One story that is perhaps not appreciated in the history of Merseyside sport is the early success of Sutton Harriers and their 1907 participation in a historical French running race.

Despite formulating in 1899, they enjoyed a swift rise to success when they won the Northern Junior Championships in 1904, before eventually taking gold in the National Cross Country Championships two years later.

Picture courtesy of St Helens

Back in the early 20th century, it was tradition that the current English National Champions would be invited over to France to race their two most successful teams from the year. 

So when Sutton won in 1906, they travelled abroad the following January in what is still the club’s most substantial moment, now known as St Helens Sutton Athletic Club.

The lavish trip saw the working-class men treated exceptionally, as they raced admirably for the Vie au Grande Air Cup, with over 10,000 Parisians lining the streets to watch.

Despite Stade Francais earning the team victory, Sutton’s Sammy Welding finished first individually, with teammate Joe Bailey taking second. Club figurehead Bill Bailey finished 10th. 

Welding’s achievement put him right at the top of the best runners in Europe and he especially was greeted joyfully on his return to St Helens, with hundreds lining the streets to see the team and his individual trophy.

Victory wasn’t necessary though. The chance to travel to France and be globally recognised amongst other world class runners put the club on the map and ensured a flood of success soon followed.

With athletics continually thriving in Merseyside, the early achievements of Sutton Harriers should be remembered as an initial triumph for the area in the athletics-realm.


Pictures courtesy of