John Freebairn: As Others See Him

We have included the comments on John on the first four pages but it might help if they are all collected here in the one place.    Start with Hugh Murray – Hugh is a very good coach who worked with John for many years and ultimately took over from John as Scottish National Group Coach for Throws and speaks very highly of hismentor.   This appears on the page on John as a Coach.

“I first met John in 1984 when I took my first  tenuous and uncertain step on the coaching ladder to Assistant Club Coach.. The only speakers from that weekend I remember are John and Alec Naylor: they both impressed me..

The following year  I took the brave step forward to Club Coach Discus. The course work was delivered by Des Mardell the father of the then GB International Discus thrower Paul. It involved attending a weekend on coaching theory, a weekend on the event , a written exam and a practical assessment.

John took me for the practical assessment which involved  the production of a training plan for a session with the objectives of the session.   Both I and my demonstrators were quite nervous to be in such company, never having done anything like this before.   But John as ever put us at our ease. I must have done enough to satisfy him as I passed that element of the test and achieved my club coach award.   I met John on many occasions afterwards as I progressed through the Coach Education system he was always encouraging and thorough in his examinations offering sound words of advice when necessary.

I was keen to extend my practical knowledge of coaching and as the Scottish Event Group Leader for Throws John made that possible through direct involvement with my development and by arranging for me to accompany him to conferences and practical weekends all over the UK where we learned from some of the best coaches in the World. It was during this time that Max Jones who was then UK Lead Coach for Throws, and later went on to become GB Athletics Head of Performance, appointed John as his UK National Coach for Shot.   It was a well deserved appointment

During that time, I also had the opportunity to compete against John at County and District Championships.  Indeed John competed for many years  at the highest level as a Masters Athlete, then known as the Vets.   Not only was he a good thrower, he was also a good jumper and competed with distinction in the Combined Events.

With John now established as Throws Event leader in Scotland I was offered the National Coach Discus post with Jim Hunter, Shot, and Willie Robertson, Hammer, and Eddie Taylor, Javelin.   

John would organize National Squad Weekends throughout the Winter which we would staff.   But John’s weekends were rather special as  they were a Freebairn family event with wife Celia and his two daughters, Susan and Joanne, looking after the important part of the weekend which was food and refreshments.   The weekends were done on a limited budget which was partly increased by Celia’s sales of home baking  and the occasional raffle.

John personally coached his own daughter Suzie for Discus and she represented Scotland on several occasions.  But it is for his encouragement and advice to other coaches over the years that we should be grateful.

There are many people over the years who have assisted  and provided opportunities for me to develop as a coach and John Freebairn rates highly amongst them.”

Hugh Murray, fourth from Left

Then there is Stuart Hogg.   Stuart like John was a reluctant professional athlete who really wanted to be an amateur.   However he made a good career for himself and then became a Scottish National Coach and worked with many very good athletes of his own.   He has been fitness coach for most of the top teams in Scotland – Rangers, Aberdeen, Dundee United among them – and he competed at amny of the same meetings as John.   His comments are as follows:

“I first met John after his football career was over (prematurely circumstances probably made that decision for him) he turned to take his physical activities to the Professional Highland Games, competing in the heavy events as well as jumps. You would often see him take his kilt on and off several times a day as he switched from throwing to jumping.

I found John to be a really nice, honest guy. A great competitor but at the same time quite laid back: he never appeared to get flustered, he appeared to take everything in his stride. While I do not know all of his feats, I do know that he was a regular winner on the Pro circuit (as a track athlete you did not pay heed in detail how the non- track athletes had done). However we did converse quite often as I had worked in football as well. We exchanged stories as I knew some of the people he had worked with. In these conversations it was a great credit to him that he was not one to disrespect any of the people we chatted about – a true gentleman.

I have no doubt in the present day he would have made a great Decathlete. He was a good jumper, thrower and hurdler and but for the amateur/professional divide of that day, he would have shown that given the opportunity which was denied him.
I consider it a pleasure to know John, a man I am sure who has influenced many young aspiring athletes in his time coaching.” 

Stuart Hogg

Then there is the wee story about John at the Highland Games as told by Alastair MacNeil:

“Among those I got to know well was former Partick Thistle goalkeeper, John Freebairn.   I had seen him many times at Firhill when, as a student, I had gone to watch fellow   Tirisdeach, Johnny MacKenzie, playing for Thistle. Incidentally, the latter is the only   fluent Gaelic speaker to have played for Scotland. John Freebairn often nearly caused Thistle fans to suffer heart attacks with his habit of coming well out of his goal area to make a  learance.   On one occasion at Inverary a young newcomer appeared on the scene in the long jump. At one point during the event my teacher’s brain must have taken over and I pointed out something he could do to improve his performance. John came up to me and said quietly, “I don’t mind you coaching, but don’t do it during the actual competition”.

 

John Freebairn: Coach

John had no real desire to become a professional athlete in the first place, he was a very good athlete but to the amateur administrators of the time, the rules were the rules and he could not compete as an amateur while playing professional football.   However when his professional career came to an end he decided to become a properly qualified coach and the only way to do that was to take the appropriate SAAA courses and examinations.   He became a veteran in athletics terms in January 1978, according to the SAAA list of coaches he had not a single coaching qualification in 1980 but in 1986 this letter dropped through his letter box.

Clearly an intelligent man, an experienced and able athlete over a range of events, he had worked hard and gained the qualifications he needed.  The qualification was a British one and came at three levels – Assistant Club Coach, then Club Coach and that led two years later to Senior Coach.   He shot through the various stages and in 1986 he was Scottish staff coach for the shot putt, hence the appointment at the Commonwealth Games.   By 1990 he had Senior Coach qualifications for Shot Putt and Discus and the Club Coach for Javelin.   The Scottish coaching structure had a national coach with Group Coaches below him for the athletic disciplines (sprints, hurdles, endurance, throws and jumps) and each of these had a Staff coach for all the events in his group.   To assist the Group Coach, there was a Group Organiser.   John became Scottish Group Coach, responsible only to the National Coach,  for all the throwing events – Shot, Discus, Hammer and Javelin – and he had his wife Cecilia as his Group Organiser. 
 
The responsibilities of the Group Coach included the development of the events in his group at ational, club and individual level, providing support for the coaches, and being accountable to the hierarchy (ie the national coach and the governing body) for these.   There was an ‘allowance’ to help the Group Coach to do this – in 1995 it was £120 per year, and he could not claim it as a lump sum, it could be claimed in two lots of £20 at approximately six month intervals.  It didn’t even cover the telehone calls.  Any coach wanting to run a proper workshop or training day had to raise the money him/herself through sponsorship, donations or charge the athletes and coaches the full cost of the event.   
 
How did John tackle this very difficult task?   Rather than recite statistics at this point, let us hear a coach who learned his trade with John as a national coach – Hugh Murray was eventually to succeed John as Group Coach for the Throws and he has this to say.

“I first met John in 1984 when I took my first  tenuous and uncertain step on the coaching ladder to Assistant Club Coach.. The only speakers from that weekend I remember are John and Alec Naylor: they both impressed me..

The following year  I took the brave step forward to Club Coach Discus. The course work was delivered by Des Mardell the father of the then GB International Discus thrower Paul. It involved attending a weekend on coaching theory, a weekend on the event , a written exam and a practical assessment.

John took me for the practical assessment which involved  the production of a training plan for a session with the objectives of the session.   Both I and my demonstrators were quite nervous to be in such company, never having done anything like this before.   But John as ever put us at our ease. I must have done enough to satisfy him as I passed that element of the test and achieved my club coach award.   I met John on many occasions afterwards as I progressed through the Coach Education system he was always encouraging and thorough in his examinations offering sound words of advice when necessary.

I was keen to extend my practical knowledge of coaching and as the Scottish Event Group Leader for Throws John made that possible through direct involvement with my development and by arranging for me to accompany him to conferences and practical weekends all over the UK where we learned from some of the best coaches in the World. It was during this time that Max Jones who was then UK Lead Coach for Throws, and later went on to become GB Athletics Head of Performance, appointed John as his UK National Coach for Shot.   It was a well deserved appointment

During that time, I also had the opportunity to compete against John at County and District Championships.  Indeed John competed for many years  at the highest level as a Masters Athlete, then known as the Vets.   Not only was he a good thrower, he was also a good jumper and competed with distinction in the Combined Events.

With John now established as Throws Event leader in Scotland I was offered the National Coach Discus post with Jim Hunter, Shot, and Willie Robertson, Hammer, and Eddie Taylor, Javelin.   

John would organize National Squad Weekends throughout the Winter which we would staff.   But John’s weekends were rather special as  they were a Freebairn family event with wife Celia and his two daughters, Susan and Joanne, looking after the important part of the weekend which was food and refreshments.   The weekends were done on a limited budget which was partly increased by Celia’s sales of home baking  and the occasional raffle.

John personally coached his own daughter Suzie for Discus and she represented Scotland on several occasions.  But it is for his encouragement and advice to other coaches over the years that we should be grateful.

There are many people over the years who have assisted  and provided opportunities for me to develop as a coach and John Freebairn rates highly amongst them.”

A lot of what Hugh said there could be echoed by other coaches throughout the country.   John never pushed himself to the front of the photograph, however, and was never as well known as he should have been.

*

In June, 1990, Willie Robertson writing in “Scotland’s Runner” on the topic of the Highland Games wrote: “This year might mark a turning point in amateur Highland Games.   It is generally agreed that the recently formed Highland Games Commission is a step, if somewhat belated, in the right direction.   A coaching scheme has been initiated by the commission with Kenny McDonald and John Freebairn appointed as principal coaches.   Incredibly the SAAA had previously no policy on coaching these traditional events (shot excepted).”   That was another job for John to do as well as the SAAA one.    He was, of course, still training himself and in the next month’s issue of the magazine, we read “Former profesional athlete John Freebairn.   John who is of course the Group Coach for the throws won the caber at Bathgate.   He probably won his first caber event before most of the field were born.”    But the SAAA job developed and as it involved encouraging the athletes and helping them develop, John travelled to do it.   For example, in 1993 we read in a look ahead to the Highland Games that season.   The divide between the two codes had been pretty well removed by then.   

“John Freebairn, South Coach, believes Mark McDonald will be difficult to beat.   “Mark is in his best ever condition this year.   Andy Vince and I went to see him in September last year in a bit to help him with his conditioning, which is something he has continued throughout the winter.   He has been in excellent form this season and will be hard to beat if he keeps up his strength level.   Freebairn sees Kenny Wilson of Stranraer as another to impress if his technique continues to improve to match his strength.   And Alan Pettigrew and Laurie Nisbet could also figure strongly”

The work done at development days, coaching big squads, teaching new throwers is all seen and reported on.   The long drives to places like Dumfries to advise senior athletes of quality are never seen.   The fact that John knew his events and its athletes was shown a few short months later when Mark McDonald (pictured below) became the first professssional athlete to win a Scottish amateur athletics title when he won the heavy events at Cowal Highland Gathering in Dunoon.

