Jimmy Duffy

Jimmy Duffy (1903-1976)

Unsung hero of the running track

The period from 1920 to 1932 was the Golden Age of British half-miling, an epoch during which Britons claimed a remarkable FOUR consecutive Olympic 800-metre titles: Albert Hill at Antwerp in 1920, Douglas Lowe at Paris in 1924 and again in Amsterdam in 1928; and, finally, Tom Hampson at Los Angeles in 1932, where he became the first human to breach the 1 minute 50 second barrier for the two-lap distance.

The dominant force in 1920’s British half-miling was indisputably the Cambridge Blue Douglas Lowe, who single-handedly lowered Albert Hill’s British 800-metre record from 1 minute 53.4 seconds to 1 minute 52.4 seconds in 1924, and then to 1 minute 51.8 seconds and finally to 1 minute 51.2 seconds in 1928.

In 1925, however, the dazzling brilliance of Douglas Gordon Arthur Lowe was very nearly eclipsed by a little-known coal miner from Broxburn.

It can be said without a shadow of a doubt that the best Scottish half-miler of the 1920’s was NOT Duncan McPhee, William Milligan, Charles Mein, Robert Downie, Tommy Riddell, William Seagrove or Hugh Maingay – all of whom were decorated sub-2-minute performers.

It was Bernard Rodden, alias Jimmy Duffy.

Duffy was born at Uphall, Linlithgowshire, on 13 September 1903. His father, Hugh, was a paraffin refiner at the Uphall Oil Works. Those were the days when shale oil and gas were thought to be anything but harbingers of ecological disaster.

This Jimmy Duffy is not to be confused with the Jimmy Duffy of Boston Marathon fame who emigrated from Edinburgh to Canada in 1911 and met his untimely end four years later on the battlefields of Belgium. Or the late J. (Jock) Duffy, the bricklayer who won the 1953 S.A.A.A. Marathon Championship and, like Duffy, was born at, yes, you’ve guessed it, Uphall near Broxburn.

Having grown up in needy circumstances during the First World War, Duffy began competing in boys’ races as a stripling of 12 years. His younger sibling James followed in his footsteps and became a successful long-distance runner in the early 1920’s under his alias “R. James (Linlithgow)”.

After making his big-time debut in the 1919 New Year Pedestrian Gala at Powderhall, where he was unplaced in the 3-mile race for under-16 boys, he first hit the public eye in 1921 when he won the June half-mile handicap at Powderhall off 55 yards in 1 minute 59.4 seconds. At the end of the year, running off 50 yards, he finished 3rd in the final of the £80 Powderhall Christmas half-mile handicap, having just failed to make up 35 yards on the two men ahead of him. His time of 1 minute 53.0 seconds, worth a little over 2 minutes for the full distance, was a notable performance on a heavy track.

Little was heard of Duffy in 1922, a circumstance which may have had something to do with the fact that his handicap had been slashed to 20 yards as a penalty for his performance at Powderhall. In professional athletics excellence was penalised, not rewarded!

Duffy finally hit his stride in 1923 when he broke the 2-minute barrier for the first time, posting a superb 1 minute 57.8 seconds at Powderhall on June 1 and backing this up with another sub-2-minute clocking at Powderhall on September 1. At the end of the year, he established his supremacy among the professionals in the half-mile when he put up a sterling performance to win the Christmas half-mile handicap at Powderhall from 25 yards in 1 minute 53.6 seconds. This was remarkable running in the middle of the grim Scottish winter and hailed then as one of the greatest performances Powderhall had ever seen.

For the next half dozen years, Duffy was to be regarded as the benchmark for the half-mile in Scotland. Until 1930, all half-mile handicaps at Powderhall were framed from Duffy at scratch.

Duffy was not only a stylist like all greats of the running track but also an exceedingly versatile runner, possessing both the flat speed sufficient to mix it with Scotland’s best pro sprinters and the stamina to run the mile in 4 minutes 28.4 seconds off 15 yards at Powderhall on May 12, 1923.

In 1924, Duffy saved his best for a Charity Gala at Powderhall on 7 June, where he took on a large field from the scratch mark. Unfortunately, the curse of the scratch man struck again, as it so often did. He had to run wide most of the distance and was baulked more than once as he picked his way through the competitors starting ahead of him. Still, he pulled off an impressive run, coming within a foot of victory in 1 minute 58.6 seconds on a soggy track.

Most of his numerous appearances during the summer months were untimed runs at the Highland Games, where he invariably did no more than was absolutely necessary to win. In any case, the running tracks used at such annual gatherings were typically rudimentary and temporary circles staked out in grassy fields with a wholesome irreverence for accuracy.

In the summer of 1925, the Broxburn runner attempted the world professional half-mile record at Shawfield. The record had for over a half a century been in the possession of one Frank Skurry Hewitt, a Londoner by birth, who, after emigrating to Down Under, was credited with a time of 1 minute 53.5 seconds at Christchurch, New Zealand, in 1871. This mark had eluded the world’s best professionals ever since, including the three-time “three A’s” half-mile champion Edgar Bredin, who, after turning professional, set the then standing British record of 1 minute 55.6 minutes at Stamford Bridge in 1897. With the aid of pacemakers and cheered on by a bumper crowd of 12,000 spectators, Duffy romped to victory in 1 minute 53.0 seconds, shattering the age-old figures. The celebrations were short-lived, however, as a re-measurement of the quarter-mile oval revealed that it was 2 feet short, and, hence, he had run 4 feet, or 1.2 metres, less than the full distance. That was still more than 800 metres (803.45 metres, to be exact), and his time, while not a professional half-mile record, is equivalent to a freakish 1:52.5 for the 800 metres – only 0.6 seconds shy of the world amateur (and outright) record set by the American Ted Meredith at Stockholm in 1912 and a mere 1/10th second off the British amateur record set by Douglas Lowe when winning Olympic gold at Paris a year earlier.   Would the track at Christchurch where Hewitt set the world record have stood up to such scrutiny? It was a moot point by then, of course.

