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.
Event Distance Rank
DT 35.26 18
DT 37.74 17n
SP 13.18 i/12.63 7
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.
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
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
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
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
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
5th 4206 14/2/90 Kelvin Hall 8.84 4.69 12.10 1.65 10.66 2.90 3:45.48
6th 3962 15/2/97 Kelvin Hall 9.23 4.29 10.88 1.52 11.41 2.60 4:02.19
4th 4265 14/2/98 Kelvin Hall 9.31 4.14 12.12 1.50 11.48 2.50 4:19.40
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
16th/59 3218 2/10/01 Burton 33.77 11.31 36.73 31.74 14.58
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.”

He was a very good competitor in all field events but more successful in the jumps – 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.  His talents can best be seen when we look at his Games career year by year.   Victories in the first couple of years were frequent but as noted, it was in 1966 that he won many more events and won the championship.   


Venue High Jump Pole Vault Hop/Step/Leap Long Jump
Blackford 5' 9" x x x
Markinch 6' 0" 11' o" 41' 5" 19' 9"
Comrie 5' 11" 10' 66" 42' 5" 20' 3"
Thornton 5' 11" 1st No Height 41' 1" x
Alva 6' 1" 11' 0" x x
Lochearnhead 1st No Height 11' 3" 39' 1 1/2 20' 6"
Crieff 6' 11" x x x
Luss 5' 8" x x x
Aberdeen 5'9" x x x
Oban 5'10" 10' 6" x x


Venue High Jump Pole Vault Hop/Step/Leap Long Jump
Blackford 5' 9" x x 20' 7"
Markinch 5' 10" 10' 10" x x
Alva 5'9" 10' 10" x x
Crieff 5' 8" x x x
Aboyne 5' 7" x x x
Oban 5' 6" 10' 6" x x


Venue High Jump Pole Vault Hop/Step/Leap Long Jump
Blackford 5' 6" 10' 6" x x
Markinch x 10' 6" 42' 5" x
Thornton x 1st 1st x
Tobermory 5' 11" x x x
Lochearnhead 6'0" x 40' 2" 19'2"
Auchterarder 5' 6" x 43' 5" x
Crieff 5' 9" x x 20' 2 1/2
Aberdeen x x 40' 10" 19' 2"
Braemar 5' 9 1/2" x x x
Birnam 6' 0" x x x
Pitlochry x x 41' 4" 20' 3"
Oban x 11' 0" x x
Strathpeffer 1st x x 1st



Venue High Jump Pole Vault Hop/Step/Leap
Blackford ** 11' 0" ** **
Markinch 5' 9" 11' 1" 42' 4" **
Alva 5' 8 1/2" 11' 0" 42' 9" 19' Tie**
Thornton 5' 8" 11' 0" 42' 2" **
Luss 6' 2" tie** x x **
Lochearnhead 5' 9" x x x
Mallaig x 10' 6" x x x
Grasmere 5' 8" x x x
Crieff 5' 10" x x x
Birnam 5' 6" x x x
Aboyne x x x 20' 9 1/2"

The ** marker indicates that the event was won by W McLellan who was John’s main rival at many games and he won the 1967 title with both he amd John tieing for the championship in 1968.   These are only the events that he won – there were times when a new athlete appeared on the scene and took first prize – eg at Aboyne, Ian Ward GB International pole vaulter and one of the men responsible for introducing the glass fibre pole to the country, won the event with a height of 12′ 0″.   The detailed results for other seasons will be recorded on a separate page.    It would be a mistake to suppose however that John was not a successful competitor in the throws events.   The standard was very high with the names of Rowe and Anderson dominating all the throws in the 1960’s    Have a look at this.

