During 1982 Graeme Nicholson moved north from Surrey where he had been actively involved with Epsom and Ewell Harriers for 4 years as a Club coach and prior to that between 1972-78 with Lincoln Wellington AC for 6 years. His son and two daughters have all been involved in athletics. During those early years his coaching mentor was the late Wilf Paish, a small man with a big heart whose enthusiasm for the sport set many an individual on their coaching careers.

At an inaugural meeting on the 8th February the Club application for affiliation to the Northern Counties AA in April 1982 was accepted. The 3rd Lord Zetland  agreed to be President and was content for their family name to be included in the  Club’s name.
A basic constitution which had been drawn up for scrutiny by the then governing body was accepted. Founder members included Shaun Purkiss, Gerry Atkinson and Bob Pocklington.
 After moving north and as there appeared to be no athletics club in the Northallerton area Graeme, travelled to Thirsk during the winter of 82-83 where there was a club, but at the end of the winter he reluctantly decided to “retire” from coaching there, as it was like a creche and none of the older junior members would turn out to compete. Early in 1983 whilst at Richmond swimming pool he saw a notice on their board asking if anyone would be interested in coaching athletes at Richmond to which he responded. A meeting was convened which was held in the Zetland Christian Community Centre in Richmond where he met Shaun Purkiss and Gerry Atkinson. It became apparent that the main interest in the area was road running, that there were no junior members and that track and field athletics had not been considered. It was agreed that as there was no club in the area which catered for junior members or for track and field, the Club should see if there was any interest locally.

In September 1983 Fiona Wilson (nee Atkinson) joined as a 13 year old and with Club coach Graeme she ploughed a lonely furrow during the winter doing the cross country circuit, competing in various open races, and the Yorkshire and Northern championships. Her persistence paid off because the following summer several more juniors and seniors applied for membership and as numbers grew it became obvious that  a formal club structure was needed, coupled with the possibility of applying for membership of various summer and winter leagues. Among the original group of juniors was Ken Harker who along with Fiona continues to play a big part in the Club’s life in various guises. Unfortunately members come and members go but Shaun Purkiss as a founder member is still very much involved. 
It soon became apparent that a Club badge was needed so those with artistic tendencies were asked to submit a design for consideration and ultimately the winning format was attributed to a junior member of the day, Adam Pritchard, with the stickman athlete incorporating the R and Z in the design with Richmond Castle.

At the same time Graeme’s daughter Helen who was a member in the 80s stitched a large red club banner with the Club’s name on it in white letters. This was taken to matches and in fact was taken to the European championships in Split by Shaun Purkiss and Ken Harker in 1990, and was seen frequently on TV during the coverage of the games with the result that several local athletics fans complained that it proved to be a distraction as they kept looking for the banner rather than concentrating on the event. It can still be viewed on YouTube in the recording of the women’s 3000m race won by Yvonne Murray. Regrettably the banner “vanished” a few years later never to be seen again.

Unlike now, early on in the Club’s history there were separate leagues for male and female athletes including the National cross country championships which involved extra travelling for clubs and more personnel in the shape of team managers etc.

It wasn’t long before there was a good nucleus of junior male and female athletes as well as seniors. This increase in numbers necessitated appointing a membership secretary and this role was filled by Graeme’s wife Wendy, a job she did for several years. Because of the separation of males and females in the league structures of the day, team management of the males fell to Geoff Evans and Dave Pritchard ably assisted by parents, whilst Graeme Nicholson looked after the female section. It soon became apparent that for the track and field leagues in particular the Club was required to provide officials/helpers in order that the meetings could proceed smoothly. As a result Wendy Nicholson, Heather and Bill Atkinson and Graham Purvis attended courses so that they could be graded in their particular disciplines. These courses were often combined with athlete clinics at the Gateshead stadium so that the trip was beneficial for both athlete and trainee official. The provision of graded officials at matches involving the Club also meant that the Club wasn’t penalised. In addition to the graded officials the Club was fortunate that many parents were willing to assist.

 In view of the Club’s development an updated  Constitution was needed and using two from other established clubs this was drawn up and adopted as the basis for the management of the Club.

