Aberdeen University Track

Scottish Universities have a strong tradition of track and field athletics and none more so than the four ancients.   There were inter university competitions, matches against local clubs and even national university championships. Aberdeen has had several facilities that they used over the years for the Athletics Club.   In writing this piece there has been help from Hunter Watson, Fraser Clyne and Colin Youngson.


All four of the ‘ancient universities had their own running track and grounds.   The Pavilion at Westerlands in Glasgow is legendary but King’s College in Aberdeen had one every bit as good.   Built in the late 1950’s and seen in the photograph above, it even had its own swimming pool.   I quote: “The pavilion was built for the King’s College University Athletic Club, but was also required to provide common room facilities for the whole college. The university required a multi-purpose sports facility but with flexible changing rooms to accommodate users to the swimming pool and playing fields. The size of the building was constrained by the adjacent university buildings to the N and W and the playing fields and tennis courts to the S and E, and the height of the building was limited so as not to obscure views of the Old Crown Tower.”   It contains the pool, performance gym, performance suite and changing rooms.

The playing fields themselves were like all the University tracks of the time were of good, well looked after grass and were big enough to hold two rugby pitches, a cricket wicket and a lacrosse field.   Fraser Clyne tells us that King’s playing fields opened on Saturday, 2nd November with a rugby match between Aberdeen and Glasgow Universities.  Cricket, rugby and football were there from the start.  The first athletics meeting on the grass track was held on 24th May, 1890 with competitions for the championship of the University.   Olympians James Tindal Soutter and Eric Liddell competed there.    Hunter Watson takes up the tale:  The initial actions which led to the provision of playing fields at King’s College, Aberdeen took place in 1883. In that year it was established that the University had no intention of erecting any buildings on the site, one which lay immediately to the east of King’s College. Also in that year a committee was appointed to see what could be done.

     It was calculated that about £2000 would be required to complete the necessary work and an appeal was made to the graduates of the University for help. With the aid of that appeal and a bazaar, the Committee were able in the summer of 1888 to arrange that the work on the provision of a new playing field be commenced: the ‘Alma Mater’ of 28 November 1888 reported that the ground had “now been laid out”. (The ‘Alma Mater’ is an Aberdeen University magazine which has been published since 1872. Copies for consultation are held in the Aberdeen University Library.)

      In the ‘Alma Mater’ of 20 February 1889, it was stated that “The completion of the new Recreation Ground at King’s College may be regarded as a landmark in the history of our ‘Varsity Athletics …  What is now needed … is the organisation of the various clubs on a sound financial footing: Good gates are the chief means to this end.” At that time, it appears that numerous spectators could be expected to turn out to watch university students engaged in sporting competitions and also to pay for that privilege.

    In the ‘Alma Mater’ of 24 April 1889 it was stated that “The ground, it is fully expected, will be sufficiently firmed by another season to allow of its being freely used.” It was also stated that “The committee suggested the formation of an Athletic Association consisting of the different athletic clubs in the University and to whom the care and custody of the ground should be entrusted.”

    It appears that the provision of this playing field at King’s was the stimulus which led to the formation of the Aberdeen University Athletic Association. It also appears that to this Association was given much of the responsibility for the management and maintenance of the new playing field.”

The first Inter University match was held at King’s track on 17th June, 1899 withe teams representing Edinburgh, and Glasgow competing with Aberdeen.   It was fairly well covered in the ‘Press and Journal’ which started its report: 

“Everything conspired to make the Scottish inter-university athletic meeting, which was held at King’s College Grounds, Aberdeen, on Saturday afternoon a decided success.   The weather conditions were ideal, the sun shining brilliantly through the heat haze of the early forenoon.   The arrangements were most complete; the contests were keen; and the large and fashionable crowd of spectators were rendered picturesque by the bright toilettes of the many ladies who formed a large part of it.   The last occasion on which Scottish inter-university sports were held was in 1673; and the present revival, under such successful auspices auguers well  for an annual gathering in future. …

The grounds were gaily festooned with ribbons and a number of seats were placed on the terrace from which a good view of the sports could be obtained.   During the afternoon, refreshments were provided by Mr W Kennaway, Union Street, in two spacious marquees, while the band of the 1st AREV played the following selection of music ……    

The competitors in each event were photographed by Mr James Ewing, Crown Street, and the three teams were also photographed.   …  The games were under the Scottish Amateur Athletic Association rules. …”

The winners were Edinburgh from Glasgow and then Aberdeen.  There were only three of the four ancients competing at that time in the Inter-Universities Championships,(Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow) and the event was held by rota so that they were held in Aberdeen in 1902 (14th June) and 1905 (12th June) with St Andrews being involved for the first time in 1906.   This four-team competition meant that Aberdeen’s next fixture at King’s College was on 19th June 1909: it was the first time the full four university complement was held at King’s.    Thereafter the four yearly rota was followed with Aberdeen’s last hosting before the War being 21st June 1913.   n this period many more world class athletes were involved at the competition including the wonderful athlete that was WH Welsh.

The Scottish Universities track and field championships were held at King’s on 1 June 1957 when Edinburgh won the inter-universities title with 77 points to Glasgow’s 72, St Andrews 25 and Aberdeen’s 9.    The women’s contest was also won by Edinburgh with 40 points from St Andrews 39, Glasgow 29 and Aberdeen 8.   JV Paterson set new records for the quarter and half mile events of 48.8 sec and 1:52.8,   WJ More of Glasgow set a ground record of 4:20.8 for the Mile, and A Hannah, Edinburgh, broke DK Gracie’s record for the 440 yards hurdles with a time of 54.1. In the 120 yards hurdles, J Johnston, Glasgow, equalled the Scottish native record of 15.3 which broke the universities record. R Scott, Glasgow, won the hammer with 142′ 11″.   HM Murray of Edinburgh had the unusual experience of setting a new Scottish native record which was not a universities record! Miss D Will of Aberdeen beat her own discus record with 111′ 5″, and Miss S McLeod, Glasgow, beat Miss J Pringle’s record for the shot by 7″ when she threw 30′.

The ‘Glasgow Herald’ headline read “Day of records at Aberdeen” and it was entirely justified.   Paterson’s quarter mile record took 1.4 second from Eric Liddell’s time of 1923 and was a major event. 
Hunter Watson  adds “I had run in those championships in each of the previous three years. In 1954 at Westerlands I finished second to Adrian Jackson but ahead of Alastair Wood. In 1955 at Craiglockhart I again finished second to Adrian Jackson. In 1956 at St Andrews, in the absence of Adrian Jackson, I won both the one and three miles. The times were pathetically slow because of the strong wind. The report, however, notes that my best time for the mile in 1956 placed me third (home) Scot and ahead of both Alastair Wood and Adrian Jackson though my best time had been 4:14.6 and not 4: 14.4 as stated.
In 1957 on 25 May I won the mile at the Edinburgh University championships in a reasonable time of 4:25.9. According to my training diary, I had followed George Brown until 220 yards from the finish, at which point I went all out and covered the remaining distance in 27 seconds or faster. George finished 6.7 seconds behind in a time of 4:32.6.
Clive Dennis, the Edinburgh University captain put me under considerable pressure to turn out for a fourth consecutive year in the Scottish University championships, but with my finals being held in the following fortnight I decided to give them a miss.”

Hunter adds “I have in my possession a copy of the 1953 Coronation Issue of Aberdeen University’s “Athletic Alma” magazine. Included in it is a photograph of four hurdlers competing at King’s.”   In the 1950’s and 60’s the championships were held on a rota in the order Craiglockhart, Westerlands, St Andrews and Aberdeen so that Aberdeen hosted the post war championships in 1949, ’53, ’57, ’61,  and ’65.   This rota was disturbed in 1969 which was preparation year for the Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh, 1970.

Bill Ewing writes that that the ground staff at King’s College were very helpful. They fashioned a “solid water jump” for him just inside the home bend in 1966. He practised his jump technique all Spring, landing on a pad of foam rubber to simulate the water! That season, Bill came second to Gareth Bryan-Jones in the British Universities steeplechase at Birmingham and thinks that the jump practice helped a lot. Bill wonders now what became of that invaluable jump hurdle. In 1967 at Grangemouth Stadium, Bill won the Scottish steeplechase title, just in front of Gareth. Bill states that “King’s will always be my spiritual home for running.”

