The History Of City of Plymouth Athletic Club

From an article written in 2000 by John Gilbert.

The origin of our club is shrouded in the mists of time - and no doubt will remain so - until an ambitious University or 'A' level student researches the subject via the archives of The Evening Herald or The Western Morning News for a project. The earliest record we can find of our club is in the mid-1920's, with the appearance of Devonport YMCA Harriers in the lists of Devon County Champions, although other evidence suggests that the YMCA Harriers may have originated from a much older club called Plymouth Harriers.

What we are certain of is that, following the cessation of hostilities in The Second World War, Devonport YMCA Harriers were re-established and by the early 1950's were using the newly laid-down black, cinder track and the facilities at Brickfields and the George Street YMCA H.Q. for training. The Harriers were precisely that; male only and almost exclusively road running and cross-country. The membership was 20, with all committee members being runners. At that time Plymouth had other clubs - Plymouth Civil Service A.C. (Beacon Park Sports Ground), Royal Navy A.C> (West), Royal Navy Engineering A.C. (Manadon) and Plymouth Spartans A.C. (green vest, black shorts) a genuine (male only) track and field club which trained at Laira Recreation ground.
Past & Present
1983 - 1986  Roger Harris
1987 - 1990  Ron Blank
1991 - 1993  Richard Kerry
1993 - 1994  Ron Blank
1996 - 1998  Nigel Smith
1999 - 2012  Gary Sansom
2012 - 2019  Graham Edmonds
2019 -         Paul Crutchley

1986 - 1989  Roger Harris
1990 - 1992  Chris Higgins
1993 - 1997  Roger Harris
2002 - 2012  None
2012 - 2019  Gary Sansom
2019 -         Graham Edmonds

By 1956 the YMCA Harriers, fed-up with fund-raising difficulties caused by the anti-gambling rules at the YMCA, decided to break away and change the name to Devonport A.C. The existence of Plymouth Spartans prevented the use of "Plymouth" in the title. However, exclusive use of the cinder track at Brickfields and the introduction of female members, saw a real improvement in the club. Spartans, on the other hand, with only grass to train on, went into a terminal decline, until lack of officials and members led to oblivion. In the late 50's the new D.A.C, (the only club left in Plymouth) was on a high, with membership soaring and results improving year-on-year. By 1968 the next logical step was another name change to The City of Plymouth A.C. with a red and white vest which stood out like a beacon at track events they took part in. At cross-country events you could pick out runners half a mile away, colours that still adorn the clubhouse in photos of City of Plymouth teams.

The introduction of league athletics meant sending teams outside the West Country, which brought into focus the problems of cost and time which we still know about today. Wearing red and white the club competed with varying degrees of success in events ranging from the Southern Leagues to local competitions, County Championships, Trophy meetings, etc. This was the period when the club was at its most successful and was generally regarded as one of the most highly rated within southern England, with our membership exceeding 500 athletes.

The early 70's saw the Men's team promoted from Division 4 to Division 1 of the Southern League in successive seasons. In 1974 the Boys and Minors team reached the finals of the National Youth Athletics League (now McDonalds) at West London Stadium, the only time in the club's history.

The Ladies section by then was firmly established in Division 1 of the Southern League. They applied for entry and were accepted in Division 4 of the newly formed British Women's League. Rapid promotion to Division 3 and then Division 2 effectively put our ladies among the top 12 clubs in the British Isles. Competition in this league meant the club travelling from one end of the country to the other. In two successive seasons we travelled all the way to Pitrevie in Scotland. In the late 1980's the decision was taken to align our club colours more closely to the colours of the city whose name we compete under, so from 1989 the club colours became - green vests with vertical side stripes of black and white, and black running shorts/briefs.

