Tom Callaghan

TBP 64 The start of the Edinburgh to Glasgow in 1964: Tom is second from right in the back row – behind Alex Brown of Motherwell.

This profile was written by Tom’s clubmate, Joe Small.   Tom is the personification of the really good athletic club member – the man who always did what his club needed him to do, and then went a bit further.   He was a runner, a club official, an administrator, a coach to several Scottish and British international athletes.  Tom also ran a sports shop along with one of his protégés, Ron McDonald for a time.  He was also the man on the wrong end of a very poor decision by the governing body of cross-country in Scotland which Joe refers to in the following narrative.   

Tom Callaghan came from Airdrie, but was involved with Coatbridge’s Monkland Harriers and latterly Clyde Valley A.A.C. for over 30 years as a runner, official, coach & organiser.

He joined Monkland in 1958, competing in cross-country & road running as a boy & youth. Among his club contemporaries at the time were top class runners like Jim Finn, who won the Youths National in 1960 and 1961, Jim. Grant, 2nd in the Boys National in 1959, Jimmy Johnstone, 2nd in the Youths National also in 1959. 1959 seemed to be a good year for Monkland, with Tom picking up a silver medal as the Boys team finished second in the National, only 3 points behind George Heriot’s School. In the 1961 Midland District race he was in the bronze medal winning Youths team along with race winner Jim Finn & J. Grant. Teams involving Finn, Grant, Tom & Tommy Gallagher won many other relay & team prizes around this time.

Moving up to the Junior/Senior ranks, the likes of Finn & Grant fell away, as is so often the case with talented boys champions. Tom, now training with Jimmy Johnstone ran on road, in cross-country & highland games events, winning the handicap mile at Kirkintilloch with a time of 4.08 in 1964. He competed in the Edinburgh – Glasgow on eight occasions, for both Monkland & Clyde Valley. In 1980 he picked up a team bronze medal when Clyde Valley finished 3rd. in the West District cross-country championships that year.

It was early in his senior career that he became involved in the organisational side of things. In the mid-sixties, Monkland were stuck in a rut. Tom, along with a few others including Jimmy Johnstone, Willie Drysdale & Willie McBrinn replaced the long running club secretary & proceeded to introduce a number of initiatives to reinvigorate the club. The launch of a series of cross country races involving local schools resulted in a good number of new young runners joining the club. The best known of these would be Ronnie MacDonald. Others included Frank Gribben, Peter Preston, Danny Nee, Jim Burns, Kenny Ashwood, etc. quite a conveyor belt of talent.

It was with the emergence of Ronnie MacDonald that Tom first became involved with coaching. He guided Ronnie to the level of performance and results that can be seen in his profile elsewhere on this site. When Jim Brown joined the club in 1970, he also advised him for a number of years, again the results can be seen on Jim’s profile. The other big name to join Monkland in the early ‘70s was Ian Gilmour. This came about after Ian finished 3rd. in the National Junior cross country championship (behind MacDonald & Brown). Tom approached Ian after the race & asked if he’d be interested in the joining the same club as the two guys who had just beaten him. Ian agreed & competed very successfully for Monkland & Clyde Valley for a number of years.

Back to the organisational side of things. Tom, through his contacts in Coatbridge Town Council, was instrumental in turning Coatbridge into the focal point of cross country, road running, later track & field for a good number years.

The National Cross Country championships first came to Drumpellier Park in 1973 (Jim Brown winning the Junior race & the Junior team also finishing first for good measure!) and returned to the same venue for a further three years. Other events held were the District & County cross country championships & relays, Schools cross country championships, Women’s international cross country race, Schools Home Countries international & Boys Brigade National championships, all sponsored by the council. On the road, the first running of the Coatbridge 5 mile race, initially as part of a town festival, saw the introduction of lucrative prizes, the winner receiving a portable tv, quite a step up from the usual cutlery sets etc. being handed out. Top class athletes from south of the border were enticed to compete. The first race in 1973 was won by Ian Stewart, his first race back since taking a year out of the sport following the 1972 Olympics. Again, Tom was the driving force behind most of these events, although he would always say that he had a lot of help from club members & other local organizations.

Through the success of these events & the local club, the council was persuaded to proceed with the building a new athletics stadium, opened in 1975, complete with an international standard 8 lane all-weather track & accommodating 8000 spectators, costing £410,000 (£3m in today’s money). The first meeting held on the track was organized by Monkland Harriers, after which they were not involved, the Council taking over running of events. Later, international meetings, national, district & local championships all came to the town.

One of the goals of the council (and Tom), was to attract the World Cross Country Championships to the town. Scotland was due to host this prestigious event in 1978. Following a special General Meeting of the Scottish Cross Country Union in 1976, the race was awarded to Glasgow. This decision saw the end of the local council’s involvement. The story behind this decision deserves an article of its own, one which Tom is working on at present. It will make interesting reading when complete!

The International Cross Country decision previously mentioned also saw the end of Tom’s direct involvement in the sport.

Tom was also one of the instigators in the formation of Clyde Valley AAC, this being an amalgamation of five Lanarkshire clubs, to try & form a `super club’ to compete on the same level as the large Edinburgh & Glasgow clubs of the time. A look through the results of the period will show how successful they were for a number of years. Probably the most high profile athlete to be produced was Tom McKean.

For a number of years the club secretary was none other than Tom Callaghan.

Just to give a quick idea of how busy Tom was, he was involved in all of the above, together with training & competing, bringing up a family, holding down a full-time job and then opening a number of sports shops in partnership with Ronnie MacDonald. Some of you no-doubt purchased shoes, track suits or vests from the aforementioned Monkland Sports! As the saying goes, “If you want something done, ask a busy man”

Nowadays, he’s retired, still out walking everyday, but still taking a keen interest in most sports, particularly Aberdeen F.C and the Tour De France, both formed in the same year, 1903, coincidentally!