Colin Youngson trained and raced at King’s between 1966 and 1971. “I remember at the end of my first year front-running in a frantic effort to win the AU One mile title but running out of steam and finishing second to Tony Patrick. Then metric distances became standard, so I did manage to win a few 1500m and 5000m races there, either club championships against Jim Maycock or Don Ritchie or ‘Three University’ matches, e.g. AU, Glasgow and Strathclyde; or AU, Edinburgh and Heriot-Watt etc.
One memory is that once, just when I seemed likely to win an inter-university 1500m, an unknown young Strathclyde athlete zoomed past in the final 20 metres – he turned out to be the future GB star Frank Clement!
The Annual Sports Day was a lot of fun. A paarlauf was introduced one year, so that each of a pair of runners took turns to sprint 220 yards then jogged over the middle of the track to take over again. Bob Anderson and I combined to run a 3.57 mile!
Training round the playing fields was great. It was about 660 yards round, so repetitions might involve that distance; or often umpteen 220 yards efforts along the side furthest away from the art deco pavilion; or sometimes horrible flat-out 330s on the track itself. National Coaches John Anderson and Frank Dick both occasionally travelled up north to King’s to organise sessions of 20 second runs or up the clock for many runners.
The Grass Track was very good, flat with a smooth, well-cut surface, ideal for fast times. Near the end of the summer term, a ‘Minnows’ Three Miles’ was popular. The fastest club runners did not count in the results. It was a handicap with the slowest starting first. One year I started last and ended up with a personal best (unusually for me run in bare feet) due to ideal conditions and lots of slower rivals to overtake!
From the mid-1960s there was even an AU half marathon (starting with a lap of the field, then twice round the cross-country course with an extra lap in the middle and one at the finish. First prize was a Sawfish tusk!
For the Annual Students’ Charities campaign, Aberdeen University Hare & Hounds Club in April 1970 decided to attempt a sponsored 72 Hour Marathon Relay round King’s Field, which was timed meticulously. Luckily, conditions were dry. All our first and second team men took part and we succeeded in completing 636 miles at an average speed of almost nine miles an hour. We raised over £300 for the campaign. If you raised £100 you were given a free barrel of beer! The after-event party featured an attempt to drink all three barrels but we did not succeed at that sport. Rather unfairly, the Guinness Book of Records people did not accept our ‘world record’ since they did not think that such a challenge would be popular!
Happy times on a wonderful field and track!”

Balgownie, University of Aberdeen Track


Bill Ewing says that he raced there only once and that it was the worst surface he ever competed on, with its cheap red covering on an unforgiving base.
Mel Edwards says “I believe the track opened 1971/72. An all-weather track, which was a godsend after the cinders (a charitable word for that lumpy track) at the Linksfield Stadium. Balgownie was a rather hard track but welcome all the same.
In 1979, I organised the first Aberdeen marathon and it started and finished there. The runners left the playing fields and did 4 laps of an external road circuit. The lap was very hilly and the route became known as the Balgownie Alps!
The guest of honour was Jim Peters who came north with his wife Freda. Jim was a former marathon world record holder (2 hour 17 minutes 39.4secs way back in 1954.).
So, Balgownie was a popular venue, especially for cross country races round playing fields and up and down surrounding hills. It has hosted the East District XC Championships more than once, as well as the Scottish Veterans XC Championships.”
Fraser Clyne says “Balgownie, I am pretty sure, was opened early 1970s. It was there when I started AU in 1973. Always a hard track and very windy.
Graham Laing and I ran 29:22 there one Tuesday night in the AAAC club champs, just running round together (should have gone faster instead of chatting).
I did quite a lot of solo 14:20’s there but couldn’t get any quicker
I vaguely recall outsprinting Colin Youngson there in a 5000m a few days after I ran the Pittsburgh marathon in 1985. 14:54 and 14:55 was all we could manage.
Not sure when it stopped being used or maintained regularly, but the superior all-weather track at the Chris Anderson Stadium opened in 1988 so I guess it must have been after then.”

Hugh Barrow, Frank Horwill Award.

Hugh was awarded the BMC’s Frank Horwill Award for outstanding service to the British Milers Club for 2018.   A well deserved award the citation reads:

I served as Scottish Secretary of the BMC for about 10 years and when I was first appointed, Hugh was a tremendous help to me.   The first conversation on putting on races was held at the Allan Scally race when we had a long chat on the pavement surrounded by sweaty bodies.    Then when we had three BMC training days at Huntershill, Hugh arranged for us to have the use of the premises and for the cafeteria to be open.   Not only that but he put Frank Horwill up at his own home – Frank really appreciated it (and it saved us money on accommodation costs!)    Then there were the lunchtime chats in his office in Bishopbriggs which led to the organisation of the ‘Gallery Mile’ races held in Kirkintilloch when the Luddon/Strathkelvin Half Marathon was taking place.   These races brought the likes of Yvonne Murray, Lynne McDougall, Liz Lynch and company to the streets of Strathkelvin and were very popular.   When the BMC rand Prix races were held at Scotstoun at the start of the millennium, Hugh was there and was even encouraged to present some of the awards.   The award is well deserved.

Hugh is pictured below at the Scotstoun GP having made a presentation to Hayley Haining.   Former miler Phil O’Dell (Bedford) on the right.



Goldenacre: Pavilion

The playing fields at Goldenacre belong to George Heriot’s School and Wikipedia has this to say:   George Heriot’s School has its own sports ground at Goldenacre in the north of Edinburgh, on a site enjoying a wonderful view of the Edinburgh skyline. Here 24 acres of playing fields, together with well equipped pavilion and grandstand facilities, provide for the School’s activities in Rugby, Hockey, Football, Cricket, Tennis, Cross-Country Running, Athletics, and multi-sports.   Goldenacre is also the home ground for the School’s associated adult Rugby, Hockey and Cricket Clubs. Although formally constituted as Former Pupil clubs, and affiliated to the Heriot Club, the official association of Heriot’s Former Pupils, these sports clubs all function as open clubs.    From Wiki then we know that the grounds are large:  24 acres is large.   If you recon that a football pitch is about two acres, then we have 12 football pitches.   We also learn that it has been used for at least eight sports.  In general terms it is probably best known for its rugby and many of its rugby players have been outstanding sportsmen.   It has a very impressive history indeed and it has been a significant player in the development of athletics in Scotland.    

J Wardlaw, Heriot AA, President SAAA 1930-31.

The Scottish Amateur Athletic Association was established on 28th February 1883 and, while not a founding member, the Heriot Club was one of the first clubs to join.  Heriot’s members took part in all the championships and many of the open meetings.    By 1933,  the time of the 50th anniversary of the Association, the Heriot Club, Heriot;s School (FP) AC and Heriot’s School were all listed separately as members.   J Quigley of Heriot AA (1914-15) and J Wardlaw,Heriot Club , (1930-31) had been Presidents of the Association.   Wardlaw was still a committee member of the SAAA in 1933.   In 1921-22 AF Dickson of Heriots CCC was President of the SCCU and in 1926-27 JW Dickson of the same club was also President.   Athletically JF Wood represented Scotland in the world cross-country championships four times between 1928 and 1932 and won the Scottish track 10 miles championship twice.   The school was always involved in athletics and enjoyed a fair degree of success.   

After the 1939-45 War, Goldenacre however was best known however as the venue for the Scottish Schools AA Boys Championships.   The championships at that timewere held turn about in Edinburgh and Glasgow.   In Glasgow they were held at Westerlands for several years before moving to Scotstoun Showground.   In the East however they were held at Goldenacre every second year.   

 The post war SSAA Championship in Edinburgh were held June 14th 1947  at Inverleith  and at the same venue again on 18th June, 1949, when the top boys age group (ie over 17) was known as the ‘open events’.   In that year the top athletes were D Leith of Robt Gordon’s who added 12′ to the javelin record with 185′ 3 1/2″ and A Hanlon’s Pole Vault of 10′ 3 1/4″.   Schools represented on the prize list included McLaren High, Greenock High, Elgin Academy, Kirkcudbright Academy, Irvine Royal Academy, Ardrossan Academy and Buckhaven High School as well as all the private schools.   In 1948 and 50, they moved to the West and were held at Westerlands so maintaining the habit of alternating between the two major cities.

The first at Goldenacre was on 16th June, 1951.   In that meeting one of the winners who would go on to represent Scotland for a number of years was RM Stephen in the hop, step and jump,  with J Hendry  winning the Eric Liddell Trophy after his superb run in the Mile.  Two years later, on 20th June, 1953, there were no fewer than 10 best championship performances spread over all age groups.

In 1955, on 18th June the Scottish Schools Boys Championships were held there again and  Crawford Fairbrother who would go on to set Scottish records and win Scottish and Great Britain honours, won the High Jump with 5’10” which was anew meeting record; and E McKeating, the Heriot’s School rugby, cricket and athletics captain, won 100//LJ in 10 sec/20′ 2″ but the Eric Liddell Trophy went to PB Hall (Fettes) for his winning height in the pole vault of 11′ 3 1/4″.

