Liverpool Century 100 Not Out

Yesterday was a pretty special anniversary in the long and illustrious history of the Liverpool Century Road Club. On the 30th January 1916 a handful of young men bicycled the modest 14.5 miles from Liverpool’s famous Waterfront to Derby Chambers, Burscough Street, Ormskirk. Here they held a meeting and resolved to form a cycling club. What a noble endeavour! On a chilly and blustery January morning, exactly 100 years to the day later, we retraced their tracks.

At precisely 09:30 we gathered at the Museum of Liverpool, Albert Dock, huddling together and hiding around the corner from a wild wind that was ripping in from the Irish sea. We are not sure exactly how many Centurions congregated for this momentous ride – so lets say there were more or less 100 (it was probably more like 70). Many, many photos were taken of the black and white army – let’s say about 100 – before we hopped on our bikes and rolled away from the Three Graces beneath the mighty Liverbirds of the Royal Liver Building.

As we passed Princes Dock, the traffic lights of The Strand ensured we were soon split into several smaller more traffic-friendly groups as we set a steady pace that has come to be known amongst our membership as “bimble”. Throughout the ride my thoughts were dominated by how different the landscape must have been on that original bimble a century ago and how those original Centurions would have experienced relatively traffic free roads on that first ride. With the (now) UNESCO World Heritage Site at our backs I considered just how grand and impressive the Liverpool Waterfront must have been back in the day when Liverpool was just about the richest city in the world and the second city of “The Empire”.

Our journey took us down Great Howard Street, known locally as “The Dock Road”, where with the river on our left we passed the many docks that still make up the port of Liverpool. The Waterloo Docks are rather more focussed on tourism than import/export these days, with numerous waterside café bars and restaurants, but there is a much more gritty and industrial feel as we move out of the city and towards Bootle. We passed in turn: Trafalgar; Collingwood; Nelson; Bramley-Moore; Wellington; Sandon; Huskisson; Canada; Brocklebank; Langton; Alexandra; Hornby; Gladstone and finally the Royal Seaforth docks- where we turned right onto Princess Way and headed inland, with a mighty tailwind upgrading our bimble to “over-bimble” with no added effort. Those famous dock names offer some clues as to the significance of the mercantile and maritime heritage of Liverpool and its significance as a major city on the world map.

One aspect of our Centenary ride yesterday which was less authentic than the original was our stop at Café Vista at the Christ Church Ministry, Aughton, where we received a hearty welcome from the Vicar, who was keen to share news of his 5 km run that morning. We crammed into the upstairs function room and stuffed our faces with bacon and sausage toasties while the friendly and hardworking staff regularly refilled our coffee cups free of charge.

After this brief escape from the elements we were back in the saddle around 11:00 for the short hop to Ormskirk, again aided by a healthy “taily”. We arrived into the bustling Saturday morning atmosphere and turned more than a few heads of the shoppers we passed as our convoy of black and white uniformed riders filtered slowly through the traffic and eventually arrived in Burscough Street – our final destination on this historic journey.

Club President Phil Mitchell addressed the group outside the “Derby Chambers”, as he explained how 100 years ago our Centurion forefathers had met in that very building to discuss the formation of a new club. Phil told us how the main debate focussed around a name for this group, and even back then it seems footballing rivalries were a main feature as two of the options considered were “Everton Cycling Club” and “Liverpool Cycling Club”. Thankfully they settled upon a fine idea. This would not be any ordinary cycling club – this would be a club only for the most dedicated of riders, and the group would only accept members who could prove their commitment by completing a 100 mile ride – a Century. Hence the Liverpool Century Road Club was born. Phil asked for three cheers for our founders and the monochrome throng duly obliged – much to the bewilderment of the passing shoppers.

We all hopped back on our bikes and battled our way home through the wind via the north Liverpool country lanes, which we affectionately call “Little Belgium” due to the flat landscape and vicious crosswinds. It was a great way to celebrate the formation of our club, despite – or maybe even partly because of – those weather elements that seem to dominate so much of our everyday riding on this weatherbeaten island. Embracing the elements surely helps to forge that mental toughness and resolve that is needed to be a competitive racing cyclist at any level – something that manifests itself so evidently in the racing style of our three current pro riders Matt Brammeier, Mark McNally and Johnny McEvoy – who all favour the Classics style of racing where only the hardest of hardmen triumph.

Later that evening there was another commemorative gathering where the Club met in the city to again celebrate this great occasion with food and drinks, a slideshow of images of the club and riders throughout the decades, and a music playlist of great songs from as far back as the 1920’s. As every cyclist knows, no celebration is complete without cake. The Club commissioned a special birthday cake which was cut by Club Chairman Rob Pleavin to great cheers from all.

I felt very privileged to be part of such a proud and rare celebration. This great club has such a rich heritage not only as a road racing club but and also as a diverse group welcoming anyone who shares a love of the bike. It was a joy to listen to some of the older members speak so fondly of their memories of training, racing and just spending time together as a group with such a collective passion and enthusiasm for cycling. It’s hard to imagine many other activities that can become embedded quite so deeply into the very core of one’s existence as cycling. Last night I raised a glass, or two, to all the members of the Liverpool Century Road Club who have contributed to such a rich heritage. I had a quiet moment too to reflect on the contributions of those members who gave so much but are no longer with us. We miss them all and they are constantly in our thoughts. We trust we did them justice with a fitting celebration to kick off our Centenary year of special activities and events.

As we enter our 100th year, the club has never been healthier. Over 280 members and active on so many fronts – Road, Time Trials, Track, MTB and CX. The commitment of the volunteers who give so much of their time should never be underestimated or taken for granted. A huge heartfelt thanks to all of those who help to make The Century what it is – to me, and all members, simply the best club in the world.