries. The conditions on the day were poor, with driving rain all afternoon – it was noted that fortunately the runners had spiked track shoes. The 10-mile road race, around the outskirts of Hastings saw Hastings & District AC claim 3rd team and was won by Olympic runner Frank Sando in a record 53min 25 secs. Organisers, Hastings Warriors, felt the hard effects of the inclement weather during the meeting (and had actually experienced the same bad luck the previous year) which lost about £100, and called for financial support due to a lack of funds. This appeal brought good results from the town, which shows their prominence and standing within the local community at this time.
In 1952 the Warriors started a dedicated Athletics section, with the suggestion that Hastings and District AC may join them. On 10 May 1952 Lord Burghley (Chair Olympic Game Association and winner of the 1928 Olympic 400m Hurdles.) spoke to the Hastings Round Table at Queens Hotel about the importance of the Olympic games and the role it plays in global relations. It is clear that Hastings has a long history of producing quality athletes as five Hastings school children were chosen to represent Sussex at National Schools held at Bradford in the same year. (Mary Gunter 150yds 15-17, Irene Feist LJ U15 15’2½, A W Bates mile 4:59.1, M E Barham 440yds, R Brazier LJ 17’8½ U15).
In July, the Cycle and Athletic meeting was held at the Central Ground, with chilly but good weather. The highlight of the meet was national serviceman Tony Pearson winning the mile in 4:23.6 – a record for the ground.
In May 1953 a new athletic club formed in Bexhill – Bexhill Amateur Athletic Club. A request for men and women in the Hastings district was posted in the Observer to join training sessions on Tuesday and Thursday evenings, 7pm. “Facilities are available for field events, Jumping and all track events”. The promise of experienced A.A.A and C.C.P.R Coaches as well as international athletes was given.
Three main athletic clubs existed in the area during the 1950s – Bexhill AC, Hastings Warriors and Hastings Olympiads AC. The Olympiad’s were formed following a group trip to watch the 1952 Olympics. The Hastings New Zealand Namesake Trophy (the base of which was constructed using wood from New Zealand) began with the Olympiads after the trophy was given to them by – what was – the previous athletic club in Hastings before the Second World War. The Olympiad’s would use the beach and Bottle Alley for their winter sprint training, and attended some outdoor meetings in London as well as at an RAF Hangar where it was reported that the Pole Vault was between the roof girders and into foam rubber chips, and the Long Jump was into about 12 inches of sand on a concrete floor. A far cry from todays Health and Safety requirements!
However, by 1964 Hastings Olympiads AC had become dormant and the town was lacking any athletic provision. In response to this, a meeting was called and it was decided by the West Hill Boys Club to form ‘Hastings West Hill Athletic Club’. This decision was the key to establishing a secure foundation for the town for many decades to come. Hastings West Hill AC won their first match against touring Thames Valley Harriers by 59 points to 41. A young John Barker won the 100yds, Triple Jump and High Jump (and also did well at the East Sussex Youth Championships). A.Demarco was 3rd in the final of the 100yds (10.5s). P.Watts won the 120yds Hurdles and L.Bardon was 2nd in the 880yd and 4th in the Mile. Hastings West Hill AC’s only senior competitor – T.Barker – won the 100 and 220yds and also the Long Jump.
In November 1964 Eastbourne Rovers proposed a merger of Hastings West Hill AC, Bexhill AC and Eastbourne Rovers claiming “It would be the salvation of athletics in the area, which are now at an all-time low state”. However, the proposal gained no further momentum (Eastbourne Rovers and Hastings AC still being two prominent and active clubs today).
In 1965 Olympic team captain Robbie Brightwell opened the newly laid cinder track at the William Parker Grammar School. One of the first meetings was hosted by Hastings West Hill Club for the New Zealand Namesake Trophy.
The present club’s rankings started in 1967 and the Town’s champions from the 1960s included Brian Hull, Charmian Vick, Jeanette Bone, Bob Shipway, Mike Dimarco, Sue Kinnes, Angela Boon, Tony Cruttenden and the club’s coach and founder member John Barker.
