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Sale Harriers mourn a coaching great
1:31pm Tuesday 19th March 2013 in Sport
SALE Harriers are mourning the death of a remarkable man who made a massive contribution to the club over more than four decades.
Eric Hughes died peacefully in his sleep, at the age of 84, last Thursday, with his family at his side.
The Sale resident was Sale Harriers’ club president and Britain’s most successful women’s team manager.
His success is making Sale Harriers into an enduring force was such that he has been dubbed the ‘Alex Ferguson of athletics’.
Eric’s links with Sale Harriers began in 1969 when his daughter, Lisa, and later his son, Stephen, joined the club.
At the time very few girls competed for the club. but Eric changed that as he set about building an all-conquering women’s squad.
Sale Harriers’ magazine editor, Fechin McCormick, said: “He began by contacting the local South Manchester schools and arranging athletic sessions for them at Sale’s ‘mother site of Crossford Bridge. Such was his determination and enthusiasm that, between 1972 -1980, the club’s younger women’s age-groups had already made such massive progress and won so many national and other titles, that Sale Harriers were already being recognised as a dominant national force in middle distance and the senior women claimed their first titles in 1977/78.
“Eric then entered girls into local Young Athlete Open Meetings and teams into the Women’s Cheshire League. Following success in this League, in 1973 Sale were elected to the second Division of the Motorway League. Again, it was entirely due to Eric Hughes’ boundless energy, dynamism and hard work that the team won promotion to Division 1 in its inaugural year and, in the second year, they came a respectable third in the first Division.
“When the Northern League was then formed in 1973 (now known as the North of England T & F League), Eric was made its chairman, a post he held for many years that recognised his vast experience and insight. Eric has always been a hands-on team manager and, over those years, his squads won seventeen Championship titles and his teams still remained unbeaten when the league introduced seniors in 1994.
“When the UK Women’s League was formed in 1975, Eric’s renowned achievements resulted in Sale Harriers being immediately elected to the Premier Division ... and entirely as the result of Eric tireless, hard work and attention to detail they’ve remained there for the past thirty eight years and are the only British club to have done so.”
He added: “The pinnacle of Eric’s very successful commitment to Sale Harriers and to UK athletics may well have been in 2002 when Sale won all top domestic honours – the UK Women’s League, the National U20 Cup, the National Senior XC Championships and the National Senior Road Relay title and by winning the senior trophy in the European Clubs competition that year also, Sale became the first club to contest three European Championships in the same year – senior track and field, U20 track and field and senior cross-country.”
He continued: “There are few who have made a greater contribution to club athletics than Eric Hughes. The success and prestige that Eric Hughes has brought to Sale Harriers nationally has been compared to Sir Alex Ferguson record achievements of Premier League titles, European Cup victories and winning the famous treble in 1998/99.”
His host of awards include the Sir Matt Busby Lifetime Achievement Award, North of England Merit Award, The BBC Amateur Team of the Year Award, Outstanding Contribution to Sport in Manchester Award and the Frank Starkie Memorial Cup.
He is survived by his wife Doris, children Lisa and Stephen.
The funeral service will be on Friday, March 22 from 12.30pm at St John’s Church on Brooklands Road, Sale, followed by a private committal service at the crematorium. The family would like to invite those attending the church service to the Connell Suite at Manchester City Football Club , Etihad Complex for light refreshments.