Alex Brown receiving the leader’s baton from NoW representative Ron Bacchus
Alex P Brown was born on 9th September 1944, and became one of the best distance runners in Scotland. It’s maybe not surprising that that was the case – his father Andrew was a good Scottish runner for Motherwell YMCA after the war, and his older brother Andrew Brown was one of the country’s best ever representatives and captained the national cross country team for many years. They all ran for Motherwell YMCA until Law & District AAC was formed in 1967 when Alex and Andy both switched to what was now their local club. They are best known for their cross-country and road running exploits but were also classy track runners. Andy was the older by 12 years and provided Alex a lot of ‘instant experience’. The family all helped each other – there are stories of their Dad tieing Andy’s shoe laces before a race to make sure they were tight enough; I have two instances of Andy giving good advice to Alex in the race situation. First, at Beith before the New Year’s Day race, when Alex did some strides from the starting line away from the direction of the race he was called back by big brother and told to do them down in the way the race was to go because, “they’ll start the race if you’re 50 yards behind the line, they’ll not start it if you’re 50 yards in front of the line!” And then at the last ever Rangers Sports when Alex and I were on the same mark in a crowded Mile handicap race. We were off 100 yards + and Andy appeared immediately before the start – “Watch the starter,” he told Alex, “and go when you see the smoke: you’ll see that before you hear the gun and can pick up some places.” I used both myself and passed on the advice to many runners that I coached. Two miles to go at the end of the first stage of the Edinburgh to Glasgow relay and Andy calls out to Alex to pick up the pace NOW – less than 10 minutes running left.” Well, maybe for him, but not for too many on the stage that year. Alex grew up in a running household, he was given advice and help but there were also expectations laid on him – if not by the family, certainly by other athletes. He responded well. It’s as a road and cross-country runner that this profile will concentrate but a look at his ability and performances on the track would be worth while. First his progress and rankings over distances from the Mile to Six Miles are summarised in the following table.
The typical summer season for endurance runners in the 1960’s was to run in their county championships, the two miles team races all summer, the championships, any invitation events that came up and a few road races such as the Tom Scott 10 Miles Law to Motherwell. Alex followed that pattern – one of the differences between then and now was the summer two mile team races in which all the best runners competed head to head. Shettleston’s Lachie Stewart, Dick Wedlock, Hen ry Summerhill and all would compete against Motherwell’s McCafferty, Brown, McKay and company as well as Victoria Park’s Hugh Barrow, Pat Maclagan and Joe Reilly. The racing scene was the better for it, in my opinion. As an example we could look at a typical summer, 1964, when he won his only Scottish track vest. The list of races is not comprehensive but gives the pattern followed for most years. He started the summer with sixth place in the Tom Scott road race in 50:50 and along with Andy (2nd) and Bert McKay (4th) was part of the winning team. On 13th June Motherwell won the Two Miles team race at Shawfield where the Lanarkshire Police Sports was the event. The team was McKay, Brown and Brown. The following week the same trio won the Babcock & Wilcox Two Miles although Lachie Stewart won the individual race for the second week in succession. There were no medals at the SAAA Championships on the last weekend in June, and the Motherwell team did not travel to Kinlochleven for the two miles at that Highland Gathering where Shettleston won easily. In the SAAA Championships at Edinburgh he was fourth in the Three Miles in 14:17.2. Then it was Gourock Highland Games in the last week of the month and Shettleston with a very strong team beat a Motherwell team without Ian McCafferty. His next reported outing was at Ayr, on 8th August, he competed in the Scotland v Ireland in the steeplechase where he finished second to team mate Robert Henderson in 9:32. 4. Henderson ran 9:23.8. Scotland won by 102 pts to 91. Motherwell as a team was quiet for several weeks although Bert McKay and Ian McCafferty were active across Scotland and, in McCafferty’s case, south of the border. On 12th August there was an open meeting at Westerlands in Glasgow where Lachie beat Ian McCafferty by two yards in 9:03 with Alex third in 9:06.6. Three and a half seconds down on that pair was a very good run – although Alex might have been a bit ambivalent about having brought Ian into the sport in he first place! At the end of the month there was the Cowal Games at Dunoon where in the invitation two miles, Derek Ibbotson defeated Hugh Barrow and Ian McCafferty: although there was no names for the team event given in the result it is safe to guess that Alex Brown was out in such a big race, held before what was probably the biggest crowd in the country. It is however as a road and cross-country runner that he is best known.
