Arrowe Park, Birkenhead, Wirral hosted the fifty-third Senior Women's National Cross-Country Championships and what a controversial race it turned out to be. The race was sponsored by Provincial Insurance Limited and was 5,000m in length and consisted of two even laps.
1984 champion Jane Shields nee Furniss (Sheffield AC) was on a racing tour of the US and unlikely to return home in time to defend her title. South African-born Zola Budd (Aldershot, Farnham & District AC) and the Welsh Tooby twins, both Cardiff AAC, along with Ruth Smeeth (Aldershot, Farnham & District AC) were favourites for the race.
Anti-Apartheid protesters had made threats prior to the race and a spokesman was quoted as saying "Our aim is to disrupt the race and if that means stopping her, we'll do it. "We object to the way that the immigration authorities allowed her passport to come through so swiftly and we're very much against apartheid. A number of athletes will be upset but we have to make our point." A Merseyside police spokesman said: "We are prepared for any eventuality. We can't say what our precautions are, but we'll be ready if needed." Rather surprisingly, the BBC, did not televise the race. Grandstand editor John Phillips said: "The 'National' was considered, but we felt it didn't warrant the expense of a full outside broadcast unit."
Snow lay on the ground on the day of the race and Budd, who normally ran barefoot, decided to use spikes. Police, both mounted and on foot, patrolled the race but the very nature of a cross-country course would have made it difficult to stop determined protestors.
Three-quarters of the way into the first lap Angela Tooby had a ten-metre lead over Budd, Ruth Smeeth, Susan Tooby, Mary Cotton (Birchfield Harriers), Kath Carter (Sale Harriers) and Carol Haigh (Holmfirth Harriers). This was the point that the protesters interfered with the race, first two tried to block Angela Tooby who later told Athletics Weekly "Two lads jumped in front of me, but I just hit them out of the way". 18-year-old Budd was less fortunate as protesters 'ambushed' her and prevented her from continuing in the race.
By the end of the first lap Angela Tooby had increased her lead to 30 metres from Ruth Smeeth, who was 10 metres ahead of Susan Tooby. There was a gap of 60 metres to fourth placed Julie Laughton (Derby Ladies AC) who was followed by Carter, Cotton, Sally McDiarmid (Worcester AC), Paula Fudge (Borough of Hounslow AC), Jill Rothwell (Liverpool Harriers), Haigh, Marina Samy (Bracknell AC), Jill Clarke (Sheffield AC) and Veronique Marot (Leeds City AC).
Two female protesters were securely handcuffed to railings by the time the leaders came back around to where the incident happened on the first lap, Angela Tooby fighting off a strong challenge from Ruth Smeeth who had managed to reduce the gap. Angela held on to win in 18:25, 5 seconds clear of Smeeth with Paula Fudge just edging Veronique Marot for third.
24-year-old Angela Tooby, a geography teacher at Bristol Technical College, who dropped out after 600 metres the previous year, told Athletics Weekly afterwards "I'm a bit disappointed really, I would have liked to have beaten her", when asked if she was still pleased with her win after last year's abortive effort: "Oh God, yes! After only 300m I thought, I'm not going to drop out this time!"
Zola Budd who was led away in tears and had to visit hospital with a jaw injury later commented: "I saw the runner in front being knocked and suddenly everyone was standing in front of me. I was frightened and realised if I tried to run on and get past I might get hurt and almost certainly disrupt the race, so I ran off the course. I was not touched physically. My programme will remain the same and this has not put me off cross-country running." In her post race interview with the Liverpool Echo winner Angela Tooby said: "I saw the crowd coming at me, and it went into a tunnel, only wide enough for one person to get through, the police horses were all around, and it was very frightening. Ruth Smeeth, Zola's club mate, who finished second, said: "I was level with Zola, shoulder to shoulder, and the next thing, I saw her being accosted. She looked very upset." Two women were arrested for obstruction and one man for assaulting a police officer after the incident. Mr. David Hunt, Conservative MP for Wirral West, said he had written a letter of apology to Miss Budd and told the Liverpool Echo "I am shocked and ashamed at what happened and I think I speak for everyone in Wirral when I say how disgraceful it was."