From ‘The Scotsman’at , 25th March, 1948, p4
Dale Greig was one of Scotland’s best ever all round endurance runners but also one of the quietest and most modest. When she died in 2019 she left a large archive of material dealing not just with her own career but with Scottish women’s athletics generally. Colin Youngson has had access to this material and his first selections from it are below.
Dale was inducted into the Scottish Athletics Hall of Fame in 2018. Here is the citation from the induction:.
“Dale Greig (1937-2019) is best known as a pioneering woman distance runner, who became one of the first women to run a marathon, and set the inaugural recognised IAAF women’s world best for the distance. Her first competition over the standard marathon distance of 26 miles 385 yards came during her annual holiday in the Isle of Wight in May 1964, where sympathetic officials allowed her to run a time-trial on the day of the race, starting 4 minutes ahead of the male competitors. Despite the hilly terrain, and being shadowed by an ambulance throughout the race at the insistence of the athletics authorities, she had no qualms about completing the distance. Her finishing time of 3 hours 27 minutes 45 seconds was remarkable, being recorded as an IAAF inaugural world best. (After this record marathon, Dale danced until midnight and rose early for a swim before travelling home.)
She went on to compete in the Isle of Man 40 miles race in 1971, finishing in 6:48:00. In hill running, she was the first woman to compete in and finish the Ben Nevis 10 miles mountain marathon race in Fort William. She ran in the classic London to Brighton 53 miles race, completing the arduous event in 8:30:04. She continued to compete on the track in mile races and won her 4th and final Scottish cross-country title in 1968. In 1974, she recorded her most notable international marathon success when winning the women’s World Veteran Championships in Paris in 3:45:21.
Her pioneering efforts opened the way for women throughout the world to be admitted to marathon races having ventured into unchartered territory at a time when some respected authorities still believed that running such long distances was harmful for a woman.”
In 1975, how did Dale sum up her own running career?
Dale S. Greig, Paisley, over 35 age-group category.
Has been on the run for 20 years! Four times winner of the Scottish Women’s cross-country title. Founder member of the SWCCU. First President of the Women’s International Cross-Country Union. U.K. best performance at the marathon (3 hrs 27 mins 25 secs) which was then a world record, set at Isle of Wight 1964. In 1971, ran the Isle of Man famous TT course (40 miles) a fortnight after running a marathon. In 1972, was the first woman ever to complete the ultra long distance classic London to Brighton race on the same day that Scotland’s Alastair Wood broke the course record. Winner of the first Women’s World Veteran Marathon Championship in Paris 1974.
Dale Greig’s paper archive has been kept by her neighbours (and close friends) Rosemary Kidd and her daughter Niki. I was lucky enough to visit and search for additional information about Dale. On the website Scottish Distance Running History, under ‘Elite Endurance’ is her profile. Under ‘The Veterans’, click on ‘The Scottish Veteran Harriers Club: The Beginnings, the 1970s’. Dale’s contribution is emphasised.
Brian McAusland, the SDRH webmaster, says about Dale, “She was a very good person. I liked her and, just like everyone else, got on well with her.”
I never met Dale but we exchanged several emails: her personality shone through. No wonder she achieved so much and was so popular. Here is the Selection from her own Archive..
Colin Youngson, June 2022.
The above article (from the Paisley Daily Express on 5th July 1971) praises Dale’s recent painful marathon on the Isle of Wight and, only two weeks later, completing the tough 40 miles race on the Isle of Man. (Her 1964 inaugural Women’s World Record over the Isle of Wight course is also emphasised, as well as her invaluable committee work with the SWCCU.)
(Very unluckily, in 1982 Dale jumped into the shallow end of a swimming pool. “They were changing the water and it was shallower than it might have been. I hit my heels on the bottom, and suffered cracked bones in my feet. I was never quite the same again.”)
In 1997, Dale remembers the experience of being the first Woman to run the London to Brighton ultramarathon in 1972 (seven years before female athletes were permitted to take part officially). She must have smiled modestly at her description above as ‘the first lady of British distance running’.
SWCCU Christmas card
A letter from the SWAAA secretary, replying to Dale about the proposed formation of the Scottish Women’s Cross Country Union. Below is Dale’s thoughtful, enthusiastic, polite reply.
Dale was SWCCU champion four times: 1960, 1962, 1964 and 1968. Her durability as an athlete was obvious: she ran for Scotland in the ICCU International event in 1957 and in 1968. The 1968 International was held in Tunis. England, Ireland, Wales and Scotland took part as well as the United States of America. 30 athletes participated and the Scottish team did well to finish third, beating Ireland and Wales. Doreen King, who had been the 1961 SAAA One Mile champion, was first Scot in 12th, with Margaret MacSherry 13th and Scottish champion Dale Greig 14th. Good packing! Leslie Watson was fourth counter in 16th, Rosemary Stirling 17th and Sheena Fitzmaurice 19th.
Below, note that Dale Greig served the SWCCU extremely well as Committee Member, Secretary, Treasurer, President and Life Vice-President. Her Wikipedia page says: “Dale Greig’s life was dedicated to athletics, particularly to women’s running and later, veteran’s running.”
Note that the SWCCU has added Road Running to Cross Country. Wonder who might have pushed for that inclusion?
Dale (left) with Aileen Lusk.
Isle of Man newspapers remarked:
“A surprise entry in the 26 starters was Scots girl Dale Greig. She managed to finish the gruelling 40 miles as ‘tail-ender’ in a time of 6 hours 48 minutes. This is a remarkable achievement for the first-ever girl to compete in the Tourist Trophy circuit marathon.
“An unexpected runner was a lady, 34 years old Dale Greig from Paisley, who commenced the circuit one hour before the start of the race, and completed the course, undistressed, in 6 hrs 48 mins.” (Women were not allowed to race this event officially until 1982.)
(Another pioneering effort by Dale Greig was in September 1971, when she became the first Woman to complete (unofficially) in the gruelling uphill and downhill ten miles Ben Nevis Race on Britain’s highest mountain. An Aberdeen newspaper reported that “174 men and one girl” took part. 140 men finished; and Dale’s time indicates that she was faster than nine of them.)
Dale finished first Woman in the inaugural World Veteran Marathon Championships in May 1974. The course was hilly and rough underfoot and the weather was uncomfortably hot. Scotsman Alastair Wood (Aberdeen AAC) won the Men’s title. (When, in 1972, Dale became the first Woman to complete the London to Brighton 53 miles ultra-marathon, Alastair Wood won the Men’s race and broke the course record.)
As a Veteran, Dale went on to compete in ten IGAL Championships and three European Championships. For example, in 1976 she competed in the World Veterans Marathon in Coventry and finished tenth woman in 3.39.44. (IGAL stands for a German phrase which translates as ‘The Partnership of Older Long Distance Runners’ – this organisation was formed in 1968.)
1974-5 on 2nd March at Dalkeith: Norma Campbell (Blaydon H) 22.12, Noreen O’Boyle (Victoria Park AAC) 23.21, Dale Greig (Paisley H 25.51), Aileen Lusk (West) 27.06, M Steel (Paisley) 27.45, R Docherty (Greenock) 28.39. (Norma Campbell was actually 46 years old.)
