ONE of Wigan’s best-known and most successful sports clubs celebrates a special milestone this weekend.
Many of the club’s greatest stars, past and present, will be attending to reflect on its achievements.
From humble beginnings in 1963, Wigan Harriers provided an outlet for many aspiring athletes – and the launchpad for some dazzling track exploits.
Friday’s event has been organised by Great Britain 800m ace Jenny Meadows and her husband and coach Trevor Painter.
She said: “When I went down to the club in January 1989 aged seven, I was in a fortunate position as Wigan Harrers were the envy of many.
“We had one of only two indoor tracks in the UK and a crop of international athletes who I could look to emulate.
“I was so proud to become a Wigan Harrier! Almost 25 years on I still feel that pride, and I try to encourage the youngsters that if they work hard they can emulate me. It really has come full circle.
“The ball is a fantastic opportunity to get all members from throughout the decades together, to share in the passion they have for the sport and the club.”
Harriers have had five Olympians.
The first, David Grindley, won relay bronze as a 19-year-old in Barcelona in 1992 (the year later, he was ranked second in the world behind Michael Johnson).
Phyllis Smith also competed at that games, while Craig Winrow an Angie Thorpe starred in Atlanta four years later.
Jenny Meadows completes the coveted list for her semi-final appearance in the 800m at Beijing in 2008.
On a domestic level, Harriers have frequently punched above their weight against bigger and more established outfits.
The ladies team compete in the second-tier – no small feat given there are only eight clubs in the top-flight.
And though the men have not fared as well – owing, perhaps, to the popularity of rugby in the town – they have a thriving junior network.
Among those is Harry Coppell, a pole vault gold medal winner at the World Youth Games in July, during a memorable milestone year for the club. Meadows’ season may have been hampered by injury, but she still captained her country at the European Indoor Championships, while Hayley Jones won relay bronze at the World Championships. Meadows won 800m bronze at the Worlds four years earlier – achievements which must have been beyond the wildest dreams of the four teachers who set-up the club.
Bill Cochram, Jesse Littler, Ernie Griffiths and Ken Richardson wanted to give local children a place to train and compete, at a time when budding athletes had to travel to Leigh or Bolton.
The popularity of the Harriers quickly grew, with many regularly descending on its Woodhouse Lane base, before their move to Robin Park in the 1980s.
Sky News reader Kay Burley is a former Harrier, while Shaun Edwards is among the ex-rugby league players who used to benefit from training with the club.
Other former juniors include Amy Spencer – the first winner of the BBC’s Young Sports Personalty of the year – and Susan Jones, a silver medallist at the 2002 Commonwealth Games.
Currently, Harriers boast nearly 400 athletes across the ages. Anyone wanting tickets should contact Painter400@hotmail.com