Helenvale, 1924 – 1939

Glasgow Corporation Tramways were formerly one of the largest urban tramway systems in Europe. Over 1000 municipally-owned trams served the city of Glasgow, Scotland with over 100 route miles by 1922. The system closed in 1962 and was the last city tramway in Great Britain.   Like many employers of the time, they organised many clubs for their employees but particularly sports clubs.   The number of firms having sports clubs for their staff and hosting sports meetings was large – Singer’s Sports in Clydebank, Dirrand Sports at Kilwinning and Babcock & Wilcox at Renfrew were all good examples.   The ‘Transport Sports’ was one of the biggest and longest lasting.   

The Glasgow Tramways Sports took place at Helenvale Park on 30th June 1925, and the ‘Glasgow Herald’ for the following day read as follows.   

The fifth annual sports meeting of the Glasgow Tramways Athletic Club were held last night at Helenvale Park in dull weather and before a crowd estimated to number 3000.   The principal attraction was a team from Surrey AC who opposed several home clubs in a relay race over a mile.   DR Griffiths ran well in this event covering the half-mile in 1 min 58 sec and giving his second man a lead of nearly 30 yards, which the others maintained to the tape.   The West of Scotland team ran well, but were outclassed by the visitors.   The time, 3 min 37 3-5th sec is over two seconds better than that accomplished by the Edinburgh team in the relay race at the Queen’s Park recent meeting.   FW Brooker ran  finely in the open sprint winning from 1 1/2 yards in 10 1-5th sec, although T McLean, Glasgow Rover Scouts, gave him a hard time in the dash and was only beaten by inches.   During the meeting a display of physical exercises were given by recruits from the HLI Depot at Maryhill.   Mrs Dalrymple, wife of the general manager, presented the prizes to the successful competitors.” 

Events contested included confined competitions over 100 yards, 220 yards, quarter mile, mile, one mile relay (won by Car Works from the Paisley Section in 4 min 03 sec), five a side football (won by Dlmarnock No 1 from Paisley No 1) and tug o’war; and open competitions over 100, 220, half-mile, mile, mile relay, and five-a-side contest (Celtic beat Partick Thistle 2-0).    

It said that it was the fifth annual version of the sports but unfortunately none of the first four were reported in either the ‘Glasgow Herald’ or ‘The Scotsman’.   They were always held on the Tuesday after the SAAA Championships and possibly the hope and expectation was that there would be a carry over from that event on to possible fast times on what was acknowledged to be a fast cinder track.

 No report has yet been found for the meeting probably held on Tuesday 29th June 1926, however the meeting on 28th June 1927 was reported in the Glasgow Herald the following day.   

“The annual sports meetings of the Glasgow Corporation Tranways AC was held last night at Helenvale Park before an attendance of 6000 spectators.   The principal events were the one mile relay in which teams from Surrey AC and Birchfield Harriers took part, an invitation 220 yards handicap and a 600 yards handicap, specially framed to give CE Griffith an opportunity of lowering the Scottish all-comers record of 1 min 11 4-5th sec.   The relay race proved an interesting struggle between the two English teams, and in the end Birchfield just secured the victory from their Southern rivals.   Houghton ran a good race against Griffiths and the Welshman only managed to steal three yards, an advantage which was wiped out when AW Greeen took over for the final furlong.   TR Jones, the ex-Army champion, who had previously won the invitation 220 yards  put up a good fight but was beaten by a yard.

In his attempt on Lt Halswell’s Scottish all-comers record of 1 min 11 3-5th sec, Cecil Griffiths was opposed by a good field, which included H Houghton, Birchfield Harriers, and JD Hope, Scottish half-mile champion.   The Welshman ran well enough but did not appear likely to touch the figures, but he finished two yards behind JD Hope in 1 min 14 3-5th sec.”

In a shorter programme than in the previous year Springburn, Bellahouston and Garscube Harriers were the most successful clubs.   There was a five-a-side football match here again in which a Rangers side of Meiklejohn, Gray, Fleming, McPhail and Marshall defeated a Celtic team of McInally, McColgan, Donoghue, McMenemy and Connolly 1 – 0.  