Year Venue Putt 16 lbs Ball Putt 22lb Ball 16 lbs Hammer 22 lbs Hammer 28 lbs Weight for Distance 56 lbs Weight over Bar Caber
1971 Newburgh 42' 3" x 113' 4" x 61' 9" x x
1971 Mallaig 40' 2" x 117' 7" 1st 57' 0" 10' 6" x
1972 Newburgh 43' 5" x 116' 5" x 60' 2" 12' 0" x 1st
1972 Caol x 35' 6" 114' 10" 96' 0" x 12' 6" tie x
1972 Lonach x 32' 11" x x x x x
1973 Newburgh 44' 1" x 114' 9" 86' 6" x 13' 0" 1st
1973 Airth 41'0" x x x 59' 10" 12' 0"
1974 Newburgh 1st 1st 1st 1st 1st 13'4" 1st
1975 Caol 42' 5" 36' 2" x x x x x
1975 Lonach 41' 6" 35' 8" x x 66' 7" 12' 9" tie
1976 Caol 42' 5" x x x 31'9"/56 lbs x 1st
1979 Lonach 40' 8" x x x x 12' 9" x
1980 Newburgh 43' 2" x x x 61' 7 1/2" 13' 0" x

He seemed to like the Aberdeen circuit, which doesn’t appear on the last table apart from the trips to the Lonach Gathering 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, Pitlochry 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 invariably 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 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

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.   


 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  2A John’s Professional Competitive Record  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.


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).   


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.”


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 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:


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.


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 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


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.

Irvine YMCA: Part One

From the Irvine Running Club website  ( )

1938 Ayrshire Cross-Country Championship at Benwhat

When I came into the sport in 1957 Irvine YMCA was a strong club that competed in Scottish athletics at every tier of competition – County, District and National and their athletes were to be seen at almost all events around the country.   The Edinburgh to Glasgow eight man relay was the top club road event in the calendar from its inception in 1934, and it was an invitation only event: in the very first race they were fourth. one place ahead of Motherwell YMCA, but their next appearance was not until 1950 when they were 14th.   That year there were four YMCA teams in the race –  Irvine 14th, Kirkcaldy 15th, Glasgow 18th and Motherwell did not finish the race.   The club record in this prestigious event was a notable one, indeed  their contribution to the sport in general was a notable one.   

Irvine YMCA harriers was founded in 1924 when the Irvine branch of the Y.M.C.A. movement was established in a building  in the High Street.   It was a very good time for cross-country running in Ayrshire with many more clubs than the county could just now: Mauchline AC was a very good club indeed, Kilmarnock had a good tradition even in the 1920’s Beith Harriers was also a very good club, Saltcoats had its own club with talented athletes, Ardeer was asuccessful club until well into the 1950’s, Barleith was considerably good, West Cumnock had its own club and so on.  Indeed, shortly after the formation of the Irvine YMCA Harriers the Ayrshire Harrier Clubs Association was founded and its first championship was on 17th January 1925.   More than 60 runners took part on a 7 mile circular course starting and finishing in Rugby Park.   The race was won by Satcoats Harriers.   The AHCA  is still in the twenty first century a major harrier and athletic force in Scottish athletics.   But we can give the new club a chance to find its feet and start our look at it from season 1927-28.

1927-28:   The West District Relay Championships were held on 21st November but the Irvine YMCA team was not in the first six teams although of the Ayrshire teams, Beith was third and Barleith was fifth, one place ahead of Shettleston.   Closer to home, the Ayrshire Clubs Relay was held on 10th December but Irvine was not in the first three, these being Doon, Beith and Barleith Harriers.   The first signs of the talent lurking in Irvine came in the Scottish YMCA Championships on 17th December, 1927, when the Irvine team was sjust out of the medals in fourth place, with CP Wilson fifth individual.   This was a bit of a drop from the previous year when the team had won their race with Wilson the individual champion.   We should have a look at this result since the club was just over a year old when it happened and to have both titles (individual and team) come its way was quite a feat.   The Scotsman report for 16th December 1926 read as follows:

“The fifth annual team and individual championship held under the auspices of the Department for Physical Education of the Scottish National Council of the YMCA’s were held at Motherwell on Saturday.   For the team event, which carries with it the JOM Clarke Trophy, there was an entry of eight clubs, all of whom were forward, while there were also seven individual entrants.   Teams comprised eight runners, the placing of the first four counting.   Altogether 64 runners set out on the 6 mile trail.   Mr H Lightbody, general secretary, Scottish National Council, acting as starter, while Mr John Craig, CBE, vice-president of the same body, was referee.   Results:-

Team Championship (JOM Clarke Trophy – 1.  Irvine YMCA Harriers (CP Wilson 1, R Wilson 2, W McMaster 4, J Hamilton 11 ) 18 points; 2.   Motherwell YMCA (holders) (JM Aitken 3, W McEwan 5, J McCulloch 7, JNH Gardiner 8) 23 pts;  3.  Paisley YMCA Harriers (A team) (C Hamilton 6,  D Cadenhead 16, JL Ritchie 17, A McGlashan 22) 62 pts; 4. Glasgow YMCA  63 pts; 5. Paisley YMCA B  127;  6. Renfrew YMCA 140; 7. Kirkcaldy YMCA 156; 8. Irvine YMCA Harriers B Team) 176.

Individual Championships (T Birrell Medal)   1.  CP Wilson, Irvine YMCA Harriers, 37 min 10 sec;  2. AD Brooke, Glasgow, 37 min 27 sec; 3. PS Findlay, Motherwell YMCA, 37 min 35 sec. “

They not only had the two champions but also had enough runners to enter two teams of eight men.  Against that fifth team and fourth individual were a bit of a come-down.   It also showed that CP Wilson had a bit of a pedigree.   

However, if we go back to 1927/28, there was no team from Irvine in the Western District Championships on 4th February, 1928, at Hamilton Racecourse.   It was not a long way to travel and again Beith (fourth) and Doon (sixth) carried the Ayrshire banner.   In the National Championship, again at Hamilton, there was no complete team from Irvine although we know that CP Wilson was 10th in the Junior National: this was a very good run as the winner was RR Sutherland of Garscube Harriers and the Scots Guards, from JF Wood of Heriot’s CCC.    

1928-29 The third annual West District Relay was held at Thornliebank on 17th November, 1928, and with 32 teams from 25 clubs, Irvine was almost certainly taking part but did not feature among the prize winners.   The Ayrshire Relay Championship took place at Beith on 8th December but there was no Irvine team competing.   Beith won from Barleith and Doon Harriers were the first three, other participating clubs were (in order) Kilmarnock Harriers, Eglinton Harriers A, Eglinton Harriers B, Doon Harriers B and Barleith Harriers B.   As in the previous year, the club turned out their runners in the Scottish YMCA Championships, held at Paisley, home of the previous year’s event on 15th December and performed slightly better than the previous year – fourth team behind Motherwell, Glasgow and Kirkcaldy YMCA’s, and in front of teams from Dundee, Paisley, Renfrew, Glasgow B, Motherwell B and East Kilbride.   CP Wilson in third was their best placed runner behind Suttie Smith and Frank Stevenson.   Their counting runners were A Aldie 8, D Kerr 15, J Watson 16, D Aldie 17.     

The next big championship was the Western District Championships, where CP Wilson finished first to win the first major championship for the club.   The Glasgow Herald report by Ggroe (George Dallas) read: “CP Wilson, Irvine YMCA, exhibited excellent judgment and fine pace in winning the thirtieth annual seven miles Western District Cross-Country Championships by 60 yards at Hamilton. He never showed any anxiety to be with the leaders until the five miles turning point, and the way he set about his rivals over the last two miles was a revelation.   This was undoubtedly Wilson’s best race of his career.”   Wilson won by 10 seconds (42:43 to 42:53 by J Gardner of Motherwell.   The club only had five runners when the team required six and there was no team position.    Came the National Championship on 2nd March and there wasno team from Irvine in the results column but CP Wilson started and was running with the leaders when he fell and suffered a knee injury that forced him to drop out.   Fortunately his form up to that point in the season had been good and he was selected for the Scottish team for the International (to be held that year in Paris) where he finished 30th and was a counting member of the Scottish team which finished fifth.

