Top Teams featuring the Borders’ best

Several seasons of consistency and success by young athletes from Team Borders has been celebrated in a special reception at Galashiels Academy last Friday.

Monday, 10th February 2020, 9:25 am
Girls' team captain with Team Borders, Samantha Dagg, and boys' team captain David Cathcart, collected the Overall League trophy from Scottish Borders Council vice-convenor Councillor Tom Weatherston (picture by Neil Renton)

The area’s athletic squad has won the Forth Valley League for five years in succession – highlighting the spirit of unity between the very distinct running clubs which exist across the Scottish Borders.

And the ability to translate that into sporting acclaim and prestige for the area was symbolised by the presentation of certificates to young athletes in several age groups.

Councillors Tom Weatherston, vice-convener of Scottish Borders Council, and Euan Jardine, executive member for culture and sport – and himself a former international hill runner – made the presentations, along with Ewan Jackson, chief executive of the charity Live Borders, which has worked closely with Team Borders over the years of its development.

Cllr Weatherston noted the success and accomplishments of Team Borders, in a relatively short timeframe, had helped raise the profile of the Scottish Borders as a place where athletics could flourish.

“To win the Forth Valley League for five consecutive years is an amazing achievement,” he said. “But I know from speaking to some of those involved with the team that it is not all about winning, and that much pleasure is obtained from seeing the young athletes trying their very best, not just for themselves, but for the overall team effort.

“The Borders has a history of producing top athletes – Olympians such as Rosemary Payne, Robert Burton, Mike Lindsay and, more recently, Chris O’Hare.

“And world class runners like John Robson, who battled with (Steve) Ovett, (Sebastian) Coe and (Steve) Cram during the golden age of British middle-distance running, and current Commonwealth finalist, Guy Learmonth, who many of you will have seen training at Tweedbank.

“Who knows – maybe the Borders’ next Olympic athlete is here with us this evening?”

Team Borders co-ordinator Gregor Nicholson reflected on the group’s history, from its formation in 2011 by the Scottish Borders Athletics Development Group.

This comprised representatives from each of the Borders clubs – Chirnside Chasers, Gala Harriers, Lauderdale Limpers, Moorfoot Runners, Teviotdale Harriers and TLJT.

“In formulating a development plan, we considered what competition opportunities were available for juniors and the fact none of the clubs had a big enough junior section for regular team competition,” said Mr Nicholson.

“We could each manage the occasional complete team for an age group in the East (cross country)XC League, but not regularly, nor for all age groups.

“So the idea of a composite Borders team was explored and both the East XC League and the Forth Valley League were open to the idea.

“We entered the Forth Valley League for the first time in 2012 and won the Division 2 league title to gain automatic promotion to Division 1.”

After describing Team Borders’ triumphs over the next few seasons, Mr Nicholson acknowledged the two main organisers of the league, the husband and wife team of Mark MacLauchlan and Angela Marshall, who were stepping down from their roles.

They were often not that visible on the day, he said, as they were somewhere in the stadium, sorting and printing event sheets for the officials and collating results as they came in. Over the years, they put in an immense amount of work to run the league.

Mr Nicholson also paid tribute to Angela’s father, Kenny Marshall, the Forth Valley League president, who died in December.

Worthy of a mention too were those who had assisted with team management this season at matches, helping with kit issue, making sure athletes got to their events and helping with relay practices.

Thanks were extended to Neil Renton, Gerry Moss, Pam Spink, Leeann Ross, Dan Cathcart, Scott McWhinnie and Jill Paterson – and also to the event helpers at matches, who volunteered and often bore the brunt of nasty weather, and without whom the team would be penalised points.

Also praised were the coaches and parents who helped get the athletes ready and prepared for their competitions.

Live Borders had invested heavily in the regional athletics squad and its Active Communities manager, Graeme Murdoch, praised the team spirit.

“Live Borders has been involved in athletics development for well over 10 years and athletics has been a target sport identified in the region for investment,” he said. “We have put that financial investment predominantly in the past into grass-roots athletics and the development of youngsters coming in to the sport.”

Mr Murdoch echoed the awareness of low numbers in the early years and added: “We are delighted to be able to invest in the concept that was Team Borders and to have witnessed over the years just how far it has come.”

He added: “I think there are probably a few adults in this room who know fine well that town rivalries, sporting tradition, and probably a little bit of stubbornness, to be honest, has very often got in the way of a Borders sports team forming and coming together.

“I think it is testament to the perseverance of Gregor Nicholson, Neil Renton and the Athletics Development Group, way back then, that they stuck with it and saw the long-term future for the sport and the opportunities Team Borders would actually provide. I think you guys are proof of that tenacity and dedication that has been there.”

Mr Murdoch reckoned Team Borders had given all the individual Borders athletics clubs an additional motivation to train harder, to work harder and to aspire but also given the young people within those clubs a pathway at the end of it, within the Borders, to aspire to represent Team Borders. “That has been an absolutely fantastic achievement,” he said. Different club members socialising together and chatting was just as important as the sporting achievement itself, said Mr Murdoch, adding: “It really is vitally important.” Coaches and parents too were thanked on behalf of Live Borders for conveying the athletes to the events, while there was a huge amount that went on behind the scenes on a weekly basis.

Mr Murdoch said he had run at many venues with Gala Harriers and the adults received a huge boost from seeing the juniors motivate each other and being motivated by the younger runners themselves.

He said it was “a reciprocal arrangement” and added: “It continues to be Live Borders’ pleasure to continue to support Team Borders and I hope we can be in a position to be able to do that in the future. Our sponsorship of the vests again is testament that we really do believe in what Team Borders has achieved. “We are starting conversations this week about the next three years of investment and making sure there is a strong partnership for athletics development in the Borders.”