Woodford’s senior men could only manage 6th in the 3rd Met League of the season to see them slip further down the Division One table to 4th. A notoriously difficult fixture to get men out for all teams; Woodford were not immune and losing big hitters, such as Ash Harrell and Ahmed Abdulle (to the Telford 10K) Tom Frith (to injury) and Alex Cornwell (to general Christmas cheer), it was always going to be a difficult match to compete with League leaders of Highgate.
Despite this, there was much to celebrate in the camp, with early changing room talk of team sizes and river crossings punctuated by questions of disbelief that club life member Paul Stockings could be about to complete his 150th Met league. Most of this disbelief was vocalised by the two other Stockings preparing to take on the two laps course, but after some discussion it was decided that Paul’s 100th met league finish was actually more than 10 years ago and the majority of the Club had almost as much (if not just as much) faith in his ability to count as they did in his ability to complete the surprisingly dry course in the shadow of Hillingdon sports complex.
First in was Tom Phillips in 25th place, less than hour after his wife Suzanne had led in our women’s team. With both targeting spring marathons and already having missed one Met League fixture, a repeat of the 2015 couple-double in the Ken and Brenda Bray trophies looks off the cards, but with Tom in such great form before having started his marathon training in earnest, the club must hope he decides cross-country will form a complementary part of his plans.
Tom Beedell (29th) and Angus Holford (30th) swapped places several times in an intriguing battle to be second man in, with the sub-plot being Angus’ attempt to pull a point back in the fledgling Ken Bray trophy table. Tom seemed to have the better of the muddiest and hilliest sections and Angus on the firmer ground. Thinking he’d done enough to shake him off, Angus was surprised by a late surge from Tom over the three-field long home straight, dug deep to stay within striking distance, and the ensuing sprint took both past a Highgate man, but with Tom always a few metres ahead. Unfortunately, this was Highgate’s 9th man home, testament to their strength in depth this year, like many previous seasons. It was certainly a welcome run from Holford, who had admitted to little training over the past few weeks and spent the majority of his 10 minute warm up groaning, huffing and puffing so to push the ever-consistent Beedell so far is great news for the post-Christmas races.
Second-claimer Ramadan Osman (51st) was fourth home. The Essex 10000m champion was running in flats, better to protect his achilles against recurring problems that have hampered his summer and autumn yet stayed upright and reported no particular problems even at the river crossing. His own battle was with James Stockings (59th), slightly frustrated with traffic through the narrow wooded section, but taking great satisfaction in his bounding through the course’s water feature. Video evidence shows this could have proved decisive in building his margin over Bertie Powell (71st), in his unprecedented 81st consecutive Met League, and 76th in the scoring team. Just 26 seconds separated those 21 places, showing that every second can count.
A further 30 seconds back, another battle was ensuing with Simon Beedell in 84th edging out Harold Wyber into 85th. Unfortunately for former fell-specialist Harold, the course only took the runners up the abandoned dry ski slope, with the downhill section being broken by a twisty almost single-file section in the woods that did not afford any chance to gain momentum.
A stone’s throw from Middlesex County Cricket Club’s residence when exiled from Lord’s, Julian Russell wasn’t quite at home either, finishing 218th, 30 places down from his return to cross country racing at Welwyn the previous month. 10th man in was Tony Pamphilon in 241st, taking first place in the V60 category, he probably wouldn't have been expecting to be needed in the A team particularly for a second match in a row, but this club stalwart is as reliable as ever when called upon.
A mere 4 minutes 33 seconds further down came the hero of the hour, Paul Stockings’ (361st) surprising finishing speed catching the coalition of team managers by surprise as discussions of organising a guard of honour were quickly replaced by whoops, hollers and cheers from the camp base to signal a quite remarkable achievement that, even for Bertie Powell, seems difficult to surpass, particularly with Paul still so effortlessly putting other men between him and the back of the field. Paul’s reward was a tee-shirt bearing his achievement presented to him afterwards by actual club legend Charlie Crump and the bill for a round in the local pub that seemingly had many club members crawling out of the woodwork.
Closing the team was Tom Spanyol who, in coming 399th, dipped just inside the top 400 for his first outing of the season. Tom was perhaps questioning his better judgement starting his season at the course that contained the League’s only river crossing. However, after being questioned by his team-mates at the end of the day he revealed he was glad to have put his waterproof hair gel on that morning leaving him looking as good as any other east end boy up west that day.
Simultaneously opening and closing the B team was Trevor Powell in 452nd, impressively holding off a challenge in the home straight, knowing of course that had anyone ‘up front’ had failed to finish he would have been closing the A team.
As the sun set over the West London, with University Challenge champion Harold explaining that this is the ‘darkest’ Met League of the season, the team managers reflected and hoped that this could be an appropriate metaphor for the team. With juniors returning from other commitments, and stalwarts recovered from recent marathon exploits and ready to race again, prospects for championships and Met Leagues in the New Year do look much brighter.