Alex in the middle, between Les Meneely (B7) and Tom O’Reilly
As a cross-country runner he was really first noticed in January 1962 when he won the West District Youths Championships at Strathleven, Dumbarton. Andy won the senior title with team mates Bert McKay and John Lineker in second and third and Alex defeated his friend and team-mate Ian McCafferty by 2 second for the Youths event with Hugh Barrow 15 seconds further back. He had been fifth in the same age group the previous year and third behind Hugh Barrow and J Grant (Monkland) in the previous year’s Boys race, although it should be noted that he was on the same time as Grant and only 5 seconds behind Barrow. Already we are seeing one of the reasons for Alex Brown’s lack of appropriate recognition – his contemporaries included luminaries of the Scottish distance running scene as Ian McCafferty, Hugh Barrow, Lachie Stewart and that entire generation of top class athletes. The Midlands Youths title was his first real championship victory and indicated that he was not just a good boy runner. On 3rd March, 1962, the cross-country runners all headed for Hamilton for the national championships and it was here that Alex won an even bigger event – the result of the Youths race was 1. AP Brown 15:18; 2. I McCafferty 15:23; 3. WH Barrow 15:23. Three within five seconds, two on the same time. It was a tough race but the younger Brown had come through it triumphantly.
Season 1962-63 Alex was out in the McAndrew relay at Scotstoun in the winning Motherwell team. Taking them from third to first and followed by Andy running the fastest time of the day, his first season racing seniors started well, and he also had the day’s third fastest time. The following week the team won the Lanarkshire county title and again Brown had the third fastest time. The YMCA championship was won the following week, he missed the Garscube Harriers races the following week (McCafferty won) and then in the Midland Relay Championships he gave the winning Motherwell team a 130 yards lead at the end of the first lap, to finish the short relay season. Andy had the fastest time of the day with Alex second quickest over the Stirling trail. Then it was the big one, the Edinburgh to Glasgow relay and Alex was one of the four from the club who set stage fastest times when he moved the club from third to second on the fifth stage. His running had earned him a place in the SCCU team to compete against the British Army team on 28th November at Barrachnie, Glasgow, where he finished eighth. On 6th December the Motherwell team was out in force at the Lanarkshire championships and the winning squad was made up of McCafferty (1), Andy Brown (2) and Alex (4). Then came his second representative run in a week – the SCCU team defeated Scottish Universities in a trail from King’s Buildings. McCafferty won from Andy Brown, with Bill Ewing third, Roger Young fifth, Lachie Stewart fifth, Alex Brown sixth and Hugh Barrow seventh. Into the new year and Alex’s introduction to the classic road races continued with sixth place in a star studded field for the Nigel Barge Trophy at Maryhill. Won by Ian McCafferty from Fergus Murray, Andy Brown, Lachie Stewart and Roger Young, Alex was less than half a minute behind the winner. There was another top class field battling it out at Strathleven, Dumbarton, the following week for the Midland District championship. McCafferty won comfortably from Andy Brown, Lachie Stewart, Alex, Jim Johnston and Dick Wedlock. (Looking at these runners facing each other week in, week out, it provokes the question about why we do not see such sterling battles as regularly now and whether there is a connection between that lack and the decline in standards, In the National at Hamilton on 27th February, Alex raced in the Junior race where he was third. Look at the quality in this one, runners in finishing order were Ian McCafferty, Roger Young, Alex Brown, Dick Wedlock, Walter Eadie, Ian Young and Jim Brennan. The senior leaders were Fergus Murray, Jim Alder, Lachie Stewart, Andy Brown and Donald Macgregor. The selectors did not select Brown for the international, choosing instead to have him, along with Roger Young, as reserve for the senior team. The baptism of fire continued as Alex turned out in the Tom Scott Road Race on 3rd April which was a battle royal between Alder, Andy Brown, Stewart and McCafferty while the second group contained Alastair Wood, Dick Wedlock, Jim Johnston and Henry Summerhill along with young Alex. McCafferty faded seriously at the end to finish fifteenth with the first four being Alder (47:34), Andy Brown (47:40), Lachie Stewart (48:45) and Alex (49:07).
