By the mid 1970s the feeling had grown that the time was ripe for rationalising the situation and forming a genuine club in Matlock. With the sudden massive increase in petrol prices following the oil crisis it seemed pointless for Matlock athletes to travel 25 miles to the nearest club for a training run, and the orienteers too were beginning to see the vast mileages involved in driving to their events as prohibitive.
So in late June 1976, the year of the great drought a meeting was convened at the College to form a new club. All the groundwork had been done before the meeting which in effect simply formalised certain decisions and elected a committee: Chairman : Brian Howitt, Secretary : David. Millington. Treasurer : Clive Russell and Fixtures Secretary Malcolm Taylor. Other founder members believed to be present (no written record was kept.) were Steve Pearson, Neil Forrest and Dave Sprakes.
The H.Q. was to be the College Gym, by permission of the new Principal, David Udall, who agreed to be our first Vice President. At this time the College was emphasising its colmmunity role and on the understanding that any College student interested could have free membershipof the club we were to be allowed to use the changing facilities free of charge as well as certain other services. This enabled us to set the very low membership fee of £2 p.a. and less for juniors. A basic club philosophy was set out : since we were all active athletes administration should be kept to a minimum, so as to enable all of us to concentrate on our major objective ‑ running. The name of Matlock Athletic Club was nevertheless chosen so as to leave our successors the option of branching out into track and field in future years. The club strip would be white shorts and a pale blue vest, since we all possessed the former and the latter was available over the counter at M.& S!
The above three decisions reflected our determination to be up and running(literally) without delay, but our haste perhaps led to problems which some would say have not yet been solved 20 yeaxs later. The same haste would lead us to “borrow” the D.&C.A.C. constitution for our first A.G.M. In the meantime we were to make the affiliations to the A.A.A. and other bodies necessary for our legal operation. We put our beliefs into practice only days later, making our first appearance in club colours on July 4th. in the Hyde “8”, which our second claim member Peter Lindsell almost won, with Malcolm Taylor also near the front of the field in one of his fastest runs, ever.
Our 1976 debut on the fell running scene came shortly after at Bamford where we placed 7 runners in the first I0. This time we were not keen to display club colours, for two reasons. Firstly the Peak District fell races were still small scale local affairs where the presence of “The Harriers” was often resented and secondly if a certain zealous A.A.A. official caught you running in an unregistered event you were liable to be banned as a professional. And all this only 20 years ago!
The first A.G.M. was held on 15/10/76. Current progress on affiliations was reported and the same committee was re‑elected. Membership now stood at 10 seniors and 5 juniors. Training night was confirmed as Thursday at 7.30 p.m. It was at this meeting that Dave Mitchell raised the issue of holding a marathon on the lower halves of the Tissington and High Peak Trails which he had noticed covered roughly the classic distance.
The rest of the year participation in the North Midlands Cross Country League races, the best packing being at Worksop with 4 runners inside the first 100. Towards Christmas the first club cross country championships were held at Parwich in deep snow on a typical Clive Russell course, with new member Chris Rosling emerging as Senior champion and Ian Smallwood as Junior.
1977 was a year when a, number of new ventures took place, the most long lasting being the inauguration of the White Peak “26” as it was called, because under current A.A.A. rules a marathon had to be held on the road, our course emphatically was not, with a day sure to give an initial 10 miles of mud on the “grass” surface of those days. Planning of the race was entrusted to a sub‑committee under the direction of Ian Farrand who for many years was to mastermind the event. A small field of 19 faced the gun at Ashbourne on 7th. May with Chris Bent of Salford becoming the first winner in 2.45.45 and our own Clive Russell 3rd. Our other major venture was into track and field after an influx of new members from the local sixth forms, the College and the Old Baileians Rugby Club. In our first season in the Notts. Track League we finished 3rd. overall in Division 2.
This success led to a 3‑cornered challenge meeting held on the College grass track in honour of a much respected former Derbyshire coach. The match was a great success with the Dave Goodyear Trophy going to D.& C.A.C. with Matlock second ahead of our new rivals Buxton. Phil Whitney raised the money for the trophy from local businesses and the event was intended to become an annual one. Whatever became of the event and the trophy?
In the Summer the “Flash 7” road race around Matlock Moor was inaugurated and the first winner was Bob Forster in 36.37. This event like the.track event was based at the College pavillion which we were allowed to use free or for a nominal fee. It was initially a low key inter‑club fixture with no entry fee or prizes.
Following his third in the White Peak Russell recorded at was to stand as his best ever time : 2.46.19 when he turned to the road in the Rotherham.
