Tommy Boyle is a quite remarkable athletics coach with a rather different background to most international coaches. It is a much richer background in the range of experiences that have contributed to his outlook on life in general and sport in particular: it was certainly not the straightforward progression of many of his peers. For that reason his early background has to be looked at perhaps more closely than usual.
Family history of running is limited to his grandfather running for Motherwell YMCA as a boy, but there was no athletic role model in his immediate family. Tommy’s family home was on the edge of village, of Newarthill in Lanarkshire. Living in the country he, like all the other youngsters around, did loads of exercise – bird watching, ferreting rabbits , and so on – and spent most of his time in the open air active in one way or another. It was all fun to him! Newarthill is about three miles from Motherwell, and it’s a bit ironic that Wikipedia comments that Newarthill does not have any leisure facility of note. Tommy as the eldest son in a family of eleven. ran and/or cycled around 10 miles a day doing a paper round to bring in some added money. This was not unique to him, as he points out, many good endurance athletes in that era did paper or milk rounds. His early athletics career involved winning some money each year at local gala day sports – a big event in the community!
Master Thomas Boyle
There is often some key figure or figures in the development of a sportsman and Tommy encountered several people who helped him on his way. Encouraged by his Boys Brigade Captain, Jim Sherwood, to start a Cross Country team, Tommy says of the resulting team, “we developed a great team spirit and they all worked very hard, we did a session on Sunday after bible class and morning service , the caretaker allowed us into the church hall free and I introduced them to a five mile run, we ran 2.5 miles out into country on ash path and ran back It was a handicapped run and the winner got into bath tub first ,it was tough and I learned the physical and mental advantages of handicapping.” It would be interesting to know why Jim Sherwood encouraged Tommy in particular to form the team and not any of the other boys. How did his career develop from there?
Well, he won the series of three races as an individual, and the team won the battalion Cross Country Trophy. The winner of the races before Tommy was John Graham who went on to great things as a marathon runner. As a result he was invited to go along to Motherwell YMCA by Bobby Craigen, which was full of very good athletes many of whom ran for Scotland: in included runners like the Brown brothers, Bert McKay, Ian McCafferty and a many famous names. That first training night was very intimidating so he did not go back. However, he was also invited to join Bellshill YMCA Harriers, the club with which he was always associated, by Johnny Waddell who was the captain in Bellshill Battalion and secretary of the Bellshill YMCA Harriers,which he had resurrected after many years .
Always one to go that wee bit further, he spoke to his Dad, whom he calls “my greatest inspiration in life” and he told him to go and speak to Bob Henshaw a train driver from Newarthill ,who was steeped in the Pro Athletics Culture. Tommy says “as it transpired, he held a youth sport class at the Bellshill Academy, where Bellshill YMCA harriers and football teams trained, so I went along and joined up and really learned so much from Bob. He was a gentleman and although his expertise was in sprints, he introduced me to the concept of Circuit training he had a holistic approach to developing young athletes, Physically, Psychologically and Socially – (later to learn these were the pillars of MASTERY Coaching )”
He was a pupil at Dalziel High School (above), class of ’61 his Facebook page tells us, which he says “was a fantastic School and way ahead of its time. High academic achieving but more important led by a visionary head teacher in Jimmy Scobbie – who developed a fantastic School Culture which encouraged every pupil to participate in school activities even if they were not good at that activity.” The school was founded in 1902, James Scobbie was head from 1952 to 1974 and is reported to have greatly enhanced the school’s performances and reputation. This progress continues to this day – in 2008 it was voted the best school in Scotland. Tommy describes the head of PE as a legend of his time. Jimmy Hogg was an ex professional footballer who also had a holistic approach to sport. The school has its own playing fields at Cleland which are used by several local sports clubs and in the 1960’s they were used for District and Inter-District cross-country races. Every year a group of pupils went up to there to participate in sport for one afternoon a week, for 12 weeks of the academic year. Everybody did everything, there were no superstars. The pupils learned so much doing orienteering, rugby, football, hockey, athletics. Tommy again: “However, what he was really developing was character; reinforcing that “winning was success through sustained effort” and that you get out of life what you put in . The Lanarkshire Schools cross country was held at Cleland estate each year and Jimmy would get the farmer to plough one of the fields at 90 degrees to the direction of running to make it tougher but safe . He was the guy who ignited the spark which lit the flame of athletics in me,he truly inspired many generations of pupils to “become the very best they could be in sport and life” and many thousands of pupils did including one Tommy Boyle.”
Tommy frequently talks of learning Life Lessons and says “One of my great Life Lessons was after winning the school mile, a handicap where girls went off first, then at intervals each year group of boys followed. I was in second year and to the surprise of everyone this wee guy from nowhere won the big competition at the school sports. Next morning I was asked to go along to the head’s office. I thought for a big well done, however Jimmy Scobbie said “Well-done Mr Boyle. However, you did not wear the school uniform.” I was taught yet another big lesson which I remembered for the rest of my life .
He left School at age 15 as the family needed the money. This was when he moved from the family home to live in a caravan which was to the rear of his Dad’s house. Tommy says “My grandfather Alex was a retired miner who had raced pigeons and greyhounds and at night he did a bit of poaching which filled the family pot. The years spent living with him were massive in my learning: indeed he had a quiet way of educating me on what he had learned from life and, I guess, knocked me into shape through these restless teenage years. Indeed, he was a giant among men”
Tommy went on to serve his apprenticeship at Colville’s training centre at Mossend which he regards as a wonderful foundation for the rest of his life in manufacturing. Little did Tommy know that these years were to inform and shape his career to such a degree that he would eventually become Manufacturing Director in Packard Bell, employing over 500 staff producing 5000 pcs a day. Tommy says that it was these wise inspirational training instructors who taught a bunch of rebellious teenagers loads of life lessons as well as the technical information. We began to learn about business processes, the seeds of which grew in my head to shape my coaching and business careers.
He was a member of Bellshill YMCA Harriers from age 14 through until age 20. He says that he had a wee bit of potential, “however I only trained three times a week, doing a run and circuits Tuesday and Thursday with either a run or competition on the Saturdays. It should be pointed out that this was the normal pattern for almost all young runners in the country: two club nights plus Saturday at the club whether racing or not. They were great times, load s of fun – great banter with the YMCA football guys and learning from Bob as he groomed his pro sprinters for Powderhall
“I really enjoyed those years at Bellshill YMCA and was constantly encouraged by the then president Jimmy Love yet another visionary who was also the world YMCA president, we grew the harriers club and had a great deal of success in the younger age groups.
“I remember a few highlights of competition,
- Winning the Lanarkshire Track 800 and being selected to compete in the inter-counties; Tom Paterson Shettleston was also in that team
- Finishing third in the Scottish YMCA Cross Country and being selected to run for the Scottish YMCA in Belfast ,I remember the team playing cards to the wee small hours on the ferry over;
- Getting advice from Andy Brown about how to pace myself , did not run well that day , I think it was all too much for me and only training three times a week was catching up .Jim McKechnie was in the team ;
- Good memories of medals at Lanarkshire and Scottish YMCA Comps at youth age groups ,
- I remember running the National CC at Hamilton race course, hundreds of runners – grass was long we turned at the bottom of the hill and I looked up to the finish about one mile up the hill looked like goal posts. Tom Paterson and Martin McMahon passed me like whippets , I think Eddie Knox won that one, but I realised then training three times a week would not cut it !”
When he was 18 he had to work shifts, training became even more difficult and he only did the circuit sessions and road runs to keep fit.
Away from athletics for a moment, reaching the final year of his apprenticeship he was advised by one of the great tradesmen that heavy engineering was dying and it would be best to change my career pathway to Electronics. He advised that the best way was to join the navy, earn some money see the world and they would teach him electrical side of engineering. So he left athletics, joined Shell and went out to the gulf on his first ship. It was a massive experience. Tommy lost a stone in weight, saw bit of the world and returned at age 21. He joined Honeywell Computers starting on the shop floor as an inspector – the first stepping stone on a journey to the top in a very successful career in computing.
At that point he visited Bellshill YMCA to see the guys and when leaving was trapped by Jimmy Love “who proceeded to lecture me on how the YMCA had taught me so many life lessons and set me on a solid pathway, he also highlighted that I had a great deal to offer if I took up coaching ,he immediately said the YMCA would pay all my coach education expenses if I volunteered one night a week (that was a wee bit stretching what he really had in mind )and he proceeded to get me enrolled at Largs in assistant club course the next month and so the next stage of my journey in athletics started .”
It was, then, no coincidence that Bellshill YMCA suddenly appeared on cross-country fixture lists in the 1960’s – no doubt due to the efforts of the gentlemen that Tommy has mentioned above. The SCCU District Relays were held there for four successive years between 1968 and 1971 inclusive, although the actual championships were never held at Bellshill . District relays and championships were also held at Cleland, as were the inter-counties championships. The venue was a new one to most runners but they soon discovered that the mud was real mud, and that there were real fences on what were politely referred to as traditional trails.
Tommy is quite clear about the debt he owes to all the people who helped develop his character and shape his attitudes: Jim Sherwood, Bob Henshaw, James Scobbie, Jimmy Hogg, John Waddell, Jimmy Love – his grandfather Alex a font of wisdom and his greatest inspiration in life, his Dad. But they probably all spotted something in as well: why did Jim Sherwood pick Tommy to organise the cross-country squad? Why did Jimmy Love home in on Tommy to get into coaching in the first place? Did they see leadership potential? Did they see organisational ability? Regardless, he was now on the coaching ladder while holding down a day job.
Tommy, having been encouraged by Jimmy Love at Bellshill YMCA to get involved in coaching, did just that. The first step on the road to becoming a coach at that time was to go to the SAAA Assistant Club Coaching Course which was over two weekends at Inverclyde Sports Centre on the Clyde Coast at Largs. Coaching qualifications at that time were on three levels: Assistant Club Coach, Club Coach and Senior Coach. The first of these covered all events and like every coaching course was conducted by a range of coaches, It was partly theory and partly practical in nature. Among those attending the course were Ian Robertson and Eddie Taylor who would also become excellent coaches in their own right, coach British as well as Scottish international athletes and become part of the structure of the sport nationally. On the staff side, dispensing the knowledge, were ex-National Coach Tony Chapman with Frank Dick, Sandy Robertson and Sean Kyle from Ireland. Sandy Robertson was a top class coach who would become a major influence on Tommy and he encouraged Tommy to come back and go through the Assistant Club Coach Course for a second time because the information gained was so valuable and could not be totally assimilated in one go-through. To this day Tommy believes that he learned a lot all the way through his coaching career “listening carefully to knowledgeable people.”
Back in Bellshill he was coaching at the YMCA – Tuesdays at the YMCA and Thursdays at Bellshill Academy. There was a team of excellent coaches, not all SAAA qualified, but all very good at what they did. Men like Willie McWhinnie who worked with 9-11 and 11-13 year olds, Jim McDaid, ex pro footballer who gave the boys a wee game after every session. Gradually a network of local schools was established to feed children into the club. Jimmy Graham who was a Primary School teacher and a cross-country enthusiast from Lawmuir Primary School. guided many fine youngsters from a deprived area into the club. Tommy noted that “Jimmy was fiercely competitive and his team wore T shirts – “You’re running behind a Lawmuir runner.” Brilliant psychology. ” Christine McAllister who had brought her daughter to the club and stayed and became the club treasurer and with her local knowledge ensured that the focus at the club was always on the children. Tommy himself worked with all age groups and remembers two young runners in particular: Michael Hendry and David Watson. They finished second and third in the 1972 Senior Boys National Cross-country championship at Edinburgh three and four second respectively behind the winner Mark Watt. He said there was a procession of talent emerging: athletes like Billy Thomas, gold ar 13-15 499m, Pat Mooty, SAAA silver in 2000m steeplechase abd, like many more, became the best that they could be. Tommy describes the YMCA at that time as a holistic club, a club that looks after all aspects of the athlete’s life, not concentrating only on the sporting activities.