Away from the national scene, John was active in his local community of Kilsyth. He always had been – he had lived in Kilsyth all his life and was for many years a Community Council member.  Many coaches stop working with children once they reach the heights of dealing with senior athletes, and one national coach said to me that his days of working with young athletes were over.   That was not John.   This was most easily seen in Kilsyth where he was a key founder of Colzium ASC (for ‘Athletic and Swimming Club’) and organiser of youth community games.   The Colzium club started in the 1980’s and covered all track and field events with athletes ranked individually and on occasion as relay teams (including 3 x 800m).    The club’s record in cross-country is also a good one for a club coming from such a small area.   In 1981-82 they won the Scottish Under 11 girls championship with a team which had the first three finsihers (McDade. McGuinness and Finnegan), and were second in the under 13 age group team race (G Patterson was eighth individual);  in 1982-83 they were third n the U11 national team race and in the under 13’s they were the winning team (Patterson 2nd, Finnegan 3rd and McDade 8th); in 1983-84 they were second team in the under 13 (Cassidy 6th, Finnegan 9th) and second in the under 15 race (Patterson 12th); in 1985-86 they were third in the under 11’s and third in the under 15’s (Finnegan 7th, Keenan 14th, Artis 16th); in 86-87 they were second in the under 11’s (McDowall 9th).   Bear in mind that these were the national championships – the girls won medals in the District championships too and that was at a time when the standard was high.   Unlike the men’s championships, the SWCCU allowed English teams to enter runners and medals went to such clubs as Morpeth, Carlisle, Blaydon and Derwent  Harriers.   The boys also did well but without the victories at national level that the girls managed.    It wasa  similar story on the rack with both boys and girls being highly ranked at SAAA level – mainly in endurance and field events – and the girls doing slightly better than the boys.  Many of the athletes went on to have successful athletic careers with bigger clubs such as Michelle McGuinness at Shettleston Harriers Ladies, Linzie Kerr at Glasgow AC and Mark Hamill at Cambuslang.   It was a good club but had a very small catchment area with Strathkelcin Ladies and Springburn Harriers to the West and Cumbernauld to the East being bigger and longer established athletics clubs.

 In addition to his work at national level, his involvement with Colzium, and his own training,  he later took on a job as schools development coach for Glasgow and North Lanarkshire where he taught the young athletes many throwing events including the . using a specially made small size caber of his own.    At a personal level I asked him to do three sessions with me at a Bearsden secondary school: no problem, he came and did a different implement every week and a staff member stayed behind to watch what he was doing and learn from it.   He did so much in athletics that people would be excused for thinking that he had an easy day-job which gave him lots of time: not a bit of it.   His full title was Mr John Freebairn, BSc, CEng, MICE, MIHT and he was responsible for the roads in the central part of Scotland.   If you want a job done, ask a busy man.   Remember that he was also a Community Councillor too for many years.

There were still, of course the international and representative fixtures where he had Scottish or British coaching responsibilities.   One of the top appointments of his career was to the UK Youth Olympic Games 1993  where he was the  combined event coach.   This was a big meeting with 3500 athletes from 170 countries competing.   The calibre of athlete involved can be seen from the fact that Christine Ohurogou and Tom Daley were both representing the British team.   

John is a superb talent – a talented athlete, a telented football player, a talented coach and a man of talents away from the athletics arena that others would be proud of on their own.   Athletics is lucky to have him among their numbers.

Carrying the  CG baton for Glasgow on 23rd June 2014 on day 12 Stepps

John Freebairn: Veteran Athlete

 
It should be said right at the start that it is absolutely impossible to give a comprehensive run-down of all that John did or achieved as a veteran athlete because he did so very much, but we can look at the various aspects of that career and then wonder how he managed to cram as much in. His career as a vet started in January 1978 and was still going strong well into the twenty first century.   There is many a career in athletics that is shorter but has received a lifetime achievement award.   Remember too that he took part in highland games, open meetings as well as these veterans championships while he was still a very active coach.   
 
If we look first at the official Scottish rankings for all age groups for the period when John was eligible to compete as an amateur, ie after 1986, he was ranked four times as in the table below.    Remember that in 1987 he was an M45 Vet in 1987 and in 1988 when he was ranked seventh in the country for the shot putt, he was an M50 vet.
Year
Event Distance Rank
1987
DT 35.26 18
1988
DT 37.74 17n
1988
SP 13.18 i/12.63 7
1993
HT 33.46 37
That was competing against all Scots, regardless of age or status.
 
 If we next look at how he compares as a Masters athlete on the British stage, we find that he was in the top 10 no fewer than 22 times in the period up to 2014 covering high jump, shot putt, discus, javelin and weight throws and the Pentathlon.   In 2005 he was British number one M65 in the shot putt, and number three in high jump and Pentathlon.   His last ranking at British level was as an M75 in shot putt in 2014.   He had been ranked for 31 years as a veteran athlete at that point.   
 
If we then look at his competitive record as a veteran at Masters Championship level, even just going back to his wonderful season in 2005 where he won multiple events at Scottish, Welsh and British Championships we get the following table.
Meeting
Age Gp Event Performance Position Date Venue Comments
Scottish Masters
M75 Shot 4K 6.01m 2nd 2/3/2014 Emirates Indoor
Scottish Masters
M 75 Shot 4K 7.82m 1st 10/2/2013 Emirates Indoor
Scottish Masters
M70 Shot 4K 7.84m 3rd 12/2/2012 Glasgow Indoor
Scottish Masters. M70
Shot 4K 7.99m 2nd 13/2/11 Glasgow Indoor
Scottish Masters
M70 Shot 4K 8.35m 1st 24/1/2010 Glasgow Indoor
Scottish Masters
M70 Shot 4K 9.26m 2nd 16/2/2008 Glasgow Indoor
Scottish Masters
M70 Shot 4K 8.39m 1st 21/6/08 Dunfermline Outdoor
Scottish Masters
M65 Shot 5K 8.40m 2nd 10/2/2007 Glasgow Indoor
Scottish Masters
M65 Shot 5K 8.68m 2nd 19/2/2006 Indoor
Scottish Masters
M65 Shot 5K 8.91m 2nd 20/05/2006 Glasgow (S) Outdoor
Scottish Masters
M65 Discus 1K 27.94m 2nd 20/05/2006 Glasgow (S) Outdoor
Scottish Masters
M65 Shot 5K 10.13m 2nd 12/2/05 Glasgow Indoors
Scottish Masters
M65 Shot 5K 9.75 1st 28/5/05 Aberdeen Outdoor
Scottish Masters
M65 Discus 1K 30.95m 2nd 28/5/05 Aberdeen Outdoor
Scottish Masters
M65 Javelin 600 29.32m 1st 28/5/05 Aberdeen Outdoor
Scottish Masters
M65 Hammer 5K 30.85m 2nd 28//5/05 Aberdeen Outdoor
Welsh Masters
M65 High Jump 1.30m 1st 28/6/05 Cardiff Outdoor
Welsh Masters
M65 Shot 5K 10.20m 1st 28/6/05 Cardiff Outdoor
Welsh Masters
M65 Discus 1K 32.07m 1st 28/6/05 Cardiff Outdoor
Welsh Masters
M65 Hammer 5K 31.94m 1st 28/6/05 Cardiff Outdoor
Welsh Masters
M65 Javelin 600 30.25m 1st 28/6/05 Cardiff Outdoor
BMAF Championships
M65 High Jump 1.30m 3rd 17/7/05 Birmingham Outdoor
BMAF Championships
M65 Shot 5K 10.46 1st 17/7/05 Birmingham Outdoor
BMAF Championships
M65 Weight 9.08K 12.52 1st 17/7/05 Birmingham Outdoor
BMAF Championships
M65 Discus 1K 33.01 2nd 16/7/05 Birmingham Outdoor
BMAF Championships
M65 Hammer 5K 30.32m 1st 17/7/05 Birmingham Outdoor
BMAF Championships
M65 Javelin 600 31.90 5th 16/7/05 Birmingham Outdoor
BMAF Weight Pentathlon
M65 5 Events 3671 points 19/6/05
 
You see the problem: he was winning so much that to list them all would be almost impossible.   The point is that he was a prolific championship winner here at home.
 
Domestically he competed in a multitude of events and as a veteran he was at or near the very top of his age group in up to 7 events each year.   For instance, in
* 1993 as a M55 he was ranked 3rd in the 110 yards hurdles, 1st in the high jump, 2nd in the pole vault, 1st in the shot putt, 1st in the discus, 1st in the hammer, and 1st in the javelin.   
* A year later and still an M55, we find him 1st in the hurdles, 1st in the high jump, 2nd in the pole vault, 1st in the shot putt, 2nd in the discus, and first in the javelin. 
* Still an M55 in 1995, he was 1st in the high jump, 2nd in the pole vault, 1st in the shot putt, 2nd in the discus, 2nd in the hammer and 2nd in the javelin. 
* 1997, as an M55, 5th in high jump, 1st in pole vault, 1st in shot, 2nd in discus, 3rd in javelin, 1st in decathlon with 5722 pts.
* 1998, as an M60, 2nd in 110 hurdles, 1st in high jump, 2nd in pole vault, 1st in shot, 2nd in discus (as M55 – championship held on 1st January), 3rd in hammer, 2nd in javelin, 1st in weght pentathlon, 2nd in decathlon with 6161 pts.
We could go on listing his rankings for the whole 40+ years and it would only confirm what we now know – that he was a class performer over a range of events.    However both long and triple jumps do not appear at all in the rankings although he did compete in the long jump in the decathlon and indoor heptathlon well.
 
Among his many successes at British level was the British Throwers Decathlon at Milton Keynes in 2001 where as an M60 he won the supreme Victor Ludorum award, and at the same event daughter Susan won the Victrix Ludorum for the women’s decathlon.   However it is instructive that he is still highly ranked in UK Decathlon ranking tables.   
 
Age Gp
Ranking Pts Date Venue 100m LJ SP HJ 400m 110H DT PV JT 1500
M45
33/75 5426 1/6/87 Glasgow 13.4 5.15 11.34 1.66 63.7 20.6 31.86 2.95 42.20 6:01.9
M50
18/78 5795 6/7/89 Aberdeen 13.3 4.89 12.22 1.57 65.80 18.00 37.78 2.90 36.12 5:55.80
M55
29/50 5418 16/7/94 Glasgow 14.51 3.97 11.67 1.53 70.92 19.08 36.82 2.60 35.66 6:53.12
M60
14/36 5675 2/3/98 Glasgow 15.07 4.08 12.31 1.49 75.37 19.44 37.33 2.30 38.09 6:56.33
 
These were not the only decathlons in which he took part – merely the best one in any 5 year period.   For instance in June 1991, he and Eamon Fotzgerald battled one out at Pitreavie in which Eamon was victorious.   
 
