By Roger Ingham

TIME, alas, waits for no-one. And, in a month when his celebrated rival, the Lakeland fell-racing legend, Bill Teasdale MBE reached the final finishing line, one of the Lakeland King’s greatest rivals, Norman Beck from Skipton, has now joined him in the theatre of heaven’s sporting elite.

Aged 82, Norman came from a building block, the stature of which, there are few around.

A star within the sporting arena, but who also displayed such a high degree of energy, alacrity, and dedication in the workplace, that it was almost a chapter in its own right.

One of nine brothers and sisters who grew up on Skipton’s Shortbank - Greatwood housing estate, Norman’s tough, but immensely fulfilling life was mapped out from an early age. Indeed, while still attending Skipton Parish Church Primary School he had already found work with a local farmer, gathering sheep from the neighbouring Rombalds Moor. And, more so herding and then milking by hand, cattle based across town at the old Skipton show field. Then, almost unimaginable today, - when required – he would also be noted herding beasts through town to Skipton Auction Mart situated in Broughton Road. And, an even longer shift, school holidays, he would also be noted, rounding up sheep on distant Crookrise, and driving them all the way on foot to the same mart.

A truly incredible guy, indeed a boy wonder who could also be found breaking and schooling ponies arriving from Appleby Horse Fair.

However, all this, and more, would stand him in good stead for a glowing chapter in a long sporting career, which realistically started in Norman’s primary school days. For, in his final year at Parish Primary, the top class (Year 6) was moved, due to over-crowding, into a spare room at Brougham Street which was still then the town’s Secondary Modern School. And, as a special treat, Norman’s primary school class were invited to watch their elder’s annual cross-country races which then took place from behind the old open-air swimming pool up Shortbank and embraced a section of Rombalds Moor. Merely watching the event, did not fit too nicely with Norman who eventually decided to chase after the secondary school’s First Year race, albeit from a lengthy distance behind. And, he remarkably caught up and passed all except four of the competitors.

Thus, on moving to Ermysted’s the following year, he would display his true mettle, and where, - from a level start, - he romped home first, in Ermysted’s First Year boys race. The dye thus being cast for a highly successful career in endurance running for many years thereon.

However, there was much more in Norman’s sporting locker including at Ermysted’s where he also figured prominently for the school’s age-group rugby teams.

Besides much else at Ermysted’s, Norman enjoyed further cross-country success, but some old pals would better recall his phenomenal after-school stints when he would jump on the Gargrave - Malhamdale bus and then herd livestock, all the way on foot from Malham, to Highgate and then walk all the way back to Greatwood.

Leaving school at fifteen, it therefore came as no surprise that Norman would move straight into full-time farming at Cracoe for Billy Pickering himself a former fell-runner and with whom Norman had already acquainted and had become his trainer.

Success in the ensuing years was plentiful. More modestly but commendable as a junior. But, as a senior, when seasonal work commitments permitted less disruption to his intensive training schedule, he figured as one of fell-racing’s best, if not the very best, in the land.

Before a grander audience locally, a consecutive “hat-trick” of victories in the Kilnsey Crag Race has to be up there amongst his most memorable triumphs. And, on a wider plain, amongst numerous victories elsewhere across the North, he was accorded almost celebrity status after beating the best of England and Scotland before a huge crowd at Alwinton Border Shepherds Meet in Northumberland.

Coincidental to all his fell-racing success, Norman also figured prominently in district football for almost twenty years. A mid-field dynamo to behold. And, highlights included him helping Grassington United, then almost entirely up-Dales lads either residence or workwise, winning the Craven League title in 1961-62. Moreover, their title-clinching victory would epitomise the most supreme of “Norman the Conqueror”.

For, he having produced a familiar wholehearted shift in the title-clinching match on Saturday afternoon, he headed straight off to the Howgill Hills in South Lakeland and won the hotly contested rough tough senior fell race at Cautley Sports on the Saturday evening.

Norman also starred for the Craven League football representative side including him scoring a “hat-trick” against West Riding Police, even though he modelled himself primarily as goal-creator moreso than a finisher.

Various factors including Billy Pickering’s ill-health thus prompting an eventual move from the farm. Norman in consequence, working for other farmers elsewhere, before a career shift saw him turning his ample energies and flair to the building trade, where, again Norman would earn profound respect from every boss for whom he worked.

Building his own house was merely a drop in the ocean concerning his sterling overall efforts. And, one particular prominent monument to his graft and handicraft on a grander scale is the huge retaining wall running down to the centre of Halifax. All the work of a resolute gang of four, inclusive of our man of the moment.

Of Norman’s other varied social interests, including him supporting Keighley Cougars and Leeds Rhinos, it would seem amiss not to mention his wonderful, feathered friends, the pigeons. Indeed as Norman himself would contend, ….they helped to win us two World Wars.

More than half a century the Beck birds had flown on a wing, and now a wing and a prayer for Norman the Conqueror.

What a man, ….what a star!

Norman's funeral takes place on Friday, February 17, at 12.45pm at Skipton's Parish Church (Holy Trinity) at the top of the High Street.