Among the other athletes that Tommy worked with at this time, top middle distance runner Roy Baillie was one who came to the club at the age of 17 from BB Cross-Country running. In his first season with the club he ran 800m in 2:08. Roy ran for Bellshill YMCA and later for Clyde Valley AC. Born in December 1953, by the age of 19 he was running 400m in 51.2 to be ranked 26th in Scotland. In the course of his running career he had personal best times of 50.0 (400m), 1:1:51.1 (800m) and 3:56.2 for 1500m. He also won 4 medals in the SAAA championships. Tommy learned a lot from working with Roy – he had the theory but he honed his understanding of what produced results at 800m working with an honest athlete who also helped the club out on all fronts including fund raising, taking the younger runners on the pretraining warm up run.
The club at this time trained from the YMCA Centre over three basic trails of 1.5, 2.5 and 4 miles and the 4 miles circuit was still being used by Tom McKean and Yvonne Murray when they were among the very best in the world. They also trained on the Newarthill (ash) track of 325 yards, ie 5 laps to the mile. There were also two ash football fields which were end to end rather than the usual layout of pitches side by side. This meant that longer repetitions could be done with long straights available to the coaches for activities such as fartlek sessions and other training practices. Of course they also ran cross-country in winter and this was where Hendry and Watson trained. Not having a standard 400 metres track did not stop their progress – their use of the environment and its possibilities was key to the development of the club.
Roy Baillie, 14, at the start of the Lanarkshire Cross-Country Championship
Another of Tommy’s proteges at this time was Ian Callander – another who would be a medallist in SAAA championships. A very good 100m/200m runner. Three years younger than Baillie, 10.9 (100m), 22..3 (200m) and 49.9 (400m). His father was the local Police Chief Inspector who helped get the YMCA club the use of the police recreation hut. This became the weight training and speedball facility. Having got it, Tommy and his teamhad to beg or make weights equipment and was now forced into learning about strength and conditioning. His weight training Bible was Ron Pickering’s AAA’s booklet on Weight Training. He still recommends this publication as probably the best single source of information on the topic.
The Bellshill YMCA people enjoyed developing their club – not having a long tradition as so many other clubs did, they did not have the historical inspiration – but nor did they have the historical baggage that so often goes with it. They could develop the club as the needs arose and as the athletes required. The community helped the athletes because there was no pressure and no demands placed on them. The development of the athlete as a person was the key. Tommy’s coaching focus at this point was on the sprints as he recognised that to produce top level performers, he had to learn more about sprinting and the development of speed in endurance runners. He started to produce a series of age group champions in the sprints, athletes like Ian Callander, who later went to Edinburgh University where he trained with Bill Walker and added the 400m to his range of events, there was Mark Sherry who went to Loughborough and trained there with John Anderson. Sherry, like Callander, was a product of Bellshill Academy.
As the club developed so did his own coaching. Greedy for knowledge and any information that would help. The Track and Sports Centre at Coatbridge had opened by now and in addition to being another training facility it was where Tommy could watch other coaches in action, analyisng what they were doing and incorporating what he felt was appropriate into his own work. Sprint Coach Jimmy Campbell was one of these working with the McMeekin twins doing high intensity track work and circuit training he became a lifelong mentor for Tommy. He remembers learning about long intervals by watching Brian McAusland and his group over a complete winter – stop watch in pocket of course. He was greatly influenced by Bill Walker who thought very similarly to Tommy and had speed at the heart of his training regime, and of course Frank Dick who had a massive influence on the young coach Boyle throughout his career. Tommy was interested at that time in Speed and Short Endurance and he learned some of the practicalities from Bill and from Frank Dick. Then there was the whole area of Training Theory. Frank had just translated the German stuff into Training Theory papers which coaches could understand. “Gold dust,” says Tommy. From Sandy Robertson he learned more about holistic training: the belief that all the parts of the athlete’s life are inter connected and can only really be developed as parts of the whole lifestyle. These beliefs were what Bellshill YMCA and its coaches were trying to do and the information fed in from the community – eg by Christine McAllister and other members of the team – were important factors in this. The holistic approach to training can be studied in any of the books on Mastery Coaching which are easily available for those interested.
In 1976, while all this was going on at one level, he was still involved with the intensely practical work at Bellshill where one of the talents was Morag Todd. Morag was a very good sprinter indeed who had career bests of 7.6 (60m), 12.1 (100m), 24.8 (200m), and as a competitor she won five medals at SAAA Championships both indoors and out. Frank Rafferty (bests of 10.8 and 22.0) who was later to be head of the Glasgow School of Sport coaching team, was another running for the club at that time. It was at this point in his coaching career that Tommy’s life was about to change. The club organised races for the local schools and some good athletes were recruited from them. A group of six or eight came along together and one of the group was Tom McKean.
By now Tommy was working in such a way that his charges tended to progress year on year, a steady incremental progress that is always better than a progression that goes in fits and starts – a big jump one year, then no improvement for a couple of years, then (maybe) another jump. Look at Baillie’s progress over three years in Clyde Valley AAC as an example:
Tommy talks of his start in coaching and says, “The first 10 years of my coaching career were spent working in the club situation doing all of the tasks which virtually every other coach does at some stage i.e. organising, training, raising funds, creating school feeder structures, administration, attending coaching courses. My involvement in coach education gradually increased until eventually as Group Organiser for Sprints attending National Event Squads and Council of Coaches I found myself well and truly hooked on the athletics treadmill. The knowledge gained during that period has proved to be a valuable asset which I could not have gained in any other way.”
The Scottish coaching pyramid at the point consisted of a national coach, group coaches for sprints, endurance events, jumps and throws, and event coaches responsible to the group coaches. eg endurance events had event coaches for 800 & 1500m, 5000 & 10000m, steeplechase, marathon. Each group – sprints, endurance, etc – had an group organiser who dealt with whatever he and the group coach agreed on. It was not at the level of event or group coach but it gave the coach access to information, other coaches and activities at national level.
The connection with Bellshill Academy has been mentioned already. The club also had links with Cardinal Newman High School where the head of PE, Phil McMahon, was a real enthusiast, a friend of the club and one who sent many young boys along to the club. One of these was Tom McKean who was one of six or eight who came to train with the club at their Tuesday and Thursday sessions. He was not the fastest of the group at the time and ran cross-country for the school. As a 17 year old he just made it into the Scottish Schools training squad where he was told by the coach in charge that he was not fast enough. This of course had the effect of incentivising the athlete and his coach to prove him wrong. At this point Tommy was asked by Frank Dick to be the administrative officer for national event coach Bill Walker which gave him contact and a chance to observe such as Allan Wells, Drew McMaster and Cameron Sharp in action. He was then asked to do some lecturing and this forced him into researching and writing some short papers. He was also involved in a Scottish Schools residential course at Cramond where he was able to conduct a statistical evaluation of the physical and functional measure of the group.
Tommy says of young Tom: “He, like many endurance athletes, was recruited to the club via the feeder cross-country races which we organise for the schools. One of a group who were motivated enough by the team competitions and varied training to come back, the first hurdle had been crossed. Although not the best, Tommy was in the cross-country team and managed to win a few medals thus retaining his interest. I remember he finished 3rd in the Scottish Cross-Country Championships at Glenrothes on six inches of snow, moving from 60th to 3rd in the last 800 metres, and I had to carry him back to the changing rooms. Yes, he was different – but he was growing like a weed and must not be forced – only to wilt at a later date.”
The run at Glenrothes over a tough, rolling, golf course trail covered with snow was quite remarkable – Tom was in the Junior Boys race and his time was 12:15 – only three seconds behind’s Kilbarchan’s Robert Hawkins and six behind Springburn runner Stuart McPherson. Just as athletes need to progress towards fulfilling their abilities and ambitions, so must coaches. Given what we already know about him, Tommy Boyle was always going to progress as a coach: Tom McKean probably accelerated that progress. The next step in his development as a coach was the narrowing of his focus to coaching at the expense of administration and other activities within the club.
“I was forced in 1980 to take a very serious look at my commitment to athletics as we were expecting a family. I asked myself a question which we repeatedly ask our athletes – “What do you want from athletics?” Answer – “to coach athletes.” Solution simple – remove everything which was not directly related to coaching.” The result was that, after a transitional period, I ended up coaching a small group of athletes three times a week, thus allowing for a more balanced lifestyle and one where I was once more able to enjoy the challenge of athletes.
“The next stage was to critically assess the efficiency and effectiveness of my coaching and to ensure that what little time I had was managed in a professional manner.”
Tommy had now been coaching for some time and was in the position that he had a top class, really top class athlete and had shed all activities extraneous to the actual coaching. He also, via his appointment as coaching administrator, had access to information and people who could be useful. However, you couldn’t divorce what Tommy from his upbringing and the vision he had of how “Sport was the greatest vehicle there is to develop Character Building Life Lessons” which when delivered over a prolonged period “would help every child to become the very best they could be in sport and life” : this is the golden thread underpinning Tommy’s philosophy towards coaching, and therefore we need to ensure that the thread runs through each part, but manifests itself in different ways . To get more schools more parent more business aware of the power of sport -however this meant that Tommy had then to be ruthless in the pursuit of excellence with his athletes ,with the big prize in mind .
It is interesting to note that he tells us that he had no desire to pursue performance coaching in the longer term as so many do and are hooked on the treadmill . Although Tommy stepped back from the admin stuff in the club in the short term, he always had one eye on how to use the success which would come in the best way possible to help young people in his community and then as we will see in Scotland !
This was Part Two of Tommy’s Profile. Part One can be seen at Tommy Boyle: The Background
Tommy presents Bellshill YMCA’s John Waddell with Lifetime Achievement Award
Sam Stevenson who featured in almost every Clydesdale Harriers Sports
“Our Annual Sports were held at Celtic Park on 26th May, 1906, and proved a great success; and it gives the Committee great satisfaction to report a favourable balance. We again held meetings at Dunoon on Glasgow Fair Saturday and Monday along with the local club, and we regret to state that, owing to miserable weather on the Saturday and Monday, there was a considerable loss on the venture. Had it not been for the weather we are certain that this meeting would have proved a great success. Junior Football Tourneys were included in both programmes, and proved to be most popular.”
The May meeting had a star studded cast which included Halswelle, McGough, Kitson, Mitchell, Sam Stevenson and others. The Glasgow Herald repost on the Monday started with the comment: “Are we to have a quadruple champion this season? Lt Halswell’s brilliant running at the Clydesdale Harriers sports on Saturday is responsible for this interesting query. The man who can do 600 yards in 1 min 12 4-5th sec is quite capable of winning the quarter and half mile, and 24 sec on a yielding, sodden surface is good enough to win the 220, while if it be true that Halswell in practice is covering 100 yards in ‘half second’, the quadruple achievement is not beyond the bounds of possibility on the part of that accomplished pedestrian. Perhaps it is physically impossible for anyone to win four championships in one afternoon, but if there is one more capable than another of such an achievement then Halswell is that man. He is a great runner in every sense of the term and it will be a disappointment to many if he does not leave the impress of his athletic genius on our national records over more distances than the 600 yards.
The 100 yards race was divided into 24 heats, all of which filled well. R Kitson, Bellahouston Harriers, won in 10 and 2-5th seconds and W Fairbrother of GYMCA (9 yards) was second. The final was a very fine race and the finish was as close as it was possible to be.”
After that build up, what had Halswell done to deserve it? He had won the 600 yards invitation, running from scratch to beat John McGough (15 yards) by three yards in 1 min 12 4-5th seconds, a new native record, the previous being held by R Mitchell, St Mirren, with 1 min 15 3-5th seconds. He also won the 220 yards in 24 1-5th seconds. G Perth of ESH (55 yards) won the 1000 yards from AM Matthews (EUAC 17 yards) and Tom Jack (25 yards). This race had 122 entries of whom 104 started but only ten per cent of that number finished. Needless to say, heats were required here too. It was a successful meeting in every way including the weather but the same was not true of their meeting at Dunoon in July.
