Basildon AC first came into existence in 1955 at Gloucester Park, Basildon, when Frank & Elizabeth Cocker were asked by the New Town Council to set up the club. Cy Knibb and Bob Hawthorne, both of whom went on to become prominent figures within the club over the next few years, were involved with the founding of the Basildon Sports Council in March 1959 and through the 1960s they worked hard to get a track for the club. By 1969, they had a grass track, which soon became a cinder track and eventually a tartan one in 1986. Knibb was an athlete and coach and as club chairman and county coaching secretary, he was instrumental in creating strong links with schools, as he established local inter-schools competitions. This strong bonding with schools has been continued ever since. Knibb feels that he had a positive effect on the coaching at the club. He explains: â€œAs Essex coaching secretary, I brought many top coaches to Basildon, including Tom McNab, John Le Measurier, Ron Bowden, Tony Eldon and Ron Pickering. This contributed to the clubâ€™s growing success.â€
Bob Hawthorne has also been involved since the beginning and when Knibb left, he became club secretary, as the club was on the verge of folding. His late wife, Joyce, was walking secretary, organising the annual â€œFestival of Walkingâ€, which was one of the biggest walking events in the country. Dave Evans became chairman and coached with the club for many years, whilst Frank Coker president and as membership grew, parents played an increasing role. Ian and Carol Inveraty together with Mike Yates had been the only club coaches, but this soon changed, as Inveraty held meetings and encouraged those interested to take coaching and officiating qualifications in order to cope with the increasing number of youngsters wanting to join. One of the UKâ€™s top marathon runners at the time, Stan Cox, joined the club and Eddy Branch became chairman. Hawthorne comments: â€œIt was great to see so many young people taking up athletics and getting so much from the club. We would fill two coaches going to away fixtures and it was fantastic to see so many people enjoying themselves and supporting each other. We introduced a social event once a week and it was a very happy and successful club.â€ Hawthorne recalls one particular memory in the clubâ€™s history. He says: â€œIn the AnnualÂ `New Town Festival of Sport` held in Basildon inÂ 1969, between the seven New Towns,Â Basildon trashed the six other towns, proving how strong andÂ successful the club hadÂ become.â€ Hawthorneâ€™s brother Jim is another to have been involved with the club for 40 years, with his wife Alma has been treasurer and Team Manager in the past.
ThroughÂ the 1960s, it was in race walking that the club was enjoying most success, under the guidance of lead coach Phil Everard. John Webb took part in the race walk at the Olympic Games in Mexico in 1968 and Olly Flynn was Commonwealth Champion. Due to the strength of these athletes, young athletes were attracted to join the walking fraternity at the club and this section grew and developed, attracting top walkers from America to come and train in Basildon. In the early 1970s the winner of the inaugural British womenâ€™s race walking championships was a Basildon athlete, Irene Bateman, who went on to win Commonwealth gold.
The clubâ€™s impressive race walking CV could be much of the reason why the club boasts particular success in the middle and long distances today. However, the club is keen to nurture talent in all disciplines and this is evident on the clubâ€™s roll of honour, where many of the young athletes coming through and enjoying success are in other disciplines.
After Webb and Flynn in the 1960s, Eamonn Martin was the athlete who really put Basildon the map. Coached by the late Mel Batty, the double Olympian won the National cross country in 1984 and 1992 and won Commonwealth gold over 10,000 in 1990 with 28:08.56. However, what Martin is most famous for is being the most recent British male winner of the London marathon, when he ran 2:10.50 to beat Mexican athlete Isidro Rico in 1993. Rob Denmark is another successful athlete to have emerged from the club, winning Commonwealth Games gold and European silver over 5000 in 1994 and placing seventh in the 1992 Olympics. Nick Wetheridge was AAA and UK Champion for the half marathon, representing Great Britain at the World Half Marathon Championships in Mexico in 2000. Martin, Denmark and Wetheridge are all still involved with the club today. Martin coached Wetheridge from club athlete to international and this success attracted other athletes from neighbouring clubs to join forces with him, such as 3:42 1500 man Neil Bangs, multiple Essex cross country and track champions Mark Sanford and Gareth Riddle. His most current protÃ©gÃ© is England Athletics under-23 1500 champion Gemma Kersey, who was part of the winning Junior Womenâ€™s team at the European Cross Country Championships in 2011. Following the death of Batty, who was also coaching Adam Hickey, Hickey has started training with Martin and is now rediscovering his best form. Other more recent internationals aside from Kersey to have come through the Basildon club are Kim Wall, who has represented Great Britain in the 400 and as part of the 4×400 relay team on numerous occasions and 2011 European under-23 1500 silver medallist James Shane (who now represents Newham and Essex Beagles, but still trains in Basildon with club coach Martin Brown). The club also boasts numerous English Schoolsâ€™ and National age group medallists in a range of events, with Tariq Martin (under-20 thrower), Kaylee Dodd (Twice English Schoolsâ€™ 800 champion) and Dale Clutterbuck (Twice English Schoolsâ€™ 1500 bronze medallist) names to watch out for.