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By Frank Horwill
Back in 1963 there was a lot of critisism of British Milers after they had been relegated to 5th place in the European rankings. Frank Horwill had a letter published in AW outlining plans for the formation of a specialist club to stop the miling decline and received 35 letters of support. Soon after, Alf Wilkins, a senior AAA coach and member of NUTS, asked Frank at an athletics meeting, “How many members do you have?” The reply was “You’re the first!”
Wilkins suggested having the first meeting in his accountancy office in London. Out of this the first members included John thresher (Later to become the Executive Director of Athletics Canada), Brian Boulton (Then Kent Mile champion), Wilf Paish (Later to become AAA’s national coach), Maureen Smith (Former WAAA Mile Champion and later SEAA President), Martin Wales (Later to become the police mile champion), Tony Elder, Alf Wilkins and Frank Horwill.
A steering committee was formed and the BMC’s constitution drawn up on one
based on one that NUTS were already using. The early decisions made were :
1) The club would be known as the British Milers Club.
2) Entry to the club would be by qualification. The standards of entry were set at
|Senior Men||4:20 / mile||Senior Women||5:20 / Mile|
|Junior Men||4:30 / mile|
|Youths||4:40 / mile|
|Boys||4:50 / mile|
In 1964, the BMC had its first request to stage a mile race in South Shields, where Derek Ibbotson would be running in the 2 miles event. That race was won in 4:04 by Neil Duggan of Sparkhill AC, who would later run a 3:56 mile in the USA. One of the early rules, which is still in place today, is that if you are accepted into a race then you must notify the organiser if you cannot honour that commitment. A very dim view was taken if the reason was to run at another venue, international races excepted. As a result, the BMC built up a reputation for reliability and requests to organise races began to pour in. Some became annual fixtures, like the white City Mile, the Brigg mile, the Upjohn mile. Many others were held in odd places such as at football matches and in the interval of county cricket matches at the Oval, and on two special occasions before the FA Cup Final at Wembley, where Dave Bedford and Juha Vaatainen (The European 10,000m champion) clashed.
In addition to these events the regional secretaries were getting organised. During this time the North West secretary, the late Eddie Powell, was anxious to rival the South’s preponderance for sub-four minute miles by getting a slot for BMC races in the monthly meetings at Stretford. One Wednesday night he phoned Frank Horwill to say “Walter Wilkinson broke four minutes tonight in Stretford. To which Frank replied “Well done, Eddie. We’ve just got four men under four minutes in the City mile. That means the BMC got five men under four in one evening.”
In 1969, Alf Wilkins reported that the NUTS had noticed a distinct raising of standards in the mile since the BMC’s formation. Things were on the right lines, and indeed in 1969, BMC member John Whetton won the European Championship 1500m.
Although it is commonplace now for the BMC to assist the A-race runners with travelling expenses, this has not always been the case. In 1970 the BMC could only offer expenses if it had the express permission of the governing body. How things have changed! Around that time the BMC discussed putting on a large mile race for women to be held at Leicester on 14th June 1969. The Dutch 1500m world record holder Maria Gommers was invited as well as the French, German, Czech and Italian champions. The rest of the field were from Wales, Scotland, England and Northern Ireland. Gommers broke the world mile record by a tenth of a second, the BMC’s first world record race.
As the late 1970’s saw the ascent of British miling, coach John Whetton was asked by an American journal what had made Britain such a superior middle-distance nation. Without a doubt in his mind he said “The British Milers Club – with its barrage of paced races”.
The great majority of Britain’s best middle distance runners are BMC members and there have been some notable references in autobiographies of BMC races. Brendan Foster mentioned that winning a BMC mile at West London gave him a chance to get into a trials race that he thought he had missed. Steve Ovett described his elation at breaking four minutes for the first time in the BMC organised Brigg Mile. Sebastian Coe never forgot going to Stretford aged 19 with a time of 1:52 for 800m and coming home with a PB of 1:47.7.
The 1980’s were a less successful time for the BMC, but with British athletes sweeping the board in the middle distance events our earlier hard work had proved to be worthwhile.
Into the 1990’s the BMC began to come to the prominence again with Mike Down organising a highly successful late season mini Grand Prix in the South West, which proved to be the fore runner of the current nationwide series. In 1995 a major decision was made to lower the entry standards for membership down to their current levels. This allowed many good quality club athletes to join and benefit from our races. Participation levels began to soar and the club realised it needed a firm direction for the way forward. This was provided by out “Vision 2000” document. This defined the current racing structure of a nationwide Grand Prix series of five international standard meetings and the hugely successful Millfield young athletes meeting. These would be supported through the very popular Stretford and Watford Gold standard meetings, and then down to the regional races. Off the back of this the club secured a major sponsorship deal with Nike which enables us to carry through this vision.
Currently times have never been so good for the BMC. The current Nike sponsored Grand Prix series is thriving. Entry to some of these events is so popular that we have to turn athletes away. With the linking of entries to the Power of Ten database athletes now cannot pretend to have run fast times, as these are automatically checked.
In 2016 the Grand Prix celebrated it’s 20th year and 100th meeting. The series produce seven UK Olympic qualifications and continues to evolve its format.