Organised jointly by Clydesdale Harriers and Dunoon Athletic Club on 14th and 16th July, the first day was showery but the attendance was said by the Glasgow Herald to be ‘large’ and there were close contests throughout the programme. The best known competitor was probably A Turnbull of Clydesdale Harriers who won the half-mile from 28 metres – he would go on to be second in the SAAA 880 yards championship twice but was a better runner than that suggests. There were several local athletes competing and, maybe to hedge their bets, a 5-a-side football competition featuring Clydebank (the winners), Clyde, Dunoon Albion , Petershill, Benburb, Strathclyde, Rutherglen Glencairn and Maryhill. Given that it was the start of the Glasgow Fair fortnight, the preponderance of Glasgow teams was not surprising. There was also a two day sports meeting at Ayr on the Saturday and Monday,another popular destination for the holiday makers, organised by Ayr FC.. Ayr had attracted several very well known Scottish athletes, especially in the sprints where JP Stark and R Kitson featured At Dunoon on the Monday, despite the presence of Sam Stevenson and some good racing, the weather and attendance were both poor. An interesting comment in the Glasgow Herald was that ‘if Dunoon is to vie with Ayr athletically, the sooner a cycle track is laid down the better.’
Tom Jack from Edinburgh was a frequent competitor at all the big Sports in Glasgow
25th May was the date of the club sports in 1907 which were again held at Celtic Park. The programme was not as lengthy as it had sometimes been and there was again a 5-a-side tournament which was won by Port Glasgow from Clyde by 1 goal to 1 corner. Results of the main events were as follows:
100 yards: 1. HW Hepburn (WSH 6 yards); 2. JB Watson (CH 8 yards); 3. A Buglass ( ESH 7 yards). Time 10.2 Won by less than a yard
220 yards: 1. JD McVicar (unatt 22 yards); 2. D Johnston (BH 6 yards); 3. J Walker (BH 12 yards) Time 23.2 Won by a couple of yards.
880 yards: 1. JG Allan (Fettesian-Lorettonians 40 yards); 2. T Jack (ESH 28 yards); 3. G Chalmers (GACC 52 yards) Time 1 min 59 sec. Won with ease.
Three Miles: 1. E Paterson (MYMCA 220 yards); 2. G Culbert (Monkland 200 yards); 3. A Duncan, jnr (Kendal scratch) Time 14:50.4 Won easily.
Throwing the Hammer: 1. TR Nicolson (WSH scr); 152′ 1″; 2. R McHardy (Queen’s Edinburgh 41′ 0″) 147′
The club also held their sports on the new recreation ground at Dunoon on 13th July with a programme confined to flat racing and a 5-a-side competition. Only 20 turned up for the 100 yards, none of the back markers being present. Indeed neither sprint was outstanding although there were close finishes. The half mile was a bit different with 24 on the track and the first three finishing almost side by side. These were Adam Turnbull (CH 40 yds), R Koter (Maryhill 52 yds) and Sam Stevenson (CH 30 yards and Turnbull’s time was 1:59. The Mile was a quality race with a field of 20 runners. PC Russell (Bellahouston 95 yards) won but there was a real tussle between Sam Stevenson (50 yards) and Alex McPhee (75 yards) both of Clydesdale Harriers for second place which went to Stevenson. The 5-a-side was won by Maryhill over Vale of Clyde.
Lt Wyndham Halswell
In 1908 the sports were on 30th May and were back at Ibrox Park. The star attraction was Wyndham Halswell who had won four SAAA titles (100, 220, 440 and 880 yards) in 1906 and two in 1907 and held the Scottish record for the quarter-mile. In this meeting he won the Olympic Games trial 440 yards in 50.4 from GW Young of the High School and Bellahouston Harriers and also the 600 yards from scratch in 1:12.2. 1908 being Olympic year event trials were given to various sports meetings around the country and there were three here – the 440 yards and the broad and triple jumps won by Bryce W Scott (CH).
Among the other results, JL Reid of Clydesdale won the 100 yards and 220 yards for a double success; Quinn of Bellahouston won the two miles walking race from Justice of Clydesdale; R O’Connor won the half mile from Mann of Clydesdale (well known as a cross-country and road runner); and W McPherson of Motherwell (330 yards) won the three miles team race from R Craig of Dennistoun Harriers (220 yards).
George Dallas, right, started out as a sprinter but became one of Scotland’s best half milers
On 29th May in 1909 Ibrox was again the venue for the club’s annual sports and the handbook said “The annual sports were very successful from an athletics standpoint. Unfortunately the attendance was not up to expectations but the Directors of the Rangers Football Club, Ltd, very generously handed over the stand drawings, thus permitting us to make ends meet, and to them we extend our hearty thanks.” The Glasgow Herald agreed with the comment that the sports were very successful – read their report:
FINE SPORT AT IBROX PARK
If Clydesdale Harriers did not get all they merited in the shape of public support, they have the satisfaction of knowing that they maintained, and more than maintained their good name as providers of athletics. For all the races were well contested, and if there were no outstanding performance, this was due in some measure to the conditions, which were against a high rate of speed. Ian Dickson of Edinburgh University AC improved on his exhibition at Hampden Park the previous week by getting first in the 220 yards and second in the 100 yards. It was only in the last stride that he lost the latter, Stanley Jeffrey, who disposed of him in the second round of the West of Scotland Harriers sprint, beating him by inches in 10 sec. The better performance, however, was the 220 and it is evident he is a formidable competitor over this distance. With Lieutenant Halswell out of the way, championship honours appear to be within his grasp in the 220 and 440 as well. GW Young, Bellahouston Harriers, should be in the latter on last year’s form but so far he has not disclosed anything like the pace of which he was then possessed. The half-mile handicap was captured by George Dallas, Maryhill Harriers, and the winner at Hampden the previous Saturday, R Maguire, Glenpark Harriers, was second. The short mark men were anything but prominent in the three miles handicap, and it is just possible they were hampered more by the conditions than some of the others. Whatever the reason, McPhee, Stevenson, Bowman and others retired when they reconciled themselves to the hopelessness of their task. The winner was Kerr of Motherwell YMCA Harriers, who out in a very interesting finish. A Justice, Clydesdale Harriers won the walk handicap and IL Reid, another member of the promoting club, with his concession cleared 22 feet 5 inches which is a very good performance and it is hoped he will see his way to enter for the handicaps. The cycle handicaps were won by riders with biggish handicaps …”
Another good year for the sports if not financially: unfortunately that scenario was repeated the following year. The 1910 sports were held on 30th May at Ibrox and the club report said “the Annual Sports were very successful from an athletic standpoint. Unfortunately the attendance was not up to expectation but the Directors of the Rangers Football Club, Ltd, very generously handed over half the stand drawings, thus permitting us to make ends meet, and to them we extend our hearty thanks.”
The Empire Exhibition was held in Glasgow between May and November, 1901, It took place in Kelvingrove Park and the Art Gallery and Museum in the park was opened in 1901. It was a huge affair and over 11,000,000 visits were made to the various attractions. You can read more about it here
The Clydesdale Harriers handbook said that “The annual Sports were held in the athletic grounds of the Exhibition, the Club receiving a subsidy for conducting the meeting. A most attractive programme was submitted, and it is satisfactory to state that the confidence of the Executive was not misplaced, as both a good crowd and a good sport were the outcome.”
Held on the 6th July, 1901, the Glasgow Herald of two days later began its report: “The annual athletic amateur sports of this old and important body of athletes was held at the Empire Exhibition Grounds on Saturday afternoon. The arrangements were excellent, and there was a good attendance, while the weather conditions were all that could be desired. ”
The quality of the athletics was in keeping with the occasion and the trophies awarded were of the highest order. In this instance, the results of the athletics events are reproduced, although it should be noted that there were also a number of cycle races.
100 yards: 1. RY Auld, Maryhill H 8 yards; 2. W Steele, Claremont AC 6 yards; 3, W Smith DH 9 yards. Time 10.2 seconds
300 yards: 1. RY Auld Maryhill H 18 yards; 2. J Alexander QPFC 13 yards: 3. F Turnbull, Bellahouston 12 yards. Time 38.8
One Mile: 1. JC Lindsay Clydesdale 75 yards; 2. R Reid Rosebank 85 yards; 3. A Wright Wellpark H 45 yards. Time 4:27
High Jump: 1. J Gallon unatt 9 1/2 inches; 2. AL Graham, Arlington Baths 2 inches; 3. RL Murray Clydesdale scr. Winning height: 6′ 1 1/2″
Obstacle Race (scratch): 1. W Bell, Clydesdale; 2. DW Mill, Clydesdale Harriers; 3. JJ Watson, Glenpark.
Exhibition Cup Team Contest: three teams took part – Edinburgh (2nd 26 pts), Paisley (1st 14 pts) and Burnbank Harriers (dnf).
The half mile was probably the race of the meeting with McGough one of the all-time greats of Scottish middle and long distance running and McCafferty a Scottish cross-country champion. The half mile here had a very big field and McGough won by 6 yards. Good weather, good close competition, fewer races than usual to organise plus a subsidy – a good day all round.
Finally, although it was a shorter programme, there were numerous heats for most races. The 330 yards for instance had 73 competitors and the half mile cycle event had eight heats.
It is maybe time for a wee diversion. Clydesdale Harriers, West of Scotland and Edinburgh Harriers were pioneers in the field of amateur athletics and were praised for their work. But professional athletics had not gone away. There were hot spots of professionalism in the Borders and in Fife, there were sports and games held all year round by smaller football clubs, works sports clubs, charities; several of the bigger sports meetings were professional – Glasgow Police meetings were professional until 1919, Shawfield held weekly professional meetings for decades and the Clyde FC Sports were professional until well into the twentieth century. Even Rangers and Celtic dabbled in professional athletics. A couple of examples:
Celtic for instance held a professional meeting on Coronation Day in 1902 – “Undeterred by the limited success of previous professional ventures , the Celtic FC have decided to hold a pedestrian function on Coronation Day, and it is to be hoped that they will be rewarded, as they have not yet been, for their enterprise. Professional sport of the pedestrian cult is in bad odour in Glasgow, and has been for the last quarter of a century. In fact we question in even the Celts with all their influence will remove the stigma from which it suffers. They have worked persistently with that object in view during the past five years, and the conditions are no better now than they were then. To be candid, the sprint racing last weekend was honeycombed with all that has made professionalism such a despised sport. The final was certainly a genuine race due to the fact that all were tryers, but in previous rounds honest effort was at a premium.”
Celtic also had the occasional mid week professional meetings
Rangers had their Highland Gatherings: “It is a great transition from the prosaic earnestness of an amateur championship to the gaiety of a Highland gathering. Yet Ibrox, which was the centre of the one on Saturday, will be the centre of the other this weekend, Rangers by their enterprise having arranged to provide the public with a national gathering which in point of spectacular effect will equal some of the great classic functions of the Highlands. No expense has been spared to make the meeting what it is certain to be – a huge success provided the elements are favourable.Most of the clan societies will be represented, and the delegates will be arrayed in national garb, and this in itself will add a picturesqueness to the scene. In addition to dancing and piping, there will be a number of athletic events …. wrestling which is in great favour at the moment has a place in the programme.” [Glasgow Herald, 22 June, 1903]
The meeting was successful enough to be repeated the following year where we are told that ‘valuable money prizes were offered’ at a meeting which started at 1:30 and lasted until after six o’clock.
There were professional meetings every weekend and the sporting public had a choice whether to watch the amateur variety provided by the likes of Clydesdale Harriers, Maryhill Harriers, West of Scotland, Edinburgh Northern, etc or the professional kind with money prizes and often enough betting at the trackside. There was pressure on the clubs to make their sports as attractive as possible, hence the boxing matches, the cycling, motor cycling at Parkhead and so on. The question of professional and amateur athletics at this time is intriguing enough to win some student a PhD!
The Clydesdale Harriers Sports were held on 4th July, 1903, at Meadowside Park, the ground of Partick Thistle. The handbook tells us that they were very successful with good weather and a splendid entry. A profit was made which enabled the club to pay expenses and still have a ‘nice sum’ left over. In the quest for a good attendance the club had added a five-a-side tournament, a boys’ race and cycle races. In the 5-a-side Petershill defeated Yoker Athletic 2-0. The meeting was a long one and the ‘Herald’ said that the football could have been dispensed with and that the boys’ race was neither “a thing of beauty” for the spectators, nor a “joy forever” for the runners. Entries were prodigious – 25 heats of the open 100 yards, five heats in the half mile, six heats for the boys’ 100 yards, the 330 yards had nine heats. There were entries from all over Scotland including Saltcoats AC, Grange Harriers, Rutherglen Harriers as well as all the major national clubs. Many close finishes delighted the spectators but there were no big names on show.