He also competed in, and is UK ranked in the all-time list, for the indoor heptathlon:
Age Group
Ranking Pts Date Venue 60m LJ Shot HJ 60mH PV 1000m
M50
5th 4206 14/2/90 Kelvin Hall 8.84 4.69 12.10 1.65 10.66 2.90 3:45.48
M55
6th 3962 15/2/97 Kelvin Hall 9.23 4.29 10.88 1.52 11.41 2.60 4:02.19
M60
4th 4265 14/2/98 Kelvin Hall 9.31 4.14 12.12 1.50 11.48 2.50 4:19.40
M65
3rd 3190 25/1/03 Kelvin Hall 10.25 3.29 11.18 1.36 13.16 2.00 0:00.0
 
To be fair, the indoor heptathlon was a short lived event and was not widely supported in England largely because they did not have permanent indoor arenas.   It was nevertheless recognised throughout the country and there were in fact three such events in Scotland in 2003.   His Scottish friend and rival Eamon Fitzgerald, who has great memories of John as a competitor in these events. says that after many years as a professional vaulting with an aluminium pole, John never really came to the same proficiency with the ‘bendy’ pole used in these amateur competitions.   But in the much more widely practised  UK All Time Throws Pentathlon, John is also highly ranked.
Age Group
Ranking Points Date Venue Hammer Shot Discus Javelin Weight
M60
16th/59 3218 2/10/01 Burton 33.77 11.31 36.73 31.74 14.58
M65
8th/44 3423 28/7/04 Arhus 33.29 10.66 33.79 31.50 14.16
The M65 performance in Arhus, Denmark, in 2004 was another father/daughter performance – but while John was fifth, and only Briton of 17 competing in the pentathlon, Susan won the W35 discus and was fourth in the Throws Pentathlon.   They competed fairly often in the same competitions as masters athletes.   It came two years after he had competed in the same EVACs championships in Potsdam.
 
When we think of throwing events, we, brought up in the amateur code in the 20th/21st centuries tend to think only of shot, discus, hammer and javelin.   But there are many more implements that are used in competitions, and there are also variations within the categories 0 the simplest is that between the wire handled and wooden handled hammers.   John took part in many competitions in many arenas using a wide variety of implements.   Susan also took part in many of these competitions and set records but if we only look at what there is for John on the UK records database we see that as an M65, competing in Tata in Hungary in 2003, set a record of 43.99m for the Iron Slingball weighing 3.3 lbs.   One of his favourite venues had to be Rochester where in 2001 he set an M60 record for the 56 lb one hand hammer of 5.37m, but it was in the Rochester meeting on 5th October 2002, still an M60, he set UK records for no fewer than four events.   There was the 35 lb Sling Hammer which he threw 6.89m, the 35 lb Putt of 6.56m, the 56 lb Putt of 4.80m, and the 11 lb Shafted Hammer of 30.73m.    (… and don’t forget the caber  … or the Wellie Boot from his professional career!)
 
In addition to these more unusual events, we now, looking over his range of events as a competitor as a professional athlete, and as a veteran amateur athlete see that his talents covered hurdles, high jump, pole vault, long jump, shot, discus, hammer, javelin and weight plus combined events such as weights pentathlon and decathlon.   We note from the BMAF performances in the table above that he had the strength, mental as well as physical, to tackle six events over two days.   If we look at the results from Wales as well as Birmingham, we note that he travelled well with five victories there as well.   I have criticised Dunky Wright, mildly, in the past but he might well have been correct when he said that an amateur John Freebairn could have been a GB decathlete.
 
The picture above is of John carrying the Commonwealth Games torch for the Glasgow 2014.   Not too many had that honour.  John thoroughly deserved it.   One of the amazing things about his career is that so many people know of him as an ex professional footballer but so few know anything, or not very much about his achievements after that.   This is partly because he him self was so quiet about what he did.   He just got on with it, gave it it as much as he could and moved on.   And he did that year in, year out for in excess of 60 years.   He had of course the full backing of his wife Celia and his daughters Joanne and Susan – and there are many stories that I have heard of the four of them working together to help the cause of coaching throwing events in Scotland.   
 
 
 
 
 

John Freebairn: Professional Athlete

John’s career in professional athletics was not marked by a narrow specialism.   When I spoke to one of his contemporaries on the circuit he remembered John well.  Where many confine themselves to the heavy events and others do the jumps, sprints or endurance events, John could perform well in them all – maybe not in the endurance races though.   He could do a good long jump, he was a high jumper and hurdler, and in addition  he was good at the throws.   The transition from football is described – Davidson again:

That led Freebairn to the Highland Games, the only form of professional athletics then available. Over the next 25 years or so he went on to have a highly successful Games career, mastering the arts of the heavy events – caber tossing, Scots hammer throwing and putting the shot. He also shone in running, jumping and pole-vaulting. Being an all-rounder, Freebairn regularly chalked up more than ten events per day. He would flit from the throwing zone, removing his kilt as he did so, to the jumping area, then back again with kilt restored. Competition at the time was stiff, with Bill Anderson and Olympic shot putter Arthur Rowe standout “heavies” and the MacBeath brothers and John Robertson in the light events.

He enjoyed competing successfully in front of the royal family at Braemar, but also venues such as Pitlochry, Portree and Glenisla. During the Glasgow Fair fortnight, there were Games every day from Dunbeath in Caithness to Luss on Loch Lomond.   His highest winnings in one afternoon in the 60s were £40, equivalent to about £500 in today’s terms.

There was danger also. Once at Oban Games as he bent over, back facing the hammer throw, a flying 22lb hammer hit him flush on the rear end. Ewen Cameron, of Lochearnhead, the famous Games figure, insisted he have a ‘restorative’ dram – “the worst thing I could have done” – but, minutes later, he won the high jump.   They made them differently then.

Away from the domestic circuit, he competed in Games in Australia, Indonesia, France, Germany and Sweden. Latterly, he has competed in veterans’ athletics, winning a clutch of British titles as well as being involved in coaching at national level. He continues to compete and will do so as long as he is able.

He looks back on a sporting career that gave him a lot of satisfaction as well as some regrets. In particular, he regrets being denied the opportunity to represent Britain in the decathlon. It seems anomalous and unfair that, because he was also a talented footballer, access to the higher levels of amateur athletics should have been blocked. That said, he does think that if he had his time over again he would concentrate on football – “with the money they make nowadays!” he laughs.”

We know that John became the Scottish National Group Coach for the Throws, was the British National Coach for the Shot Putt, and won many, many throws titles at Scottish and British levels and we will come back to them later.   He was also a very good competitor in the other field events – or the Light Athletic events as they are known on the professional circuit.   He had to be as the standard in the heavy events was so high with Bill Anderson towering over the others in terms of his performances.   There were English amateur internationalists who competed for a couple of years and were also of a high calibre – Arthur Rowe in the 60’s had some great duels with Bill Anderson and they drove each other on to some prodigious achievements, John Savidge of the Royal Navy and another Olympian, and the legendary Geoff Capes for example.    John won his prizes in these events too but most of his victories were in the other field events.  In the pro events, there were usually no landing areas for high jump or pole vault: the competitors were landing on grass..   And the vault was with an aluminium pole with a spike in the end.   Remember that when you see the heights reached by the winners in the Games.   He had competed in some highland games when a student (in 1958 he won the high jump at the Strathallan Gathering).   His versatility was clear right from the start of his pro career- at Braemar in 1962 he was third in the hurdles race, second in the long jump and won the high jump.   He won the SHGA Light Athletics championship in 1966 with victories in Pitlochry, Crieff, Aboyne and Auchterarder among others but we should look at his victories over a few seasons. If we take three years in the 60’s  and take only victories at the principal meetings for 1967, 68 and 69, we see the following:

1967:   Pole Vault   Balloch, Auchterarder, Luss, Mallaig, Aberdeen

1967:   High Jump  Lochearnhead 

1967: Putting Light Ball or Stone, 16 lbs: Lochearnhead, 40′ 8″, Mallaig, 43′ 7 1/2″

1968:  Pole Vault   Alva, Auchterarder, Oban

1968:  High Jump  Alva, Lochearnhead, Oban, Braemar, Balloch, Luss

1968:  Long Jump  Alva

1969:  Pole Vault   Blackford, Aberdeen, Alva, Balloch, Lochearnhead, Caol, Oban, Aboyne

1969:  High Jump   Blackford, Aberdeen, Mull, Oban, Pitlochry 

1969: Triple Jump  Lochearnhead

These were not the only meetings he contested, nor the only ones that he won   For instance, he seemed to like the Aberdeen circuit, travelling there year after year.   A few examples from the 1970’s –

  • In June 1970 he was at Oldmeldrum Sports where he won the pole vault and took part in many other events.  Bill Anderson won the 8 heavy events as well as the overall points contest and the local paper remarked that his chief challenger for the title was John Freebairn, Kilsyth, who divided his time between the heavy events and the light athletics.
  •  He was back at Oldmeldrum in 1975 where he won the high jump and was third in the light hammer.   The competition in the heavy events was serious: apart from Anderson, there were men like Grant Anderson, and in this particular meeting Doug Edmunds and Laurie Bryce both made their debut on the pro scene;
  • In July 1975 he was at Halkirk where he won the running high leap;
  • in 1977 he went to the Lonach Gathering in the North East and if we  read what the Aberdeen Press & Journal said on 25th August, after it noted that the Australians did well:   “With three firsts and a first equal John Freebairn dominated the heavy events and went on to win the  high leap and the vault.”   In all he won the Heavy Stone, Light Stone, 28 lb Weight, and he tied the Weight over the Bar; he then won the High jump and the pole vault.   The Lonach Gathering is the one where the pipers march to the event stopping at several big houses for a dram.   One of the big houses was Candacraig where Billy Connolly used to live and he delighted in the duty.   Still in the North East he was still winning prizes at the Games when he was second in the overall light athletics championship at Tomintoul in 1982
  •  On 10th July 1978 he was at Dingwall where he won the Weight for Distance – and the Wellie Boot Throwing contest which was a Heat of the National Championship.
  • At the end of August 1979, he was at Braemar where he again won the running high leap.

