Though Foster provides the inspiration, the longtime Pied Piper of Pedestrianism, as they used to call running in those parts, is Harrier Coach Stan Long. A welder until he joined Foster's recreation staff 18 months ago, Long has been coaching his boss for a dozen years. He accepts Harrier candidates at age 11 and then runs them until their dependency drops off.
Long says, "I reckon I can teach a runner what I know by the time he's 18, and then he's on his own. He can come to me for advice but he must think for himself. I want the lads to be self-sufficient. I'm no Svengali."
Unusually chipper for a man who has weathered 46 winters in Gateshead, Long seems most truly in his element when he is putting his charges through their training hoops. "C'mon, young Murray!" he cried one evening as he sent off successively faster waves of runners, timing it so that each group had the incentive of trying to catch and surpass the one before. Standing in the infield, Long said, "Doing your laps is more fun—go on, Gerald!—if you make a game out of it. Going great, Bradley! Use your arms. Go on, lad. Move up, Alice. Only one lap to go. Go on, Winston! Smash it!"
Nearby, Terry Nagel, a TV engineer, and his wife Stephanie, were cheering on their son Stephen, who was running alone on the shadowy perimeter of the track.
"Who knows," said the father, "Stephen might turn out to be another Brendan Foster. He gave up watching his favorite show, The Six Million Dollar Man, to come out and train tonight. We couldn't keep him away. With the help of that man over there, Stan Long, we figure Stephen might be ready for the Olympics in about 10 years." As it is, Stephen will have to wait four years until Long takes him under wing. He is seven.
Not surprisingly, the Gateshead Harriers are the national cross-country and road-relay champions. And earlier this year at the European Club championships in Arlon, Belgium, their 13-member contingent won the trophy as the best team on either side of the Channel.
The Harriers will go to any lengths to win races, down to but not including the dashes. Sprinters are as rare in Gateshead as coal miners in Miami Beach. Scotland's David Jenkins, the British and American 400-meter champion, joined Foster's recreation department last year, but he is still trying to explain that starting blocks are not toys for tots. And the only local field events anyone can recall are the matches by the Gateshead soccer team, which was dropped from the league in 1961 because of a lack of support.
"We just haven't the men to coach field events," says Gateshead Stadium Manager John Caine, himself a distance runner of national repute. Only half kidding, Foster says, "If we have a pole vaulter, we turn him into a miler." Conditions more or less dictate it. As Long puts it, "You can't throw the hammer in the rain."
And you can't deny custom. "The interest in foot racing stems from the traditional working-class Sunday up here," Foster says. "You raced your whippets in the morning, played darts at lunch-time and then, after a skinful of beer, watched the local harriers run in the afternoon. People in the northeast know about foot racing. They'll tell you how 45,000 people went to St. James Park to see Arthur Wint run 20 years ago."
Stan Long will tell you how John White, the Gateshead Clipper, set three world records in the 1860s and won $300 for defeating a Tonawanda Indian in a 10-mile stakes race in New York City. He will tell you, too, about other old-time whizzes like James Rowan, the British six-mile champion and Gateshead's own Black Assassin, who died prematurely because he guzzled more postrace beers than his wee 104-pound body could tolerate. And with a pint of shandy (half beer, half lemonade) firmly in hand and with only the slightest prompting from Foster, Long will even sing you the Tyneside Anthem, a ditty about going to the races a century ago.