It was back to Meadowside on 28th May 1904 for the Annual Sports and the handbook reported “We received a splendid entry and were favoured with a dry day, but unfortunately a wrestling contest at Ibrox Park and other attractions spoiled the attendance. We were however able to clear expenses and have a small sum to the good.”
Events included a 100 yards handicap with 22 heats, 2 semi-finals and a final which was won by McEwan of Bellahouston in 11.2 a 300 yards handicap with eight heats, and a final won by D Burdett, Garscube Harriers in 34.2 seconds; a 1000 yards handicap won by Sam Carson of Garscube who was off 57 yards and broke the tape just ahead of John McGough who set a new all-comers record of 2:17; a Two Miles Walk won by James Boyle of St Aloysius FC; a Two Mile Handicap in which all three prizes were won by members of CH – Sam Stevenson, W Robertson and James Reston, won in 9:26; a high jump and two amateur bicycle races. On the same day, there was a professional sports meeting at Celtic Park organised by Mr Fred Lumley which was a great success. There were two races – 120 yards and half-mile handicaps with 57 entering the sprint and 58 for the half-mile – and the winners of the various heats were listed along with their starting prices. eg 120 yards, Heat 1 Richards, Betting 3 to 1 on; Heat 2 McGhie, Betting 7 to 1 agst; etc . Note that this was not organised by any of the football clubs but by Fred Lumley who was a great patron of amateur sport and awrded the shield still presented to the wining team in the national cross country championship.
“Our Annual Sports this year took place at Celtic Park on 27th May, 1905. Although we had a special attraction in a Four Miles handicap in which A Aldridge who won the International Match in Dublin and the AAA 10 Miles championship, competed, along with Sam. Stevenson who won the event, we did not get the support that we merited. This could be accounted for by the fact that the Charity Cup Final was played that day at Ibrox, Celtic and Third Lanark being the finalists. We were however, able to show a Balance Sheet with a few pounds to the good.
After a lengthy correspondence, we were granted the use of Dunoon Town Council’s Athletic Ground for Sports to be held there with the local club, on Fair Saturday and Monday, 15th and 17th July, Unfortunately the weather on the Monday was of the most miserable description, and we lost heavily on the venture, but the work of the club will not be hampered by this, as the Committee have struck on a novel idea, whereby, it is anticipated, the money will eventually be raised – the pressing demands will be met by means of a loan.”
There its in a nutshell. Annual Sports which were expected to make a profit and often did, plus other work to spread the amateur gospel. There were almost always sports in addition to the main event – at one point there were Wednesday evening meetings in May, at another there were meetings in places where hitherto there had been mainly professional sports and so on. They did not always make a profit, but the Committee persevered with new meetings in new places. But back to the 1905 Annual Sports meeting …..
The Glasgow Herald had this to say about the Four Miles handicap: “A Aldridge, the 10 Miles English champion, honoured the Clydesdale with his presence, and if he did not quite come up to expectation, he at all events created a very favourable impression, and when he comes North again, as he has promised to do again soon, he will perhaps put in an even better performance than he did in the Four Miles handicap. The winner of this was S Stevenson, the ten miles Scottish champion. He had but 80 yards from Aldridge, which was a most reasonable concession, and yet the Englishman was unable to give that start. It was an educative race as far as tactics are concerned, and the Scotsman has nothing to learn from Aldridge in this respect. Every time the latter tried the forcing game, Stevenson responded, and when the crucial stage was reached supremacy lay with the Scotsman who finished the distance in 20 min 18 2-5th sec. “ and the article went on to praise Stevenson as the best runner over 2 miles that the country had produced.
The programme had two bicycle races as well as the following: 100 yards had 24 heats, 4 semi finals and a final won by JP Stark (photo below) who had won the SAAA 100 yards in 1904 and would win the 100/220 yards double in 1905, the two miles walk won by Quinn of Motherwell who had won the SAAA title in 1904 and would do so again in 1905, 1000 yards handicap won by Tom Jack from Edinburgh who was already a medal winner in the national championships and would go on to dominate the distance events for several years, a 220 yards handicap with ten heats and a final which was won by Mair of Bellahouston in 22.8 seconds.
After the War broke out, there was the well-documented attitude that “It’ll be all over by Christmas'” Initially life went on pretty well as before until the casualties started to pile up, and Christmas came and went. Some clubs, such as Clydesdale Harriers, suspended activities ‘for the duration’ but in practical terms, the athletic season continued pretty well as before with the same sports meetings on the same dates in summer 1915. George Dallas missed some of the early season meetings but was in action by the end of June. The following appeared in the Glasgow Herald of June 26th, 1915.
“SAAA (Western Districts)
In ordinary times the Scottish Amateur Athletic Association hold their championship meeting on the fourth Saturday in June, but this year it was decided at the annual meeting of the Association that the championship should be held in abeyance, and the date was appropriated by the Western District Committee for a meeting in favour of one or other of the war funds. Later it was decided to devote the surplus to the fund organised by the Glasgow Corporation for the relief of Belgian refugees, and the patronage of the Lord Provost, Magistrates and Town Council having been secured, the meting took place at Celtic Park on Saturday afternoon.”
The meetings held in 1915 often contained races or competitions confined to serving members of the armed forces and unusual events were held – stretcher carrying races by men in full uniform, team races on the track, etc, but this meeting took the idea a bit further – a military marathon race open to teams of twelve. Starting from Celtic Park, the teams made their way by London Road to Barrachnie, Dykehead and Tannochside, thence to Mount Vernon and back to Celtic Park by London Road. Six teams were entered and the conditins were that each team consisted of an officer, a non-commissioned officer and ten men. Full military equipment was worn and each team had to travel and finish as a unit, with a minimum of ten of all ranks, with kit in good order. The distance was about 13 miles.”
George Dallas competed at the meeting in the relatively tame 100 yards, off a mark of 4 1/2 yards, and finished third, inches behind the winner. He had won both heat and semi-final en route to the final. The Military Marathon was won by 4th Battalion Scottish Rifles, B Company, in 1 hour 58.6 – a creditable time for what was basically a half marathon in full military kit in company with eleven others.
On 3rd July, at Hamilton Academicals Sports, again in the 100 yards Dallas was second in first heat, but unplaced in the final, off 4 yards, then in the half mile first in first heat (listed in the programme as G Dallas, Maryhill and West of Scotland Harriers), from a mark of 14 yards, he was unable to beat the handicapper and was unplaced. At Ayr United F & AC Sports on July 17th, he ran first in the 220 yards, where he qualified for the final as fastest loser from 6 heats, and was second in the Final. He also turned out in the half mile where he was first as G Dallas, Maryhill H, running from 14 yards he won by inches in 2:02.4. In to August and as usual the Rangers Sports were the first big event. Held on the seventh of the month he won the half mile off 12 yards in 1:58.6. The Celtic Sports were the following week but he was not mentioned in the results – the first three were from marks of 46, 41 and 60 yards respectively so the handicapper might have been the problem there. On 14th August at Celtic Sports, he was not among the results but the first three in the half mile were off 46, 41 and 60 yards respectively.
By 1916 reality had set in and what sports there still were, had programmes that were scanty when compared with previous years, eg The Rangers Sports had only five running events and a five a side tournament. The open events were 100 yards, 220 yards and Mile, and there were two military handicap races over 100 and 220 yards. Top runner was WR Applegarth who won the military 220 yards. Otherwise they were purely domestic races which nevertheless attracted a crowd of 15,000 spectators. Dallas was by now taken up with military duties.
Colin Shields says in his excellent history of Scottish cross-country ‘whatever the Weather’ : “ Dallas was also a very successful competitor on both the track and country as well as being and able administrator and reporter of the sport in most of Scotland’s newspapers. It was general for runners to turn to distance running and competition over the country after a period of track competition over shorter distances. But Dallas was different in his approach to competition. Returning from Army service in the First World War he was in the peak of physical fitness after a year in the army of occupation in Germany had given him plenty of time for training. In his first summer home he ran 52.0 seconds to win the SAAA National 440 yards title at Powderhall Stadium in Edinburgh. ”
It may have been his first summer home when he won the 440 yards, it was not the first SAAA championship after the war. There was a One Mile Relay race held on Saturday, 24th May at the Eglinton Harriers Sports and although the team was not named, it is possible that Dallas was a member of the winning Maryhill team. He was certainly in action on 31st May, one week later, when Edinburgh University AC held their sports. Several Open events were included and Dallas won the half mile off 8 yards in 2:00.4. He also ran the first stage of the Mile relay for Maryhill which won in 3:50.0 with Goodwin, Hamilton and Colberry making up the team. At Hampden a week later the same relay team won the Mile relay in 3:47.5 by 20 yards from Edinburgh University AC. Another week, another relay: this time it was at the West of Scotland Sports at Ibrox on 14th June and the same Maryhill Harriers squad won from Greenock Glenpark Harriers in 3:51.4. Then at Tynecastle on 23rd June he again competed in the double of open handicap half mile and relay. In the former he was third, running this time from scratch and in the relay Maryhill was beaten for the first time that year – their team had one change from the usual and that was Dobbie in for Goodwin – and by Edinburgh University AC.
On 28th June 1919, the SAAA Championships at Celtic Park included a One Mile Medley Relay and with five wins from six relays, Maryhill Harriers had to turn out a team. Reverting to the Dallas/Goodwin/Hamilton/Colberry quartet they defeated Greenock Glenpark in 3:53 in what was described as one of the most interesting relay races ever seen in the district. Dallas also ran in the championship half mile where he was second to Hector Phillips of Greenock Glenpark who won in 2:05. The next Saturday he was out in the Kilmarnock FC meeting where he won the half mile in 2:00.2. Partick Thistle held their Sports at Firhill on 12th July and Maryhill again won the Mile medley relay with a team of Dallas, Hamilton Cook and Colberry and Dallas was second by half a yard in the half-mile handicap. There was no half mile at the Ayr United FC Sports on 19th July but there was a Mile Relay which Maryhill ‘won easily’. Unplaced in the half mile at the Glenpark Harriers Sports on 26th July he was again a member of a winning relay team when the four of Dallas, Goodwin, Hamilton and Colberry beat Glenpark Harriers by a yard in the fast time of 3:44.2. That was probably their hardest fought win of the summer – record so far – 10 relays, 8 firsts, two seconds! The next relay was at Celtic Park for the Celtic FC Sports where, having been given 45 yards start on London’s Polytechnic Harriers, they finished second having turned out their best team. The Londoners’ time was 3:32.8 which was cut above the best that any Scots team had done. It should be noted that the Polytechnic Harriers team were almost professional athletes during the summer months touring all over the English regions and Scotland as well – they had even been on the Continent and at one point at least the AAA had asked about how they were financing their activities. They were undoubtedly a good squad and it was no reflection on Maryhill that they had lost to them. Their record that summer must be one of the best ever run by a club team.
SAAA 440 yards championship, 1920
The first open athletics meeting of the season was held by Paisley Junior Harriers and there was a relay race on the programme. “Of the five teams entered for the relay race, only three appeared, but the event lost none of its picturesqueness on that account. It was seen early in the race that Maryhill Harriers, the holders of the national championship, were likely to win, and they maintained their reputation.West of Scotland Harriers however pushed them all the way finishing a creditable second. The third team, Shettleston lost a lot of ground quite early on and thereafter their position was hopeless.”
Kilmarnock Harriers held their first Sports on 22nd May at Rugby Park before a crowd of 4000 and Dallas was out in the half mile running from 8 yards. In the final he finished third behind Crawford of Olympic Harriers (46 yards) and Morrison of Eglinton Harriers (45 yards). Shettleston Harriers held a Sports on 29/5/20 at Celtic Park and Dallas was in action in the half mile. The report read: “The feature of the half mile was the fine running of George Dallas (Maryhill Harriers) in both heat and final. From the short mark of 8 yards, he contented himself with second place in the heat, which was the fastest of the four, but the final was run at a much hotter pace and he was beaten by A McGilp of Bellahouston Harriers who was in receipt of 52 yards.”
