Super Saturday


There is a real buzz developing now around Stoke-on-Trent’s European City of Sport year, and increasingly too about the Sporting Stories project we’re working on. And the emerging schools project is booting up nicely as well: I’m in the middle of a series of meetings with the PE, English and Literacy leads at primary and secondary schools across Stoke on Trent, as well as firing up a range of partners and collaborations around the project.

Catching up with sporting events at weekends mean this really is a seven-day a week job – no surprises there, that was always going to be the reality of establishing the company – fun and challenging in equal measure.

The last Saturday in January, a couple of weeks ago, is a really good case in point. It started with a spot of marshalling at the Hanley parkrun – the parkrun being as inspirational as ever. Being a volunteer or marshal at any sporting event is fantastically rewarding – you get to see the whole event at close quarters and engage with far more people participating in the event than you might do as a simple participant yourself, and with the parkrun there’s the added fun of cheering on the oldies, the littlies, the buggy-pushers, the dogs (and their owners) and especially those determined to get around even if it means walking the whole distance. Great stuff.

After a post-run coffee with the other volunteers and lots of enthusiastic runners – and plotting which future races to add to the diary – it was off to CBP’s Hanley office to catch up on some writing and admin, before heading off early pm to watch Longton RFC play Bromsgrove in the local league.

A great game, and close for most of the match with plenty of end-to-end stuff and some cracking tries, but unfortunately the wheels came off Longton’s challenge in the last quarter, with Bromsgrove eventually running in as 37-20 winners. I have to say it was the coldest I have been for a long time. The club ground is at the top of the same high ground as Stoke’s Britannia Stadium, with far-reaching views but nowhere to hide from a bitterly cold wind. Half time in Longton’s excellent clubhouse was a blessed relief!

Time for a bite to eat, then at 6.30 pm on to the main event of the day: the opening ceremony for the European City of Sport 2016, at the city’s Northwood Stadium. The VIP marquee was packed, with plenty of sporting stars – local, national and international – in the crowd. Jonathan Edwards, Colin Jackson and Amy Williams were some of the most recognisable, although Gordon Banks and a host of other greats might dispute that…

At one point in the evening I found myself chatting in rapid succession to the captain of England’s U23 Netball team; a former Lord Mayor (Tom Brennan, who had the drive and inspiration to get Northwood Stadium built for the City); and then the deputy chief executive of the local Chamber of Commerce, who surprised me by admitting to be a kung fu expert. Handy in negotiations I imagine.

The ceremony itself was as packed full of sports people as you might imagine – from a spectating perspective I can now tick off dance, gymnastics, bmx biking, wheelchair basketball, pole vault, American football – the list goes on and on. 3,000 local people packed the stands, despite the bitter cold, with plenty of families adding to the atmosphere. It was a great event, closing with a stunning fireworks display.

And then finally – yes, the day wasn’t finished yet – on to Abbey Hulton, just up the road from Northwood, to Abbey Hulton Sports and Social Club, to catch the 30th anniversary celebrations of Hulton Abbey Amateur Boxing Club. The party was in full swing when I got there at around 10.00pm, and I had a wonderful conversation with two of the longest-standing coaches, with brilliant memories of fights and fighters over the last 30 years. And so to home, after what was definitely a Super Saturday!