On March 9th 1929 the second annual Renfrewshire  v  Ayrshire Inter-County Cross-Country meeting took place and the result was a win for Renfrewshire by 14 points despite having only 14 runners to Ayrshire’s 16 following a number of call-offs.   CP Wilson was the Ayrshire caotain and he finished second behind R Henderson who had been his predecessor as Western District champion.   

1929-30 The season started with the cross-country relays as usual but there was a change in the organisation of the Districts and the Western District was split into the Midands District and the South West District.   The South West was made up of teams from Renfrewshire, Ayrshire and all points south.   It was a tough competition – Greenock Glenpark and Wellpark clubs were both in there along with all the Ayrshire teams that they had come to know so well.   The District Relay was held for the first time in 1929 at Largs – and was won by Irvine YMCA from Greenock Wellpark Harriers by a margin of 27 seconds.   The winning team was made up of R Wilson, J Watson, D Kerr and CP Wilson.   Quickest was D Kerr who was second overall, followed by CP Wilson fifth overall.   The race was exceptionally well organised and tea and the medals were presented at McKay’s Restaurant in the town.   

The Ayrshire Relay was next Irvine won comfortable with their second team 5th.   Teams and runners were A Team: R Wilson (14:21), J Watson (15:18), D Kerr (14:55), CP Wilson (14:51).  R Wilson was fastest on the day, CP Wilson 9th and D Kerr 12th.     B Team:  R Campbell (15:27), D Aldie (14:39), A Aldie (15:42), J Fletcher (14:58)  D Aldie was 4th fastest overall.    The press report read: “Irvine YMCA accomplished just what was expected of them in the Ayrshire relay except that their win was more striking than anyone believed possible.   The hero of the team was young R Wilson, borther of CP, also a member of the winning team.   He not only gave his side a winning lead but accomplished the fastest effort of the 40 competitors engaged.”   

The new District’s championship was held on 1st February 1930, ‘within the policies of Eglinton Castle’, and to no one’s great surprise, Irvine YMCA ran out the winners.   The team was R Wilson (2nd),  D Kerr (8th), D Fry (9th), J Watson (12th), D McGowan (15th), R Campbell (16th).   The race was over a distance of 7 miles, com posed of two laps with two stretches of plough in each and there were 130 runners.     

In the National at Hamilton where there were 18 teams and 29 individuals entered the team was ninth.  R Wilson was the top man in 4th, big brother CP Wilson was 41st, D Fry 55th, D McGowan 71st,  and the team was completed by another pair of brothers, A Aldie 76th, D Aldie).   There was however another big event to come: 26th April 1930 was the date when the first Edinburgh to Glasgow relay was run.   This was to become, along with the National, one of the highspots of the winter season.   It was an eight stage relay, entry by invitation only, and it would eventually settle for a date in November.   It started out in April 1930 and Irvine YMCA was one of the clubs competing in it.   The stages were of different lengths with the second (6 miles) and the sixth (7 miles) being the longest.   The irvine team on the day was R Wilson, D McGowan, D Aldie, A Aldie, D Kerr, CP Wilson, D Fry and D Watson.   It finished fourth of the 17 taking part behind Plebeian, Dundee Thistle and Maryhill Harriers and three minutes ahead of the fourth team, Motherwell YMCA.   

