Bellahouston Harriers

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 Receiving the Trophy

In the post-war period of Scottish athletics when endurance running reached a very high standard indeed, the three teams from the West of Scotland that tended to dominate the championship team races were Shettleston, Victoria Park and Bellahouston Harriers.   For some reason the feats of the third of these don’t seem to be as well known as they should be.   Possibly because they did not have as many ‘stars’ as the others and their results were often as much because of solid team work throughout the teams.   They did have very good athletes, some of whom are mentioned below but if we just look at their performances in the top two winter team challenges – the Edinburgh to Glasgow and the National Championships in the late 40’s and 50’s – it is clear that they should take their place with the aforementioned club squads of the time.    In the Edinburgh to Glasgow they had one first, three seconds and four third places between 1949 and 1960, and in the National it was one first, five seconds in the same  time frame.   In four of the Edinburgh to Glasgow medal winning teams, they did not have a single fastest time and yet they finished very close up.    eg in April and November 1949, they were only 20 and 31 seconds behind the second team.   In his official history of the SCCU Colin Shields has this to say: “Bellahouston Harriers whose young team had finished second and third in the preceding years, collected their full set of medals when upsetting the post-war monopoly created by Victoria Park and Shettleston .   Their first victory since 1938 was not achieved easily as Victoria Park and Shettleston exchanged the lead over the first half of the race.   Once Dick Penman took the lead on the fifth stage and Joe Connolly kept Bellahouston’s lead after a struggle with Alastair Wood (Shettleston) and Ian Binnie (Victoria Park), good runs by Des Dickson and Ramsey Black brought Bellahouston home to victory in 3 hours 49 minutes 29 seconds fully 250 yards in front of Shettleston Harriers.   ……. The Bellahouston team showed amazing consistency over the next two years finishing within just six seconds of their winning time on each occasion but having to give best to a resurgent Shettleston team.”

Among the top guys, Joe Connolly was the one who stood out but he only came into the squad in the second half of the 1950’s Des Dickson who was slightly earlier and of course Alex McLean and Harry Fenion who were excellent athletes by anyone’s standards.   Jim Irving who was one of the younger athletes in the club at the time but who became of the top men has the following to say about the club.

“Bellahouston was quite a strong club in the early 1950’s but took a turn for the better when six or seven young boys joined up.   Joe Connolly, Dick Penman, Steve McLean, Crawford Kennedy, Ramsay Black and Jim Irvine were among them.   This pack of boys went on to win county, district and national titles over the country.   After doing National Service in the Army and RAF, they came out and won the Junior National at Hamilton (Joe Connolly 5th, Gordon Nelson 7th, Ramsey Black 10th and Jim Irvine 11th).   We lost one or two at this time – Crawford Kennedy who joined his brother Henry out in Canada – they both won lots of college titles in the USA.  

As the club established itself with the younger members backed up by some of the older ones like Harry Fenion and Bert Irving, Freddie Cowan and Bob Stoddart we went on to become contenders for the E-G, winning a few medals before winning it in 1958 (with Bill Goodwin, Bert Irving, Jim Irvine, Harry Fenion, Dick Penman, Joe Connolly, Des Dickson and Ramsey Black.)

Joe Connolly was the most consistent member of the team over all surfaces.   After finishing second to Harry in the National in 1957, he went on to win it in 1960.   He also represented Scotland in the Empire Games in Cardiff in 1958 in the three miles and six miles.   Joe had best times of – mile 4:19; Two Miles 9:11; Three Miles 13:53 and Six Miles 29:06 and all done on cinder tracks.  

Harry Fenion had a rare double in 1957: he won the National Cross-Country Championship at Hamilton and then won the SAAA Marathon championship in 2:25:44 which was a world class time in this era.   He was also selected for the Empire Games and had a long career stretching back to 1949 when he won the National Youths Cross-Country.  

Bert Irving came from Drummore, near Stranraer.   Bert only came up a few times each year – the E-G trial, the E-G itself, the national and the international!   He was a class act over the country, did most of his running on his own and his best place in the National was third in 1959. 

Des Dickson joined the club after giving up football.   The story with Des was that he could not make the E-G team but the following February was ninth in the National and picked for the Scottish cross-country team.   Des became a very good runner for the club for a number of years.    Gordon Nelson won the Scottish steeplechase title and should have become an outstanding runner and won a lot more.   His training was a bit erratic but what a talent he had.

Billy Goodwin was an outstanding talent as a Youth and Junior, winning Scottish titles over the country.   As a youth (Under 17) he was second in the British Cross-Country Championship.   Unfortunately his career was cut short with serious back trouble.   Ramsey Black and myself were part of most team titles, never being too far away.   Freddie Cowan, David Wright and Bob Stoddart also played their part in all this.

