Andy Holden (Alistair Aitken Interview)

Interview with Andy Holden

Andy Holden is one of the 'Greatest UK club athletes' of all time. That's what people in the Midlands would acknowledge. He has and is putting so much into the sport.

Interview with Andy Holden

Andy Holden is one of the 'Greatest UK club athletes' of all time. That's what people in the Midlands would acknowledge. He has and is putting so much into the sport. As a junior and early senior he took Birmingham University to the most prestigious cross country titles, and was recently President of their athletic club. He won the National Junior title from Dave Bedford in 1969 at Parliament Hill.

Amongst other things he became 3000 metre steeplechase British record holder and had some good international marathon wins but explains:

"If the atmosphere of today had prevailed I might have taken up the marathon in 1973-1974. But in those days it was not the done thing. There were one or two athletes who did it. Don Faircloth ran marathons in his early 20's and Graham Taylor was another. I suppose Ronnie Hill was the only one who ran consistently over the marathon for a number of years."

As a Tipton Harrier, Holden never lost his enthusiasm for competition and went on, after his very full international and high quality club running days, to become National Veterans Cross Country Champion (Over 40) at Silksworth, Newcastle in 1989, with Scotland's international marathon runner Colin Youngson second.

Recently we had not seen Andy about in veteran competitions till suddenly, there he was spotted at Sutton Park on May 22nd at the National Vets Road Relay, running the anchor leg for Tipton in the over 50's race. His red hair, green and white hooped vest, the slightly crouched style with the familiar low leg action creating that famous ground eating stride that was once so familiar around the World. That all was unmistakable, as he took his club from thirteenth to finish tenth out of the 42 clubs that started.

"That was the first time I have run it for two years, I have been injured for twenty months and I could not get more than seven days of consecutive running in. Basically I have damaged my Achilles and since the lay-off I have a lot of pulled hamstrings, knees and calf problems. They dragged me out for this one, even though I do enjoy running." 

The real pleasure recently for him has been with his coaching which he also has a talent for, as others testify when they see him at Tipton Sports Centre track. "I have got a squad I train. Under 17's right down to Under 9's. I am concentrating on the Under 17's and a couple of the lads are just over 17. When we had the McDonald's relays one lad I coach, Phillip Nicholls, ran the fastest lap in the Under 15's. He was also second in the Inter-Counties this year. There is another under 17 year old Mark Anslow who has not been running quite two years yet, and he is now County potential. It's great to be involved with them really and with my sons who like running. Joe is just turned 12 and ran personal bests this year, 2:30 and 5:11 for 800 and 1500 metres. He is showing good potential and had got a really good temperament. My elder son Tom is more an 800/1500m runner whereas Joe is more a cross-country runner type."

Andy looks back over the years and points to his happiest memories as a runner.

"I made the Olympics and the Commonwealth Games when I was fairly young. But even further back the first year I ran the National Cross Country and finished third in the Youths race just behind Tony Simmons (Graves Park Sheffield 1996) completely out of the blue. That will always remain as an incredible experience. That was the year Mike Turner and Ron Hill fought out a very close finish in the senior race".

That gave him the appetite for the sport which he never really lost.

"I have been training hard to do that. I thought then, I had got the potential and it gave me the appetite to train hard and get up with the best boys around, I suppose I was lucky with the peer group of juniors, I grew up with because there were such classy lads around. The Stewart's, Brendan Foster and Tony Simmons and people like that. I had to race amongst them as a youth and junior. I went to university at Birmingham. I had five good years there, training to become a dentist. Mal Thomas was at the university and between us we used to knock out some good sessions and knocked down some beers as well! 

Big 'Geno' Griffiths was there and he was leader on the beer stakes and we knocked him into shape as a runner eventually. We had a good squad there and had a good social side as well as training hard, which is what Tipton had at the time and that was why I joined Tipton when I left university!"

