In Memory of Charles Kelly, March 1924 – 23rd January 2022

Charles Kelly – March 1924 – 23rd January 2022 RIP – Loved, Coach Charlie (Charlie Kelly )


Charlie Kelly, amazing Coach, athlete, committee member and life member of Coventry Godiva Harriers (and Pembroke Athletics club) passed away Sunday 23rd January 2022 at the age of 97.  He was involved with Athletics all his life starting with school boy championships in 1937.  Charlie last visited the track in October 2021, together with his daughter Sandra.  Charlie was able to see that two of the squads he had initially set up were still going strong under the guidance of his former athletes Brain Darby and Stewart Marshall.  Brian’s is also supported by John Ferrie and Keely Butler.  At the age of 95, Charlie continued to support Brian’s squad on a weekly basis with coaching sessions on Tuesday and Thursday evenings, giving advice to individual athletes as he spotted those who needed correction.  A conversation took place on Friday 21st January 2022 where Charlie was able to speak with a number of his athletes and coaches from Godiva, the conversation focused on athletics.

Charlie was awarded the highest athletics UKA coaching award achievable, that of Master Coach. He held coaching roles at National and Midland level, as well as having the longest coaching career with an unmeasurable impact at Coventry Godiva, covering many generations of athletes and support staff.  Charlie’s coaching style changed over the years.  He was always willing to innovate and adapt in line with his athlete’s specific requirements, moving from an Endurance and Conditioning based philosophy to a more Speed and Technical focus.  This has had a significant influence on the performance of club members.  Coventry Godiva Harriers continue to produce more and more speed-based athletes doing 100-400-800m and hurdles.

Charlie, an international athlete himself has coached a number of International, National, English schools, British Universities and Midland level finalists.  Medallists and winners including one Olympian, Lorraine Baker who finished fifth in the 800m at the LA Olympics in 1984.  We see his legacy in full swing today at Coventry Godiva with a number of his former athletes now involved in leading squads and other aspects of athletics and following in his footsteps producing County, Midland and National/ International level athletes.

Charlie’s energy was second to none as well as coaching four/five times a week he held many other positions in the club i.e., Chairman, Treasurer, Team Manager, Meeting Organiser and Track Official, just to name a few.

Charlie was instrumental in the relocation of the track facilities being moved from the Butts Stadium in 1984 to its current home at Warwick University.  Charlie supported the resurfacing of the track in 2004, the new Club House being built in 2012, as well as the ‘Charlie Kelly Conditioning Gym’ named in his honour.


Charlie’s Coaching Legacy

Charlie came to work in Coventry in 1971 as deputy City Engineer with Coventry City Council.  With his long standing-interest and involvement in athletics he made tracks for Coventry Godiva Harriers which was based at the Butts stadium, now the home of Coventry Rugby Club.  In no time at all he began making his mark as a coach and then as a member of the Club’s committee.  In the late 1970’s his expertise was found useful during the time of developing the idea of a new track for the city and club which came to fruition in 1983 with the opening of the all-weather track on the Westwood site of the University of Warwick. With this also came a clubhouse the first in the Club’s history.  In 1986 Charlie took over as treasurer; a post which he went on to hold for 30 years.  He brought the Club’s finances to a sound footing and oversaw the building of both a conditioning suite and a replacement club house.  Throughout all his time with the club he held down a very responsible local authority job where he eventually rose to be City Engineer.  At the same time, he coached at least twice a week at the track and delivered a conditioning class for many a year away from the track.  He coached many athletes, but Lorraine Baker was most probably his biggest success with two Olympics Games in the 800m.

Charlie enjoyed ballroom dancing and opera, he was a man with many interests.  All at Godiva are extremely thankful that landed on our patch, he certainly left his mark!

A number of coaches currently at Godiva are former athletes of Charlie and these include (with their own comments).