What do we see from the above: First off, note the distances covered to get to the events: some athletes tended to compete only in the Borders and Lakes, some kept themselves to Fife and the Central Belt and so on, but John was one of the few who travelled the length and breadth of the country.   The West Coast was represented by the Balloch, Luss Oban, Mallaig and Caol Games, the North East by Braemar, Aberdeen and Aboyne, and the East Central Games were covered by Alva, Auchterarder and Blackford.   Nowhere was off limits.   John was also a regular contender for year end honours – for instance, in 1966 he won the Light Athletic Field Events championship, in 1968 he tied for the same title with W McLellan.   In addition there were probably Games where he was second or third in several events without actually winning one.    

It is also of interest to note that he won long jump and triple jump events on the circuit taking off from dodgy surfaces into sand.  Rules for these light field events are below. taken from the official Games Association handbook.   As a veteran athlete he was ranked year after year in event after event but seemed to shy away from both these events.   

What did his contemporaries among the profession athletes think of John?   Sprinter Stuart Hogg has this to say.   

“I first met John after his football career was over (prematurely circumstances probably made that decision for him) he turned to take his physical activities to the Professional Highland Games, competing in the heavy events as well as jumps. You would often see him take his kilt on and off several times a day as he switched from throwing to jumping.
I found John to be a really nice, honest guy. A great competitor but at the same time quite laid back: he never appeared to get flustered, he appeared to take everything in his stride. While I do not know all of his feats, I do know that he was a regular winner on the Pro circuit (as a track athlete you did not pay heed in detail how the non- track athletes had done). However we did converse quite often as I had worked in football as well. We exchanged stories as I knew some of the people he had worked with. In these conversations it was a great credit to him that he was not one to disrespect any of the people we chatted about – a true gentleman.
I have no doubt in the present day he would have made a great Decathlete. He was a good jumper, thrower and hurdler and but for the amateur/professional divide of that day, he would have shown that given the opportunity which was denied him.
I consider it a pleasure to know John, a man I am sure who has influenced many young aspiring athletes in his time coaching.” 

Another story of John at the Games comes from Alastair MacNeill’s reminiscences of the Games at the http://www.aniodhlann.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017.70.2.pdf website: 

“Among those I got to know well was former Partick Thistle goalkeeper, John Freebairn.   I had seen him many times at Firhill when, as a student, I had gone to watch fellow   Tirisdeach, Johnny MacKenzie, playing for Thistle. Incidentally, the latter is the only   fluent Gaelic speaker to have played for Scotland. John Freebairn often nearly caused Thistle fans to suffer heart attacks with his habit of coming well out of his goal area to make a  learance.   On one occasion at Inverary a young newcomer appeared on the scene in the long jump. At one point during the event my teacher’s brain must have taken over and I pointed out something he could do to improve his performance. John came up to me and said quietly, “I don’t mind you coaching, but don’t do it during the actual competition”.

 

John Freebairn: In the beginning

I first met John Freebairn in the late-80’s when I was Group Coach for 5000/10000 metres and he filled the same position for the Shot Putt.   He was a Senior Coach for Shot and Discus and a Club Coach for Javelin at that time and had been a professional athlete during his days as a competitive athlete.   He had also competed in University athletics and been a professional football player.    As Jack Davidson said in an article in the Scotsman,  “Versatility was his byword, perhaps to the extent of preventing him from fully fulfilling his sporting destiny. Still, performing with distinction at venues so iconic yet so contrasting as Wembley and Braemar would, for most, be more than notable markers along the road to acquiring a weighty set of sporting laurels.”    The article by Davidson is quite excellent and can be found at 

https://www.scotsman.com/sport/athletics/interview-john-freebairn-goalkeeper-and-athlete-1-3249118

John Freebairn started off in Kilsyth and has never really strayed from the area, he still lives there.  He came from a fairly active sporting family – his father had been a pupil at Dollar Academy where he won the school long jump at age 16 with a leap of 16 feet 6 inches; his aunt was also very athletic and won many sports events.   As a boy, he and pals in Kilsyth were into a variety of activities.   As for John himself, Jack Davidson’s article tells us that “Apart from kicking a ball, rudimentary pole vaulting using a clothes ‘stretcher’ (ie a clothes pole) over burns and fences was one pastime, while performing hop, step and jump across street junctions was another. Sprint practice along the local railway track using short steps over the sleepers, foreshadowing modern football training methods, was yet another”

He was always a fast runner and won the Primary School sports before going on to secondary school.   A pupil at Kilsyth Academy and a six foot high jumper, he won the Scottish Schools High Jump in his final year, and was also goalkeeper for the Scottish Schoolboys’ team.   Always a bit of an all-rounder, he could have won several events at the SSAA Championships but the rules forbade any pupil entering several events.   He had a job with Tay Salmon Fisheries that entailed rowing people up and down the loch and he put on a stone and a half of muscle ‘in no time at all’.    A member of the YMCA he won the YMCA high jump at the age of 17 with a clearance of 5′ 11″ at Ardeer on 28th May 1956.   The YMCA Championships were always a well supported meeting and at tat one the wonderful Scottish and GB hurdler DK Gracie from Larkhall won the 100 yards and Bert McKay of Motherwell won the 880 yards with Andy Brown winning the Mile.   

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 Football was always there though. The Scottish Schools team in which he played, lost to England at Wembley, losing 0-1 but only because “our forwards missed sitter after sitter”. Caps for the Scottish Youth team followed playing alongside Billy Stevenson, later of Rangers, Liverpool and Scotland, and Johnny Macleod, later of Hibs, Arsenal and Scotland.   Jack Davidson’s article continues:

Despite a number of clubs wanting to sign him, Freebairn was determined to go to university to study civil engineering. Keen to retain his amateur status because of athletics, he played some games as an amateur for Airdrie with players such as Doug Baillie and Ian Macmillan. In these days, any suggestion of an athlete being paid tainted him and spelled the end of his amateur career.”

When he went to Glasgow University he came under the wing of the great throws expert Fraser Riach.   John was a good and enthusiastic pupil and Fraser was a good coach and he improved tremendously – his distances went up to 60m with the javelin, 50m with the discus and 14.5 m with the shot.   Add in the skills that helped him win the Schools high jump and his natural speed, and you had a decathlete of no mean ability.   Then when the Glasgow University team went to a match at St Andrews and the pole vaulter couldn’t be there, he was asked to do the pole vault.   His only previous experience was using the clothes pole to get over the burns and dykes in Kisyth as a boy but he had a go – and cleared in excess of 11 feet.   In 1958 he was good enough to compete in the AAA Decathlon.   But money had always been a bit of a problem – he had his first tracksuit when he was 16 and he was still using it ten years later.   Again, football came into the equation, and as Davidson says: 

Once his university course was under way in Glasgow, he combined keeping goal for the students with representing them at athletics. In 1958, he took part in the AAA’s decathlon championship, his debut in any kind of decathlon. In a field bolstered by overseas athletes, he finished a very creditable fifth. He gained three Scottish Amateur international football caps against England, Holland and Wales, and clubs were still pursuing him to sign professional forms, with Spurs and Arsenal among them.

A change in family circumstances at this point meant he needed financial help to continue his studies. Torn between economic need and preservation of his amateur status, Freebairn had a difficult decision to make. Despite Dunky Wright, the former marathon champion, trying to dissuade him, he accepted Partick Thistle’s offer of a part-time contract, enabling him to follow his studies at Glasgow. Thistle were then a prominent old First Division team and, under the guidance of David Meiklejohn, the ex-Rangers and Scotland captain, he soon established himself as a first-team regular on £14 a week plus bonuses.”

His time with Partick was successful and he faced all the top players in the country at the time – and at times they came off second best.   In September 1961 Jimmy Miller of Rangers broke his collar bone in a clash with John and in the following week Rangers were playing Monaco at Ibrox, then East Fife in the Scottish League Cup quarter final, and then Celtic at Ibrox.   But no matter how well he played against these men, his time at Firhill came to an end,  The official story was that he was released when the club signed George Niven , the Rangers and Scotland goalkeeper.

 Other football teams sought his services – among them was Portadown who wanted him as soon as he was released by the Thistle in May 1962: the Belfast Telegraph said that the 6′ 1″ Glasgow University student would be looking for employment in or near Glasgow so he might not be available next season.   Then it was rumoured that St Mirren wanted his services but we will not pursue the football career – whoever got him on their books, his amateur athletic days were well and truly over.

Part 2: John Freebairn, Professional Athletes   Part 3: John Freebairn: Veteran Athlete   Part 4: John Freebairn International Coach

Part 5: John Freebairn: As Others See HIm

 

The Springburn Clubhouse

There are several venues in Glasgow that are not well known at all nowadays but which in their day were the scene of some wonderful performances.   One of these was the home of Springburn Harriers.   Their club rooms for many years were at Auchinairn Road in Bishopbriggs.

As you can see from the crest above, the club was established in 1893 and by the first part of the 20th century it was recognised all over Scotland as a first rate club with many trophies won and international athletes produced.   But why the diamond?   The club website tells us that the badge and crest (above) was taken from the railway locomotive factories based in the area, and their motto means ‘courage conquers all’.    Ian Young tells us that “the Diamond on the Springburn vest is a copy of the trademark of the North British Locomotive Company in Springburn which was owned by Sir Hugh Reid” .    Reid was the first chairman of the North British Locomotive Works – the largest builder of steam locomotives anywhere in the world.   From its headquarters in Springburn over 18,000 locomotivess were exported to all points of the compass.   The diamond therefore has a real significance for the area and for the country.   

Like all clubs, Springburn wanted premises of their own and, after a spell in the local Public Baths, they actually built the first club headquarters in Scotland.   The better known one in Bishopbriggs was in fact the second pavilion of their own.  This was opened in 1930  in Auchinairn Road, Bishopbriggs.   Hut does not do it justice – a long building, slightly set back from the road, it had a feature that very few clubs possessed.   It had a famous huge plunge bath in which runners from several clubs could all  wash at the same time.   It was unique in my experience to have this facility.    However we should maybe look at the headquarters from its opening.

The Kay Street Baths in Springburn were opened in 1898 and that became the club’s chosen venue.   But the one that most remember is the clubhouse at Auchinairn Road in Bishopbriggs.   It was just down the hill from their current headquarters at Huntershill but was a quite different establishment altogether.   There was an article about the club in the “Scotland’s Runner” magazine of May 1993 which told us that the club had left the Baths after six years and moved to Auchinairn, becomin the first club in Scotland to build its own pavilion.   The club then moved to the new clubhouse in 1930.

 This venue was unveiled to the athletics public, as well as the people of Bishopbriggs, in 1930 with the grand official opening on 4th October, 1930. 