SSAA Boys championships were back at Goldenacre on 15th June 1957.   Golspie HS was producing a whoile series of throwing champions and in 1957 there was a double by I McPherson of Golspie in Discus and Shot.   Among the other outstanding results was the long jump by D Whyte of Bell-Baxter of 21’11” .   Whyte would go on to study at St Andrews University where he would set University records for both jumps for distance, win Scottish and GB University titles and compete as a senior internationalist.   

The meeting of 20th June 1959  was special for several reasons. 

 (1) The running of Mike Hildrey of Balfron when he did the sprint double  M Hildrey (above)  100/220 in  9.88/22.3.   Hildrey would become one of Scotland’s all time top sprinters.  In this meeting he equalled the national 100y record and took no less than 0.5 sec from the 220y record.   He was awarded the Eric Liddell trophy.   Among the other names that stand out in the results column is that of R McFarquhar of Inverness Royal Academy who won the Mile in 4:29.6.

(2) was the other being the running of the SAAA relays in conjunction with the championships.  The winning time in each race was inside the Scottish record but neither was recognised as such.   The results:

                                                                       4 x 110 Relay: 1.  VP  42.6;  2.  GU;  3. Ayr Seaforth;    4 x 440  1.  Glasgow University in 3:21,8;  2.  EU;  3.  ESH

On 17/6/61 the championships were a success and there were at least four names who would distinguish any meeting for years to come who were in action.   

  1. The Eric Liddell Trophy went to the latest product of the Golspie HS throws group when he won the shot putt with a best of 55′ 0 1/2″.   This gave him the record for the event in three different age groups.   He would become a champion and record setter for several years in Scttish athletics before becoming an award winning sports journalist.
  2. The 15-17 Mile was won by Hugh Barrow in 4:24.1.   Barrow was to go to a wonderful career which would include Scottish Championships and records, Scottish and British international honours and world age group records.   On this date he took 10 seconds from the existing record.
  3. the pole vault won by Norman Foster with 14′ 2″, who would become one of Scotland’s best ever decathletes and pole vaulters
  4. the Discus by Douglas Edmunds with 161′ 2″.   Edmunds would become one of the best known ‘heavy’ athletes in the country.

The senior relays were again held – the 4 x 110 yards relay was won by  the all conquering  Victoria Park AAC  in 43.3  and the 4 x 440 relay  Edinburgh U  3:31.3

On then to 15th June 1963 when the Eric Liddell Trophy was awarded to D Hendry (Galashiels Academy) for his win in the 15-17 880 yards in 1:58.3.   The school also provided the winner of the 17+ 880 yards, K Oliver, in 1:58.7.   Lenzie Academy was known at that time for the fine middle distance runners it produced and in the 17+ mile Ian Young won in 4:27.0.   He would go on to be part of the finest University distance runing group at Edinburgh competing in the same team as Fergus Murray, Alistair Blamire,and a whole host of top men.   Graeme Grant of The Hermitage School won the 15-17 Mile in 4:27.4 and he too would become a Scottish and British internationalist and record holder.   In the field events, Norman Foster again won the Pole Vault.  

incl SAAA Senior 4 x 440 (record) GUAC 3:19.3  SNR; 4 x 110 relay:  42.6  ESH

The prodigiously talented Gordon Rule

19th June, 1965 was the last year that the SSAA Boys championships would be held at Goldenacre – in 1967 they would move to Pitreavie which had hosted many of the Girls Championships over the years.   The top athlete this time was HC Robertson (Hutchesons Grammar School) who won three events: 200y hurdles in 23.6 seconds, , long jump with 21′ 9 1/2″ and triple jump with 47′ 4 1/2″ with the award of the Eric Liddell Trophy for the latter event.   The Souter family of Lenzie produced several SSAA champions and this year it was Robin who won the high jump withe a clearance of 5′ 8 1/2″.   Heriot’s School had provided many medallists at these championships and it is appropriate to indicate the strength of their athletics by listing their medallists at this, their final hosting of the event.  

17-19 :   440 yards  1st JL Galloway  51.6;  4 x 110 yards relay:  1st  44.6;  PV:  1st I Dobson 10′ 9″; Javelin  1st N Burnett 122′ 2 1/2″;  Discus:  2nd AR Dunn 

15-17 :   440 yards  1st DF Macritchie 52.2;  110y H: DS Bruce  1st 14.7; 4 x 110 relay:  1st  45.5; HJ:  D Gartshore  1st 5′ 7″;  LJ:  DS Bruce  1st  19′ 8 1/4″; PV  HM Burnett 2nd.

13-15:   80yH: 1st  WT Bell  11.3; PV:  GW Rule  10′; Shot Putt:  GW Rule  40’1 1/2″

The school was clearly an athletics supporting school (12 gold medals) although the main sports were rugby and cricket.   The reporter in the ‘Glasgow Herald mentioned “performances by the George Heriot’s School generally, whose pupils names were never far from the announcer’s lips as he gave winners and place winners.

The SAAA relays were held with much debate about the result of the 4 x 440 where it was a close finish between WM Campbell and Ross Billson.   : 4   x  110: Glasgow University from Edinburgh Southern Harriers       4 x 440  GUAC from Ayr Seaforth 

In 1967 the championships were held at Pitreavie and they would soon move to Grangemouth with Boys and Girls competing at the same venue.  In 1967, Heriot’s only won two gold medals – one by the prodigious pole vaulter Gordon Rule.  In 1962 eight of the Edinburgh public schools got together to set up the Octavians Athletic Club partly because the numbers attending the Former Pupils athletic clubs had dwindled so much.   George Heriot’s was one of the eight schools.   The very successful Octavians however had to disband in 1971 after only ten years of existence and by 1983, centenary of the SAAA not one of the three Heriots clubs that had been members in 1933 was still affiliated to either that body or the SCCU.


 Goldenacre is, however, known to many millions of cinema goers around the world for it appearance in the Oscar winning film ‘Chariots of Fire.   Many locations were used for the film including the Sma’ Glen, Inverleith in Edinburgh, the Church of Scotland Assembly Hall and others.   Goldenacre, pictured below, was the scene of the Scotland v  Ireland International contest.

If you go to the website of the present Heriot’s Club, you will see that it has six sections listed – Angling, Cricket, Curling, Golf, Hockey and Rugby.   The main sport right now is rugby with exciting games bei g played every winter and athletics seems to be relegated to school sports days.   Whatever the current situation, past members of the governing bodies such as Quigley, Wardlaw, Dickson and their contemporaries contributed to the development of athletics in Scotland.   Goldenacre witnessed so many excellent perofrmances across all disciplines and meant so much to so many pupils and athletes in the country who nurse fond memories of the ground, should be remembered as a cherished venue.



Douglas Gifford

The story of the great Glasgow University cross-country team of the 1960’s would not be complete without telling about Doug Gifford:  TDG Gifford sounded more like an amateur cricket player of the 1960’s but he was a talented and hard running athlete that any club in the land would have been glad to have as a representative.   He is pictured above (L3) taking the baton from  Cameron Shepherd in the Edinburgh to Glasgow relay race where he had many a good run.   That he was a naturally gifted runner was never in doubt but he confined his endeavours to cross-country and road running.   There is no record of him running in club, university, inter-varsity, district or national championships on the track at all.   He first appears in the record books on 26th January 1957 when he ran in the  Midland District Championships as a  Youth (Under 17) where he was  8th and the sole representative of his club, Garscube Harriers.  A year later, 1st  March 1958 he ran in the National Cross-Country Championships at Hamilton, again in the U17 age group, for  Garscube Harriers where he finished third   – six seconds behind J Linaker with an Anglo from South Shields winning the race.   At this point he left Hillhead High School and went up to Glasgow University where he continued to run and his performances improved immensely with every year that went by.

The winter season starts in October and on the very first day of November Freshman Gifford ran on the third stage of the Midland District Relay with the others being Horn, Woodcock and Johnstone.   The team was 12th but he was in the first team right from the start.   Two weeks later he ran in his first Edinburgh to Glasgow eight stage relay race for the Hares & Hounds.   He ran on the first stage of this invitation only event and handed over in 13th place to another who would be one of the teams outstanding runners over the next few years, Callum Laing.   1959 started with the traditional Nigel Barge Road Race at Maryhill and Gifford finished 22nd and first University runner with Stan Horn in 30th place.   On 10 January 1959 a trial was held over an icy and treacherous seven mile trail from Garscadden. which Gifford won easily in 38min 34sec.   There was a match against St Andrews University on 21st January in dull wet conditions.   The University history tells us that : “as soon as open country was reached conditions underfoot were very treacherous for the runners, with the thaw having come too late and the overlying water merely concealing the ice below. Stan Horn won the race in 37 min 18 sec, with Jim Bogan second (37 min 21 sec) and Douglas Gifford third (37 min 25 sec). In the Team competition Glasgow won easily with 30 points. St Andrew’s scored 72 and Aberdeen 87. “

Gifford, along with Callum Laing, was injured at the time of the Scottish Universities championship and did not run that year.   Then came the Midland District Championships where Jim Bogan finished first in the Youths’ Race, and Douglas Gifford was the second Junior home.    On 28th February the climax of the cross country season came in the form of the National Championships at Hamilton.   Gifford was  25th in Junior race and first GU runner.   The team finished 5th.

