THE man who was Sunderland’s first ever marathon runner has died at the age of 88.
John Barber, a Sunderland Harrier and former secretary of the club for six years from 1965, was suffering from prostate cancer.
He joined the club during the 1950s and eventually found his true vocation as a marathon runner after first being a boxer, fighting under the name of Charlie Black.
It was around the halls of Sunderland that John fought as a professional, during the early 1950s, using his pseudonym to protect his amateur status as an athlete. An offence then that would be dealt with by lifetime athletics ban.
He was a real Alf Tupper type character – the popular comic sporting hero – preparing for his fights by eating a diet of tripe three times a week.
John was a regular site on the roads of Sunderland, as he trudged out the miles in training for the classic distance.
The British transport policeman served at Sunderland railway station for 28 years and was a bit of a legend among the staff. He was the one given the job of chasing after the coal thieves, and no one got away when John gave chase.
In 1965, he was awarded the R. W. Richardson medal by Sunderland Harriers for the most outstanding performance, having competed in four marathons throughout the year and for improving his time and position in the epic London to Brighton ultra road race.
He had a best for the marathon distance of 2hr 37min, a good time in the 60s.
He also won the British police mile and half-mile championships and at 75, the gritty runner was second over-60 in the Morpeth to Newcastle New Year’s Day road race.
He also became a successful marathon coach with his protégée Ian Bloomfield gaining international honours.
John’s love of running lived with him until the end, when he would even attempt a run using his Zimmer frame.
Ian Bloomfield said:” In his 60s John would run 20 miles with me. He was carved out of granite, if you are talking about Alf Tupper he was Alf Tupper’s dad.’’