Good relations with the Ministry of Defence were established so that the Club could use the track facility in Catterick Garrison which at the time was a red gras surface with a rugby pitch in the middle grassed area. Although the grassed area had good drainage the track after a wet winter had the consistency of porridge which resulted in deep foot prints on the surface which became extremely hazardous after a hard frost. Until a new all weather facility was built in the York area the track at Catterick Garrison was the only one in North Yorkshire which at the time was one of three Counties in England which did not have a good quality all weather facility. Upgrading of the facility to an all- weather track was completed in 1997 and its use by the club is a major item of annual expenditure. Throughout the 80s and 90s in addition to Tuesday and Thursday training sessions, there was also a session on Sunday mornings when athletes met at different prearranged venues such as Richmond pool, Easby Abbey and Kiplin Hall and for several years an indoor session was also held in Bedale School on Monday evenings. These Sunday morning sessions meant that athletes could be seen in daylight so that running technique could be corrected as necessary and at particular venues were traffic free although not dog free. The venues at Easby Abbey and Kiplin Hall also matched the sort of terrain experienced at cross country events. Various routes around Catterick Garrison and Richmond were measured by car so that these could be used on training nights having been assessed from a safety point of view.  A car/driver followed athlete groups as often as possible in case of injury and to sweep up stragglers as necessary. Over the years the volume of traffic in the Garrison has increased considerably  so making sure that athletes are visible on dark nights by wearing luminous bibs is essential. 

Affiliation to the various leagues for both cross country in winter and track and field in summer soon gave the athletes their opportunity to make their presence felt. In the first years the boys team gained promotion from an area league into Division 1 which they also won the following year and then progressed  into the Premier Division of the North of England. The Club was fortunate in having a group of keen parents such as Geoff Evans, Dave Pritchard and Graham Purvis who not only became involved with coaching but also team management and officiating. The female team started in Division 10 of the Northern Womens track and field league and in successive years were promoted to 9, to 8, to 7 to 6 to 5 then back to 6 and back up to 5. After that the organisation and structure of the leagues changed with the emphasis being on regionalisation. Again the Club was fortunate to have a nucleus of individuals such as Heather and Bill Atkinson as officials and Wendy Nicholson who in addition to officiating also served as a Divisional secretary for several years.

Over the years sponsors for the male track and field leagues included Dunlop, Girobank, Woolworths and McDonalds
In addition to the male and female leagues for cross country and track and field the club participated in other meetings such as the annual Barton and Skipton cross country events, road races at Scarborough, Elswick and Gateshead, and track meetings at Middlesborough, Wakefield, Carlisle and Gateshead. The senior mens team soon made its mark in the NYSD cross country league with stalwarts such as Shaun, Pete Golding, Mark Fayers, Chris Peacock, Brian Dupree, Nick Preston, Trevor Mortlock and others making other long established clubs take note of their talent.
The Club has always had representatives competing in the annual London marathon which saw Ian Hepworth flying the flag on numerous occasions and Great North Run events.
Building and maintaining an active senior club in the area which is involved in road running, track and field and cross country is always going to be difficult and although there is a large military garrison on the door step as a source of new members, their population changes on a regular basis either because of active service or transfers to other areas. Additionally many young athletes leave the area to either go to university or pursue a career so it is important to maintain some continuity, experience and knowledge of the sport with seniors such as Fiona, Ken, Shaun and others who are likely to remain in the area. 

Coaching courses organised by the governing body became the norm for those who wanted to become involved with coaching and initially the old British Amateur Athletic Board (BAAB) ran a system which had three categories of coach namely Assistant Club Coach, Club Coach and Senior Coach. The BAAB was later replaced by the British Athletics Federation (BAF), then British Athletics followed by UK Athletics each of whom had their own system for recognising coaching qualifications which the individual had to keep up to date. Coaching areas were split into regions. R&Z were on the border of two coaching regions, the northern where Carl Johnson was in charge and the Eastern with Brad McStravick  in charge. Other coaches in the regional system included Peter Warden, David Lease, David Warburton, Mike Smith, Max Jones and Bruce Longden with Frank Dick in overall charge for several years. When the British Athletics Federation was declared bankrupt many if not all these individuals lost their jobs although some no doubt continued to coach. The whole coaching structure is now different, as is the structure of “British” athletics, and although individuals/clubs always had to pay a coaching course fee and keep their passbooks up to date the new system seems to be expensive to someone who went through the system in the late 70s and early 80s. Having said that it is vital for clubs to encourage individuals to attend whatever the system of the day provides in order to ensure good quality coaching of its athletes. For instance Graeme attended a week long residential course on Womens Athletics at Loughborough in 1988 which cost a £100. Prior to that in 1986 he decided to attend the senior coaching course at Gateshead which on completion led to two three hour written exams, one on coaching theory and one on event specific followed by a practical exam which in his case was on sprinting.  Several members of R&Z have been on various coaching courses over the years such as Fiona Wilson, Graham Purvis, Shaun Purkiss, Ken Harker, and Christiane  Adams all of whom are still coaching as well as others who are no longer involved for various reasons. Prior to Graeme’s retirement after 30 years active involvement in the sport around 15 members attended an in house introduction to coaching held over a period of weeks which was held in the Club Headquarters referred to later. Unfortunately very few if any lasted for long. Coaching can be very rewarding but it is also a commitment. It is important that in today’ s age of risk assessment/duty of care etc coaches attend a recognised coaching course and appropriate updates not only for insurance purposes but also to ensure that athletes receive good tuition. Repitition of errors perfects mistakes.