Gifford was one of ten runners presented with first team colours at the AGM at the end of 1958-59 and he was also elected Secretary/Treasurer at the same meeting.

Start of 1960 Scottish Universities Championship in St Andrews

In his review of the 1959-60 season, the team captain (Nick Rogers) spoke about the mixed fortunes of the Club during the previous season. “The First Team Trial had seen six men beat the Blue’s standard of 38 minutes over the Garscadden course (later that night this was lowered to 37min 30sec). Then a Glasgow Eight “hammered” Queen’s University (Belfast) by maximum points over the Garscadden course. The Hares and Hounds had finished 10th in the Midland District Relay. “Edinburgh, our arch enemies, were also soundly trounced at last after 10 years, Gifford, Bogan, Horn and Hunter finishing in that order before the first Edinburgh man”   On this occasion Douglas Gifford also set a new course record of 36min 51sec over the Garscadden course.”

In open competition, a team of Rogers, Bogan, Gifford and Hartley was tenth in the Midland District Relay on the first Saturday in November and then on 21st November Doug Gifford found himself running the notoriously difficult second stage of the Edinburgh to Glasgow relay.    Difficult because of its six miles of undulating road but more difficult because it was the leg where each and every one of the invited teams put out their best runner.  Not surprisingly the young Gifford, who had taken over from Jim Bogan in ninth dropped down to 13th position.   The next major championship was on 23rd January 1960 and it was the  Midland District event.   He finished 31st and top Hares and Hounds counter for the team that finished ninth.  

Having been Secretary of the Hares and Hounds in 1958-59, Doug was also elected Captain for season 1959-60 and led the team into the national universities cross country championships.   They were held at St Andrews on 5th February in 1960 and the race is described by Donald Macgregor in his book “Running My Life” as follows:

“It was quite sunny and drier underfoot than the week before.   The individual and team struggle was intense along the Kinkell Braes, over to the A917 Crail Road, and up the big hill with its ‘plough’.   St Andrews were 12 points ahead with 2 miles to go, as we plummeted down from Lochend farm track over stubble fields with the whole magnificent vista of the city and its towers laid out before us.   Alas for our hopes!   The Glasgow middle counters gradually moved up the field.   The two best Glasgow runners, Douglas Gifford and Jim Bogan, and I had broken away from the rest quite early on.   We stayed together through the streets of the new town and were still together going up Dyers Brae into narrow Abbey Street and over South Street into South Castle Street.   It was only over the last 300 yards that Gifford and Bogan were able to break away from me to take the first two places for Glasgow, with five seconds covering the first three.   David Jeffrey followed me home in fourth.   Glasgow also took the team medals but there were only 7 points in it. “

Exactly one month later, on 5th March, the team headed for Hamilton for the National Cross-Country Championships.  The Junior team performed well and was placed third at the finish with the counting runners being Bogan 14th, Hunter 16th, Gifford 27th and  Hartley 28.   

At the end of the season Gifford was not only awarded club first team colours, but with Stuart Hunter, awarded a Blue.

Leading on the way to victory in the Scottish Universities cross-country championships in 1960

Both photographs from Donald Macgregor’s “Running My Life”

The University season started with their Irish tour which had been excellent; the Hares and Hounds having been treated exceptionally well by their hosts.  Thirty four runners had taken part in the six+ mile  race in Belfast where Calum Laing was first in 34min 53sec, Douglas Gifford second in 34min 55sec, John Gray third in 35min 13sec, Stuart Hunter fourth in 35min 26sec and Jim Bogan fifth in 36min 00sec.    The team went on to a match against Trinity College in Dublin and  Calum Laing also led his Team home in the race.   In other inter-University competition St Andrew’s and Aberdeen had been beaten comparatively easily by the Hares and Hounds.    These results are noted as they indicated that the Hares & Hounds were of a strength to compete seriously in Scottish athletics.   The Junior team had been third in the National the previous season and they were all now of an age to take on their elders.   This was shown on 19th November when the team won third place medals in the Edinburgh to Glasgow Relay.

Gifford ran on the longest stage in the race – the seven miles of the sixth stage where he took over in fourth place from J Gray and handed over to Dick Hartley in fourth place.   Hartley picked up one place and Tor Denstad took the team home in third.   It was the first University team to win medals in the event.

21/1/62: In the Midland District Championships held at the Strathleven Estate in Renton, Gifford was 32nd and fifth counter for the club team which finished 10th.   It was then on to the National on 4th March where the  Junior Team went one better than the previous year and came away with the silver medals. Douglas Gifford led the team home in  9th with the others being Bogan 13th,  Baillie 32nd, and Shepherd 33rd.   

Gifford had missed several races that winter but his running was such that he was again awarded first team colours, one of nine to be so honoured.

GU 1960/61 team photograph:  Gifford is third left in second row, standing directly above the kneeling Callum Laing

In 1961, the top Glasgow University men missed the District Relays at Stirling because they had a match at Garscadden: Glasgow, against St Andrews University which they won by 26 points to 56, providing six of the top seven runners. Laing won the individual race by 68 seconds from Judge of St Andrews with Baillie, Hartley, Bogan, Gifford and McPhail in that order competing the team.

The Edinburgh to Glasgow in 1961 was held on the 18th November and Gifford was again on the long, downhill, sixth stage.   While all stages of this race were contested by quality runners, stages two and six were especially hard.   Gifford held his place, taking over sixth and handing over sixth for the team which finished eighth.   Into the new year and on 20th January the Midland District championship was held at Strathleven.  With 130 runners,  Laing was first team runner home in 11th place with Gifford 16th, and Shepherd 25th for the team that was fourth – only four points behind the third team , Bellahouston Harriers.   The remaining major championship was the national, again at Hamilton on 3rd March.   Gifford was 27th of the 190 finishers in his first run in the senior race and second scorer behind Calum Laing who had a wonderful run to be third.   The team was eighth..   The 3rd March saw the Senior National in which Gifford was 27th in the team, led home by Laing who was 3rd.

In the Minute of the 1962 AGM, the following business was mentioned:  “Douglas Gifford then told the meeting that he knew of a cottage near Fort William owned by the Caledonian Canal Trust which could be rented for £15 per annum. He suggested the Hares and Hounds take steps to acquire the cottage as a place for weekend or vacation visits, and as a Training Camp. This idea was enthusiastically received and Douglas Gifford was instructed to go ahead and arrange for the cottage to be rented. (However, as it turned out, Inverness County Council prevented the Hares and Hounds from obtaining use of this cottage. Nevertheless Douglas Gifford reported at the following AGM that the Section had an open and permanent invitation to use the facilities of Lochaber Harriers, and that he had a key to these in his possession).  “

Douglas Gifford became a noted academic, a specialist and expert on Scottish literature but this did not happen by accident and at this point in his running career his studies were at a crucial point and were demanding more and more of his attention and his racing programme was slimmer than it had been although the quality was still there.

On 5th November, 1962, Glasgow University beat Loughborugh College by 23-67, a comfortable victory, and Laing, Faulds and Gifford were the first three in the race.   This was followed on 10 Nov 62 the University beat Aberdeen, St Andrews and Durham Universities with Faulds 1st in 36:26; with Gifford fourth.  GU won by 35 points from Durham, St Andrews and Aberdeen.   In the Edinurgh to Glasgow on 17th November he ran the fourth stage.   Taking over in second, he handed over in second for the team which finished third and he was third quickest on his stage of the race.   His running led to selection for Scottish Universities against the SCCU, a fixture to be held on 15th December.   He was unplaced in the race against a very strong Scottish team. 

His running for the season seems to have ended here with no appearances in District or National championships.   


In 1863-64 Gifford was missing from all the major cross-country events but was out again in 1964-65.   His first appearance was in the Edinburgh to Glasgow relay where he was back on the sixth stage but the edge was off his running after his ‘time out’.   Taking over in 13th, he dropped two places to 15th/   In the Midland District Championships on 16th January he finished in 46th position and was fifth counter in the team which finished fourth and just out of the medals.   He did not run in the National Championship at the end of February.   