  • Paul Hayes – Charlie coached me from around 1979 through to my retirement in around 1998. It was a group including Karen and Lorraine Baker, Colin Szwed, Chris Powell, Darren Bills, Paul Moxon, David Bowman and John Wilkinson.  All international athletes or English Schools champions.
  • Stewart Marshall 400m – Many years travelling with Charlie to Loughborough to train with Brian Darby. Later taking over one of Charlie’s squads and himself winning M35 masters World Gold.
  • Nick Bennett – Who was coached by Charlie at the Butts for a few years doing the 800/1500.  He was coached by Charlie from the first session at Coventry Godiva when at the Butts Stadium he fell asleep in the changing rooms afterwards . “He expected you to work hard and checked your training diary on a regular basis to see how things were going and if you had any issues. Personally, I think those training sessions were the best I ever had as an athlete with regards to effort and the enjoyment he instilled in the group.  When I moved up to the steeplechase, Charlie took the time to coach me on how to hurdle (which wasn’t easy) and always seemed to be there if you needed him. He will be greatly missed”
  • Dr Brian Darby – Charlie coached Brian for the longest time of all his athletes. Brian’s first training diary is dated 1989 (after being with Godiva Coach Gordon Horne for a year). Charlie’s sessions quickly ramped up with a big emphasis on the endurance and conditioning taking Brian to 5th at the nationals at approx. 16 years of age, with a later focus on speed. Charlie guided Brian to British university gold, midland medals and master’s European medals and world finals.

Many athletes mention how Charlie not only influenced them whilst being their coach, that he also shared his expertise and passion whilst coaching their children, including Lesley and Jane Mallows, Jess and Nadine Starling, Carly and Holly Bates,  to name but a few.


A message from Karen and Lorraine Barker two of Charlie athletes :

On behalf of my sister Lorraine Baker and myself Karen Downing we want to pass our condolences to the family . Charlie coached and mentored us both from around the age of 12 firstly at the Butts Stadium and later at the University . I know without question as youngsters we were quite possibly amongst the most difficult and frustrating pair in his squad, particularly in our teenage years turning up to his meticulously planned sessions hungover or making excuses galore about why we should have an easier session or give it a miss. He always patiently listened and smiled at us then promptly ignored our dramas got us working with the rest of the group to get things done . His tolerance, kindness, tenacity and education helped us to become credible and knowledgeable athletes. He really was very special to us . His legacy speaks for itself I introduced my children to the sport initially through Charlie and I hope it comforts his family to know that Lorraine, myself our families and so many others share your sadness with the passing of such an incredible man .


Charles Kelly a formidable athlete himself :

Charlie as an Athlete was also a force to be reckoned with – Charlie treaded the boards ( or cinders ) for Pembroke Athletics club:

Taken from Pembroke History part 2

Charlie Kelly: The club`s first track international

The Pembrokians that gathered together after the Second World War were largely older members veterans of the glorious thirties. A 1947-48 group photograph still shows Norman Jones, Harold Marsh, Jimmy Auburn, Kenny Cookson and also Bobby Cooke and Charlie Bourne who were to figure strongly later as coaches and officials. Younger members were appearing though and were to have a major impact. One of these was Charlie Kelly.

Charlie first made contact with the sport after winning the Waterloo Schoolboys 220 yards championship nin 1937 but his real interest lay elsewhere. He had developed into an accomplished ballroom dancer but was gradually prised away by his brother who was a physical training instructor. A chance meeting with Pembrokian Bill Finigan and he was quickly drawn into athletics. The year was 1944. Jim Rimmer and Albert Hogg were the club star sprinters and quickly left Charlie adrift but he began to show up well in club handicaps. At his first open meeting at Leverhulme Park he ran the half mile in the medley relay where he impressed. Later in the season he returned to Bolton and won his first open event, the one mile handicap in 4.12 off 165 yards.

Charlie was duly lured into the cross country scene and astonished everybody at the opening Monstre Meet Mile break at Prenton with a decisive win. He quickly established himself as a harrier winning a succession of inter-club events, even gaining representative vests for West Lancashire and the Northern Counties. Clearly he was going to have a fabulous track season and he obliged by victories in various mile handicaps and as a member of the successful two mile team which continued its pre-war reputation. His first track representative honour came when he donned Northern colours in a match against the AAA and Midland Counties. He was second with a time of 4.28, the first club member ever to go under 4.30.

