Dartford Harriers has a rich history, dating back to the club was established in 1922. We have produced the timeline below to highlight some of our key milestones.
We are keen to grow this timeline and would welcome any additional contributions. If you have any images or stories you would like to share, please do get in touch.
Dartford Harriers was originally founded as a Rugby Union Club in 1922 but, the rugby players in an effort to keep fit, started to take part in cross country runs. As the running became more popular with the players the rugby was slowly dropped and Dartford Harriers AC was born. The lasting legacy from the clubs rugby playing days is the Dartford Harriers running colours. The rugby players simply removed the sleeves from their old rugby shirts to create running vests, in doing so created the famous blue and blue “hoops” that can now be seen worn by the current crop of Dartford’s finest athletes.
The pre world war one years saw the club, then based at Hesketh Park, enjoying a sustained period of success with some to the Harriers being considered for places in the Great Britain team that went to the Berlin Olympics in 1936
The second World War ended the ambitions of a great many of the Harriers best athletes and left the club depleted of talent. With the clubs survival on the brink some hard working individuals stepped up and slowly built the club back to strength. The most notable of these were the “May” family, in particular Harry and Eva May, and the club’s longest serving member Arthur Head. They did everything from managing the teams, running the club, washing the club house floor (which at this time was just a large garden shed), and filling the tin baths with cold water for the athletes to wash themselves down when they came back from cross country runs. It was mainly due to their hard work that Dartford Harriers AC survives as an athletics club today. To commemorate the hard work of Harry and Eva May, the clock on the front of the Dartford Harriers clubhouse looking out onto the track bears their names.
During the 1950s, the club slowly grew from the 12 athletes in the mid 40′s, into a strong cross-country squad that maintained the ‘harrier’ tradition. By the 1960′s Dartford Harriers had their first of many International athletes.
In 1967, Maureen Conlan became the first Dartford Harrier to gain an International Vest when she represented Ireland in the very first Women’s International Championship which was held in Wales.
On 8th June 1968 the club moved to the new cinder track in Central Park with their new clubhouse, another large garden shed. Ever since that move Dartford Harriers has been based in Central Park, Dartford. With training now taking place on the track, the club was able to introduce a detailed and extensive coaching programme for younger athletes which helped the club develop a solid structure and saw a boost in the clubs membership and performances.
The 1970s saw continued expansion of club activities, particularly amongst the younger age groups, both in track and field and cross-country. This was the time when running in general began to boom across the world and a number of influential road races were born. Dartford Harriers in response to this road running boom developed our own road race, the Dartford Half Marathon. This was first run in 1977, with the winner being Steve Ovett who went on to become 1980 Olympic 800m champion and set multiple World track records in distances ranging from 1000m to 2 miles.The Dartford Half Marathon remains to this day and is one of the most successful and friendly annual road races in Kent.
During the 1980s, the Sebastian Coe, Steve Ovett rivalry bought a large number of young talented athletes into the club. This influx of talent saw the rewriting of nearly all of the club records. One of the most talented of these young athletes who continued his progress into the Senior ranks of the club was Geoff Wightman (pictured below a few years ago).
Geoff held nearly every Senior middle and long distance record at some point. He went on to represent Great Britain over the Marathon distance; at the 1990 European Championships in Split, Yugoslavia, finished 6th in a time of 2:18.1s. He also came 8th in the Commonwealth Games marathon in Auckland, New Zealand in that same year. These two performances still rank as probably the best return over the marathon distance by a British male athlete at two international major championships in one year.
In 1984 worldwide media attention was drawn to Central Park when a young athlete made her British debut. That athlete was Zola Budd. A young girl, born in South Africa but who had become a British citizen. At this time South Africa was still banned from worldwide sport due to apartheid. A crowd estimated at around 5,000 people turned up to watch Zola run her first race on British soil on the Dartford track which was still at that time made of cinder. The race was shown live on BBC One’s Grandstand programme, was the main news item on all the TV news programmes and front page news in all the newspapers. Zola Budd set a women’s track record of 9:02.6 for 3000m in that race, a time which is unlikely to be beaten for many years to come.
The 1985 London Marathon saw club members Sarah Rowell & Sally-Ann Hales finish 2nd & 3rd respectively. With Elaine Payne coming home close to the front of the field, Dartford Harriers won the Womens team prize. Dartford Harriers remains the only UK club to have had two runners finish in the top three in the same race at the London Marathon. Sarah Rowell had also come third in the 1984 race which led to her representing Great Britain at the marathon distance in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics where she finished 14th in a time of 2:34.8s
With all the media attention that had been drawn to the club following Zola Budd’s race at Dartford it was obvious that the old cinder track had come to the end of its lifespan and following extensive fund raising by the club members, committee and local council, work began to replace it with an all-weather track. This work was finally completed in Easter 1987 and the track was officially opened on 18th April 1987 by Ron Pickering.
In the first season of the new all-weather track Fatima Whitbread, set a record with a Javelin throw of 72.40m, in her last competition before the 1987 Rome World Championships where she went on to take the gold medal.
Success continued into the 1990s with a number of athletes gaining international honours most notably, as previously mentioned, Geoff Wightman. After years of the club being based in garden sheds, bowls pavilions and portacabins, the club finally, on 16th September 1997, opened its own club house. This had taken years of fund raising and hard work from all the supporters club and lots of help from past president Nancy Wightman.
Now in the 2000′s the club has a number of highly talented young International athletes that place the club in a strong position to push it into the higher echelons of UK athletics and towards a bright new future.