The first fixture of the British Athletics League saw Woodford’s men’s team in Premiership action at Swansea on Sunday. The first round of fixtures took place amid more than some little controversy, as with the decision taken to clash with the county championships presented athletes and officials with a choice over split loyalties, which in the end saw the divisions two to five fixture cancelled through a lack of available officials, and the Premiership held together with National One at Swansea. Nevertheless, the clash with the county champs, and with this fixture squeezed into the weekend between the BUCS and the Loughborough International meant most teams fielded teams significantly below full strength. Woodford were no exception and were missing many athletes for a variety of reasons, but for those who did compete, they did so admirably to ensure most events were covered and achieved what seemed a very unlikely 5thplace prior to the competition. In the end, reigning champions Birchfield ran out winners on 349 points, ahead of Newham on 311.5, newly promoted Harrow 293, Shaftesbury 257, Woodford 252, Cardiff 239, Blackheath 228.5 and Sheffield 227. Woodford were at their less strong on the track, but Chris Stone’s win over 200m stood out, whereas on the field there was a solid all-round performance with Che Richards proving the only winner on the day.
In the field Andy Frost got proceedings underway and the former British international placed 2nd with 59.91m with his final throw of the competition. In the “B’", Fergus Harford, like Andy, a great club man placed 5th with 29.07m. Che Richards who the prior weekend had won the BUCS, continued his winning ways as he took the long jump with 7.36m. Peter Kirabo who was called into last minute action placed 6th in the “B” with 6.00m, and also contributed valuable additional points with his 5thin the “B” high jump with 1.65m, and 4th in the “B” triple jump with 13.07m. In that “A” triple jump Lawrence Davis was 3rd with 15.14m, and in the “A” high jump recent World Indoor Masters M35 Champion Robert Wolski was 4th= with 2.00m. Youcef Zatat, currently the U.K’s No.2 in the shot placed 2nd in his specialist event with 17.77m behind a Lithuanian athlete competing for Sheffield, and also gained very valuable points with 4th in the ‘B” discus with 44.06m and 2nd in the “B” javelin with 50.33m. In the “A” javelin Bonne Buwembo made his BAL debut for Woodford, as the former international who had been out for two seasons after knee surgery placed 2nd with 63.91m. In the “A” discus Chris Linque was 5th with 45.43m, whist in the “B” shot another debutant, decathlete Howard Bell also placed 5th with 12.27m. The Pole Vault was a good scoring event, where Daniel Gardner in his first outdoor competition of the season was 3rd in the “A” with 4.80m and younger brother Nathan (2nd the previous week in the BUCS) was 2nd in the “B” with 4.60m.
On the track Woodford were a very long way from full strength, but those available rallied round to ensure all the events except the steeplechase were covered (ironically for what is traditionally a high scoring event for Woodford this was the first time since the league’s formation in 1969, that we haven’t been able to do so.) Performances were led by Chris Stone’s win over 200m, where from the outside lane he recorded a fine 21.05 secs (+0.6), and prior to that had placed 4thover 100m with 10.69 secs (+1.4). Debutant 16 year old first year junior, Matthew Adum-Yeboah stepped in to cover the “B” sprints and did so admirably, close to his p.b. in placing 6th in the “B” 100m with 11.08 secs, and then placing a fine 3rd in the “B” 200m with 22.16 secs (+1.6) which was a new p.b. The athletes covering the 400m events were both expecting to be in a non-scoring event until just a few days earlier, when both planned scoring athletes were lost to injury, so they were faced with an obvious step in class. Nevertheless, although both 8th(Adrian Richards with 51.59 secs in the ‘A’ and Olaoluwa Abiodun with 54.54 secs in the “B”) their contributions (including later in the relay) were very valuable in the team context. Over 800m Ewan Dyer had to nurse a slightly troublesome achilles through the “A” race and although for precautionary reasons not able to push on quite as hard as he would have liked still placed a useful 4thwith 1m55.32 secs. The “B” race was covered by Ahmed Abdulle who was 7th with 2m03.98 secs, and he was later 8thin the 1500m with 4m09.00, again valuable points from an athlete not in the best shape to race at the level they would do so normally. Without a “B” 1500m athlete available, Darren Southcott (40 mins before his 3000m where he was 8thin the “B” with 9m14.96 secs), agreed to cover, and running harder than he was asked to, placed 7thin the “B”. At the sharp end of that “A” 3000m, Ed Shepherd who has had such a good winter on road and country, just lost out on a victory in the “A” race as he placed 2nd with 8m22.96 secs. Over the hurdles usual athletes were also missing, but another debutant stepped in to cover the ‘A” events, Taylor Roy placed 6thin the 110mH with a solid 15.97 secs (+0.6), having earlier had some stride pattern problems in the 400mH event where he was 8thwith 60.47 secs. In the absence of others, Vet 50, TJ specialist Keith Newton gamely agreed to cover those “B” events, and without full fields his efforts proved to be all the more valuable as he placed 6th in the “B” 400m H with 73.80 secs, and 7th in the “B” 110mH with 21.53 secs.
The meeting closed with two solid 5th places for the relay teams. The 4x100m team led off by another first year Junior, Winfred Hakeem (who had earlier recorded a p.b. of 11.35 secs (+1.9)in the non-scoring 100m event) combined with with Che Richards, Chris Stone and Matthew Adum-Yeboah for 42.37 secs, whilst in the 4x400m Adrian Richards (53.2 secs, Olaoluwa Abiodun (52.4 secs), Taylor Roy (51.9 secs) and Matthew Adum-Yeboah (50.3 secs) recorded 3m27.81 secs.
As always, Team Manger Gladys Bird was grateful for the support of all those that made the trip to Swansea and with the next match at the Allianz (Copthall Barnet) stadium on June 9thwill be hoping to put out a strong team against Clubs who will also likely all be stronger for this fixture.