His cross country reputation continued into 1945-46 with another Monstre Meet mile win and a succession of victories in inter-club events. He declined further involvement in cross country to prepare for the following track season and must have felt justified as he became the club`s first track international. This came in the form of an invitation to represent Ireland in the Triangular International against England and Scotland having sealed selection with victory in the Northern Ireland mile championship in 4.34. He finished third in 4.28 just half a yard off a sensational victory. There were also numerous other mile handicap successes to follow and also victory in the Lancashire half mile championship.

The following season he retained his Northern Ireland title with ease and was only pipped for the all-Ireland title by the legendary Joe Barry. Although winning so-called Olympic Trials he was ignored by the selectors but a second international honour came his way in the usual triangular match with England and Scotland but was unplaced. However, at the AAA championships he ran another club record of 4.24 in his heat.

During the winter he was working in Manchester and came into contact with coach Walter Perrott of Manchester AC. This was to prove an inspirational partnership. In the Lancashire half-mile championship he was third to Frank Evans (MAC) and Ernie Gallagher (Liverpool Harriers) but he had captured another club record with 1.57.5 which he later cut to 1.57 at an invitation race at Chesterfield. A trip to Dublin for an all-star meeting and he was a fine second in 1.58. A following race saw him team up with Harry Ashcroft, Ken Bruns and Ken Thompson to bring the Northern Counties Medley Relay Championship to Pembroke for the first time in a record time of 3.39.

But the star performance of that season was a magnificent 1.56.4 half mile in Dublin as he took the All Ireland title. It was Pembroke`s first ever national track title. Amazingly there was more to come as a Jimmy Milburn, Charlie Kelly, Ken Bruns and Harry Ashcroft 4 x 440yards line-up gained second place to the great Polytechnic team at the AAA Championships in Port Sunlight. A further Irish International vest came in another triangular, fifth this time but with another club record of 1.56. Subsequent seasons saw him lower the club record to 1.55.4 and controversially he even took this to 1.54.9 again in Belfast but a lack of qualified timekeepers officially ruled this out.

Charlie later turned too coaching when his career took him to Coventry he joined the Godiva club and became a highly respected coach there. Following earlier cross country internationals Norman Jones and Harold Marsh the club was beginning to acquire a reputation on the track as well.


Charles Kelly impact on the wider athletics community at national level is evident with recognition from England and midland athletics :

Awards :

A few years ago England Athletics hosted a celebration evening in honour of Charlie Kelly winning the Award for Services to Athletics for the West Midlands Region. 

Charlie Kelly has influenced a number of athletes, coaches and parents, in his decades of service in our sport. So, what better way to celebrate than invite as many of his athletes, past and present, over the years as possible!

This is wonderfully demonstrated in this picture, which shows a number of generations of Charlie’s athletes, including some of his Charlie’s Angels.

His influences have shaped some of his athletes into Olympians, GB Triathlon vests, and even GB Masters medallists…more into coaches, and even some others into becoming NGB Athletics staff.

Further, we received messages of congratulations from all around the UK and even from the other side of the globe! Sharing their gratitude towards Charlie.


Here are a few of the statements from his legacy:

Esther Saraste (formally Merchant), sent her best wishes to Charlie…all the way from Finland.

Nikita Matu (athletics coach), tell us that Charlie is “a truly inspirational coach” and that “it was a pleasure and honour getting to coach sprinting alongside him”. She wishes Charlie all the very best and to keep on smiling and doing what he loves. He is “a real hero”. 

Phil Fleetwood, coach education tutor for England Athletics says, “Charlie was one of my first coaches, he inspired me to become a coach, a role I have now been developing for over 45 years! I hope that I have been equally inspiring!!”.

At 93, Charlie Kelly is a true stalwart of athletics and is the beating heart behind the hurdling successes at Godiva Harriers, even to this day. 