The Queen’s Park Sports were held on the first Saturday in June and Dallas was in action twice that afternoon. Not in the 880 yards did he run but he turned out in the invitation 440 yards handicap which he won from the mark of 5 yards from Edinburgh’s Robertson (8 yards) and his team mate Colberry (6 yards. He won by 5 yards in 50.8 seconds. He then joined Colberry, Bell and Cook in the club relay team which won in 3:48.8, 15 yards in front of Edinburgh Northern Harriers. Three relays, three victories – but that was about to change. West of Scotland put the Wyoming Cup (won outright before the War at Hawick) up for a relay at their Sports at Ibrox on 12th June. And West duly won their own trophy with the Maryhill team of Bell, Colberry, Cook and Dallas second, beaten by a single yard. This was nevertheless a good performance with the West leading off with Scotland’s top middle distance runner, D McPhee, on the half mile leg. Report said that the contest for the Wyoming Cup now stood at one each for Maryhill and the West with the Cup going to the club which won it three times, not necessarily in succession.
The SAAA Championships were held as usual on the fourth Saturday in June – the 26th -at Powderhall where Dallas won the 440 yards in 52 secons defeating Maryhill team mate and a man who had featured in many a winning relay team with him, JB Bell. He only won by a yard though. The Maryhill team then won the medley race in 3:47.2 with a squad of Dallas, Goodwin, Bell and Colberry. The second team was the West of Scotland team. Into July and Dallas was back at Kilmarnock FC’s Sports where he won the half-mile. According to the report he showed fine judgement in winning his heat without difficulty and had an easy journey in the final. Running from 8 yards he won in 2:06 with second and third runners off 55 and 32 yards respectively. West of Scotland held a sports meeting at Rothesay on 17th July but Dallas was nearer home at West Kilbride where he won the half mile from 4 yards while second and third ran from 50 yards and 55 yards. He was said to have ‘won easily’ in 2:03. Race entries at this point were very big in all races, particularly the sprints – eg in the Celtic Sports in 1920 there were 22 heats of the 100 yards. The Herald commented “The season of 1920 will be remembered more by the extraordinary number of competitors than by the high quality of performances recorded week by week.” Look at this picture of a mile handicap at Ibrox – not sure of the date but fields of this size and even bigger were not uncommon. The result was that the back markers had a big job to get through the field which often meant max effort in the heat and again in the final. Even the 100 became a test of strength with heat, second round and then the final. So when Dallas and other half milers had to run a heat from four or five yards where they gave the limit man up to 60 yards, then a final as well, it was not easy. Often made harder by having big numbers on the track to wend their way through as well.
“The National Cross-Country Union of Scotland held their first amateur sports meeting at Celtic Park, Glasgow on Saturday afternoon, when a varied and interesting programme was submitted. Entries in all events were large but the public attendance was somewhat disappointing.” [Glasgow Herald 23rd May, 1921] Dallas ran in the medley relay with Bell, Goodwin and Colberry and they won easily in 3:48.4. On 4th June the Queen’s Park Sports were held and Dallas was part of a Glasgow Relay team consisting of Duncan McPhee, JB Bell, Dallas and HJ Christie which defeated an Edinburgh team of EH Liddell, L Robertson, T Ritchie and WJ Ross.
If we take a moment to look at the quality of this Maryhill Harriers Relay team, the quality was very high. Dallas we know about,
- JB Bell (who later went on to represent Glasgow University as well as the club) won the SAAA 220 yards and 440 yards in 1919, was second in the 440 behind Dallas and third in the 220 in 1920, was again third in the 220 and second in the 440 in 1921.
- AH Goodwin won the SAAA 100 yards in 1919 and was a finalist in almost all sprints at all major domestic meetings.
- S Colbery was most unfortunate in not gaining any championship titles. He was a member of relay teams from the start of 1919 to the end of 1921.
- G Hamilton who ran with Dallas for Maryhill an West of Scotland pre-war was another fine runner whose only Scottish medal was a third in the 1919 100 yards championship.
But no matter how good they were, they were all relay specialists of the highest order and the teams of which they were members were the best in the country at the time.
At the West of Scotland Sports at Ibrox on 11th June, the host club defeated Maryhill in the relay by a yard in 3:49.6. Whether Dallas ran in the open half mile or not we don’t know – the first three were from marks of 58, 45 and 45 yards and the paper was ambivalent about the value of the big numbers of entries for most events but especially the 100, the half mile and the mile. However, the most interesting race on the programme was the relay with Duncan McPhee and George Dallas facing each other in the half mile opening stage, “McPhee ran a great race, finishing a yard ahead and securing the Wyoming Cup for the promoting club.” If the reigning SAAA champion ran a great race to finish a yard ahead, surely Dallas must also have run a great race to hold him to a single yard? The SAAA Championships were held on 25th June at Celtic Park before 5000 spectators and with more competitors than at any previous championship. Dallas ran in the quarter mile which he had won the previous year but without that success. He won his heat in 53.8 seconds. but in the final the bets he could do was third behind GT Stevenson of Shettleston Harriers and JB Bell, his Maryhill club mate who was also third in the 330 yards. The Maryhill team was out in the relay looking for the third successive victory and the team looked good enough to win – Dallas, Bell, Colberry and Black – but the Edinburgh University team of Eric Liddell, JM Davie, GI Stewart and EW Cormack proved to have the better of them The winning time was a very good 3:43.
On 2nd July Dallas preferred the Glasgow Police Sports at Ibrox to the Hearts FC meeting at Tynecastle and ran in the quarter again. Running from 4 yards he was a’good third’ with the gap between first and second only ‘a foot’. ‘A Dallas’ ran in the half mile where he was fourth from the generous allowance of 57 yards. A week later, 9th July, Maryhill Harriers held a sports at Hawthorn Park, Springburn when ‘A Dallas’ was second to A Boyd of Bellahouston Harriers who won in 2:00.8, a yard in front. Again the mark was 57 yards. Was A Dallas a relative? Or a misprint? I would think the former since the name was very well known in Scottish athletics, since 57 yards seems a big start for one who had been third in the SAAA quarter-mile and since the programme had managed to get G Dallas right for the quarter at Ibrox. On 23rd June there were several sports meetings being held but the Eglinton Harriers meeting at Saltcoats saw the next generation of Maryhill Harriers talent on display when WH Calderwood was second in the half mile. None of the great relay teams of 1919, 1920 or indeed 1921 were on parade that day. On 30th July George Dallas ran in the invitation 300 yards race at the Greenock Glenpark meeting at Cappielow in almost continual rain. He finished second to GT Stevenson (Shettleston 2 yards) who won in 33.4. Stevenson had been one of the ‘finds’ of the season, a surprise winner of the SAAA title he won the international at Belfast beating both Englishmen and both Irish runners. The new generation was coming through. At the Rangers Sports, the only member of any of the relay teams in which Dallas had appeared, to figure in the results was S Colbery (12 yards) who was second in the invitation 300 yards ahead of Eric Liddell (4 yards). Colberry was a very good runner who had been unfortunate not to win a national title and here with 8 yards start from Liddell over 300 he held him off, being beaten by HJ Christie (West of Scotland 10) only on the tape.
Dallas had been racing since 1908 and had been unfortunate that the War hindered his progress as an athlete. He had been involved in athletics administration for several years and in 1921 he was elected Honorary Secretary/Treasurer of the National Cross-Country Union of Scotland, a post he was to hold until 1946 and in 1922 he was elected Secretary of the West District of the SAAA. He was on two national governing bodies simultaneously, holding responsible positions on them both, and something had to give. He may have continued to run in 1922 but he was nowhere to be seen at his old stamping grounds – not Queen’s Park, Hamilton, Rangers or Celtic Sports, nor was the relay team in evidence. However he was not finished with athletics by a long chalk – he was a capable administrator and official for more than four decades: in 1962 he received an MBE for services to athletics.
George Dallas, far right, 100 yards, Celtic Park, 1915
Photograph from Alex Wilson
George Dallas’s career in Scottish athletics has been summarised elsewhere on this website but it is not generally recognised how good an athlete he was before he became an official. A top grade official, recognised as a more than efficient administrator, an excellent reporter on matters to do with the sport first of all for the Daily Record under the pen-name of Ggroe and then for the ‘Glasgow Herald’, George had been a Scottish champion and an international runner before any of that. His running career, as for so many of his generation can be split into before and after the 1914-18 War.
Joining Maryhill Harriers in 1906, George first started to appear in results columns in 1908 and on 9th May 1909 in the Clydesdale Harriers Sports at Ibrox he won the half mile running from a mark of 35 yards in 2:01.4. The races were almost all handicap races and winning a handicap meant that you were given a less favourable mark next time out. That and the sheer numbers competing meant that the sprinters often had two round of heats before the final. Making the first three was not easy. George’s next notable prize was on 17th July 1909 at the highly rated Ayr FC Sports where he was second in the half mile won by Rodger of Paisley in 1:59.8 off 30 yards.
Dallas ran cross-country races, as indeed did almost all middle distance track me, the difference was that at this point Dallas was running the 440/880 yards races with the occasional outing over 220 yards. In his book ‘Whatever the Weather’ Colin Shields says: “In 1910 Dallas won Maryhill Harriers 9 mile club championship, bettering the course record by 2 minutes with three other clubmates inside the old record. This run established him as favourite for the Western District Junior title and he justified this position by winning the 7 miles race in 41 minutes 05 seconds. In a close finish he was three seconds clear of A Austin (Greenock Glenpark Harriers) with D Peat (Motherwell YMCA) third, one second behind. Dallas led Maryhill to their first ever team victory in the championship.” The Glasgow Herald described the race, in which there were 21 teams of 12 men, thus: “on entering the home straight, Dallas of Maryhill Harriers was to the fore but he was closely followed by Aitken of Greenock, with Peat of Motherwell behind him. The finish was exciting and the leader, with a final dash, won by a couple of yards.” Dallas’s time was 41 minutes 05.8 and his club won the team race from Glenpark Harriers and Garscube Harriers were third. Came the National, and Dallas was unplaced but was nevertheless finished far enough up the field to be picked for the Scottish team in the international to be held at Belfast on 26th March. He was unfortunately unable to run in the race itself and the chance was not to arise again. It was now on to the track season of 1910.
Having won his first cross-country championship medal George, on 25th June, 1910, in the SAAA Championships at Powderhall was third in the 440 yards to G Anderson who was timed at 53 seconds. A week later, on 2nd July at the Beith FC Sports he won the first heat of the invitation 220 yards, off 8 yards, in 23.2. In the Final he led all the way to win in 23.4. The biggest meeting of the summer other than the SAAA Championships was the Rangers Sports at the start of August (6th) and he ran in the invitation 440 yards from a mark of 13 yards. He won the third heat and went in to the final where Burton was a clear winner being 3 yards ahead of Dallas and Hepburn of the West of Scotland Harriers who almost dead heated for second. A week later and on 13th August at Celtic Sports he was unplaced in invitation 220 yards.
Despite his specialising in the 440 yards with races at 220 also on his programme, he continued to run cross-country, and in the National Cross-Country Championships on 4th March, 1911 there was no team entered from Maryhill Harriers but Dallas ran as an individual. Well up early on he fell away and was unplaced at the finish. But the track was where he did most of his running.
