Willie McFarlane: Sprinter

Athletics historians of whatever generation would look at the picture above and look for the names of the athletes.   There may even be arguments about the exact names of the runners.  Very few would look at the man in the middle who was the team coach.   All of the athletes won many medals for relay championships in Scotland in the 1950’s.   The 4 x 110 yards, the 4 x 440 yards and the medley relay all fell with amazing regularity to teams from Victoria Park AAC.   The  conveyor belt of international athletes produced such as Willie Jack, Alan Dunbar, Ronnie Whitelock, Bobby Quinn, Harry Quinn, Willie Breingan and many more.   They were not produced by accident – they were produced by the labours of Willie McFarlane who is the gent in the centre of the picture.   Had there been a medal for the coach of a winning championship team, he would have had more than any of the athletes who took home some precious metal.   The club cross-country and road running team is rightly lauded for their feats but the sprinters were just as good, just as special.   It is only right that we look at Willie McFarlane and what he gave to the club.

The Glasgow Herald tells us that Willie was 26 on 2nd January 1933, so he must have been born in 1907.  It also tells us that he had been running since successfully since 1930 when he won the Clyde FC 120 yards sprint.     Held on 26th July, 1930, the Clyde FC Sports were, unlike Rangers FC, Celtic FC or Partick Thistle FC Sports professional Games and always attracted big crowds.  There were not many athletic events – six in all – and McFarlane won his race off 13 yards, beating J Logie (Muirkirk – 12 yards) by two yards in 11 10-16th secs.   If he had run at all in the New Year Sprint he was unplaced in his heat.   

1931 was a different story.   It began like every year for the pedestrians at Powderhal and the report on the final day’s running was as follows:  

“Surprise in 130 yards Final 

There was a big surprise in the final of the 130 yards New Year Handicap Final at Powderhall Grounds yesterday.   The favourite, W McFarlane, Glasgow, 8 1/2 yards, about whom odds were asked, was beaten by T Tait, Prestonpans, a 2 to 1 chance, after a thrilling struggle.  ….    The Glasgow runner returned the fastest time in the second ties.”

It was an expensive slip up – the winner won £100 and second placed McFarlane received £5!  


If McFarlane was favourite for the title in 1931, it was a different story the following year.   The favourite was HJ Morgan from Wales.   He was until McFarlane defeated him the first round on 1st January.   McFarlane gave the Welshman two yards of a start and beat him by three in 13 7-16th seconds.   Unfortunately he himself was beaten in the second round by DW Brown from Aberdeen and did not make the final.   Brown was second and received twice as much as the Glasgow man had the previous year – £10.

1st January in 1933 was a Sunday and the first rounds of the sprint were held on the Monday.  The Glasgow Herald of 2nd January commented that there would some good sport at Powderhall but only two runners were backed – W McFarlane (7 yards) of Glasgow and K Price (10 1/2) of New Tredegar.   There were thirty three heats that year and the fastest times were by those two runners although neither had the fastest time in the heats.   Came the final and the headline said


McFarlane Wins Sprint

There were some fine performances at Powderhall Grounds, Edinburgh when the famous New Year Gala was concluded. It is difficult to know which to place in the premier place – the fine distance running of J Campbell of Craigneuk in the ten mile marathon in which he defeated Allan Scally of Broomhouse, or the magnificent sprinting of W McFarlane of Glasgow in the final of the 130 yards handicap.    …

There were no doubts about the success of W McFarlane of Glasgow in the ‘big sprint’.   He showed himself to be a runner of fine physique and a stout heart.   Neither in his heat on the previous day, nor in his second tie yesterday had he to reveal anything of his power, but the final demanded of his very best.   Conceding starts up to eight yards, he quickly settled to his task.   He did not show the same hesitancy at his mark as he had done two years ago when he ran second to T Tait of Prestonpans.   McFarlane had the measure of his opponents after covering 100 yards.   The second favourite, T Melrose of Leith, did not prove a barrier to McFarlane’s success.   It was C Paterson of Burnside, running from the 15 yards mark who caused the Glasgow man most trouble.   McFarlane, however, got ahead 15 yards from the tape to win by two yards from Paterson, with Melrose third, half a yard behind.  

McFarlane has been a prominent racer for the past three years.   In 1930 he won the Clyde FC 130 yards sprint, and his performance at Powderhall two years ago has already been commented on.   Last year (1932) he was defeated in the second tie by DW Brown of Aberdeen who was the ultimate runner-up.   McFarlane is 26 years of age, weighs 12 stone 2 lb and stands 5′ 10 1/2″.   He was trained at Barfield Ground, Largs by Mr G Munro and was sponsored by Mr J Girklas, Glasgow.” 

We now have a physical picture building up which is added to by the following extract from the book ‘Powderhall & Pedestrians’: 

“Possibly the best tribute that could be paid to McFarlane would be to describe him as “Clyde built” – which expression while conveying a wealth of meaning to experts in the shipbuilding world, can be applied with equal facility to the Western athlete.   Powerfully built, with deep chest and strong muscular limbs McFarlane approximates to that physical type of sprinter which was so keenly sought after by the old time shrewd “gaffers” of the Sheffield pedestrian era.   Not only did he strip big, but he was also the great runner which his physical make up suggested.”