1965 was a good year on the track for Alex but the winter would start again in the first week of October with the McAndrew Relay at Scotstoun. Alex ran on the first stage for the team that won and set a new record for the course although Alex could nly finish three seconds behind Eddie Knox on the first stage. In the Lnarkshire championship relay the following week Motherwell split their resources with Andy Brown and Bert McKay runningin the second team. The A team with McCafferty, Alex, Wedlock and McNulty on comfortably enough in the end A week later, 16th October, Motherwell travelled to Dundee for the Kingsway relay – it was unusual for them to run in this one where the main contenders were usually Shettleston, Victoria Park, Dundee Hawkhill and the university squads. However the team of Davie Simpson, Alex and Andy Brown and Ian McCafferty won by 9 seconds from an Edinburgh University team of Elson, Gamwell, Blamire and Murray. The following week was the Scottish YMCA relay championships and again Motherwell switched their teams around with one being made up of older runners (Marshall, McKay, Simpson and Andy Brown) and the other of younger men (Wedlock, Greenshields, Alex Brown and McCafferty.) Separated by only two seconds at the end of the first lap, McKay opened up more than a minute on Greenshields which made the task facing McCafferty and Brown impossible. And so it proved with the old’uns beating the young’uns by 36 seconds after McCafferty had started 58 seconds behind Andy Brown. Nevertheless, McCafferty had the fastest time of the day with Alex third quickest. They were separated by Andy Brown. There was no messing about with team selections in the Midland District relays though – the top team of Alex Brown (second on the first stage behind Jim Brennan of Maryhill), Bert McKay, Andy Brown and McCafferty was on duty and they duly won from Shettleston. The only runner from the club to tackle the Glasgow University road race at the start of November was Bert McKay who finished second, 15 seconds down on Lachie Stewart. The SCCU team to face the British Army on 27 November was chosen and it included both Brown brothers, Ian McCafferty, Jim Alder, Craig Douglas, Fergus Murray, Eddie Knox and Lachie Stewart. The Edinburgh to Glasgow relay came two weeks later and while Motherwell had been carrying all before them in the west, a very good Edinburgh University team was doing at least as well in the East. The two teams came head-to-head in an eight man a side competition. Davie Simpson was third on the first stage on which Alistair Blamire was first for the University, Alex Brown pulled the team up to first on the second stage passing Joe Reilly of Victoria Park and Alex Wight of the University team. But it was back to third for Motherwell on the next stage where Johnny Poulton dropped two places to Pat Maclagan (Victoria Park) and J Rough of Edinburgh Southern with the University back in fifth. On to the fourth stage and Andy Brown in the fastest time of the day moved up to first while Chris Elson pulled the University into second place, 51 seconds down. On the undulating and exposed fifth stage, Willie Marshall ran well but still dropped two places to Frank Gamwell (EU 1st) and Calum Laing (VPAAC 2nd). Ian McCafferty v Fergus Murray on the long sixth stage with Murray having a 29 second advantage. By the end of a terrific seven miles Murray had increased his lead to 66 seconds with Hugh Barrow in third place for Victoria Park. John Wight for the University took a further 4 seconds out of Bert McKay with the fastest time on the penultimate stage and Roger Young coming across the line 80 seconds up on Motherwell’s Wedlock with Alistair Johnston of Victoria Park turning in the fastest time and finishing only 15 seconds behind in third for Victoria Park. Alex’s run on the second stage had been a very good one indeed being one of only two runners inside 29 minutes for the stage.
