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Club History

Desford Striders celebrated its 30th birthday in 2021 but how many of us knew how our proud club first came into being? Late club President Steve Morris was there at the very beginning and spoke to the website back in 2021 about those early days…

Striders History: Image

Striders celebrates a major milestone on 28th February 2021, 30 years to the day that a group of keen local social runners gathered for what became the very first meeting of the club on a dark and wet winter evening.

Of the 14 people who turned out that night in 1991 at Bosworth College’s Desford campus, only two are still Striders members. Steve was one of them and, unknown to many, is the man responsible for founding the club we all hold so dear today.

From those tiny beginnings has grown a club that now has more than 180 members, hosts its own road and cross-country league races, sends athletes to compete in some of the most famous running events in the world and has a proud recent history of encouraging local people to take up running through its popular Couch to 5K programmes.

Nothing was further from Steve’s mind when he began running with work colleague John Silverwood more than 30 years ago!

“I’d been running for a couple of years with John,” he explained. “We started to run at Saffron Lane. We’d go down to use the gym to get fitter and then do 20 laps of the track together.

“After a little while we asked ourselves why we were paying to go running? We both wanted to join a running club but didn’t feel they were for us because we thought they were only for elite athletes.

“During the autumn of 1990 I was trailing round to school cross-country events as both of my sons were running and, at one of those, I got talking to Gwyneth Reed, who was also keen to run. Word seemed to spread quickly to about six or seven others that we were thinking of starting a club.”

Striders History: Text

Steve and John had already come up with the name Desford Striders Running Club as it ‘had a nice ring to it’ and, at that first meeting, Steve was duly voted in as the first Chairman and John as Secretary. The first organised social run by the newly-formed club happened the following Thursday, still the traditional social run day of the week to this day, followed by a drink at the bar at the College. That weekly treat came courtesy of founder member Sue Cox, who worked there, and Steve says that without the dedication of both her and husband Derek the club may have struggled to continue past its first six months.

Striders History: Image

The club soon began to grow and, among those early joiners, several remain active members to this day – John Greenlees and Malc Hill were with Steve at the first meeting, whilst Duncan Percy joined very soon after.

Striders needed an identity and so a competition was held to design a logo. The familiar badge that we all wear so proudly to this day was designed in 1991 by John Silverwood’s father Jack.

Club colours were next on the agenda. Sky blue with red logo and trim was quickly settled on after a negative reaction from some of the lady members to wearing a predominantly red kit! The first club T-shirts were ordinary cotton and not good for running, before running vests arrived soon after.

Steve recalls that his first foray into race organisation wasn’t too successful, with just 36 people turning up to take part in a 5-miler to raise funds for Desford Primary School on a deeply unpleasant rain-soaked day.

Despite that less than promising start, he forged ahead with plans for the first Striders race in 1992, the Desford Quarter Marathon, held over a 6.55 mile circuit from the start line on St Martin’s Drive, along Hunts Lane to Kirkby Mallory and back up the bridle path, Peckleton Lane and Parkstone Road to the finish line at the primary school. A total of 62 people took part in that first event and, the next year, over 100 turned out for the grandest Striders race yet, complete with a finish gantry and a timing clock hired from Running Imp in Lincoln!

Striders History: Text
Striders History: Image

Unfortunately more drama lay ahead for Striders in those early race days. Steve takes up the story: “We provided the marshals around the course with walkie talkies and I was standing on the finish line at the school waiting for information.

“I then got a call from someone saying we had a problem on Archers Lane. The farmer had decided to move his sheep from one field to another, right across the race route! The first one or two runners vaulted straight over the first few sheep and carried on but, after that, the whole flock was completely blocking the route.

“We had quite a few Territorial Army cadets helping us to marshal the race and they ended up herding the sheep to clear the course. In the end, everyone was able to carry on and finish but there was a bit of a gap between second and third place!”

Funding the club’s activities was a constant battle in those early days, Steve recalls. Membership fees were not sufficient to cover costs and so jumble sales were organised at Desford Church Hall to raise the cash needed to pay the club’s Leicester Amateur Athletics Association fees. But there was more bad luck ahead when, during a burglary at Bosworth College, a safe containing the club’s entire kitty, a princely £100, was stolen.

Despite these setbacks the club was flourishing and joined the newly-founded Leicester Road Running League and cross-country league in 1994.

The club’s encounter with those sheep was recorded for posterity on T-shirts and commemorative mugs for the very first league race hosted by Striders. A couple of the mugs exist to this day in the trophy cabinet in the bar at the club’s current base, Sport in Desford, which the club moved to in 1999.

Striders History: Text

Steve has served as Striders Chairman on three separate occasions since those early days but the baton has passed on many times during the club’s 30-year history, with Gwyneth Reid, Phil Lord, Paddy Crowe (now Club Secretary), Graham Hobbs (now Membership Secretary), Francis Breen (twice) and current Acting Chairman Andy Ball (twice) having turns in the hot seat.

Striders History: Image

Almost 30 years have now passed since Steve and John laid the foundations for Desford Striders and there has been a lot of water under the bridge since then.

“It was my idea to start the club but it is the enthusiasm and commitment of others down the years that has made it what it is today,” Steve said. “There are dozens and dozens of people who have shared the task of keeping the Striders running over three decades.

“I wasn’t personally involved in the foundation of Desford Flyers but it’s great that the next generation of Striders are now being raised and trained in the village.

“It’s brilliant when I see people turning out for training on Tuesdays and runs on Thursdays and, when we’ve had 70 or more Striders turn out for LRRL races as we have in recent years, all proudly wearing the club colours, it has brought a lump to my throat.

“I think about it every single day and it makes me feel so proud.”

Striders History: Text
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