The birth and administration of the County Association
by Reg Hook
The Sussex County Amateur Athletic Association was formed in 1924 but athletics existed in Sussex well before that date and was administered directly by the Southern Committee of the Amateur Athletic Association.
There was a Sussex committee to administer championship events that, I believe, were held on an ad hoc basis at various venues around the County.
Much of the competition and administration was based in the Brighton area, and it was John (Jack) Hook, aged 23, Treasurer of the Brighton & County Harriers and a member of the Sussex committee, who took over as Secretary of the committee set up to create the Sussex County A.A.A. When the County Association was established in 1924 he stepped aside to concentrate on club administration and it was S.C. (Charlie) Miller who became the County Association’s first Secretary in July 1924. J.J. (Joe) Ellis became the first Chairman but, as was the case with such bodies at that time, a local dignitary was sought to become President.
E.J. (Ernie) Henley, a 4 x 400 metre relay bronze medallist from the 1912 Stockholm Olympic Games, became an active member of the committee and was later to take on the post of Assistant Secretary and frequently act as chairman. He was also the Official County Announcer at championships throughout the thirties, and right up until the championships transferred to the Hove Stadium in 1949, when Mrs. Mary Webb took over the mantle.
Within one year of their formation, the County were called upon to host and organise a major International match between England and France in Preston Park. At this match local runner Arthur Muggeridge beat the highly fancied French runner to win the 5,000 metres, a victory he repeated a few weeks later in Paris. Arthur, who finished fifth in the 10,000 metres in the 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam, later became a member of the Sussex A.A.A. Executive.
H.R. (Bert) Baker was one of the prime movers in the early days and chairman of the committee for most of the thirties and through till 1949, when Vic Bratley became the Chairman. Bert was the Headmaster of the Stanford Road School in Brighton and was a tall, distinguished gentleman. He was also involved in the formation of the Sussex Schools Athletic Association and he ran the Brighton Schools championships from the 1920s right through to 1950. He was also active in local football. Bert’s daughter, Evelyn, was to become a leading light as an athlete, coach and official in the County.
Although in the early years championships were allocated to various venues, including Haywards Heath A.C. and Littlehampton A.C., from the thirties the track and field championships were held at Preston Park in Brighton, while the senior cross-county championships alternated between Horsham and Brighton.
The real development of the County Association came in the years around the Second World War when Vic Bratley (Sussex Walking and Athletic Club) and Dickie Webb (Brighton & County Harriers) steered the transition from a loose association of Sussex Clubs into an Association that was charged with the control of athletics within the County of Sussex.
During the war years Dickie was in the R.A.F but Vic, as a skilled carpenter, was in a protected trade and was able to keep the Association alive with the nominal help of George Hogsflesh, who was also the Assistant Secretary, which was a salaried administrative post of the A.A.As, who had moved to Worthing.
Vic turned to teaching after the War, and it was Dickie Webb who took over the organisation of the County for a couple of years. In those days the County Secretary also dealt with Championships so it was a major job although, as it was restricted to senior men, juniors and youths.
Vic Bratley was elected to the Executive Committee in 1932 and Dick Webb while a few years later Vic took over the Secretaryship from H.C.Evans in 1935 and to all intents and purposes was the County Secretary from 1935 right through until 1946. Dick Webb took over for a couple of years when Vic was at Bognor studying to enter the teaching profession, and F.Russell-Clifton held the post in 48/49.
When Russell-Clifton had to stand down, Vic took over the Secretary’s post in 1950, and filled that position for another four years before W.A.D. (Bill) Ranger, the father of cross-country international and twice county senior cross-country champion Pat Ranger, took the post for four years.
There was however no back seat for Vic. He became Coaching Secretary and continued to drive the development of the Sussex Schools Athletic Association, acting as secretary and team manager of that body until 1958, as well as standing in as Secretary of the Brighton & Hove Club for one year. Vic was to remain the Coaching Secretary, which was only a small part of his continued involvement athletics, until he died, much too soon, in 1968 in a tragic road crash.
Reg Hook, who was the son of Jack; the formation secretary back in 1923/4, took over the secretaryship from Bill Ranger in 1958. At 24 he was the youngest secretary of the Association although he was one year older than his father when he guided the then Sussex Committee thirty five years earlier. Reg’s background in the sport was as a coach and a statistician and it was not just coincidence that in 1958 the County agreed to publish the second and third placed times and performances in County championships. Reg was to hold the Secretary’s post until 1967 when he stepped down to take the secretaryship of the newly merged Brighton & Hove Athletic Club.
Ray Stroud became the Secretary in 1967 and stayed in post until 1970 when moved on to become the Hon Treasurer of the A.A.As.
Dick Webb, a former County sprint champion was to become Chairman of the Association in 1950 and held that post for more than 25 years. Dick was for many years one of the countries leading track referees and frequently took the major meetings, National Championships and International matches at the White City Stadium.
To be continued.