Eric McIntyre adds that “McFarlane was a Glasgow joiner and in an interview with my late brother Kenny told of the havoc the job played with his knees. My father competed alongside him in the Games of the 1930s and spoke in awe of his speed.   He was not a tall man and ran with clipped strides like Jesse Owens or Michael Johnson”.   

The caption on the above photograph reads:  “Don Wight in his 83rd year meets Willie McFarlane of Glasgow at the Hawick Common Riding Games of 1934.   McFarlane like Don Wight was a dual winner of the Powderhall Sprint in 1933 and 1934.   Don won in 1870 and 1876.   On each occasion both men ran off scratch.” 

1934 started with the Powderhall New Year carnival and McFarlane was favourite for the title.   He had been favourite two years earlier and did not make the final.   There were 31 Heats this time round and Glasgow Herald of 2nd January read:

“Last year’s winner, W McFarlane, Glasgow, is the favourite for the  Powderhall New Year 130 yards handicap, the heats of which were run yesterday at the Powderhall Grounds, Edinburgh.  At the conclusion of racing he was quoted at 6-4 against, while J O’Donnell, Niddry, was second in demand at 5-2.   …   The scratch man, McFarlane, when returning 13 4-16th sec eased up a good distance from the tape, and had time to look round twice before getting to the tape ahead of T Melrose, Leith.”

In the second round, he was in the second tie of five, and running off scratch.   Move on 24 hours and the Herald for 3rd January, tells us :

 “McFarlane in Thrilling Finish

Some excellent performances were seen at the closing day of the 1934 New Year’s pedestrian carnival at Powderhall Grounds, Edinburgh, yesterday.   One does not wish to belittle in any way the fine running of J Campbell of Craigneuk in the ten miles marathon race, the scratch award of which he won for the second year in succession, but it must be recorded that the racing ability shown by W McFarlane of Glasgow in the 130 yards handicap surpassed in brilliance any of the other items on a varied programme.   McFarlane gave a notable performance being the first runner to win the event in two successive years and the first scratch man to win the event outright. “

McFarlane had won his second round tie in 12 12 10/16th seconds and the Final in 12.10 1/2 seconds to win £100 and a gold medal.   It was a wonderful performance and recognised by the promoter Mr AM Wood who presented him with a silver cup inscribed: 

Presented to


As a simple appreciation of his magnificent record performance in winning the Powderhall New Year Sprint Handicap from the scratch mark for the first time ever over 130 yards in 12 10 1/2/16th seconds.   McFarlane, having won in 1933, created another record with two successive wins.”

The book ‘Powderhall & Pedestrians’ tells us that the cup also bore the facsimile signatures of FA Lumley (Referee), AM Wood (judge), Chris Lynch (handicapper) and FG Clark (starter).   

The significance of the 12 10 1/2 seconds time was that in effect he ran 130 yards 3 1/2 yards inside even time.   

He followed that performance with a run at Hackney Wick grounds in London on 15 Jan 1934 at ‘Professional Championships’ he won 100 yds scr in 9.9s. and in 130 handicap came 3rd in final but had won his heat off scratch in 12.63s.,   It was fantastic running then at that time of year without the benefit of indoor training!   By March he was in Australia for the pro running season there where he competed in international pro sprints but his performances were not as good as his earlier ones and he came 4th in each of his races.

That was to be his last Powderhall Sprint Final but not the last that would be heard of McFarlane.   The following is an extract from the New Year Sprint website and can be found at this link  


During the past 120 years the “Sprint” has produced many top class competitors. Dan Wight of Jedburgh, the 1870 winner, heads a long list Scottish Champions. Other legendary names from the past include Harry Hutchens of London, never a winner, but the fastest sprinter of the century and “scratch” man from 1880 to 1895. The record run of this period is credited to Alf Downer of Edinburgh who in the 1898 sprint ran 128.5 yards in 12.4 secs. On a comparative basis with later “crack” runners, Downer stands out as a great all round running champion. The First World War witnessed the great Australian champion Jack Donaldson and England’s Willie Applegarth, a brilliant former amateur. The most famous winner of all was Willie McFarlane of Glasgow who achieved the unique distinction of winning the event two years in succession, the second time from the scratch mark in 1934 – a feat never repeated.”

You can read about Willie McFarlane as a coach at  this  link .

[Many thanks to Hugh Barrow, Jack Davidson, Shane Fenton, Eric McIntyre and the Memiours of Pro Athletes for help with this part of the profile]

Willie McFarlane: Coach

Willie McFarlane’s career as a professional sprinter is   at this link


Willie McFarlane as a professional runner was a contemporary of another athlete who would go on to become a coaching stalwart of amateur athletes – Allan Scally was a distance runner who won Powderhall twice and went on to work with Shettleston Harriers.   Both men ran during the 1930’s and, although they may have done some coaching before or during the war, they were known best for what they did after after the war was over.   Willie McFarlane was always ‘Willie McFarlane of Glasgow’ and in Glasgow the main running tracks after the three football grounds of Hampden, Ibrox and Parkhead were Westerlands, the Glasgow University ground, and Scotstoun, the home of Victoria Park.   Willie, Victoria Park AAC and Scotstoun were a good fit.   

