Ian McKenzie as Team Manager: an Evaluation

Many good officials and administrators achieve less because they try to do more – eg any job that needs doing, they take it on and there are people in many clubs who run for the club, work on the committee, represent the club on a higher board and maybe do some coaching too.   Ian was not ambitious in that way – he wanted to serve his club and that was enough.   The concentration of effort honed his organisational talents.   How did he go about the job?   He says –

“During my lengthy period as cross country manager I had sole responsibility for selecting teams, which suited me perfectly, as it meant success or failure was entirely of my doing.  I would select teams on a Monday prior to competition and advise every athlete by Mail the team they were in, the venue, time and travel arrangements and asked them to advise me, in advance, if they were not available. This allowed me to make the necessary adjustments, therefore, on the day I knew the teams to declare, made my job fairly simple.
Although ESH had many top athletes who were often not available because of International commitments I was always aware of their individual ambitions and would liaise with them, as well in advance as possible, then select teams accordingly. Most Club members had no problem with the policy even if it meant they may not be selected. I always ensured that those athletes knew and understood this decision.

What can we see from the above?   A willingness to take and maybe even welcome personal responsibility for decisions that would affect athletes and club alike.  Early knowledge of the athletes commitments.  He had a clear system of informing the athletes of what he was doing and reasons for selection and the system was known and understood by the men concerned.   I would suggest that his own running career and interaction with athletes before and after races would have given him a background that made the communication more informed.   

How did others find him to work with?   We already have Colin Youngson’s thoughts, there are some more below.


Alistair Blamire’s brief comment sums up a lot of the others when he says “a great club man, really friendly guy”.    Just read these compliments.

and this was elaborated and added to by journalist Doug Gillon.

Ian was secretary when ESH won their first British League victory at Meadowbank in 1970 which is probably when I had the first of many dealings with him as a journalist. He was cross-country team manager for a long time – can’t be specific with dates, but that was the role in which I saw him most.   I seemed to be constantly in touch with him to preview events and get results both when working at the Sunday Post and at The Glasgow Herald from ’77 onwards.   As you know, the 1970’s were halcyon days for their E-G team and for their cross-country squad in the national, not to mention spectacular track success. 

Ian was always helpful, efficient, and courteous – and related well to the athletes. He was never a blazer man which I am sure contributed to ESH being able to field consistently strong track and field league teams. And he got the relationship between athletics and the media at a time when minority sport was fighting for column inches.  He seemed to realise the need for an “angle” and always seemed willing to help find it.   I appreciated that.   He seemed as passionate about his sport as I was.

It obviously helped that I was an Edinburgh guy and knew athletes and officials in his club. However, he never let the fact that I was an EAC man get in the way!”

Ian has already paid tribute to Jim Smart as Track Team Manager and the fact that T&F success was a team effort yet, when Doug’s comments above were subsequently discussed,  Doug added the following –

 “It occurs to me that despite the contributions of such as Jim Smart, Hamish Robertson, Oliver Dickson, Ian Clifton, and Bob Steel, Ian McKenzie might well deserve the accolade of the man most responsible for driving the club’s success in the golden era of the 1970s – no mean epitaph.”

 Alex Robertson (above, right)  tells us that
The first memories I have of Ian were as a boy and youth aged from about 10 to 17,  in the later 60’s and early 70’s.   He would take us out runs from Fernieside; they  were normally steady run with Ian or George Brown at the front of the pack and the other at the back.   Winter runs were on the roads round Fernieside, and then in Springtime it would be out on the country runs.   
Later as I moved into the senior age group he was my team manager throughout the rest of my time with ESH.   As a team manager he was supportive, well-organised and for big relays we would know teams well in advance.   He was always  supportive,  even if you had a bad run  
As team manager to Italy for the 1981 European club cross-country championship, he looked after everything –  first class .     And I’m still in contact with Ian  after 25 years.”
From what Alex says here, Ian made his relationship with many athletes when they were young and the transition to a working relationship was just that – a slight alteration to an already close friendship where Ian knew what worked for Alex and Alex had a healthy attitude to being with his team manager and co-operating with him.   
Hugh Coyle, Hugh McEwan(8) , Steve Dempsey (behind  Brian), Ernie Walker and Brian (14). It was a tough headwind to the turn at Longniddry in the SAAA Marathon, 1985.
Brian Howie (above, 14) says: 

 “I joined Edinburgh Southern Harriers in 1981. At that time Ian was cross country team manager; I think his last year. After my first  XC race at Hawick, after coming close to last, Ian told me ” The first one is always the worst” .  Ian was heavily involved in helping organising the club’s contributions to the early Edinburgh  Marathons and later the half marathons and Princes Street Mile Races. I was roped into stuffing envelopes at Meadowbank, putting up signs on lampposts and marshalling.

I didn’t see much of him until I took over from Evan Cameron as Road Race Manger on the ESH Committee in 1985. Ian was Secretary by then. The thing that struck me about Ian was the amount of work he was willing to take on on behalf of the club.

Ian was instrumental, with myself and George Brown in setting up a Road Racing Section at Meggetland, to cash into the road running boom, and to try to boost the fields at XC. We had about 30-40 turn up initially, which settled down to about 20  regulars. Those who stuck out the manic fartlek session devised by Ian, got very good indeed. Ian himself turned up at a lot of the sessions to give encouragement and enjoy a beer afterwards.

Ian also acted as treasurer for a while. The club’s finances were pretty dire, British League and the years we did the GRE cup were a heavy drain,  Ian was always looking for ways to obtain sponsorship and bringing in cash. One of the more bizarre ones, was a pizza-box relay, between the Pizzaland outlets in Edinburgh for publicity.  I think it brought in about £500.

Ian also used his organisational skills to set up the Scottish Gas 10k, using his workplace at Granton as the focus. It ran for many years and again brought in much needed cash.”

His personal qualities are again to the fore when Shot and Discus expert Sandy Sutherland comments that 
Ian has been a real stalwart of ESH and has been a good friend, supporter and committee man for as long as I have known him which must be at least half a century! I met both him and my wife at Fernieside but I don’t think there is any real link there (like I don’t think he introduced us but he might have done!!).   Ian was methodical and personable.  I remember spending many a pleasant journey sitting beside him going to British League matches!”
I repeat Sandy’s comment: Ian was methodical and personable.
Hamish Robertson, future ESH Club Secretary and, between 1972-75 and 1984-86, ESH President, in athletics kit, standing on the far right of the photo.   
Hamish Robertson confirms all that has been said so far and adds his own slant on Ian and his qualities.   
“Ian was a very, very good team manager.  It was to do with his personality – he listened to the views of the athletes and he would be out to see them in every race, whatever the weather.   In addition he always encouraged the younger runners .   He was a good friend of George Brown and they worked closely together and trained together – George was very meticulous and kept all the details of all their runs and races.   Kenny Ballantyne was a special friend and they did a lot together and Ian gave the eulogy at Ken’s funeral.