The ‘Glasgow Herald’ of 29th September reported on the trials of several of the teams taking part which had been held on the Saturday.   These included Beith, Hamilton, Shawfield, Cambuslang YMCA, Eglinton, Falkirk Victoria, Glasgow YMCA, Kilmarnock, Monkland and Motherwell YMCA Harriers.    These were by no means all that would take part though.    Read the report.

PLEBEIAN HARRIERS SUCCESS AT SPRINGBURN

Springburn Harriers had a big turnout at the opening of their new pavilion in Auchinairn Road, Bishopbriggs, on Saturday.   The new clubhouse, which has been erected entirely by members and friends is a commodious wooden structure with a roughcast front and is situated within a short distance of the site of the club’s first pavilion, which, it is claimed, was the first to be owned by a harriers club in Scotland.   

The opening ceremony was performed by Sir Hugh Reid, Bt, after which the inaugural event – a relay team contest was decided.   The race, which brought out 21 teams of four, was over a course of some two and a half miles practically all on the road.   The trail lay to the south of Auchinairn Road, crossing Littlehill Golf Course and passing Stobhill Hospital.   

Being the first Saturday of the season, some of the clubs were not quite at full strength, but this did not have much bearing on the result.   Plebeian Harriers, a club which in recent years has been outstanding at this interesting form of athletics – they are Western District Relay champions – had out a quartette which included SK Tombe, an ex-champion of the club who last year ran for the West of Scotland Harriers.   Their present champion, WJ Gunn, was not included here as he is not yet fit.   The National team champions, Maryhill Harriers, had out a good four which however did not include D McLean and WH Calderwood.   At the end of the first circuit Tombe had given Plebeian a lead of fully 60 yards, which margin was improved upon by other members of the team so the issue was never really in doubt.   For the first three laps Shettleston lay in second but on the last round Beith, thanks to a fine effort by J Calder, displaced them.   Irvine YMCA, the South Western relay champions, were fifth, a position they held at each changeover. ”  

The result was a win for Plebeian Harriers in 51:54 from Beith (52 min), Shettleston (52:10), Monkland (52:35), Irvine YMCA (52:38) and Maryhill Harriers (52:40).   The fastest times were by S Tombe (Plebeian) 12:30, S Anderson (Shettleston) 12:43 and J Calder (Beith) 12:45.   The field had many international runners and national champions such as Tombe, Rayne (Plebeian), F Stevenson (Monkland), and D Fry (Irvine YMCA).   

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It was a unique headquarters – there was not another like it in Scotland and it is appropriate to describe just what it was like.   The description of the building below is taken from information from Ian Young and Eddie Knox – both top class distance runners from the club who knew it well.   

It was a small, brick built clubhouse owned by the Club, but sited on land rented from Glasgow Corporation Transport Department which ultimately meant they could not realise full value for it when we moved up to the Huntershill House changing rooms.    Ian first ‘entered its portals’ in 1960, as a 15 year-old youth, Eddie was a bit later but their descriptions tell us that you entered straight into the main changing room which also doubled as a meeting room.  It also served for social events such as small dances or even whist drives.  At the back of the main room, the building was divided about one-third and two-thirds into a committee room in the smaller portion and the fabled concrete communal bath-tub and behind that, the toilets.  There was a shower and the theory was that you had to shower before going into the bath.   There was also an area in the rafters which was used to store club artefacts – flags, course markers, memorabilia, etc.

Ian cntinues: “Within the bathtub area, on the dividing wall with the changing room was the gas-fired geyser which had to be lit before we went out on our training runs so that the bath could be filled with hot water on our return.  The lighting of this beast was a life-threatening experience since the boiler would slumber as attempts were made to light it before all of a sudden bursting into life with a resounding roar and a burst of flame which could scorch the eyebrows of the unwary.  I must admit, it scared me witless and I don’t ever remember being brave enough to light it and left that task to senior members of the time such as Eddie Sinclair, Danny Wilmoth, Tom O’Reilly and others. The communal bath, unhygienic as it must have been compared to today’s standards, was nevertheless, a great social centre for chat and ribaldry which created a great bond within the club membership and our visitors.  The water level rose as more people entered, endangering the lives of those younger members who were on the small side!

We were blessed as a club with a nucleus of non-competing senior members who looked after the running of the clubhouse and the club itself.  Interestingly most of them also played a significant role in the SAAA or SCCU in those days, namely; Bob Dalgleish, JCR (Jim) Morton, Dr Andrew Kenny and ‘Old’ Jack Crawford.  Other members from those days who were regulars in the clubhouse, not mentioned above, but whom you will probably know, include John Young and John Kerr (both sprinters but who trained on the roads with us through the winter), Moir Logie, Jim Keenan, Tom Craig, Eddie Knox, Duncan Middleton etc.  We always changed our training venue in the spring to St Augustine’s High School in Milton, Glasgow for track training, where we had the advantage of pristine showers and changing rooms, but always welcomed the onset of the road-racing season and our return to the communal bath in the Auchinairn Road clubhouse!”

Eddie Knox comments on the premises: “One shower, one large communal bath which you were meant to shower before entering. However, I remember seeing a layer of mud and grass floating on the surface whilst twelve or so guys soaked some heat back into themselves. The shower came afterwards by necessity.   It was built in 1930 by the members on ground rented from Glasgow Corporation. (I can only surmise that during one of the local government reorganisations this contract got lost. 

The ground was sold to the person who built a house there. The club was told they had no right to be there. When it was pointed out we had been paying rent for forty odd years it was claimed there was no record thereof. Fishy!)   There was a small committee room/kitchen. Occasionally tea and hot drinks were made. There was, of course, a toilet which was entered carefully because there were holes in the wooden floor which small and not so small creatures came through.”

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The clubhouse was used for over 30 years before the Harriers moved up to Huntershill Recreation Ground where they are still in the twenty first century.   Many races were held from the new pavilion but one that many remember was the Springburn Cup race for a mixed team of Boy (Under 15), Youth (Under 17), Junior (U20) and Senior Man.  See the picture below from the mid-50’s: the natty gent on the left is Doc Macphail of Dumbarton.   It was fairly well supported but the fields were usually small simply because of the old problem – many clubs had difficulties providing a runner from one age group or another with the lack of a Junior Man often being cause of a team not being sent.     The race was fairly poplular but not as well supported as the race which followed and replaced it – a five mile open team race.

Springburn Cup Race, passing alngside Littlehill Golf Course, late 50’s

The open and team race for the Springburn Cup started in the mid-60’s and was immediately very popular with the athletes.   It came after the traditional Beith and McAndrew races which heralded the new year but before the West District championships.   There were times when it had to switch from that date to avoid a clash of fixtures but by and large that was the pattern.   January 1966 was the first date that results are available for and the winners from following five years are as follows:

22nd Jan, 1966: 1st E Knox, Springburn; 2nd A Faulds (St Modans), 3rd H Barrow VPAAC. 

14th Jan, 1967: 1st I McCafferty Motherwell YMCA; 2nd E Knox; 3rd J Brennan, Maryhill.

13th Jan, 1968:  1st: R Wedlock, Shettleston; 2nd J Brennan; 3rd P Maclagan, VPAAC.

11th Jan, 1969:   1st R Wedlock; 2nd H Gorman, Springburn.

10th Jan, 1970:  1st A Blamire, Shettleston;  2nd P Maclagan, VPAAC; 3rd E Knox.

2 Jan, 1971:  1st R Wedlock, 2nd AA Johnston, VPAAC

The race was still being described as being held at Auchinairn  or  Bishopbriggs in the early 1970’s and the results above indicate the calibre of athlete attracted to the events and their return, year after year, suggests that they enjoyed the atmosphere of the old clubhouse.   

Officials at the finish of the SMC 12 at Huntershill

Scottish Marathon Club Fixtures for 1963

Of course in addition to these events, there were club races and the annual Scottish Marathon Club 12 miles road race held from the Pavilion.   The SMC was established in 1944 with the aim of “To foster marathon running in Scotland” and they held their own championship over four races – the Springburn 12, the Clydebank to Helensburgh 16, the Strathallan 20 and the SAAA Marathon championship.   The format was that the athlete had to run in three of the four races, one of which had to be the marathon.   This of course helped to attract some very good runners to Auchinairn.    The date for the race for most of its existence was the first Saturday in June and this pretty well held true until 1967-8 and 1968-69 when there was no race at Springburn and the SMC 12 was held at Cambuslang.   It returned to Springburn in 1969-70 but on May 17th, and the date dotted about in the following years – eg in 70-71 it was May 31st, and in 1972-73 it was May 6th.   The 70’s were of course the time when the ‘marathon boom’was just taking off and the fixture lists were swamped with several races most weekend.   Lots of the best road runners in Scotland ran in these races and – with one exception – I remember it being blessed with good weather.   

Note that in the card for 1966, the race was on 25th June and the SAAA Marathon was on 28th May – this was because the Commonwealth Games were to be held that year in Jamaica and the SAAA Marathon was to be used for selection purposes.   Hence the reversal of the usual order of things.   You will also note the presence of two Springburn Harriers on the Committee of the SMC.   

The race that year was won by Gordon Eadie of Cambuslang Harriers in 68:34 from Hugh Mitchell of Shettleston Harriers (71:04) and Bob Anderson (Cambuslang) in 71:52.   Other leading runners were, in order, Bob Calderwood (VPAAC), Jack McLean (Bellahouston) and R Burt (Cambuslang).   Say what you will about the clubhouse but it fed and watered the runners, friends and officials admirably year after year.     

The club eventually moved to Huntershill in 1973, the “Scotland’s Runner” article saying that it was because of financial reasons.   The author goes on to say that “I remember the hut well, it had those unmistakeable running smells – of sweat, wintergreen, grass and mud.   Above all else it had atmosphere, the nervous tension before training runs, which were as ruthless as races, and the banter afterwards.”    

Ian Young tells us something about the move to Huntershill:   “The land which the Club owned at Huntershill was gifted to Bishopbriggs Town Council which came into being in 1964, to build a playing field and athletics track, in return for a sole right of use of the changing facilities in Huntershill House and the track for training on Tuesday and Thursday evenings in perpetuity.”   

That was the kind of agreement that any club would welcome – somewhere to train in perpetuity – and with changing and showering accommodation too!

Allan Faulds (Stirling) finishing the Springburn Cup race at Huntershill

 

 

 

Barrachnie

 

Barrachnie and Shettleston Harriers were synonymous from 1926 when it was opened until the club’s track men moved to Crown Point in the 1980’s.   It was a unique track and hosted many excellent fixtures with top class times recorded.   The club owned the building but leased the land from the local authority and passed the building to the local rugby club in 2013.   It had been at the heart of the club for 50 years but eventually the facilities and training habits caught up with it.   It was a well known facility with athletes from all over Scotland training and competing there and is well worth a closer look.