1930-31   The following winter, 1930-31, began earlier than usual.  On 4th Oct 1930, the new Springburn clubhouse in Auchinairn Road was opened with all the dignitaries present and thopening event was a  4 x 2+ miles relay.   The race was won by Plebeian Harriers with Irvine finishing 5th.  Runners that day were D Fry, D McGowan, D Kerr and R Wilson.   It was a good run in top company and two weeks later they held their own Club Novice Championship and Ballot Team race as a preparation for the National Novice Championship on 1st November in which they were a disappointing 31st team of 37.   It has to be remembered of course that it was a novice championship and men like the Wilson brothers would not be eligible.   They were now entering the championship season proper and on 15th November the South Western District Championships were held at Largs.  The race was run but declared void with a re-run to be held the following week.   The reason?  The leading three runners – D McGowan of Irvine, J Millar of Beith and W Ballock of Greenock Glenpark) all went off the trail on the third leg, cutting a slice off the scheduled course.   They were well clear of the field at that point and the rest of the runners followed the correct trail.   At the end the first across the line were Beith, Glenpark and Irvine but a protest went in, the committee met and the race was declared void.   There had been ‘plenty paper’ laid but the strong wind had scattered it leading to the confusion.   The next championship was the Ayrshire Championship Relays at Benwhat where Doon Harriers won from Irvine YMCA by one minute.    The YMCA Championships were held on 19th December at Renfrew and Suttie Smith from Dundee won his fourth title.   First Irvine man to finish was D Fry in 5th place.   Because of the rules for this championship, which were a bit different from every other championship, he could not count for the team race in which Irvine, represented by AS Aldie, J Fletcher, D Duncan and McKinnon, were fifth.   Irvine were the reigning champions but the rules for the championship stated that members of a winning team could not count for the club the following year.   

The South Western Championships were held at Irvine on 7th February, 1931 and it would be thought that Irvine, reigning champions, would have won again.   Unfortunately not – there were not runners from the club in the first ten and the team finished tenth of eleven with only Barleith behind Whatever the club’s failings in the District Championship they performed well enough to be ninth team in the National at Hamilton.   Individually they were better than they had ever been with two runners in the first eleven – CP Wilson was 10th and D Fry was eleventh and both  were selected for the international to be held at Baldoyle Racecourse in Ireland.   The Thirties was a good decade for the Scottish international teams and in 1931 they finished equal second with France.   That meant that the two men from Irvine came home with medals from the international.   Fry had finished 22nd and Wilson 28th.  In the Edinburgh to Glasgow Relay held in 1931, 25th April and there were twenty two clubs entered.   Unfortunately the Irvine team dropped out and failed to finish.


Came the autumn season and in the National Novice Championships at the start of November the Irvine team was 18th of 42 clubs.   The South Western District relay saw the Irvine club finish third but, as the Glasgow Herald report said, “Irvine YMCA club, winners two years ago, were under strength owing to the absence of R Wilson who had to call off at the last minute.   Unexpected difficulty in getting a good reserve to fill the vcancy caused the club to lose the race which they might well have won.”   The club’s runners and times were D Fry  15:39, D Kerr 15:55, CP Wilson 16:00, J Dunlop 17:10.   The report might have bee a bit harsh in its tone as far as the replacement runner was concerned but nevertheless they finished just 32 seconds behind the winning Beith team and 23 seconds behind second placed Glenpark Harriers.   “Benwhat, a small mining village high in the hills to the north of Dalmellington”  was the venue for the Ayrshire Championships and this time the club had their top four men out – Fry, Kerr, CP Wilson and R Wilson – but could only finish second to the Doon Harriers team who defeated them by exactly one minute.   On the 19th December at Kirkcaldy in the YMCA championships their luck was no better when D Aldie was their first finisher in sixth place with the team down in sixth place of the seven competing.   Consolation was in the form of D Aldie being a member of the winning ballot team with Suttie Smith (winner for the fifth time) and George Pickering of Cambuslang YMCA.   