The following week’s representative match against the Army was a bit of an anti-climax after that but Alex finished fourth in the race behind Stewart, Knox and McKay, McCafferty having been spiked on the starting line by a Scottish team reserve. The New Year started with the annual Beith races where Alex was second to Ian McCafferty with Andy in third place On Monday, 3rd January at half-time in the Celtic v Rangers match at Parkhead, Alex was fourth on the ‘frozen, rutted’ track in 14:28 behind Lachie Stewart, Andy Brown and Jim Brennan. and then in the Nigel Barge race the following Saturday, he was fourth behind Lachie Stewart, Eddie Knox and brother Andy. It was a terrific start to the year and the next big race was the Midland District Championship one week later but Alex was side-lined and could not turn out for the club which finished second behind Victoria Park. The National was held at Hamilton on February 26th that year and Alex was there and finished ninth. The Motherwell team was without McCafferty who was the winner of the Junior race and Alex’s place was not good enough to get him into the team for the international at Rabat.
That three miles time in January was to remain his best for the year and the only other ranking time was the two miles run at Shotts – again on a difficult dirt track with one straight sloping slightly downhill and one slightly uphill – the time on 3rd September was 9:20.4. Ranked twenty six in Scotland for two – and twenty eighth for three miles, he went into the first race of winter 1966 – 67.
As usual the winter season started with the short relays and this year the Motherwell team which had won everything the previous year, started with the problem that Ian McCafferty was not available for the first two relays. This was compounded at the Lanarkshire relay by the absence of the injured Bert McKay. Well though the Brown brothers ran, the club lost both titles. McKay was back for the YMCA relay but there was still no sign of McCafferty and Alex had the fastest time of the day. McCafferty ran for the first time in winter 1966-67 at the Midland Relays at King’s Park in Stirling. Alex on the first stage handed over a 120 yard lead and McKay, Andy Brown and McCafferty never looked like losing that. They won by two and a quarter minutes from Victoria Park with Dumbarton AAC third. Alex was fourth fastest behind McCafferty, Stewart and Brennan. In the Glasgow University road race at the start of November, Brown was fifth less than a minute behind winner Lachie Stewart who had set a new record for the course. In the Edinburgh to Glasgow on 17th November, Motherwell was third with Alex running the fastest time on the fourth stage in bringing the club up from fourth to second. The team to represent the SCCU against the British Army the following Saturday was chosen after the race and both Brown brothers and Ian McCafferty were all in there. In that match, Alex was sixth and was picked again after that match to represent the Union two weeks later against Scottish Universities. Before then however came the Lanarkshire county championships and Motherwell won comfortably with McCafferty and Alex Brown taking first and second spots. In the Universities match on 10th December, McCaffety was second to John Linaker, losing by only 3 seconds. McCaffety was running really well at this point and won the Nigel Barge race at the start of January with Alex down in eighth place.
The Midland District championship was held in Bellahouston Park on 20th January, 1967 and high quality race it was. Look at the first twelve finishers:
- I McCafferty 30:00; 2. L Stewart 31:08; 3. Alex Brown 31:21; 4. Andy Brown 31:31; 5. J Brennan 31:42; 6. J Myatt 32:03; 7. E Knox 32:11; 8. H Barrow 32:13; 9. R Wedlock 32:20; 10. I Donald 32:26; 11. R McKay 32:28; 12. P Maclagan 32:30.
Apart from McCafferty’s outstanding run on the day, every place was fought for although Motherwell easily won the team race from Victoria Park. Into the national championships at Hamilton Park and 1967 was the year that the New Zealand team turned out in real force – it was a good run out in preparation for the international to be held at Barry, Glamorgan. The result was six NZ runners in the first seven places with others not far behind. Alex was sixth Scot to finish and was selected for the international. The Scottish team was a creditable fifth in the international, led home by Lachie Stewart, with Alex as last scoring runner in 67th place.
1967 national: Alex fourth from the left, behind Lachie Stewart.
1967 was the summer when Law and District AAC appeared on the scene. As might be expected they all performed well in their debut summer season with McCafferty topping several ranking lists and Alex and Andy both being well up in several more. Alex’s top Two Mile was at Helenvale in Glasgow on 27th June when his time of 8:54.8 in second place placed him eighth in the national rankings at the end of the season and his best Three Miles was on 27th May at Westerlands where he was second in the Wesr District which rated him twelfth. He also hada good Six Miles to his credit when he ran 28:55.0 finishing third on 23rd June to be fifth at the end of the season.