The running track directory website has this to say about Barrachnie: 

“The track still exists but has not been used for some time now. Due to lack of space, it is the odd length of 363 yards and is a virtually circular with very short straights although one straight is extended for sprints. It was the home track of Shettleston Harriers until the one at Crownpoint was opened. The track was used extensively in the 1950s and 60s and inter club fixtures with Clydesdale Harriers, Edinburgh Southern, etc. were held here. The surface was reported to be good and relatively good times were recorded on it.”

The entry comments on the odd length and attributes this to the lack of space but it was not the only track of this length in the city – the red blaes track at Mountblow was 330 yards and the as far as the shape was concerned, the track at Knightswood is also virtually circular in shape.   Barrachnie had 4 lanes, and was  363 yards in length. It was opened on 2nd October, 1926, and the report on the official opening read:

“SHETTLESTON HARRIERS 10 MILES RELAY RACE

To mark the opening of their new headquarters at Gartocher Road, Shettleston Harriers on Saturday carried through an invitation relay race.   After the new pavilion which was erected and furnished by club members, had been opened by Mr RM Bryson, Queen’s Park FC, an excellent start was offered by Mr W Docherty.   Mr Tom Riddell, the SAAA mile champion, gave the promoting club a 30 yards lead from R Millar, Mauchline Harriers, with A Allan, Plebeian Harriers, a few yards further behind.   On the next circuit SK Tombe gave the last named club premier position but the third round saw Shettleston Harriers again in front thanks to strong running by W Hart who sent his last man, JW Stanley, away with a useful lead which the latter maintained to win by almost 50 yards.   Result:  1.   Shettleston Harriers (Riddell, Anderson, Hart and Stanley) 61 min 12 sec; 2.  Plebeian Harriers (Allan, Tombe, Connolly,  Gunn) 61 min 19;  3.   Mauchline Harriers (Millar, Dick, McHattie, Lamont)  61 min 45 sec

Hugh Barrow and Duncan Middleton training at Barrachnie with Cameron McNeish in the foreground.

There were hosts of quality athletes that passed through the doors and trained at and from Barrachnie.   Many of them were not members of Shettleston Harriers.   John Anderson, national coach, trained many athletes there including such as Hugh Barrow (Victoria Park), Duncan Middleton (Springburn), Hamish Telfer and Cameron McNeish (West of Scotland).   There were also schools meetings held there by Shettleston Harriers as a recruiting measure and these were also well supported by schools from all over Glasgow.

But the track was unique.   It was used for many Scottish League Meetings throughout the 50’s and 60’s with all the best clubs in the country coming with their top athletes to run on a track which had its full share of fast times.   Edinburgh Southern Harriers, Bellahouston Harriers, Victoria Park AAC, Ayr Seaforth, Clydesdale Harriers, all the Universities came to Barrachnie. David Stevenson, Graham Stark and Ken Ballantyne from ESH, Fergus Murray and his team mates from EUAC, plus the best that all the Glasgow clubs had plus Finlay McCarvel (Ayr Seaforth), Jim McLatchie, Doug Edmunds from Jordanhill and many more.  But in addition to the bread-and-butter fixtures, the club introduced several new events of their own.

THE WINTER TRACK MEETINGS

One of these initiatives was the first open athletics meeting in Scotland ever to be held in January.   There were no permanent indoor tracks in Britain although some meetings were being held in makeshift facilities in England but the thought of sprinting, high jumping, pole vaulting or throwing the hammer in Scotland in January was pushing things a bit.   Tom Mcnab, a triple jumper with Shettleston at the time, was one of the men behind the project which, against all the odds was successful.   ‘Against all the odds’ included the structure of Scottish athletics at the time.   The SAAA was the governing body for athletics, but in winter the responsible authority was the SCCU.   Was the SCCU competent to give permission for a track meeting?   Was the SAAA able to say what happened in winter?   However it was sorted, permission was granted and the meetingwent ahead.   

The first one was held on 31st January, 1959, and the top performer was a middle and long distance runner from Shettleston – Graham Everett won the 3000 metres from Bill Kerr of Victoria Park in 8:25.1.  The other winners included Crawford Fairbrother who cleared 6′ 5″ in the high jump.   The distances were a bit unusual for Scottish spectators and competitors alike – 60 and 120 yard sprints, 300 and 1000 yards and the aforementioned 3000 metres (the more usual distance was two miles).   But the meeting was a success (120 competitors in total) with Fairborther’s high jump the  outstanding feat of the afternoon – and perhaps of the year.   The official history of Shettleston Harriers tells us that the officials called the high jump off because the sand in the landing pit had frozen solid but Fairbrother persuaded them to utilise a pile of red ash instead – and cleared 6′ 5″!   

The next one on 30th Jan, 1960 featured Everett again who had a double victory, the 1000 yards (from J McLatchie and Mike Ryan), and the 3000 metres (From Mike Ryan and J McLatchie), Michael Hildrey who won the 300 yards and was second in the 60 yards, WM Campbell who won the junior 300 yards and Tom Mcnab who was second in both high jump and shot putt.

Hildrey, Everett and Fairbrother were in attendance a year later, 28th January 1961, when Hildrey defeated cubmate Ronnie Whitelock in the 100 yards, and Hay of Edinburgh University in the 300 yards, Everett won the three quarters of a mile from Morrison of Larkhall and McLatchie of Muirkirk as well as the two miles from McLatchie and Summerhill (Shettleston), Fairbroother won the high jump from DD Stevenson (EUAC) who himself won the discus and was second in the shot putt.   Every one of these was a high quality athlete competing in the Scottish January weather on the outskirts of Glasgow.   This might be seen as dedication but in 1962 an Irish athletes, competing in the colourse of Ayr Seaforth competed with distinction.  

On 13th January, 1962, on a wet and windy afternoon, the distances were the most unusual yet and reflected the dimensions of the track more accurately than any yet.   Ireland’s Colin Shillington won the 720 yards (1:34.7) and the 1020 yards (2:35.8) events – the latter from Everett who had won a 3600 yards event in 10:45. ,   Also in action were Hildrey (100 yards in 10.5), N Foster (won the triple jump and was second in the pole vault), DD Stevenson (won the pole vault with 12’0″).    Despite the weather the numbers competing were good, and the quality was excellent.   

Shettleston Schools Medal won by Hugh Barrow for third in a 1963 schools meeting 600 yards behind Campbell and Billson

And so it went on – on 25th Jan, 1964, Eddie Knox  of Springburn won the two miles from a top field in 9:31, two miles, Sprinter Les Piggot was there , Wedlock won the half mile and mile, Fairbrother, DD Stevenson and Norrie Foster were all there; in 1965 (23rd January) the meeting had grown to 11 senior, 5 Youths and 4 boys events with many of the big names – Piggot, Graeme Grant, Edmunds, Fairbrother all present.

The meetings continued but it was, of course, a message to the governing body, whether SAAA or SCCU – that there was an appetite for winter athletics meetings in Scotland but it was another 10 years before the temporary track was installed at Bell’s Arena in Perth and another 10 after that before there was a permanent facility in the Kelvin Hall in Glasgow.   Tom Mcnab and Shettleston Harriers were ahead of the game on this one.

THE SHETTLESTON MARATHON

The winter track meetings at Barrachnie continued but then along came the ‘marathon boom’ when there were marathons held all over Scotland from Galloway to Wick via Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Inverclyde, Motherwell and other points of the compass. In the beginning was the SAAA Marathon – and it was the only annual marathon in the country but While the winter track meetings were going on, the club introduced their own marathon – preceding the boom by 10 years. Scotland had their third marathon in 1967 when the Inverness – Forres event appeared regularly on the Scottish Marathon Club calendar, but the one starting and finishing at Barrachnie was the earliest.    The event ran from 1961 to 1971 and, apart from the first one in September 1961, was held in May.   The first two were won by Andy Brown of Motherwell YMCA in 2:40:04 and 2:25:2:25:58, the third by Alastair Wood of Aberdeen in 2:25:56.   Further marathons were won by Fergus Murray, Sandy Keith and Steve Taylor.   The complete record is at  this link .     

Steve Taylor’s race certificate  when he won in 1971: 2:23:35

The Shettleston Marathon was a good race and fairly well supported by the road running fraternity.   It was unlucky that the weather was not always favourable to long distance running but it served a purpose and at a time when there was only a single competitive race at the marathon distance in the country, and with the Commonwealth Games coming to Scotland in 1970, it was a welcome venture.

The availability of the Coatbridge track from 1975 and Crown Point Track from 1984 meant thta attendance at the clubhouse was seriously affected.  Crown Point Track was completed on 7th September 1984 and was by far the best track in Glasgow – the first synthetic surfaced track in the city – it was far ahead of the ageing facility at Barrachnie.   Located in the east end of Glasgow, it was natural for Shettleton Harriers to move in that direction for track training head quarters while continuing to use the track in Gartocher Road.   There were still enough numbers for the Tuesday and Thursday runs from the clubhouse but running costs led to a move to give it up in 1983.   

It was in need of renovation and the club decided to do something about it.   I quote from their history again.   “At the beginning of July 1987 the Barrchnie track was the focus of attention as the club organised an event to raise funds to renovate the clubhouse.   Under the slogan “Run a thousand miles, raise a thousand pounds”, scores of members and former members attempted to aggregate a thousand miles on the hard packed blaes surface in the space of 24 hours.   The occasion was memorable for the massive goodwill shown to the club by friends, locals and former members.   Graham Everett popped in with a generous donation, as did Jim Harkins.   Bill Scally’s wife Jo did her bit on the track.   Brian Scally made an (unsuccessful) attempt on Graham’s mile record for the track and the members of the local football team joined in the fun to mae up some miles.   The highlight was the effort of Pat Houston, a Transport Policeman from Cumbernauld, in running solo for 24 hours, with permitted rest periods, helpng considerably towards the £1200 eventually raised.” 

The improvements led to more usage for a time but there was not enough in the way of greater long term usage of the 50 year old building.  A current club member says:  “It got a mini up grade in the late 80’s but its time was gone as soon as Crownpoint opened.”   It had been a central point for all club members  – but unfortunately few clubs in the 21st century have this type of centre and members never really all get together as a club.  Face book/emails /twitter have changed the face of athletics.   The same athletes use different venues for different types of training. and access to better transport makes this possible.   

Barrachnie should have had nothing going for it.  

  •  The top tracks in the city were at Westerlands,  Scotstoun and Helenvale;  and in 1926 there were also good tracks at the major football grounds which were used for training by athletic clubs; big meetings were held at Ibrox was used for the Rangers Sports until 1962. Celtic Park was used for their Sports, while both plus Hampden Park were used for SAAA Championships.
  • Barrachnie was an odd distance (363 yards), an unusual shape ( most called it ‘almost circular’ others called it ‘oval’, and had  no real straight to talk of;
  •  It was difficult to get to from just about anywhere.