Thereafter he ran in two Edinburgh to Glasgow relays (20/11/65 on 6th when he dropped from 14th to 16th) and 19/11/66 when he improved the team’s position from 17th to 16th on the final stage) and one National (26/2/66 when he was 50th, the team finishing 8th).   And that was where his career as a member of the Hares & Hounds seems to have ended.   It had been a good one with many excellent times, a Scottish Universities cross-country championship to his credit, University international selection and a major part in many a team success over the country and on the road.  

He was part of a really good generation of runners at Glasgow along with Callum Laing, Allan Faulds, Brian Scobie, Jim Bogan and all the rest.   It is intriguing to speculate what that group could have done had they been like the Edinburgh University team of the late 60’s and 70s and lived in the same house and trained together.  

He went on to great things as an academic.  Honorary Senior Research Fellow at the University of Glasgow he has several publications to his name and the Edinburgh Sir Walter Scott Club lists his major achievements as follows:

 “Douglas Gifford was formerly Chair of Scottish Literature at the University of Glasgow; he is now Emeritus Professor and Honorary Research Fellow. He has written extensively on Scottish fiction, including James Hogg (1976), and Neil Gunn and Lewis Grassic Gibbon (1983). He edited Scottish Literature; Nineteenth Century, 1988; with Dorothy McMillan he edited A History of Scottish Women’s Writing, and with Sarah Dunnigan and Alan McGillivray, Scottish Literature in English and Scots (2002). He was on The Saltire Society Book Awards Panel from 1982 till 2011, and is presently The Faculty of Advocates Honorary Librarian for Scott’s Library at Abbotsford. He is a Fellow of the Royal society of Edinburgh.”

Respected abroad as well as at home for his academic attainments, he will still be remembered by University runners from all over Scotland affectionately as Dougie Gifford, a really good runner who might have been even better.









1952 English Cross-Country Championships

One of the great moments in the history of Scottish Cross Country running was in 1952 when the Victoria Park team that had done so well on the road and over the country won the English Championships.   Defeated by Shettleston in the Midland District Championships at Lenzie, they had already won the SCCU championships at Hamilton.   The standard in Scotland at the time was remarkably high with Victoria Park, Shettleston and Bellahouston from the west and Edinburgh Southern from the east all battling out race after race – had their been a GB team over the country selected, it is arguable that there would have been as many Scots as English in the elected eight or ten.   The runners should be remembered for what they achieved.   That great Victoria Park member, Hugh Barrow, has sent the following extracts from the programme of that wonderful afternoon for Scottish cross-country running.   First, the cover:

Callum Laing

Glasgow University Hares and Hounds: Callum Laing second left front row

Callum Laing,  the son of a Free Church minister in Alness, started his running career with Inverness Harriers in whose colours he won the North of Scotland Cross-Country Championship in 1960 and 1961.   He is best known however for the running that he did as a member of the very good Glasgow University team of the early 1960’s which set records and won medals in events that had not previously been within the grasp of student teams.   Individually he won championships and medals at University (Scottish and British)  and National (track, road and cross-country)  levels as well as representing Scotland in the ICCU Championships.        In his centenary history of the SCCU Colin Shields spoke of Callum as “the best distance runner produced by any university to date.”   He was certainly a talented athlete who was respected throughout the country.

With a 1936 birth date, Callum was a bit older than the other members of that Hares & Hounds squad.   One of his team mates thinks back: “He was a quiet, reserved kind of guy who was good to be around.   He was a hard trainer and a hard racer.   In the 1962 Edinburgh to Glasgow he took GU from 4th to 1st on the second leg with the fastest time after a fierce tussle with Cambridge “blue” AIC Heron representing Edinburgh Southern Harriers.  Also in 1962 he broke his own course record at Aberdeen Uni beating Alistair Wood and Steve Taylor of Aberdeen AAC.    At that time he held the course record for 3 of the 4 University courses.   His nickname was Methuselah which reflected the fact that he was older than most of us.   In 1962 he broke the lap record for the Perth North Inch Relays (Alistair Wood did the same time that day)”   


He is first mentioned as a University team member in November 1958 when he ran on the second Leg  of the Edinburgh to Glasgow Relay.   Like many first timers exposed to the pressures and exuberance on the day. it was not his best race:  he dropped from 13th to 16th.   Nevertheless he ran well enough to be awarded first team colours at the AGM at the end of the year.

On the track in summer 1959 the University distance scene was dominated by Adrian Jackson with Stan Horn being the Glasgow hot-shot for much of the time.  There was little opportunity for a new runner on the scene to make an impact but by the end of the year, Laing was ranked nationally for the first time, his best Three Miles time being 14:47.5  which placed him 19th.   The North of Scotland District of the SCCU was just getting itself organised and there are few results available from that time but we do know that he won the North of Scotland Senior Cross-Country Championships in 1960 and that he ran in the Scottish National Cross Country Championship where he was fifty second finisher although Inverness had no team competing.   

Later that year he was out in the first of the winter championships which was the District Relay Championships on 5th November.   This time it was the Midland District Relay where he ran on the first stage for the Glasgow team that was eighth.   Then on the third Sunday of the month he ran on the second stage of the prestigious second stage of the  Edinburgh to Glasgow Relay.   The team was third and Callum was second fastest on the stage being only 5 sec down on internationalist Joe Connolly of Bellahouston Harriers.   Athletics Weekly simply said “Glasgow University came up from 12th to 4th thanks to a grand effort of 29:51 by C Laing.”   The season continued into 1961 and Callum started the year by  winning the Inter-Universities Cross Country match in Aberdeen.  He returned a month later to win the North of Scotland CC Championship.   He then added the Scottish Universities CC title and on 21st January he was tenth in the Midland championship with the University team third.   Unfortunately for some reason the Hares & Hounds had no team in the National Championship but Callum ran and finished 35th.  

At the Hares & Hounds AGM in March 1961 captain Douglas Gifford sun the praises of the club but of none more than Callum Laing.   What follows is a direct quote from his remarks: 

The Captain (Douglas Gifford) began his report by saying that the past year had been one of both remarkable success and failure. The Team Trials had been characterized by Calum Laing’s admirable running. He had been undefeated in inter-University competition, and had also won the North of Scotland Cross Country Championship. The Irish tour had been excellent; the Hares and Hounds had been treated exceptionally well by their hosts. Thirty four runners had taken part in the six-odd mile race in Belfast, which started at King’s Bridge, and went via Newforge Lane, Barnett’s Park and the Tow Path to Strathmillis. Calum Laing was first in 34min 53sec, Douglas Gifford second in 4min 55sec, J. Gray third in 35min 13sec, Stuart Hunter fourth in 35min 26sec and Jim Bogan fifth in 36 min 00 sec. Calum Laing also led his Team home in the race against Trinity College(Dublin). In other inter-University competition St Andrew’s and Aberdeen had been beaten comparatively easily by the Hares and Hounds,but Edinburgh had regained their  strength to win the Scottish Universities’ Cross Country Championship.
“IntheEdinburgh-GlasgowRelayeveryonehadruntheirheartsoutandtheTeamhadfinishedthirdtheir best ever position in a time of 3 hr 50 min 24sec.”
Calum Laing had done the second fastest time on the second stage (29min 51sec) and brought the Team up from 13th to fourth place. In the Midland District Relay Championship the Hares and Hounds also came third behind Shettleston and Victoria Park in the Senior event, and this the day after the GUAC Ball too!   Calum Laing finished fifth in 14min 04sec. John Gray taking over, dropped two places to do a time of 15min 14sec, but this was made up by Jim Bogan (14min 45sec). Dic kHartley took over and returned a creditable time of 15min 34sec. The SUSF Championship had taken place in perfect weather.   Calum Laing and the Aberdeen runner (J. Glennie) were neck and neck at the half way stage, but Calum won by 100 yards in 35min 28sec. Excellent individual performances throughout the season had come from Calum Laing and Dick Hartley (who were both awarded Blues) and from Jim Bogan, J. Gray, G. Hartley and Cameron Shepherd. “

At the AGM at the end of the season he was again awarded first team colours and it was noted that he had been undefeated in University competition in Scotland.   He had run  in the UAU Championships in England, though, where he had been unplaced.   

