Winter, and the NEHL committee battled the Hydra to keep the cross country season alive. Alas, each time they solved one problem, another 3 developed pushing the season into March and possibly beyond. The NEHL finally resumed at Lambton Castle estates after a 3-month gap.

By some diligence, the NEHL committee has over recent years found new courses for the league whose popularity has outpaced a number of the standard-bearers, like Prudhoe and Farringdon. Lambton was the latest. The Lambton estate and their Lords have a colourful history. Including association with the Lambton worm legend, immortalised in a film where the lead was a posh, young, foppish squire. A task that well suited Hugh Grant’s experiences. More recently the 80s saw the estate as home to a pride of lions swapping the Serengeti savanna plains for Wearside woodlands. Out of Africa and Into Chester le Street.

The NEHL was to be another phase in that history as legends were exchanged for legs and lions for lycra.

A new course is always a treat. You never know what is around the corner – and the first one came up very smartish by the castle wall about 300 m from the start with major congestion, series of handbrake turns, minor collisions and some wags declaring it corona corner. The course had a fair few highlights including a lengthy twisty, woodland section with random felled and drooping trees casting their lines. This was a bog slog for the xc purists. There just aren’t enough woodland stretches on xc courses – although one of the best still has to be the National XC Relays Champs course at Mansfield. Vicki Thompson’s fine illustration of the course is attached.

The interlude had seen seismic changes in the ladies team at the Poly lair. It was only yesterday that the Club finally fell to the march of history and created the role of a ladies captain. In no time at all the ladies have chewed their way through to 3 of them. They’ve tried various personality types with Lucy Robinson – the fair one, Jenny Simpson – the blonde and now the flaxen-haired Alison Smith. A chance must surely arrive for the Polybrunettes to break this glass ceiling; although there do remain other shades as options. For now, they have to bide their time but a new role for one, Helen Heaney, has been carved out as a vice-captain. It’s not clear how this will work although there have been some notably successful female duos from history such as Cagney and Lacey, French and Saunders and Thelma and Louise.

Some will be forgiven for thinking the club has never had a vice-captain and the females have come up with a fine new strategy based on some Scandi style cooperation system and hygge. Let them believe that but it is not so. During the long reign of the peerless Hemy, there was always a VC (known as the VC ) lurking in the background proffering quiet advice about whether that decision (order?) of Hemy’s ‘ was wise’ or ‘are you certain ‘. It was certainly never wise to question Hemy’s tactics and bar the VC few had the bravery or temerity to do so. As with ‘Master and Commander’, the VC played the part of Maturin the academic, cello playing biologist to the blunt, decisive Captain Jack Aubrey. Will the Smith – Heaney duo succeed in grasping victory from the jaws of defeat as was so often the case with the guile of Master and Commander Hemy? Or will it end like Thelma and Louise with our new heroines driving the team off a cliff? Time will surely tell – and there are cliffs at Tynemouth.

As it is both senior teams faced some peril; thankfully not from any lions but certainly cliffs. The ladies were standing 8th going into the fixture but were as near the top as the bottom points-wise; but still too close to the edge. The bacon was saved. Thirteen threw themselves to the lions and Alison Smith prowled from fast pack to lead the pride home. Other scorers were Michelle Thomson, Clare Adams (a new name) Helen Heaney taking the lion’s share. Well done to all those who have clocked up all 4 races this season and will now be in the running at the annual awards. Michelle Thomson is one of the set of 4 and also ran in the 3 – N championship trio at North-Easterns, Northerns and Nationals. There was a cameo appearance today from Lita Gill (where’s Fraser ? ). There may well have been some debs amongst the squad with Amy Auld and Jayne Guy ( nice short names) so keep those ones coming.

It was comfortable enough to maintain another year in division 1. They will certainly need more legs when the season resumes to claw their way back to the upper end of the division where they have been for a fair few years now. TBH were overall winners.

On the mens’ side, we were well over the precipice now and almost a guaranteed return to Division 2 as the NEHL’s yo-yo club. Our numbers were lightish at 11 though the overall numbers for the race held up pretty well from Alnwick with about 300 plus runners. Capt Jon Heaney (whose name is close enough to Hemy for hardly anyone to notice the seamless change) was comfortably our strongest runner today padding his way through the packs to 40 and our main points scorer. With rare appearances from 49th placed Phil Coulson (long injury ) and Jimmy Anderson (who normally grinds out 60 miles on the bike before hitting the start line) we had a few sharp end runners. It was not quite enough despite getting all scorers home inside 205 with Messrs Venner, Hanley and Kingston backing up. Well done to Matthew Kingston on debut and a final counter. Ultimately however the team came in 8th place which was sadly not enough to sustain life in Division 1. Sunderland Harriers were the overall winners.

Dan Venner

Turning to the juniors, Mel Carr had brought along his enthusiastic young pride of lions and lionesses to keep the scores ticking over. That other xc mainstay, Lee Morgan, has been a constant for the entire season but had other fish to fry today.

The teams were rewarded as thanks to a good turnout from U 13 boys ( Daniel Watson, Arran Head Jonny Gaukrodger, Hamish Dotchin), the season finished with a trophy as 1st U13 Boys team. A great achievement and a first for the Club in this section for many a long year (if ever). It has been a fine season for the juniors with some fine individual performances and very high turnouts across many race categories. The U15 girls finished in 3rd position overall having been favourably placed going into Lambton but we were short of legs on the day.

There are no trophies for the under 11s. If there were then we’d be well placed for it. The U 11 boys and girls had enough runners to close out teams with (for boys) Charlie Furness 4th and Brody Richardson, Gabriel Venner, Alex Box and James Sturman packing the midfield. U11 girls matched it with Lily McColl 4th, backed with Poppy Coleman (a familiar surname), Eilidh Dotchin and Jessie Richardson.

And so to the cakes. It fell only to Helen Heaney to maintain this tradition with marshmallow squares to remind some of what the xc was all about. Phil Coulson happily devoured several to make up for the times (and races) he’s missed out on.

One incident of note was John Tollit’s Daktari minibus that got well bogged down in the mud but with some heavy hands including from some of our team, the beleaguered Badger was soon shifted. A similar incident in the 80s would have found a fretful Badger still there with diminishing supplies of food and toilet rolls with circling hungry lions eyeing up dinner.

Shortly after the Lambton results came in, the restrictions due to COVID 19 led to the cancellation of the remainder of the season. Not even the NEHL committee could find an immediate solution to an invisible virus. So we will say goodbye and thank them for all their hard work again. So an unusual season that came in like a lion went out like a Lambton – but sure as the sun rises the next season will appear.

With thanks to all the NEHL and the various clubs that organised this event as well as to Lambton estates. Hopefully, we’ll be allowed back as we are probably easier to control than the lions. Photo credits and thanks to Stuart Whitman and Phil Lingwood. Vicki Thompson for the illustration. Many more photos of our athletes should show up on the blog in due course.

Results here:

Meantime work continues apace on the script for the movie ‘ A History of Mr Poly’ with Russell Crowe set for the leading role as Hemy. (Hugh Grant’s method relied on his school cross country on a horse and was deemed insufficient. He’s also not posh enough ) .But who will play the new female duo? Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis? Luckily, Hinge and Bracket are almost certainly out of the running for that now.