In the McAndrew on 7th October the team was ninth with Andy and Alex having third and fourth fastest times of the day. In the LAAA county realy, Law was fifth with Alex 2nd fastest, but there was no Law team entered in the Midland Championship. When the Motherwell club splitr at the formation of Law and District, Bert McKay and a few others of the regular top men stayed where they were and this was to affect team performances. In November at the University road race, Alex was fourth, and Andy fifth behind Stewart, Knox and Maclagan). In their first year, the new club was not in the E-G; On 25th November, in the SCCU v Army Ales was 3rd behind Bryan-Jones and Blamire. The first race in December was the Lanarkshire county championships and Alex was third in a race won by McCafferty. A week later in the race between the SCCU and the Scottish Universities he was seventh and of course a member of the winning team. Not out in the Nigel Barge road race, Alex was eighth in the Springburn Cup race. He picked up for the more important Midland District championships at Bellahouston where, with most of the top six or seven runners away at European races, he was third behind Maclagan and Brennan. A taste of the track tested out his speed when he won the three miles at the Shettleston Harriers open winter meeting at Barrachnie in 14:27. The gradually escalating races throughout February included the Inter-Counties Championships at Dundonald in Troon where he was second to John Lineker and then the National itself where he was fifth – two places in front of Andy. Despite McCafferty and Alder missing the race but being added to the international team, both Brown brothers had done well enough to be selected. In the race held in Tunis, Scotland, following a superb run by the older Brown was fourth with Alex well down the field in 67th. The Tom Scott was either the last race of the winter or the first of the summer, but in any case Alex was third in 48:44 behind McCafferty (48:39) and Gareth Bryan-Jones (48:49)
In summer ’68 Alex again ran his best Two Miles at Helenvale – 9:08.0, and in the Three Miles he was third in the West Districts in 14:18.8 and second in the Inter-Counties in 14:08.4
Second to Shettleston Harriers in the McAndrew relay and in the Lanarkshire relay too, they won the YMCA relay on the third Saturday of the month. The Midland relays were on the first Saturday in November and Law was fourth – Strathclyde University surprisingly finishing second to upset the order of things, however Alex Brown was second fastest of the day behind Lachie Stewart. None of the Law men ran in the Glasgow University road race and the club did not have a team in the Edinburgh to Glasgow relay in 1968 so it was right on to December. where both Alex and Andy faced the British Army on behalf of the SCCU where they were part of the team which won the battle. In the Midland District championship there was no Alex Brown, indeed there was no team at all from Law and District. Nor was there any Alex Brown in the National Championships so he missed out on the International as well.
That summer, 1969, Alex recorded 8:26 for 3000m when he won at Airdrie Highland Games at Rawyards Park and 14:43.6 when he finished second in the West District Championships 5000m.
1968 National: Linaker (399), Stewart (413), Alex Brown, Jim Wright (105), Andy Brown (217), Jim Brennan (223) and Donald Macgregor
In the McAndrew in October 1969 the ‘Glasgow Herald’ said all that had to be said. “Shettleston Harriers, unable to field their strongest team, had to give best to Law and District in the McAndrew relay at Jordanhill on Saturday. The Law runners finally won easily but were well outside the record these same four runners set four years ago when running in Motherwell YMCA’s colours. In the past Law have usually put their weakest runner off first leaving Alex and Andrew Brown and Ian McCafferty to pull in the deficit on the remaining three legs. On Saturday they reversed the order. After these three had built up a lead of 65 seconds for David Simpson, their anchor man, there was really very little Bill Scally, Shettleston’s last runner could do about it.” It should be noted of course that David Simpson had run for Scotland in the International cross-country championship in 1962 so it was really a solid man closing in at the finish for Law. The following week end Law was second in the county relay with Alex returning the third fastest time. In the West District championships, Law was second to Shettleston – it was clearly Shettleston’s year with former Motherwell runner Dick Wedlock and Lachie Stewart making a massive contribution to that success. On 8th November, Alex finished third in the Glasgow University Road Race behind Pat Maclagan and Eddie Knox. 1969 was the year that Law made the Edinburgh to Glasgow relay race but they found it hard going and could only finish ninth with Alex on the long, hard, seven miles of the sixth stage. He picked up one place, from eighth to seventh, but was not among the fastest times on that stretch. Alex was picked to run for the SCCU against the British Army and Northern Counties the following week where the Scottish team won comfortably enough. He ran in neither the Nigel Barge nor the Springburn Cup road races at the start of 1970. But on 24th January at Lenzie, in the Midland District Championships, Alex was sixth in the event which Ian McCafferty won. However, came the National and the Brown brothers were well down the field, Andy in 25th and Alex in 30th.
