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Football, running and golf are just some of the many activities that give Stevenage a sporty feel, as Damion Roberts discovers...
WITH the likes of Formula 1 driver Lewis Hamilton and England footballer Ashley Young making headlines in recent years and with the towns football team knocking Premier League giants Newcastle United out of last seasons FA Cup Stevenage is fast becoming famous for its sporting prowess.
The great game
One club on the up is Austen Arrowheads, a youth football club which formed in 1971 in the Chells area of the town and has teams ranging from under-sevens to under-18s as well as running a Saturday Tiny Tots group which includes young footballers aged four to six.
The clubs under-10s manager Paul Smith says the town is sporting mad and he is witnessing the next generation of enthusiasts coming through.
I have been involved within youth football for more than eight years, Paul says, and I got involved as I wanted to try my hand at coaching.
Two years later my son started playing football so I dropped down a couple of years and took his team on.
Youth football in Stevenage has always been very competitive and always had a big following.
Kids get everything from playing football at this level; it gives them a sense of belief no matter what the level they play at, it instils confidence in them and helps them to interact and become better team players.
A runaway success
Another club which attracts a wide range of athletes is also one of the biggest in the town with 400 members.
Fairlands Valley Spartans takes its name from the towns Fairlands Valley Park which was the clubs first meeting place and is still used for most training runs and races.
Jim Brown, who is also a member of Stevenage Cyclists Touring Club which was recently named the Voluntary Cycling Group of the Year, has been a member of the Spartans for the past 18 years.
Fairlands Valley Spartans is primarily a road running club based in Stevenage, but our itinerary also includes track and off-road activities. Formed in 1984 the Spartans were named the UKs Best Running Club by Runners World magazine in 2010, says Jim.
The Spartans meet for various sessions through the week. On Mondays and Thursdays there our New Starter Group meets and on Tuesdays there is a choice of training runs to suit a wide range of abilities.
Thursdays see speed training sessions, on Saturdays, there is usually a track session and a Sunday sees many members who are not participating in races heading out for a longer, social run in the local vicinity. All sessions are fully supported by excellent coaches who are always on hand to offer advice and friendly support.
Time to tee off
Kevin Evans is a coach of a different kind. Or more precisely, a professional golf teacher.
Kevin is the club professional at Stevenage Golf Club, which currently has around 200 members, and has been at the club for two-and-a-half years.
He works six days a week teaching golf enthusiasts from the age of three upwards, but in the past has even taught golfers younger than that.
The youngest player I ever taught was two, Kevin explains. His dad was very keen to get him out as he always had a club with him. The eldest Ive taught was probably 93. He was still very active. Hes still playing as far as I know.
Ive taught other people including one guy who had one arm after unfortunately losing his other in an accident, and he can hit the ball 200 yards with one arm which is not a bad feat at all.
And although Stevenages course is a challenging one, interest in the sport and the club is on the rise.
Its certainly growing, locally, Kevin adds. We have lots of numbers coming to pay and play as well as our members and there is certainly a strong interest in the sport in Stevenage.
Exercising the voice
There is more to Stevenage than sport, of course, and Ed Furye prefers to exercise his vocal chords.
Ed Furye has been the secretary of the Stevenage Male Voice Choir, a group which is on the lookout for new members because, as Mr Furye puts it, men are more reluctant to put themselves forward for such groups than women.
Ed has been with the choir, which was established in 1958, for the past eight years.
The choir practice at Stevenage Arts Centre at Roaring Meg Retail Park and throughout the year holds concerts to raise money for charities in and around the town.
In recent years it has travelled to Malta, Ireland and France, where, joining a Knebworth twin town contingent, it joined the Hitchin Symphony Orchestra in impressing the locals.
Back home the choir has a number of events coming up which the secretary and his fellow 29 members are preparing for, including a concert at Ware Priory.
If its a nice day, 100 or more people can sit out and listen at Ware, Ed says. If it rains, we can go inside and sing. Singing makes you hearty. Also, when youre singing you dont think of your problems. Youve got them, everyones got them, but we forget about them when were performing.