So why was it well known and why were such good times posted on it?   You only need to look at the initiatives of the Shettleston committee:

  • Frequent schools athletic meetings;
  •  The track was made available for the Central Athletics League for young male athletes in the 1950’s and 60’s;
  •  Coaches from outwith the club were encouraged to bring their squads at weekends to train there;
  •  The winter track and field meetings were the first of their kind ever to be held in Scotland;
  •  The Shettleston Marathon brought the top road runners to the east end of Glasgow – not for the value of the prizes but for the race itself.

These events were all successful: the good times were the result of good races with good athletes – not only that but on occasion there was a special attraction – an attempt on the Scottish 600 yards record or similar.   The men on the club committees over the 50 years that it was the club headquarters were the secret.   Every club has had top class men over the years but Shettleston seemed to have many who looked outward at the athletics scene rather than inward to their own wee corner.   It was a good venue – but it was made by the club’s men.

Scottish Marathon Club fixtures, 1963

 

A Wee Addendum on Track Dimensions.   

Many tracks appeared in Glasgow and its environs in the 20’s and 30’s and they were not all of the same dimensions.   We have already mentioned the size and shape of Barrachnie and commented on Knightswood and Mountblow and it’s the latter that I will comment on.   Given the size of the track – 327 yards – and the fact that standard distances had to be raced over, there had to be some way of measuring out the distances that would not be too time consuming for club championships, inter club contests and on occasion county or other championships.   The track at Mountblow was like Barrachnie and Knightswood, a four lane track and the club had small cards with the dimensions and where the various events started and finished – first we have the layout for the 220 and 440 yards.

The meeting organiser could tell from the card (a) where the race started and finished and (b) what the stagger was for each lane.   He would have cards with the same details for every race on the card that night.    A kind of ‘ready reckoner’ for all the distances that could feasibly be held on the track was also drawn up.

These were drawn up by David M Bowman, a first rate official and administrator, for the track that he was familiar with: there would be similar arrangements for other tracks of less than 440 yards.    That would of course include most highland games meetings which were on tracks of somewhere over 300 yards.   With the shape of the Shettleston track, it was not an easy job to organise meetings with events at standard distances.   Who said being an official was easy?

Steve Taylor: A Tribute by Fraser Clyne

The following tribute to Steve is by his friend and team mate Fraser Clyne.

 

The man who made history by becoming Aberdeen AAC’s first Scotland international runner has passed away.

Steve Taylor made his mark in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s as one of the country’s top athletes over a variety of distances.   Although most of his greatest achievements came on the track, he was also an accomplished cross country runner and made his Scotland debut at the 1960 international championships at Hamilton racecourse where he finished 45th.          He made two further appearances in this annual match, which was a precursor to the modern day world championships, finishing 58th at Nantes in 1961 and 35th at Sheffield in 1962.

Taylor enjoyed considerable track success, winning his first Scottish title at Meadowbank in 1961 after an epic battle with close friend and training partner Alastair Wood.   Wood had set a Scottish native record when winning gold in the six miles the night before, but that didn’t prevent him from pushing his Aberdeen clubmate all the way.    Taylor had to use all his pace, power and strength of character to earn victory by the slenderest of margins, stopping the clock at 14min 29.9secs with Wood breathing down his neck 0.01secs behind.

He retained the title the following year when recording 14:10.4 but his fastest performance over this distance came at the 1966 championships when he recorded 13:47.8 to finish behind Olympian Fergus Murray (Edinburgh University) who won in a championship record of 13:46.0.

Taylor had also lost out in the six miles the year before to another Scottish athletics legend, the future Commonwealth Games 10,000m gold medallist Lachie Stewart.   In addition to his two gold and two silver medals in the three miles, Taylor picked up silver (1960) and bronze (1959) in the one mile and bronze (1964) in the six miles at the Scottish championships.   He also represented Scotland in five track internationals between 1961 and 1966.

Moving up to longer distances he won the national 10 miles track title at Scotstoun, Glasgow in 1970, recording 49:52.6 to finish one minute ahead of another Aberdeen runner and future world ultra-distance record breaker, Donald Ritchie.

Taylor was willing to help others, none more so than his old sparring partner Wood whom he paced to a world 40 mile track record at Pitreavie in 1969. The duo also shared Scottish 30km, 20 miles and two hour records along the way.

Taylor also had a fascination with the John o’ Groats to Land’s End relay record. He was part of the Aberdeen AAC side which failed to break the mark in 1972 but was again heavily involved when the club slashed 30mins off the record the following year.

It was late in his career when he dabbled with the marathon, but still achieved a highly respectable best time of 2:19:28 in 1971, which is still the 12th fastest by an Aberdeen runner.

           Steve leading Graham Everett in the SAAA Mile Championship

*

Steve Taylor – A Personal Tribute

by Fraser Clyne

Forty-five years ago Steve Taylor was what was called a ‘mature student’ at Aberdeen University.    At 36 years of age he gave up a job with Aberdeen Journals in favour of taking a bold step into the world of higher education to study for a degree in sociology.   Although his best days as an athlete were in the past, Steve continued to compete with a fair degree of success on the universities circuit.

I was also at the university at this time and had chosen to take up running as a sport, having failed miserably as a footballer. I joined the student cross country club – the Hare and Hounds – and was soon introduced to Steve.   Along with Mel Edwards, he proved to be an extremely influential character in my early development as an athlete, providing me with valuable advice and educating me how to train and race properly.   When he realised I was showing growing enthusiasm for the sport and making decent progress, Steve presented me with one of his Scotland international vests and indicated I should strive to earn one of my own in the future.   I was overwhelmed that he had such confidence in me and I have proudly held on to that vest to this day.

Steve introduced me to interval training and preached its benefits. One of his favourite sessions was 20x200metres with a very short recovery. These were run at a punishing pace, for me at any rate, and I would try to keep a close count of how many we were doing.    On more than one occasion, when we were about to run the 20th, and were thankfully about to finish, Steve would say: ‘No, two to go’. I’m sure he frequently made me do 21.            It was a positive trick to find out whether I could dig deep for an extra effort despite already being exhausted – an important quality to have when it came to racing.

He was also keen on what runners call a tempo run. Steve would take me through Seaton Park and over the undulating Royal Aberdeen golf course at Balgownie for a seven or eight mile session at a sustained fast pace.    He would chat away while I was gasping for breath, barely able to reply. I cursed him, quietly to myself, for making me suffer so much, but I know it made me a better runner.

A few years later, with my fitness in the ascendancy and Steve’s slightly on the wane, I took my revenge on one of those same runs.   I did all the chatting and could tell he was toiling, so I showed no mercy, and I’m sure he didn’t expect it.

Steve was a true gentleman, quietly spoken but with a strong will and a fierce competitive instinct. One of Aberdeen’s finest athletes and a thoroughly pleasant person. I will forever be grateful for the help and motivation he gave me.

Steve leading team mate Alastair Wood in the N-E League, 1961

University Rankings: T & F 1967

Westerlands

We already have the Track Rankings for 1966 and 1967 on another page, on this page we have the Mens’s Field Rankings for the same two years and the women’s for 1967.   The women’s for 1966 are already posted.   So it’s the men of 1966 first.

Name University Event Performance Ranking
R Souter G High jump 6' 1" 6th
A Santini E High jump 6' 0 1/2" 7=
K Clubb E High jump 6. 0 1/2" 7=
D McLennan E High jump 5' 8" 26=
N Foster G Pole vault 14' 1 1/4" 2nd
S Seale E Pole vault 13' 1 1/4" 5th
I Dobson HW Pole vault 11' 3" 11th
C Frew St A Pole vault 10' 20=
? Hargreaves St A Pole vault 10' 20=
P Aasbo HW Pole vault 10' 20=
H Robertson G Long jump 23'9" 1st
N Foster G Long jump 22' 7 3/4" 3rd
A Forster G Long jump 22' 6 1/2" 4th
G Muir S Long Jump 21' 10 3/4" 10th
H Stevenson E Long jump 21' 8" 11th
G Martin S Long ju p 21' 7 1/2" 12th
S Seale E Long jump 21' 7" 13th
R Souter G Long jump 21' 6" 16th
I Howat E Long jump 21' 3" 24=
R Stanhope E Long jump 21' 3" 24=
G Newson StA Long jump 21' 2" 28th
H Robertson G Triple jump 49' 1/12" 1st
A Forster G Triple jump 48' 2" 2nd
B Nottage A Triple jump 46' 5" 6th
K Clubb E Triple jump 43' 2" 16th
B McNally A Triple jump 43' 0 1/2" 17th
N Clowe StA Triple jump 43' 18th
G Kerr E Triple jump 42' 7" 23rd
G Martin S Triple jump 42' 5 3/4" 24th
D Edmunds S Shot 51' 6 1/2" 2nd
D McHugh S Shot 45' 2 1/2" 7th
L Bryce S Shot Putt 44' 3 1/2" 9th
A Milne A Shot 42' 4 1/2" 13th
D Clerk A Shot 41' 8" 19th
N Foster G Shot 40' 5 3/4" 26th
D Edmunds S Discus 14' 4" 6th
A Milne A Discus 132' 5" 8th
D Clark A Discus 129' 10 1/2" 10th
N Foster G Discus 127' 3 1/2" 13th
V Wilkie A Discus 124' 5" 17th
P Eddy E Discus 124' 0" 18th
L Bryce E Discus 123' 8" 20th
S Seale E Discus 122' 2 1/2" 22nd
L Bryce E Hammer 189' 5" 1st
P Scott E Hammer 173' 4" 4th
H Cameron StA Hammer 152' 6" 9th
V Wilkie A Hammer 149' 2" 10th
H Doyle S Hammer 139' 11" 13th
N Foster G Hammer 122' 9" 17th
D Birrell StA Hammer 117' 10" 19th
D Fowlie A Javelin 198' 0 1/2" 3rd
C Durrant StA Javelin 191' 3 1/2" 4th
M Snow StA Javelin 180' 2 1/2" 10th
P Eddy E Javelin 177' 0" 11th
B Seton G Javelin 160' 0 1/2" 26th
K McKenzie A Javelin 159' 6" 28th
N Foster G Javelin 159' 1" 30th

Norrie Foster

The universities’ women of 1967 were not as numerous as the men but there were some very good performances indeed.

