THE HULL AND DISTRICT CROSS-COUNTRY ASSOCIATION

In January 1889 Hull Harriers earned themselves a niche in history by joining with a small group of other clubs to form the Yorkshire Cross-Country Association and they took part in the first championships held at Pudsey.

A year previously a Hull and East Riding Cross-Country Association had actually been started but collapsed ignominiously before staging an event due to ill-feeling amongst the clubs. The lack of such an organisation was keenly felt and in December 1889 Hull Harriers called the other local clubs to their headquarters at the Spring Bank Hotel and the Hull and District Cross-Country Association was duly born. A further series of meetings were held, a constitution was drawn up and officials elected. Charles Merrikin was made President and other members of Hull Harriers, John Baker and Harry Hodgson were respectively Treasurer and Hon Secretary. Harrier clubs within a 35 mile radius of the town were eligible to join and, like some other cross-country of the era, it was decided that the championship be held on a cinder track "or such course as the committee may decide on".

The first annual championship was arranged for the 15th March 1890 and the clubs agreed that a silver cup be acquired by the Association to be presented annually to the winning team. A gold medal was to be presented to the individual winners whilst silver and bronze medals were to be awarded to members of the first and second teams home. In the event, the cup, which is of course, still in use, was not acquired until 1894.

Local excitement and interest grew as the date of the Championship drew near. There was great speculation as to the outcome and heavy betting was reputedly taking place off the course with the local sporting press tipping the Association's secretary, Hull Harriers Captain Harry Hodgson, although his club-mate, John Baker, along with J. Sykes of St Marks and Stepney's Walter Lusby were also fancied. Hull Harriers decided to select their team in late February after an eight-mile trial race from the Gardners Arms, through Dunswell and back via Cottingham. Nine of the club’s leading runners took part and by Dunswell, Harry Hodgson had obtained a commanding lead over an ailing John Baker who, nevertheless, held on to second place. Immediately afterwards the committee went into deliberation and selected the seven-man championship squad. Over the remaining weeks the training was said to consist of Saturday runs supplemented by long evening walks. The stage was set.

The day of the race dawned and the competitors and crowds made their way to the commodious Hull Kingston Rovers rugby ground, then on Hessle Road. The large crowd paid an entrance fee, which more than covered championship expenses, and were first able to watch a rugby match between White Rose and Beverley Excelsior. The course was then prepared and 35 athletes from seven local clubs lined up J.W. Cresser set the field off with a report from his blunderbuss and Harry Hodgson, slowest man away, made his way swiftly through the field before passing through the first mile in six minutes. He was closely followed by team mate John Baker and Turner of Boulevard Harriers. Behind this trio three St Marks runners were packing well whilst Walter Lusby of Stepney held seventh place. This order was retained for the rest of the race but gradually a number of tail-enders succumbed to cramp or the pace and dropped out. Unfortunately, this included three of the Hull Harriers team.

Once into the last lap Baker began to press Hodgson and, as the lead shortened, the noise and excitement of the crowd grew in intensity. Once in the home straight, Hodgson broke into a sprint and came home ten yards clear on the eight-mile course in 46.21. Baker crossed the line second and Turner third. The crowd, overjoyed by this epic last dash, surged around the runners, throwing the officials and rest of the finish into great confusion. Though Hull Harriers had taken the first two places, they had not finished a full team and St Marks, who packed so well, took the team prize with forty points from Stepney with fifty three. Crowds and confusion made it difficult to work out the positions of the other clubs but most seemed more than satisfied with the event and that evening adjourned to the Spring bank Hotel which was soon bursting at the seams. There the medals were duly presented to the individual and team winners and Charlie Merrikin, the President, announcing that he thought it hard lines the second and third men got nothing, decided he would award them medals of equal value to the winning team. This offer took everyone by surprise and his health was enthusiastically drunk with musical honours. A high spirited evening followed with soloists singing a considerable repertoire of music hall songs before hoarsely rounding off the evening with Auld Lang Syne.

Respecting the medals, it was afterwards reported "that the pawn shops were soon doing a large business". Such was the birth of the Hull and District Cross-Country Association and the longest running local athletic championships. The Monstre Meet and Hull and District Cross Country Championships have now entered their third century. Few other local sports have inter-club club competitions with such a pedigree. These two competitions deserve much a much higher profile than they possess at present and far greater attention from local clubs and local runners.