Alan Richards - His Tipton Athletic Career (24/02/2016)

Alan Richards was born in November 1945. He joined the club in September 1960 and there began an athletics career of another true loyal Tipton club man.

It was not long before he was racing for the club, something he was never far from. Our first record of him in action was in a relay, the Round The Sands, at Sutton In Ashfield. From then on he was a regular member of the club teams throughout the various age groups. Athletics was probably not as structured then and so young athletes were sometimes "blooded" early into the senior ranks, often in the lower teams.

By November 1960 Alan was already catching the eye of the press where the Tipton Herald reported after the first Birmingham League XC race that “Alan Richards also showed great promise and with a bit more experience over the country he should be a valuable member to the team.”

There was a good crop of young athletes around with Alan at that time. Jim Wright, who went on to become a Scottish International, Ray Williams and the likes of Andrew Fereday.

His performances continued and in December in the Staffordshire XC Championships the Tipton Herald reported “In the Boys Championships, Tipton were not so successful, managing only seventh in the team event. Consolation was the promising performance of Alan Richards.” Later that month he won the Club's Boys Boxing Day Handicap.

As the 60's progressed so did Alan's athletics. He ventured onto the track with modest success but always seemed to come back and perform well over the road and cross country surfaces.

A year after he joined in September 1961 he was again performing well and catching the eye. “While the senior lads were sweating it out down south the Harriers boys held a training race in Victoria Park under the watchful eye of trainer Bill Stokes. The race was run from scratch and covered eight laps of 600 yards. This will give a basis for a series of handicaps which are planned to give these youngsters the competition they need to mould them into future stars of the Tipton club. The race turned out to be an easy win for Alan Richards, a local Tipton lad with great potential. He took the lead soon after the start but due to the extreme heat he eased on the final two laps.”

December 1961 saw Alan, then 16, win his first Staffordshire XC title.

“16 years old Alan Richards, of Tipton Harriers, was in fine form last Saturday (16/12/1961) when he was one of 65 runners who competed in the Staffordshire AAA Boys (14 – 16 years) cross country championship at Stoke-on-Trent.

Over a tough undulating course he displayed judgement far beyond his years, when, after a steady start he worked his way through the field to join the leading group which contained fancied runners such as E Goodwin (Stourbridge Harriers), S Kieras and M Ashfield (Wolverhampton Harriers) and A Pegg (City of Stoke AC).

At the top of the long climb, with a mile still to go, Alan struck, and although his rivals hung on, the determined stride of the Tipton runner began to tell and he gradually drew away to break the tape full of running, some 50 yards clear of the runner-up Kieras.”

A regular racer he was rewarded in May 1962 by winning the Club’s Boy's XC Cup for the 1961/62 season.

After another summer racing over the roads and on the track he was described in a feature on the squad concerning a road race at Rotherham that typified the attitude of the club then:

“the long striding and powerful Alan Richards who is only 16 years old, stands 6 foot tall and is the present Staffordshire boys cross-country champion. He is also employed in Tipton at the Princes Cabinet Company. Win or lose its the spirit in which these youngsters have trained themselves and tackled the problems of travelling a long way in search of top class opposition that makes Tipton proud of them.”

In early 1963 he was again in action at the Staffordshire XC Championships at Trentham Gardens. This time in the Youths race he placed third behind another Tipton runner Alan “Speedy” Davies.

Later in 1963 Alan won the first of the Youths race at the Birmingham XC league held at Tipton

“The Tipton Harriers, Alan Richards, star youth of the club, gained a magnificent victory when he finished the youths event 200 yards ahead of his nearest rival in a field of 100.”

In January 1964 he won another Staffordshire XC title, the Youths, at Trentham Park where it was noted that he “has been dogged by injuries for most of the season, made a cautious start. He was with the leaders after a mile and surged to the front at the 2 mile mark to romp home a clear winner 150 yards ahead of his nearest rival.”

He continued with variable form due to injury and illness but was observed after his run in the National XC Championships at Leicester “although ill before the race, fought well to take 51st position”.

Observing his representation in many senior teams at such a young age one is compelled to recall the adage “if you are good enough you are old enough”.

Alan continued to feature in the selection for our top teams and ran in many of the clubs “A” teams in such classics as the Manchester to Blackpool, Bristol To Weston (& Back).

In 1964, then aged 19, he won the Staffordshire Junior XC Championships at Goldthorn Park where, as the Herald reported, he “literally ran away with the title. The heavy rain and thick mud had little effect on the Tipton youngster as he took the lead at 2 miles and was never headed as he won by 200 yards from J Roberts, of Wolverhampton."

He finished off the year with the fastest time in the club’s Boxing Day Handicap. In doing so he set a new course record beating that set in 1958 by Geoff Eales. 1965 saw Alan rewarded for his XC efforts by getting the Chilton Cup at the AGM.