In 1928, the meeting was reported better in the Edinburgh based ‘The Scotsman’ than in the local ‘Glasgow Record.   Held on 26th June, the headline was “Well Known Runners Compete” – they must have been well-known since the paper did not usually cover mid week Glasgow events.   

Birchfield and Surrey were again up in numbers and the four named right at the start – Cyril Ellis, Cecil Griffiths, JR Langridge and H Houghton – were all international standard athletes.   Toeing the line at the start of the relay D MacLean (Maryhill) was side by side with Griffiths and Ellis but although leading at the bell, he was third at the changeover behind Griffiths (leading) and Ellis.   Birchfield won from Surrey with the West of Scotland Select third.   Griffiths was reported to have run well in the special 600 yards but TJ McAllister of Beith (who had run on one of the short legs of the relay) won in 71 1-5th sec.   The special mile was possiboy the most interesting race of the evening.   Donald MacLean off 20 yards, went out to break the Scottish native record of 4 min 21 sec.  Starting with Ellis behind him, he took the bell in   4 min 20 sec in the lead, 15 yards up on Sammy Tombe (Plebeians).   Covering the full distance his time was 4 min 23 1-5th sec.   Reports were that the track was not in good condition that night which maybe contributed to the time.   In dull weather and in front of a good crowd it was another successful meeting.  Generations of Scottish meeting organisers knew Walter Lawn as the man whose firm printed the numbers and programmes for meetings the length and breadth of the land.   Not many knew that he had been a good sprinter in his day and at this meeting he was third in the invitation 220 yards. 


No reports on the 1929 meeting have surfaced yet but on 1st July, 1930, the headlines were all for Cyril Ellis of Birchfield.   The report in the ‘Glasgow Herald’ started: The annual sports meeting of the Glasgow Corporation Tramways Department was held last night at Helenvale Park in front of 15000 spectators.   The chief event on the programme was the half-mile handicap specially framed to give Cyril Ellis an opportunity of creating a new Scottish record.   Ellis ran well, although only finihing fifth to J Hood (Shettleston) and returned 1 min 56 2-5th sec which equalled the record by DL Mason, the Australian, at Celtic Sports in 1919.   In the 1 1/2 miles team race, won by Birchfield Harriers, WH Calderwood ran one of his best races, his time, 6 min 43 4-5th sec, being only 2-5th slower than the Scottish record.   He defeated R Sutherland, the four miles champion, by a good five yards.   Jack London, HM Hodge, J Crawford and Ian Borland ran in the 120 yards handicap but neither of them survived their Heats.   In the 75 yards dash, London had all the best of the start and led at hald distance, but weakened and was beaten by both Crawford and Hodge.”   

The programme contained a 75 yards dash, 100 yards open, 100 yards youths, 120 yards invitation, 220 yards open, Half mile open, half mile invitation, Mile (first class), Mile (second class), one and a half mile team race, three cycle races and a five a side which was won by Partick Thistle over Clyde FC.   After a drawn game (1 – 1) the winner was decided by tossing a coin.

Ellis was a very good runner indeed – he ran in two Olympic Games. 1924 and 1928, won the AAA’s Mile three times, ’27, ’28, ’29 and ’29 also won the 880y title.   Griffiths was a bit more colourful:a Welshman, he won gold at the 1920 Olympics but was then barred from the 1924 Olympics as he was said to have competed in 2 races in 1917 (when he was 17 years old) as a professional.   It was interesting that athletes of that calibre should be competing on a small track beside the local runners.   It may also explain why the attendances at the Tramway Sports went from 2000 up to over 15000.   