In discussions about how he trained his athletes, there is one thing that is always mentioned – they did plenty of starts, lots of starts.  After 30 yards or so it was “Aye, that’ll do!”   Most of his athletes were known as fast out of the blocks.   Willie Jack, Ronnie Whitelock and Mike Hildrey were all very quick off their marks.  The other aspect of his training that is noteworthy was that he used lots of massage.  That seemed to be more typical of professional athletes than of amateurs at that time.  It was to be several decades before massage became available to athletes at SAAA championships and although it was encouraged there were so few masseurs that it was generally only those who could make their own arrangements who were able to use their services.     Back to Willie and his training: Jimmy Christie in his article on Willie Jack’s training (link below) said 

“His training covered practically every distance stretching 150, 220. 300 and 330 yards. Dashes over 10.20. 30 to 60 yards but all the time concentrating on his start the most important aspect of any sprint.”

We are 10 years too late in investigating the matter but whatever he did, it worked.   The club records for the 100 yards and 100 metres are held by Mike Hildrey (9.6 in Dublin in 1961) and Willie Jack (10.5, London, 1954).   Incidentally, Jack’s 10.5 from 1954 would have ranked him number 3 in Scotland in 2019, Hildrey, pictured below, also has a 10,5 to his credit from 1961.

The question asked about any coach in Scotland is this:  “Aye, but who has he produced?”   Willie’s list covers the 1950s and the start of the 1960’s.   McFarlane’s sprinters dominated the scene.   Look at the statistics, there are a lot and you could while away some time working out the various permutations in any one year.

100y was won by Victoria Park runners in 1951, 1952, 1953 (all Willie Jack), 1955, 1956 (both Alan Dunbar), 1957, 1959 (both R Whitelock), 1960 (M Hildrey), 1962 (Whitelock again).  9 gold medals in 10 years.   

They had second places in 1950, 1953, 1954, 1956, 1959, 1960, 1961 and 1962 with bronze in 1953, 1954 and 1961.   In 1953 they had all first three places.

220y was won by the club men in 1946 (George McDonald), 1950, 1951, 1952, 1953 (all Willie Jack), 1960 and 1961 (Mike Hildrey).   There were second places in 1949, 1950 (G McDonald), 1954, 1955 (Robert Quinn), 1956 (Alan Dunbar), 1957 (R Quinn), and 1961 (A Dunbar), with third places in 1947, 1948 (G McDonald), 1953 (Ronnie Whitelock), 1955 (A Dunbar) and 1960 (Alistair Ballantyne).

The 4 x 110 relay was won by the club in 1949, 1951, 1952, 1953, 1954, 1955, 1956, 1957, 1958, 1959, 1961.   11 sets of gold medals in 13 years.   In 1955, the first three teams were all Victoria Park with the C team beating the B team for second place.   In 1956, the club’s B team won with the A team being third, split by Glasgow University and only half a second between the two VPAAC teams.   

Scottish 100 yards records were set on 20th May 1952 (Willie Jack, the previous record had stood since 1935), 22nd June 1957 (Ronnie Whitelock), 25th June 1960 (Mike Hildrey), 10th June 1961 (Hildrey), 19th August 1961 (Hildrey).

The Medley Relay (880y, 220y, 220y, 440y) was the other old established relay.   The Scots loved it.   The club’s record here was 1952, 1953, 1954, 1955, 1962.   Second in 1947, 1948, and 1956 plus third in 1958, 1959 and 1960.

They really amazing statistics.   There was no doubt in anybody’s mind about McFarlane’s part in all this success.  In his centenary history of the SAAA, Keddie comments “The Victoria Park coach in those days was the great professional sprinter of the 30’s Willie McFarlane,”  and reference is made to him in ‘The Past Is A Foreign Country’, by Colin Shields and Arnold Black when talking about Willie Jack.   They say

“In the 50’s the hot bed of Scottish sprinting was centred in Glasgow where Victoria Park sprinters trained at Scotstoun Stadium.   A production line of sprinters, coached by former professional sprinter Willie McFarlane poured forth from Scotstoun to such a degree that they won the national 100 yards titles eight times and 220 yards titles six times during the decade. 

   Willie Jack, 2, in the blue and white of Victoria Park AAC

Willie Jack (20.12.1930 – 98.12.1938) 

There is complete coverage of Willie’s career in ‘The Past Is a Foreign Country’ by Arnold Black and Colin Shields.   It was a superb career and when it is realised that he was only 22 when he retired in 1953 it is quite amazing.   He won the Scottish championship double of 100 and 220 yards in three consecutive years 1951, 1952 and 1953, having won the Junior 220 yards in 1948.   In each of these years he qualified for the final of the AAA 220 yards but was selected for the Olympic Games of 1952 after running second to Macdonald Bailey at the White City in 10.5.  At the Olympics he ran 11.05 in his heat of the 100, 10.94 in the second round and 11.01 in the semi-final.   In the relay the team of Mac Bailey, Jack, Jack Gregory and Brian Shenton won their heat in 41.3, ran 41.34 in the semi-final and finished fourth and out of the medals in the final in 40.85.   He the  took part in the British team’s post Olympics tour of Europe.   He was McFarlane’s first really big star runner.   The performances below have the year, the event, the time, Scottish ranking that year.   