It was a great period for the club but like everything else, it ran its course.”

A great period indeed – we’ll come to the specifics later but between April 1949 and 1960 they won one gold, three silvers and four bronze medals in the E-G at a time when the standard was very high, in addition there were one gold and four silvers in the National Championships.   There were many more in the County and District championships too.   The team did well and we should maybe look at some of the individuals involved

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Ramsey Black crossing the finishing line in 1958

Bill Goodwin, Dick Penman, Bert Irving, Jim Irvine and Des Dickson could be a good start.

Not as well known today as his younger brother Brian who was also a good athlete but is better known as an official who worked tirelessly for the sport in general but particularly for cross-country running, BILLY GOODWIN was a genuine talent.   He was absolutely outstanding as a Youth and Junior.   He only appears once in the track rankings – 1959 with 30:20.4 when finishing third in the SAAA 6 Miles Championship to be fifth in the ratings – but it should be remembered that he had to give up tragically early because of his back problems.   He first appeared in the Cross-Country Championships in 1955 when he won the Youths title from John Wright of Clydesdale Harriers who would go on to win the Junior title twice in succession.   He had been unbeaten for the whole of the 1954/55 season and winning the National completed the set of Renfrewshire, District and SCCU titles.   The following year when he won it from Jackie Hislop of Clydesdale Harriers.  Colin Shields says in ‘Whatever the Weather’, the official history of the SCCU, “Billie Goodwin, who started the season with a record-breaking win in the Clydesdale Harriers popular Youths road race, then reeled off victories in the Renfrewshire and Midland Championships.   He retained his national title with an effortless run and just failed to carry off the double in the English National Championships.   Running as an individual, the Bellahouston Youth was boxed in at the start of the race, losing a lot of ground.   he had to weave his way through the large field of runners eventually finishing second just 60 yards behind the winner.”    His name does not appear in the Championships again until 1959 when he won the Junior championship from John Linaker.   As far as the Edinburgh to Glasgow is concerned, His first run was in 1958 when he was third on the first stage and, as Jim points put above, Bellahouston won the team race.   He ran again in 1959, again on the first stage but this time he was seventh with the team being second, in 1960 and 1961 he took the last stage and the team was second in ’60 and fourth in ’61.   It is as a cross-country man that he will be best remembered however with his outstanding performance being his second place in the English National championship.

DICK PENMAN was one of the four young athletes that Jim spoke about above when he was a member of the E-G winning team in 1958.   He appeared in the Scottish Ranking Lists in three consecutive years – in 1959 he was eighth in the 6 Miles list with a time of 30:49.2; in 1961 he was in both the Two Miles (eighth with 9:17.0) and Six Miles (sixteenth with 31:04.0) and in 1965 ( twenty sixth in six miles with 31:12.8).   His first E-0G was in 1954 when he held on to fifth position on the seventh stage.  In 1957 he ran on the final stage for the team that was second; in 1958 he ran an outstanding fifth stage bringing the club from third to first;  in 1959 he had the fastest time on the same stage when bringing the club from fifth to third.   in 1961 he was given the most difficult stage – the sixth – and did well to keep the loss of places to two. in 1962 he ran the first stage in a weakened team and finished thirteenth.      In 1963 he ran the fifth stage again and moved from 15th to eleventh, in 1964 he went from tenth to eighth on the sixth stage and that was his last race in the relay.    He was a good runner, but it seems safe to say that he did not like cross-country very much – I can only find two appearances as a Senior in the National Championships: in 1957 he was twenty second and third counter in the team that finished second, and in 1959 he was fifty second in the team that finished third.    Dick took  part in Billy Butlin’s John o’Groats to Lands End challenge in 1960.   Billy Butlin was the founder of all the Butlin’s Holiday Camps and following Dr Barbara Moore’s walk over the same route living only on vegetables and fruit to prove the value of the vegetarian diet, Butlin saw the chance for some cheap publicity.   Putting up a big money prize, he encouraged ordinary people to enter and then get themselves to JoG and then take part in the race.   People were arriving in Glasgow with five shillings in their pocket to get them to JoG!   Dick entered the race, led by quite a way early on, then developed some injuries and eventually dropped out suffering from an ulcer in Crianlarich.   He had some small sponsorship from a ‘nutritional drinks’ company and his father drove the support car.   I’d like the full story – so if anyone has it, let me know.   He was certainly a quality athlete and given reasonable notice could have done really well in this event which was run in a snowy February.   Look up the Billy Butlin walk on the internet, lots of video clips.    Dick was one of Bellahouston’s top men in the 50’s.