Duffy went to the well a few more times that year in his quest to rewrite the record books. It is worth pointing out, though, that even if he had been credited with a world record at Shawfield, his performance might not have been recognized by statisticians owing to the circumstance that he had been paced throughout the last stage of his race – a big no-no, even in professional circles. On August 15, he was timed at 1 minute 55.0 seconds in a handicap at Powderhall Ground, thereby establishing a bona-fide British professional record. On 18 August he only managed 1 minute 57.0 seconds in another record attempt at Shawfield, and it seemed that he was running out of steam. But he bounced back to lower the record by a whole second to 1 minute 54.0 seconds at Wick on August 26, and then conjured up another marvelous effort of 1 minute 54.4 seconds over 875 yards (800.1 metres) at Powderhall on October 3. Alas, despite his best efforts, the world record was not to be.

Duffy was not exactly the epitome of your law-abiding citizen, and there were a few deviations from the straight and narrow along the way. He was convicted of theft twice in his younger years. But at least on the running track, he always gave an honest account of himself, even when the odds were stacked against him. A contemporary noted that he possessed “great strength and courage and never knew when he was beaten, snatching victory on the tape on many occasions when all seemed lost”. On October 31, 1925, he had to be hospitalised after collapsing from exhaustion in a handicap at Powderhall, where, as the backmarker, he had been set a hopeless task.

One of the easily overlooked highlights of the 1926 season was Duffy equalling his British record at Perth on July 24 when he won the half-mile handicap from scratch in 1 minute 54.0 seconds despite conceding mouth-watering starts of up to 85 yards. Seven days later, in a professional sports meeting promoted by the management of Clyde FC at Shawfield, Duffy returned another brilliant performance in front of 20,000 spectators to win the half-mile handicap from the back mark in 1 minute 55.0 seconds. By now, expectations were so high that the Sunday Post ran a piece disappointingly titled “DUFFY FAILS AT SHAWFIELD.”

On September 3, 1926, Duffy gave a demonstration of his blazing flat speed when he outclassed Frank Schultz of Australia to win the World Professional Championship at Shawfield, returning 49.67 seconds for the distance. This was not electronic timing, of course, but a time taken manually with one of the state-of-the-art 1/100-second stopwatches that had first surfaced in the UK around 1921. His performance, equivalent to 49.4 seconds for the metric distance, was a leading mark in the UK and, in fact, fractionally quicker than the winning time at that year’s A.A.A. championships.

The 1927 season saw Duffy heavily handicapped (a victim of his own success) and struggling to get placed, let alone win, in his favoured events. But rather than bowing to fate and the perceived ignominy of being an also-ran in handicaps, he increasingly turned to the short sprints – with surprising results. On January 2, 1928, he confounded the critics when he carried off the coveted 130-yard Powderhall New Year Sprint Handicap from 11 ½ yards in 12 4/16th seconds – a performance worth 11.3 seconds for 100 metres on a bumpy grass track in bitterly cold conditions.

Duffy was one of the few runners to win both the Christmas half mile and the New Year sprint handicaps. The Broxburn runner excelled at all distances, and it was confidently asserted that had he put his mind to it he could also have cut a good figure in the Powderhall Marathon.

Half-miler Jimmy Duffy caused a sensation in 1928 by winning the Powderhall Sprint

In around 1930 Duffy announced his decision to hang up his spikes, demoralised and convinced that there was no money in the game. Like many champions before him, he was finding little hope of competing with success in handicap events, with scratch races having become few and far between after the demise of the cinder track at Powderhall. He reconsidered, thankfully, and briefly returned to the spotlight in 1934 when he bagged the World Professional Half-Mile Championship in 2 minutes 1.2 seconds at Hackney Wick Grounds in London.   Film of him doing it is at the link below.

For close on twenty years, Jimmy Duffy toured the Scottish games circuit, winning hundreds of handicap races at all distances at meetings from Royal Braemar to Jedburgh. He was a real crowd-puller who loved to entertain – and, of course, to win. A contemporary marveled at the poetry of his motion: “He ran effortlessly with a flowing action which was thrilling to behold”.

After his retiral in 1939 (he did not so much retire as fade away), Duffy maintained an interest in athletics and for a time coached the Edinburgh University and Edinburgh Southern Harriers track teams. His proteges included two S.A.A.A. half-mile champions in Cyril Hall, Edinburgh University, and Jimmy Smart, Edinburgh Southern Harriers, before taking his talents to distant Calgary in Canada.

In 1949 he appeared in the Veteran’s Handicap in the New Year Pedestrian Gala at Powderhall. It is not known how he fared, but, knowing Jimmy Duffy, he would have been out to win it.

This unsung hero of the running track was, in the words of a pundit, “the greatest middle-distance runner produced by Scotland in the years between the wars and one of the greatest of all time”. So there you have it.


SAAA at Celtic Park


Celtic A& FC was established in 1887 and played their first match in 1888.   Most of the top football clubs that were already established held their own sports and , other than Clyde FC, they were amateur events.   Rangers, Kilmarnock, Greenock Morton and others were all annual events.  The first Celtic Sports were held in 1890 and at that point Glasgow had three top class athletics facilities available to it – Hampden Park, Ibrox Park and Celtic Park.   The SAAA championships for many years were turn about east and west of the country meetings and Celtic became one of the west venues.

The first SAAA Championships meeting to be held at Celtic Park was on Saturday, 26th June, 1897 and included events for the SRU (Scottish Cyclists Union). The report in the ‘Glasgow Herald’ the following Monday read as follows.