This 1975 race was the inaugural Scottish Women Veteran Runners Association Championship, organised by that well-known marathon and cross-country runner Dale Greig. In 1976 and 1977, this event was held at the same venue and day as the Scottish Veterans XC Championships, but over a shorter course than the men ran.)
1975-6 No SWVRA result has been found, but first Veteran in the SWCCU championships was Dale Greig, closely followed by Noreen O’Boyle.
1976-7 on 5th March at Coatbridge: Pearl Meldrum (Grangemouth) 21.15, Norma Campbell Berwick AC, 22.38 Dale Greig Paisley H 23.53, Aileen Lusk (Bishop) 24.29, E Steedman (Edin) 24.36. (The second and last result found for the SWVRA championships.) In the previously held SWCCU event on 19th February at Dumbarton, Pearl Meldrum was first Vet (and part of the winning Glasgow AC Senior team); with Dale Greig second Vet.
Not until 1984 did the SWCCU Championships include an official W35 category.
Jack MacLean wrote, “One of the unsung pillars of the Scottish Veteran Harriers Club was Dale Greig. She worked in Glasgow for Walter Ross in his printing and publishing business and, as well as typing the newsletters, she did a tremendous amount of work behind the scenes.
Along with Walter Ross, Greig was a member of the Organising Executive when the IGAL Veterans World Championships came to Glasgow in 1980. The event was supported by the city council and was a huge success with hundreds of runners from 26 countries running in the 10k and marathon races. Greig served as IGAL Assistant Secretary from 1982 to 1987.
When Walter died in April 1993, Dale wrote this eloquent, heart-felt tribute.
“The Great Enthusiast
For the first time in years, I know my telephone will not ring late tonight, previously a frequent feature of my evenings, for although I saw Walter at work every day, there would often be a late night call, an encore, an epilogue to the day’s activities; some business to discuss or just some piece of news or ‘tittle-tattle’ to impart. The silent bell, as the day ends, speaks volumes. More than anything it brings home to me the realisation that Walter J Ross, my long-time friend and colleague is gone, and that his voice will be heard no more.
Yet whilst mourning his death, those of us who knew him well will not lose sight of the important thing – that he did live, a life of struggle in many ways, but a life full of meaning. He has left all who know him and associated with him the memory of a true friend for whom service was more important than success and the joy and purpose of life. He was just 27 years old when he first published ‘The Scots Athlete’, regarded now as a great historical reference for the sport. Just as that publication was the articulation of the young man’s vision, so the founding of the SVHC in 1970 shows he still had the same vision and vigour when he had passed his 50th birthday. He had stayed the distance.
Walter was one of those mortals who never grows old. He retained that youthful enthusiasm, competitive spirit and robustness of purpose that was an inspiration to us all. His running activities took him all over the world, and when he wasn’t competing in races he was ‘running’ them (!), the most notable being the World IGAL championships (10K and Marathon) which he brought to Glasgow in 1980.
“Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm” (Emerson) was a bye-line that ‘The Scots Athlete’ carried for many years, Walter was enthusiasm personified in everything he tackled. He was a great champion too of women’s struggle for advancement, particularly in sport.
When I helped found the Women’s Cross-Country Union in 1960, this too was Walter in the background with another of his ‘marvellous’ ideas!
I did not expect his life to end suddenly in the way it did. Unfortunately, death is no respecter of persons or age. As Omar says: ‘The moving finger writes, and having writ, moves on’. It is, knowing him, a happy thought that his courage, determination and mental vigour remained undiminished to the end. I last saw him some 36 hours before he died, when, ever the optimist, he asked me to make travel arrangements so that he could have a holiday when released from hospital! And so, at last, farewell, dear friend. But not to forget .. only a kind of chastened au revoir. In spirit you are with us always!”
Another great enthusiast, Dale Greig, should also be remembered with admiration and affection.
Dale is holding a small Scottish Athletics plaque, inscribed “Hall of Fame Inductee, 2018”
The decision to appoint a National Coach for Scotland was taken early in 1948 and the details of the appointment and the activities to be undertaken were published in ‘The Scotsman’ on 25th March that year. The whole article can be found at this link. The opening paragraph was the one setting out the intentions however and it read:
Tony Chapman, pictured above with the girls of the Morgan Academy in Dundee in 1953, was appointed National Coach for Scotland in December 1948 One of the problems in the recent past – for the move towards a national coach and coaching set up was not new – had largely been to do with money. What had changed was that the project was not entirely funded by the SAAA. 80% of the funding was to come from the Scottish Education Department and the remaining 20% was to be found from the fees for his services to the clubs. This fee was a drawback – remember that we are talking about the aftermath of the War when newspapers were only 6 pages in total, when genuine austerity stalked the land. But in 1956 a new coaching levy of one guinea (£1:1:0 or £1:05 in new money) was introduced for all affiliated clubs. This was specifically for the National Coaching Committee. It was mandatory – every club when reminded that the annual subscription was due, was also reminded that there was a one guinea a year coaching levy. There were some rumblings about this and, when Chapman resigned in 1961, several clubs refused to pay the coaching levy when there was no national coach in post. We can come back to that later in return for the Coaching Levy, Realising that any national coach would need practical back up, the SAAA also arranged that any appointee would be a member of the Central Council for Physical Education. The appointment of HAL Chapman was announced on 15th December 1948 and he took up the role in April 1949. His job was not to tell coaches directly what to do but rather to administer a coaching system.
So who was Chapman? We knew that he came from Kent and thought that he was 23 years old (although he might have been 27), Sandy Sutherland described him thus:
Hugh Anthony Ledra Chapman was brought up in Plymouth (his father was a Rear-Admiral), attended Wellington School in Devon and saw service in the Royal Tank Regiment when his education was interrupted by World War II. Author (he wrote “Track and Field Athletics” which appeared in 1961 to the contemporary acclaim of ‘quite possibly the best pocket book yet written on athletics’), coach, demonstrator, educator, lecturer and no mean discus thrower, having represented the Army in Hanover in 1946 where he threw 140′ 3″, this chunky but suave Englishman was endowed with great personal charm which helped him to implement the ground-breaking National Coaching Scheme.
Well qualified, and given the fact that he was known in Scotland before his appointment, not the least of his qualities would be his ‘great personal charm’ .
Why the need for charm? Because not everyone was sold on the idea of coaching – the highly respected George Barber of Maryhill Harriers had this to say in the April 1949 issue of ‘The Scots Athlete’.
Chapman’s task would not be easy. There was a reply to the article the following month by Peter W Green (one of the founders of the Athletics Weekly) which read as follows:
Both sides were represented in the Scottish athletics community but there was a large majority on Peter Green’s side of the argument. One only has to look at the material published in ‘The Scots Athlete’ by such as James Logan, letters from Percy Cerutty, items quoted in Emmet Farrell’s ‘Running Commentary’ and later the series of articles under the title ‘Web Centre’ by Brian Mitchell to see that. Chapman’s task was probably tougher than it looked at first sight.
We referred above to the coaching levy and although clubs had the option of ‘contracting out’ of paying it, the first year saw 121 clubs signed up for the scheme and only 14 opted out. the scheme was supported by four groups:-
- The Department of Education for Scotland;
- National Committee for the Training of Athletic Coaches;
- the National Coaching Committee of the SAAA; and
- the Association of Athletic Coaches (Scotland).