During the  80s and early 90s the North Yorkshire Schools  federation organised a 2 day residential coaching workshop for athletes of County standard which was held in the Leeds area with a National coach as “leader” and staffed by club coaches from the area in their different specialisms. Many club athletes were invited to attend these worthwhile events. Unfortunately funds for these courses dried up so they are no longer held. 

The R&Z teams soon made their presence felt in the NYSD cross country league at both junior and senior level, as well as at various road races such as the annual Gateshead, Scarborough and Elswick events. The Club was instrumental in initiating the NYSD road relays which for the first nine years were staged in Richmond on a popular and testing 1.5 mile loop, the trophies for each team award having been donated by local firms. Over the years a NYSD cross country  fixture has been hosted by the Club at various venues such as Richmond School, Risedale School and the old racecourse in Richmond.

During the 80s the Club demonstrated its organisational skills by hosting the Yorkshire cross country championships for females as well as the Northern CC championships for females both of which in those days were staged separately to the male event.

With the influx of new members and their subsequent involvement in track and field events an annual awards system was instigated where individuals achievements could be recognised and rewarded with a trophy. Coupled with this, the Esso sponsored 5* system was used as a means of scoring athletes abilities . When possible a known athletics star was invited  to the club to present the awards and amongst those were Christine Boxer(800m), Louise Stuart (sprinter), Colin Walker(steeplechase), Lynn Etherington (marathon), Julia Bennet (high jump), John Mayock (1500m), Rebecca Lynn (800), and Alison Curbishley (400m Hurdles).

With finance playing an ever increasing part in the management of the Club’s affairs three grant applications were applied for in 1987, 1988 and 2000 all of which proved to be successful.  These were from Minolta Copiers (£1000), McVities (£500) and the Millenium Awards Scheme(£2917). In the late 80s the Club received a donation of money which was used to purchase a portacabin for storing club equipment at the stadium. Many were glad to see this as for example the hurdles were stored in a greenhouse at Scruton and transported each time they were needed and the high jump beds were in a shed at Shaun’s. 

In 1986 Graeme was asked if he would be willing to organise the Queens Relay stage  between Leeds and Northallerton which he agreed to do. This involved 32 legs of around 1.25 miles each run by an athlete from different Yorkshire clubs carrying the baton on its way to the Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh and accompanied by 6-8 school children from different schools.  The last two legs before arriving at Northallerton Town Hall involved around 20 club members accompanying the baton. The whole stage was accompanied by two police motor cycle escorts and two Post Office Counter riders with Graeme and Wendy following the runners in a car to ensure there were no hitches at the various take over venues which Graeme had identified beforehand. The stage started at a garage in Leeds before passing through the red light district and then on to Harrogate and Ripon before arriving in Northallerton.

In each town the Mayor was present to greet the athletes and baton containing the Queen’s message. Having got all parties safely parked at Ripon Cathedral to meet the Mayor a female verger stormed out of the Cathedral and told the police, and the rest of the group including the Mayor to move their bikes and cars in case their vehicles leaked oil on the Cathedral forecourt. A very embarrassed Mayor duly agreed and as a result the two London based Post Office escort riders became separated from the rest of the group somewhere between Ripon and the A1. They eventually rejoined the group In Wath prior to negotiating the Baldersby junction on the A1 which at the time was under reconstruction.

During the late 80s a “multi event “ club day was organised once a year usually in the spring in which each member who entered had to compete in an 800m, 200m, and a nominated throw and a jump. The weather was not always favourable and they were held prior to the track being converted to an all weather facilty.

The event was scored on a points system based on the athlete’s age, as juniors and seniors were competing against each other. It proved to be a useful way of identifying hidden talent. As a result Claire Oliver who had joined the Club from Darlington Harriers as an endurance runner won the sprint category. After adjusting her training schedule she went on to win the under 17 Yorkshire title at 300m in 41.2 seconds, a new county record which stood for several years and which is still a club record having been set in 1989.