There is a very good and detailed profile of Willie Jack on pages 12 and 13 in the ‘Scots Athlete’ magazine for June 1955 at


Ronald H. Whitelock  (14.10.1932-7.12.2012) 

There is an obituary which is a good summary of Ronnie’s sporting career  at this link, but the bare statistics are as follows.   

1959 100y 9.8 1 ;

1960 100y 9.9 2

1961 100y 9.9/9.6w 3

1962 100y 9.9u/9.8w 3

CR: Sco: 1 100y ’59, 1 100y ’62, 2 100y ’60, 3 100y ’61.

Alan S. Dunbar (26.02.1934-1.07.2011)  

There is an excellent Scotsman obituary for Alan that covers his career as an athlete but also his wider life at this link but the vital statistics of his running career appear below.

1959 100y 9.92;  220y 22.5 11

1960 100y 10.0 4;  220y 22.3 7

CR: Sco: 2 100y ‘59; , 2 220y ’60.

Michael G. Hildrey (15.10.41) 

Described by Black and Shields as “Hildrey joined Victoria Park AAC and was coached by the great professional sprinter of the 1930’s, Willie McFarlane who produced such great sprinters as Willie Jack, Alan Dunbar and Ronnie Whitelock.”

There is more detailed information about Mike on the scotstats.net website at this link.   Mike ran in all the major championships other than the Olympics – SAAA, AAA, European and Empire Games

1959 100y 10.0/9.8w 4;   220y 22.1 5

1960 100y 9.8 1 ;  100m 10.7 1  200m 21.3 1

1961    100y 9.6 1;  100m 10.5 1; 200m 21.1 1;  440y 50.3r 

1962 100y 9.9/9.7w 3; 220y 21.2 1

1963 100y 9.9/9.8w 2; 220y 22.04

CR: Eur ‘62 200 (sf);   Com ’62 100y (qf),  220y (sf).   GB: 2 AAA220y ‘61, 3 AAA220y ’60.

CR (continued): Sco: 1 100y ‘60, 1 220y ‘60, 1 220y ‘61, 2 100y ’61.

And you can read about Bobby Quinn at  this  link .

Mike Hildrey (7)

McFarlane was without doubt a very good coach indeed and it was unfortunate that he was not available for Scottish international duties because of his past professional involvement.  He would certainly have been involved in the present day.   Stuart Hogg, John Freebairn, Eric Simpson and Alastair Macfarlane , all former professionals, have all been involved with the various national teams and squads.   It is a pity, or maybe an injustice, that he is not better known today.

The picture is of four Victoria Park sprinters in the final of the West District 100 yards at Scotstoun 1959.   Ronnie Whitelock second from the right.

[Thanks go to Hugh Barrow and Arnold Black for assistance on this page, and to Graham McDonald for the superb picture above]


John Freebairn: As Others See Him

First of all we have some comments from for mer pro athlete Alastair Macfarlane, who, once reinstated, became Scottish marathon champion.

“I first became aware of the name John Freebairn in my very early teens through my interest in football. I knew that John played for Partick Thistle ad knew of his slightly unorthodox style of goalkeeping. It was only when I started competing at professional Highland Games in 1965 that I got to meet John and from then our paths seemed to meet on a pretty regular basis.

John was a terrifically talented and versatile field events competitor excelling particularly in the jumps. He was perhaps overshadowed by the likes of Bill Anderson and Arthur Rowe who swept all before them in the heavy events at that time but was always able to pick up place money. I remember him being more successful in the light field events and this is perhaps where his real talents lay. He would surely have made a top decathlete had he remained amateur. Although he probably never had a huge love of middle distance track events I can remember John often shouting encouragement to me during my races between his jumps or throws.

Eventually after our reinstatement to the amateur code and when I got involved in coaching, it was John who was my instructor when it came to throwing events on my coaching courses. And moving on a few years we found ourselves on the committee of the Scottish Veteran Harriers Club administering the needs of the Masters athletes in our sport where my memories of John are of someone who wasn’t content to sit quietly at committee meetings while others made decisions!!”

Alastair Shaw in Vietnam who read the profile and said the following in an email.

