Woodford Green AC was founded in 1908, just before the London Olympic Games. The club was formed out of the Harrier section of the Woodford Green Men's Club established in 1904, but the origins go back to the 1880s as part of the sports section of the Woodford Green Working Mens' Institute.
The club colours of green and white hoops originate from that era in recognition of both the local name and the leafy environs of Epping Forest. During the 1920's the club thrived and regularly won the Essex Cross Country Championships. The leading athlete was Harry Payne who, in 1930, set a world marathon best which stood until beaten by England's Jim Peters in 1951.
In the 1930's the success continued with numerous track athletes reaching international level and two race walkers, Alf Pope and Bert Cooper, setting many British and World records in the period prior to the outbreak of World War II.
During this period, the Winter headquarters was at the Mens' Club in Woodford Green. Several grass tracks in the area were used, but the main summer home in the 1930's was the County Cricket Ground at Leyton.
The post war period saw the club take advantage of the new cinder track at Ashton Playing Fields in Woodford Bridge and by 1957 the club was arguably Britain's leading track and field club, being undefeated in inter-club competition that season. In the 1950's and 1960's such names as Derek Johnson, Geoff Elliott and David Jones were household names and regular members of England and Great Britain teams.
In 1969 the club became one of the founder members of the British Athletics League and up to the present time is one of only 6 clubs that have unbroken membership of the UK's premier men's league. After gaining successive promotions from Division 5 to Division 1 between 1986 and 1991, the team yo-yo'd between Divisions 2 and 1 during the 1990s, but has been one of the 8 clubs in Division 1 (subsequently the Premiership) since 2001. In 2005 the team were finally champions of Division 1 for the first time and in 2006 represented Great Britain in the European Clubs Cup B Division, where they triumphed over clubs from host nation Turkey, Denmark, Israel, Serbia-Montenegro and the Netherlands.
In 1994 the club rules were changed to admit women to membership.
An ambition had always been for the club to have a permanent home and following the construction of the new all-weather track in the early 1970's and strenuous fund raising by a team of members, a new clubhouse was built at Ashton Playing Fields which gives the club a focal point and a venue for social activities.
Essex Ladies AC was founded in 1921 and so was one of the earliest established womens' athletic clubs in Great Britain. It was first known as Eastern Ladies AC but in 1922 it became Manor Park Ladies AC and had a total membership of ...6! The club affiliated to the WAAA in 1924 and adopted the name of Essex Ladies AC in 1934.
After World War II the club based itself at three training grounds - Victoria Park, Dagenham Old Park and Ashton Playing Fields. In the early 1960's it was decided to concentrate the memberhip at Ashton but in January 1987 the club moved to the newly laid track in the Borough of Waltham Forest.
Former internationals include: the late Edith Peacock, a hurdler, and one of the founder members who, until her death in 1999 at 90 years of age, was still actively involved in the club; Dorothy Manley (now Parlett), 1948 Olympic 100m silver medalist; and Jean Desforges (now Pickering), 1954 European Long Jump bronze medalist. In 1976, Sue Longden and Gladys Taylor (now Bird) became the clubs' first Olympians for 20 years when they were selected for the Olympic Games in Montreal and in the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles both Gladys Taylor in the 400m hurdles and Kim Hagger, 8th in the Heptathlon, represented Great Britain. Kim went on to win Commonwealth bronze in this event in 1986.
The club's most famous athlete, Sally Gunnell, who retired from the track in 1997, also won her first major championship in 1986 in the 100m hurdles in the Comonwealth Games. She was 5th in the 400m hurdles in the Seoul Olympics and won gold medals in the 1992 Olympics, the 1993 World Championships (with a World Record), the 1994 European Championships and 1994 Commonwealth Games. The club's most recent World Champion is 21 year old Julie Pratt who won the 100m gold medal at the 1998 World Junior Championships in France.
In the past two decades, Essex Ladies have won the Guardian Jubilee Cup eight times - the most by any British club. By winning this cup, the club has represented Great Britain in the European Clubs' Championship 8 times with the highest placing of 3rd in Como in 1987. In 1987 and 1988 the club won division 1 of the UK National League and the juniors have won the National Junior League four times and have represented Great Britain in the European Junior Clubs' Championship with a highest placing of 2nd in Paris in 1994.
In December 1998, the two clubs amalgamated and the ladies moved back to Ashton Playing Fields with both clubs enjoying the benefits of the union and the ladies sharing in the use of the clubhouse.
The 1990s also saw the club's junior section enjoy excellent development, and in 2008 our U20 and U17 T&F teams compete at the highest possible level, the Southern Premier.
The club began its Centenary Year celebrations in the spring of 2008, and a superb club history of some 800 pages entitled "From Tiny Acorns Giant Oaks Will Grow", was written by Tony Maxwell and published in hardback form.
In 2008 three 3 athletes - Jeanette Kwakye (100m & 4 x 100m relay), Sarah Claxton (100mH) and Dan Awde (Decathlon) represented Great Britain in the Beijing Olympics.
Sprint coach for 15+,
BAL Team Manager
Gladys represented GB & England at Pentathlon, 400m, 400m Hurdles and 4 x 400m relay including two Olympic Games, World and European Championships and Commonwealth Games.
Following her retirement, she was GB Team Manager at various internationals and championships. Whilst living in Tokyo in 1998 and 1999, Gladys proved specialist athletics support to school PE staff. Other years she has spent as a devout club supporter of Woodford Green and Essex Ladies AC and has been their Senior Men’s Team Manager since 2000, the only female team manager in the Premiership.
Along with her club responsibilities, Gladys coaches a large mixed ability group, including Joseph Dewar, 2015 European Junior 100m Silver medallist.