Known later in his career as a good first leg runner in the medley relay, Dallas went up a distance from 440 yards to 880 at the Clydesdale Harriers Sports at Ibrox on 27th May, 1911, and won his heat 2:01.4 by three yards from a handicap of 8 yards. He was however unplaced in the final which was won by A McPhee of Clydesdale Harriers from a mark of 12 yards in 1:59.8. On 10th June, Bellahouston Harriers held their sports, as an experiment, at the ‘picturesque’ ground of Pollok Football Club. The ground turned out to be not really suitable for an athletics meeting but George Dallas turned out in the half-mile off a mark of 8 yards. Second in the second heat, he was again unplaced in the final. Next up was the Beith Football Club Sports on 1st July where he again ran in the half-mile. The Glasgow Herald remarked that “George Dallas (Maryhill) registered his first win for the season in the half-mile handicap, in which he ran with something like his old fire. He finished in great style, beating RF Gilbert (West of Scotland) when the latter looked an easy winner.” Dallas was running off 12 yards and won by three yards from Gilbert who had a mark of 130 yards. In the report on the Ayr FC Sports on 15th July, the reporter remarked that George Dallas seems more at home on grass than on cinder tracks; at all events, his recent successes would seem to support this conclusion. He won the event, running from 10 yards this time, in 2:01 from Edward Miller of Newcastle (50 yards) and WR Holman (Clydesdale Harriers – 48 yards). There were 35 starters out of 40 entries for this race but at the start of the second lap there were only ten still running! At this point Dallas was well behind but running well within himself and at the last bend put on ‘a brilliant spurt’ and beat Miller by inches. This meeting was held on the same day as the Scoto-Irish international where Scotland had first and second places in the half-mile thanks to Burton and Soutter. At the Rangers Sports, Dallas had a mark in the Invitation 880 yards of 18 yards It was a very high quality race with the American HE Gissing (a sub 1:57 runner), Soutter and DF McNicol all in the line up but Dallas did not run on the day. Dallas did run in the Monday supplementary meeting of the Rangers FC Sports where he won the 300 yards off 10 yards from Christie (West of Scotland – 6 yards) in 32.2 seconds.
On August 14th at the Celtic Sports, Dallas ran in the open half mile – it had been expected that Gissing would run but he was not on the starting line and Dallas was third (off 25 yards) behind Stoddart (West of Scotland 55 yards) and Campbell (Garscube 65 yards). Gissing ran in and won the invitation half-mile in 1:58 from DF McNicol of Polytechnic Harriers. With the football season starting on 21st August, there was no Monday supplementary meeting at Celtic Sports.
Dallas had a quiet year in 1912 but on 3rd August he turned out in the invitation half-mile at the Rangers Sports which featured Meredith, Sheppard of the USA and Braun of Germany and qualified for the half mile from a mark of 40 yards. In the Final none of the three Olympians mentioned ran anywhere near their form, with the race going to McGuire of Glenpark Harriers with Sheppard finishing third in 1:58.2 against the race winner’ 1:53.8. A week later at the Celtic Sports the invitation 880 yards was won by the three Olympians in a disappointing race but Dallas was off virtual scratch in the open handicap race and qualified for the final. The first three were running from 62, 67 and 70 yards in a large field and neither Dallas nor Sam S Watt of Clydesdale Harriers managing to work their way through the field.
Into 1912/1913, and on 3rd May He ran at the Paisley Junior Harriers Sports at the St Mirren FC ground on a very unpleasant and rainy day. Running from 12 yards he won the third heat in 2:10 and qualified for the Final but was unplaced with the first three running from marks of 26, 50 and 60 yards. There was an interesting article in the Glasgow Herald on 19th May following George’s win in the 1000 yards at West of Scotland’s meeting the previous Tuesday (13th). It read:
“George Dallas was scratch in the 1000 yards, and, running with admirable judgement , won comfortably from JS Matthew while Norman MacLean was third. This was a fine race crowned with a brilliant finish. Dallas and Hamilton, both of Maryhill Harriers, have joined the “West”, whose racing ranks are in consequence greatly enriched, as the former is the best half-miler in Scotland, while George Hamilton is one of the best short mark sprinters. It is just possible, however, that Dallas and Hamilton will continue to run in their old colours, though by doing so, they deprive themselves of the privileges which are only shared by those who compete regularly in the pale blue and black stripes of the “West” Harriers.”
On 31st May at the Clydesdale Harriers Sports Dallas ran well in the heat of the half-mile and according to the reports he ran with great judgement. In the Final however he left it too late to figure among the prize winners with the race going to Carmichael of Garscube who was running from 52 yards. The papers looked forward to the Hawick Common Riding meeting the following week end and particularly the mile medley relay for the Wyoming Cup. Relays were quite popular at the time although Maryhill very seldom turned out a team in any of them. The Wyoming Cup had been donated to the Hawick meeting by a group of ex-pats living in Wyoming and the rules stipulated that any club winning the trophy three times would be entitled to keep the trophy thereafter. In 1913 the race had been won twice by West of Scotland and twice by the local Hawick club, Teviotdale Harriers. If either won this time round, they could keep the valuable cup. On the day, the first Saturday in June, West of Scotland won with a team of JH Rodger, RC Duncan, HJ Christie and George Dallas. They claimed the cup. Teviotdale felt very hard done by. Dallas had never run for West before this, he was known as a Maryhill Harriers of great ability and the feeling of disappointment lasted for over a century. Nevertheless the Glasgow club reported in their annual handbook: “‘The club has competed this season in several Relay Races. At Hawick we won the Wyoming Challenge Cup for the third time, and this now becomes our absolute property.” What happened next to the trophy? West took it home to Glasgow and put it up for competition at some of their meetings.
George did run in some meetings in the West colours but by no means all. eg on 8th July, 1913, Dallas ran in the Maryhill Harriers Sports as ‘G Dallas, Maryhill Harriers.’ Jump to August and in the Rangers FC Sports on the first Saturday, Hamilton was listed in the results as ‘G Hamilton, Maryhill and West of Scotland Harriers’, then a week later he was at Celtic FC Sports as ‘G Hamilton, Maryhill Harriers’. At the Celtic meeting, Dallas was a member of the West team which finished third in the Invitation Relay although he did not appear in the results anywhere else at the meeting. At the Maryhill Harriers meeting on 8th July (as G Dallas, Maryhill)
There is no note of him running in the SAAA Championships on 28th June but he was named as reserve to DF McNicol and R Erskine for the international against Ireland on 19th July. Before that however he competed at the Maryhill Harriers Sports on the eighth of the month at Ibrox. He ran in the half-mile from a mark of 10 yards and was third in his heat behind Adam Veitch of Garscube (45 yards) and Sans Unkles of West of Scotland (25 yards). In the final he was unplaced with first place going to A Smith of Falkirk Victoria Harriers who had an allowance of 35 yards. Pollok Football Club held a Sports meeting on 12th July at Haggs Park and Dallas was third in the half mile there behind Smith of FVH and SS Watt of Clydesdale Harriers. In the International in Belfast, Ireland on 19th, he ran in the 800y and was first Scot to finish when he was second.
As we have seen, relays were popular events and at the Rangers Sports on the first Saturday in August, a Glasgow Select faced off against Polytechnic Harriers from London. The Southerners won ‘by a small margin’ in 3:33.4 with Dallas running on the first (880 yards) stage for the Select. He ran another relay for a Glasgow Select against Polytechnic Harriers and Salford Harriers – this time he ran the last (440 yards) stage for the Glasgow team that was third. His main event however was the 500 yards invitation in which Nicol of the Poly Harriers was trying to beat the British record. He didn’t quite make it but Dallas, running from 18 yards, won by a yard in 58.4. The Glasgow Herald described the time as a second and a half outside the British record.
West of Scotland Relay Team, 16/5/1914: McPhee, Christie, Hamilton, Dallas
On 16th May, 1914 George Dallas was a member of a relay team that defeated an English club team – but the team he was running for was West of Scotland and the English team was Broughton Harriers. It was held at the joint Celtic and West of Scotland Harriers Sports at Parkhead with, in running order, Duncan McPhee (who was still a member of Clydesdale Harriers) on the first stage, G Hamilton (a Maryhill Harrier running as a second claim West man), HJ Christie and Dallas (who was still a Maryhill Harrier) on the final quarter mile. Winning time was 3:43.8 and the winning distance ten yards.
The following week, the Glasgow Herald started their Sports Miscellany column with the following: “Relay racing should receive more recognition from sports promoters. It is an excellent substitute for scratch events, which are practically unknown in connection with everyday athletics. Besides, it is a departure from conventionalism and anything removed from the beaten track is always acceptable. The relay race at Parkhead the other day was the most arresting event in the day’s proceedings, inasmuch as it brought to the surface qualities of judgement and speed which are not often seen in handicap running. Unfortunately West of Scotland Harriers are much stronger in this department than other clubs ; but by way of encouraging relay racing we would suggest that the handicapping principle might be introduced as it was by the Rangers at their meeting last August when Polytechnic Harriers were asked to concede a start to the Rest of Scotland. he race on that occasion was strenuously contested and there is no reason why the same principle should not be introduced at all our sports functions. Hawick are putting up a relay race in connection with the Common Riding celebrations and West of Scotland will be represented by their famous quartette, Messrs McPhee, Dallas, Christie and Hamilton.”
Meanwhile Greenock Morton FC held their sports at Cappielow Park on 23rd May and Dallas ran in the half mile from a mark of 14 yards and won his heat but was unplaced in the final which was won by HD Soutter of Greenock Glenpark off 35 yards in 2:04.4 from JM Lindsay (Edinburgh Harriers) off 40 yards. On 30th May at Ibrox in the Clydesdale Harriers Sports Dallas (14 yards) and McPhee (scratch) both contested the half-mile. Interestingly Dallas was listed as Maryhill and West of Scotland Harriers, and McPhee was listed as Clydesdale and West of Scotland Harriers! Dallas won the first heat, McPhee was second in the second heat with three to qualify, and in the final Dallas won by five yards in 1:59.2. On 6th June, the famous West of Scotland team travelled to Hawick for the Mile Relay and the team of Dallas, Hamilton, Christie, McPhee (listed in the order which might well have been the reverse running order).
The SAAA Championships were held on 27th June at Powderhall and the half mile was won by McPhee (West of Scotland in the programme) from Ralph Erskine (Clydesdale Harriers) and George Dallas (Maryhill in the programme) in third place. The West of Scotland Relay team was in action once again on 25th July at the Greenock Glenpark Sports and they won again in 3:50.4 leading all the way after McPhee led the first half mile stage home. At the Monday supplementary meeting for the Rangers Sports on 3rd August, Dallas ran in the invitation 1000 yards from a mark of 32 yards. The American Homer Baker was also running and broke the Scottish record, set three years previously by American HE Gissing, for the distance by one fifth of a second with his time of 2:16.4.
Less than a week later, the world was at war. Less than a year later – in July 1915 – T Barrie Erskine, the limit man in the 100 yards invitation race would be dead, killed in action at Hooge in Flanders.
To set the scene: in 1896 Clydesdale Harriers had split with the SAAA and the SCCU and were running their own competitions and championships. The championships of both SAAA and SAAU were both being held on 27th June which would have bee the date of the Clydesdale Harriers Sports. The sports were therefore brought back by two weeks. They were held at Ibrox Park on 13th June in 1896 and according to the club handbook only just managed to make ends meet owing to a very poor turn out of spectators.
The ‘Glasgow Herald’ reported: “Every sports holding club must after this steer clear of Lifeboat Saturday. If they don’t their experience will be as melancholy as that of the Clydesdale Harriers. No club, perhaps, has suffered more from demonstrations than the Clydesdale Harriers. Several years ago Mr Gladstone in one of his political pilgrimages visited the city on the same as Clydesdale Harriers were holding their annual sports with the result that Ibrox was almost deserted; while on Saturday, owing chiefly to the nautical spectacle, that ground presented an equally forsaken appearance. All this is very hard on the Clydesdale who have done so much in their honourable career to promote the best interests of athletics, and who, like other clubs of a similar kind, look forward to reaping some little return from their yearly sports. But of the attendance was disappointing, the Clydesdale have the satisfaction of knowing that they have presented one of the most interesting athletic dishes that has been submitted to the Glasgow public this season. There was not a wide finish the whole afternoon.”
There were many very good races that afternoon but the best was the victory of Andrew Hannah in the three miles handicap where, as scratch man, he was not thought to be able to work his way through the field. Seventeen men started but by halfway ‘the field was considerably reduced’. The handicaps were big ones with the second placed runner being off a mark of 300 yards. The task for all the back markers was such that internationalists and Scottish champions Duffus and Robertson gave up halfway through the race. Hannah ran hard all the way and the victory was hailed as the best run of his career up to that point, a view which was confirmed by the enthusiasm of the spectators at the finish.
