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)