Those mentioned above were all significant figures in athletics: Welsh  was winner of 880 and mile that day and the following year, Robertson was a multi title winner, in particular winning 880, mile and 10 miles championships in 1898. Paterson won the 4 miles in 1897, 1898 and 1899, the Mile and the 10 miles in 190, the mile in 1901 and the Scottish crosss-country title in 1898, 1899 and 1900. Duffus was mainly a cross-country runner (champion in 1897) who also won 4 miles national title in 1896 along with several silver medals.   Another star on the day was Hugh Barr, a superb long jumper who won the championship in 1893, 1895, 1897, 1898, 1899 and 1900 with second places in 1894 and 1896.   Barr was also a very good sprinter who won the championship in 1898 (this was after a dead heat and a re-run of the final);  at Celtic Park in 1897 he was second in both sprints.   It really was a quality meeting right across the board

It was not until Saturday, 28th June in 1913 that Celtic Park was again the venue for the Scottish championships and they were covered briefly in the ‘Scottish Referee’:

McNicol also ran in and won the 880 yards in this meeting which, although there was a meeting in 1914, was effectively the last before the First World War in which many of the participants would lose their lives.   Men like Wilfred Cramb who ran in the sprints and the aforementioned Ralph Erskine.   Erskine’s older brother Thomas competed all summer 1913 and despite being praised and decorated for his service, died approximately a year late while Ralph was killed in January 1918.

Ralph Erskine

On Saturday, 28th June, 1919, at Celtic Park the first post war championships were held before a crowd of 4000.    The Scotsman report reads as follows.

Results in Full


Tom Nicolson

After being held in the east, at Powderhall, in 1920, the championships returned to the west and on Saturday, 25th June, 1921, Celtic Park again hosted the event.   Again, we have the report from the Scotsman.

Duncan McPhee

The fifth, and last, championships to be held at Parkhead were on Saturday, 23rd June, 1923 in ‘delightful weather wit a good attendance’..   It was a very good meeting indeed with three double event winners and one man won no fewer than 4 gold medals.   The star of the track however was Eric Liddell with two victories plus a share in another.   He won the 100 yards in 10.4 seconds and the 220 yards in 22.4.   “As was generally anticipated, Liddell retained his two titles with little difficulty, his strong finishing being the feature of his running.”   He was also out in the winning Edinburgh University medley relay team which defeated Maryhill Harriers.

Duncan McPhee won both 880 yards and Mile in 2:01 and 4:34.4 and the ‘Glasgow Herald’ said  this:

Moving on up, JG McIntyre won the 4 miles  and he had already won the 10 miles at Hampden in April, to give him a double.   Times were 20:55.6 and 56:48.   TR Nicolson however was the real top man when he won the Shot (40′ 9″), Hammer (148′ 02″), Hammer (standing style: 104′ 8 1/2″) and 56 lb weight (28′ 6 1/4″)


SAAA at Ibrox

The first SAAA Championships to be held at Ibrox Park were on Saturday, 22nd June, 1895, at a time of great controversy in the sport.   There was a disagreement between Clydesdale Harriers, the biggest club in the land by far, and the SAAA  as a result of which the Harriers left the SAAA and set up their own governing body.   This was the SAAU (Scottish Amateur Athletics Union) which held its own championships and events.   On 22nd June the SAAA held their Championships at Ibrox while the SAAU held theirs at Ibrox in conjunction with the SCU (Scottish Cyclists Union).   The report on the Ibrox meeting in the “Scottish Referee” the following Monday says:

Meanwhile across the city at Hampden Park, there was a real parade of Scottish champions in the form of such athletes as W Robertson, S Duffus, RA Vogt and many more while the  only real star at Ibrox was AR Downer.   In addition spectators at Hampden withnessed a significant half-mile race.   There had been a battle for the honour of being the first Scot under 2 minutes for the half mile with Robert Mitchell (St Mirren and Clydesdale), Walter Malcolm (Morton FC and Clydesdale) and Robert Langlands (Clydesdale Harriers.   In the SAAU championships the race between Mitchell and Langlands was won by Langlands in 1:59.6.    The crowd was estimated to be around 6,900.     


There was a gap of eight years before the next visit of the SAAA for their championships which were held on Saturday, 20th June, 1903.    The feud between SAAA and SAAU was now over and done with and there was a single championship held.   The “Glasgow Herald” reported “The twenty first annual championship meeting was held at Ibrox Park on Saturday afternoon.   The gathering was associated with delightful weather and the track was firm and in favour of fast racing.   Three of the champions did not defend their titles, the absentees being J McCormack, London AC, half mile; J McLean, London, who held championship honours for the 100 and 220 yards flat races, and H Nicolson, putting the weight.   Mr McLean is resident in New York, McCormack is in South Africa and Nicolson is now a professional.”    There was “a goodly crowd” present according to the “Scottish Referee” who hailed the top man of the day as John McGough of Bellahouston Harriers with this drawing and comment.

He well deserved the honour having won three endurance events – the Half Mile, One Mile and Four Miles events.    You will note that the Bellahouston Harriers ‘logo’ is just the same in the 21st century as it was when McGough sported it.   The results on the days were as follows:

100 yards: J Ford.   10.4 seconds

220 yards: RL Watson.   23.6 seconds

Quarter Mile: RL Watson.   54.4 seconds

Half Mile:  J McGough.   2:01.6

One Mile:   J McGough.   4:27.6

Four Miles:   J McGough.  20:10.3

120 yards hurdles:  GC Anderson, 16.6 seconds

Putting the Weight:  TR Nicolson.   41′  4 1/2″

Throwing the Hammer.   TR Nicolson.   140′  10″

High Jump:   JB Milne.   5′ 9″

Broad Jump:  GC Anderson.  20′ 8″

Two years later the championships were back in the west and back at Ibrox.   They were held on Saturday 24th June, 1905, ‘under delightful weather’.   A look at the results below is an indication of the quality of athletes on view.   JP Stark in the sprints, McGough in the Mile, Stevenson v Jack in the Four Miles, Stronach (above) in the hurdles, TR Nicolson in the throws, and maybe the biggest name of them all, Halswell in the 440 and 880.   There were also some really big names among those placed such as WH Welsh.   There were three best championship performances and two best performances were equalled.    