By now the Rangers Sports had moved to the date which will always be associated, the first Saturday in August, and in the absence of any demonstrations plus a good programme of athletics and cycling, they attracted a crowd of 14,000+.
The Clydesdale Harriers handbook for the year went on to say: “On 20th July (Fair Monday), we introduced another innovation in the shape of a Sports Meeting on the Coast. After due consideration, Dunoon was chosen as the venue, it being the only place a suitable field could be obtained, and although a goodly number turned out to witness the sports, very little profit was made of them, owing to the expense of putting the ground in order. The experience gained may be useful on another occasion. ”
The club held several meetings each year, some on its own account and others in co-operation with other clubs. The big one however remained the one in July.
A year later, on 3rd July, 1897, at Ibrox there was another tale of bad luck. The handbook: “The weather was anything but favourable and had great effect upon the gate, in consequence of which the meeting incurred a loss. Interest was added to the meeting by putting up a Challenge Cup and Badges for Team Competition: and the club’s own Team was successful in winning. Special thanks are due to the Committee of Rangers FC for their generosity in handing over to us the sum of £10, being the major part of the drawings of the covered stand, which were to be retained by them.”
The Glasgow Herald waxed lyrical on the weather conditions on the day: “Ibrox Park is not by any means the best venue obtainable for a sports meeting when there is a wind on, and when, as was the case on Saturday, the breeze hails from the south-west, the enclosure of the Rangers FC gets the full brunt of it. Naturally therefore the racing at the Clydesdale Harriers Sports on Saturday afternoon suffered considerably from the gale that prevailed.”
There were several good races but none of the five English teams invited for the three miles team race appeared and the race was between Clydesdale and Watsonians with the CH proving victorious while Edinburgh Northern was third. There were many close finishes but the only athletics beneficiaries on the day were the 100 yards sprinters who were helped on their way and lots of good times were recorded. The list of officials does not include a wind gauge operator.
The bad luck and bad weather continued and on 2nd July, 1898 when Ibrox was favoured with ‘boisterous, showery weather’. The club secretary’s report said that ‘Ibrox Park was placed entirely at our disposal by Rangers FC’ He went on to lament the weather and said ‘The attendance was naturally of the most meagre description and income failed to meet the expenditure by about £25. Fortunately this sum was almost covered by a guarantee fund raised among the Committee and Members, so that very little loss on the Sports will be incurred by the club.’ It wasn’t just the sports that were affected of course – “the weather was all against cricket” for instance but that was small consolation to the club treasurer or to the athletes. The Glasgow Herald began its report on the meeting as follows: “This popular club, which for some years past had very bad weather for its annual gathering, was again on the shady side of fortune on Saturday last, the total drawings amounting only to £38 15s. The racing all over, however, was of a very high class, and the majority of the finishes of a most exciting description, the handicapping, especially in the flat events being very good indeed.”
There was the usual quota of bicycle races which were well supported – eg the half mile handicap had seven heats which sounds very good, and it is, but the athletes really supported the meeting. the 100 yards had twenty (20) heats, a second round of four heats and the final for the few witnesses on the terracing to enjoy. 25 100 yards races in the one afternoon! The standard was high – Hugh Barr was there again, for instance – and the race was won by Neil of Partick Harriers from Kirkwood of Clyde FC and Cooper of Ingram Harriers in 10.0. Not bad after three races on a bad day weatherwise. The two miles short handicap race was won by JS Duffus, from W Robertson and DW Mill. all of Clydesdale Harriers, all noted cross-country runners, in a time of 9:51.2. The half-mile was won by Lindsay of Vale of Leven AC from WW Mason (unattached). This is of interest to Scottish athletics buffs in that the Vale of Leven AAC that we know of as the home club of Lachie Stewart was only founded after the second world war. There were eight heats of the open 220 yards and the Mile was won by T Scott (EUAC) in 4:33. Interestingly, there were three cycle races of which two were for professional riders and one for amateurs.
In 1899, the club changed the date of the meeting from July to May 20th. Held as always at Ibrox, a profit was made that enabled them to pay all their expenses and still have a credit balance. “We had the honour of introducing to the Glasgow public the World’s Champion Hugh Welsh. A Five-a-Side Tournament (by some regarded as a relic of bye-gone days in so far as Glasgow is concerned) was also introduced, and judging by the enthusiasm evinced, could be counted as one of the successes. Vale of Clyde won the first prizes.”
A change of date, a top class athlete previously unseen by a Glasgow crowd and back to the future with a five-a-side brought the first profitable Sports for several years.
- The football competition was made up of Junior teams: the Junior football scene was well supported at the time – junior does not refer to the age of the players but to the fact that their leagues were only a little below that of Senior football. The teams involved were Vale of Clyde, Ashfield, Rutherglen Glencairn, Maryhill, Cambuslang Hibernian, and Glasgow Perthshire.
- Hugh Welsh was a genuine athletics celebrity. A member of the Watsonians club, he had won the SAAA half-mile and mile double in 1896 and 1897. setting a Scottish record in the latter of 4:24.2; in 1898 he won both half-mile and mile in the Irish international in Dublin; and would go on to do the triple in the SAAA championships in June 1899 of 440 yards, 880 yards and Mile. You can read more about him at this link
In the 1899 CH Sports, Welsh was running from scratch with fellow Watsonian JS Paterson off only 23 yards. Paterson was the reigning SAAA four mile champion and had been second in the four miles in the Irish international the previous year so it was no easy task for Welsh in the Clydesdale Harriers mile. He won in 4:30.2. It was “A grand race, the best seen in Scotland for many years, the champion showing excellent judgment. The time was certainly good considering the condition of the track.” Welsh and Paterson faced each other again in the half mile: Welsh started the half but did not finish because of an injury to his foot sustained in the Mile. Paterson won the race off 15 yards. Probably because of the CH Sports recent history, the ‘Herald’ reported that the drawings were: Gate £65 5s; Stand £10. The report ended with the remark that “The sport overall was of the best class and will do a lot to help athletics generally.”
“The Annual Sports of the Club were held on June 16th, 1900. For once the elements were in our favour yet, notwithstanding the strictest economy, we had difficulty in making ends meet. The programme submitted was much as in previous years, the novelty of a Boys’ Race and a tug-of-war contest having to be abandoned through lack of entrants.”
The Glasgow Herald report was also very brief commenting that the sports were conducted in a business-like manner and reflected great credit on all concerned but the attendance was ‘far from satisfactory’. The usual events were held minus the two events that had made 1899 such a success – no five-a-side and no really big name although there were several Scottish internationalists on display. Results in brief:
120 yards hurdles: 1. RS Stronach (Glasgow Academy 17 yards); 2. AAG Stronach (Glasgow Academy 17 yards) Time 12.2 sec
300 yards Handicap: 1. Rennie (Glencairn Harriers) 24 yards); 2. J Dobbie ( Kilmarnock FC 19 yards) Time 32 seconds
Half mile handicap: 1. John Laurie (CH 45 yards); 2. John Matheson (Dennistoun Harriers 60 yards) Time: 1 min 59 sec
One Mile: 1. J Thyne (CH 100 yards); 2. R Burns (Govan AC 60 yards) Time 4:26.6
A diversion that has nothing to do with Clydesdale Harriers. RS Stronach was one of the best ever Scottish hurdlers. He won the SAAA 120 yards hurdles six times. He had an elder brother who always appeared on the programmes as AAG who had been third in the SAAA 120 yards hurdles in 1899 and would be again in 1902; RS was to become a great favourite and he won the event in 1900, 1901, 1904, 1905, 1906, 1907. A noted athlete in his school days and won the prize for the best all-round athlete i the school. While still in his teens he played for Scotland at rugby as a flank forward. He was first noted as a hurdler in 1900 when he first won the SAAA title and then finished very close to the winner in the Scoto-Irish International. His career included winning the AAA’s hurdles title three years in succession and was nigh on unbeatable in Scotland or in the Irish internationals which he won in 1901, 04, 05, 06 and 08. He set a Scottish record for the hurdles of 15.8 – a record that stood for 43 years. A civil engineer he emigrated to Canada in the spring of 1908.
There was also another brother not yet mentioned – AS Stronach – who won the SAAA Shot and Hammer events in 1898. Mind you he was the only competitor in these years. After emigration, RS competed there in 1909, and possibly later although details are hard to come by.
All three represented Glasgow Academy and below we have an extract from the school sports programme.
Charles Blatherwick, President of Clydesdale Harriers from 1885 to 1897
Clydesdale Harriers was founded on 4th May, 1885. Their first track race was a 300 yards at Meadowside, Partick Thistle’s football ground, but their famous and highly regarded Sports did not begin until July 1988. Their first training track was at the Rangers FC ground at Kinning Park and when the club moved to Ibrox, the Harriers moved as well. There were many links between the clubs who had many members, indeed committee members, in common. Co-operation between clubs was not unusual at that time and Scotland at that point really was a sport loving country. The sports pages covered not only football, cricket, rugby and athletics but also bowling, cycling, shinty, chess, quoiting and others on an almost daily basis.
It was no surprise then that the first sports meeting held at Ibrox, on 7th July 1888, was a joint venture. Because it was the first, the report from the Glasgow Herald is reproduced below:
” The Clydesdale Harriers and Rangers Joint Athletic Meeting”
This important athletics fixture was held at Ibrox Park, the ground of the latter, on Saturday afternoon. Between 5000 and 6000 persons were present and the large stands were almost filled, but the cold weather doubtless prevented any great display of gorgeous dresses by those of the fair sex present. A very heavy programme was arranged and but for the fact that several of the events were run off at once instead of in heats, the proceedings would have been protracted until a very late hour. The fact that the five miles and one mile Scottish bicycle championships were to be decided, brought a large contingent of noted wheelists to witness the contests and gave great interest to the sport. Wilson of Edinburgh, last year’s champion, rode in rare form, not only retaining the honour of champion for another year, but also winning the three miles handicap. He then won his heat in the mile open handicap but, as he had beaten Bruce on level terms, he did not start in the final. Vallance was again unfortunate in the hurdles race for after winning his heat in fine style, he fell at the third hurdle in the final and gave up. The steeplechase and 440 yards handicaps which concluded the programme, were among the most exciting of the programme. “
The report went on to the results of a meeting that included many events that look a bit strange at this distance – a four-a-side football match featuring 3rd LRV, Rangers, Partick Thistle and Queen’s Park in which the 3rd LRV defeated Rangers in the final by 4 – 1. The comments on the football matches were of interest to those of us who thought that they were just tougher versions of five-a-sides: eg “First tie: Rangers beat Queen’s Park by one touhc down to nil after a fine game; Second tie: 3rd LRV beat Partick Thistle by two goals and one touch down to one goal.” Touch down implies carrying the ball in the hand, does it not?
For the ‘wheelists’ there were the two championships. plus one mile and five mile tricycle races; there was also a sack race and an obstacle race. There were the cycle races of course and track races at distances ranging from 100 yards to the three miles steeplechase handicap.
John Mellish, and leading figure at the organisation of the first joint sports
Mellish was President of Rangers and of ClydesdaleHarriers
Many well known sportsmen took part, maybe the best race in this respect was the 120 yards hurdles which was won by JR Gow (Rangers and CH), from TE Maley (CH) with A Vallance (CH and Rangers) falling in the final. All three competed in other races with varying degrees of success. Since it was the first one, the results of the main track races will be given:
100 yards: Six heats. Heat winners: A Gillespie (CH and Falkirk FC); A Hastie (CH), TE Maley (CH), K Thomson (Larchfield Academicals); . TW Young (CH); in the fourth heat there had been a tie between R Neil Battlefield FC and DR Gow (CH). There was a run over in which Gow won by a yard. Final: 1. Gow; 2. Thomson; 3. Maley. Time: 10.4 seconds
One Mile Handicap: 23 started in this race. 1. AW Fullarton (Irvine FC 90 yards); 2. AB McKenzie (CH and Rangers 80 yards); 3. James Erskine (CH 80 yards) Time: 4:28.6 “The scratch man, Blane of Maybole, was never in it .” Blane was also a Clydesdale Harrier who won the SAAA Championship and set Scottish records for the One Mile.
