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Sunderland Harriers miss out on major championships due to state of Herrington Country Park route

A Herrington Country Park path that is in a poor state.
A Herrington Country Park path that is in a poor state.

Sunderland Harriers’ hopes of staging the Northern Athletics 12-Stage and Six-Stage Road Relay Championships at Herrington Country Park have been dashed.

The Wearsiders received a late call from Northern Athletics inviting them to host the championship at Silksworth Sports Complex after Blackpool’s Stanley Park was forced to pull out.

But space for car parking at the Silksworth complex was inadequate for the size of the event. With the championship scheduled for Sunday, March 25, time was of the essence.

Herrington Country Park was then put forward as an alternative venue, but inspection of the intended course found some of the paths were in a poor state.

Northern Athletics Road Running Championship secretary Ken Smith said: “We all had concerns about the state of the paths in places. As a result we have looked around again and Birkenhead Park has been put forward to stage the event.

“We still need a suitable course in the North East, and this seems the best on offer, so we still want that option, but we will have more time now to assess the merits of Herrington Country Park.”

A Sunderland Harriers spokesman said: “We are all extremely disappointed that we will not now be able to stage the championship, which is one of the highlights of the Northern Athletics calendar of events.

“We hope that the council can upgrade the paths so that the championship can be held here in the near future and Sunderland and the Harriers can receive the prestige that the event carries.”

Sunderland have a great history of staging championship events at Silksworth, hosting nine Northern Championship Road Relays since 1988 and the National Championship at the complex in 1994.

But there is better news on the cross country front as Herrington Country Park will be used on Saturday for the fourth fixture of the Start Fitness North Eastern Harrier League.

Nearly 2,000 athletes will be in action in the 10 events on the programme, hosted by Wearside Athletics network with Sunderland Harriers, Sunderland Strollers, Houghton Harriers and Sunderland Tri club all involved.

Sunderland Harriers senior men’s team will be trying to make amends for their poor team performance in the North Eastern Counties Cross Country Championships in December, where they finished among the tailenders after nearly half the team failed to show.

While the Harrier League is not in the same bracket as the North East Championship, a good performance at the Country Park should raise club spirits.

They’re currently lying in fourth place in the First Division on 14 points – 10 points behind leaders Morpeth, with Tyne Bridge and Durham on seven points.

There are three fixtures remaining and the hopes that the Wearsiders can repeat their 2016 title success look remote.

But a victory beneath the shadow of Penshaw Monument is quite possible as team manager Albert James is looking for his first league win of the season.

He will be turning out a strong team headed by his son Oliver and including Loughborough student Mark Smith, Paul Collins, Brian Bewick, Steve Gordon, Ian Ritchie, Kevin Jeffress and Andy Powell.

The Harriers women’s team are four points behind leaders Heaton in the Second Division as they chase promotion to Division 1.

Team manager Eddie Maddison is hopeful that the team will be at full strength with Alice Smith, Vicky Haswell, Vikki Cotton, Linda Mudford, Nicola Woodward and Lauren Flaxen.

Timetable: 12.15 Under-11 Boys and Girls, 12.25 approx Under-13 Boys, 12.35 approx Under-13 Girls, 12.45 approx Under-15 Boys, 12.55 approx Under-15 Girls, 13.05 - 13.10 approx Under-17 and Under-20 Women, 13.10 - 13.15 approx Senior and Veteran Women, 13.50 - 14.00 approx Under-17 Men, 14.15 - 14.25 approx Senior and Veteran Men.

Hartlepool Burn Road Harriers stage their Stuart Pailor Memorial Old Monks Trail Race on Sunday (10.30am).

This is a 5.5 mile trail race from Hart Village through the dene with challenging climbs, with tarmac roads back to the finish spikes should not be worn. Trail shoes are recommended. Late entries are available.