 Saturday, 26th June, 1909,  was the next visit of the SAAA Championships to Ibrox Park and they were welcomed by the Scottish Referee with the picture below.

It went on to commend the stadium – 

Entries were high but the 1909 championships were held, however, at a time when support for the sport was dwindling and among the reasons put forward for this had been the retiral of Halswell.   Came the day however and there were several of the very top names in action.   The weather was fine but the sport was even better if the ‘Referee’ is to be believed – 

The crowd was not the biggest and the rain during the week had made the turf a bit on the heavy side but the cinder path was in ‘first rate order’ after the care bestowed on it by groundsman Cameron.   The half mile was a good race with the holder RS Duncan facing stern opposition – J Ballantine led at the bell, Adam Turnbull of Clydesdale Harriers went in front at 220 to go and looked like the winner until Duncan eased past and won in 2:02.5, a yard in front of Rurnbull with Ballantine third ‘a couple of yards back’.   There was not ‘a laggard’ in the field.   A good win in a good race and in a good time too.   The race of the afternoon however was the one mile in which HT Jamieson managed to defeat John McGough by a yard and a half with Anglo-Scot McNicol half a yard back and T Welsh fourth.    


The complete results for the championships were as follows.

The last SAAA championships at Ibrox before the 1914/18 war were held on Saturday, 15th June, 1912.   

Again, the track was part of the story – the comments are worthy of a direct quote from the ‘Scottish Referee’ of the day before the meeting: 

The athletics were worthy of a better crowd than actually attended with three double event winners and TR Nicolson winning his seventh short putt title.    A glance at the runners and other competitors will tell you all about the quality.   Note – 

Four Miles:   Tom Jack defeated the holder GCL Wallach in 20:45 by all of 50 yards;

One Mile:   Won by holder DF McNicol in 4:31.8 by only three yards

880 yards:   JT Soutter from R Burton in 2:01.8

440 yards:   JT Soutter from RA Lindsay (Blackheath)

NB: The JT Soutter link is an interesting one from several points of view, not least the question of, “Whatever happened to ..?”

Complete results: 


Club crest and motto

The shield in front of the club group above is of particular interest to us in the 21st century.   Most clubs – not as many as formerly though – had their own crest and motto.   Some had them on a shield or other wooden representation which was kept in the club head quarters, placed the window of supporters club buses on the way to big races (the National, the Edinburgh to Glasgow) and so on.   If we take a closer look at the shield above – 

we see a winged foot, which needs no explanation.   It was a symbol used by many athletic clubs such as the New York Irish who had it front and centre on their vest.   Other clubs had their own crest – Shettleston Harriers had a torch, Clydesdale Harriers had a hunting horn and whip, Greenock Glenpark Harriers had a hare and so on.   The Beith crest and text were devised by Dugald McCallum, the janitor at Beith Primary School.

The Beith Harriers motto is also on the shield and is in Latin.   Most mottos were in Latin – Clydesdale Harriers was Excelsior, Shettleston’s   ‘Nihil Sine Labore’ was also in Latin while the Glenpark motto was ‘en avant’ in French.   The Beith slogan  of “Per aspers ad astra”   is usually translated as “Through hardship to the stars”.   It is a phrase and is used by many Universities, schools and organisations all round the world.   

Some clubs had the crest on a  cloth badge such as the one shown above which could be sewn on to a tracksuit, a training top or even on to a blazer.   Many clubs had metal lapel pins made and sold, usually at a small profit for club funds, and Tom Cochrane’s Beith pin is shown below.

Beith had the club insignia on the metal badge, the track suit cloth version and the large solid shield for display purposes.  Not all clubs had all three.   And there was also a cloth badge like the one shown below – not as easily recognised as Beith Harriers but a good indication that the wearer was a proud club member.

Beith Harriers – extracts from the Minutes

The best way to understand a club’s beginnings and development is usually to look through the minutes.   Not all club  minutes are extant or easily accessible, nor are the guardians always as helpful as they might be.   In this case, the interest for the wider community comes from the location and nature of the environment in which the club thrives.   Beith Harriers is a good going, consistent club in a rural setting where the challenges facing the club are a bit different in nature from those faced by most of the clubs in the country – and on this website.  There are many clubs like Beith Harriers and their place in the sport should be recognised and understood.      The guardian of the minutes is Kenny Phillips – a genuine enthusiast who knows a bit about athletics generally in Scotland, and a lot about his club.   He has kindly allowed us to see and publish the following.   Kenny has gathered the following and the rest of the page is his.


I have gone through the Beith Harriers minutes and noted the following:-

03/12/1923  Beith Harriers formed.

11/12/1923  Committee agreed to see Mrs Hood, who granted the use of her store as training Headquarters.

23/08/1926 AGM Headquarters – Hall rent 4/- per week instead of 5/-, 7.30 – 10.00pm, upstairs and downstairs, Charge 1d per week for all persons using stripping accommodation.

26/06/1926 Committee   Club to procure 3 red bands for the pace of each pack and 3 yellow bands and whistle for the whips.

28/09/1926 Essential training items to be bought Sponges and bands, 3 of each for pace and whips plus whistle for whip. 

15/08/1927 AGM Weekly levy 1d per week plus membership fee Seniors over 18 years 3/6d, Juniors under 18 years 2/-.  Overture for training quarters at Saracens Hall.

22/08/1927 Committee  Saracens Hall for training at 5/- per week.  AF Neilson reported that he had negotiated a bath for the club, which had previously been utilised by Beith Football Club.

27/04/1928 Weekly charge of 2d, only when members train.

12/04/1929 Club acquired a hut for training.

05/1929 A van secured for training entailing an expenditure of £10 and it was decided to paint it a red colour.

02/09/1929 Club still without training facilities.

