Over 40 years of running in Brighton and Hove. A short history of Arena 80 AC.

The Beginning

Arena 80 AC was formed by a man named Ron Grover in 1981 – not 1980, as seems to be the perception. The club’s name came from the training sessions that took place at the Withdean Arena Stadium, as it was then known. However the idea of Arena AC as a new club was first thought about in 1980, hence the name Arena 80.

The club was formed to cater for the average ‘Joe Jogger’ on the street who wanted to run, as the only other club locally was Brighton & Hove AC. It was Ron’s frustration that B&H were very ‘Track and Field’ elitist, and not interested in ‘Joe Jogger’. Little did they know that a Joe Jogger could become a Caroline Hoyte under the banner of Arena 80 AC and produced nationally impressive times!     

Arena’s first training night consisted of 11 women and it took a while for the numbers to grow. Running was not as popular as it is today. 

The training sessions back in the 80’s consisted of a couple of loops of the track before heading out on the road, up to Devils Dyke then back around Withdean and into the stadium. The Wednesday night training sessions would be a 10 mile run from the King Alfred to the Marina and back. The return leg got a bit competitive (sound familiar) and Ron would be standing at the King Alfred with his stop watch. The guys would be completing the 10 miles in 51-52 minutes and instead of feeling elated they felt deflated as Ron would say “that’s not very good boys”, Ron was cruel but fair.

The Golden Years and Changes

During the mid-80’s Arena 80 AC had an incredible spell as an athletics club, and for a couple of years won virtually every trophy there was going including the Sussex Grand Prix for two years in a row. Trophies were won by all the Senior Men, the Men’s Vet team, the Senior Women and the Women’s Vet team. It was a golden era for the club.

In December 1997 Ron Grover relinquished his role as secretary and chairman of the club, however he was unanimously voted to stay on and become the club’s President due to his years of dedication that he had given to the club.

The club was now looking for a new leader to help push Arena 80 forwards. This came in the form of Bill Mulholland, who was a very good Arena athlete at the time. Bill stepped in to take over the coaching, secretary and chairman role and he completely revolutionised the Monday night training sessions.

Bill Mullholland was himself a very good road runner with a 2:41 marathon to his name when he was in his 40’s. To this day, he still holds 4th place in the Arena men’s half marathon club records with his time of 1.15.00 set at Barns Green way back in 1986.

Ron Grover stepped down as President in October 2001 at which point John Mason was unanimously voted in as president.

Outstanding Success

As the club grew it soon became apparent that Arena 80 had an extremely strong womens team which is something that seems to have stuck with Arena for some 36 years.

In the 80’s very few clubs had a womens team and stats show that back then only 8% of club runners were women compared to the 48% that now run. Our Arena womens team then (and now) ran all over the country, as well as touring internationally, representing England.

Into the 20th Century

In October 1999 Bill retired from running and his coaching (and secretarial) duties due to injury and so again Arena 80 was looking for a new coach/chairman. The then club secretary said to a young Bob Page that he should put himself forward as he could be quite good. This proved to be an understatement: Bob nurtured the club over many years, only standing down in 2021 after 22 years. The knowledge and experience that Bob brought to Arena 80 is truly second to none.

In 2016 John Mason stepped down as President of the club and there was really only one choice for this role, Chris Naylor. Chris has given so much of her time to the club over many years and been a fine ambassador for the club, especially the women’s side. Her commitment to running has been exemplary and has been an inspiration to many in the past as well as the present. Chris stepped down from the role of President in 2023.

That same year (2016) the Arena men won the 100 mile South Downs Way relay, and the women took the trophy the following year (2017) for the first time in 10 years. Arena also took the team title for the Sussex Grand Prix races in 2016.

The Present Day

The club has grown immensely over the last few years as the running scene has become more and more popular. The Brighton Marathon and parkrun has exploded the number of new runners looking to improve their running. Arena has great strength in depth when it comes to races and it’s this which is setting us apart from many of the other clubs now. From a club of just 12 members, we now have over 200.

The club is steeped in history and has had so much success over many years. As the club moves forward post coronavirus and into the modern age, the values to help each other be the best you can be remain strong. Ron Grover started the club with a passion and a desire to be successful. Our members all feel that sense of pride whenever we put on the blue Arena vest. It’s a love for running that has bought us together and this is where good friendships are made. Ron’s dream and his spirit still lives on within Arena 80 and long may it continue.

The above history was adapted and edited from the fantastic research undertaken by Marc Bonaldi and others for our old website. If you would like to view the original posts, please click here.