Alastair Aitken
Alastair Aitken
Alastair Aitken's
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Alan Perkins (June 2016)

Alan Perkins is not a name known much at all, outside of the older athletic fraternity in Essex.
Perhaps a possible reason is because of his family connections. His first wife Phyllis Perkins (Phyllis Green before that) competed in the 1960 Olympics, European and Commonwealth Games and, even held the World record for 3000m of 10:55.2 back on the 27th of October 1956.
His brother David had a daughter, Jackie Perkins, who won the Australian Championships over 3000m in 1985, 86, & 88. In the latter she competed in the Olympics and held several Australian records.
      What then made me feel like going to his house near Rochford, in the depths of Essex, to interview the sprightly, 86 year old...?
Very few know that Alan Perkins achieved a lot. One of those successes was winning the National Senior cross country at Birkenhead in 1958.
Here I would like to introduce Eric Shirley, who Alan beat in the 1957 North of Thames cross country senior championships, at Grange Farm. Shirley was AAA’s steeplechase Champion in 1956, 1958, and 1960 and was an Olympic finalist in 1956. What then did Shirley prize as his biggest achievement in his races in his career in the 1950’s & 60’s “My best race was the ‘National’ when I came sixteenth of 1500 odd runners because, everyone was there. They would cut your legs off to get a place in front of you. Everyone ran that Pirie, Norris, all the hard men up north and marathon man Jim Peters was there. I never got the representation for the England team selected from the ‘National’, that was’ how hard it was in those days. “

The National cross country at Arrowe Parka, Birkenhead 1958 over 9 miles First eight:- 1 Alan Perkins (Ilford AC) 48.51; 2 Frank Sando (Aylesford Paper Mills, who won in 1957) 48.56; 3 Mick Firth of the winning South London Harriers team 49.02; 4 Bas Heatley (Coventry Godiva, who won in 1960-61 & 63) 49.02; 5 John Merriman (Watford Harriers) 39:05, 6 Mike Maynard (HHH) 49.18 and 6 Peter Driver (SLH), the Commonwealth Games 6 mile Champion in 1954.
To back up Shirley’s earlier comment in this article, there were some well known names further down the field like 17th Martin Hyman of Portsmouth AC; 19 Gordon Pirie (SLH); and 30 Ken Norris (TVH).

In comes Alan with his thoughts on the three lap race. ”I dropped back to around fifteenth on the second lap of the three, as I struggled then, started to move up and gain places. In the front were a little group of Bas Heatley, Mick Firth, Frank Sando and Fred Norris. Mick suddenly went into the lead. I thought ‘I can beat him’ but, I never had a wonderful finish but, I always thought I could beat Mick in the finish. Mick Firth opened a gap and so, I went after him expecting to be overtaken by Frank Sando. All of a sudden there was the finish and I was there and, Frank overtook Mick and I was about five seconds ahead at the finish. I never expected to beat Frank Sando, a I held him in such high regard.”

The main type of training Alan Perkins did for the ‘National’ which was not on more than 40 miles a week was, to run hard for 600 or 700 yards on a pathway and, turn round and, after few seconds belt back. I would do that about 20 times and I would also do three quarter mile efforts with about a 40 or 50 yards rest and then run back in similar fashion.