What did the clubs get for their single guinea? They were guaranteed at least one visit from the national coach free of charge from 1st September 1956. 40 clubs were visited in 1957 and only 15 in 1958. Did this mean that the scheme was a failure? Not at all. The importance of coaching in athletics had been spoken of by many athletes at all levels, by informed journalists and by those with an interest in the sports despite the criticism of others involved. It was now, with the appointment of Chapman and the setting up of the Coaching scheme, granted the seal of official approval and significant public backing.
Tony worked in two dimensions: Coaching Coaches and, since it is impossible to keep coaches away from coaching, since there are always very good athletes wanting to move to the next level, he helped some of the nation’s best athletes. Coaching courses were set up that included both theoretical and practical aspects. One of the younger and more go-ahead clubs in the country at the time was the Q Club in Dundee. Set up in December 1949 with seven athletes, and organised in the main by Dr Bernard Devine, its first campaign was for a good track to be laid and the club organised, with much support to have it done from politicians at all levels and anyone with influence in the area. It then tackled the deficiency of quality coaching in the area just as Chapman was appointed. If we look at the extract from the ‘Dundee Courier’ of 3rd February, 1950, almost exactly one year after he took office, we see both aspects in evidence:
- theoretically the demands were higher than any previous organised coaching courses with subjects like physiology, Kinesiology and anatomy
- practically, there were training, technique, tactics and rules.
He returned in December, 1953 when the photographs taken at Morgan Academy were taken and show him taking an interest in the training of some of the pupils there. The photographs were taken on Friday 12th June when he took two sessions – one for the school pupils, from several local schools, in the afternoon dealing mainly with track athletics, and one for club athletes in the evening. He then took another session the following day.
It was a vast improvement on anything that had been available to clubs or to independent athletics coaches before and he was busy across the length and breadth of Scotland. Sandy Sutherland tells us that his coach, the very successful, highly respected throws coach Alec Dalrymple, who in turn inspired others like Sandy to take up the sport, had initially been enthused by one of Tony’s lectures. Sandy went on to say: “But in truth, Chapman, in his 12 years as Scotland’s national Athletics Coach, set alight a whole generation of Scottish coaches and physical education teachers, whose influence on the sport in the following decades is immeasurable.”
Sandy also spoke of tributes paid by two other eminent Scottish coaches.
One of Britain’s best ever National Athletics Coaches, Frank Dick, paid this tribute: Tony Chapman established our National Coaching Scheme as the first ever Scottish National Athletics Coach (and the second ever National Coach in any sport after the AAA appointed Geoff Dyson). A giant of a man, from Scottish Schools Easter Courses to teacher and coach development, to personal coaching excellence, he changed how Scotland thought about athletics and how it performed. My personal debt to him was in his coaching when an athlete, and his mentorship and guidance when following John Anderson as national coach.
Sandy Robertson one of Scotland’s longest serving and most experienced senior coaches, who interrupted his teaching career for a time to become National Coach for Malawi, maintains that he would never have achieved that post but for Chapman. “He had tremendous proficiency as a lecturer, his explanations were marvellous and I’ve never seen clearer course notes – I spent a week at Inverclyde where he covered every event and it was a complete and utter knock-out. I remember him bringing a 3’6″ hurdle into the small lecture room and then going over it – I’d never seen it so close up. He introduced me to PFI testing and the Harvard Step Test and brought in all of that interesting science.”
Clearly an inspirational coach, whose ‘charm’ had been used to good effect, but he had been a hard working, talented, very active and clear sighted coach. John Keddie, in his Centenary History of Scottish Athletics, reported on his effect on the sport in Scotland:
“At the end of 1961 the Association suffered a loss in the resignation of the National Coach, Tony Chapman. In his 12 years in that capacity,, Chapman had done much to foster athletics in Scotland and to improve standards of coaching, training and techniques. A highly respected coach, he wrote a book entitled “Track and Field Athletics” (1961) which the “1968 Guide to British Track and Field Literature, 1275 to 1968”, produced by Tom McNab and Peter Lovesey, described as ‘possibly the best pocket book yet written on athletics’. Praise indeed!
The Scottish Scene
After the 1939/45 War the clubs started up but clothing coupons for athletics gear was in short supply, facilities were in most cases non-existent and clubs, after six years of war, had in many instances small numbers of enthusiasts. One thing that was needed despite these drawbacks was informed or experienced athletes or coaches. Those clubs that had coaches advertised them in the new “Scots Athlete” magazine which had a page or so with small club notices. The importance of coaches was recognised and all clubs were desperate for their own. eg In Volume 1, issue number 2 of the magazine there appeared this: “If a member of Edinburgh Harriers passes you with a terrific burst down the home straight you will know the reason. Dick Littlejohn, the former SAAA half mile champion has retired competitively but is coaching his clubmates.”
There were several similar items but what they had in common was a lack – a lack of what could be defined as a coach! In June 1946 in issue number 3, Shettleston Harriers offered this: “Endeavouring to foster field events, the able coach David Morrison is co-operating with Archie Dudgeon, champion heavyweight wrestler and Empire Games representative, on instruction in physical culture in order to build up the necessary physical condition for field events.” Further down the same column Victoria Park AAC said: “… coaching from G Munro, WS Paterson and ex-heavyweight AC Nicolson.” Nicolson had won several SAAA Championships in the 1920’s as a shot putter and as a Hammer Thrower (Scots Style). Garscube Harriers notice pointed out that “Coaches John McFadden and Sam Small were very well known athletes in their day.” They all wanted coaches who could help build their clubs. Former athletes often filled the bill, weight lifters were often recruited to help field eventers build their condition.
Then in January 1947 the following appeared in Emmet Farrell’s “Running Commentary” column.
In March 1947, TM Anderson had a two page article called “Learn to Analyse” emphasising the need to develop technical efficiency in competitive events and outlining the aims of the Coaching Association. The Association had not been mentioned before this and it is not clear from the article whether it existed in a practical form but it was another example of the known need for technical input to the development of athletics if the country were to succeed in the sport. The SAAA realised the importance of coaching to the sport and it was discussed at meetings – eg in May 1947 an Olympic Games Coaching Committee was set up under the chairmanship of ER Walker (Shettleston Harriers) with Dunky Wright (Scottish Marathon Club) as Secretary. A scheme setting up of coaching panels in each of the main areas of Scotland was submitted and approved.
At club level, Allan Scally was coaching at Shettleston and several very good athletes emerged from his stable, runners such as Allan Watt. Unusually for the time, there was co-operation between coaches as far as Watt was concerned. We are told that he worked on his style over the winter with Tom Anderson on the theoretical side and Allan Scally on the practical side. Garscube Harriers were advertising that they had a Trainer and Masseur in Bob Scott as well as coaches Johnny Cuthbert and Johnny McFadden who had “practical and successful experience of American, Canadian and Scottish athletics.” It was however down to the individual clubs as far as organising coaching was concerned.