In the District Championships on 6th February the team could do no better than seventh of the eleven teams present and there was no runner in the top ten finishers.   Would the pattern of the previous year – poor District, good National – be repeated?   The answer is in the negative – there were only five finishers for the club so there was no team position and no runner was in the top twelve.   There was one man from Irvine YMCA selected to go to Brussels with the Scottish team – Trainer T Rae.    He did his job well – the team was third and  again brought home international medals.

The club was mainly a Harrier club but it did send some athletes to the Scottish YMCA Track and Field Championships on 21st May, 1932.   They were up against a situation where many ‘YMCA’ clubs included members of other athletic clubs – eg T Blakely, an international class member of Mryhill Harriers turned out for Glasgow North West.   The Irvine won none of the medals up for competition but there were some events labelled ‘First Claim Members’ and they picked up a second place in the 100 yards.   It should be noted that there were four events for first claim members while the ‘all who will may enter’ events numbered sixteen.


In preparation for the National Novice Championship in November, Irvine, like many a club, held their own club novice championships and ballot team race on 15th October, and on the 29th of the month held their relay trial which was won by D Kerr from the two Aldie brothers.   In the actual Novice Championships on 5th November they could do no better than 19th of 36 teams, and there were no club men in the top ten.   There was a junior road race held at Mauchline on the 12th in which Irvine YMCA was equal third team with Beith Harriers.   In the South West District Relays on 19th November, they were without CP Wilson, R Wilson and D Fry and were never serious contenders, finishing ninth of 15 teams.  The YMCA Championships were held as usual on the third Saturday in December and D Kerr in fourth was the first Irvine YMCA man home; he could not count for the team however and the squad of A Aldie, GS Pringle, W Duncan and J Fernie was sixth of ten teams.   

The first of the two big championships of the cross-country season was the District Championship on 4th February when the team was sixth, A Aldie 13, D Aldie 20, S Pringle 29, J Finnie 54, J Storrar 56, and T Grier 63 were the men in action.   In the National Championships on 4th March, the team was 19th but that year a race for Youths was held in conjunction with the Senior event and in this one Irvine YMCA was eleventh of 24 teams.   There was an Edinburgh to Glasgow Relay on 8th April but the field was small and did not include Irvine.   

In the Track and Field Championships on 20th May, some events were labelled open and if that meant that the others were all for first claim members only, then that would seem to be an improvement.   Irvine won second place medals in the Mile Relay with a team of D Fry, R McCormick, J Lennox and J Dunlop and in the Two Mile Relay they were again second.      If it helped their morale, it should be noted that Irvine Meadow won the five-a-side football match.

1933-34   1933-34 started with the Diistrict Championships and Irvine finished third behind Greenock Glenpark and Eglinton Harriers with their team of Pringle, Kerr Aldie and Fry with Fry turning in the fastest time of the day by 15 seconds from Millar of Beith.   The Ayrshire County Championships took place on 2nd December and Irvine won from Eglinton by only ten yards.   Their top man was D Fry who had fastest time on the day  with R Pringle, D Kerr and D Aldie making up the team.   The last championship of 1933 was the Scottish YMCA Championship on 16th December where Irvine was fifth behind Kirkcaldy, Motherwell,Paisley amd Glasgow YMCA’s.   (Pringle, Aldie, McCulloch and Storrar were the men responsible.   Into the new year and in the District Championships and the club was eighth with D Aldie the top man in 101th place.   There was no team from Irvine in the National Senior Championship but D Fry ran as an individual and crossed the line in 26th place.   Nor were there any team or individual in the Youth event.   

The championship results from 1934-35 to the start of the War in 1939 can be looked at in tabular form.

