Southampton AC ‘s British Men’s Athletics League team guaranteed Division 1 competition in a thrilling encounter at Bedford International Stadium on Saturday 7th July. In Athletics’ equivalent of the Big Bash at Bedford, every one of the 38 BAL teams representing 4 divisions competed on the same day.
It is a compelling format, with up to 80 athletes assembling for each series of track races, wall to wall competition with every inch of track, every runway and throws circle occupied practically all the time.
Despite key absences due to injury, the red and whites fielded their strongest team of the season featuring a smattering of international names. The traditional flying start for Southampton is the opening track event, the 400metres Hurdles. The ever-reliable pair of James Forman (52.58 sec) and Sean Adams (54.16 sec) pronounced themselves dissatisfied with their times on a gusty day but nevertheless notched up a brace of 2nd places behind an improved Liverpool. Adams demonstrated his versatility later in the match by turning in a 15.55 sec timing for 3rd in the B string 110 metres hurdles, following A string colleague Jack Major’s season’s best of 14.63 sec in the A string.
One of Southampton’s big guns, GB cross country international Alex Teuten, was on double duty for his club. Following a hard fought 2nd place to fellow international Harrow’s Phil Sesemann in the 3000m (8:20.46 min), ever-Professional Teuten oozed class when winning the 3K steeplechase (8:57.58 min) , turning round to greet colleague Max Costley crossing the line in 9:53.07 min and wrapping up B string victory.
The match had started very well for Southampton, traditionally slow starters and the team briefly held the lead early on. Mid- meeting, though, the challenge to whatever ambitions the men had harboured about sneaking a win or 2nd place materialised not just in the form of hitherto dominant division leaders Harrow but also Blackheath and Bromley who surged into the lead . The Kent club have benefitted from middle distance signings to complement their traditional strength in the speed events this year and this made them formidable foes on the day.
The High Jumpers found life uncharacteristically tough this time round with Adam Jones and Matt Watson, normally bankers for a top 2 placing finding their dual 1.90m efforts good enough only for 4th and 3rd respectively as Blackheath threatened to stretch away. New recruit Jeremiah Nampuma made his BAL long jump debut in 4th Place with 6.66m, narrowly fouling a 7 metres plus effort. He was supported by everywhere-man Bradley Eisnor as the decathlete jumped 6.15m for B string 5th. Eisnor also stiffened the Southampton effort in the triple jump (12.32m),Javelin (49.94m for 3rd in the B string) and Shot 11.08m).
There were flashes of real future promise from youngsters. BAL debutant 15 year old Callum Gregson handled a short notice call up brilliantly to bound out to a 12.00m triple Jump PB for B string 5th.
Southampton were by this time, in the dying hours of the match, lying in 4th place, some 30 points behind the leaders. Then, the heavy throwers set about the task of dismantling the opposition. Welsh International Patrick Swan punched the shot to 14.85m to miss out on a victory by just 3 centimetres. As the leaders wobbled, Swan winged the Discus out to 47.83 metres for a B string win. Better was to come. A string, GB and England International Chris Scott is edging his way back to his glory days of 60 metre plus throwing and here at Bedford took another step, a huge 5 metres clear of the competition in a season’s best of 57.13 seconds.
Supported by classy 400m win from national Under 23 champion Ben Claridge (47.66 sec) and Cypriot national medalist Alex Beechey (200m PB 21.45 sec) Southampton were by this time reeling in Harrow and Blackheath hand over fist; overhauling Sale, themselves in a desperate fight to avoid relegation.
The relay teams have been practically unbeatable this season and the 4 x 100m men Daniel Offiah, Oliver Bromby, Beechey and Eden Davis entered the final straight a couple of metres to the good, losing out in a desperate dip finish by 1/100th of a second to fast closing Harrow. The team still clocked their third best ever time, 41.68 sec.
By the time the 4 x 400 men went to their blocks, it was clear that the South Coast outfit were destined for third place in the match and were running only for pride.
Undaunted , Jack Higgins (50.8), Lynden Olowe (48.4), James Forman (48.3) and Claridge (47.6) stride to a magnificent 3:14.87 min victory, averaging over a second per athlete faster than runners-up Herne Hill.
At the final count, Blackheath Clung on to win the match with 329 points, 7 ahead of Harrow (322) with Southampton only four points further adrift in 3rd.
Team Manager Gary MacDonald Gray was in rueful but philosophical mood: “It really was a case of so near but so far. We improved drastically compared to the first two matches today but still found Blackheath just slightly out of reach again. We raised our game and so did they. Fair result on the day”
With one match to go at Liverpool on 4th August, Southampton are safely 3rd in the table, four match points behind Blackheath and 5 behind Harrow.
1 Blackheath 329
2 Harrow 322
3 Southampton 318
4 Sale 308
5. Liverpool 257
6. Kingston & Poly 239
7. Herne Hill 192
8. Windsor 180
League Division 1 after 3 matches.
1 Harrow 23
2 Blackheath 22
3 Southampton 18
4 Liverpool 12
5 Sale 11
6 Kingston & Poly 9
7 WSEH 9
8 Herne Hill 4
Report by Gary MacDonald Gray