On the track he began to move up in distance often racing the 3 miles. This was complimented by regular road racing, for example running in Oxford, where he ran 51m 31s for 10 miles.

He was now getting wider recognition in the Midlands area and earning himself Junior representative honours such as for the Midlands at Keele in December 65 where he was the first Midlander home. He was learning all the time surrounded with quality runners like Allan Rushmer whom raced alongside on many occasions.

Early 1966 saw him, still a Junior, in action for Staffordshire at the Inter Counties at Blackpool. In February he placed 3rd in the Midland Junior XC Championship at Leicester.

In 1966 we have a note that Alan was now working at Bullers of Tipton, tool setters, along with another Harrier Jim Wright. He was a regular and avid racer.

1969 saw a first for Tipton when they won the National XC Championship for the first time at Parliament Hill Fields, London. Alan, now 23, was part of that team and what a performance he recorded – in 1968 he placed 292nd in the National a year later he was 19th and a gold medal winner. It surprised him as he commented in the week after the race “I never expected to get such a high placing last week," he told John Dee a reporter at that time. "In fact I had hoped to come in around 50th.” 1969 also saw him win the Club’s G T Price Trophy for Road Running.

Tipton Tony Phillips Archives 300 DPI 0002 Edited

The 1970’s saw Alan consolidate his reputation as a great club man never far out of the “scoring” runners in teams or returning a fast or decisive relay stage.

In the National Road Relay of 1971 Alan was handed the 9th stage, a long one. This was notoriously a decisive stage with clubs putting out their strongest runners. As a report from the Tipton Herald at the time stated

“Alan Richards maintained Tipton’s third place by refusing to acknowledge the superior talent of his rivals and, in so doing, produced a first-class performance in a time of 26m 46s”.

After this performance he turned his attentions to the track where he ran in May in the Midland 10,000m. Whilst not gaining a medal he earned the following admiration.

“Wearing the green and white hoops of Tipton Harriers, Alan Richards played a dominating part in this year’s Midland 10,000m Championship, a race in which Tipton have a very strong tradition in recent years.....At 1500m Alan Richards had stretched out the field and had his most dangerous rivals hanging on. These included Dave Lem, of Birchfield, who had 5000m found Alan’s pace too fast and had to withdraw from the race. Valiantly as Richards tried to shake off his fast finishing rivals he was unable to open up a large enough gap to give himself victory. In the final stages of three Godiva athletes passed him, after he had forced the pace for most of the race, and he had to be content with fourth place in an excellent time of 29m 33s.”

Always liking a challenge he once set about winning three races in three nights beginning with a 3000m (8m 25s) at a local track league. This was followed by a seven mile road race (in 33m 40s) and a stage in a road relay at Warley.

A master of many surfaces and distances he won the Welywn Half Marathon in July 1971 and was 3rd in the Michelin 15.

Alan was more than just a runner helping the club in other ways as for example in 1972 when he staged a fundraising function for the Comrades team at the Queen Mary Ballroom, Dudley. Over 400 attended this event. Alan was living in Richards Rd, Princes End. This was just one of many events that Alan was behind.

Alan then got swept up in the ultra distance goings on in the club at the time and ran the Two Bridges race over 36 Miles in Scotland. He placed 13th in 3h 47m 02s. In 1973 he recorded 1h 48m 31s for 20 Miles and also 2h 28m 30s for the marathon.

In 1974 we has awarded the “Clubman of The Year” award, richly deserved for his regular performances in the green and white. He headed to Scotland again that year and ran the Two Bridges race where he was our first counter in 4th spot helping the team to 2nd place and the observation “Tipton's second place was all the more meritorious for the fact that Alan Richards pulled a muscle at 8 miles, but was the first man across the finishing line.” He was to place 2nd again in 1975.

His distance feats were extended in 1976 when he ran in the Accolade 100 Mile track race staged and held at Tipton. Alan finished 6th in 12hr 59m 48s our third counter. All this against his regular race regime.

In 1978 Alan ran the RRC London To Brighton Road Race placing 10th.

In the 1980’s Alan was a regular training companion of Andy Holden and he continued to race regularly. He was the Race Secretary for many years of the famous Tipton 10 Mile Road Race.

His racing frequency diminished through the early 80’s. Alan became a Veteran/Master and joined the MVAC/MMAC in 1986 in the M40 age group. He was noted as running the fastest time in one of their handicaps at Newbold on Avon in 1987. He took part in many such events alongside the likes of Jeff Taylor, Colin Hunt, Mike Wrenn and others.

Alan picked up many county, area and national medals over his long and distinguished athletic career. He represented his club, county, area and country with pride.

Alan Richards was possibly the most unheralded and modest clubmen from that era. He won titles, put in some great performances, raced his heart out for the club and won the utmost respect from those that were privileged to know him and race alongside him. He was awarded Life Membership of the club in 1996.

He also enjoyed his athletics and the social side that came with it.

His many friends and family will miss him. RIP.