With the cancellation of last month’s North Eastern Counties Cross Country Championships, through the Covid crisis, this was the first time the event has not taken place since the birth of the championship in 1894.
This is not counting the years of missing competition during the two World Wars.
Over the championship’s 126-year history many international athletes, including Olympic medallists and world record holders, have been involved in the chase for medals.
It has always been a target of a top club runner’s aspirations to win a medal, whatever the colour.
Sunderland Harriers have won the individual championship title, a total of 20 times during this period, shared between six athletes. With one of them, Brian Rushworth, having the record number of wins with 10 victories, beating Morpeth Harrier and 1966 Commonwealth marathon champion Jim Alder, who has nine wins.
Rushworth’s record run of victories started in 1986 when he had Steve Cram, the Olympic 1500m silver medallist and world mile record holder back in third place.
He won again at Silksworth in 1987 with Cram as runner-up this time. The shipyard joiner made it a hat-trick of wins the following year.
But in 1989, Cram gained sweet revenge by winning the race with Rushworth in third place.
Rushworth won again in 1991 and 1992 with wins over Mark Hudspith (Morpeth) and Dave Beris (South Shields), before Gateshead Harriers international steeplechaser, Colin Walker, beat him in 1993.
With another four wins under his belt in defeating Chester-le-Street’s Stewy Bell in 1994 and 1977, plus wins over the Morpeth pair of Ian Hudspith (1998) and Alan Shepherd (1999), Rushworth got back on track before closing in on Alder’s record. It was at Summerhill, Hartlepool, that Alders’ record from 1975 was finally broken when Rushworth defeated Tynedale’s Andrew Caine by just five seconds.
Mark Hood was the next Sunderland Harrier to get his name onto the trophy after he gained three victories in a row in 2006/2007/2008.
He had Morpeth’s Ian Hudspith behind him at Herrington Country Park, with Rushworth in fourth. The next year he headed another Morpeth Harrier in Chris Sampson with Rushworth winning another medal in third.
Hood’s third win came at Wrekenton where he had comfortable victory (39:26) over a third Morpeth runner Nick Swinburn (39:55).
You have to go back to 1911 that a Sunderland Harrier first won the North Eastern title with Frank Reay taking the plaudits. He also won in 1912 before the outbreak of the first World War put an end to competition.
In Archie Jenkins’ interesting book "Whipper In" it says Frank Reay was the first of many great Sunderland Harriers. Born in 1885, Frank stayed at the Bridge Hotel managed by his German father Julius with his mother and three brothers and one sister.
He was fifth in his first Morpeth to Newcastle Road Race in 1908 and second the following year. He then ran what was described as the best road race performance in the North East. Reay winning the 1910 race when taking advantage of a favourable wind. His time of 73:17 stood for many years.
A few weeks later Reay won the North Eastern Cross Country title and in 1911 he retained both the Morpeth and NECCCA titles.
Sadly, on May 30th 1918, it was reported that Sergeant Frank Reay of the D.L.I had been killed in action.
The citation said: He was employed at the North Eastern Breweries and was a well-known athlete winning nearly 100 races of the 150 he took part in from 1903 to 1912.
He regularly placed in the military races and in France he won the regimental and brigade cross country. Reay was the founder of the Sunderland Athletes Volunteers Unit and left a widow, the daughter of captain Featherstone of Sunderland.
Tom Grady scored a double win in 1922/23 and D. Hopkins won in 1927 then there was a long wait before for the next medallist in Graham Smith in 1985. Sunderland’s last winner was Patrick Martin in 2009.