Neil Featherby: Becoming a Norfolk champion means so much

Neil Featherby on his way to winning the last Norfolk Marathon in 1990 - but how did he get back int

Neil Featherby on his way to winning the last Norfolk Marathon in 1990. - Credit: Neil Featherby

This weekend once again sees another Norfolk County Track and Field championships at the Sportspark in Norwich.  

It is an event which really does have a lot of history attached to it. I may be wrong but I think the first such championships took place in 1928. However, I do also know that county titles were competed for before that. 

As to whether these championships still have the same high prestige as it once did, particularly amongst senior athletes, that I am not sure about. There are now so many high-profile races out there where traveling to and from is so much more accessible unlike years ago when everything was done much closer to home. 

However, and whether it does or not, I can guarantee that any person who wins a county title this weekend will one day look back with even more pride and say I was the Norfolk champion. 

I won several Norfolk marathon county titles as well as Eastern Counties and a South of England silver, but the only Norfolk county track titles I can look back on are those won as a 15-year-old youth for the 3,000 metres in what was then the Norfolk AAAs County Championships and Norfolk County Schools champs. 

Neil Featherby Norfolk County medal

The medal Neil Featherby won at the 1973 Norfolk County Track and Field Championships - Credit: Neil Featherby

The AAAs race was on the old cinder track at Lakenham on May 19, 1973 and it was one of those days when it was overcast and windy. I always liked running from the front as I knew if it came to a sprint finish, the likelihood was that I would get beat. I knew all the other competitors in the race having raced and beaten them a number of times in cross country races, but this was different. There really is no hiding place on the track. 

I also knew the biggest challenge was going to come from a guy called Garry Marshall who was also at the time a really good friend of mine. We ran for the same club Norfolk Olympiads although I was representing my school Hellesdon on this occasion. 

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As soon as the gun went, I took the lead whilst Garry just sat right behind me sheltering from the wind. I kept putting in bursts, but they just ended up being half hearted. With five and a half laps completed and just two to go, Garry was still there, and I knew he would outkick me if it came down to a sprint finish. Then going down the back straight with 650 metres to go whilst I was just about on the verge of resigning myself to 2nd place, he made a move putting in a kick to go past me. However, his kick was a kick up the backside for me giving me a much-needed injection of adrenaline for which I took off before he could get past and I ended up winning by seven seconds. 

I honestly do believe if he had of left it just one more lap before making his move, then he probably would have won. We did then both race each other again over the same distance just a few weeks later in the Norfolk County Schools 3,000 metres, but this time I dare not hang around and really did go for it from the gun. 

Neil Featherby Norfolk County programme

The programme from the 1973 Norfolk County Championships held at Lakenham - Credit: Neil Featherby

Ironically, 12 months on and whilst I had given up running, Garry had moved up another level and was running exceptionally well. He used to call me regularly trying to talk me back in to the sport, but it was another eight years before I raced competitively again and by then he had himself moved on and I was already running marathons. 

Good luck to everyone competing this weekend and enjoy every moment.   

Neil Featherby 1973 3000m line up

The line up for the Youth's 3,000m event at the 1973 Norfolk County Athletics Championships - Credit: Neil Featherby

I must also say good luck to all those taking part in the Mammoth Marathon and Dereham 10 miles road race this Sunday which apart from being part of the Sportlink GP series is also a county championship event. I am sure both races will be a great success. 

 I feel I must leave the final words for this week’s column to Athletics Norfolk chairman Clive Poyner. 

“It’s great news that the county champs have now returned to pre pandemic levels with a total of 270 athletes competing over the two days,” he said. “We also welcome the U11s for a Quadkids competition along with athletes from Norfolk Special Olympics for their own champs. Hopefully our special guest Chris Jones the CEO of England Athletics will be present too. It should be a really exciting weekend particularly as Sophie McKinna is also entered. I must also say a huge thank you to the 40 or so officials and volunteers as without them then none of this would be possible.”