South London Memories: Herculean service to athletics

Pete Mulholland, who has died of coronavirus aged 80, was a driving force for decades at Hercules Wimbledon Athletic Club (HW).

He had been awarded the British Empire Medal for services to athletics in 2016 aged 76 – but the story, as he loved to tell it, was that he nearly didn’t get to receive the medal at all, because he thought the official letter from the Cabinet Office was a tax demand – so he didn’t open the envelope.

It was only when the office called him to see whether he had received the letter that he realised what it was.

Mulholland was at the England Masters Inter Area match at Lee Valley on March 1, cheering on Hercules vets.

Days later, he fell and broke his hip. He had a partial replacement in hospital, but sadly contracted coronavirus from which he was unable to recover.

Mulholland was an enthusiastic supporter of parkruns when they began in 2007.

Paul Sinton-Hewitt, the founder of parkrun tweeted: “I’m so sorry to hear this news. I met Pete when I ran one of the Hercules Wimbledon AC events in ‘03. After starting parkrun and even though Pete was steeped in athletics culture, tradition and history, he was so enlightened that he immediately approached me and joined. RIP.”

He became Cross Country Secretary of Hercules AC and continued in that role for HW for an amazing 50 years. From 1983-1985 he was also HW club president. Bob Holt said: “All the jobs he did for the club, he grew into it, with his own style and good humour.”

Pete Mulholland

Pete was born on June 2, 1939 and despite suffering from tuberculosis as a youngster, took up running and became a member of the former Hercules AC.

This was in the days before the merger with Wimbledon AC, in 1967, to form Hercules Wimbledon.

Mike Fuller, Pete’s former team-mate and long-time friend said: “Pete was already a member of Wimbledon AC when I joined in May 1963.

“It’s fair to say he was not blessed with great natural ability, but he achieved some excellent performances through hard work.

His best three-mile time of 14:10.4 – set in the Surrey Championships at Motspur Park in 1968 – equates to around 14:40 for 5,000m, a time only a handful of our extremely strong current squad have beaten.”

Bob Holt, who with his twin brother Dave, was one of the stars of the senior men’s team in the glory days of the newly formed Hercules Wimbledon, said: “Pete always gave a 100 per cent and I can still visualise his sparse frame scurrying along, his head slightly to one side, his features full of determination. He never let us down.”

John Webster said: “With his blonde hair and small stature he always looked much younger than his years and there was a joke that when he answered the door to callers they would often ask if his mother was in.”

1969 also saw the first of two famous victories in the South of England 12-Stage Road Relay Championships (the second was in 1972), in which the senior men’s team beat Belgrave and Mitcham into second and third place respectively in a course record of 3:59:46.

On the third leg was Pete, who clocked 25.18 – he was in exalted company including internationals Jim Hogan and Malcolm Thomas. He found cross country a challenge but helped HW win the Surrey title in 1970.

He was in the team which won the Surrey Road Relay Championships at Woking in 1968 and 1969.

He was president of the South of the Thames Cross Country Association’s in the 1984/1985 season. He was a former vets editor of Athletics Weekly and president of the Surrey County Athletics Association in 2016.

His huge contribution to volunteering was recognised at the England Athletics London Region Awards in 2014, his 75th year.

Herne Hill Harriers club secretary Steve Boxley said: “Pete was a true gentleman who was always a pleasure to talk to for his knowledge, enthusiasm and love of athletics. He will be sadly missed.”

Sheila White, who took over compiling all the club’s results from under-13s to over-75s, said: “He loved athletics and the whole athletic community. Above all he loved Hercules Wimbledon. And we all loved him. ‘Legend’ is the word that keeps jumping out from the multitude of tributes that are pouring in. Which says it all, really.”

Tom Pollak, who has compiled HW reports for more than 20 years, said: “Having known Pete for the best part of 60 years this is a tragic personal loss. Pete was one of those truly nice guys – always happy and willing to give help and provide support to whoever, or for whatever.

“Nothing was too much and he was a great welcomer and encourager for new members of the club. It was so sad to see him struggling in his final years but I never heard him complain about his situation. He was a true Hercules Wimbledon man and will be greatly missed.”

Ben Noad said: “I remember the first time I saw him after HW won the Surrey League title – pure joy! So happy he got to witness it. It says a lot about Pete that the many tributes coming in have crossed the generations from athletes who have recently become seniors to runners who are well into their vets careers! Most of whom Pete recruited, encouraged and cheered on. RIP Pete. “

Fred Green said: “At the London Cross Country Champs at Parly Hill a couple of years ago I came across Pete on one of the park benches. Being already quite frail he was obviously beginning to feel the cold.

“ I needn’t have worried though – he was being fussed over by a jolly lady from, I think, Herne Hill. She had wrapped him in a blanket and was plying him with tea. ‘You’re looking after me really well’, said Pete. ‘Well’, she said, ‘when I was young, you looked after me and now it’s my turn to look after you.’

I’ve no idea who she was or what act of kindness Pete had done in the past but, whatever it was, it was sufficiently out of the ordinary for this lady to have remembered it. Typical of Pete.”

Main Pic: Pete Mulholland, no18 in action a Wimbledon Athletic Club vest in the Surrey championships at Motspur Park in the 1960s

 


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