Cecil Griffiths    

28th June 1932, was the date for the meeting to have the biggest crowd so far at Helenvale: 18000 spectators favoured the meeting at which there were not only international cycle races but some of the best of Scots athletes – MacLean, Blakely, Calderwood, Tombe – and even some runners from the local Shawfield Harriers as well, of course, of the Bellahouston and Shettleston runners from the south of the city.   The report started – 

“The twelfth annual sports meeting of the Glasgow Transport AC was held at Helenvale Park last night in dull weather and in front of 18000 spectators.   The sport throughout was excellent and fast times were recorded.   T Blakely, the new Scottish four miles record holder, ran well in the two miles and recorded an easy victory over SK Tombe and WH Calderwood, who however had a great tussle for second place.   Blakely’s time of 9 min 31 4-5th sec was only 4-5th sec outside D MacLean’s Scottish record.   The cycle racing was the best seen in Glasgow for a long time.   The brothers Wyld won the 1000 yards, half mile, and 8 laps pursuit race between them, but RJ Donnelly, the Irishman, put in a great tussle to win the two miles.   N Stone of Glasgow University ran well to win the 120 yards, and the students team, a strong one, won the relay race easily.   J Strathdee of Shawfield secured a double in the open sprints and in each instance, his winning margin was a large one.”

Principal Track Results:

100 yards:  JC Strathdee (Shawfield 9 1/2 yards)  10 sec;  220: JC Strathdee (19)  23 1-5th sec

120 invitation: N Stone (GUAC 4) 11 4-5th;    880 open: W Cumming (Bellahouston  43 yards)  1 min 52;

880 women invitation: N Aitken (Shettleston 44 yards) 2: 23.  

One Mile (first) R Clark (Plebeian  65) 4 min 17 sec; Mile (second) J McDonald (St Peters 110)  4:19.0

Two Miles Team Race:  Individual: T Blakely.  Team: Maryhill (Blakely, Calderwood 3, Nelson 10) 14 pts

Two laps relay women:  EUAC  1:45 1-5th sec.   Two laps relay:  GUAC  1:26 3-5th sec

There have been references to the short laps at Helenvale at this time but this is the first time that the newspaper report indicated the distance – the two laps relay is quoted as being 704 yards, ie 352 yards per lap.  So an 880 would be 2 laps plus 176 yards.  When evaluating times on such a track, in addition to the short straights and bends, there would be a much bigger problem with the cinder track cutting up due to the relatively large number of extra laps having to be run.       

The report on the 27th June, 1933, reported that the crowd was a good one and numbered 15,000, that the sport was excellent and the finishing keen.   There were also some good cycle races but the report on the track mentioned some highlights:

“In the 1000 yards flat, JP Laidlaw ran into third place in 2 min 18 4-5th sec – 2 4-5th outside Scottish record.   The conditions were not good as a strong wind was blowing from the west.   J Gifford, third to Tom Riddell in the SAAA Championship, won the Two Miles by a big margin, while JJ McDonald, the Youths half-mile champion, won one of the miles from 65 yards in fast time.”

Principal track results:   

100 yards:  R Ritchie (Springburn 9 yds) 10 1-5th; 120 invitation:  E Davie (Springburn 5 1/2y)  12 sec;  

220 yards: G Murray (Bella H  18)  22 3-5th;   Half Mile:  J Pirie (Monkland  50 yards)) 1:55 3-5th;  

1000 yards invitation: 1.  J Scott (Springburn  20 yards); 2.  J Hale (Banbridge AC 40);  3. JP Laidlaw (Edinburgh Northern  scr).   Time:  2 min 16 3-5th sec.

Mile (first): WA Struthers (Springburn  20 yards) 4:23 2-5th;

Mile (second) JJ McDonald (St Peter’s) 4 min 17 3-5th 

Two Miles Team:  1.  Plebeian Harriers (Rayne, Gunn, Tombe). Individual:  J Gifford (VPAAC) 

Four laps relay: 1.  GUAC;  2.  Springburn Harriers;  3.  Maryhill Harriers.   Time  1:27 4-5th

Jack Gifford, Victoria Park

After all the efforts made to set up a Scottish all-comers record by Griffiths and Ellis, when a record did come, it was made by a Scotsman running for a club from the east end of Glasgow.   On 3rd July, 1934, in front of 15,000 spectators Tom Riddell of Shettleston Harriers was the man.  