If you look for BERT IRVING in the record books, you will not find many entries: that does not mean that he was not a runner of the highest calibre, especially over the country.   A large part of the problem was that he lived in one of the farthest corners of Galloway – down on the tip of the Drummore peninsula.   We are talking about a time when not too many people had cars and when public transport away from the major conurbations was not always plentiful.   To make the journey to Glasgow was a major undertaking.   So he trained away on his own in the beautiful Dumfriesshire countryside, only emerging for the main races of the season.    The story of him only doing three races (E-G, National and International in the same season was not far from the truth.   His record in the Edinburgh to Glasgow starts in 1957 when he was in the team that finished second; he ran on the fifth stage and turned in the second fastest time with only Alex Breckenridge of the winners, Victoria Park, being quicker.    He was part of the winning squad in 1958 when he ran the difficult second stage where he held the third place given to him by Billy Goodwin at the end of the first leg.   On the same stage in 1959 he moved the team from seventh to fourth and saw the club finish second.   Missing 1960 he was on the second stage in 1961 where he maintained the lead handed to him by Joe Connolly on the first stage.   He missed the next year but although he ran well into the 60’s his real work for the very good club outfit had been done by then.

On the country, he was even better.   He made his debut in 1957 and finished 23rd in the team that finished second behind Victoria Park.   In 1958 he was twentieth and in 1959 he achieved his best ever position in the event when he was third splitting John McLaren (two seconds ahead) and Graham Everett (four seconds back) to gain his first international vest and a trip to Lisbon where he finished sixtieth.   1960 saw him win his second international honour after he was fifth in the National and this time the venue was at home – the same Hamilton Course that had hosted the national.   This time he was forty first and a counting runner.   In 1961 he was eighteenth but 1962 saw him back to his best when he finished sixth – one place behind Alastair Wood and one in front of John McLaren – and gain selection for the international championship in Sheffield where he was fifty eighth.   That was his last international fixture.   His achievements were quite amazing when one considers that he did all his training on his own in a far away part of Scotland where the weather could be as wild as anywhere on the mainland and without the spur of training with a pack of like minded individuals.   It would have been interesting to see what he could have achieved training with a group and easy access to more races.

JIM IRVINE  was another of the excellent group of  runners who graced the team at this time.   Unlike most, Jim is still involved in the sport, in the club and has in fact donated a trophy for a club 10K road race.    Jim first appeared in the cross country national championship as a Youth (ie under 17) in 1952 when the Bellahouston Harriers team finished third but he himself was a non-scoring runner that year, nor was he the following year when the team won and he was forty fourth finisher.  In1954 though when the team was third Jim in forty second place was the fourth counting runner behind Gordon Nelson (7), S McLean (12) and R Stoddart (31)   Next year, as a Junior that Jimmy  was in the team that was second in the National with the scoring runners being Nelson (6), Kennedy (8), Irvine (18) and Mclean (12) – close packing!  In 1956 he was a member of winning Junior team in which Joe Connolly was fourth, Gordon Nelson seventh, Ramsay Black tenth and Jimmy eleventh.   Again very good packing, four men in six places and all in the top dozen.   He was a Senior in 1957 and a member of the Bellahouston squad that finished second and again in 1958 (when he was thirty eighth) and in 1959 when he was thirty third in a team that finished third. – six National medals in six years.   In the Edinburgh to Glasgow his record was also excellent.   In 1955, as a first year Junior, he ran on the seventh stage and held tenaciously on to fourth in a team the finished in fifth place.   He missed the race in 1956 but in 1957 he was again on the seventh stage where he held on to second place in the team that won silver.   1958 was of course the ‘glory year’ when the race was won.   Jim was on the third stage and moved the team up from third to second, helping on the way to the leaders spot.   He did not run in the next two years.   Jimmy was a good runner at a time of good runners and a member of one of the best distance running squads in the country at any time.   It is interesting to go beyond these profiles and see just how good the runners were.   Jim summarised some of his career highlights for us and some notable road races.   I have them in the table below.   But first the highlights:

Best National Cross Country position:   18th in 1961;   fourth in the Renfrewshire Cross-Country Championships 5 times;   Best track times (all on cinder tracks, remember):   Mile:   4:33;   Two Miles   9:33;   Three Miles   14:51;   Six Miles   31:07.

 

Year Venue Distance Place Comments
1958 Gourock 14 Miles 1st 2nd G Eadie, 3rd C O’Boyle
1958 Cumnock 10 Miles 1st 2nd A Fleming, 3rd G Eadie
1958 Brechin 12 Miles 2nd 1st Pat Moy by 30 seconds
1959 Carluke 12 Miles 3rd 1st AH Brown, 2nd J Kerr

5 seconds covered the three!