“Still on the Highland Games scene I also read the profile of John Freebairn. You won’t be surprised to know that I came across John, and his daughter Susan, a lot during my coaching and officiating days. Quite a character. 
One thing I seem to have memory of is seeing a movie about a Highland Games at an Inverclyde weekend. Fairly sure it was called ‘The Gathering’. The movie was a kind of ‘fly on the wall’ semi-documentary and John, if not actually featured, was certainly there, as he was able to comment on one of the central themes. 
This was that the ‘famous’ caber, used at whatever games it was, could not be thrown by any of the athletes. In such a case my understanding is that the caber is supposed to be cut by 1 foot at a time until someone throws it. However the games chieftain refused to allow it to be cut as it was a famous symbol. He maintained the athletes were not good enough. John told us that sometimes, when organisers thought a caber was not challenging enough, they would leave it in a loch for a couple of weeks to soak up water. Although they denied it, he maintained that this is what happened on this occasion. The result being that the thing was virtually unliftable, let alone able to be thrown. I don’t recall the actual outcome but I think they probably substituted the original for another to save face. “
He goes on to talk about the meeting at Inverclyde.   
“That Inverclyde course was possibly one of the first times I met John and I’d guess it must have been not long after he started coaching as I think he was an attendee rather than one of the course staff. 
As I’m sure you know only too well the memory sometimes plays tricks on long ago events, and I’m more than capable of remembering things as I’d like to, but I seem to recall that John quite liked giving the different coaching advice a practical go at the Inverclyde weekends. Possibly one of the few attendees that could actually do so. At the time he reminded me a bit of a real life ‘Geordie’ if you remember that movie.
I learned about his professional career side quite early on and we’d occasionally talk shop at meetings as Clackmannanshire, where I worked at the time, was within the old Central Region. “
Quite happy to talk about his day job to Alastair, and about football to Stuart Hogg.   

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hugh Murray, fourth from Left

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

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

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

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

Stuart Hogg

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

“Among those I got to know well was former Partick Thistle goalkeeper, John Freebairn.   I had seen him many times at Firhill when, as a student, I had gone to watch fellow Tirisdeach, Johnny MacKenzie, playing for Thistle. Incidentally, the latter is the only  fluent Gaelic speaker to have played for Scotland. John Freebairn often nearly caused Thistle fans to suffer heart attacks with his habit of coming well out of his goal area to make a  clearance.   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 died on 24th April, 2020, and among the tributes was this one by Jack Davidson on the SHGA website:

“John Freebairn who has died aged 82 was one of the best known figures on the Games circuit for twenty five years from early 1960’s to mid ‘80’s. During that time he enjoyed considerable success in both light and heavy events with marks of 6ft in high jump, 12’4” pole vault, 22ft plus long jump, 48 ft shot putt, 120 ft. hammer throw and 14 ft.weight over the bar reflecting his quality as an athlete. An excellent ambassador for the Games who also competed in Australia, Indonesia and throughout Europe John was popular and well respected, a true sportsman and man of integrity. Later he enjoyed success in Masters’ athletics and coaching. Prior to his Games career he was professional footballer as goalkeeper with Partick Thistle in the old first division.”


From Partick Thistle came this tribute:

Those of us at Firhill of a somewhat older vintage received with great sadness news of the death of former goalkeeper John Freebairn. I am pleased to pay the following tribute to an unusual, almost unique custodian and a fine person.   John made his Thistle debut against Kilmarnock on 28th October 1958 at Firhill. In total he was our last line of defence on 115 occasions. He was unusual. How many players have we signed from Glasgow University? His style was unique. While goalkeepers today suffer criticism for not coming off their line quickly enough, John adopted the opposite philosophy. His province covered virtually two thirds of the penalty area, thus causing all sorts of panic among our fans, but he was popular and effective nevertheless.

Away from the world of football, John was a significant performer at Highland Games meetings, tossing the caber with immense power and efficiency – an accomplished all round athlete.   We have lost a goalkeeper like no other and we mourn the loss of a fine man.

Our thoughts at this sad time are with his family and friends and we offer to them our sincere condolences.

Robert Reid.

Honorary President


A happier memory of John from John Robertson as posted on on the Memiours of a Pro Athlete facebook page.

John Robertson Sad to lose another talented competitor and all round nice guy. I had many great competitions with John in the jumping events. He had great natural spring. An all round good athlete, John always wanted to help other competitors giving advice and looking for ways to improve. Mind I remember getting 43.5 different instructions before a jumping event. I think I got 22’ in the TRIPLE jump 🤣😂🤣. Often I would see him throw 3 different styles with his 3 throws in the Shot Putt! The Putt under the chin being a favourite. We competed together at Gotland (an island off the east coast of Sweden) in the Gutnik Games. Both of us high jumping wearing the kilt. Great memories.


On the same web site, Thomas Miller said:

Thomas Miller remember him from Coatbridge running track sure his daughter trained there,he brought the jay scott memorial trophy and a 50 pound prize to our home as tony won the the best field event athlete at luss but did not know a true gentleman loved sport and all highland games events never seen him compete but looked a strong man.