The SAAA Notes for July contained the following:
The SAAA was indeed getting seriously involved in coaching. Having organised a coaching course and minuting its benefits so enthusiastically, it would be a matter of time before they had a programme of their own up and running. Clubs were spending money helping their athletes, and the same issue of the “Scots Athlete” reported that Rangers FC had donated “£250 to the Olympic Coaching Fund. At the end of August, Roy M Smith had attended a new venture being held at Loughborough. Smith was SAAA Long Jump champion and was a lecturer in PE at Aberdeen Emergency Physical Training college. His report starts as follows:
The complete article can be read in the magazine at SA Vol 2,7-8.pdf (salroadrunningandcrosscountrymedalists.co.uk)
On 15th October , 1947, at their monthly meeting, the SAAA Notes included the following:
“Mr D McL Wright set out the Coaching Scheme now in operation in the Western District, and referred to the arrangements being made for a similar scheme to be set in operation in the East. In view of the limits imposed by the relatively small response to the Appeal Fund, the appointment of a full time coach was considered to be not feasible, but the Secretary was empowered to make tentative enquiries for obtaining the services of Mr Dyson, the AAA Official Coach, for a short period during the winter.”
A full time coach had been mooted, discussed and steps had been taken towards funding the post. Meanwhile, Emmet Farrell commented in December 1947 on training being provided for Olympic possibles at Ibrox Park under the training of coaches “Messrs Cromar, Hodge, McFadden, Bone, Paterson (senior) and Georg Kordas, the Hungarian heavy events expert while, at Helenvale Park, we have marathon and cross-country enthusiasts training steadily under the watchful supervision of Messrs Scally and Craig.”
How had it finally come about? The SAAA had approached the Scottish Education Department for the setting up of a National Coaching Scheme and a National Coach. The aim was to provide clubs, schools and youth organisations with a facility that would have a national coach for athletics and that all athletes in the country would have access to a national panel of specialist coaches.
Scottish Team, Officials and coaches before match v Ireland, 1957. Tony Chapman is on the left in the back row.
The Wider British Scene
In fact Scotland was a bit behind the curve in the appointment of coaches. We should look at the context of coaching in Britain if we want to understand the progress of our own coaching over the next two or three decades. We should maybe go as far back as the inter-war years when the CCPR was set up in the 1930s as a body set up to co-ordinate recreation and the ever more popular sporting landscape in Britain. However, the hiatus of the 1939-1945 war took over. By now training and analysis of athletics was taking hold and the Loughborough Summer Schools at Loughborough had been set up through FAM Webster who was an extremely influential figure within the AAAs set up. Even at this distance, if anyone is interested in the development of athletics coaching, it is a book worth seeking out. However after 1945 the influence of Webster was clear and evident and with the awarding of the Games to London in 1948, the appointment of an overall presence regarding preparation was made and this was the dynamic Geoff Dyson. Dyson’s impact was incredibly influential and although mainly in England, the ripples were felt quite literally world wide. It was at this time that Britain started to emerge as a world leader in coach education, coach leadership and coaching structures as well as analysis of events to the extent that we conducted courses overseas for other national governing bodies.
The 1930 British Empire Games were the inaugural edition of what now is known as the Commonwealth Games, and were held in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada from 16 to 23 August 1930. The games were organized by “Hamilton Spectator” sportswriter Bobby Robinson after he attended the 1928 Summer Olympics in Amsterdam as manager of the Canadian track and field team and was inspired to create a similar event for the British Empire. After campaigning for the idea among contacts he met at the Olympics, he was asked to organise the first British Empire Games in Hamilton. The genesis, according to the ‘Torontoist (The British Empire Games of 1930 (torontoist.com) was as follows:
“Melville Marks “Bobby” Robinson was pissed off. As manager of the Canadian track team during the 1928 Summer Olympics at Amsterdam, Robinson noticed the lack of respect given to Canada despite winning 15 medals, especially by the Americans. Disputed results, favouritism shown toward the Yankees in using training facilities, and a direct insult to a Canadian official by future International Olympic Committee president Avery Brundage signalled a lack of comradery and sportsmanship Robinson felt was creeping into the Olympic movement. He was so angry that he contemplated pulling the Canadian contingent out of the 1932 games in Los Angeles.
That anger played its part in bringing the first major international multi-sport competition to the Golden Horseshoe, 85 years before this year’s Pan Am Games.
While in Amsterdam, Robinson chatted up a recurring idea in his mind—a cordial, relaxed athletic competition for the best athletes in the British Empire. It wasn’t a new concept; talk of such games arose during the 1890s, when J. Astley Cooper wrote several pieces proposing athletics be included in an annual festival designed to boost goodwill across the empire. Four teams, including Canada, had participated in a meet in 1911 to mark the coronation of King George V. During the 1920s, the Amateur Athletic Union of Canada (AAUC) passed a proposal to support an empire competition to be held in between Olympic Games.”
Follow the link and read the entire article, it is well worth reading.
The events were to include athletics, boxing, lawn bowls, rowing, swimming, and wrestling. Women competed only in aquatic events. The opening ceremonies and many events were held at Civic Stadium (later renamed Ivor Wynne Stadium) in east Hamilton. The Scotsman of 15th March, 1930 contained the following short paragraph.
There were similar items over the days and weeks from the other sports to be included. eg at the ASA AGM that same month, the following was reported in ‘The Courier’.
Money was the item that seemed to raise most concern for the various bodies – ir seemed to go without saying that all sports invited were keen to send a team. When the team left the Scotsman of 4th August had a report and a picture to cover the event.
When the Games started on 16th August, the statistics tell us that there were Six Sports as listed above, and eleven countries as noted below.
Australia (51 athletes), Bermuda (1), British Guiana (4), Canada (86), England (60), Ireland (59), Newfoundland (16), New Zealand (37), Scotland (22), South Africa (12) and Wales (50). The games were opened by the Governor General of Canada, Lord Willingdon on 16 August. Canadian triple jumper Gordon Smallacombe would claim a few hours later the debut gold medal.
Scotland’s team came away at the end of the Games with 2 gold medals, 3 silver and 5 bronze. – but only one (Dunky) won an athletics medal The Scotsman of 22nd August reported on the previous day’s sport in this column.
Scottish competitors in the athletics events were as follows:
That the Games were a success was never in doubt. eg on 21st August it was clear that the Games had been a success and the “Dundee Courier” carried the following short notice.
The situation developed and the success was built upon in a positive fashion – the “Courier” reported
The Games were also important for other things in addition to the sports. Note the use of a podium: “Podiums were first used at the 1930 British Empire Games (now Commonwealth Games) in Hamilton, Ontario and subsequently during the 1932 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid and the 1932 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.” (Detail from Wikipedia). First used in the British Empire Games then copied by the Olympics. The podium will celebrate its 100th birthday in 2030!
Hugh Barrow, leading (above) in 1962, is a weel kent figure in Scotland’s sporting circles and is known in athletics as Scotland’s only world record holder for the Mile. Actually it was a world best time he set in 1961 as a 16 year old but it lasted until a chap from East Wichita called Jim Ryun beat it. Marvellous run and it was celebrated by a presentation at the World Sports magazine’s annual dinner. Nowadays there are two things that stand out for me. The first is that the detail of the race is not known by most of the country and it should be; and how it felt to be the best in the world. I have seen many big moments in Scottish athletics but never a world’s best mile by a Scot. The second is in the fact that he was faster than Herb Elliott had been at the same age. Nobody seems to know that – it would be a great question for an athletics quiz.
The race was part of a big athletics meeting. Billy Morton and Santry Stadium were legendary. Billy Morton was a life long member of Clonliffe Harriers and in the 1950’s started a series of meetings to bring the world’s best to Dublin. The club’s history, written by Dominic Branigan, describes him as “Ireland’s first, and finest, sports impressario and the first promoter to hold a press conference before his meetings where he would announce to the public that records would be broken and patrons would get great value for money.”