It was the athletic membership of this club that separated from the West Hill Boys Club in 1966 to from the current and longest running athletic club in the area – Hastings Athletic Club. Training during this period continued to be at the South Saxons Playing Fields on the 440-yard grass track, with the luxury of a sand pit for the high jump! The Club started the Hastings New Zealand Namesake Trophy meeting which was the first club meeting held on the then newly opened track at William Parker School, and this continued for a great many years.
In March 1969, the Boxley Trophy Road Race, using a six-mile course, was run in Alexandra Park. In 1970, a Youth/Boys race was started, and in 1971 a Colts 2-mile race was introduced. In July 1969, the club had staged a Ladies open meeting to encourage the ladies section of the club to improve on their previous season’s best performances. In May 1971 Hastings AC started the Town Race, a cross country event for non-specialist runners, while in August the Men's team won the Sussex Inter Club trophy for the first time. The men followed this up the next year by winning the Barker Trophy, the McCaffrey Trophy, and once again the Sussex Inter Club Trophy.
In 1972/3 Hastings AC competed in no less than 21 Track and Field meetings with four 1st place wins, three 2nds, and was 3rd place on four occasions. Hastings AC also won the New Zealand Namesake Trophy and came an impressive 4th place in the Southern League.
In 1974 Bexhill AC (athletic section) joined Hastings AC for the track season. The Chairman’s report stated “This cooperation will grow, bringing greater strength to athletics in East Sussex”. The growth in club membership meant that the Club needed to make a public plea for more assistant coaches to deal with demand. It was in this year that all summer training moved to the William Parker school site as training at South Saxons was proving increasingly difficult for field event training.
During the following years the club really started to gain momentum and by 1977 the Men’s Cross-Country section was winning Bronze Medals in the County championships, finishing third in the Sussex League and competing in the National Championships for the first time. The Club entered its first women’s team into the Southern Athletic League – with a huge representation of 71 ladies! At the Sussex Cross Country League, the Senior men were third. In the October, the first Hastings Observer 1066 Road Races took place on the seafront, with more than 200 athletes taking part. Hastings senior men won the relay; in which 20 five-men teams battled it out over a 5,000m course. The ladies team also won their respective race so it was double celebrations. Derek Stevens recorded the fastest lap. The event even included an U13’s race too. This would see the start in the growth in Hastings AC’s road running section which would gain momentum over the coming decade.
In October, Hastings AC organised the 1066 Sea Front Races as part of the 'Hastings Day'. The Club needed to raise funds (£1,000) to improve the facilities at Hastings Grammar School and put on “The 1066 Run” over Easter spanning 4 days. The total distance was approximately that of London to Naples, and each mile was sold at £1 to the people of Hastings. One person at a time ran either a 5- or 10-mile leg. Many of the town’s most prominent athletes took part and the Club was subsequently awarded the Elea Hillier Shield by the Sports Council. In the same year the Club won the Boxley Trophy.
In 1979, Brighton born Steve Ovett took part in the main race at the Hastings Observer’s Sports Day which saw a great turnout from the local community. The following year in 1980 Ovett would take part in the Moscow Olympic Games and win Gold in the 800m.
In 1983, Derek Stevens became the club's first international athlete. He ran a marvellous Marathon that year in America, recording a time of 2 hours 12 minutes 41 seconds for the race, which still remains a club record. Closer to home, Derek won the Hastings Half Marathon in April 1986 (wearing Bib number 1066 in 1.06.6!