England athletics and Midland Athletics


Graham Knight & Max Jones to let them know the sad news of Charlie’s death. Both worked with Charlie on the Midland coaching committee, organising and leading numerous Midland squad sessions over many years, to support athletes and their personal coaches.

RIP Charlie Kelly, a true athletics man for all seasons, – personal coach, staff coach, team manager, official, club factotum etc……….in addition to roles often taken for granted, – husband, parent and career.

I first met Charlie in 1969 when, in my coaching infancy, I took a number of relay teams from my club (Newcastle {Staffs} AC) to the Stretford Relays in Trafford Park. Charlie’s Warrington AC senior men had just won the AAA 4 x 100m Champs, a title they retained the following year. He was a successful and respected coach in the North West, but he had an unassuming air about him even then.

My next formal contact with him was when I was appointed Midland Staff Coach for Sprint Hurdles, and Christine Taylor accepted an invitation to my first squad meeting at Cosford. Charlie had moved to Coventry Godiva, and he took the time to phone me in advance of the squad to give me relevant information on Christine. Shortly after this Bill Marlow had asked Charlie to join the team of Midland Staff Coaches, who provided an event specific network across the Midlands in the form of squads, conferences and points of contact.

The Coventry Godiva club was a national powerhouse along with area rivals, Tipton, North Staffs and Stone and neighbouring Derby & County, who dominated the men’s events during the winter months. However, Charlie brought the women’s T & F team at Coventry into a national force by developing and recruiting athletes to fill the many disciplines in the T & F programme. This success often pointed to the drive and total commitment of an individual, who led and encouraged a team of coaches and officials, and Charlie’s Coventry was up there with Jim Harris’ Stretford and Eric Hughes’ Sale in the National Women’s League.

The supporting role of Charlie as a coach was underlined by the warm words of a parent, who brought his daughter to Midland and National Squads. Reg Parry was a Coventry Head Teacher, whose daughter Lynn was one of the top young hurdlers in the country. Reg gave enormous credit to Charlie, not just as a coach and team manager, but for the continuing support he gave to Lynn and the others in his training group, who were all treated as individuals and who were all given his unfailing support when they most needed it, i.e when they were injured or when results had not been going as well as expected.

When the club moved to the grounds of Warwick University, Charlie became the prime mover and promoter of the Coventry Games, which were sponsored and helped to establish the T & F credentials of the club. He set the programme both to cater for the needs of the club’s athletes and to give the top Midland athletes a good standard of competition without having to travel to Gateshead or Crystal Palace. For some reason he hit upon the rarely run 200m hurdles race for men, and he called me each year to get a field together, which regularly attracted some of the country’s best from the 110mH and 400mH events. He had the knack of being almost apologetic about asking you to do this, but a number of us did it because of the respect we had for Charlie. On another occasion he rang me to tell me that the New Zealand national 4 x 400m team was seeking an opportunity to achieve the qualifying time for the 1987 World Champs and he asked me if my training group would provide the opposition. They were happy to do so, and with the addition of a City of Stoke AC man, they beat the New Zealanders, who sadly did not achieve the required time.

These few personal memories will be matched by those of many others whose paths crossed with Charlie. In my time as a coach, teacher and team manager (1967-2011) there were many Charlie Kelly’s in athletic clubs across the country, and the sport usually took them for granted. Charlie might have just missed his telegram from Buckingham Palace by a few years, but his contribution to the sport, and more importantly to the development and wellbeing of individuals who benefited from his knowledge and wisdom, cannot be calculated in words.

It was a real privilege to know Charlie and to count him as a friend and colleague.

Graham Knight


Charlie impact was so wide in athletics a number of reactions to Charlie have been recorded below – showing what an impact Charlie had on the athletics community .

Responses to Charlie passing have been great and wide from all the athletes and coaches that this great man has graced with his presence.  To the Family of Coach Kelly we thank you for allowing us to share him with us.



Below is an article and video of Charlie a few years ago celebrating him as a local hero, Charlie in the papers :