  Shotts 14 Miles 3rd 1st AH Brown, 2nd A McDougall
  Gourock 14 Miles 2nd A Allan
  Kilwinning 13 Miles 3rd  
  Carluke 12 Miles 3rd 1st AH Brown, 2nd H Fenion

These were all seriously good races – competition was the thing and there are no easy ‘scalps’ in the names above – the 1959 Carluke race was particularly notable.   A road runner of ability Jim never did the big miles required for the marathon but nevertheless managed a creditable 2:36.   Jimmy was one of the few from that generation who went on to become good veteran runners and he was third twice in the Scottish Championships as an M40 before winning the M50 title in 1986.   His best track times as a vet were – 1500m   4:27; 5000m   15:56;   10000m   32:20 (when winning the Scottish Vets title);    and on the road he has times of – 1:13:28 for the half marathon and 2:43:52 for the Marathon run at London at the age of 49 in 1984.    These are all very good times but he does admit that he ran 1:10:40 for the half marathon at Stranraer but because within himself he felt the course was a bit short, he doesn’t claim it as a pb!   This page recognises the great Bellahouston Harriers squad of the ’50’s and early ’60’s and they were all great team men.   Jimmy never stopped and he ran in the Alloa – Bishopbriggs veterans eight man relay: the vets’ Edinburgh to Glasgow was a superb race which almost emulated the original and was a good race in its own right.   Jim has a full set of medals from these races and even has one fastest lap (on the seventh stage) to his credit!

DES DICKSON was also a member of the winning Edinburgh to Glasgow team in 1958 and won several other medals on the road and country for the club.   Jimmy’s story above is a good one!   Des came into the sport, Jim reports, from football and failed to qualify for the E-G team in November 1957  and then finished ninth in the National in February 1958 and was selected for the International.   He had run in the National in 1957 and finished forty fourth to be a counting runner in the team that finished fourth.   He did make the team in 1958 and ran on the seventh stage – taking over in first place, he held his ground and handed over a lead to the last runner.    1959 was a good year for Des, seventeenth in the team that was third in the national, running on the fourth stage of the E-G he was in the team that picked up silver and in between he appeared in no fewer than four ranking lists.   His one mile in 4:20.2 saw him in fifteenth, two miles in 9:33.0 had him twelfth, three miles in 14:52.3 placed him twenty first and six miles in 30:48.0 was good enough for seventh fastest in Scotland.   In the National in 1960 he was fortieth and the team was second and in the E-G that year he picked up a place on the fourth stage and another silver team medal.   His mile time that year slipped to 4:23 which had him nineteenth in Scotland.   He ran for several years in the 1960’s having more than done his bit for the club in the last years of a wonderful decade for the club.

I’ll stop there but may well come back to Bellahouston to look at some of the other members of this illustrious squad.  Meanwhile, Neil Black who ran for Bellahouston Harriers in the 80’s has been appointed successor to Charles van Commenee as GB’s national coach, and Graham Getty has written this short paragraph about him.

“Neil Black joined Bellahouston in January 1982 when he was working in the East of Scotland.     Following the participation of a number of Bellahouston Harriers in the famous Morpeth to Newcastle race,  in which Neil finished third for his club Morpeth Harriers he was introduced to the Bella boys by another Bellahouston runner, Rab Marshall, who had many years earlier relocated to the north-east of England, joining Morpeth Harriers in the process.   Neil made his debut for Bellahouston Harriers in the West District Cross-Country Championships at Coatbridge on 23rd January, 1982 and, as an unknown in the area, surprised the leading runners, finishing third and helping Bella win the team title with a team including Daly (13th), Getty (15th) and Braidwood (18th).   With this performance, he didn’t remain unknown for long!  

On February 13th, 1982, Neil won the famous Edinburgh University 10 Mile Road Race in a time of 50:13, helping the club to second team with the other runners being Daly 12th, Getty 14th and Wyper 18th.   Two weeks later, on February 27th, Neil followed that up with finishing twelfth in the 1982 SCCU Cross-Country Championships, assisting Bellahouston to fifth team with a team of Braidwood tenth, Getty thirty fifth, Cox thirty seventh, Daly thirty ninth and Joss seventy third.  

Neil also ran for the club twice in the Edinburgh to Glasgow Relay.   In 1982 he ran the fifth stage in 26:25 taking Bellahouston from second to first and helping them to an overall fourth position.    Neil’s time was 62 seconds faster than Dave Logue’s for the winning team, Edinburgh Southern Harriers.   In 1983 he ran the third leg and took Bella from eighth to first in a time of 28:09: this compared with Graham Laing’s time of 28:18 for the winning team, Aberdeen AAC.  

He was a class runner who added much to an already strong Bellahouston team during his short stay in Scotland.”

That’s a clear succinct indication of the man’s talents as a runner and gives a hint of more insight into the athlete’s requirements than almost any other applicant for the job.    At least he knows that the UK does not stop at the Watford Gap!