The Chichester team that links Crystal Palace, England's women's rugby team and a GB athlete who's off to the world championships

Joel Ward during his Pompey days / Picture: Allan Hutchings
Joel Ward during his Pompey days / Picture: Allan Hutchings

It’s been a time for reflection for Chichester Runners as they look back on 20 years of success in the Sussex Under-13 Grand Final.

It was first held in its present ten-club format in 2000 and Chichester are one of six clubs to have contested every final since.

Jess Breach / Picture: Getty Images

Jess Breach / Picture: Getty Images

It was an apprehensive squad of 20 boys and girls who travelled to Horsham in September 2000 to do battle with the top clubs in Sussex. It was going to be tough coming up against well-established clubs such as Crawley and Brighton as Chichester had formed their first junior athletics team only the year before.

But in one of the most surprising upsets in Sussex team athletics, Chichester won that final by 15 points from hot favourites Crawley.

In the 19 years since, Chichester have won the final four times, finishing in the top three a further six times and never having finished outside the top half of the ten competing teams, making them the second best Sussex team over the 20 years.

Sussex Under 13 Final 20-year league table

Toby Harries

Toby Harries

1 Crawley AC 165 league pts

2 Chichester Runners & AC 159

3 Horsham Blue Star 157

4 Brighton & Hove 155

5 Lewes AC 103

6 Worthing & District Harriers 79

7 Eastbourne Rovers 73

8 Brighton Phoenix 59

9 East Grinstead 57

10 Haywards Heath Harriers 56

With more than 500 young athletes representing Chichester since 2000, it is interesting to note who has passed through the club’s junior ranks and has gone to major honours – in athletics and other sports too.

In the first few years two sets of twins lit up the boys’ events with firstly Sam and George Gillert unbeatable in the sprints before Sam and Charlie Roe dominated the jumps, Charlie going on to be a nationally ranked decathlete.

In 2002, Anthony Shurmer set a league record in the 150m and developed into a fine multi-eventer while in that same team was a middle distance runner and javelin thrower who was juggling the demands of athletics and football. His name? Joel Ward, and as many will know he eventually opted for football and went on to play for Pompey and for several years has been an integral part of the Crystal palace team in the Premier League.

In 2007, Isobel Brown was in action in the hurdles and long jump and went on to become club high jump record holder and gain an athletics scholarship into the American college system.

In 2009 a fairly promising distance runner was good enough only to gain a place as a B string over 1000m. He then ran the 600m and threw the discus – but Harry Leleu has gone on to gain international recognition in triathlon, having just come back from Lausanne, Switzerland, finishing 17th out of 60 competitors in the elite under-23 event.

Leleu’s running has continued to be an important part of his triathlon success and he broke the club 10k record at the Chichester Priory 10k seven months ago.

In 2010 Chichester finished a narrow runner-up to Crawley but two members of the team have gone on to international sporting honours, only one of them in athletics.

Jess Breach was a sprinter and a pentathlete in her early athletics career and has used her speed and strength to good effect on the rugby pitch becoming one of the most prolific England women’s try scorers in the past couple of years.

In that same team was Toby Harries, who also had a good turn of speed but was more interested in rugby in his early school years.

Having moved to Brighton a year after representing Chichester in the 2010 final, Harries was lost to athletics for several years and had 18 months off all sport after a serious rugby injury.

But in the past couple of years, Harries, who lives at East Preston and is studying biological science at University College London, has begun to realise his athletics potential and has just been named in the GB squad for the World Championships later this month in Doha as part of the 4x400m relay squad.

What should encourage the present crop of youngsters is that none of those who have gone on to make a name for themselves were winners at under-13 level.