“A new Scottish native record in the 1000 yards was created by TM Riddell who clocked 2 min 14 3-5th sec for the distance – 1 2-5th sec faster than D McPhee’s record created in 1904.   This is the third Scottish record standing to his credit, the others being at three-quarters mile and the one mile.   It was an excellent race in which Riddell and C Whitehead, the AAA Champion, were on scratch and R Graham, the half-mile record holder, on 14 yards.   Graham ran magnificently to win by ten yards, and, running out the full distance, as also inside Scottish record, and only 1-5th sec behind Riddell’s time.   It was the best running he has done this year.   

In the 120 yards special, both R Murdoch and Ian Young qualified for the final.   The Scottish champion was not in sparkling form, but Young ran his usual excellent race and finished second.   Murdoch, however, ran well in the relay and earned Glasgow University an easy win.”  

Before looking at the main results from the track racing, note that White was outside the all-comers record for the 1000 yards by 4-5th of a second (White ran 2 min 14 2-5th sec).   In the two miles team race, Edinburgh Northern Harriers (JP Laidlaw  1, W Hinde  3,  H McIntosh  6) defeated Plebeian Harriers (McGregor  2, Tombe  5, Gunn  7) with Laidlaw’s winning time being 9:29.   The invitation 120 yards was won by T Pitcairn of Garscube Harriers, the invitation 4 lap relay was won by Glasgow University  (Bishop, Stone, Borland and Murdoch) and the handicap races were won by the men with the big handicaps.   

Tom Riddell

Helenvale got its first all-comers record on 30th June, 1936, and it was over a distance where the feat had been attempted more than once in the past.  The report: 

“Fifteen thousand spectators attended the  sixteenth annual Glasgow Transport AC Sports held at Helenvale Park last night.   JC Stothard (Atalanta) avenged his defeat by R Graham (Maryhill) in the Mile Championship on Saturday when setting up new Scottish all-comers and native records in the 1000 yards handicap.   Stothard allowed Graham to set the pace behind the long handicap men for almost half a mile, but just before the penultimate bend, the AAA half-mile champion made his effort, passed Graham in a terrific burst and drew away confidently to beta him by six yards in 2 min 13 3-10th sec.   This time lowers the all-comers record made by the famous American, Ray Dodge, at Rangers Sports in 1925 by 3-10th seconds.   Graham who also finished very strongly was 6-10th inside Dodge’s figures.   

More brilliant running was shown by DM Pearson (Glasgow University) the new SAAA furlong champion. At the last changeover in the invitation relay he was set to concede five yards to Charles Francis (Bellahouston Harriers) but, although his task seemed hopeless, he caught Francis entering the finishing straight and held on in a wonderful finish to win by inches.”  

There were four invitation races at the meeting: The 120 yards handicap, the 1000 yards, the 4 x half lap relay and the two miles team race .   In the two miles team race, Donald MacLean defeated his Maryhill Harriers team mate Emmet Farrell by inches in 9:34 and with W Nelson in 10th place they won the team race from Plebeian Harriers.   In the 120 yards, Harvey of Surrey AC defeated Clark of Surrey AC with Kennedy of Shettleston third.   In the five a side tournament, Celtic defeated Rangers by 1 goal and 2 corners to 1 goal, after two periods of extra time.   

JC Stothard

Stothard obviously liked the meeting because he was back on 29th June 1937 for another crack at the 1000 yards, again with Bobby Graham for company on the starting line.   It was a windy night, unhelpful to the runners, and the race was almost a replay with Stothard sitting on Graham’s shoulder until the last bend and sprinting away to win.   In the invitation two miles, English internationalist F Close defeated Emmet Farrell ‘comfortably’ in 9:30.   Maryhill won the team race however with the same three runners as the previous year.   Pearson again came from behind to win the relay for Glasgow University and in the 120 yards invitation, Millar of Maryhill won from Stewart of Motherwell.   A name that was to become very famous in Scottish, and British, athletic circles, Andy Forbes of Victoria Park, was third in the first class handicap mile while his team mate R Rogerson won the second mile.   