But even in the era of amateur athletics it was an expensive business. The stadium is known these days as Morton Stadium but .everybody at the time referred to it as Santry. The stadium was opened in 1958 with a cinder track. An inaugural series of meetings was held, and on 6 August 1958, Australian Herb Elliott shattered the world record for the mile run with a time of 3 minutes 54.5 seconds. This was the first race in which five athletes had run a four-minute mile. The IAAF certification of the world record (as reproduced by Branigan) is below. The first five in the race were:
- Elliott 3:55.4; 2. Merv Lincoln 3:55.9; 3. Ron Delany 3:57.5; 4. Murray Halberg 3:57.5; 5. Albie Thomas 3:58.6
The track became legendary at that moment – never before had five men been below four minutes in the same race, within two years three would be Olympic Champions and the other two Olympic silver medallists. It was a moment that Billy Morton cultivated and developed. To be invited to run there was an honour and just stepping on to the track was an awe-inspiring, great experience for any aspiring middle distance. The crowds were big and they were knowledgeable. For a 16 year old it must have been just a bit daunting – or maybe inspiring to run on the track where your hero Elliott had set the record.
Like all Billy Morton promotions it would be a big night with many household names taking part. So how did a 16 year old Glasgow Schoolboy get in there?
The summer of 1961 proved to be a very good one for Hugh Barrow. School exams were in March back then, much earlier than today when late May and June tend to be the dates, so once they were over it meant that sport took centre stage for the Summer term. Inspired by the exploits of his schoolboy hero Herb Elliott he got his championship season off to a good start winning the Glasgow Schools 880 yards title at Scotstoun in 1m 55.8 which was the fastest time in UK by a 16 year old by the end of that season and third on the UK all time list behind Roger Givan and Derek Fernee who had fought out a torrid duel in London two years earlier.
This was followed by a win in the Scottish Schools Mile on grass at Goldenacre in 4m 24.1 which was a Championship record This was followed by taking the SAAA Youths 880 yards on cinders at Meadowbank in 1m 57.5 another Championship record. The Scottish Schools win led to selection for the Scottish Schools Team to face England and Wales at Maindy Stadium, Cardiff.
Travelling in very good company with the likes of Sandy Sutherland and future Lisbon Lion Jim Craig, whose son James would later represent Scotland at rugby, it was a daunting task to face the All England Schools team. In a tactical race Hugh beat Mark Gillespie and Dave Wilkinson of England in 4m 21, again a Championship record
What followed was an invitation from Dunky Wright to represent Scotland at a two day meeting at Santry Stadium Dublin in early August, on the very track that, three years earlier, Herb Elliott had destroyed the World Mile record by recording 3m 54.5. The small Scottish team flew to Dublin and stayed in Mrs Doyle’s Guest House opposite the stadium. Also in the Scottish team were sprinter Mike Hildrey, the ‘Balfron Bullet’, Willie Morrison and steeplechaser John Linaker. Also accommodated in the same guest house was the great Gordon Pirie. The Santry meetings back then really were justifiably famous for attracting top athletes from around the world.
The meeting was held over two nights, Hugh was in action on both of them – half mile on the Wednesday, Mile on Thursday. It was a genuine quality meeting. The ‘Belfast Telegraph’ on Wednesday, 9th August was looking forward to George Kerr of Jamaica having a crack at Tom Courtney’s world record on Thursday. Kerr was also going to break the Irish All-Comers record for 440 yards which was held by Milka Singh (India). The Mile would have men like Ken Wood, Mike Berisford, Graham Everett, Ron Delany and Colin Shillington, while Gordon Pirie and Derek Ibbotson would compete in the Three Miles.
On the first night Hugh ran in a Junior 880 yds where he headed off future Ulster star Derek Graham in 1m 56.5 and, although this was not remarked on in the Scottish Press, it was picked up by the Belfast Telegraph which said that Derek Graham (9th Old Boys) was beaten by three yards by the Scot WH Barrow in 1 min 56.5 in the 880 yards Junior.” This set up the return race over 1 mile the following day. Hugh says when asked, “Strangely I don’t recall very much. I had spent most of the day just relaxing with fellow Victoria Park athlete Mike Hildrey and, as the guest house was just next to the stadium, we changed there and walked over. Wearing my Scottish Schools vest, I took the early pace in the race but Derek took over pretty quickly and I just sat in. The conditions were good with no wind at all. Have to say I didn’t realise it was that fast and it felt relatively comfortable. I wasn’t aware of laps times.”
It had been basically a two horse race, Hugh recorded 4m 10.9 which was a World best for a 16 year old, taking 6 seconds from the previous best held by Martin Heath of Waterloo Harriers of whom more later The press latched on to the fact that Herb Elliott’s best at the same age was 4m 20 and this led to lots of headlines and speculation.
This best performance stood as the best in the world for the age group for two years and was broken by a schoolboy from Witchita East High School, Jim Ryun, who ran 4 m 07.8 Jim later went on to set a World Mile record of 3 m 51.1 at Bakersfield California in 1967 and in later life become a USA Senator.
There were two Scots milers in action that night – Graham Everett ran in the Senior invitation mile which was won by Ron Delany in 4:04.3 from Ken Wood (4:04.9), with Everett third in 4:05.0 and Colin Shillington fourth in 4:05.6. The Belfast Telegraph described the attempt on the world 880 yards record as ‘farcical’ with the field of eleven runners being too big and a lot of jostling taking place at the start. Kerr’s time was only 1:49.3. The paper said of Hugh’s race “Derek Graham won the Junior mile in a sound 4:10.4, beating 16-year-old schoolboy W Barrow (Scotland). Barrow’s time of 4:10.9 broke the British schoolboy record by 6 seconds and bettered his previous best by 10 seconds. A real prospect for the future.”
It was a very good race on a track where his hero Herb Elliott had set a world record, and in a great atmosphere, but Hugh had handled the pressure well and produced a superb performance. Note too that Graham was almost exactly 3 years older than Hugh (Derek’s Date of Birth was 3rd September 1941, Hugh’s 12 September 1944).
There were of course awards and presentations later in the season and one of the biggest was at the World Sports presentation in London. There was a World Sports plaque (above) and a wonderful tribute in the magazine. Ir was a very good multi sports magazine in full colour and it covered Hugh’s career in some detail. You can read the report at this link. A short extract reads: “Glaswegian Hugh Barrow bears the burden of being one of the fastest-ever 16 year old school milers with typical Scots equanimity. When one remembers that at the same age Elliott ran 4:20.8 and Burleson 4:33.4, Barrow’s astonishing 1961 time takes on even greater significance.” It is a very good article and well worth reading.
Subsequently, in a strange twist, Martin Heath and Herb Elliott arrived at Cambridge University at the same time and met in a Freshers Mile where Martin so nearly beat Herb, who had lost of fitness since his triumph at the Rome Olympics, but Herb held on – only just – to win in a time of 4m 16s. Although he continued to compete on track and cross country for Cambridge, he never again raced over the Mile.
