• Text size      
  • Send this article to a friend
  • Print this article

The long road well taken; Graeme Smith FACE TO FACE with Brendan Foster

When Scotland play the Auld Enemy at rugby they can count on the support of one of England's greatest ever athletes.

Loading article content

But when it's a football match the Scots get no backing from Brendan Foster, Commonwealth and European gold medallist, Olympic bronze medallist, and former double world record holder. A Geordie through and through, Foster has a strong bond with the Scots, far stronger than any connection to the ''Establishment'' with which English rugby was long linked and with which he has no affinity. A dyed-in-the wool member of the Toon Army, he says: ''It's funny, because when England play football against Scotland I obviously support England because of Gazza, Shearer, Newcastle United and all that sort of stuff. ''When they play rugby it is more difficult because rugby used to represent the English 'Establishment' and we are closer to the Border than we are to the 'Establishment'. I live out in Tynedale near Hexham and it's almost as close to Hawick as it is to Newcastle. ''When you look at the way the press wrote before the Murrayfield match it was almost as if the Scots might as well not turn up and your natural tendencies were after the victory 'great, they've shown them lot', because it's the arrogance of the Establishment.'' There is no arrogance about Foster, despite his outstanding achievements in the sporting and business worlds. He has already put the North-east (of England) on the sporting map and is helping make the North-east of Scotland a favourite venue for some of the world's top athletes. Yesterday he sat beside David Coleman to commentate for the twentieth time on the London marathon and later this week he will arrive on Royal Deeside for the highly successful Balmoral Road Races which take place on Saturday. Foster has changed direction several times since his days at St Joseph's Grammar, Hebburn, County Durham, when he dreamed of being a professional footballer. He played football for his school on Saturday morning then each Saturday afternoon he would run for Gateshead Harriers and regularly place third or fourth. A frosty morning dictated his future: ''One Saturday the football was frozen off and when I competed in a cross country in the afternoon I won for the first time and thought 'this is pretty good'.'' He realised he had the talent and competitive instinct to do well at a sport where success or failure was dictated by his own efforts rather than those of 10 team mates. While he modestly suggests his main footballing attribute was his ability to run about, he certainly had enough talent to attract the attention of Sunderland, deadly rivals of his beloved Magpies. After scoring a hat-trick in a cup final he was offered a trial but turned it down. When he was 18, Foster finished tenth in the English Cross-Country Championships, prompting the lad who sat beside him in class to question why on earth he was always out running. ''I said I wanted to run the Olympics one day, although there was no basis for saying that, and bet him I would. That lad is now the head geologist for De Beers, the diamond merchant, in Australia and he turned up at the training track at the Montreal Olympics in 1976 with the tenner.'' Foster studied for a BSc at Sussex University, where he met Sue, his wife of 28 years, before returning to St Joseph's Grammar for four years as a teacher, a career he combined with athletics. He laughs as he recalls the day he and Frank Clement of Scotland made history at the Europa Cup Final in Edinburgh while still teaching. ''Britain had never won a race in the Europa Cup Final until then and Frank won the 1500 metres and I won the 5000 metres. I ran the race on the Sunday afternoon and there was a big banquet in the evening and Sue and I had to get the last train for Edinburgh back to Newcastle so I could be in the classroom at nine o'clock the next morning.'' One of the many highlights of his career was breaking the world two-mile record in 1973, which prompted a mid-winter home town reception in his honour. At that it became evident that Gateshead was planning to open an all-weather track and Foster, fuelled by a couple of pints, told them: ''If you go ahead and build the track I will organise a meeting on it and come along and break the world record.'' He says: ''It's easy to say that in the middle of January and you have had a couple of toots - and if you are in training you know you have had a drink when you have had a couple of pints.'' However, Foster was true to his word and at that meeting, despite a gale, set a new 3000m world record. Winning the European 5000 metres in Rome the following year and the Commonwealth 10,000 metres in Canada in 1978 may have been his athletic peaks but the Gateshead 3000 metres was his emotional peak. ''That led to the development of Gateshead Stadium as a major athletics stadium - it was one athletics performance which kicked off Gateshead