John Freebairn: Coach

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John Freebairn: Veteran Athlete

Throws Decathlon, 2001
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.
Susan at the Throws Decathlon, 2001
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.   His last season as an amateur was summer 1958.  He remembers competing in the Sports of 1958 where he won the shot putt and was rewarded with a Parker-Knoll armchair which was better than Hugh Barrow’s transistor radio but much harder to fit into the family car.   He also took part in the high jump immediately and his opening jump was 5’11” which was not good enough for a place in the event.   He did however get a second in the pole vault.    These were the days of landing in flat sand in the ‘jumps for height’ but at Ibrox the sand was piled high .   John had seen the Walt Davis/Alan Paterson duel in 1952 and had been roped in by Fraser Riach to help retrieve the javelin in the floodlit meeting.   Unfortunately the 1958 Sports was his only competition because he turned professional at the end of 1958 to compete on the Highland Games circuit.   He became a professional at the end of summer 1958.

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.   

John high jumping at Mull: Western Roll style and landing on grass.


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 1st
1972 Caol x 35' 6" 114' 10" 96' 0"
1972 Newburgh 43' 5" x 116' 5" x 60' 2" 12' 0" x 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

And if you look at the bottom of this extract from the SGA handbook (no date), then you note that he was also a fair-to-middling wrestler!

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

“Among those I got to know well was former Partick Thistle goalkeeper, John Freebairn.   I had seen him many times at Firhill when, as a student, I had gone to watch fellow Tirisdeach, Johnny MacKenzie, playing for Thistle. Incidentally, the latter is the only fluent Gaelic speaker to have played for Scotland. John Freebairn often nearly caused Thistle fans to suffer heart attacks with his habit of coming well out of his goal area to make a  clearance.   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”.

The following cutting is of the Strathmiglo Games in 1973 where John won several prizes.   

A first, a second and two thirds – the opposition was of a good class – the great Bill Anderson tied with John for the caber toss and Charlie Allan (throws) and Willie McLellan in the jumps were also top men.   A former National Coach for Scotland used to have a list of sports and athletic events which he put up and then asked which were endurance events.  Regardless of the individual events, John must have been an endurance athlete to compete as often as he did at these meetings.   The four events for which he won money were not the only events he competed in that day, and he had won hurdles races as well as all the jumping events on occasion – one competitor comments on another page about him putting on his kilt for the throws, then taking it off for the running and jumping events all afternoon.   Competing all afternoon, he was quite the endurance athlete too.

John’s own lists of his competitions can be seen    at this link .

John Freebairn: In the beginning

John Freebairn (second from the left) with some Partick Thistle players in the late 1950’s

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.   

John’s wearing the yellow jersey! 

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.  Before that he had won three events in the GUAC Championships which were well covered in the Glasgow Herald:

The events covered both jumps and field events.

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.

His record with the Thistle: Arriving at Firhill for the 1958/59 campaign, John took over in goal from Tommy Ledgerwood in a talented Thistle team managed that season by David Meiklejohn and, later, by Willie Thornton. He went on to make 115 appearances for the club, training under Jackie Husband and alongside team-mates including the likes of Joe McBride, Dave McParland and Tommy Ewing. A Glasgow Cup winning medal arrived in season 1960/61.

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


Stuart Hogg, Coach

Stuart with Neil after winning the New Year Sprint in 1983

During his career, Hogg has been named Scottish Athletics coach of the year on three occasions, as well as receiving the lifetime achievement award from the association.   Where did it all start and how did he progress?    Were there any basic principles that he followed and helped him develop to that peak?   We should start at the beginning.

Stuart had left the Bradley school in 1972 and started training his own way when he was about 32 – 33 years old and kept on competing until he was 34, winning the Lanark Lanimer Day Sports, for example.   There were several aspects of training that he felt should be addressed:

  •  It should not be boring.   The same session night after night was dull and uninteresting.
  • There had been something missing in his training and he had to find it and correct it.   
  • He felt that using weights was the way forward.
  • The pro scene was very secretive, no talk around training programmes, pockets of training which kept themselves to themselves and Stuart could not see how this would help his development as a coach. 

As far as  weight training was concerned he had his first exposure to weight training at the body building club in Kirkcaldy leisure.    There were body building clubs all over the country and there was the National Association of Body Builders which they were encouraged to join.   Stuart immediately recognised from the shape and size of these trainers that this was not for sprinters.   They were good at what they did but he had to find a middle way between their regime and the ‘no weights at all’ training that he had been used to.   

Jimmy Campbell, on right holding the clip board

At this point, in 1976, he went on the SAAA Club Coach Course with Bill Walker in charge and there was no doubt about his passing it.  He was then excused the mandatory two year delay between Club Coach and Senior Coach and he took this exam and passed with flying colours in 1977.   (He did not become an amateur as such until 1986 when the SAAA gave a full amnesty to all professionals: He did this so that no one could ever point the finger at him being a professional should he ever be an international team coach.)   The coaching courses at that time were held at Inverclyde Recreation Centre at Largs and Stuart attended several of them.   Like everything else, they had their good points and their bad but it was here that he met Jimmy Campbell of the City of Glasgow club.   Jimmy was a great character, always full of life, always asking questions, always ready to give you a straight answer to a straight question and a real font of knowledge.   Stuart says of Jimmy: “One of the lecturers there was Jimmy Campbell, the best I ever came across in any course I attended at Largs by a country mile.   He was passionate, knowledgeable and a humble man.   He made all his lectures interesting.   When I first coached women, Jimmy had a wealth of experience in that area and I would pick his brains on a regular basis.  ….  Jimmy Campbell was the person who had the most influence on my coaching philosophy:   he made me understand all the emotions an athlete at the top level would go through.”