Date Event Team Position Comments
24/11/1934 South West Relay 6th D Fry 5th fastest
8/12/34 Ayrshire Relay 3rd McCulloch/Aldie/Ferguson/Fry
15/12/34 YMCA Championships 5th
2/2/1935 South West Championship 8th
2/3/35 National cross-country No Team
31/11/35 Ayrshire Relay 3rd Ferguson/ Pringle/ Bell/ D Aldie
14/12/35 YMCA Championship 2nd Ferguson/Pringle/McCulloch/Bell
8/2/1936 South West Championship 2nd Ferguson/ Aldie/Pringle/ McCulloch Ferguson/Bell
7/3/36 National cross-country No Team
21/11/36 South West Relay 6th Pringle/McCulloch/Bell/Ferguson
5/12/36 Ayrshire Relay 4th Ferguson/McCulloch/D Aldie/Pringle
6/2/1937 South West Championship 1st Waldie/M Ferguson/Pringle/McCulloch/Fulton/J Ferguson
6/3/37 National cross-country No Team
20/11/37 South West Relay 7th Pringle/Aldie/Nairn/J Ferguson
4/11/37 Ayrshire Relay 4th
18/11/37 YMCA Championship 5th Kilpatrick/Nairn/Dyer/Bell
5/2/1938 South West Championship No Team
12/3/38 National cross-country No Team 3 Youths entered:Stewart/Clark/Hall
5/12/38 Ayrshire Relay 5th B Team 5th/A 10th
17/12/38 YMCA Championships 5th Sproul/Kilpatrick/M Ferguson/Main
6/2/1939 South West Championship No Team
4/3/39 National cross-country No Team

This brings us up to the end of the last complete cross-country season before the 1939 – 45 War.   There was some athletics held in those years but athletics proper did not restart in Scotland until after the War.   We will pick up the story again in 1947.

The club picked up slowly after the War and there was no team from the club in the South West District Championship in Fenruary 1947, nor in either Novice Championships or District Relay in November and December 1947, and no team in the Senior National in March 1948 although there were three Youths in that race.   They were Hollas, McLeod and Raeside.   There had been a team in the District Championships on 7th February 1948 which finished sixth with runners placed 16th, 24th, 25th, 31st, 51st, and 54th.   These places are noted because the change that took place over the 1948-49 season was so dramatic.   It was called Tom McNeish.

The first championship of the winter was always the National Novice Championship in November and on the twentieth November 1948, Irvine was third = (with HMS Caledonia) of 35 teams in the event.   More to the point, Tom McNeish won the race and there were eight men racing.   He was described as ‘the well-built Tom McNeish’ by Emmet Farrell in the ‘Scots Athlete’ magazine and he went from strenth to strength that winter.   The others in the team that day in the Novice Championships were E Allan 21st, J Lawson 28th and D Lawson 51st.   The South West Relay was held on 4th December that year and the team was down in sixth place despite McNeish running second fastest time of the day.   How so?   J Lawson gave the club a lead on the first leg and D Lawson dropped one place on the second but they were still in contentio before the third leg runner, J Jackso, had a fall and as the report said, ‘put them out of the running’ despite a sterling effort by their top man.   The Ayrshire Harriers Clubs Association had their championships at Dalmellington on 18th December and Irvine YMCA won firly comfortably with a team of E Allan, D Lawson, J Lawson and T McNeish who had the fastest time of the day.   It was into 1949 and the first championship was the District Championships at Kilmarnock where McNeish won by 500 yards from internationalist Tom Stevenson of Wellpark Harriers..    The team took their cue from him and won the team race – J Lawson 8th, D Lawson 12th, E Allan 13th, H Diamond 18th and D Clotworthy 24th.   It was all good stuff with very good team performances and an outstanding runner in McNeish.   The club could have been expected to have a good turn out in the National Championships at Hamilton on 5th March.   But unfortunately not.  There was no team in either the Senior or Youth races, McNeish ran exceptionally well to be fourth in the Senior race and gain selection for the International, and there were two runners in the Youth race entered as individuals – A Diamond 26th and D Clotworthy 51st.   Emmet Farrell in the @Scots Athlete’ was most impressed with McNeish’s run and said as much in the April 1949 issue of the magazine:

“Tom McNeish was with the leaders right from the start and at one stage of the last lap looked as if he might pull off a surprise victory That he tired somewhat in the latter stages is no shame to him after such a hard season.   Discreetly handled, and with an easier programme, Mc Neish might prove a phenomenon.   He is a deceptive runner of amazing speed and stamina, and when he acquires more experience may reach even higher heights in long dtsitance running.”