Hugh went on to set two more UK under 19 records for the Mile in 4m 8.9 and 4m 7.7 both at Witton Park Blackburn. He never achieved his ambition to be the first Scot to break the 4min Mile getting down to 4m 1.0 at Stretford Manchester in 1968. He did have a very good career as a senior athlete though, running on all surfaces – road, track and country – in the Mile, Two Miles, Three Miles, Six Miles, 5000m, 10,000m and distances on the road up to the marathon after 1979. A talented athlete and a real credit to the sport.
Incidentally – we spoke of the cost of running a meeting like those at Santry and Hugh’s prize that night is shown in the picture below
Are they spoons or forks??? These were the days of amateurism when no one was allowed any money as a prize and, when money was in short supply, as it usually was in athletics, the prizes were priced accordingly. The Clonliffe Harriers history referred to above tells of an international match in Ireland where Ireland put up £4000, being half the running costs of the event. The prizes for this 7-nations meeting were noted in the book.
Who were the winners? Harrison Dillard who had 4 Olympic golds to his credit won the 120 yards hurdles, John Joe Barry won the Three Miles from Curtis Stone and Fred Wilt. Every one an amateur!
World Sports listing of all the 1961 winners many of whom are well known athletes – Stuart Storey, Janet Simpson, Trevor Burton and Alan Carter maybe the best known – but only two were Scots. Hugh of course and Sheena Lofts from Aldershot and the Anglo-Scots team, who ran for Scotland on the track and over the country.
The picture above shows Ronnie Macdonald of Maryhill Harriers on the left with Graham Everett of Shettleston Harriers on the right training together at Balgray in the West End of Glasgow in 1960. Graham would go on to win the SAAA Mile title eight times from 1959 and represent Scotland on the track and over the country. Ronnie would have a good career as a runner but not quite as illustrious as Graham’s although both men would go on to serve their clubs and Scottish athletics for decades.
Ronnie joined Maryhill Harriers in 1947 and stayed with the club all his life. He was an honorary club member, an honour only given in recognition of service to the club. Ronnie did serve the club well – as a runner, as an administrator, as an official, as a coach and, like all club men of his generation, in ways that do not fit into any of these categories.
As a runner, he performed well right from the start. In season 1948/49 he won the Mitchell Shield which was presented for the club’s Youth (Under 17) championship. Two years later he won the Rangoon Trophy which went to the first club Junior athlete to finish in the National Championship. He is however better known as a cross-country man and his best years as a runner were the 1950’s. If we look at his performances over that period in the Edinburgh to Glasgow Relay and the National Cross-Country Championships we see this.
Edinburgh to Glasgow Relay National Cross-Country Championship
|Year||Stage||Performance||–||Age Group||Place||Place in Club Team|
|1949||7th||8th – 8th||–||Youth||35th||1st|
|1950||5th||12 – 10||–||Junior||56th||4th|
|1951||4th||17 – 15||–||Junior||17th||1st|
|1952||5th||11 – 10||–||Junior||31st||3rd|
|1953||5th||11 – 10||–||D N R||–||–|
|1954||4th||14 – 10||–||Senior||94th||5th|
|1955||D N R||–||–||Senior||114||5th|
|1956||5th||18 – 18||–||Senior||130||6th|
|1957||D N R||–||–||Senior||123||6th|
|1958||4th||15 – 17||-||Senior||D N R||–|
|1959||D N R||-||-||Senior||104||3rd|
|1960||5th||18 – 19||–||Senior||154||6th|
You can see that over the period he ran in 9 Edinburgh – Glasgow Relay Races at a time when the standard was very high – Victoria Park, Shettleston and Bellahouston Harriers all had very strong teams for instance – only twice did he drop a place but over 7 races he picked up no fewer than 10 places. He ran in two after the 50’s – in 1961 he he ran on the 5th stage and in 1962 on the 8th stage. Over the country, he was a scoring runner for the club in the national in every race during this period and was in the first three home for the team four times.
Ronnie winning the handicap mile race at Singer’s Sports in Clydebank
On the track, Ronnie ran in almost all of the Sports meetings: Highland Games, championships at club, local, district & national levels as well as club events. There was a fair degree of success too as the medals on this page show and, at a time when money never changed hands and prizes were in kind rather than cash, one of his trophies was a Westminster chiming clock. He ran in the Glasgow Police Sports as well as in the Rangers Sports at Ibrox, two of the biggest meetings in Britain never mind Scotland. One of the best supported meetings in Glasgow at the time was the Transport Sports at Helenvale track and he was there too. He did of course run in the Maryhill Harriers club championships and some of the medals won are shown on this page.
The photograph from Singers Sports above is very interesting. The runner in the Bellahouston Harriers vest with the St Andrews cross is a chap called Henry Kennedy who emigrated to Canada soon after this and ran for that country in the 1954 Empire Games in Vancouver. He ran in the three miles and finished 11th out of the 20 entries, one place behind Al Lawrence of Australia, in 14 minutes 20 seconds. He was four places behind Scotland’s Ian Binnie. The summer season does not only cover track & field; there is also a comprehensive hill running programme. Ronnie was involved there too: he tackled Ben Nevis no less. He ran in 1968 finishing in a time of 3:04:04 and in 1969 he finished in 3:16:43.
Club Two Miles Championship, 1954
By 1970 he had been running since 1947 – 23 years – on all surfaces using shoes that for many years were simply plimsolls with no padding or cushioning at all. Ronnie was a big man and consequently he was starting to have trouble with his knees. They would eventually stop him running seriously although he could still be seen out training with Maryhill team mate Tommy Harrison. When the Scottish Veteran Harriers appeared on the scene in 1970, Ronnie embraced the concept of age-related competition and joined in as enthusiastically as he could. John Emmet Farrell spoke of the ‘approximately twelve apostles who were in at the start of the movement’ and Ronnie was one of them. The first Scottish Veteran Harriers race at Pollok Estate on 20th March 1971 was held over 5 Miles. Approximately 30 runners from an entry of 42 took part, which included eight teams. There were age categories for Over 40, Over 50 and Over 60. The races were a terrific success – at one point a 39 year old runner was allowed to run for a year as a “pre-vet”! Ronnie ran as many as he could – eg in 1977 the SVHC published race results which included Ronnie in the following results:: in a 10 miles at Grangemouth on 9th April, he was timed at 76 minutes exactly; in a 5000 metres run at Bellahouston on 15th June where there were two races (an A and a B), he ran in the A race and was clocked at 19:43, and in a 10,000 metres on the track at Bellahouston on 7th December, he ran 43:45.
He ran in open and veteran races at home in Scotland and abroad too. For instance, further afield,
- there was a world veterans 25K race in the Isle of Man on 20th May, 1973, where he finished 242nd of 500 finishers in 1;50:31. There were athletes from 23 countries taking part. In addition to the home countries of Scotland, England, Wales and Isle of Man, there were teams from Germany, Belgium, France, Luxembourg, Italy, Holland, Poland, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Canada, USA, Japan, Korea and Australia. The teams are mentioned because veteran championships would keep growing – by 1979 in Bolton there were all these countries plus. The vets movement was worldwide and Ronnie embraced the whole concept while not abandoning the domestic scene. Indeed his club had many members who enthusiastically supported Veterans (or Masters) athletics – names like Emmet Farrell, Gordon Porteous and Tommy Harrison were top class competitors in this form of athletics.