120 yards Hurdles Handicap (Open): First heat: JR Gow (CH 8 yards); T Maley (CH 8 yards); Second heat: R Vallance (champion, CH and Rangers 13 yards) R White (CH and Hamilton AFC 6 yards). Final: 1. Gow; 2. Maley; 3 R White Time 19.4 seconds
660 yards Scratch Race: 1. J Logan (CH and Vale of Leven FC); 2. T Blair (QPFC); 3. JB Green (CH) Time 1 min 16.4 (this cut down previous record which was 1:17.2)
Half Mile Handicap (open): 1. John Anderson (CH) 35 yards; 2. JH Ferguson (CH) 55 yards; 3. J Rodgers (Montgrennan CC) 50 yards. 29 started. Time 2:00.0
440 yards: Heat winners and seconds: First Heat: R Welsh (Ayr Section, CH 22 yards), MJ Ferguson (CH 35 yards); Second heat: JB Green (Clydesdale Harriers 6 yards), MJ Gilmore (Irvine FC); third heat: JT Ward (CH and Rangers 20 yards), TW Young (CH and Rangers 5 yards); fourth heat: G Ramsay (CH 40 yards) TE Maley (CH 12 yards). Final: 1. TW Young; 2. JB Green 3. TE Maley. Time 52.0.
The three miles steeplechase handicap was won by Andrew Hannah, junior (CH), from A Saunders (London) and R Graham (CH). Saunders with a handicap of 440 yards was leading by 200 yards at the end of two miles. Hannah, off 20 yards, won in 16:03.8.
The day was indeed a success and the following year they were advertised as the Rangers and Clydesdale Harriers Annual Sports and were held on 6th July, 1889. The Harriers at that time had members who were cyclists, boxers, skater and swimmers as well as runners and football players. On the day of the sports it was announced that the club had fixed up a football match with the Preston North End at Ibrox on September 6th who would go on to open the new Aberdeen FC ground the next day. To take this a wee bit further, the club handbook for 1889/90 contained the following: “Grounds with a cinder track have repeatedly been spoken of, but so long as the resent friendly relations with Rangers FC , the Committee feel that there is no necessity for moving in this matter.” It went on to say that a Football team had been spoken of and the club had defeated Preston North End, Third Lanark and Celtic but the ‘time was not yet ripe for keeping up a permanent organisation.’ However we should return to the Sports of 1889.
The meeting was again a success – held in fine weather but with a choppy wind that affected times in the track events, the crowd was a good one when the meeting started at two o’clock and steadily increased in size until there was a very good attendance. Top performance on the day was by TE Maley of ‘the Celtic’ who won the 100 yards and the won the 220 in 23.4 ‘which is as good as the Scottish record. In favourable weather, Maley could slice a second or two off that record.” JR Gow was the other stand out performer on the day – easily winning the hurdles race and finishing a close third in the 220 yards. The 660 yards scratch race was won by J Logan of Vale of Leven and Clydesdale, T Blair of QPFC was second and R Mitchell of St Mirren and Clydesdale was third. There were the usual cycle races and the four-a-side tournament was held again, Cowlairs defeated St Mirren in the final and again there were touchdowns involved in the scoring.
Ibrox, 5th July, 1890, saw the third Clydesdale Harriers and Rangers Annual Sports: “The Clydesdale Harriers and Rangers Football Club had a most successful sports on Saturday. Finer foot racing has not been witnessed for a long time than which took place at Ibrox Park. The final in the 100 yards was blemished by an unfortunate accident to Lindsay who lost first place through his feet getting entangled in the strings; but otherwise the finishes in the sprints were most exciting, and it would be difficult to conceive finer races than the two heats of the second round of the 100 yards. The 220 yards heats and final alike produced some keen competition; and the half-mile and mile, after some severe exertion, were just won on the tape. But it was reserved for A Hannah, of the Clydesdale Harriers, to create the sensation of the meeting by breaking the two mile record. Mr Duncan was the last holder, his time being 9:48.2, while on Saturday Hannah got home in 9:43.4. Two safety records with the pneumatics out were most interesting and the finishes of last year were recalled when Lees, Allan and Collins got home in the one mile handicap in a bunch. Regarding the pneumatic machines we are informed that the St Mirren and Maybole clubs have decided not to accept entries from those that use them and other clubs will no doubt follow the example of these two. The finishes in the ordinary races were not such happy handicapping efforts as the others; but the racing in these, and also in the other events, constituted an afternoon’s enjoyment greatly relished by all who shared in it.”
There was a good attendance – the large stand was completely filled and ’round the ring’ spectators were three and four deep. The strife caused by the use of pneumatic tyres rumbled on and for a while there were races in meeting programmes for solid tyres and for pneumatics separately and over the same distances. As for poor old Lindsay catching his foot in the ‘strings’ … Sprint lanes were divided one from the other by string at a height of about a foot from the ground supported at intervals by pegs all the way down the straight. The meeting this year had a six-a-side football tournament where results were by goals and points. There were no touchdowns this time round.
As far as the results are concerned –
*JT Weir (Milngavie FC) won the 100 yards from AR Downes (Rangers);
*120 yards hurdles won in a very close finish by D Robertson (Clyde FC 5 yards) from TE Maley (CH this year, 10 yards). Won by inches with spectators unable to decide who had won.
*W Murray, Jnr, (CH 27 yards) won the 440 yards handicap from MD Robertson (CH 24 yards) and TW Young (CH);
*Patterson of QPFC made the most of his 72 yards start in the handicap to win. nearly 40 competed, “when the long line of pedestrians were sent on their journey …”
*RM Walker (Ayr FC 82 yards) won the Mile from C McCann (CH 95 yards) “anther very big field demonstrated the difficulty the back markers had…”
*Two Miles handicap: 1st AG Colquhoun (CH 125 yards) from A Hannah, Jnr (CH scratch) by half a dozen yards.
The next annual sports were at Ibrox on 4th July, 1891. There had been another at Barrowfield Park in May which had been pushed back because of the weather and the re-dated meeting incurred a loss. The annual sports at Ibrox were held and they were “ a huge success numerically, athletically and financially, and enabled us not only to discharge all our debts but to leave a balance at the credit of the club.” The meeting was reported under the headline ‘CLYDESDALE HARRIERS SPORTS’. The report said that the weather was dull and gloomy at the start but brightened up later on when the largest crowd ever seen at an athletic meeting in Scotland put in an appearance. In the principal races, the Mile was won by Small of Cliftonville AC in Ireland after Hannah had dropped out – running from scratch, he started off with a great rush and reduced the gap on his rivals early one but called time when he had great difficulty getting through the ‘great crowd’ of competitors. In the 220 yards, where the meeting record stood to the credit of T Blair (QPFC), the winner was McLeod of Glasgow University, running from scratch, from Finlayson (QPFC, off three and a half yards) with Blair failing to finish.
In the twenty first century, football demands exclusivity and there are many examples of that: not least when this professional sport demands public money to develop their sport while they refuse to take part in many joint community sports forums. But the Harriers Sports, at one of the best football grounds in the country saw representatives from Rangers, Queen’s Park, Dunfermline, Morton, St Mirren, Killearn, Maryhill and Irvine football clubs. The ‘cross-fertilisation’ was good for both sports.
The Harriers had two sports meetings in 1892, in May and on the traditional date of the first Saturday in July. The report in the club handbook on the meeting reads: “Sports Meetings were held by the club in May and July at Ibrox Park and from an Athletic point of view were most successful but from a combination of causes – chiefly a a great Political Demonstration held on the day of our July meeting – we regret that the meetings resulted in a financial loss. The meeting on 2nd July will be chiefly remembered on account of the magnificent performances by WH Morton, of the Salford Harriers, who broke the Scottish records for the One Mile and Two Miles Flat Races, for NA McLeod’s record in the 220 yards, and W Malcolm’s record in the half-mile flat races, and also for the fine Exhibition of Bicycle Riding by E Leitch of the London Polytechnic Club. who succeeded in breaking the existing record for the half-mile.” The great political demonstration referred to was the visit to Glasgow of Gladstone who visited the Liberal Club, and also spoke at the Theatre Royal. It is maybe difficult to see a politician’s visit to Glasgow in the twenty first century adversely affecting attendance at a sports fixture. It was an excellent sports from the club’s point of view with most prizes being won by club members, especially in the half-mile where all three placed runners came from Clydesdale.
The following year the club sports were held on 8th July, 1893, Ibrox Park with a supplementary meeting on the following Monday. The report in the club handbook reads: Unfortunately the weather on both occasions, and especially on the Saturday, was of such an unpropitious nature as to almost completely spoil the attendance of the public. Great efforts had been put forth to make these Meetings worthy of the standing of the Club, the prizes being of exceptionally high value, but owing to the adverse weather conditions the club was involved in considerable pecuniary loss.; which however the club are hopeful of clearing off during the season. The athletic ability at these meetings was, as usual, of a very high order, but in consequence of the sodden nature of the track, record performances could scarcely be expected. … On the Monday evening TW Messenger of the Salford Harriers, and now a member of the CH, made a successful attack on the 220 yards record which he lowered by two-fifth seconds. All the events were ably contested.”
The ‘Glasgow Herald’ report referred to ‘the thunderstorm which broke over the city on Saturday forenoon’ and said that as the afternoon progressed the crowd reached 4000. Changed days when a crowd of 4000 at an athletics meeting is seen as a disaster by the organising committee. The competitors were indeed of very high quality – in the 100 yards were Hugh Barr (CH) Scottish long jump champion and international sprinter, JR Gow (CH and Rangers), Tom Blair (QPFC) but the winner was William Gibson (CH) from Gow. The Mile handicap was won by Hamilton of Maryhill Harriers from Robertson of Clydesdale, and the same duo finished in the same order in the half-mile. The Three Miles was won by Thomas from Ranelagh Harriers from G Stevenson from Ayr FC. There was quality all through the programme and the range of clubs was wide with Queen’s Park, Rangers, Clyde, and 3rd LRV among the Glasgow football clubs represented on the track.
In 1894 the sports were held on 30th June and at Hampden rather than Ibrox. The report from the club annual handbook (emphasis in the second para is mine) says:
“Our annual sports took place this year at Hampden Park – the Saturday meeting on 30th June and an Evening Meeting on the following Monday. The sport provided on both occasions was such as to ought to have secured one of the largest gates of the season, but notwithstanding a brilliant array of talent, and excellent weather on the Saturday, the attendance of the public was disappointingly small, the consequence being a financial deficiency. On Monday the conditions were most unfavourable, and any opportunity that remained of recouping ourselves for Saturday’s loss was completely spoiled by rain. This bad luck has now attended us for three successive seasons, but we trust that there are brighter days in store for us.
“One of the most interesting events in connection with the Saturday meeting, was the Inter-Club Team Race with the Newcastle Harriers (for the Silver Challenge Cup presented for competition by them last season), when our Team, consisting of Messrs A Hannah, W Robertson, A Russell and J McLaren, were successful in winning the trophy for the second time, which according to the conditions of contest, becomes our property.”
The Harriers won the silver cup for the two miles race against Newcastle by 21 points and Hannah won the individual race by 15 yards from Lyall of Newcastle.
In 1895 the Annual Sports were held at Ibrox Park again on 29th June an all that the handbook had to say about the meeting was that “although not quite so successful financially as anticipated, partly on account of the weather and partly to a counter-attraction in the form of a yacht race, we managed to have a balance on the right side.” It had been a successful meeting with very good athletes throughout the programme. Not always in their best events. For instance RS Langlands of Clydesdale Harriers won the 1000 yards handicap in 2:21.4 without exerting himself – Langlands would go on to be the first Scot to run under two minutes for the half-mile. Further up the distance scale, the Two Miles handicap was won by W Robertson from S Duffus with A Hannah dropping out with two laps to go. Fifteen men started but only two finished. It is of interest to note that Alex Maley won his heat of the 100 yards but was unplaced in the final. Tom Maley had been a top class athlete, Willie won the SAAU 100 yards and Alex was the younger brother of the three and like the others, he went on to become a football manager.