In the first article of a two-part series, Dr Costas Karageorghis looks at the history of Brunel University London AC
Athletics at Brunel and its forbear institutions has a long and proud history. The success that Brunelian athletes have enjoyed can be traced directly to one of the university’s predecessor institutions – Borough Road College in Isleworth, West London. The College was founded in 1798 by the educationalist Joseph Lancaster in Borough Road, Southwark, and moved to the Isleworth site in 1889. The College flourished during the last century and was widely recognised as one of the nation’s finest teacher training institutions – particularly for physical education teachers.
At Borough Road College, a tradition of excellence in athletics was set in motion immediately after World War II that has persisted to the present day. All students who receive international sporting honours have their names and event details recorded in gold leaf lettering on wooden honours boards. Originally, these boards were attached to the walls of the George Little Building that housed the School of Physical Education and Sport on the Isleworth site. When the School was relocated to Uxbridge in July 2002, the honours boards took pride of place on the walls of the upper-east wing of the Heinz Wolff Building.
The boards carry a wealth of information about the history of Brunel Athletics from the very first international honour earned by one CL Lewis at the 1948 London Olympics at which he represented Great Britain and Northern Ireland in the 440 yards and 4x440yds relay. Borough Road College was an all-male institution and a string of international honours followed in the subsequent three decades before the College merged with Maria Grey College in East Twickenham and Chiswick Polytechnic to form the co-educational West London Institute of Higher Education. In 2005 Borough Road College was sold by Brunel University to a housing developer as part of a relocation of all Brunel academic and service departments to the Uxbridge campus.
The Swinging Sixties and Super Seventies
Borough Road’s athletics pedigree began to crystallise in the mid-1960s under the stewardship of George Little, the charismatic head of physical education who oversaw particular success in long-distance and cross-country running. The physical education block at the College would later be named in his honour.
The year 1968 saw Borough Road athletes perform on the greatest stage possible. High hurdler Alan Pascoe (pictured below) – now an MBE and successful events marketing man and consultant – took to the track in the Mexico City Olympics in 1968 and was accompanied by prodigious long jumper Alan Lerwill.
The pair represented Borough Road College with distinction for a number of years and were celebrated for being genuine team athletes despite their individual pre-eminence on the international scene.
The 1970 Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh saw the College represented by Pascoe (100m hurdles), Lerwill (long jump), John Thomas Harrison (100m), Ian David Green (100m and 4x100m) and Nigel Sherlock (javelin).
Lerwill earned a clutch of international vests in 1971, culminating in representative honours for Great Britain at the European Championships in Helsinki – a place dear to the Lerwill family, as his mother Sheila won silver in the high jump at the 1952 Olympics, Britain’s highest accolade at those Games.
Pascoe captained the home nations at the same championships, winning a richly-deserved silver in the 100m hurdles. Lerwill’s star ascended higher the following year in the Munich Olympics where he finished 11th in a field topped by the United States’ Randy Williams, while Pascoe was to claim the silver.
In 1974, Lerwill won the long jump gold medal at the Commonwealth Games hosted by Christchurch, New Zealand, with 7.94 metres. He went on to teach many pupils who were to become students at Borough Road in a distinguished career as a PE teacher at Millfield independent school that spanned four decades.
The mid-1970s saw Brian Hooper take to the field for Britain in the indoor and outdoor editions of the European Championships. He also represented England at the 1974 Commonwealth Games and stood as the most venerable of the institution’s pole vaulters until the reign of Ian Tullett in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Hooper was perhaps best known by the British public as the two-time winner of BBC’s Superstars , which entailed multi-sport challenges against other sporting celebrities featuring a range of events including kayaking and golf.
Hooper competed in two Olympics (Montreal in 1976 and Moscow four years later) and briefly set the UK record of 5.59m at the 1980 AAA Championships.
Thirty years later, he was a regular visitor to Brunel’s Indoor Athletics Centre in Uxbridge where he coached his daughter Tilly, also a talented pole vaulter.