- he took part in the first World Masters Championships in Toronto in 1975, and in the World Masters 25K Road Race in Glasgow in the 1980’s. He also competed in the Shot Putt in the Scottish Veteran Harriers Championships.
- in Bolton in 1979, there were World Vets 10K and 25 K races. He ran in both. In the former he was 349th of 791 finishers in 41:39, and in the latter he was 432nd of 632 who completed the course, his time being 1:56:26. By now there were athletes from Guyana, Venezuela, New Zealand, South Africa, Lebanon and Romania in addition to those who had competed at Isle of Man in 1973.
Club 1 Mile Championship Medal, 1953
At home, The SVHC Magazine in 1977 had the following results : In a 10 miles at Grangemouth on 9th April he was timed at 76 minutes exactly; in a 5000 metres run at Bellahouston on 15th June where there were two races (an A and a B). he ran in the A race and was clocked at 19:43; and in a 10,000 metres on the track at Bellahouston on 7th December, he ran 43:45. On the country he ran in almost every vets championship and in 1978 he he was 58th at Irvine Moor – four places and 11 seconds ahead of his training partner Tommy Harrison.
He was also operating in the wider sphere of athletics administration at this time. Although Ronnie was a runner, there was more to his contribution to the sport than that. The 1950’s was a time when most members followed the belief that “you did what your club needed you to do”. It was also usual for club members to attend the club’s Annual General meetings and for there to be nominations “from the floor” for the various committee positions. Ronnie followed this pattern and, he was elected club Secretary for season 1957/58 – a mere ten years after joining the club as an Under 17. For some reason he missed the following season but was elected again in 1959/60 and 1960/61 as Club Captain. He stepped back a bit for a year and was a General Committee member in 1962/63. He went on to hold every post of any significance in the club and was President in 1968, the year of the club’s 80th birthday celebrations. The page from the club handbook below indicates the quality of committee members at the time – George Dallas. George Barber, Gordon Porteous, Tommy Harrison, David Bruce, Freddie Graham were all significant contributors to Scottish athletics.
Ronnie worked his way up through the stages on club, County, West District, and National Cross-Country Union Committees. These led to him officiating at Cross-Country races from club events to national championships. In the District and National Championships he worked all through the 70’s and 80’s, usually as one of a team of recorders or with the Area Control Stewards. The other major event of the winter season was the Edinburgh to Glasgow eight stage Relay and there he also officiated, usually as a recorder on two stages of the race. Of course as an experienced and established member of the SCCU, he was also one of the selectors for National teams, and travelled with them to the race. Within the club, he was one of the principal organisers of the Nigel Barge Road Race, the second longest running event on the winter calendar with only the Beith New Years Day race being of an older vintage.
Ronnie had several qualities that are sadly lacking in many officials in most sports: first, he was a very good organiser; second, had a sense of proportion; third, he had common sense; fourth, he was always clear in what he had to say – no obfuscation, deliberate or otherwise. And of course having been a runner he understood the sport from the competitors point of view. A wee story:
At the 1985 National Cross-Country Championship at the Jack Kane Sports Centre in Edinburgh, one of our club members arrived early and declared the team for the Senior Race. There was a good athlete there who unfortunately was not in the programme but the chap collecting the team numbers gave him the number of another athlete who was not going to be there. The chap ran in the other athlete’s place. The chap ran well. This was spotted and a complaint raised. Two of us from our club were summoned to meet a disciplinary panel in Glasgow the following Tuesday where we met a three man panel, one of whom was Ronnie. Two of them were very picky and sticky, telling us that we shouldn’t have done it. In vain we told them that it was an unauthorised alteration to the club team and then Ronnie spoke in his usual good mannered, good humoured fashion and said something like: “Every team manager, if he is being honest, will tell you that at some time or other he runs an athlete under someone else’s name. But if you are going to do it, make sure that you don’t use the name of someone who has run several times for Scotland, and make sure he doesn’t interfere with the race!” And that was it. After minimal discussion, we promised to discipline the errant club member who declared the team, were warned not to do it again, and that was it. That was Ronnie dealing with the matter in a good, common-sense fashion. There was no lecture, he just listened to what was being said, and then cut through the waffle and that was issue dealt with, and did it in a manner that offended neither the panel members nor the club representatives.
But it should be noted that he could be a tough negotiator when he had to be. For instance, in season 1971/2 when the SCCU granted a permit to Springburn Harriers for their Springburn Cup race to be held on the first Saturday in the New Year – traditionally the date for the Nigel Barge – there was what the politicians would call a ‘frank exchange of views’ between the club and the governing body. Some of the correspondence was carried out by Ronnie. This was not his usual or preferred method of working however. eg at a time when the ‘amateur code’ ruled and prizes had to be ‘to the value of’ rather than simply money being awarded, Ronnie waited until the January Sales began, then went round the local shops to buy the prizes for the Nigel Barge Road Race (and often talked them into giving him an extra discount because it was for a good local cause). His ‘people skills’ were of the highest order!
He was also imaginative coming up with ideas for races like the Christmas handicap race round Postie’s Park in Dumbarton for Council employees (he worked in the Council Offices there) with extra awards – such as for the runner who most accurately forecast his time round the course.
When the International Cross Country Union held their World Cross-Country Championships in 1978, Ronnie was asked to take charge of the production of the programmes which he did with his usual efficiency and the printer’s blocks are shown below.
Busy all the way through the 60’s and 70’s he was also listed in the 1977 SAAA Handbook as:
- Grade 1 official for Track, for Throws, and for Jumps. These were three different qualifications, each having a different pathway to Grade 1.
- Club Coach for Middle Distance, Sprints and Relays. (There were three grades of coach – Assistant Club Coach, Club Coach and Senior Coach. Club Coach was approximately equivalent to the current Level 3 qualification.)
Ronnie was always a person who would encourage and help athletes as much as he could and in any way that he could. Peter McGregor of Victoria Park tells me that at an inter-club fixture, early in Peter’s career in the sport he was told by Ronnie “stay with me and you’ll be OK.” Valuable encouragement at the start of a career that would lead to many excellent races and several sub 2:30 marathons.
Although he did not coach a squad of his own as a squad, he would help others to develop their skills and to enjoy their sport. But, being Ronnie, it was not a case of uttering well-sounding homilies, or well-worn cliches: he went to the courses, learned a bit about the events and helped in a practical way. His coaching continued until at least 1990 when he appeared in that year’s AAA Handbook as a club coach for both Sprints and Middle Distance running. His long time friend and sparring partner Des Yuill tells us that Ronnie had a camper van that he used to ‘take runners to races, near and far’.
Club Two Miles Championship, 1953
As a track official he obviously worked at meetings large and small – highland games, local sports, championships and track leagues. As a grade 1 official he was often asked to officiate as a referee – mainly on the track. One of the requirements for a club in any of the track leagues is that they provide a quota of officials as well as cover as many of the events taking place as possible. Ronnie filled in in both categories – qualified officials are worth their weight in gold to a team manager at these meetings, and to have a Grade 1 on the books is possibly worth his weight in platinum. When officiating at a highland games, Ronnie could often be seen working at the high jump: after all he had a Grade 1 for field events too!
He also officiated at international fixtures on all surfaces – below is his official’s pass for the 1970 Commonwealth Games at Meadowbank, and he also worked at the 1986 Games at the same venue. In 1986 he was one of the recorders for the marathon. And, of course, as a long-standing member of the SCCU, he officiated at cross-country international and representative meetings.