JP Laidlaw

Maryhill’s Bobby Graham was an excellent athlete but he was very unlucky at the Transport Sports.  On 28th June in 1938 he was again beaten into second place – this time by the crack cross country runner from Ayrshire, Peter J Allwell.   That night also saw good quality runners from England and Ireland taking on some of the top home athletes.   The report reads:

“Deplorable weather conditions seriously affected all performances at Glasgow Transport Sports Meeting at Helenvale Park last night.   Despite the blinding rain however the sports reached a satisfactorily high level.   The feature of the one-and-a-half-miles race was the victory of PJ Allwell (Ardeer).   He beat R Graham, Maryhill Harriers, in the good time of 6 min 54 4-10th sec.   Surrey AC won the team race but none of their members succeeded in getting placed in the individual race.   Alex Haire (Royal Ulster Constabulary) was a competitor in the 1000 yards invitation, and he ran well to get among his field but then failed to stay the course, leaving G Bell (Bellahouston Harriers) to run out winner from CF Campbell (Springburn Harriers) by three yards.   FG Moran, the Irish Sprint Champion, succeeded in reaching second place in the 120 yards invitation .   The winner was WCW Murdoch off three and a half yards.  Robin Murdoch turned out in the 120 yards heat, but broke down, having pulled a muscle.”   

Principal results:  There were five invitation events.   

120 yards:  1.   WCW Murdoch (Bellahouston  5 yards)    2.  HF Moran (TFS  scr)   Time: 12 3-5th sec

1000 yards:  1.  G Bell (Bellahouston  42 yards);  2.  CF Campbell (Springburn  15)   Time: 2 min 16 sec

Four half laps relay:  1.  Bellahouston (Bone, Smith, Murdoch, France)  3 min 20 sec

One and a half miles:1. PJ Allwell (Ardeer);2. R Graham (Maryhill); 3.  JP Laidlaw (Edinburgh Northern)

Team race:  1.  Surrey AC  14 points (Close 3, Read  5, Belton 6) 2. Maryhill Harriers 16 points   

In the open races fortune seemed to favour the high handicappers but one name that stood out was the second placed runner in the 880 yards – JCR Morton of Springburn Harriers who would become a Scottish international runner and then the country’s international team manager for many years.

Farrell passes the baton to Peters in the Edinburgh to Glasgow Relay.

1939 was the last year before the war broke out but there was a Transport Sports held on 27th June as usual and it was a momentous meeting.   A new star appeared on the programme and there was a mysterious disqualification in one of the races.   The star was Alan Watt, ‘the former Strathallan schoolboy, now attached to Shettleston Harriers’ .   He appeared in the special 120 yards sprint and running off three and a half yards won his heat and then the final, the latter in 11.9 seconds.   He was then heading off to the AAA’s junior championships in London at the weekend.    The disqualification took place in the one and a half miles race when the report merely said  –  “F Close, the famous Surrey AC distance athlete, was disqualified in the special 1 1/2 miles team race which he won in grand style from AT Peters, Maryhill Harriers in 6 min 52 6-10th sec.   Peters was given the decision , his time for the distance being 6 min 55 4-10th sec.”   Jackie Laidlaw was second in the race and Maryhill won the team race with Peters, Farrell and MacLean.   There was no elaboration of the reason for the dq.   The 1000 yards was won by J Gifford, erstwhile Victoria Park runner but now in the colours of Bellahouston, in 2 min 12.8 sec.  The open events were again won by the handicapper’s favourites, Jim Morton was again second in the half mile.   

There are several gaps in the writing of articles such as this but that is entirely to do with the coverage available.   Some years the events were possibly not covered.   In addition there are references to the sports having started in 1920 – ie ‘the twelfthannual sports, the eighteenth annual sports’ and so on, but they were not reported on in any of the papers consulted.   There is always the possibility that they were held on another mid week date in the summer but it would be very difficult to trace them.   However we do know that this was a very successful event, held on a short track in a corner of Glasgow and that it was a popular event with Scottish native and all-comers records being set on it and international runners from outwith Scotland running in it.   Indeed after the war, a world record would be set at Helenvale.   You can read about it here.