A golden couple both on and off the track

During more than six decades in athletics, there isn’t much Eric and Pam Horwill haven’t turned their hands to.

couple
Husband and wife Eric and Pam Horwill’s work has been recognised with an Unsung Heroes award from British Athletics.

Whether it be competing internationally, coaching at Dudley and Stourbridge Harriers, or sitting on the board of Staffordshire Athletics to name just one association – if you can think of a role, the husband and wife from Wordsley have probably done it.

“It’s a long story really,” admits Pam with a chuckle. “We’ve been involved in quite a bit.”

Quickly it becomes apparent there won’t be enough room to acknowledge all of their achievements here and besides, they are reluctant at listing too many, for fear of appearing “boastful”.

Their sterling work was recently recognised by British Athletics, who handed them an Unsung Hero Award. The couple currently run the club’s youth section but that tells only a fraction of a story which began 64 years ago, when Pam, a keen cross country runner, joined the club, which was then named Stourbridge and Wordsley.

“I remember watching Fanny Blankers-Koen, who was nicknamed the Flying Dutch Housewife, compete at the London Olympics in 1948,” she said.

“I thought, I wouldn’t mind having a go at that.”

Pam would go on to compete at the national championships while Eric, who she met when they both attended Wordsley New Street Youth Club, achieved international recognition as a race walker and until recently was still competing at European Masters events.

Back in the early 1950s, they were both quickly involved in the club’s administration.

“It was very much a case of being thrown in at the deep end,” laughs Pam. “Two years after I had joined the ladies secretary left to get married and I took over.”

One thing they have both achieved, with notable success, is breaking down barriers and bringing the sport into the modern age.

“We’ve been quite maverick, in many ways,” said Pam. “For instance, back when we started, the furthest distance girls under 16 could compete over was 880 yards.

“Any further was deemed too strenuous! We managed to change all that. If you didn’t have more than three clubs at a meeting, the rules didn’t apply, so we started our own little cross country league to get round it.

“Using the metric system was another thing we began doing locally. Until then it was impossible to judge records when compared to those being made in Europe.”

They have seen many changes, including the Stourbridge and Wordley’s merger with Dudley to create the current club, along with the move to the Dell Stadium in Brierley Hill, where it is now based.

The pair have also been key components of the sport’s regional infrastructure, with Eric still regularly officiating at events around the country. They are life-long presidents of the Midlands Athletics Association.

In more recent years, Pam and Eric – both level three coaches – have seen their main focus shift to nurturing the club’s youth section, setting up the popular Triangular League Series, in which Dudley and Stourbridge compete against Wolverhampton and Bilston and Tipton.

The league gives under-11 and under-13 age group athletes competition which otherwise wouldn’t be there.

“In our later years we have been involved in the lower age groups, what I call the proper grassroots,” says Pam.

“It’s lovely to see the kids who come in at nine and then push on.

“Not everyone stays the course but it’s great when you see those you coached as a youngster running and doing well. That is what gives you the most satisfaction.

“We don’t get any monetary gain out it it – it’s bloomin’ hard work!”

Eric added: “The beauty of athletics is there are so many disciplines.

“You get quite a few of the kids who turn up and say they want to be sprinters and after a few races they’re always at the back.

“So you advise them to try something else, like the long jump – there is no shortage of things. It’s often quite surprising how they can flourish when they find something which suits them.

“I get personal satisfaction out of that because I was quite a sickly child and athletics was something I found I could do.

“I never thought I would be any good at it but if you work hard at something, you never know what can happen.”

Both continue to officiate at events throughout the Midlands but are also keen to bring through the next generation.

“We know we can’t go on forever,” said Pam. “We are gradually moving into the background, you have to let the younger generation get on with things.

“One of the problems these days is people don’t have a lot of time. It is all very well saying you want to do this, or you want to do that.

“Sometimes you just have to get on with it.”

No-one could claim Eric and Pam Horwill have ever done anything other than that.

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