By the Autumn cross country season we were affiliated to two leagues, the North Midlands and the South Yorkshire. Although we did take part in the N. Mids. that season it was from this point on that we switched our major participation to S. Yorks. which entailed shorter travelling distances and was of a more realistic standard, three of us regularly finishing in the 20’s!
With all this activity the club’s administration was suffering and the A.G.M. attempted to put things on a firmer footing when it elected 2 non‑running Members into key positions : Reg Fielding (Chairman) and Ian Farrand (Treasurer). Chris Rosling : became Secretary and Captain for Cross country and Road, and Brian Wardle Track and Field Captain. Brian Howitt took over as Fixtures, Secretary. Publicity and communication would be fostered via the “MacMag” under the editorship of Jes Ford, and it was hoped to encourage junior and female membership. Herbert Hardy, the Director of the D.F.S. firm and a former County runner himself, was elected President and made a generous donation to funds.
The year finished with the County Cross country championships and our first County vests : Rod Woodruff 6th. Junior and Andrei,,, Statham 2nd.. in the Boys. The Senior team took second place to D.& C.A.C. (Russell, Howitt, Rosling, Mitchell).
A similarly very active year followed in 1978. Although individuals did turn out in a number of open races, these were not yet numerous and the major pattern was still one of challenges between local clubs on their own courses. Our own cross country course over three laps of Matlock Moor was much feared by the “townies”. It had been decided to use this course rather than Parwich for our own championships which were won this year by Rosling once again.
Entries for the second White Peak reached 34 and though Roger Woodward of Plessey took the individual title in 2.44.01 ‑ M.A.C. won the team race (Flood 4, Howitt 6, Russell 8 Cracknell 16 Mitchell 15).
John Flood came to be known as the “Phantom Runner”l in that although he turned in some fine performances for the club he rarely appeared on training nights, and certain of the track members were never convinced that he existed!
Regarding the track, this was our best year in the Notts. League, with our unbeatable sprint squad comprising Brian Wardle, Steve Casey, Roy Tucker and Mick Pearson, backed up by Rod Woodruff who excelled at any event from the 800m. to the pole vault and Duncan Robinson who could threw any implement in the repertoire. We finished the season 2nd. out of 7 teams overall, but declined Promotion to Division I which would have entailed running against Loughborough College and the likes of Seb Coe in 1979.
The track activities precluded us from competing in the S.Yorks Road League to which we had, affiliated but we continued to build up our own invitation races, adding the Black Rocks fell race to our existing Flash “7” in which Woodward added to his White Peak victory. Six members turned out in the Stannington “10” Rosling and Flood both well inside the hour on a tough hilly course. Cross country was still a major strength and we entertained Derby County in a home match on the Matlock Forest course.
In the County Championships the Senior team finished 3rd. with our new signing Paul Armstrong finishing I0th. individual. In the Youths Mike Preston was also 10th. and Gary Thorpe 14th. in the Boys. Richard Fielding finished 6th. in the Colts and thus gained his County vest.
In the South Yorks. League our positions improved markedly and in the final race at Barnsley Rosling recorded his best ever 8th. and Howitt rounded off the five race series as S.Yorks Vets Champion on aggregate. Jes Ford was 3rd. Youth, and Edwin Richards 6th. U13.
In the Dovedale Dash Armstrong produced his best ever.2nd place. At the A.G.M. the Chairmam stood down and was replaced by Brian Howitt. The main other decisions were to establish the cost of affiliation to the W.A.A.A. and to “legalise” certain local races such as the Bakewell Carnival event by bringing them under our control as a A.A.A. club.
For a period of about five years the club settled down, some would say into a comfortable rut, with certain former league commitments falling by the wayside, notably the S.Yorks and the Track League which we left in 1979 owing to lack of support as members left the College or went to university. It was taking a disproportionate amount of committee time, collectively often the equivalent of a day’s work, chasing up members to compete in just one meeting.
Committee membership was stable over this period and with most members working at County 0ffices it was easy to hold regular meetings in the Chairman’s office at College on the way home from work. This proved extremely valuable in planning, the White Peak but more generally the development of the club as a team stagnated during this period. The committee tried to remedy this but they could not fight modern trends. The days of inter‑club races were numbered. With the jogging boom coming on stream there was a road race or fun run every weekend, and everybody was “running” marathons. The temptation was therefore to do your own thing, and to some extent a runner would never again need to join a club in order to have access to races. To this extent, although the jogging craze did introduce many people to the sport, it helped to destroy club and team loyalty. Before the A.A.A. rules were changed, you were allowed to run “unattached” for one season only, after which you had to join a club. Sheer numbers of non‑affiliated runners now made nonsense of this and caused the rules to be changed as athletics became an open sport.