He says much more about Jimmy who had a great influence on many coaches throughout the land.   

He kept on training pro sprinters, and his first big success was when Neil Turnbull won at Powderhall.   Never having won the New Year Sprint as a runner himself, he was quite keen to do so as a coach.   Neil linked up with Stuart when he was an 18 year old Border Games sprinter.   He raced sparingly but Stuart felt he had the ability to win the Sprint.   Stuart,  had learned how to peak for a big race and used his experience together with his own training methods to get him ready.   He also persuaded a local hotel owner to put the runner and a training partner up for a month before the meeting.   He ate well, had massage when necessary – and it all paid off when he won and his sponsors got their money back with interest.   This was in 1983, and,  under the heading  ‘PREPARATION PAYS OFF FOR TURNBULL’, the ‘Glasgow Herald’ reported:

“Neil Turnbull, the 4 – 7 favourite, won the £1100 first prize in the New Year Skol Sprint to give Stuart Hogg’s Glenrothes squad their first success.   Turnbull a 19 year old electronics technician from Peebles, where he is helped by Tom Beaumont, moved into a Glenrothes Hotel for three weeks to prepare for the big race and the move paid off.   From his mark of six and a half metres and aided by a brilliant start, Turnbull won the final by nearly two metres from the veteran back marker, George McNeill (Tranent), covering the 110 metres in 10.78 seconds.   A strong wind helped the runners but it was still a fine performance as was the running of McNeill who, from two metres, covered the distance inside 11 seconds to repeat his runner-up position of 1971,   McNeill, 5 – 2 before the final, edged Stewart Freeman (Ashington) into third place.” 

A very good run and a personal triumph for Stuart.   Neil stayed with him as an athlete, became reinstated as an amateur under the terms of the amnesty offered by the SAAA in the late 1980’s, and went on to win the SAAA 200m championship in 1987, and added three second and three thirds in Scottish championships indoors and out.   You can see Neil winning his Heat at Meadowbank in 1984 on youtube at  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b3vgk-gVu2A

Neil Turnbull wins the New Year Sprint

Stuart already had some form as a coach by then.   He had trained his first amateur when he took on Drew Harley of Pitreavie AC as a 15 year old in 1972.   His work with Drew was also very successful in that he won the AAA’s Under 20  200m  twice in succession and ran for the GB team in both years.   He first won it in 1974 in 21,5 which was a championship record time, and then again in 1975 in 21.9.   No British Junior had won that title twice in succession before.  At the end of ’74, still a junior he was ranked number 8 in the 100 yards and number 5 in the 200 yards Scottish senior rankings.  Harley’s Championship record domestically was a victory in the SAAA 200m in 1975,  and a first in the indoors 300m in 1974., ’75 and ’76.   A really good runner, he unfortunately had to curtail his career after a bad case of Glandular Fever.   

Stuart’s next amateur athlete was a runner called Bruce Livingstone who won the SAAA Youths title in 1976 (22.2),4 Junior (U20) Championships 100m (1977: 11.2) and 200m (1977 22.1;  1978  22.7), went on to gain a GB B international vest.   As recently as 2019 Bruce appeared in the all-time junior rankling list for his hand timed 10.6 sec: the runners ahead of him were Roger Jenkins 10.5, Drew McMaster  10.5 and David Jenkins 10.6.  Not bad.  For the coach, it meant that his runners had won the SAAA 200m in 1974, ’75, ’77 and ’78:  four years out of five.   At this time, Stuart was still coaching pro athletes – and would continue to do so for a few years yet as he had an obligation to continue with them until they no longer competed.

The coach who was ‘learning his trade’ already had runners who had set GB junior records, won GB junior vests, won SAAA titles and represented Scotland: many coaches would have settled for these as lifetime achievments, most coaches never reach that level.   But Stuart felt that he still had a lot to learn.   He notes his mistakes:

  • Allowed ordinary athletes into his squad – not bad people, but those who wanted to socialise were not the sort he wanted in the squad;
  • Sometimes he overtrained the athletes – eg at warm weather training they trained harder which put them in injury potential zone;
  • He learned that it is not at all an easy task to bring athletes through to maturity and to be successful senior athletes.   There are many aspects that can put obstacles in the way of a successful senior career
  • The coach has to make judgments such as – is the athlete going through rebellious phase going to turn into a good athlete?   If so, then he has to be educated by the coach.   

In these early days he put his finger almost immediately on one of the difficulties facing the coach: where to find good support staff.   There was no funding available to assist the better athletes to be able to pay for medical treatment.   It took him years to build up a support team that he could trust.   

Finally he also felt that although he had athletes who competed for the British Junior Team at the European and World Junior Championships, that was not what his major ambition was, it was to have someone in the full team who would compete at the major championships.   What was required?   “I realised that attention to detail had to be much greater when you need to step up a level;  as well as the need for the athlete’s commitment to be greater you as a coach needed to match it at least as much, if not more so.”