The winter season over, on 29th April, 1961, the Glasgow University v Edinburgh match for the Appleton Trophy was held at Craiglockhart.  The general agreement was that the performance of the meeting was that of Callum Laing in the Three Miles which he won in 14:44.4 which was 14.8 seconds faster than the Universities championship time of 1960.   Then on 5th May at the triangular fixture with St Andrews and Queens, Belfast,   he again won the Three Miles, this time in 15;01.5.   Came 13th May and he took 10.2 seconds from the Glasgow University record when he won the club championship in 14:51.2.   The Universities championship was held in Aberdeen on 5th June and Laing, after leading all the way, won the Three Miles in 14:37.2 which was a new meeting record.   By the end of the season, Callum Laing was ranked in four events at national level: 

Mile 4:22.8   19th;   Two Miles:  9:18.0   14th    Three Miles:  14:26.0   14th    Six Miles:  30:41.8   10th

In season 1961-62, the top Glasgow University men missed the District Relays at Stirling because they had a match at Garscadden, Glasgow, against St Andrews University which they won by 26 points to 56, providing six of the top seven runners.   Callum won the individual race by 68 seconds from Judge of St Andrews with Baillie, Hartley, Bogan, Gifford and McPhail in that order competing the team.   He then ran on the second stage of the Edinburgh to Glasgow eight man relay race on 18th November and moved up from 15th to 12th  This time the team was 8th,   Callum was second fastest competitor- 56 seconds down on in-form Scottish internationalist John Linaker who had taken Motherwell up from 13th to second.   Callum was faster than Scottish internationalists Joe McGhee (Shettleston), Bertie Irving (Bellahouston) and Bobby Calderwood (VPAAC).   In the eyes of Athletics Weekly however, this merited only a brief “C. Laing (29:50) brought Glasgow Un. from 15th to 6th.”  The Championships season started with the new year and after winning the Universities Championship, he was , on  20th January, 11th in the Midland District Championship with the team finishing 4th.

In February, 1962, Callum ran in the British Universities Championships at Leeds where he finished second to Ron Hill.    He also had probably his best race of all those run over  the country while at University.  He was third in the National Cross Country Championships at Hamilton Race Course with the team finishing eighth.    Colin Shields described the race: Andy Brown started the National as favourite with two former champions Graham Everett and Alastair Wood also in the field of 300 runners.   The pace was set by 24 year old agricultural student Callum Laing studying at Glasgow University who was the best distance runner produced by any Scottish University to date.   At the two and a half mile marker Jim Alder who had previously competed in the Youth and Junior championship, displayed the great improvement in form that he had made and went into the lead.   He held off an attempt by Brown to take the lead at half distance and raced away to win hs first Scottish title by 70 yards  from Brown, with Laing taking a surprising but well deserved third place, having already gained second place in the British Universities championships.”   This gained him  International selection for the ICCU championships at Graves Park in Sheffield where he was  37th and a counting member of the Scottish team.    He was also, with this selection, the first member of Inverness Harriers to win international selection.     The Captain’s report at the AGM said that “Calum Laing, as always, had been his usual devastating self, winning all the Inter-University races. ”   He was also awarded his first team colours as, indeed, he was in virtually every year he competed.

At the start of the track racing in 1962 Fergus Murray of Edinburgh was the man who took the University distance running events by storm and he went on to be a Olympian at the Tokyo Games in 1964.  In the Glasgow University championships on 12th May, Laing won both Mile and Three Miles – in the former he took 8.8 seconds from his best championship time with 4:18.1 and in the latter his time was 14:42.3 which took 9.2 seconds from his own championship record.   He won the Mile against Aberdeen a week later with team mate Allan Faulds winning the Three.   A week later at the District Championships he won the Three Miles as well as the Six Miles – the former in 14:01.5 from Mike Ryan of St Modan’s and the latter in 30:27.1.      Came the SAAA Championships and he came away with two medals  one for  3rd in the Three Miles (14:25.6) and the first place in the Six. Miles  (29:53.8).   He competed for Scotland on 30th June at Celtic Park, Belfast, in the Three Miles where he was five seconds and three places behind the winner, Bertie Messitt of Ireland with Scotland’s other representative, Steve Taylor, third.   By the end of the season, he was ranked in the same four events as in 1961 : Mile:  4:15.3  12th   Two Miles:  9:12.4   8th   Three Miles:  14:01.6   4th;   Six Miles:  29:53.8   3rd          


Then it was into the winter road and cross country season with the first championship relay being the District championships where he was the first leg runner for the University in the race, held on 2/11/62.  Fastest team runner, he saw the team finish a good 5th.   That was followed two weeks later by the eight stage Edinburgh to Glasgow where he ran on the very difficult six miles of the second stage.  He was up to the challenge and moved the team from fourth up to first.   The team won the bronze medals for third place – the first medals ever won by a University team in the race.  His time was 29:07 – 10 seconds quicker than Heron with Donald Macgregor of St Andrews University the only other runner under 30 minutes.  “AW” reported Laing (GU) soon went to the front and got away on the last mile to to hand over 25 yards clear of Heron ((ES) who was 2 min. 17 sec. ahead of Summerhill (Shett.) with Vic. Park. and Aberdeen 4th and 5th.”    If we return to the championship races, he was ninth, and second Hares & Hounds man three places behind Allan Faulds, in the West District championship in January in which the team finished second.   It was a good winter for Laing and in the National at Hamilton Park, with the team seventh,  he was eighth to gain selection for the International Cross-Country Association match.    Callum again won selection for the International CCU Championships at San Sebastian where he finished 63rd  and was a scoring runner for the national squad.   

At the Hares & Hounds AGM in March 1963, the captain, Cameron Shepherd, bean his report :

 “by listing the Captain’s (Calum Laing) successes during the season.   Calum had also been elected Captain of the Scottish Universities’ Team, and had yet again been unbeaten in any of the inter-’varsity races in which he had participated.  He now held three of the four records for the Scottish Universities’ courses,and was winner of his leg in the Edinburgh to Glasgow Relay i n which, for only the second time, the Hares and Hounds came third, in a time of 3hr 48min 35sec. The race had been held over a wind-swept and snow-covered course. Glasgow University’s complete Team was Dick Hartley (27min 38ecs), Calum Laing (29min 07sec), Jim Bogan ( 22min 21sec), Douglas Gifford (30min 14sec), Ray Baillie (28min 50sec), Alan Faulds (34min 33sec), Cameron Shepherd (29min 21sec), and L. Scott (26min 31sec). Calum had finished eighth in both the UAU Race and the Scottish National Cross Country Championship. Finally he was to be congratulated upon winning a place in the Scottish National Team due to compete in the International Cross Country Championship that would be held in San Sebastian.”

On the track in 1963, Callum started with a second place in the Three Miles at the Appleton Trophy meeting behind Martin Craven with Allan Faulds in third on a day of strong winds which, combined with a soft track, made for slow times.   On 11th May he again won the University Three Miles in a slow 15:06.   The Scottish Universities championships were held in Glasgow on 1st June and the Three Miles was won by Martin Craven from Fergus Murray with Callum Laing in third.   By the end of summer, 1963, he was ranked in two events: 

1963:  Two Miles:  9:28,8  27th   Three Miles:  14:26.4   15th

With no Hares & Hounds team in the first 12 of the District Relays in 1963,   the first race of consequence was the Edinburgh to Glasgow where Callum was again on the second stage.   Again he lifted the club – this time from 11th to 7th for the team that was 6th.   He himself was fifth fastest on the stage where although he was behind such as Graham Everett, Fergus Murray, AIC Heron and Mel Edwards he still recorded a faster time than Ian McCafferty, and Craig Douglas.    He won the Scottish  Universities CC Championship for the third time and in the National he had a first rate run to finish eighth..   The team was fourth to finish with on;y ESH, Aberdeen AAC and Motherwell YMCA in front of them.   

On 2nd May, 1964 in the triangular match between Glasgow, St Andrews and Queens, Laing won the Three Miles and one week later won the Glasgow championship Three Miles from Brian Scobie.   He did not compete as much that summer but at the end of the year was again ranked in both Two and Three Miles:   Two Miles:  9:21.0  24th   Three Miles   14:34.0   18th 


At this point, having finished his University degree, he joined Victoria Park AAC and turned out for them in several races over the next three years, but was not seen anything like as often as before.   His running was as good as ever and he helped the club, and himself, to several medals.   He was, along with Ian Binnie, Joe Reilly, Pat McLagan, Hugh Barrow, Des Austin and Alistair Johnston a member of the team that was third in the Edinburgh to Glasgow in 1965.   He had a relief from the second stage this time and ran the second fastest time on the fifth stage only 7 seconds down on Frank Gamwell of Edinburgh University but again received scant praise from “AW”: Frank Gamwell with fastest time of 27:03 took Edinburgh Univ. into the lead with Callum Laing (27:10) next for Victoria Park.”   .  In the National in 1966, he was down in 32nd position but was part of the team that finished second and won a silver medal.    The last notable run that we can find for him before he left Glasgow,  was in the 1968 Edinburgh to Glasgow Relay where he held on to fourth place on the eighth stage.

