Blackburn Harriers & Athletic Club was founded in 1883 and in 1884 it affiliated to the Northern Counties Athletic Association. Its members then took part in the hugely popular grass track meetings and cross country events throughout the North. During this time up to the Great War and beyond the Mason family were leading lights in the club. It was Bob Mason who helped revive the club in the years immediately after the Second World War along with Percy Fish who was also a respected national official within athletics. By the early 1950’s the club had the use of a 330 yards grass track at Pleckgate and the services of a group of enthusiastic teachers led by Clarence Fairhurst and George Kirby who coached their pupils there and fed them into the Harriers team. The highlight of the year then was a trip to Barnoldswick for a North East Lancashire Track League meeting.
The new track at Witton Park opened in 1958 and was soon recognised as a fast one.To popularise it, a series of invitation meetings, sponsored by Blackburn Borough Council, were staged there. Crowds flocked to watch the stars of the day including world mile record holder Derek Ibbotson and Olympic long jump champion Lynn Davies. In later years double Olympic 1500m champion Seb Coe competed there. The track’s fame attracted members to the Harriers who, by the mid 1960’s were becoming a club to be reckoned with and to add to its prestige major events were held at Witton including national cross country championships and the English School’s Track & Field Championships in 1966.
The first member to earn international selection was Chris Fay, who represented Great Britain in the six miles in a match against France at Rennes in 1966. Soon after Club captain and decathlete Barry Sanderson gained a number of Great Britain vests in the javelin. In 1970 Malcolm Yardley ran for Great Britain and then for England at the Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh. The club 400m squad coached by him included Peter Beavan European Junior Champion and internationals Derek Price and Des Coneys.
By the 1970’s the senior men’s team was strong enough to earn a place in the British Athletics League, putting them amongst the top clubs in the country for a number of seasons. The joint men’s and women’s senior team now compete in the Northern League Division 1 and from 2008 to 2010 were Division 1 Champions as well as 2009 Northern League Cup Champions – memorable achievements for the club. Their latest success was to become Division 1 champions again in 2019.
Our junior teams have campaigned since the 1980’s in the National Young Athletes League developing many fine athletes with our women’s track and field team having included internationals Rebecca White,Judith Croasdale, Alison Leonard, Holly Bradshaw, Sophie Hitchon, Jess Judd and Charlotte Williams. Jess Judd and Holly Bradshaw became national track and field champions in 2020
In the late 1990’s Jason Lobo represented England and Great Britain at 800m in the Commonwealth Games and the World Championships. To follow on the club had junior track internationals also coached by Arthur Almond in Chris Hart, Matt Wood and Karl Billington with Paul Bradshaw gaining GB under 23 and England senior vests.
Achievements have not only been in track and field. In 1979 Michael Morton won the World Junior Cross-Country Championship after taking the national title by the biggest margin in post war years and more recently we had two more England internationals over the country in Pauline Powell and Sarah Willimott.
Our fell runners won the Three Peaks team title in 1973, 1975 and 1977 and the Club has had two individual champions in John Calvert winning in 1976 and 1977 and Harry Walker in 1978, 1979 and 1981.In recent years we have had a number of our athletes winning international fell vests with the junior squad becoming national team champions .
On the road Hilary Matthews became a pioneer in our sport when winning the first ever women’s marathon at Barnsley in 1975. The Club had top class performers on the road and cross country in Bob Shorrock in the 1980’s and Peter Banks in the 1990’s. England international Michael Green is the club record holder for the marathon set at London in 2004 with 2hrs 18mins whilst Ben Fish became our most recent England international at the marathon.
In 2012, Holly Bradshaw & Sophie Hitchon made the GB team for the Olympic Games in London both reaching the Olympic final as well as being national champions and record holders at pole vault and hammer. The last medal for Great Britain in the London Olympics was a silver won by Blackburn Harrier’s Samantha Murray in the modern pentathlon who went on to win the World Modern Pentathlon Championships in 2014.
In 2013 Holly Bradshaw became European Senior Indoor Pole Vault Champion and by doing so became the club’s first ever senior major international championship gold medallist. That year Sophie Hitchon became European under 23 Hammer Champion but bettered that in 2014 winning the club’s first ever outdoor medal in a major track & field championship when taking the bronze at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. In 2015 she placed 4th in the Bejing World Championships breaking the British record twice. She topped all her achievements in the 2016 Olympics when she won the club’s first ever Olympic medal with a bronze in the hammer in Rio again breaking her national record.
Our history is still in the making as the construction of our new indoor stadium was completed and outdoors a new track was laid in 2015 to finish off the superb development now known as Witton Park Arena. The stand was duly named ‘The George Kirby Stand’ after our former Club President on a proud day both for him,his family and our club.
Tony Wood is making good progress writing a book on the history of Blackburn Harriers & AC which once completed will be available for purchase and will be titled ‘ Mill Town Spikes ‘. If you have any information, cuttings, photographs or memorabilia that you feel will add to our history please e-mail Tony on [email protected] or telephone on 07774145345.