Everybody at the club were very saddened when they heard the news that the clubs founder and first chairman, Mike Smith, had passed away on the 16th November.
Passionate, motivational, steadfast and visionary are all words people often use when talking about him. Quite simply, there would be no Yate Athletic Club without Mike.
Stuart Nunn, the man who followed Mike as the Clubs Chairman was quick to pay tribute:
“I believe, though I have no memory of how I know this, that Mike as a young man competed for Birchfield Harriers and brought his love of athletics to this area when he started work at Oldbury power station.
As Yate grew in the seventies, there were calls for an athletics club. Various councillors were interested, particularly Bob McGurk, whose daughter was a keen runner, and Sue Walker, who supported the club for many years.
Starting the club fell to Mike Smith, who belonged to Bristol AC. He was a coach and team manager for them and took the women’s team to victory in the UK Women’s League. He told me once that when they won the match that made them the best women’s team in the country, he slumped down behind the pole vault covers and sobbed. This shows how passionate Mike always was about athletics.
He was joined by Glory Wassell from Westbury Harriers and Vic LeGrand, who I think was with Bristol.
There was no track and very little else besides, though the local council came up with some money to start the club going. And it was popular straight away. There were some athletes in Yate who already belonged to Bristol and they stayed with them, but many other youngsters flocked to the all-weather pitch on Thursday nights, where Mike, with Glory, Vic, Brian Tesdale and others.
The session always began with a mass warm up: sprinters, cross-country runners, throwers; under-13s and senious, all doing it together. Mike insisted on doing this right up until he retired as chairman, and was horrified when I stopped it and left the warm-up to coaches.
The first time the club entered the Avon Track and Field League – which itself was only a few years old – the other, established clubs gave Yate little chance. But through sheer weight of numbers there was green and gold all over the place and they won the match with a landslide. Yate & District had arrived.
League matches were all over the place: Whitchurch, Cheltenham (I think) and Melksham. Who can forget the track at Melksham, with no infrastructure at all, toilets several hundred metres away and sometimes pelting rain sweeping across the track? Mike was always there on the coach to get athletes there.
He also managed the Midland men’s team, and, as his profile on the website says, he led them to four successive promotions. The Midland women’s League was different in that it included under-15 and under-17 women and it was here that our daughter, Kate, first experienced serious competition.
But a track was what the club needed and somehow Mike fought for and got it built. I remember one horribly rainy night standing with him approximately where the bicycle racks are now, looking out into the darkness over a lake that seemed to stretch all the way to Engine Common with a JCB up to its axles in the middle of it. “One day,” Mike said, “we’ll have English Schools here.” Well – maybe not.
As well as being chairman of the club he started, Mike was chairman of Avon AA for several years and also chairman of Midland Counties. His daughter was a stalwart of the women’s team and his grandson also ran middle distance. It was only when they moved away from the sport that Mike turned his attention to the sports they changed to.
Matt Spicer also has fond memories of Mike:
As a teenage lad I was extremely fortunate to have 3 excellent role models in my life. My dad, my Coach and Mike Smith. When I look back, I can still picture him, before we had a track, when we used to use the hockey pitch for training. He had a wild forelock of hair and he communicated his wishes to the thriving club via a megaphone. He was just this mass of energy, dealing with several things, all at the same time.
He always had a sense of purpose. But he also possessed the gift of clarity. Knowing exactly what was needed to achieve his ambitions. No fuss. No messing about.
This passion and enthusiasm was infectious and everybody at the club fully believed in, and totally respected him.
Truly, an inspirational leader, that I am forever grateful for.