07/10/1929 Quotations for a brick building 40’ x 20’ and for purchase of ground.

08/11/1929 Repair to floor in clubhouse.

12/02/1930 Agreed to pay the rates amounting to 27/6d for the house now used as headquarters.

16/05/1930 Plan for new clubhouse and site.

23/05/1930 Plan for new clubhouse cost £335 but only £250 in bank.  Approved.

29/08/1930 New headquarters to be built and finished in 2 weeks, fully equipped with bathing accommodation and gymnasium at a total cost of £400.

09/01/1931 Agreed to install a hot water apparatus to give central heating.

12/06/1931 ½ Yearly Meeting  The summer levy for runners to be 2d per week and 3d per week for members who just desired a bath.  (most of the houses at that time were single ends and room and kitchens without a bath or inside water supply and the local residents made use of the club facilities of 2 baths and shower..).

23/07/1931 General Meeting  Proposed Ladies Section.  Annual Subscription 2/6d for members over 18 and 2/- for members under 18.  Levy 1d per week with training on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and on Saturdays when the Club was away from home.

26/08/1932 Committee Meeting  Mr J Gibson appointed to see about coal for the baths and anthracite for the heating.

22/05/1945 Clubhouse derequisitioned and opened for training.  Levy 2d per week to cover cost of baths etc.

26/03/1952 Beith Harriers granted a free let of the clubhouse to the Old People’s Welfare Fund for a Beetle Drive to raise funds for meals for old folk and that no charge would be made for coal, lights etc..

31/08/1955 Wardrop Street Social Club wished to recompense Beith Harriers for the use of the clubhouse and offered their new premises with a purvey for the summer free of charge.

07/09/1955 Wardrop Street Social Club again offered a free let of their premises and purvey for the Ballot Team Race on 01/01/1956.

18/09/1957 H Maxwell said that he had purchased an immerser for the boiler and it will be installed soon.

21/04/1959 ½ Yearly Meeting.  A neighbour who held a key for the clubhouse was worried that she did not know many of the new members and that she might be giving the key to unauthorised persons.  The water heater had been left on, on several occasions wasting electricity.

20/08/1964 AGM  Bathroom to be painted with Pink Snowcem and the pipes to be lagged.

31/08/1967 Ayrshire Cross Country Relay Championships to be held in Kilbirnie Public Park with changing at the Garnock Swimming Pool.   The Secretary was asked to approach the Parks Superintendent, George Murdoch, who was a former famous Beith Harrier, to measure the trail.

06/03/1972  H Maxwell to be asked for help to repair the broken toilet and burst pipes.

12/1972 Work Party  W Parker and J Sloss to arrange repairs to boiler, toilet, back door and felt roof.  J Sloss to collect toilet from M Barr.

05/10/1974 Committee Meeting  Try to repair clubhouse roof for £50.

17/06/1986 The use of Garnock Pool in Kilbirnie for training on Thursdays was approved.


Beith Harriers had to spend a lot of time and energy building their clubhouse and maintaining it.  It had a felt roof that needed regular painting with bitumen and repair.  At one stage concrete roofing tiles of different colours were purchased cheaply and applied but they were too heavy for the wooden roof trusses and had to be removed and reverted to felt.  Very few clubs in Ayrshire had such a large gymnasium with equipment, two large baths, a shower, hot and cold water, central heating and various good cross country trails and it became popular for inter-club and championship races.

Reciprocal co-operation was achieved with neighbours, local organisations and other harrier clubs.   We got the let of the excellent Geilsland List D School for our Ne-erday races, when they were opened to females, and in return we offered to coach some of their residents.  We were thanked for our offer but reluctantly turned down because, “if the boys ran away, we would never catch them”


Stewarton Sports Association had a free let of the Strandhead Pavilion with showers on a Sunday morning but the members usually had a cross country run down one side of the River Annick and back up the other side, finishing with a dook in the burn, summer and winter, often having to break the ice.  They applied to Ayr County Council for the let of Stewarton High School to run an open cross country sports meeting on a Sunday for male and female athletes in all the age groups from Under 11 to Veterans but it was turned down by the letting committee whose membership included several ministers of religion.   With the assistance of the Ayrshire Harrier Clubs Association, a successful appeal was made to the full County Council.  Support was provided by the Community Education staff and over the years up to 800 competitors took part enjoying proper cross country courses, hot showers, and home-made baking.   When Stewarton Academy was built, the High School was converted to a Primary School with miniature toilets and the races transferred to Stewarton Academy and Robertland Primary School.  The races were successful for 30 years despite complaints from some of the head teachers.   We scrubbed out the schools after the races, to be ready for the schools starting on the Monday morning.  When we were blamed for damage, we had to inspect the school with the janitor before and after the let and list all defects.  We suggested that the Council should provide plastic sheeting to protect the games hall floor but we had to provide it at our expense.  In our final let the Academy was cleaned 3 times, once by us, once by contractors employed by the Council at our expense and once by the regular Council cleaners. 

Some of our most prestigous events are sadly lacking in bathing facilities. 

I remember running in my first National Cross Country Race at Hamilton Racecourse, where there was probably about 500 competitors, and there was only one sink with cold water under an outside serving counter.

At a recent National Cross Country Championships at Calendar Park, Falkirk, during very wet weather, many muddy harriers took advantage of a flooded field to get washed before setting out for home.

The oldest Life Member of Beith Harriers, George Lightbody, remembers some of the deplorable toilet facilities at track and field meetings in the summer Highland Games etc, where the proper toilets were reserved for guests and invitation athletes.  I shall send more details later.


There is a wealth of good solid first hand historical information there that is worth study.   The obvious question about how did a club start and where were the changing rooms, is answered.   Not an easy first step to take – there was one Glasgow club whose runners turned up and met at a particular lamp post at a street corner.   That was their HQ!   

