The Champagne League

The Champagne League originated in the first half of the 1970s. 

There was usually a break between the end of the track season in September and the opening of the cross-country season in October and in those years there were very few short road races around. The club would finish the track season with its own Championships and to make these more interesting, the mile, 5K and 10K races were handicapped. In 1974 points were awarded according to handicap positions and two short road races around the Costello area were introduced. The total points from all these events were added together to form a league table. The first year saw twenty competitors, many of them juniors who were coached by Peter Jarvis, take part. This competition was the precursor of the Champagne League.

Robb Robinson, Phil Groves and Darren Bilton half way through the 1985 Champagne League Race at South Cave.

By 1976 guests from East Hull were competing and during the following year a small group of runners came over from the West Riding. In 1978 the numbers entering the competition reached fifty, far too many for track races to be included. These were thus dropped from the schedule and more road races were introduced. The handicap added to the popularity of the race series giving everyone a chance. More and more veterans joined in, enabling the series to take place throughout the summer months.

Increased road traffic, especially around the Costello area made it necessary to move out into the country for suitable courses and a number of off road races were added at Beverley Westwood, Brantingham and Wauldby. Two of these events, the Brantingham Chase, and the 8.4 mile circuit at Waudby have been held every year - with the exception of 2001 when alternative races were held because foot and mouth restrictions. Other popular venues in recent years have been the three mile race from Sancton - during one race there Derek Ricketts was felled by a running sheep - North Cave, Bishop Burton and the Humber Foreshore between Hessle and Ferriby.

In 1980 some eighty plus runners entered the series which had by then had risen to twelve races and the best ten handicap scores counted towards the league, the twenty pence entry fee providing vouchers for the race winners. It was in that year that the series acquired the Champagne tag. Egon Gifhorn, a local businessman, sampled the pleasures of running for the first time. He enjoyed it so much that at the end of the series he presented bottles of wine to the handicap winners and a bottle of Champagne to the overall series winner. Unfortunately, by 1983 he had disappeared from the scene but even without the "bubbly" the series continued under its Champagne League banner. The races, which by now were held in the spring and early summer and run in conjunction with the East Hull Harriers Summer League, benefited from the running boom of the early eighties which saw many people take up running for the first time and join local clubs.

Champagne League Competitors at Raywell - late 1980s

By the end of the 1980s over one hundred runners were entering the series with fields of eighty plus in nearly every race.

The number of races in the series was reduced to ten and to allow for holidays, the Champagne League Trophy was awarded to the runner with the best eight scores. In 1986 a yellow jersey was introduced and this competition is for those who compete in every race. This is probably the most prestigious competition within the League and the total accumulated times determines the winner. Although there is no trophy as yet, every one who completes the ten races gets an exclusive T Shirt and there are also prizes for the various veterans categories. In later years an informal team race was included. The teams of three can be a mixture from any of the competing clubs and be any age or sex. In 1990 about six teams were formed but by 2001 some thirty teams entered under a variety of weird and wonderful names. A further competition spun off from the League is a Knockout Trophy whereby runners predict their finishing time. Those taking part are not allowed to wear their watches and the best 50% of predictions go forward to the next round. In 2000 a green jersey competition was also added and this is awarded to the most consistent runner through the series.

During the 1990s the number of women competing in the League gradually increased and in 1997 Pete Taylor, the computerised results/statistics whizz kid presented a women's trophy based on handicap points. However, women have always been eligible for the Champagne League Trophy and have won it on several occasions since the 1980s.

The end of a Brantingham Chase

By the 1980s the Champagne League had filled part of the hole left by the ending of the old paper chases in the 1960s. Over the years the composition of the field has changed dramatically. When the first race series started in 1974 about 75% of the runners were juniors and there were no women entrants. In 2001 less than 10% of those entering were under forty and the field included four veterans over the age of seventy. In the opening race of the 2003 series 31 of the 131 finishers were women. Initially all runners were from City of Hull but by the 1990s runners came from a wide variety of local clubs including East Hull Harriers, Haltemprice, Springhead, Beverley, Bridlington and Scarborough. The series has been masterminded by Peter Jarvis who has put an inestimable amount of time into its planning and organisation. At first all races were held within the city boundaries in the vicinity of Costello. Today, most events take place out of town and on the road or country.

Ironically, despite organising the event for twenty-eight years, he has never had the opportunity to run in any of the races. Peter Jarvis even managed to locate suitable emergency courses for many of the races which had to be cancelled in 2001 because of the Foot and Mouth disease precautions and the full menu of events was run on schedule over the spring and summer months. He is supported by a dedicated band without whose help these races could not take place.

Newsletters have been a major means of keeping members involved and informed and the club's journal during much of the 1980s and 1990s was Distance News which was started by Peter Flatman in his days as club captain and was successively edited by Alan Fowlie, Dave Sewell, Robb Robinson and Stuart Buchan. For more than 25 years one of the highlights of the year for the men's section was the annual training week in Wales. As many as twenty-five members used to descend on Mr Jones's in Dyffryn Ardudwy where they camped in a field behind his farm. Here, they contended not only with big hills but also the huge and delicious portions served up by the Peter Jarvis catering emporium. It was the only place where club members could run up to one hundred miles in a week and still put on weight.

Distance News

The Llanbedr '9' before breakfast was perhaps something better experienced than described as was the run over the mountains to Barmouth and the jaunt back by beach after liquid refreshment at the Tal Y Bont. In the 1990s a substantial group of runners started going to Moorside Farm near Longnor in Derbyshire each year where they sampled the hills of the Peak District and hospitality of Charlie Futcher. The challenges on this soujourn included running run up The Rake, a steep hill near the farm, without stopping and getting to Leek over the Moors without going off course near the Lake. In 2002 the summer outing moved on to Swaledale and some glorious running in the Yorkshire Dales.