He says of his coaching career: “For me, the best thing has been the people I’ve met and worked with and being able to help them, that’s the most enjoyable part.   I got more pleasure from coaching than competing, because I was coaching at the highest level at Olympic Games and things like that”

.” [Stuart Hogg: Sprinter] [ To the Top ] [Stuart’s Athletes ] [Career Achievements ] [ Talking about Stuart .. ]




Stuart Hogg: Career Achievements

 Given his contribution to coaching and the number of athletes he has coached to a high level, Stuart has naturally won his share of honours – the two majors are at the top of the page – but perhaps a better picture of the work he has done at the very highest levels can be seen by simply listing the achievements of his athletes without any comment being required.   Have a look at these lists.

Scottish coach of the year 2008/2009 and 2010

Life time achievement award from Scottish Athletics 2010



1986 WORLD JUNIORS 1 KIM HOGG 4X100 (6th.)








British senior athletes Stuart has coached are:-

1) Brett Rund 400M
2) Aileen McGillivray 60/200M/4×100 4×200
3) Lorraine Campbell LJ
4) Neil Turnbull “B” 4X100
5) Bruce Livingstone “B” 200M and 4X100
6) Allan Scott 60H/110H
7) Eilidh Child 400H/4X400
8 ) Nick Smith 100M/4×100

ATHLETES AT EUROPA CUP (while Stuart was coaching them)


Allan Scott 110H ONCE 3rd.
Eilidh Child 400H/4X400 TWICE 4th and 2nd.
Aileen McGillivary 4×100 ONCE


Paul Hession 100M/200M/4×100 5 TIMES (6.61/10.18/20.30/32.47)
Marian Heffernan 400M/4×400 3 TIMES (53.10/2012)
Paul McKee 400M/4×400 ONCE (46.5/2008)
Brian Doyle 4×400 ONCE (47.14/2008)


Aileen McGillivray Dallas memorial trophy winner 1992 (11.54/23.29/1992/1993)
Nick Smith Scottish Male athlete of the year 2004 (6.60/10.28/2010/2004)
Allan Scott Scottish athlete of the year 2008 (7.52H/13.53H/2008)
Eilidh Child Scottish athlete of the year 2009 and 2010 (55.16H/2010)
Paul Hession Irish track athlete of the year 2007
- Irish Athlete of the year track athlete of the yearand performance athlete of the year 2008
Special contribution to 200m running 2017
Emily Dudgeon U/20 Athlete of the year 2012 (2:01.89/2014)

Athletes’ best performances while being coached by Stuart are in brackets

[Stuart Hogg: Sprinter ]  [Stuart Hogg: Coach] [ To the Top ] [Stuart’s Athletes ] [ Talking about Stuart ]

Individual Games Meetings

The British 80m championship at Braemar in 2010

One of the most interesting features of the highland games circuit is that they are all organised locally although the handicappers, starters and other officials are national figures.   This makes for an interesting variety of facilities, events and presentation of events.   

  • Some are located in mining villages, just off the main street; others down a lane off a narrow country road with mucky car parks, and there are others held on minor league football pitches.   
  • Tracks are different sizes depending on the Games Field configuration, there are different shapes with some being almost round, and the track at Skye is the smallest at only 150 yards
  • Some include cycling, some don’t; some have a pipe band championship, others don’t; some have a Hill Race, some have a Road Race and others confine everything to the Games Field.   
  • There are many idiosyncratic events –  throwing things over bars is a favourite: a heavy weight is common, a sheaf is occasionally the item but ‘throwing the pig over the bar?   It’s a sewn up bag of whatever it is!   I was at one meeting in the late 90’s where they had a married women’s race (ring finger checked before the start) and a ‘spinsters’ race.   

What they do have in common is that every community has a great time.   Whether they are traditional gatherings that go back hundreds of years or more recent sports meetings, they are part of a community event rather than a single athletics day, and they bring a great deal of pleasure and which provide a focal point for a whole area.    Witness this comment on a pro-athletics website: 

“What can you say about professional athletics the people from past and present who just care about a sport that brings kids families and athletes from far afield together. Even now on the pro memiours page (Memiours of Pro Athletics is a Facebook page) the memories are brilliant – no winners or losers,  just people having a brilliant time.  Hope it keeps going for years to come. The people who organise all the events across Scotland deserve medals for doing so.    Hope 2019 season brings joy and fun for all who participate and we remember the past athletes who made it happen.”

There is no national programme (as for instance in the amateur ranks which had County, then District, then National, then British Championships, but the organisers keep their sports to the traditional dates with the same predictable events which means that any athlete heading for a big meeting or event can plan his approach to it.     This page looks at just a few of the dozens of games held every year.   There will be direct quotes from the Games websites simply because they are each different and have their own traditions springing from local history.   

[ Cowal ]  [ Strathallan Gathering ] [ Jedburgh Games]  [ Cowal ]  [ Kelso ]    [ Airth ]