and I think was pretty good.'' After teaching, Foster moved into local government and became sports and recreation manager for Gateshead Metropolitan Borough Council for six years from 1974, during which he learned the basic skills of management which have made him so successful today. ''There were people at Gateshead who were prepared to help and teach me how to do it and we were taking sport and using it to promote Gateshead.'' After 11 successful international years, and with a blossoming career in commentating, he hung up his spikes, Nike ones at the time, and took on a job with his sponsor to establish its British business. Having built Nike into a company with a #34m turnover in Europe he sought a fresh challenge and was one of the founders of Nova International, the company he now runs and which includes the successful View From sports clothing business. Nova organises numerous sporting events from the Great North Run in Newcastle which attracts 40,000 runners each year and was inspired by him, to the European PGA Tournament at Slaley Hall in Northumberland - Nova is also bidding to bring the Ryder Cup there - and the Match of the Day Exhibition at the National Exhibition Centre. However Foster, who could be an honorary Scot, admits that the Balmoral event now in its third year is one of his favourites. It is the first and only event the Queen has given permission to be held and televised in the grounds of Balmoral and this year will be broadcast to 80 countries. ''We have been thrilled to bits with the hospitality shown by the Balmoral estate and the factor Peter Ord and we have world class runners. ''The first year Paula Radcliffe broke the world record and there was snow on the ground and last year Paula set another world record - two world records in two years and in a traditional road running race and with the scenery of Balmoral. ''The atmosphere is terrific because there aren't many major events happening in the North of Scotland in the same way as there weren't many happening in the North of England and people are actually pleased you are there. The newsagent at Braemar, for example, was delighted to be getting more papers in and chuffed to bits we were all going there to buy them on a Sunday morning.'' Foster has transformed North-east England as a sporting centre but thinks Scotland is doing well, and has particular praise for Glasgow. ''When I was a kid and if you wanted to see to class sport, particularly athletics, you had to go elsewhere. When we were kids living in the North-east there was little chance of us training there and running in the Olympics so once I was running in the Olympics I was determined I would stay at home and after me Steve Cram did exactly the same and now it is Jonathan Edwards who lives in the North-east and is going to the Olympics. ''It is important to show the kids who are following that if we can do it they can do it and don't have to go to America or have a track scholarship or come from London. You can be born and bred and live in the North-east and go to the Olympics.'' He believes Scotland will enjoy future success as a result of current initiatives. ''In the past 15 years you have had two the world's outstanding female distance runners, Liz McColgan and Yvonne Murray, and that has been a real purple patch but you also had Alan Wells. ''I think Glasgow has the most comprehensive athletics programme in the country. It has the Kelvin Hall with indoor televised athletics and the city also has outdoor televised athletics, the Glasgow Half Marathon, some good athletes, and a good programme for developing youngsters. ''I think Glasgow's athletics development programme is outstanding and they will reap the rewards in years to come.'' He looks forward to renewing his acquaintance at Balmoral with Frank Clements, fellow Europa Cup hero and sports development manager for Glasgow City Council. He has just been appointed chairman of the Scottish Athletics Federation to discuss how they can help each other. So what next for Foster? ''Well, I would have liked to say Newcastle winning the Cup but they were knocked out in the semi-final.'' Now he can concentrate on Balmoral in the short term but in the longer term the Sydney Olympics. ''This will be my fifth Olympics commentating and I only ran in three.'' He misses competing and although still runs four or five times a week confesses it is neither far nor fast. ''As far as I am concerned the best thing I ever did was running in races. The next best thing would be coaching the kids running in the races but I have never been in a position to do that because I have always been working for living. The third best thing is sitting next to David Coleman talking about it.''

Commenting & Moderation

We moderate all comments on HeraldScotland on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis.
If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well and trust you then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules

Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.

PARCH1.239906