Bill McGuirk Becomes English Cross Country Supremo
Recently however, came news which perhaps surpasses them all. Fittingly, it is our club founder who has climbed the dizziest of heights.
In the past fortnight, Bill McGuirk was elected to one of the most prestigious positions in British Athletics . . . . . . he is now President of the English Cross Country Association for 2015-2016.
Wallsend’s club founder becomes one of the few holders in living memory (of this coveted position) to hail from the North East. Both his administrative mentor, Matt Frazer, and athletic mentor, Nichol Hunter, would be so proud; especially given that their charge has been able to break the traditional Southern / Lancashire / Yorkshire stranglehold on the title.
This honour comes on the heels of his award for services to athletics, at the England Athletics Regional Awards’ ceremony and on the back of his North of England presidentship.
The former Saltwell Harrier has enjoyed an athletics career of unparalleled success. As an athlete, in a ludicrously short career (curtailed by injury – whilst barely into his twenties) Bill won a host of championship medals and recorded track times, which would invoke blushes amongst many an aspiring athlete of today. He competed against the Mo Farahs of his day, such as Olympic medallists and world record holders – Derek Ibbotson and Peter Snell – and cemented lifelong friendships, for example with ex-Army mile champion, the much-missed, George Ogle.
In 1975, Bill had a dream to develop an athletics club, based in Wallsend. Exhibiting an organised mind, aligned to an ambitious vision – Bill’s administrative cuteness quickly came to the fore. He soon developed a secure support structure, allowing the club to progress steadily. But it was as a coach, that Bill really channelled his energies.
I still remember, being knocked out of bed (in 1984) to be greeted by the news that one of Bill’s protégés, John Lucas, had been selected to be Wallsend’s first ever international. Other junior international selections followed : Sonia Samuels and Phil McCartney; and I (along with Sonia) was also proud to earn senior selection. And there were a whole host of other : national, regional and local titles/medals. Indeed, there are few coaches in this country, who ever achieved more (from a standing start) than the Low Fell resident. And then (in his words) he moved upstairs.
Bill had been invited to join the selection committee of the North East committee, following a (polite) enquiry pertaining to the non-inclusion of schoolboy prodigy, Sean Maley. This invitation was in the mid 1980s and Bill is still incredibly active in the selection of North East teams today. His level of expertise is incredibly unique for someone with such a huge administrative portfolio. Bill has been chairman of the North East Counties Athletic association for over a decade and, even after becoming England’s supremo, it seems unlikely that he will relinquish his beloved “Counties” role anytime soon. Under the former England Cross-Country team manager’s leadership, the North East Counties’ Athletic association has become the most powerful regional body in Britain and the North East athletics’ fraternity has become legendary.
Indeed, the success of the north-east athletics’ fraternity owes much to the time-served printer however, not just for his athletic, administrative and coaching achievements. In the 1980s, following the retirement of Bob Moreland : Bill, with no previous journalistic experience, was asked if he would “have a go at the athletics’ page.” What followed, has been a body of work which has not just enthralled, informed and inspired a generation; his articles have served to bond the region, by celebrating all that is good in the sport.
Lads and lasses, I am sure that you will join with me in congratulating “one of our own” on this monumental achievement; whilst acknowledging all that he has done for the green and gold. Well done Bill . . . . . . . on behalf of all of us (especially those who ran -as your charges- with hope in our hearts and wings on our feet) you could never know the profound and lasting impact that you have had in our lives.
And for the rest of us, let’s remember that we now have two Wallsend legends who have climbed their Everest, as septuagenarians. Now………… that’s what they meant, when they urged me to: “Run through the line!”
Steve “Sog” O’Gara