There is also a reference in June, 1926, to the purchase of red and yellow bands.   These were used for the regular pack runs with most clubs running three packs: fast, medium and slow.   Each pack was led by a nominated pace who was recognised by his red sash.  In addition each pack had a whip (or whipper-in) at the rear, wearing a yellow sash and carrying a whistle: if the pace set was too quick, the whip would communicate with the pace using the whistle to ease back to keep the pack together.   Similarly if the pace was too slow.   There were minor variations in detail – eg the Clydesdale Harriers whip wore a green sash although the red for the pace was the same.   

The continuing saga at every club was with accommodation.   Most clubs wanted their own club hut or clubhouse and for those that managed the dream of owning their own, the work that had to be put in – and was willingly put in – was  usually considerable.   This was not confined to Beith, clubs up and down the land spent lots of time raising money, repairing plumbing, doing woodwork and decorating the premises.   This is all made clear in the extracts from minutes and Kenny’s comments  above. 



Beith Harriers

Beith Harriers was always a good club – not a big club, but a good club.   You only have to look at the names of some of their men over the decades.   At one point in the w1960’s they had Ian Harris, Tom Cochrane, and Danny McFadzean, in the club at the same time.     And the talent was not confined to endurance runners – David Shedden who was a first class sprinter and long/triple jumper in the 1960’2 and a Scottish international rugby player, was a member of Beith as well as being a Scottish rugby internationalist.   

As a club they have enjoyed considerable local success in Ayrshire County Championships and in old South West District Cross-Country relays and events and have been strong supporters of the Ayrshire Harrier Clubs Association – probably the oldest county association and one which is still going strong when others have fallen by the wayside.    

In the South West District Championships which ran until 1975 the club’s record was a good one.   At Senior level they won the title in 1930, 1934, 1960 and 1963; at individual level the championship has been won by J Millar in 1934 and in the 1960s it was almost monopolised by the club with Ian Harris winning in 1961 and 1964 and then Tom Cochrane winning seven times including 5-in-a-row in 1960, 1963, 1965, 1966, 1967, 1968 and 1969.   His feat was recognised by the District Committee when they joined in with the Midland District when they awarded him the championship trophy to keep in perpetuity.   The District Junior title was won in 1964 by J Millar and in 1975 by A Gourlay – there was no separate Junior team race as they ran with the seniors.   In the Youths age group, the club won in 1960 while individual wins were by Ian Harris in 1953, J Millar in 1961, J Golder in 1972 and A Gourlay in 1974.    The Senior Men won the Relays in 1931, 1934, 1935, 1936 and 1938 before the war intervened.   After the war the club was successful in 1959, 1960, 1964, 1965, 1968 and 1969.    Not a bad record in a very strong district which included clubs such as Bellahouston Harriers and both Greenock clubs – Glenpark and Wellpark.   

The club was also one of the mainsprings of the County Association, one which has outlasted many of the other county groupings which have appeared and disappeared over the years.   As well as organising the Beith New Year’s Dar race it has helped with county championships and on the track with the late Dirrans Sports Gala meeting,   The  arrs.run website which lists these statistics tells us that the Beith New Year race is, apart from the Carnwath Red Hose Race, the oldest endurance race in Scotland.   The Nigel Bargerace in Glasgow and the Edinburgh to  North Berwick are second and third.

The links below are what they say – click on the link for detailed pages on the topics.

  Tom Cochrane     Ian Harris     Danny McFadzean     Ken Phillips

Ayrshire Harrier Clubs Association   Ayrshire Harrier Clubs Association:  Some Notables   .

Ayrshire Harrier Clubs Association 1924 – 39   . Ayrshire Harrier Clubs Association: 1945 – 1955   . AHCA 1956-59

Beith New Year Race   .Dirrans Sports   Club Crest and Motto


Queens Park Sports 1876 – 1879

The sports of 1876 were held on 9th September and the report in the Scotsman read as follows

The first amateur athletic club of any  size was Clydesdale Harriers, established in 1885, and in 1877 most of  the competitors were either members of football clubs, of other sporting clubs or individuals.   The QPFC Sports were held before 4,000 ‘Ladies and Gentlemen’ and incorporating a steeplechase indicated that it was no ordinary meeting – for a start the steeplechase was a difficult event to organise and supervise but it was undeniably a good meeting.


The second Saturday in September, 8th,  was the date in 1877 for the sports and the ‘Glasgow Herald’ started its report – 

“On Saturday the annual amateur sports of the Queen’s Park Football Club were held under the most favourable circumstances of weather and in presence of a very large assemblage of spectators.   The events passed of without a hitch and in all cases the entries were good and the contests close.   The feature of the day was the form displayed by the competitors hailing from London.”  

As might have been expected, the football clubs from Glasgow and the West of Scotland provided many of the individuals and they turned out teams in the four a side (won by Third Lanark RV) and tug of war (won by Clyde FC).   The meeting was the end of the athletics season and the report concluded with the remarks that ‘now that the season has been opened, the favourite winter pastime of football will be maintained in all its former vigour and we believe that matches have been fixed, or in course of arrangement, with Oxford University, Cambridge University, Wanderers, Nottinghamshire and Old Wykehamist Football Clubs. ‘   


In 1878 the sports were  held on the first Saturday in September,  the 7th,  and were described by the reporter as ‘a popular festival’.   All the usual runners were here including JA Crerar of Third Lanark, Finlayson and Harvie of Queen’s Park and Tom Vallance won the long jump.   The football was won by Third Lanark (Kennedy, Lang, Hunter, Fraser) over Rangers.   Unfortunately the report  was a bit blurred but it is legible so it will be reproduced here, partly so that the tale of the professional who won his race and then disqualified himself.




Nan Robson

“Miss Nan Robson (15), who won the club championship of the ladies’ section of the Dundee Hawkhill Harriers in a 3-mile race, which she completed in 16 mins 40 secs.”