Alex had no international cross-country in 1970 and no ranking times at any distance during the track season. No Law team took part in the McAndrew or Lanarkshire relays but there was one team entered in the District championships: it finished 17th with no Alex Brown in the team and Andy could only finish 12th on the first stage. There was a team in the Edinburgh to Glasgow relay in mid-November but it finished 17th with Andy eighth on the first stage, Alex dropping to fourteenth on the seconds, then a drop to sixteenth for the next three stages before David Simpson picked up one place on the long leg with the team slipping back to 17th on the seventh stage and finishing there at the end of the day. Alex had nineteenth time out of the twenty with twentieth time run by A Brown of East Kilbride. The Law team finished twelfth in the West District at Stirling but although Andy Brown was the first scoring runner in twenty sixth, Alex was not in the team. In the National at Bellahouston Park, Alex was third counter for Law in 105th position. His running was a shadow of what it had been.
Alex was never a runner that was courted by the Press. I do not remember ever seeing any interview with him as there were with Ian McCafferty, brother Andrew, Jim Brennan, Lachie Stewart or any other of his contemporaries. He was never loud or ostentatious at meetings. In 1970 when he had virtually retired he was only just over 26 years old. I have a friend who reckons that 26 is the key age for keeping young seniors in the sport – at that point their careers are starting to take off. They are probably married with children or about to be so. It is a time when priorities are being set. Without any knowledge of Alex’s situation, I would guess that he had decided to concentrate on his career rather than on his athletics. Whatever the reason, there was a clear lowering of the standard of his performances.
He did not stop running but his results slipped considerably. In the Edinburgh to Glasgow of November 1971 he ran on the second stage and dropped from fifth to eleventh with fourteenth time of the day: not really bad on this most difficult of stages but not what we’d have expected a few years earlier. In the National of 1972 he was down in 76th place and third scorer for the Law & District team. He had a good 3000m the following year but slower than he had run for some time. In winter 1972-73 he ran the fourth stage for the Law team in the Midland District relay and dropped to third place. On the sixth stage of the Edinburgh to Glasgow, Alex Brown moved his team up one place from thirteenth to twelfth, overtaking Robert Anderson of Cambuslang with ninth time of the day. In the Midland championships in January 1973, Law & District finished seventh team but did so without the services of Alex Brown. He had a good run in the National though when he was 35th – one place behind Eddie Knox.
The Law team for the Midland District relay in 1973-74 was Fairweather, Miller, Thonson, McIver. There was no place in the team in the Edinburgh to Glasgow for either of the Browns or McCafferty. There was no sign of either Andy or Alex in any of the major championship races that year – the Law team was even unlucky enough not to be in the first three in the Lanarkshire relays where for many years they were a ‘banker’ and could afford to switch teams around to get first two places. Alex’s career was effectively over.
Alex was always a bit overshadowed by big brother Andy who had the advantage of being first to display his talent on the athletics stage. But Alex was a notable talent in his own right. Five international cross country vests between 1963 and 1968 (1963, 64, 65, 67, 68). Twice as a Junior and three times as a senior. National youth cross-country champion, district champion, medals at SAAA and District level on the track and a Scottish international vest on the track. Add in the other, slightly lesser triumphs such as fastest time on his stage of the Edinburgh to Glasgow relay and the number of excellent scalps he had taken in head to head races and you have a more than competent athlete the likes of which Scotland desperately needs in the twenty first century. Remember, this was all done before he was 26 years old – and many authorities reckon that a distance runner doesn’t reack his peak until he is 27!