From 1987 to 1990 Hastings AC went through a difficult period both financially and physically. Only a strong lead from the Chairman of the day kept the club on the go. This period was not without its successes, but it did see teams sliding down the leagues. A poor-quality athletics track was quoted as being the reason for much of the failure to succeed at the highest level of competition. In 1990 Luke Veness became England U17 Boys 3000m champion and in 1991 won the English School’s XC. 1992 saw a resurgence with promotion of both of the men’s teams in the Southern League. This success saw a reawakening of interest in the club and was due in no small way to the effort made at the time to encourage the youth of the town to get involved with the club and to take up the sport of athletics. 1996 was the most successful year for the club to date, with the senior men being promoted to Division 1 of the Southern League and the Senior Women to Division 3. Sean Baldock was selected for England at 400m. Sean joined Hastings AC as a Mini Colt (Under 11) in 1987 alongside his brother Steve. 1997 and 1998 saw facilities at the athletics track at an all-time low. It was a mixed season but some successes were still achieved. In 1997 whilst racing for the men's league team on a wet and windy afternoon at Woking, Sean Baldock broke the Southern Men's League record with his 46.6 timing. Sean went on to compete in two Olympics and win gold medals as part of 4x400m Relay teams in both the Commonwealth Games and European Athletics Championships. Nick Dawson The represented Great Britain at a junior international meeting in 1997 and went on to represent England in the senior Home Internationals in 2001. The Chairman at this time was Reg Wild and his vision and passion held the club together. Reg was a stalwart for Hastings AC and a helped a great many athletes over the years, some of whom went on to compete at international level. Reg was also involved in the original conception and organisation of the Hastings Half Marathon.
In 1997 the Club was given a lifeline when a new all-weather track was laid. This was made possible from money from the Lottery fund, Sports England as well as the Foundation for Sports & Arts, Hastings Borough Council and East Sussex County Council and undoubtedly helped the athletes at the time reach their potential and to represent the Club at local and national meetings.
Around 2000 it was clear to many that changes in the sport were coming on a regulatory level, and these changes did indeed take place over the coming years. Health and Safety rules and regulatory requirements have continued to evolve over the past 20 years and Clubs across the country have had to adapt – many often for good reason to ensure the safety and wellbeing of participants. Despite these changes, Hastings AC has continued to produce International athletes and make a positive impact in the local community. Some notable highlights in more recent years from Hastings athletes have been Louisa James winning the hammer at the World Youth Championships in 2011, Cara Pain 2nd in English Schools U17 300m Hurdles in 2003, Lee Emanuel competing for Great Britain and who was the British Indoor Senior Champion 2015/2016/2017 in 3000m, Grace Baker competing for GB at the European World Cross Country Champs and European 5000m track and Adam Clark training alongside Mo Farah and competing at Cross Country and Track for Great Britain – Adam also won the Hastings Half Marathon in 2018. Elise Lovell has had tremendous success and remains an active member of Hastings AC today. Her achievements include 2011 - England Team at Home Countries Combined Events International (Stoke, ENG), 2015 - Great Britain Team at European Cup Combined Events Championships Super League (Aubagne, FRA) 2016 - England Team (Long Jump) at Manchester International 2017 - Great Britain Team at Indoor International Multievents Match (Prague, CZE), 2018 - Multistars International Combined Events Invitational (Florence, ITA). Elise won English Schools as well as two national senior titles all whilst being a Hastings AC member. Elise also trained with Jessica Ennis Hill during the Olympics.
Steve Baldock and Wayne Martin have both recently competed for Great Britain as Masters. At the heart of the Club has always been the Youth division, and Hastings AC works alongside local schools to deliver a high standard of athletics to all young people who wish to participate. In 2018 the Club was once again offered a lifeline when Ark Academy facilitated a new all-weather track surface to be laid, securing the next 20 years of athletics for the town. Hastings AC is currently in the process of applying for Track Mark accreditation to ensure that fixtures can continue to be held at the arena over the coming years.
In 2020 we can reflect warmly on the past; however, focus is now clearly directed at the coming century of athletics in Hastings and St Leonards and how we can ensure that we continue to build on Hastings AC’s track record of success. With the increasing popularity of events like parkrun and Road Racing, we hope to see even more people of all abilities get involved in the sport at a grass roots level. We have fully qualified and DBS checked Coaches for all disciplines – from sprints, road to field events. We cater for juniors from 8 years and above who want to learn the fundamentals of athletics in a safe and friendly environment.