Dundee Evening Telegraph, Monday, 20 Jan, 1930

The Women’s A-Z of club runners on this website summarises Nan’s career as follows and after reading it, you may agree that it is worth elaborating just a bit.   Certainly the time above for a three miles race is still a creditable time.

“Nan Robson was a pioneer cross-country runner who competed for Dundee Hawkhill Harriers. The SWAAA first organised a Women’s cross-country Relay at Bothwell Castle (outside Glasgow) in 1930. DHH (including their fastest runner, Nan Robson) finished second to Shettleston Harriers. In 1931, that order remained the same.

However, in 1932, when a normal race was organised at Hamilton Racecourse, the National Cross-Country Champion was Nan Robson who “ran a magnificent race”, in front of the Scottish half-mile record holder Connie Johnston and Barbara Anderson, both from Maryhill H (which was first team, in front of Dundee). Yet Dundee Hawkhill won in 1934 and 1935.”

Dundee Hawkhill Harriers Ladies Section was one of the very first in Scotland and its members won no fewer than five Scottish women’s cross-country individual titles  in the 1930′.   It was a big group too – one report on a rival team mentioned that it’s Lady member had taken part in a competition.   That’s ‘Lady member’ as in singular as in one.   The Hawkhill group above indicates the strength of the club.   It was also a part of the club – unlike some women’s sections which were forbidden to wear the same strip as the men’s section and which were required to have their own treasurer, and structure within the club.  Note the following clipping from the Courier’  of 19th December, 1929: 

Nan’s importance is that she was the club’s top runner almost as soon as she joined the club and that she won the Scottish women’s national championship in 1932.   She is not mentioned in the Courier report of  30th December, 1929 which simply said: The ladies’ section of Dundee Hawkhill Harriers held a sealed handicap race on Saturday over two miles of road.   Good times were returned.   Miss M Mitchell, scr, taking 12 mins 11 secs and Miss P Laird (received 1 sec) 12 mins 16 secs.

She was certainly a member in January, 1930, as the photograph at the top of the page tells us she had won the club championship at the age of 15.   She was in action during the summer and competed in meetings on the track.   The Courier  reported on two of them: 

On 14th June, 1930 she ran at the  Invergowrie Sports.   She was second in the 100 yards handicap in which she and the winner both ran from scratch and on 21st June at the Midmills Sports, before a crowd of 2,500 spectators, she was third in the 880 yds handicap, again running from the scratch mark.   There must have been other meetings before that for the handicapper to have given the teenager a scratch mark in both 100 and 880 yards races.

However it is as a cross-country runner that she made her mark and the report on 1st December, 1930 read as follows.  

There were no women’s cross-country championships at national level at the time but the idea of a women’s relay was floated, it was accepted and the first race was on 13th December, 1930.   The relay involved teams of eight women, each running approximately one mile.   It was held at Bothwell Castle and necessarily involved a long travel for the team.   It was won by Shettleston Harriers with Hawkhill Ladies second.   The report tells us that Dundee were well behind in the first three laps of eight, but came through in the latter part of the race.   Team: M Mitchell 7:49, E Christie 7:46, J McKenzie 7:56I  Farmer 7:54, P Laird 7:42, T Graves 8:14, J Cant 7:24 and N Robson 7:05.  Total Time: 61:50.   Nan had equal second fastest time with C Hogg of Maryhill, only 2 seconds slower than fastest time by Nan Aitken of Shettleston.   

That was the biggest race of 1930 cross-country and it was into the 1931 track season for Nan Robson along with the other members of her club.   On Wednesday, 27th May, 1931, the Courier had a preview of sports to be held at Dens Park courtesy of Dundee FC in connection with National Lifeboat Week.  Nan Robson had entered and was scratch runner in both 220 yards and one mile.   Unfortunately, in the event, held on 1st June, Robson was not mentiones but club mate Miss HS Christie won both 1 mile and 2 miles handicaps.   Shortly after that, on 20th June, at Midmill Sports before its usual big crowd – this time of 3000 spectators  – Nan ran from scratch in the 220 yards and finished second.     

Between summer track and winter cross-country seasons, on 3 Sept, 1931, the Evening Telegraph had notice of the Hawkhill sponsored and organised Perth to Dundee 20 mile walk, finishing on the Esplanade in Dundee, with 28 ladies taking part, including N Robson.   Competitors were to travel by 1:00 pm train from Dundee, changing in the YMCA Perth and there were to be 5 training walks on Sundays from different parts of the city.   The walk was held and won by Ina Buist but there was no mention of Nan in the results – it’s not clear whether she was unplaced or just didn’t start.   The distance wouldn’t have upset her, as we will see she used to do 30 mile walks once a week.

1932 was to be Nan’s big year.   There was to be a Scottish Women’s Cross-country Championships to take place at Hamilton Park Race course

.The championship was to take place on 12th March, 1932, and there were nine teams entered.   The report from the ‘Glasgow Herald’ read – 

“Instituted last year as a relay event, but this year decided on ordinary team lines, the annual championship decided by the Scottish Women’s Amateur Athletic Association was decided at Hamilton Park Racecourse.   As on the previous Saturday when the NCCU Championship was decided at the same venue, a Dundee runner gained the individual honour while the team championship went to Maryhill Harriers, a Dundee club again being runner-up.   Out of an entry of nine teams (eight to run, four to count) all were forward except Kilbarchan Harriers who had only three runners of their team present, these competing as individuals.   The course was laid on the race track and measured very little short of two miles.   Excellent conditions prevailed   Right from the start Nan Robson went to the front.   When the runners returned having traversed the loop at the bottom of the straight, the Hawkhill champion was seen to have opened a lead of several yards.   This advantage the Dundee girl steadily increased finally breaking the tape an easy winner.   Constance Johnson (Maryhill) the Scottish half mile champion and record holder, finished second almost 100 yards behind while BG Anderson (Shettleston) was fully that distance farther  to the rear”

The ‘Courier’ also reported on the race but not in such depth – the women who ran were entitled to their celebration.   Look at the faces in the photograph below from ‘The Courier’ of 14th March 1932.