Name University Event Performance Ranking
Gerd von der Lippe E 100 yards 11.5 s 11=
Aileen Barron A 220 yards 26.2 12th
Winifred Adam G 220 26.7 15=
Gerd von der Lippe E 440 yards 59.3 7th
Aileen Barron A 440 59.4 8th
Margaret Ainslie StA 440 64.2 14th
Margaret Fleming E 880 yards 2:22.8 5th
Fiona Fernie G High Jump 4' 9" 11=
Gabriele Toulalan StA Long Jump 17' 0" 10th
Elizabeth Taylor A Shot Putt 37' 6" 5th
Fiona Fernie G Shot 31' 1 1/4" 11th
Elizabeth Shedden E Shot 30' 3" 15th
Elizabeth Taylor StA Discus 117' 6" 5th
Alison Dale StA Discus 111' 7" 7th
Elizabeth Shedden E Discus 92' 9" 16th
Elizabeth Shedden E Javelin 119' 11" 2nd
Kathleen Martin Dundee Javelin 101' 3" 6th
Catherine Orr StA Javelin 98' 4 3/4" 8th
Wilma Paton A Javelin 90' 7" 14th
Margaret Fleming E Javelin 85' 7" 18th
S McRoberts E Javelin 83' 5" 21st

It should be noted that many of the very best women athletes of this period wereinvolved in tertiary education at  Dunfermline College of Physical Education, which was in Edinburgh, and not in the universities championships.   They were competing against each other in two- and three-way competitions throughout the season.

The men’s field events for 1967 all-in-all were pretty good – the universities tended to do well on the technical events.   Here we go.

Name University Event Performance Ranking
B Nottage A 100 y 9.8s 3=
I Turnbull A 100y 10.0 6=
I Walker G 100 y 10.2 20=
E Osborn E 100 y 10.2 20=
J Frame E 100 y 10.2 20=
B Nottage A 100m 10.3 2
G Muir S 100m 11.2 6=
B Nottage A 220 y 21.7 2
I Turnbull A 220 y 21.9 4=
G Muir S 220y 22.4 17=
K Clark G 220 y 22.7 24=
W Bell E 220 y 22.8 26=
I Walker G 220 y 22.9 28=
G Miller S 440 y 49.9 13=
J Dickson A 440 y 49.9 13=
H Munro H-W 440 y 50.6 27=
M Sinclair E 880 y 1:51.3 5
I Hathorn E 880 y 1:54.3 16
J Macfie E 880 y 1:55.6 21=
A Weatherhead H-W 880 y 1:55.8 24=
C McIver S 880 y 1:56.4 28=
A Patrick A 880 y 1:56.5 30
A Weatherhead H-W Mile 4:06.4 5
D Logue E Mile 4:11.6 16
J Myatt S Mile 4:12.1 18
A Patrick A Mile 4:15.0 25
C Elson E Mile 4:16.3 27
G Bryan-Jones E Three Miles 13:55.2 10
I Young E Three Miles 14:01.6 13
D Logue E Three Miles 14:12.6 20
A Blamire E Three Miles 14:16.8 24
I Hathorn E Three Miles 14:25.0 29
G Bryan Jones E S/chase 8:52.4 3
W Allan E S/chase 9:28.4 7
A Blamire E S/chase 9:32.6 8
D Gillon H-W S/chase 10:00.2 13
J Bogan G S/chase 10:06.7 17
G Brown G 120y H 15.2 3=
R Davidson E 120y H 15.2 3=
H Robertson G 120y H 15.7 5=
H Stevenson E 120y H 15.7 5=
B Morgan E 120y H 15.8 7=
L Pennycook G 120y H 15.9 10=
T Tangen H-W 120y H 16.4 12=
I Dobson H-W 120y H 16.7 14=
T Dale S 120y H 16.9 16=
D Mathewson StA 120y H 16.9 16=
G Brown G 440y H 54.6 2
H Stevenson E 440y H 56.7 5
D Gillon H-W 440y H 58.1 8
G Wilkinson D 440y H 58.5 9
B Morgan E 440y H 58.6 10
C Kelk StA 440y H 59.0 12
I Blair S 440y H 59.7 14
N Cassie G 440y H 59.8 1 5
I Dobson H-W 440y H 60.2 16
L Pennycook G 440y H 60.6 17
B McNally A 440y H 61.0 18

Irvine YMCA: Part Two

Irvine’s Tom McNeish, left

Having looked at the progress of the club and its members over the period from 1924 to 1950, we can be a bit more selective for the period up to 1972 when the YMCA ceased to exist.   Progress of the Senior team between 1950 and 1955 is noted in the following table.

Team for the Edinburgh to Glasgow, November 1949

Date Event Team Position Comments
3/11/51 South Western Relay 1st D Andrews/T McNeish/ H Kennedy/S Cuthbert*
19/11/51 Edinburgh to Glasgow 12th
19/1/52 AHCA 1st Kennedy/ McNeish/ Andrew/Butler/Cuthbert/Alexander*
2/2/52 South West 1st Kennedy/McNeish/Cuthbert/Andrew/Allan/Butler*
1/3/52 National cross-country Unplaced
1/11/52 South Western Dist Relay 2nd Dempster/Butler/Cuthbert/Kennedy*
-/11/52 Edinburgh to Glasgow 6th Andrews 9/Butler 11/Alexander 9/H Kennedy 9/Dempster 6/Cuthbert 6/Muir 6/Allan 6
31/1/53 South Western Championships 2nd Cuthbert/Andrews/Butler/Alexander/Allan/ Lawson
28/2/53 National cross-country No Team Youths team 5th
7/11/53 South West Relay 5th Andrews/Leask/Allan/Cuthbert
-/11/53 Edinburgh to Glasgow 9th Andrews 15/McNeish 19/Dunlop 16/Leask 13/Alexander 13/Cuthbert 11/Lawson 10/Allan 9
23/1/54 AHCA Champs 2nd Cuthbert 2/Alexander 5/Andrews 8/Leask 14/Allan 18/Lawson 22
6/2/54 South West Championship 3rd
-/3/54 National cross-country No Team 2 Juniors Alexander 26/Dunlop 65; Youths 3rd team
6/11/54 South estern Relay 5th Andrews Alexander Kennedy Cuthbert
-/11/54 Edinburgh to Glasgow 18th Alexander 19/Andrews/18/Dunlop 16/Leask 16/Kennedy 16/Cuthbert 15/Banks 16/Lawson 18
29/1/55 South Western Championships 5th Youths team 1st
26/2/55 National cross-country No Team 2 Juniors Dunlop 58/Kennedy 59

Result of the South West District Championships, 1957

Individual success came again in the late 1950’s from Billy Thomas whose career as a runner in Scotland was far too short, although he did perform at a very high level in the USA where he had a scholarship to study English and Athletics.   In season 1955-56 he was third in the National Youths Championship and the following year he was second in the same age group and in 1958 he was fourth in the Junior Men’s race.   Nearer home, he won the Ayrshire Harriers Clubs Association and South Western District Championships in 1958.   His championship credentials were never in any doubt but how was he as a competitive runner?   There was no more competitive environment in Scottish endurance running than the Edinburgh to Glasgow eight man relay race and Thomas ran in it three times.   In 1957 he ran on the very tough second stage (probably the toughest in terms of the standard of runner put out by the various teams) and moved the team up from 11th to sixth – a quite amazing run for a Junior Man in his first go at the event.   The following year he again ran the second stage, and again he picked up places – two this tims, bringing Irvine YMCA up from 20th to 18th.   His last run was not a typical Thomas effort: he was on the first stage, which tells a tale on its own – you never put one of your two top men on that stage – and finished 15th.   Clearly a top talent, we are told on the Irvine AC website that “Billy joined the RAF where he excelled at 800 and 1500 metres, before accepting a scholarship to study English and Athletics at Howard Payne College in Texas, where he was nominated as a member of the National All-American cross-country team in 1963, 1964 and 1965.”

Result of Youths National, 1957

As a group, the club’s Youth teams won the South West District championships in 1954, 1955 and 1957.   The names of the 1957 team are shown above with Thomas, Taylor and McKenna all appearing in both District and National teams.   

The club’s record throughout the 1950’s in Senior, Junior and Youth groups as very good indeed and can be seen from the following lists of results at District level.   District has been chosen simply because it is not a parochial competition nor is it the highest level in the land – it is second only to the National in terms of relative importance..

Seniors in Black, Youths in Blue

Year Team Individual Medal Won Comments Team Individual Medal Won Comments
1950/51 1st T McNeish 3rd - D Lapsley 1st H Dick 2nd
1951/52 1st H Kennedy 2nd 2nd K Alexander 2nd L Jermond 3rd *
1952/53 2nd - -
1953/54 3rd 1st A Blackley 2nd
1954/55 - - 1st
1955/56 2nd - - 2nd W Thomas 1st
1956/57 2nd S Cuthbert 2nd 1st W Thomas 1st W Withers 2nd
1957/58 2nd W Thomas 2nd – . –
1958/59 - W Thomas 2nd* W Kenny 3rd - - -

* In this race Danny Lapsley finished first but had moved to West Kilbride: had he stayed, then Irvine YMCA would have had the first three places 

* 1958/59 was the first year that a Junior (U20) award was made to the first Junior in the Senior race.

The 1960’s would not be as kind to the club as the 1950’s had been.   In 1963 the YMCA building, home to the club, burned down and they had to the Woodlands Pavilion as a temporary home.   I quote from the club website’s history of the period:   “Spirit was low and the membership had lapsed to no more than 10, however by 1968 the club had rallied and a few short years of success followed, with team victories in the 10-mile relay championship, the Ayrshire 6-mile team championship (twice), the Scottish YMCA 10-mile relay championship (twice) and the Scottish YMCA 6-mile team championship (twice).”   The club had rallied, it was winning again, and the successes of the time should not be under valued.  It was not turning out in the national cross-country championship and for more than half the decade there were no teams at all from Irvine in the National Championships.   

Towards the end of the decade however the talent that was Brian Morrison appeared in the Irvine YMCA colours.   His peak year was 1969 when he was third in the Scottish Junior Cross-Country Championship.   This won him selection for the Scottish team competing in the international to be held in Clydebank.   He was a scoring runner for the Scottish junior team when he was 19th finisher.   He  had local victories in the AHCA Championships in both 1969 and 1970.   He was also a good class track athlete, ranked ninth nationally in 1969 for the 3000m steeplechase with a time of 9:24.0.   He was also ranked in 1970 and 1971 with 9:39.0 and 9:31.2.   Unfortunately, like Billy Thomas before him, he emigrated, in his case to South Africa.   

Then In the spring of 1972 the club resigned from the National Association of YMCA’s and renamed the club Irvine Athletic Club, eventually being incorporated into Irvine Sports Club in 1974 as a member section.   

Irvine YMCA had been a good club which produced more Scottish international athletes than any of the many other YMCA clubs in the country except Motherwell YMCA and contributed to Scottish athletics for 48 years before ceasing to exist.