H.E. "Bert" Footer, 1904-1982
One name, first on the lips of many a stalwart when reminiscing about the 'old days' was Bert Footer: a man who ploughed a lonely furrow in the early days of our national cross country championship history but who went on to twice captain Belgrave Harriers to victory in the English Championship and to gain international honours.
Bert wasn't necessarily the best runner in our ranks throughout his career but sheer personality and toughness enabled him to lead Belgrave teams by example to success after success; woe betide any man who felt he could run ahead of the pack leader on a training run. Fellow internationals and 'also rans' in his teams loved him and looked up to him like an elder brother.
Born on 30 March 1904 to James and Annie Margaret Footer at Earlsfield, Herbert Edgar Footer spent his formative years in South London. His father James was an engineer in a laundry and originally hailed from Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk while his mother was a London lass.
Just coming up for his eighteenth birthday Bert became a Belgravian, his membership being accepted on 9 March 1922. Just over a year later, at the AGM of 1923, he stepped forward to become a Belgrave Committee member and it was obvious from the outset that his diminutive frame was packed full of toughness, club spirit and the desire to succeed. The cross country captain's role was taken on by Bert in 1932 and apart from a brief period when Tom Carter took the reins, he held this post until 1938 before picking it up again when war time had finished, in 1946.
Above: H.E. Footer, winner of the 45th Southern Counties C.C. Championship is chaired after the finish. The race was held at Chingford, Essex, on 25 February 1933.
" ... never beaten until the tape was broken ..."
Sheer hard work and determination saw Bert inexorably rise through the ranks of cross country runners in South of Thames, Southern Counties and English National fields.
Belgrave had not entered a team in the national cross country championships until 1920 and thereafter only completed a team twice in the decade that followed. In 1925 when the race was held at Hereford H.E. Footer was our sole representative, as he was again in 1927, but come the '30s and no Belgrave team (barring 1938) was complete without its inspirational Captain. The best ever Belgrave team place of 6th in 1930 became 3rd at Alderley Edge in 1933 and 3rd again in 1934 at Himley Park. On these medal-winning occasions Bert was 5th and 9th but each time headed by club-mate Arthur Penny who was just one place away from the individual medals. Then at glorious Beaconsfield in 1935 Belgrave became English National Cross Country champions with Bert Footer leading the team home. Team place medals followed in each successive year until in 1939 the Bels once again topped the pile. War-time hostilities put paid to both Bert's and Belgrave's national success until 1946 when it became apparent that the Bels had not lost the winning touch, heading the teams at Leamington Spa, although without their talisman Bert.
Along the way Bert had become South of the Thames Champion in 1930, 1933 Southern Counties Champion and Surrey County Champion in 1930, 1935 and 1937.
The English team benefitted from the presence of Bert Footer in the International Cross Country Championships of 1933 and 1934, England running out victors with Bert just out of the individual medals with 4th place on each occasion. In '33 at Caerleon Racecourse at Newport in Wales summer-like weather prevailed; there was a record crowd of spectators who in their eagerness to enter the ground, broke through the barriers; one of the English team suffered so much from the heat that he stripped off his vest during the race in defiance of the rules while others had not the strength to complete the course and were brought home by ambulance men. The '34 event was at Ayr Racecourse in Scotland where Bert wasn't even the first Belgravian home, 3rd individual place going to Arthur Penny just nine seconds ahead.
Bert's running talent was also unleashed on the roads and he was a key member of the club's winning London to Brighton Road Relay teams in 1934, 1935 and 1936. (Entry to this race was by invitation but it was the fore-runner of today’s National Road Relay.) In 1939 the prestigious Polytechnic Marathon received his attention. This event on the roads from Windsor to Chiswick saw eight world records during its time. Bert placed a promising 3rd in his long distance debut but further progress was halted by the outbreak of war, during which the indomitable Bert joined the Royal Marine Commandos.
Back to peacetime but now into his forties, Bert continued with his running and remained on hand for a while to advise and coach, but he eventually moved to Ramsgate in Kent where he ran a small business. Arthritis plagued him in his later years and the man of whom his great team-mate Arthur Penny later said: "He was never beaten until the tape was broken", passed away on St George's Day, 1982.
Census Returns of England and Wales, 1911. Kew, Surrey, England: The National Archives of the UK (TNA).
L.N. Richardson, Jubilee History of the International Cross Country Union 1903-1953.
ARM conversations with Charlie Jones, Arthur Penny, Tom Carter and Bert's daughter.
Belgrave Harriers Winter Fixtures cards.
The Belgravian, The Official Gazette of the Belgrave Harriers.
Left: In the 'thirties club life was far more than 'race and train together'. Here a Belgrave group take a long stroll together on a Sunday or Bank Holiday: left to right are H.E. Footer, ?, ?, L. Fletcher, A.A. Harley, W.H. Hare, ?, A.D. Pyer, W.A. Rice, ?