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WILLIAM SNOOK 1861-1916


AMATEUR ATHLETICS ASSOCIATION CHAMPION 1883 & 1885


William SNOOK, an outstanding runner over distances of 1-10 miles, steeplechases and cross-country in the 1880s was born in Shrewsbury, Shropshire on 3 February 1861. He was the eldest child of George and Mary SNOOK and educated at Admaston College, Wellington, Shropshire. His father was a road surveyor and quarry owner but it would appear that William was not persuaded to follow his father's footsteps and the 1881 Census records his occupation as a `clerk'.

His undoubted athletic abilities were evident while he was still in his 'teens and he excelled at cycling, rowing, skating and running. In July 1878 he competed in the National Olympian Society Sports, held in Shrewsbury. He ran in the 440 yards handicap for youths under 18 years and came third. At this point in his athletic career he discovered that stamina and not speed was his forte and he concentrated thereon on distance running.

His first appearance in a distance race was at Bridgewater, Somerset; he was given a 70 yards start and won by 100 yards. He subsequently ran at the Aston lower Grounds in Birmingham, and with a 65 yard start secured fourth place in the 1 mile with a time of 4 min 23 seconds.His initial successes coincided with the formation of the Amateur Athletics Association and he entered the first AAA Championships in 1880 held at the Lille Bridge Athletic Ground in West London and finished second in the 10 mile event. The 1881 Championships were held at the Aston Lower Grounds (now the home of Aston Villa, Association Football Club). In the final of the 1 mile he was drawn against Walter G GEORGE, the current champion and record holder, but William SNOOK who had recently beaten the 2 mile record was the favorite. Walter G GEORGE could only achieve second place however and William SNOOK dropped out. In the same year he finished second in the National Cross Country Championships.

Within weeks of the 1881 AAA Championships, however, William SNOOK was in trouble and was suspended by the Northern Counties AA until the end of 1882 for conniving at the entry of a professional in an amateur meeting at Southport. As the 2 mile world record holder, however he continued to have a strong following in the Midlands and competed at meetings of clubs not affiliated to the AAA. In October 1881 the AAA confirmed that any athlete who competed against William SNOOK would be suspended and he did not compete in 1882.

He returned to the track in 1883 and won the AAA titles at 1, 4 and 10 miles and achieved a personal best time of 4 min 20 seconds for 1 mile, running from scratch in the Civil Service Championships. A series of Challenge Matches were held in October 1883 when Walter G GEORGE triumphed and the latter's superiority was confirmed in 1884 when he won the AAA Championships at 1, 4, and 10 miles and set a new world record for the 1 mile of 4 min 18 seconds. William SNOOK was second and he won the steeplechase in the same afternoon.

In 1885, with Walter G GEORGE injured, William SNOOK was unbeatable in the AAA Championships and the National Cross Country steeplechase. Walter G GEORGE subsequently turned professional and William SNOOK, aged 25, could look forward to several more years as a top UK athlete and he duly won the Midland Senior Cross Country Championship at Long Eaton, Derbyshire in February 1886. He was not unexpectedly firm favorite for the 1886 National Cross Country Championship, held at Croydon on 6 March but on the day he came second to his Coventry rival J E HICKMAN.

He was immediately accused of `roping' by deliberately allowing HICKMAN to win and on the 30 April 1886 he was suspended permanently by the Southern Committee of the Amateur Athletic Association. This caused a sensation, but was initially treated lightly by William SNOOK who announced his attention to appeal. The appeal was held on the 22 May 1886 in Manchester with representatives from the Midland Counties AA, who had agreed prior to the meeting to support him, the southern Counties AA and the Northern Counties AA. SNOOK's appeal was based, inter alia, on the grounds that he had been physically unfit being 5 lb lighter than in the week prior to the race and he had been crippled by shoes with spikes that had injured his feet. The suspension was however confirmed by 15 votes to 11. Further appeals were equally unsuccessful and at this distance it is impossible to decide if he was guilty as charged, but the punishment can be seen to reflect the strength of feeling against `roping'.

After his final appeal William SNOOK turned professional immediately but the great days associated with professionalism were over by 1887 and he was concurrently `mine host' of a number of public houses in Shrewsbury and Birmingham. He subsequently moved to Paris, where he apparently played a significant part in the development of French athletics and he became trainer to the Racing Club de France in 1900.

His family life was equally frought. He married a Liverpool girl, Elizabeth Jane Coleman in 1884 but their two children, George Frederick and Gertrude Elsie died in infancy. His wife obtained a divorce in 1892 on the basis of cruelty and adultery with a cousin Martha Annie Coleman. She continued to live in Shrewsbury until her death in 1900; she was described as a single woman in her will. William SNOOK continued to live in Paris until 1916, despite the outbreak of World War I. He suffered periods of ill health, returned to England in 1916, and died in the Birmingham Workhouse at Erdington on 9 December of the same year. He was buried in Witton Cemetery, Birmingham on 17 December 1916. His family was unable or perhaps unwilling to meet the cost of his funeral and the Birmingham Post recorded that the expenses were born by the Birchfield Harriers `the club in whose colours most of his great races were run'.



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