The desire to have a Club Headquarters resulted after negotiation with Richmond Council in the conversion of a building in the Garden Village, Gallowgate into a gym with kitchen, changing rooms, toilets and a meeting room. This involved a lot of planning and hard work by members such as Shaun Purkiss, Bill Dodds, Jim Robinson, Hugh Shuttleworth, Chris Suffell and others. This was officially opened in 1991. Although used regularly it was found to be uneconomical and so it had to be passed back to Richmond Council. Now it is a residential property within the Garden Village complex.

Travelling to various fixtures in the north of England and further afield plays a big part in the athletic development of club members. Based on the mileage recorded by Graeme in his various roles which was estimated to be in the region of 7000 miles per year, it was obvious that several athletes and their parents were covering a considerable mileage each year, as the club was, and still is, drawing on members from the Thirsk, Northallerton. Bedale. Leyburn, Newton Aycliffe and Richmond areas. Although Local Authority grants were available for “talented” sports people the amount of funding was limited and had to be supported by the individuals coach to avoid the misuse of funds. Donna Riddler who is featured in these notes lived in Ripon and as a junior relied on a driver. Her Dad worked on oil rigs and her Mum didn’t drive but fortunately Graeme worked in Harrogate from 1992-95 so he used to arrange to pick her up on the way home where she joined two or three other athletes at his house in Scruton before going up to the track. Afterwards a neighbour from Ripon with her two small children in the back in their pyjamas used to come up to Leeming Motel to pick Donna up at a pre-arranged time. For a few weeks before the English Schools event Graeme stopped in Ripon on Wednesdays so that an extra session in daylight could be done with Donna at the aptly named Hellwath Gill. Her dedication paid off because she went onto win the junior girls cross country title at the English Schools championships staged in Bristol in 1992 when Paula Radcliffe won the senior title.

Unfortunately when Graeme retired from his job in 1995 Donna took up football as she was unable to get up to the Club.

Entry into area, county, regional and national events is considered an important part of a young athlete’s development not only as a competitor but also as a person. One such event involved a train journey to Bexley in Kent from Northallerton to compete in the 1987 National cross country championships. Several had never been on a train before and many had not been to London let alone to cross the city by tube so it was with some trepidation that 26 members and parents including Graeme and Wendy as organisers set off. Reduced fares were available provided that teddy bears were carried by the juniors so the whole trip cost £7.50 each which left enough over for the whole group to have a meal at a Garfunkle restaurant in Leicester Square before the return journey. Alison Fletcher consumed a massive pizza and then announced that she felt sick, however after a visit to the toilet she returned and devoured an equally large knickerbocker glory. On arriving back at Northallerton station at around 11.00pm the athletes were met by parents except for Sophie Howard whose Mum was absent. Graeme and Wendy took her home and by the time a phone call had been made to Sophie’s mum she was asleep in the spare bedroom where it was agreed she would spend the night. A memorable day.

In 1992 three club members qualified for the National Under 17 championships to be staged at Crystal Palace, a two day event so Graeme and Wendy set off with Donna Riddler, Denise Taylor and Debbie McIlroy, the 3Ds. A distant relative of Debbies had volunteered to put up the three athletes whilst their escorts stayed at a B & B.

None of the athletes had been to London before so a tour of the sights was made on Saturday evening, ending up in a McDonalds for a meal, a first and last experience of a McDonalds for the escorts who did think of leaving the three of them and eating elsewhere but they didn’t think it was fair on London to leave them on their own. The trip was well worth it both athletically and otherwise, with Debbie gaining the silver medal in the high jump and Donna reaching the final of the 1500m where she finished 4th.

In the days before electronic mail became the norm a Club newsletter was produced for every member twice a year which covered the winter and summer activities. A lot of the club’s history was recorded in these and it is now not clear whether copies of these and committee meeting minutes are still in safe keeping with someone along with other club documents as part of the Club’s history. Unfortunately an individual who took on the reins as secretary several years ago decided that a lot of these and other documents could be consigned to the waste paper basket. Graeme has two best performance rankings list for females one done up until the end of 1999 and the other up to the end of 2001, which make interesting reading as do the Club records which Graham Purvis has just updated and produced. It is important that the current membership of the Club know what the club records are for the various events as they then have something to aim for. Many of these were established a long time ago.

As a result of the successful grant applications referred to above, a booklet entitled “An Introduction to Athletics for athletes, parents and potential coaches” was produced. This was distributed to around 52 primary schools and 7 secondary schools in the area along with a poster advertising the club. All new members also received a copy of the booklet. It is important that schools are reminded about the Club’s existence on a regular basis. Most are willing to display a club poster as are local libraries and sports/leisure centres.