There is no doubt whatsoever that Callum Laing was an outstanding runner who turned in some very good race results indeed.   His times were good but he was more of a racer than a time triallist – probably best shown by some of his races on the exceedingly hard fought second stage of the Edinburgh to Glasgow.   There is however a lingering suspicion that he could have been even better ….


Callum, now 81, with grandson Innes, who is also a runner, at the parkrun in Alness.






Hammy Cox and The Selectors

Hammy Cox, Alex Gilmour and Graham Crawford

Hammy Cox was a very talented athlete who defeated almost every runner of quality in Scotland at one time or another.   His father Bertie ran for Greenock Glenpark and was a respected member of the Scottish Marathon Club and his daughter Jill was a Scottish champion and internationalist in her own right.    Hammy however always called it as he saw it.   If you wanted to hush up any injustice, Hammy was never your man.   

It was 1991 and the West District Championships.   Tommy Murray of Glenpark Harriers after being entered by that club for the race, had resigned and joined Cambuslang Harriers.   He refused to wear a Glenpark vest, had not been entered by Cambuslang and so wore a neutral vest.   He also won the race and was disqualified.   It meant that Alaister Russell who was second was moved up to first – a position he was reluctant to accept because he was beaten fair and square by Murray.   Hammy had been third, was unhappy with Tommy’s dq and said so, refusing to accept his medal.   

It had been a good year so far for Hammy who had been second to John Sherban in the Nigel Barge Road Race and then won the Jimmy Flockhart Memorial Cross-Country race at Coatbridge. However none of his hoped for Scottish selections had come to pass, mainly I suppose because he ran mainly on the road. The March 1991 issue of the “Scotland’s Runner” carried this under the headline “Cox Snubs Officials.” Despite heaping abuse on Scottish Cross-Country Union officials, the confused Greenock Glenpark runner Hammy Cox was offered an olive branch then snubbed them again! Cox, citing his road form, had ranted at international team manager Jim Scarbrough and his fellow selectors when he was passed over for national cross-country teams this winter. He stated categorically that he would not compete again for Scotland. A week later he complained that the selectors had the nerve to believe this when they read it in the papers. “They should have checked with me,” he said.

Then, after having finished third in the West District Championships behind Tommy Murray (later disqualified) and Alaister Russell, he yelled at Scarbrough, “You couldn’t pick your nose!” He declined to accept his medal. “I wouldn’t shake hands with any of that lot,” he said. But he confided he wouldn’t mind running in the Inter-County Championships. “I can get plenty of road races on my own but I need to be selected by Scotland to run in the Inter-Counties,” he told me.

All credit to the long-suffering Jim Scarbrough – when he heard this, he phoned Cox and offered him a place. You’ve guessed it, Cox turned him down!

Just to confirm their good faith, Cox was named as a reserve for the Scottish squad which competed in the UK trial for the World Championships. “

In the National at Irvine on 24th February Hammy had one of his best cross-country races and finished fourth. Doug Gillon in the “Scotland’s Runner” for April 1991 commented as follows: “In fourth place Hammy Cox, passed over by Scotland this winter, cocked a gleeful snook at the selectors as he pointed out that several of the men preferred to him had finished in his wake. “

Hammy went on to have a superb career in athletics as a distance runner, maybe especially as a road runner and outstanding marathon man.   You really should read his profile at the link above.  


Jim Brown’s McAndrew

It is difficult to tell people nowadays just how good Jim Brown was as a Junior Man.   He was a very good Youth runner and a top class Senior of British International standard.   But as a Junior he took the Scottish cross-country world by storm.   You would think that having seen him come up through the ranks with Ronnie McDonald, everyone would know what he could do.   Having started his career at Bellshill YMCA he had become friends with Ronnie who ran for Monkland Harriers and they were both coached by Tommy Callaghan of Monkland.   Since the latter club had a good senior squad it made sense for young Jim to join that club.   

He started the winter in the traditional manner: an outing in the McAndrew Relay Race hosted by Victoria Park at Scotstoun.   All the very best runners turned out at this, the first race of the winter.   track men upped their distance for it, road runners sharpened their pace.  All the way down the field there were personal duels being fought and for just about every runner in the race it was eyeballs out all the way.   It was on the first Saturday in October over a well known trail and in 1970 Jim Brown toed the starting line for Monkland Harriers.   At the end of the stage he led the field home, well clear of the Shettleston Harrier who followed him in.   Not only that, he had the fastest time of day being faster than Lachie Stewart (Commonwealth Games 10000m runner, Norman Morrison, Donald Macgregor, Jim Dingwall, Hugh Barrow, Gareth Bryan-Jones, etc, etc.   But there was a wee snag.   In the words of the Glasgow Herald:

The revelation of the day was the run by 18-year-old Jim Brown the former Bellshill YMCA member who has moved to Monkland Harriers. That change of club however automatically brings a 14-month suspension from team competitions on an individual, and Brown’s time is nowhere near served. And so, despite leading home a record field of 83 runners on the first leg and unbelievably finishing up the fastest man in the whole race, Brown was rightly discarded from the official results and his team disqualified. Nevertheless this cannot detract from his great run.” Jim had gone straight to the front and handed over 30 yards up on Norman Morrison, his final time was two seconds quicker than Don Macgregor who received the award.

Team race result: 1.   Shettleston Harriers;  2.  Victoria Park;  3.   Edinburgh University;   4.  Clydesdale Harriers;   5.  Springburn Harriers.   Monkland was nowhere to be seen.   

But he had laid down a marker: no one would get an easy race when the boy from Bellshill was around.  An example?   The Glasgow University Road race: 

“Jim Brown, the Monkland teenager who shook all of us six weeks ago by running the fastest time in the McAndrew Relay, came back on Saturday in the Willie Diverty Memorial Road Race with a reminder that his initial claim for attention was no seven-day wonder. The eight-stone stripling with the broad Lanarkshire accent audaciously forced the pace against the world-travelled schoolmaster from Fettes College, Fergus Murray, ten years his senior, as the pair of them battled over the closing stages they presented a picture of two runners poles apart in so many departments. For anyone looking for a fairy-tale ending there was a disappointment. Murray controlled matters over the last three-quarters of a mile of the five mile course and entered the gates of Westerlands having at last subdued this youngster at his heels. The Edinburgh man completed one lap of the track finishing in 24 minutes 41 seconds which takes an enormous 35 seconds off Lachie Stewart’s record of three years ago. Brown was a mere three seconds behind in recording his most satisfying performance since taking up the sport. Afterwards he said he hadn’t expected to beat his more experienced opponent but was delighted at having come so near.

Brown had arrived!


First World War : 1914 – 1918

Competitors in the Clydesdale Harriers Club Novice Championship, 1913.   How many of these fought in the War

There are probably more books, poems and songs about and dating from this conflict than from any other.   The whole country was involved with men who stayed at home were given white feathers of cowardice by strangers in the street, when men were slaughtered in tens of thousands.   But most of the information is out there for anyone who really wants the facts, the details.   Sportsmen were of course swept up in the jingoism like any others were.   The contribution from football is written up in the book about McCrae’s Battalion which was mainly composed of football players from Hearts, Raith Rovers, Falkirk, Hibernian, East Fife and Dunfermline.   The contribution from Scottish athletics and harrier clubs is less well known.   Individual athletes from just about every club in the land volunteered to play their part in the War.   And they did so in great numbers – for instance 30 members of Teviotdale Harriers from a total membership of 140 enlisted.   The biggest club in Scotland was Clydesdale and many joined up.   Just look at this note from the ‘Evening Times’.   A total of 70 club members who had enlisted, and it should be noted that this is not at all an exhaustive list: other club men such as Duncan McPhee enlisted or were conscripted and saw service abroad.   We do not know how many of those below died – we know some of them: Wilfred Cramb in 1917, JM Mitchell, also in 1917 and one of the saddest was Harold Servant who had been joint club secretary with Tom Erskine at the start of the war.   Servant had been taken prisoner in Salonika, became very ill and died in Holland on the way home on 3rd January, 1919.    He had survived the war but died from the epidemic of Spanish flu that swept through the armed forces from September 1018.   The flu was a worldwide pandemic and is estimated to have killed 100 million people world wide including 250,000 in Britain where it infected approx a quarter of the British population.

I would like to draw your attention to three names in the middle of the list – Lieutenant James Erskine, 7th Gordon Highlanders, and his two sons, Lieut.  Thomas Barrie Erskine, 1st Gordon Highlanders, and Lieut Ralph Erskine, Royal Scots Fusiliers.   Note also the date of the list – 21st August 1915 – and then look down the list and note that four of them had already been killed in action, including Tom.   The Erskine family tragedy typifies and maybe magnifies the kind of tragedy that befell many a family across the country.    After hostilities had broken out, at the Clydesdale Harriers Committee Meeting held on 5th September 1914, the final item on the Agenda was the paragraph:   “At this stage in the meeting, and before the election of office bearers for the new season, Mr James Erskine moved the adjournment of the meeting sine die, and also that we recommend to the SCCU that there be no cross-country running meantime.   This was duly recorded.”