The 1973 Europa Cup was graced by three Borough Road athletes: Stewart Atkins, Phil Banning and Christopher Monk in the long jump, 1500m, and sprints respectively.
Another powerhouse of the mid-1970s was the thrower David Ottley, who donned a GB vest while a Borough Road student for a host of international matches from 1975-77. His arc would reach its apex some two Olympic cycles later in Los Angeles, where he claimed the silver medal after his javelin soared to 85.74 metres.
As the 1970s drew to a close, 800m runner Garry Cook represented England in the Edmonton Commonwealth Games in 1978 alongside fellow Borough men Peter Yates (who threw the javelin for England) and John Davies (a steeplechaser for Wales). The Borough Road team had strong leadership in the form of Physical Education’s head Jim Biddle, cross-country specialist Dick Fisher, and long jumper Bob Chappell.
Biddle also served as team manager for the GB team, Fisher proceeded to a very successful academic career at the local rival institution, St Mary’s in Twickenham, while Chappell took on management of the Borough Road basketball team and went on to coach the England senior men’s basketball team for many years.
The Electric Eighties
In the first year of the decade, hammer thrower Paul Dickenson captained the GB team at the boycott-hit Moscow Olympics and progressed to a glittering career as a BBC Sport commentator and motivational speaker. He has remained active in the veterans’ ranks, taking the British title on no fewer than nine occasions. In addition, Dickenson donned the Borough vest annually for 30 years following his graduation at the outdoor Borough Road v Loughborough Students meeting – a mainstay of the fixture calendar over a 40-year period until recently.
In 1982, Cook was part of a team that broke the world best for the 4x800m at the Crystal Palace National Sports Centre. There, he teamed up with Sebastian Coe, Peter Elliott and Steve Cram to clock 7:03.89.
The early 1980s saw female international representatives in athletics for the first time. Among these was Kathy Smallwood – later to become Kathy Smallwood-Cook after marrying fellow student athlete Garry Cook – who was the most decorated female British athlete of her generation. Smallwood-Cook (pictured below) became a three-time Olympic bronze medallist, in the 4x100m in Moscow 1980 and at the 400m and 4x100m in Los Angeles in 1984. She also won bronze in the 200m at the 1983 World Championships in Helsinki. Moreover, Smallwood-Cook was a three-time winner of the British Athletics Writers’ Association female athlete of the year award.
During her decade-long running career, Smallwood-Cook held national records in the 100m, 200m and 400m. Smallwood-Cook’s UK 100m record of 11.10 stood until July 2008 when it was surpassed by another Brunel student, Montell Douglas (pictured right), who ran 11.08 at a Loughborough University meeting on the day before her graduation.
Smallwood-Cook’s UK 400m record of 49.43 stood from 1984 until 2013, when it was broken by Christine Ohuruogu, and her UK 200m record of 22.10 still stands today – a truly remarkable achievement.
She became World Student Games champion in the 200m in Bucharest in 1981 having won three silver medals at the 1979 Games in Mexico City.
Since then, Smallwood-Cook has avoided the limelight and not courted the media or tried to cash in on the huge fame and celebrity status that she once had as the ‘golden girl’ of British athletics.
During the late 1980s and into the early 1990s, the Borough Road team was led by the towering figure of John Brierley, a former Scottish international triple jumper, who went on to be installed as an honorary life president of the club. Brierley had much success as team manager of the GB Students team and latterly with the England team at the 2002 and 2010 Commonwealth Games.
Brierley left Brunel soon after the move to Uxbridge and set up a sports consultancy firm in Spain with a string of high-profile clients. He moved back into academia in 2011, taking a senior lectureship at Oxford Brookes University.
» The next article in this two-part series looks at the nifty Nineties and into the new millennium – you can find it here
» Dr Costas Karageorghis was Brunel assistant team manager 1993-95 and has been team manager since 1995