Jim Alder remembers clearly him coming into his shop on Manchester Street: a young Neil Black in search of a pair of running shorts. Ever curious, Jim wrung out of him that he needed them to run in a Northumberland Schools cross country championship he’d been selected for.
Then an Ashington Grammar School pupil (where he would coincidentally share classes with Ross Floyd’s Mum), he was a talented all round sportsman good enough to be selected at stand-off half for Northumberland Schools Rugby Union and was also later a triallist at Sheffield Wednesday Football Club, then managed by another son of Ashington, Jack Charlton. Another achievement he was more reticent in sharing with his training group: he had also won medals for ballroom dancing.
A hard man to say no to, Alder had soon persuaded Black to join Morpeth Harriers where he was coached by him for some four years. During this time, his successes included finishing 2nd as a Junior to Steve Binns in 1979 at the Inter Counties cross country (Binns would win the IAAF World Junior Cross Country Championships that year before going on to compete in the 1988 Olympics).
Described by Alder as ‘a lovely mover’, among his other achievements were beating a young Steve Cram on his home turf, the old cinder track at Jarrow, and going on to finish 5th in the AAA Senior 1500m at Edinburgh in a stacked field, where no less a runner than Dave Moocroft outsprinted him for 4th place. His personal best for 1500m was 3:44:40 and for the mile, 4:02:08, both set at the age of 18.
As might be expected of a Morpeth Harrier, he also competed in the legendary Morpeth to Newcastle Road Race, finishing 3rd in 1982 in a time of 67:04 behind Mike Kearns of Tipton (66:31) and Andy Robertson of the Army (66:51). The following year he looked set to win the race after leading at Seaton Burn, but sadly was forced to drop out, Kevin Foster going on to win.
Sadly, injuries would continue to blight his running, although he finished well up in the second staging of the Great North Run in 1982 in 1:06:35. He also won an England International vest for cross country at Mallusk,
where he placed 6th.
Later going on to be coached by Lindsey Dunn, there was a brief comeback to road racing in 1987, when he won the two lap Chester-le-Street road race, outsprinting Elswick’s Chris Lees and Gateshead’s Charlie Spedding for the victory.
Neil’s involvement with the club ended in the early 90s with a move South and a career initially in physiotherapy.
Despite having lost contact with Neil for many years, Alder remembers him fondly:
‘Everybody liked Neil Black. He was a class act.’
(With thanks to Ian Brown for extra information)
As an incentive for our track and field athletes,
myself and David Thomas have signed up for the AAA standards scheme.
Athletes are awarded certificates based on their performances from 1st April 2019 to 31st March 2021
in both indoor and outdoor events.
The standards are rated from Grade 4 to Grade1.
The certificates are free but if you would like a badge they are £2 each.
David is working out all the awards currently held by Morpeth Harrier boys and girls from the Power of 10 results.
If you would like any more information or a certificate and badge please contact me on 07919910912.
I’m happy to post these out to any athletes who would like them before lockdown ends.
Our notice board will be at the track clubhouse once we are able to access the facilities again.
Neil Black, the former performance director of UK Athletics,
and former Morpeth Harrier has passed away suddenly at the age of 60.
The news was confirmed on Tuesday21st April 2020 through a statement from Black’s family.
It is believed he died of natural causes at his home near Loughborough.
The statement read: ‘We would like to thank people for the wonderful and heartfelt messages we have received.
So many people have been in touch, it is clear to us how loved Neil was and this is bringing us some comfort
at this time.’
Have a look at the two photos below, photo 2 has been altered digitally.
Can you spot the changes that have been made.