Houghton Harriers star as Sunderland Harriers collapse at Farringdon Cross Country

Houghton Harriers Alex Brown.
Houghton Harriers Alex Brown.

Houghton Harriers impressed many with their much improved performances in the Sunderland Harriers 35th Farringdon Cross Country on Saturday.

The Wearside club are on the up with a number of talented young endurance athletes in their ranks and an enthusiastic band of coaches behind them.

They featured in many of the 12 events on the programme and placed third in the main race of the day.

While Houghton were in celebratory mood, Sunderland Harriers officials witnessed their worst overall performance in the long history of the event going back to 1983.

They never won a single medal and after scoring a splendid winning double in the senior men’s and veterans’ race last year, they finished well outside of the medals this time.

And, on top of that, their senior men suffered their first ever defeat by Houghton in an endurance event.

Some of Sunderland’s leading athletes decided to opt out of the event in favour of other events in the region, with the result that team commitment collapsed, much to the disappointed of the team managers.

Only the hosts’ senior women’s team came close to a top three position by finishing fourth behind winners Elswick.

It was Houghton this time that carried the Wearside flag by claiming their first medals in the senior men’s four-stage senior men’s relay. And it was a superb leg by Under-20 Alex Brown who steered them into the frame.

He lifted them into first (8.54) on the second leg after taking over from Lee Dover who opened for the club in fourth (9.17).

Brown’s performance was even more rewarding as he clocked the third fastest time of the day behind Morpeth Harrier Rob Balmbra (8.49) and Tyne Bridge Harrier Michael Hedley (8.52).

Houghton’s final two runners in the history making Houghton team were Tom Grey (10.23) and Adam Middleton (10.00). Morpeth won the race from Tyne Bridge Harriers.

The Houghton veterans, not to be outdone, equalled the performance of their senior team by finishing third in their event, again it was the the first time in the 35 years of the event that they had finished in the frame.

The history makers were Matty Tomlinson (10.12), Steven Johnson (10.36), Peter Ashman (11.34) and David Gribben (11.26).

It was in the younger age group events, over the same 3,000m distance as the seniors, that Houghton also shone and it showed that the future looks promising with more than a handful of athletes showing much potential.

In the Under-15 boys’ event, Henry Johnson won (9.20) from clubmate Will Bellamy (9.27). Both those marks would have ranked them ninth and 14th in the senior men’s fastest times.

This was their third race in eight days and both athletes are in the top echelon of national standards over 1,500m and 3,000m.

In the Under-15 Girls’ race, Houghton took the first four places through impressive runs from Lydia James (10.50), Nicole Phillips (11.16), Anna Pigford (11.23) and Amy Leonard (11.31). Eve Hardie finished second (11.17) in the Under-17s.

Thomas Pigford was the Houghton athlete that got the club’s glorious day underway by winning (4.01) in the first event on the programme, the boys’ Under-11 event over 1,000m. Clubmates Joseph McGinley finished in sixth (4.13), Jack Brown was seventh (4.13) and Aaron Douthwaite 10th (4.19).

Sunderland’s best performances overall came from Alice Smith with the fourth fastest time in the women’s relay (10.48) behind Sophie Burnett’s (Birtley) leading mark of 10.15.

Eve Quinn was fourth in the Under-17s (11.28) and Evan Cubby was fifth in the Under-11s (4.08).