Nevertheless in 1979 we maintained our challenge in the County Championships at Markeaton Park : Seniors 3rd team Rosling 10th. Vets Howitt 2nd. Boys: Colin Kilbourne 5th. Colts: Simon Rughes 9th. Newcomer Neil Tatham showed his class by winning our Derby/Plessey/Buxton cross country match at Matlock and leading us to a team victory. Tatham aIso made a brilliant marathon d6but in the White Peak ‑ 3rd. in a M.A.C. best time for the course.finishing behind Romaine and Fisher to give us second team place. He continued this form in the now official Bakewell Carnival race in 2nd. place, with Rosling 5th. Parris 7th and Howitt 8th (also Ist, Vet) to give M.A.C. the team prize. Our third counter was of course the local M.P. Matthew Parris who was to a valued regular member of the team and eventually our fastest marathoner ever. Marathons were the flavour of the year and number of members had run in at least three by midsummer.
Andy Wilton, still of Buxton, set a record of 36.07 in the Flash”7”, a time which stands to this day, and on the carnival circuit the club achieved a whitewash in the Parwich Hill Race: Rosling, Howitt, Kilbourne, Russell, Hurley, Taylor, covering the first six places. There were excellent placings too at Bradwell : Rosling 2nd, Homitt.4th, Thorpe 6th, Kilbourne 7th. Rosling, ran twice for Derbyshire during the Cross Country season in special representative races.
The familiar pattern of distance running continued in 1980. The club cross country champion was again Rosling followed by now regular member Gordon Cresswell and John Hurley. In the County Tatham finished a brilliant 7th and gained his County vest, with Howitt taking 3rd Vets medal. We aIso managed to field a team in the National at Leicester.
The White Peak temporarily saw a new starting point at Thorpe, with an extended loop beyond Parsley Hay as bridges were out of action nearer Ashbourne. The revised course did not prevent a fine run from winner John Fisher of Derby. Rosling transferred his fine country form to the road and finished 2nd to Clive Toplass of Derby in the Flash “7” in 38.53. Elsewhere on the local scene the old firm were in action again with another spectacular whitewash at Parwich: Rosling/Cresswell/Russell/ Taylor/ Howitt, and at Bakewell : Rosling 3rd, Ian Cockayne 4th, Hurley 6th, Howitt 7th & Ist Vet. Thorpe’s fine 9th place overall also gained him the Junior prize. Meanwhile, on holiday in France, Tatham took the opportunity to win the Round The Houses race in Châttellaillon Plage.
At the A.G.M. a motion to rejoin the Track League was defeated, and a referendum was ordered with a view to changing the time on training nights from 7.15 to 6.15.
In 1981 the County Championships, held in snowy conditions, brought the club the 3rd team place in the Seniors with Howitt taking the Vets silver medal. Colin Kilbourne gained a County place by finishing 5th in the Boys race, followed by Eldwin Richards 12th. Our outstanding twins, Jill and Julia Gray, plus D.Wathall, all finished in the first 10 of the Girls race, gaining County vests and bringing M.A.C. the team award.
Snow was the order of the day in ’81 and nearly caused the cancellation of the White Peak. When a 72‑hour blizzard swept the Peak District in late April and railway cuttings full of snow threatened to make the course unrunnable. A notice was sent out to all entrants warning them to expect the worst. On race day. May I0th. the sun was out, the snow melted and P.Blakeney of Dark Peak Fell Runners, won in fine style in 2.36.05.
Few other details of the year’s performances are available, but the attempt to foster team spirit is apparent in the successful use of a minibus to transport our team to the National where a good day out was enjoyed by all. The “Macmag” was recognized as now being defunct and the committee tried to reinforce club spirit by ordering a distinctive change of colours to a pale blue vest with dark blue stripe with the club’s name superimposed. It was obvious 1982 was a year of retrenchment since the A.G.M. set the lower age of membership at 14 because of the problem of adult supervision. This was particularly unfortunate in the case of our brilliant young girls and we had to suggest that their best interests might be served if they joined Derby Ladies. The extent of the pressure on the organisation is revealed by the fact that it was only on a majority vote that the, A.G.M. decided not to abandon the White Peak in 1982.