Alan Perkins made the England team scoring in the ‘International’ five times. The event was the forerunner of the IAAF World cross country Championships first held in 1973.
The year before his best International run, he was second in the Inter-Counties Senior race behind Ken Norris, the Olympian, from Thames Valley Harriers but ahead of Mick Firth and Derek Ibbotson, the World Mile record holder of 1957. In the International cross-country Championships, his best position, in the ‘dominant’ England team was, at Cardiff when he was fourth in 1958 (1.Stan Eldon (England) 48:29; 2 Alain Mimoun, the Olympic Marathon Champion of 1956 & silver over 5 & 10k in 1952; 3 Frank Sando (England and superb on the track & country) 46:33; and Alan Perkins (England) 46:33.).
It had been in 1957 Alan Perkins had a representative vest for England in a match between France, Belgium & Denmark and he was second to Alain Mimoun. Also that year Alan was second, in what he thought was easily one of his best races he had. It was against Antonio Amoros the Spanish Champion. It was in a cross-country at San Sebastian. He comes in “It was on a racecourse and the President said ‘You start here, run down the straight and, it is 4 laps.’
‘On the 4th lap into the orchard and, coming back onto the race course I was with the Spaniard and thought, this is it, I have got to go for a big effort for the last 600 yards and had built up a 20 metre lead on him, in what I thought was the final lap. The announcement came across ‘Well done Perkins, one more lap to go.’ I thought No! No! I slowed and, the Spaniard went past me and a French guy. Although I did have good powers of recovery in those days, I had given it everything. I did manage to overtake the French guy and was second. I must admit that I thought, at the back of my mind that they may have wanted a Spanish winner!
However, they insisted I come back, which I did three times and, on the last occasion Emil Zatopek was in he field and he gave me the great honour of regarding me as a threat. In fact he won and I was fourth.”

Although, not really considered as a very good a track runner, as he was at cross country, he was third in the AAA’s 6 mile and asked to represent GB against USSR at the White City in August 1957 but, he had a heavy cold amongst other problems. He did not feature after six laps. George Knight, another Essex runner, split the Russians Vladimir Kuts and Zhukov (Two aside).
Alan Perkins remembers beating the American Olympian, Buddy Edelen abroad when winning a 10,000. In the first World Games in Helsinki he won a 10,000 but the event is not to be confused with the IAAF World Championships which began in earnest in the early 1980’s.
Alan Perkins track times on the old cinders or metric equivalents were 3:53.7 1500/ 8:15.6 3000/14:05.2 5000/29:30.8/10,000.

How did life begin for Alan Perkins, born on 23rd of September 1929. First of all he was brought up in Forest Gate and was evacuated to Helmingham Hall, Suffolk, three weeks before his 10th birthday. That was with his younger brother David with twin sister Dorothy. His Father visited him once a month but his mother had already died. After that Alan Perkins was evacuated to Aberdare in Wales for 2 or 3 years, before coming back and studying at Ilford County High school. It was not till he was in the Army, as a 19 year old, that he decided to take up athletics as a sport. The reason was he saw a photo of Bill Nankeville, ‘the stylish, three times AAA’s mile Champion, winning at the White City stadium, mud spattered. That picture inspired him to take up running seriously as his sport ‘That is what I want to do.’ He said after seeing that.

When he had gone into his National service in the Army, he had been an articled clerk to a chartered accountant, where he was earning £1 a week which increased to £2 a week in the Army. He was in the Royal Signals. They had a sports day and, with only one work out the the day before at all, he ran in an 880 yards and surprised himself, winning in a modest 2:29 but, it must have given him a little confidence, when he did decide to take athletics seriously.

It was after that when he was working at GEC in Holborn he was told by a Finchley Harrier athletics coach, Johnny Hovel, who was also working at GEC that he should join an athletics club and stop smoking. He had been smoking 20 cigarettes a day but stopped immediately. He joined Ilford AC in 1950. He never looked back after that. He went on to work at Lower Regent Street in an Advertising Agency for eight years but, said he got a social conscience and decided to join the Probation Service and he did that full time for 32 years.

He had two children with his second wife Nola, who unfortunately died of cancer, shortly after their 25th Anniversary. Later he met Christine, his current wife, whose husband died of cancer. They have been together for 20 years now.
Besides having 13 grand children between them, which keeps him busy, he joined the Ramblers, which goes out walking on a Monday and a Wednesday. He also belongs to the Essex Wild Life Trust.
Two of his Grandsons play rugby for Essex. Billy Perkins (For under 16’s) and George Barnes (Under 18’s).

Alan Perkins felt he wanted to put something back into the sport after he retired from racing at a high level. He started a jogging/running club called Castle Point Joggers and, he was helped by Andy Green of Hadleigh Olympiads and ex-international and Stan Cox from Woodford Green. The club have just had their 40th Anniversary which they all attended.

Alastair Aitken

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