McNeish in the National, 1949:  On the left in both pictures

In the left hand picture, McNeish is running with George Craig and Jim Flockhart in front of Andy Forbes, Jim Fleming, Jimmy Reid and Tom Stevenson; on the right, he is seen on the last lap with Reid and Fleming.   The caption writer draws our attention to the ‘long but powerful limbs’ of McNeish.    He ran in the international at Baldoyle Racecourse in Dublin and finished 44th to be a scorer for the team which finished ssixth.

It had been a very good season for McNeish and his club had run well, backing him up in all sorts of races with the exception of the National.   

Winter of the 1949-50 season started early for Irvine YMCA (1st October) when they entered the McAndrew Relay race at Scotstoun for the first time: the club finished 17th of the 49 teams who completed the course with McNeish their fastest man – but only 5 seconds quicker than J Lawson, the other runners being F Muir and S Cuthbert.   One month later (5th November) they ran in the South West District Relays at West Kilbride where they were third and McNeish had the fourth fastest time of the day.   Then, for the first time in a long time, the club was invited to run in the Edinburgh to Glasgow eight man relay when it was held on 21st November 1949.   They finished 17th with the team, in running order being T Garry (19th of the 22 starters), S Cuthbert (17th), H Kennedy (17th), J Malcolm (16th), H Clotworthy (17th), T McNeish (15th), A McLeod (16th) and D Andrew (17th).   The eleventh Scottis Youths Cross-Country Championship was held at King’s Park in Stirling on 3rd December and the Irvine team of D Andrew (23), H Kennedy (29), F English (79) and H Gibson (108) was 17th of the 20 teams.  There was no team entered for the South West Championships on 4th February but McNeish was out and finished fourth behnd Reid, McLean and Williamson. The National was held on the 4th March and again the Irvine team was absent although McNeish was there, ran well enough to be 16th but not well enough to make the team for the international.   

Irvine YMCA  Part Two



Photographs: 1950’s

No coaching yet and too much of a novice to get much attention but the pictures here are of the people I learned from, trained with and raced with.

David Bowman

Every club had men who were great role models and they were often hero figures to club members.   Pat Younger inspired many in Clydesdale Harriers, as did Cyril O’Boyle, George White and Frank Kielty.   My own personal hero was David Moir Bowman who was a great club man – runner, official, administrator, club representative and more besides.   The first couple of pictures here will be of David.   The one above is during the SAAA Marathon, 1952.

David leading the Marathon at the Edinburgh Highland Games

David and Willie Howie at the Babcock & Wilcox Sports

Club Men’s Section, outside Bruce Street Baths.

Pat Younger coming down Ben Nevis

George White leading the first leg of the Edinburgh to Glasgow: handing to Duncan Stewart

George White to Pat Younger at the end of the first leg the following year

Rangers Sports: John Maclachlan, Iain Cooke,  George Rodger, ? , Ian Logie

John Maclachlan winning from Pat Younger at Singer’s Sports

Aird (7), George Rodger (7), John Hume (8), John Maclachlan (4)

George White to John Wright in the Dunbartonshire County Relay Championship

Pat Younger in Inter Department Relay at Singer’s Sports

Donaldttt Mackenzie: we trained together until he emigrated to NZ

Start of the first Edinburgh to Glasgow I witnessed

Junior National, John Wright and McParland of Springburn Harriers

John Wright behind George Govan, Shettleston, and in front of Joe Connolly, Bellahouston.