James Erskine

James Erskine  grew up in Glasgow and by the age of 16 was working as a stockbroker’s clerk. In 1887 he married Janet Barrie.   James and Jenny  had 5 children. Their first child, also called James, was born in 1888  but tragically died of  pneumonia and peritonitis in 1894 a few days before what would have been his 6th birthday. There followed two more boys, Thomas Barrie Erskine (born 1889) and Ralph (born 1893) before in 1895, they had a daughter, Margaret Strachan Erskine. Sadly, as was commonplace then, Margaret too became an infant mortality statistic, dying of tubercular meningitis the following year.   James and Jenny’s final child Nancy was born in 1897, but there was another tragedy to follow. When Nancy was only four, her mother Jenny died of consumption. James was now a widower with three surviving children,– Tommy, Ralph and Nancy.   

James was a founder member of Clydesdale Harriers when they started up in May 1885.   His business as an insurance salesman was doing well enough to advertise via a full page in the Harriers Handbook.   James was on the club committee from the start and in 1888/89 was club secretary and also a District Leader for Number  One District (Dennistoun, Camlachie Rutherglen), as well as being on several sub-committees: Business Committee, Advising Board, and Headquarters Representative to the South Lanarkshire Section.   He remained secretary until 1890/91 when Andrew Dick took over the position.   He did some track running and won prizes – 4 in 1989.   He took a step back at this point, probably because of the family situation.   James had been born in 1888, Ralph in 1893, Margaret in 1895 and Nancy in 1897.    

The boys in their turn joined the Harriers with Tom becoming joint club secretary with Harold Servant, who was to die at the end of the War after serving in the RMLI.   He was also a runner who ran well in club teams and in August 1914 was a competitor at the Rangers Sports in August in the invitation 1000 yards race.   

Ralph was much less of a committee man but an outstanding natural sportsman.   Second in the SAAA 880 yards championship twice and world lightweight boxing champion – a title he won in New York – he was a very successful sportsman indeed when the War started.

Tom was in the Gordon Highlanders and kept a diary of his life as a serviceman, and extracts from this can be found at the family website, page 

Tommy Erskine’s Diary (22): 24 March 1915 – Back in the trenches – Many Casualties at Neuve Chapelle

from which this short extract has been taken: 

“We went back to a support farm on Sunday 4 pm & returned to the firing line last night, so that of the last 10 days we have spent only 2 in billets. There is no prospect of a relief yet – there doesn’t seem to be a battalion to take our place here at present. We go back to reserve farm tomorrow night, and after 2 days there we will return again to the firing line unless the batt is relieved. I hope they’ll give us a longer spell in billets when it does come – we’re ready for a rest now. This is the longest spell in the trenches the batt has had since Ypres.

I have here a paper of 22nd inst. giving another list of casualties of Nueve Chapelle. Our 2nd batt has lost most of its officers including its Colonel. Poor Tommy Letters* the cheery clever fellow of Glasgow University, whom Ralph & I often spoke about, is reported ‘missing, believed killed’. It’s terrible. Capt Halliswell HLI (Highland Light Infantry) is wounded. I wonder if Charlie Mylles got through it. It’s a piece of pure good fortune that our Batt didn’t happen to be in this show. There were 517 casualties among officers alone.

The Germans yesterday put a rifle grenade into the trench on our right, killing 1 officer & wounding 6 men – of the Suffolk Regiment. I hope my grenades have accounted for a good many of the enemy.”

Tommy was a highly regarded by all in the Army and in July 1915 was awarded the Military Cross – the third highest medal available to a serving soldier.   He was killed six days later.    You can read more about Tommy at  this link.

Like Tom, Ralph had been a pupil at Allan Glen’s School as was his brother. He was a gifted athlete and boxer, featherweight boxing champion of the world at age 17. Sporting success reported at the time included the Public Schools’ Boxing Championship of England in 1911, and the Feather-weight Amateur Championship of Scotland in 1912.   He also won the European championship at Paris. In May 1911 Ralph sailed to New York for a fight for the (unofficial) Amateur World Featherweight Title. He fought at the famous National Sporting Club on 27th May 1911 and the following day the New York Times reported: “The star of the lot was Ralph Erskine, the 17 year old boy who fights in the 125 pound class. He fought Alfred Roffe, the Canadian champion, and simply toyed with his opponent all through the three rounds. He had all the actions of an experienced performer and the speed of a Jem Driscoll”. He easily outpointed Roffe.”   As a runner he won many a race and was twice silver medal winner at the SAAA Championships and ran for Scotland in the triangular international against England and Ireland.   When war broke out in 1914 Erskine, a medical student at Glasgow University, was an athletics blue and had served as sports secretary and secretary of the athletics section. On a hiking holiday in Arran with his friend Charles Higgins when war broke out and they immediately headed back to Glasgow to join up. Ralph was given a Commission in the Royal Scots Fusiliers, and, having landed at Boulogne on 9th July 1915, he was promoted to Captain and after some heavy fighting in France, fought in the Battle of Loos (25 September – 18 October 1915).   In December 1915 Ralph relinquished the temporary rank of Captain, and joined the Royal Flying Corps, forerunner of the RAF (first spending some time with the Australian Forces Royal Flying Corps, probably for training).   After getting his “wings” Ralph returned to France with 66 Squadron of the Royal Flying Corps from 22nd September 1917 as a pilot. He was flying a Sopwith Camel, B6414.

Ralph was killed at the age of 25 when his aircraft was shot down in Northern Italy – the first British airman to fall there. “Force-landed in front line trenches near Flers. Aircraft destroyed by artillery fire.” According to information in a later family letter, he didn’t have a parachute. He was wounded in the leg, but died in captivity on 1 January 1918 and was buried at the British military cemetery in Tezze, near Venice.   If youwant to read more about Ralph, follow this link

Ralph and Lennie on their wedding day, March 1917
with James Erskine (left)

It was a tragedy the likes of which we can never even imagine for James.   His wife and four of his five children had died and to multiply the horror of the situation he had to inform his remaining child, daughter Nancy, and the letter doing so read as follows:

My dear wee Nancy,

I have just received bad news from Lennie’s father. He has been told unofficially that a message has come through Copenhagen stating that a Captain Erskine and another RFC officer (whose name is illegible) were killed and buried together.

I know you will be deeply grieved – what can we do or say.

My heart us sold for Lennie and for you (who both loved him so dearly). I hope you will be able to comfort each other from the depth of your great sorrow. For me – ‘the rest is silence’.

Your always loving



The Minute of the Clydesdale Harriers Annual General Meeting, the first since James Erskine moved suspension of activities in 1919, read:

“There was a splendid turnout at the annual meeting (adjourned since September 1914) of the Clydesdale Harriers. Owing to illness the club president, Mr William Gardiner, was unable to take the chair, and this duty was undertaken by Mr M.F. Dickson, an ex-president.

“Office Bearers were elected as follows:- Honorary Presidents: MF Dickson, Captain James Erskine, J.C. Lawson and Charles Pennycook. President: William Gardiner. Vice President: Lieut James Lamond; Joint Secretaries: Alexander McGregor and James Findlay; Treasurer: George Reid; Captain: William Ross; Vice Captain: Frank McCormack. It is noteworthy that three of the original members of the club – started 35 years ago – were present at the meeting, and still take an active part in the management of the club.”

James Erskine was present and elected Honorary President.   Small Consolation for his massive losses.  Nor was the support of athletes for the war restricted to Scotland – all countries provided fit young men for the colours,   The Dublin club of  Clonliffe Harriers History lists 57 members (four who were KIA) who fought in the War.   One of them at Neuve Chappelle (see TB Erskine’s Diary)

When you hear of the sportsmen killed in the War, think by all means of McCrae’s Battalion, but think also of all the Harriers of all clubs who were lost.   All are equally deserving of our memories.

Cross-Country Contretemps

The Scottish National Cross Country championship has been contested since 1886 when it was won by AP Findlay of Clydesdale Harriers.   The International Cross-Country Championships dates from 1905 when it was restricted to the one wee corner of Europe but from the start there have been quibbles about selection or choice of venue or some other feature of the championships.   Some of these will be noted here – for a start we have the disgraceful decision about a venue and the treatment of two runners from one club.

[1978 International Cross-Country Championships venue  ] [ the Cambuslang Two. ]  [Jim Brown’s McAndrew ]  [ Hammy Cox and the selectors ]  [  ]