The organisational situation worsened through the year with some members of the committee feeling that their efforts to encourage team participation, especially in road relay events, were not being appreciated, and at the A.G.M. the Secretary and Treasurer regretfully resigned at the end of about five Years’ valuable service during M.A.C.’s formative years. At a very depressing meeting members were very reluctant to stand for office and the solution was only resolved by Malcolm Taylor stepping into the breach as Treasurer and the Chairman agreeing to take on the additional role of Secretary, although only as a temporary measure. Nevertheless the running had still prospered with our Vets. team winning the County Championships on an apology for a cross country course at the Municipal Sports Ground. (Russell/Forrest/ Taylor/Howitt/William). Rosling maintained his form on the road when he recorded 30.31 in the Newark “11” and 1.12,45 in the Doncaster Half Marathon. Not to be outdone, Tatham also showed brilliant form in winning the Ilkeston Half in 1.10.44, and at Parwich he recorded the fastest time in one of Clive Russell’s unique ‘star races” which necessitated perfect pace judgement in running “blind” over 7 miles. In the White Peak we were back to the original course after continuing bridge problems, with 80 runners, and the race going to Malcolm Firth of Manchester, followed by Geoff Eley of Derby and B. Hilton of Leeds. The records reveal that we were still sending out result sheets to each runner, complete with split times taken at the 5 feeding stations! No wonder our meagre organisational resources felt over stretched!
In 1983 the Club Championships, still held in Matlock Forest, were won yet again by Rosling followed by Cresswell, with Tatham and new member Pete Clarke equal third. Cresswell was now emerging as a class fell runner and a specialist in the Dovedale Dash where in’84 he would record his best ever 2nd place. Not bad in a field of about 2000! The White Peak was again a popular race with Ian Clarkson of Rochdale taking the title in 2.36.18. Nevertheless the Chairman’s report at the A.G.M. maintained that the club was merely ticking over thanks to a small core of active members and badly needed a full committee and a development programme. It was fortunately possible to appoint a separate Secretary once again in the person of the first holder of the post, David Millington, who had returned to the area. Over the next year or two David would be instrumental in organising the popular Tansley “10” and Half Marathon.
Another potential crisis was defused at the A.G.M. – the clash of loyalties alleged to be shown by some members who also belonged to D.V.0. M.A.C. members were urged to remember their first claim status for the club, but the meeting also urged consultation between the two clubs to avoid fixture clashes in the future.
The Sheffield Marathon had been memorable for its high temperature and the unfortunate death of a competitor. Our own runners settled for survival rather than fast times in the conditions, with Rosling recording 2.59.00 and Howitt 3.01.00. The heat led to over 50’s vet Campbell being crippled with cramp at 13 miles but rather than give up he largely walked the last half to finish in 4.57.00. Visiting Frenchman Alain Mabire also made an impact on the club. He was a keen team runner and helped us to our victory at Longnor. On the Club “10” course he became our first foreign club road champion but only after continually disputing the lead with Thorpe whom he outsprinted at the finish. If only Gary had been able to taIk to him in French the result might have been different! Thorpe was now competing on equal terms with Seniors, and he won the Flash “7′ in 37.55 from a very good field.
1984, the year of things to come in Orwell’s novel of that name, was reflected in Mick Moorhouse’s design and construction of his incredible running machine. Powered by an electric motor from a washing machine (not a tumble dryer fortunately!) it enabled him to run on a treadmill at his home in heated conditions, however deep the snow outside! It is to Mick’s craftsmanship as well that we owe the club notice board and the smart banner with which we can stake our plot at championship cross country events. But 1984 also marked the end of a small era for M.A.C. At the A.G.M., when Neil Forrest was elected the next Secretary, steps were taken to move the club’s H.Q. to the Sherwood Hall Leisure Centre. With the Matlock College’s absorption into the Derbyshire College of Higher Education and its move out of local authority control into the private sector, the club would now have to pay the full market rate for its use of the changing rooms and other facilities which it had enjoyed free of’ charge since 1976. This was to have an adverse effect on some of our established training and racing courses but other advantages might well outweigh these.
On the racing side this was again another year of the marathon, with our own race now becoming the John Smedley White Peak Marathon as we welcomed our first exclusive sponsor and a sound operational budget. Veteran George Kay of Stone Master Marathoners was the winner in 2.44.06 with Jane Spence first woman in 3.32.16. Howitt 9th, Russell 15th and Forrest 17th, all vets, took the first senior team prize outright. The suspicion that road marathons were a good 10 minutes faster than our race was reinforced by good times in the Derby Ramathon one month later – Rosling, 2.39.55 and Howitt 2.57.54 who was beaten on the sprint by the fast improving Mackfall ‑ only 2 second difference after 26 miles! In October Mackfall achieved his ambition of running in the New York Marathon where, despite being unwell and encountering exceptionally humid conditions, he managed 3.23. The best individual performance of the year was still probably Gordon Cresswell’s 2nd. place in the Dovedale Dash, reported earlier.