The 1990 SAAA Handbook tells us that he was still listed as a Grade 1 Official- but by now it was only for Track events, he had dropped the Throws and Jumps. At that time it was possible to keep yourself listed as an official but with an asterisk added which was marked ‘inactive’. Many took that decision but Ronnie was still active though – 53 years after joining the club. He was certainly still officiating at cross-country and road races and an active member of the Scottish Cross-Country Union.
As a member of Maryhill Harriers for his entire time in the sport, he contributed his share – and more – to the sport locally in Glasgow and across the nation’s athletics communities. At the time of the club’s centenary celebrations Ronnie displayed another talent – he designed special mugs for the celebration. They came in red and blue; there is one illustrated below.
We said at the start that Ronnie was justifiably made an Honorary Life Member of the club. He was a man who enjoyed his time in the sport, and really did make a difference on many levels.
Tommy Murray, winner of the senior men’s race
The National Cross-Country Championships of 1989 had many talking points or points of interest. For instance
- Steve Ovett, Olympian, former world record holder for 1500m , English cross-country international, was running for Annan. He had moved to Kinmount House in 1988 and joined Annan AAC racing in District Relays (eg Twechar), District Championships (Kilmarnock) and now in the National at Hawick. There had been all sorts of stories about him in the Press – the SAAA were going to change the residency rules so that he could run for Scotland after three months, the finish at Kilmarnock had been changed to a stony, rutted lane to negate a finishing sprint by him and so on. He was a big draw for the 1989 National. ( See the picture below) The press had come to watch Ovett and all went to him after he had finished. His reaction? “You shouldn’t be taking to me you should be talking to that guy over there who has just won the race, ” pointing to to Tommy Murray
- Paul Evans the very good endurance runner from England, temporary Scotsman, was also running – for Springburn Harriers. A member of Belgrave Harriers, he joined Springburn saying that his mother’s family had come from Glasgow and he wanted to run for Scotland. He ran extremely sparingly for the club, ran well in a couple of races in Scotland before deciding that he was English and racing for GB in the Barcelona and Atlanta Olympics. Never actually represented Scotland.
- Clark Murphy, the first Scotland based runner to represent GB in the World Cross Country Championships, after Scotland was dropped in favour of a British team.
- Malcolm Campbell, the Winchester runner, and almost an echo of Paul Evans, in that he ran for Scotland before changing his mind. He won the Youths championship running for Clydebank AC. Campbell also won the English Youths cross-country championship from Jon Brown over 4 miles on 20th February 1988
These factors were all important to the day’s racing – almost as important as who won the actual races. But the weather that day was dire. Doug Gillon in the “Herald” described the Hawick national as having “The worst conditions in living memory,” before going on to give this instance of these conditions: “The mud on one hill, 150 yards long and with a gradient of one in nine, was pouring like a lava flow by the time the runners were on their third circuit. Elsewhere there was a foot of slushy water and some runners finished barefoot. ” Colin Shields reported in his excellent centenary history of the SCCU “(Runs will take place) Whatever the Weather” that 5 inches of snow had fallen overnight “in the worst weather experienced during the entire winter, and that snow had continued to fall throughout the day leaving a covering of slippery snow over an underfoot morass of mud.”
The map of the course, above, is an interesting one, and Wilton Park in Hawick is very pleasant and normally the start of a good day out. Have a look at the map, and then try to retrace the runners’ footsteps next time you’re there. You’ll find that the hill referred to is indeed steep – maybe contour lines should have been added! The following article from “Runner’s World” had some more detail on the trail and on the weather conditions.
After all that, how did the actual racing go? For this one, we can’t better Doug Gillon’s report for the “Glasgow Herald” and we’ll print it along with the results.
“Livingston was a new venue for the Scottish cross-country championships on Saturday. It provided a tough but rutted trail exposed to near-Arctic temperatures. But later on there was some splendid broth – Scotch of course – in the community centre, and through it all a worthy senior champion emerged. A few days before the championships Nat Muir, the 1978 junior champion, told me how confident he was feeling about running in his first senior championship. His mileage was up to the mark, his speed and stamina work impressive, all he needed was some reasonably firm ground and the title was his. Firm ground he was given – so hard in fact that a few gave up in pain after having gone over on ankles whose ligaments were unable to resist the terrible pounding.” That was the accurate description of the course and conditions faced by the runners in February 1979 in Livingston.
The ‘tough but rutted’ description was a good one. It was a genuine cross country trail with varied surfaces, varied gradients and obstacles but with the added difficulties of ground frozen hard, rocks – not just big stones – sticking up and immoveable at places. The bitingly cold weather did not help either. The map of the course, drawn up by noted orienteer Martin Hyman, included contour lines. Had the runners known what they were, their plans for the afternoon might not have included a cross country race. Have a look at this and try to estimate the gradients and general topography.
Colin Shields in his “Whatever the Weather” described the situation thus. “The races were held in bitter, arctic conditions over a tough course made difficult by ice hard, rutted underfoot conditions.” The pictures on the page so far illustrate how cold it was – runners in a national championship wearing long sleeved tops under their vests, hats, gloves and a couple with old socks on their hands (the story is that unlike gloves, they keep all your fingers together and so warmer than if they were separated!)
The race almost didn’t go ahead because of a dispute involving the local school janitors. Shields again: “The Union was given a special dispensation by the National Union of Public Employees, which allowed the janitor at Deans Community High School to waive the overtime ban and open up the school on the Saturday for changing facilities for the 1800 entrants in the five championship races.”
So after all that how did the race go?
The story of the race was simply told. Ron Marshall in the “Glasgow Herald” gave the facts as follows.
“Muir’s performance in bitter conditions was quite astounding. As each of the four big laps unwound he became faster each time – 8 min 32 sec, 8:27, 8:21 and finally 8:17. By that time Lawrie Spence, his most dogged companion in the early stages, had been left nearly half a minute behind, himself ultimately 23 seconds clear of the third man, Jim Brown.”
The first 30 of the 255 to finish the course were:
The complete result – place, number, name, club and time – for them all can be found at
Colin Youngson ran for Edinburgh Southern Harriers that day. His club won the team championship (and retained it in 1980). In a diary, he wrote: Scottish Senior National at Livingston. ESH: Ian Elliot 9th, Dave Logue 10th, Ian Orton 15th, Allister Hutton 19th, Me 29th, Martin Craven 30th. (Evan Cameron 36th). Winning total 112 points (from EAC 172). Terrible icy rutted conditions. Hilly. Sore legs and feet. Very cold wind – almost blind in one eye. Bumpy. Lost eight places in the last lap. Disappointing personally but just adequate. Won the team at last, though! (after contributing to three team silver medals).”
But infairness to Colin, it was a real high quality field – check the website address above – with quality international athletes being placed outside the first 50 of the 255 finishers.
Alex Jackson also shared some memories of the day:
- Seeing an unhappy Alastair Hutton going up the funnel, he had won at Bellahouston in 1978 and was 19th at Livingston. However he was fourth counter for the winning ESH team.
- Other facts: Robert Hawkins won the U15 boys race, his one and only National win.
- The Community school was demolished around 10 years ago, a new school built close by.