However, nothing stays the same forever and in the late 80's the deterioration in the club's fortunes began. The formation of the raod running/cross country club, Keyham Plodders and its subsequent success led to a name change for them to Plymouth Harriers. This success affected our winter section to a state where just a handful of enthusiastic youngsters remain. In 1983 a PAC newsletter shows 35 Senior Men on its marathon ranking list and a 53-seater coach was required to take our youngsters to a Gwent Cross Country League fixture at Bristol. Also in 1983 we had our first ever "Presentation Evening" with over 300 attending. 47 Minors were presented with 5 Star Award Certificates that evening!

1984 saw the conversion of Brickfield's cinder track to an all-weather surface courtesy of £70,000 from Plymouth's (now defunct) City Lottery, £30,000 from Devon County Education Budget and around £50,000 from the National Sports Council. Plymouth City Council contributed nothing. In 1986, after endless problems with not having a clubhouse, years of talking suddenly and unexpectedly bore fruit. Club member Alan Read purchased a redundant Air Training Corps hut at Ham Estate for £300, offered it to PAC and said, "If you don't want it, don't worry, I can sell it for a profit"! The timing of this good luck was incredibly fortuitous. The government of the day was introducing a scheme to get the unemployed into part-time work by providing free labour to organisations like PAC if the beneficiaries found the materials. A frantic application for grant-aid resulted in £12,000 from Plymouth City Council and, with approval obtained from the Ministry of Defence, within a few months we had our first ever clubhouse. It may not be a palace, but it's ours and we can use it whenever we want to. Being a member for many years without a clubhouse, maybe I can appreciate its value more than most. Mind you, how many club members or parents realise that it costs the club over £3,000 every year to keep it going?

Very little athletics training now goes on in some schools and this has resulted in even schools which were once renowned for their athletics excellence, not sending competitors to Plymouth Schools' Championships at Brickfields. No doubt schools have real problems at the moment not least the demands of the new curriculum - but the Plymouth and West Devon Schools' Athletic Association cannot find anyone willing to come forward to stand as General Secretary. In this situation the association cannot function successfully and many potential English Schools' Championship, National or even International athletes may never have their talent identified by the City of Plymouth Athletic Club. Future success in Plymouth will depend on a close, ongoing partnership between our local schools and the club.

Those in the know will be aware that after 50 years of relying on the Ministry of Defence for our training and competition facilities, the Brickfields is to be taken over by Plymouth City Council. At recent meetings between the Council and local sports representatives we were 'promised' (subject to Sport England grant aid) that athletics will be Brickfield's first and main facility. Among the refurbishments will be an 8 lane, floodlit track with a 10 lane straight and a new spectator stand between the present back straight and soccer pitches. Also, a sports-hall adjacent to the existing car park and other floodlit areas covering the hockey pitches.

This is the break we need to get our club back to top-level performances that we have had in the past. With a population of approximately 275,000 and over 300,000 people in the catchment area, the potential is there. Yes, we are geographically disadvantaged, living so far from the hotspots of athletics; London, the Midlands and the North-West, and costs and travel times can be a problem. But when the Plymouth Council promises materialise, Plymouth will be one of the top athletic areas in the country again.

The expression 'success breeds success' is very true. In the final year of the last Millenium we saw the election of a younger, more enthusiastic committee, which has already reversed the trend of falling club performances and has seen a small, but significant improvement in the recruitment of younger members.

Other Comments and Memories

From Frank Coles 17th September 2008

A couple of factual, although minor errors in the history of the club.

Devonport YMCA was located in St.Aubyn St. Devonport and was not a solely male club, indeed one of the few lady athletes Pamela Stoyle reached the final of the All England Schools 220yds.

I was very much involved with the YMCA in the 1950's and the main reason that a breakaway group was formed was (a) not wishing to be involved with the Christian side of the organisation and (b) objecting to paying a membership fee to the YMCA in addition to a fee for being a YMCA Harrier.

I joined Plymouth Spartans AC and it was anything but a male only club. In the 1950's it was one of the strongest clubs in the county, many of the ladies being County Champions and representing the County in the Inter County Champs.