The YMCA and Athletics

The Bellshill & Mossend YMCA  HQ

When I started out in athletics in April 1957, there were many good athletics clubs which came from the YMCA movement.   These were mainly harrier clubs although this was not exclusively the case – a noted example of a British track internationalist from such a club was David Gracie of Larkhall YMCA.   Among the better known were Bellshill YMCA, Glasgow YMCA, Irvine YMCA,  Kirkcaldy YMCA and of course Motherwell YMCA,  The list of clubs affiliated to the SAAA in their 50th Anniversary Year of 1933 included Aberdeen YMCA Harriers, Kirkcaldy YMCA, Cambuslang YMCA, Glasgow YMCA, Motherwell YMCA, Peebles YMCA and Gala Red Triangle Club.  Already in this small paragraph we have noted nine separate clubs.   This list is not complete by any means: you could add in such as Dundee YMCA, Cupar YMCA and Renfrew YMCA for a start.   

There was a surge in YMCA involvement in the 1930’s: the Official History of the first 50 years of the SAAA commented that after the first war, “Many new athletic societies were added to the Association’s membership.   Especially noticeable was the activity displayed in promoting the principles of amateur athletics by YMCA executives.”

They competed in everything – for instance

  • in the 1950 version of the Edinburgh to Glasgow relay there were four YMCA clubs competing.   
  • In the National that same year, Irvine, Kirkcaldy, Glasgow, Larkhall and Motherwell were all represented.
  • The October Relay season is one of the most enjoyed and best parts of the winter season and the YMCA Relays take plecae then.   In 1950, Irvine won the Senior title from Glasgow and Motherwell, and Motherwell won the Youths race from Edinburgh and Glasgow. 

They produced many runners who represented Scotland internationally: over the country Motherwell YMCA produced many more than any other club, partly because they were by far the oldest club.    They gave Scotland’s cross country teams 13 men (the first being J Somerville in 1905), Irvine provided two (1929, 30 and again in 1949), Kirkcaldy had Alex Dow who ran for Scotland in the cross-country international in 1934, 35, 37 and 38, and Irvine YMCA’s Jim Egan who ran in the 1984 international was the last YMCA man to represent Scotland.    

They also produced many cross-country champions over the years s.   

The Brandon Street HQ of Motherwell YMCA

One of the problems that the athletic sections of the YMCA movement had was that athletics was not their raison d’etre: it was only one of many community involved activities.   Some of the sections had very short lives, being dependent on one person to run them or maybe because the community interest was not there; several competed regularly, disaffiliated to the SAAA, and then came back and re-affiliated.   The longest lasting is probably Larkhall YMCA: it is a pity that Motherwell lost so many athletes in 1967 when Law and District was founded, and then the Motherwell club itself disbanded.  There was a Dumbarton YMCA before the first world war.   After the war the Dumbarton AAC was formed and the YM club disappeared – did the one merge into the other?   Irvine YMCA was a good club which in 1972 disaffiliated from the YMCA movement and changed its name.  Some were obviously part of a wider movement – Kirkcaldy springs to mind.   It is always a pity when one of the clubs which was part of the movment that gave so much to Scottish sport disappears.  For instance, Motherwell YMCA was one of the very first harrier clubs in the country and had been contesting the National cross-country championships since 1890.   

We can maybe begin by looking at  some statistics

Just some of the individual YMCA clubs and their records.

Motherwell YMCA, 1890 – 1939   Motherwell YMCA  1945 – 1967       Larkhall YMCA    Kirkcaldy YMCA   Irvine YMCA    Irvine YMCA Part 2

Aberdeen YMCA

There are several profiles of individual YMCA runners already on the website.

Andrew Brown   Alex Brown   Ian McCafferty   Alex Dow  .John Suttie Smith    Jim Egan    

For a picture of what a typical YMCA runner of the 1930’s was like, have a look at Colin Youngson’s profile of his Dad’s sporting career which includes some interesting information about Aberdeen YMCA.  It’s at James Youngson.