Neil Featherby: Preparing to reward those who helped make it a fantastic first year as Series sponsor
- Credit: Paul Martin
So here we are, coming towards the end of another year – the time when awards start getting handed out to those who have either been very successful or who have contributed their time and skills into helping others.
While the award ceremonies take place amongst clubs, associations and the media, when it comes to sport it is of course the BBC Sports Personality of the year awards which attracts the most attention. I don't think I have missed a single year since seeing my boyhood hero George Best take third place in 1969.
Here in Norfolk there are also many such ceremonies and this year I am very much looking forward to the Norfolk Road Running Grand Prix Awards at the Assembly House on Friday November 16. This will of course culminate in my business, Sportlink's first year as sponsor of this superb race series and this year's presentation will take on a whole new meaning for us.
Whilst I like to pride myself with a good memory of all the races and events, I have to say I cannot remember the exact year in which the first series took place. I think it was possibly 1993, but if not it was certainly very close to this date. Either way, what I do know is that it was the brainchild of local runner Harry Collins who at the time also managed Orchard Caravans, the race series' first sponsor.
Nigel Arnold took over as sponsor through his business, The Runners Centre, three years later with Pete Johnson then taking over in 1998 after also taking on the reins of the business. Pete not only sponsored the series, but with his wife Judy they pretty much oversaw it until when Norwich-based solicitors Leathes Prior came along to lend their support as sole sponsor in 2015 and then proceeded to do so until the end of the 2017 season.
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I think it is fair to say that each sponsor – and all those involved with the organisation throughout the last 25 years or so – have added something towards the continued success of the series, which is why it has stood the test of time.
When Richard Polley and Pat Brightman contacted me around this time a year ago to offer us at Sportlink the chance to become the latest sponsor, I really did not have to give it too much thought. I was immediately very excited by the prospect with not only being able to attach my businesses name to what is a premier road running series, but also having the chance to add some new ideas to help establish it even further.
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From what I can gather, 2018 has most certainly been a fantastic year and the most successful yet for every race and club which has taken part in the 11-race programme. Amongst some of this success, I would like to think that we at Sportlink have added something towards this, what with the hard work put in by my staff and brand manager Nick.
As we all know, running is booming and races seem to sell out as quickly as the entries open. Nevertheless, it is also the professionalism of Richard and Pat along with all the race directors, clubs and various committee members who have all put in so much effort which has produced the success of this year's series. Needless to say that a huge thank you has to go to all the runners who have taken part, be it in one race or indeed all 11 races in what I really am so very proud to say is now The Sportlink Grand Prix Series.
As always, a final Featherby footnote… talking to Nigel Arnold this week upon his return from his superb silver medal at the European Duathlon Championships in Ibiza last weekend, he was telling me about some of the races which were in the Grand Prix during those early days which no longer exist, such as the EDP 10k, J Franklin 10k, Nelson Run 10k and the Duke St 5k. What was also significant was that these and many other races which went into what was then a 10-race series, had an average entry list of around 200 runners. When you consider the huge numbers we now see in every race, it really does make you realise just how road running has progressed.
Whilst I doubt this next paragraph will get past the editors cut, I feel I need to still give this a mention whilst adding some humour to my column this week.
Nigel was also telling me he arranged for former world heavyweight booxing champion Herbie Hide to present the prizes at what was Orchard Caravans' final awards ceremony before he took over through the Runners Centre. However, Herbie, at the last minute, had to withdraw. A quick-thinking Nigel hurriedly put on a wig, dark glasses, boxing gloves and dressing gown with hood and walked out as if he was Herbie Hide. The audience looked up in astonishment and after what seemed an eternity of silence, erupted into laughter, which made for a truly memorable evening.
I can't imagine anything like that happening next month, but I am sure we are in for a great evening as we congratulate this year's award winners. For anyone who would like to come along go to www.athleticsnorfolk.org.uk by November 5.