Ron Bentley, had been one of the great motivators for Tipton over the last 40 years and he ran 135 marathons (only two over three hours). He also held the World 24 Hour Track Record when he covered 165 miles 545 yards at Walton in 1973. He was noted as being a good relay racer for the club too, so his appreciation of Andy Holden's effect on joining Tipton is very relevant.

"In the early days he used to train with our lads and they would drink together. We had Allan Rushmer but we wanted one more top liner to win the National Road Relay, as we had never won it. We had already won the National Cross Country. We needed one more runner and Andy was the bloke. When he joined that was the turning point. From then on we won everything because Andy was the main one in the team. Rushmer and Holden were the two top runners and people like Tony Milovsorov were coming through. 

Andy Holden had got greater qualities than people thought because he was the sort of man who could run things like the Isle of Man and have three wins and the second fastest time in the relay in four races in two days and things like that.

He went through a bad patch, probably drinking too much. He knew I ran the Two Bridges and said 'I would like to run the 'Two Bridges' and he ran like a maniac. At 20 miles he dropped out" He said 'I am coming back next year to win this!" He came back the year after and broke the record that still stands today and from then onwards he went all the way through again. He got his interest ebbing back. He got married, got the kids.

It was when we had Holden, Rushmer and Mike Kearns who were mates, we were never out of the first three in the National Road Relay for ten years!
Till then we had got a good 'engine room' but we had not got the 'Stars' like that to carry us through.

Then later there was Ian Stewart who trained along the canals on a Sunday morning as did Brian Cole, Rushmer and Paul Venmore. Stewart was a very hard man and he destroyed a few runners in his time by them trying to run with him".

Without a doubt one of the most exciting races ever held at Crystal Palace Stadium was the Coca Cola Invitation meeting on the 10th September 1971 when novice steeplechaser David Bedford raced against the British No.1 Andy Holden, with a good supporting cast of specialist steeplechasers such as Gareth Bryan Jones, Ron McAndrew and John Bicourt. The end result was that Bedford and Holden had a titanic battle and both men became the first ever UK athletes to run inside 8.30. Bedford winning in 8:28.6. Andy takes up the story:

"David had never really run one seriously before and he was up for it. I had come back after having a bit of a downer in the European. It ended up a tremendous race, out of the blue really. Dave went off after the start like a maniac and I eventually caught him. He gave this great big huge leap at the last barrier and managed to get a couple of yards on me. I could not quite claw it back. It was great as there were 18,000 people shouting. You can't buy memories like that!"

Dave Bedford recalls: "I felt more like an entertainer than an athlete. Everyone was so involved and athletics is all about involvement. That was fantastic to see. I don't ever think it will be quite the same again I have had some really great memories running at Crystal Palace and the crowd going berserk. To know you can raise that kind of feeling in people. It's very satisfying."

In Andy Holden's days as a senior there were so many quality runners in the UK, particularly in the 70's. Did Andy think there were more good runners about than there are now?

"I think there were. The reasons for it were many fold. There were a lot in the country who ran around the country a lot as kids. I can't think of my children doing what I did when I was eight or nine years old, running round the streets when it was pitch black and nobody batting an eyelid. I don't think that exists anymore. A lot of the kids are ferried everywhere in cars. I used to run to and from school when I was eight or night. I probably did six or seven miles a day, without thinking about it as training but it gave you that basic running background. I think there were a lot of good runners all coming through together. You don't get that intensity now. There are good runners but I think the runners with the best potential tend to end up playing football these days. A lot of the school teachers don't give them the time out like they used to do. Obviously it affects the runners coming through into the sport. You are not getting the depth, therefore you are not getting the level of competition. When I was one of the best juniors I had the likes of Tony Simmons and Ian Stewart to run against. You had to be pretty damn good to do well!!!"

Andy Holden concluded about the top runners today;

"In my day we ran for the sake of running, whereas nowadays they run for a livelihood which puts a different slant on things. They pick and choose where they are willing to race".

Interview by Alistair Aitken