IT HAS now been half a century since the ‘running boom’ began in Barnsley, making the town the hub of long-distance races in the country and attracting some of the biggest names in the sport.

Johnny Kennedy – Liverpudlian singer, comedian and radio DJ – lived in Barnsley at the time and was a keen amateur runner.

He teamed up with Dave Bennett and Paul Midwood to form a club in the town.

Dave said: “Me and Johnny Kennedy started off at Rockingham Athletics Club, which was the only one in Barnsley at the time, then went to Rotherham Harriers which was a bigger club.

“We decided to set up Barnsley Road Runners in the summer of 1974 and put on some races.

“It just went mad straight away.”

The first Barnsley Six took place in August then the Marathon in December.

They soon grew to be among the best-known and best-attended races in the country, with more than a thousand competing in each.

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Big names such as Olympians Ron Hill and Bernie Ford took part as did one-time marathon world record holder Steve Jones.

Bennett, who still coaches at Barnsley AC, said: “Barnsley has been the hub of running, whatever anybody says. It’s where the running bug started then it spread around the country.

“Our marathon started seven years before the London Marathon.

“It was the place to be for running.

“They were really good races and great memories.

“The Barnsley Six was one of the first races to have a separate women’s race and the Barnsley Marathon was the first marathon in the country to let women run.”

The marathon went out from the town centre to Bolton-upon-Dearne and back while the Barnsley Six was a two-lap race around the middle of the town.

Bennett said: “The Barnsley Six went on all day and there were thousands of people all around the course.

“It started from the town hall, went down Shambles Street, up Racecommon Road, Park Road, Sheffield Road – before they built the Alhambra Centre – straight into the town centre, down Eldon Street, Old Mill Lane, back into the town and round again.”

There was also a half marathon and the Barnsley 10k which was a National Championship, sponsored by Kodak, and attended by the likes of Barnsley-born Olympian John Mayock.

Bennett said: “Carl Thackeray did the half marathon in 63 minutes which was the world record at the time but, because the timekeeper we had was not of the right standard, it wasn’t allowed as an official world record.”

The marathon continued until 1989 then the Six lasted another decade.

There will be a new Barnsley 10k in the town centre on June 30 and an exhibition on the town’s running history in the Experience Barnsley Museum.