Local papers love local sports people winning national championships and  this is typified by the feature article from the ‘Courier‘ below.

On 3rd May, 1932 at Dens Park, there was a Dundee Ministers  vs  Midlands Amateur ‘Old Crocks’.  Two -races at half time – a men’s walking race and a women’s half mile with Nan Robson competing.   But on the day of the match, there was no report of the races at all.   However she must have been racing to have received and accepted the invitation.

At this point, Nan (not yet 20 years old) disappears from the local papers reports on athletics.   In 1933 there was no mention either.   The women’s national cross-country championship which she had won with such panache in 1932 was covered as follows on 27th March, 1933, in  the ‘Courier

There were many races that summer in which the Hawkhill Ladies did well but there was no sign of .   eg   

10th April, 1933: Novelty Ladies 4 laps race at Tannadice before the game.   16 entries.   Race won by Vera Murray but no sign of Nan.

17th April, 1933: Ladies Relay team of two harriers and two cyclists – no Nan.

19th June, Midmill Sports: No entry from Nan.

….   and that would seem to be the end of her career.   She came into the sport at the end of 1929 as a 15-year-old and was gone by mid-1932.   It was probably a sign of the times  that women had short careers that ended when they started to grow up and behave like ladies should.   Society had expectations of young women.   Whatever the reason, a superb young talent was gone from the sport.


Heart of Midlothian Sports: 1891 – 95


The Hearts Sports of 1890 followed the practice of several other clubs by having a preliminary meeting followed a week later by the athletic sports the following Saturday.   In 1891, the second meeting with almost all the athletics,  was on 6th May at Tynecastle  Park before a crowd of about 5000 including ‘not a few ladies’.   Given that the Queen’s Park FC Sports were being held in Glasgow on the same day with a crowd of 8000, most of the sportsmen were from the east of the country.   The turn out was nevertheless a good one with ten heats of the 100 yards starting the afternoon.   The closest finish was in the ninth heat where the judges could not separate the first two runners (Watson of Edinburgh Harriers, and Bryden of Edinburgh Northern Harriers) so there was a run off to decide who went through to the second round.  Watson won the decider easily and went on to win the second round race and then victory in the final in 10 1/2 sec (“a shade over”).    Watson also won the quarter mile off a mark of 13 yards (he had 3  yards in the 100) in 53 seconds from Anderson.    

 There were 22 runners in the half mile including SAAA Champion RH Mitchell of St Mirren FC) who was not among the prize winners.   The limit men ‘made the pace so hot’ that the back markers ‘were soon out of it’ and the eventual winner was JC Somers of Hearts FC in 53 seconds with Mitchell unplaced.   Somers and second placed R Smith of the |Harriers were both off 40 yards and the winning time was 2 min 4 1/2 sec.   The Mile was also won by a back marker in McLagan of Edinburgh Harriers off 85 yards with second placed Mercer of Leith Hibernian was off 90 yards.   18 ran in the race which was won in 4 min 40 sec.   The two miles race was won by JW Pollard of Edinburgh Harriers off 25 yards in a field of six runners in a time of 10 min 05 sec.   

Hearts won the football tournament (11 a side) from Leith Athletic by one goal to none.   There were also 3 cycle races.

In 1892 the second Saturday was the 4th June, and the report was in The Scotsman of 6th June,    The star name had to be that of AR Downer (above).  Downer would go on to win the :triple triple” (ie the 100, 220 and 440 yards at the same SAAA Championship) in 1893, ’94 and ’95.   He won the 100 yards from a handicap mark of 1 1/2 yards with the previous year’s winner, Watson, in third.  Winning time?  11.4 seconds.   The Scotsman report minus the detailed list of results (including the cycling and five a side football, is below.

Results:  100 yards:  1.  Downer;   2.  Simpson (St George’s AC);  3.   Watson      10 Heats.

440 yards:   1. J Hurry (EH  26 yards);    2.  W Arnot  (EH 22);   3.JF Brand (EH – 23 yards);     9 ran

Half Mile:  1.   JB Hume  (EH  15);  2.  TK FaArnotir  )EH  40);  3.  WCS Heathcote (EH  50).  2 min 4.6   23 ran

Mile:  1.  RA Bruce  (Watson’s College  70);  2. J Hutchison (ENH  125);  3.  W Blackley (100 yards)   4 min 36.  23 ran

Two Miles Inter Club for the Davidson Trophy:   1.   1  Edinburgh H (1  Pollard,  2  Carment,  3  Hunter,  4  McLagan);   2.   Northern Harriers.   9:54 

Hearts won the football final beating Leith Athletic by 2 goals and one point to nil.

One of the more interesting runners of the afternoon was William Miller Carment who was an excellent runner and one who ent on to become one of the country’s foremost officials including President of the SAAA in 1910-11.   You can read more about him   here  .*

1893 :  Unfortunately we could not find the results in either the ‘Scotsman’ or ‘Glasgow Herald’ for 1893 but the hunt will go on.   So we go straight to 1894.   

There were some big changes in 1894, the main one being a switch from a two day meeting with events confined to club members on the first and the open amateur sports on the second.   The report in the Scotsman reads:

So there it is.  Heart of Midlothian became a professional football club in 1894.    The extract above is also interesting in that DS Duncan was a Judge and WM Lapsley – owner of Powderhall and promoter of sporting events there was again handicapper.   As far as the sports went, there were nine heats of the 100 yards but the sixth heat ‘resulted in a fiasco on account of the starter’s pistol snapping.’   This was AR Downer’s heat and it had to be re-run.   The result was a win for Downer, “the crowd fairly rose at Downer, as he bounded off his mark in beautiful style, much better in fact thand was his wont.   Keeping at it, he reached the tape first amid a scene of great enthusiasm.”   And that was just a heat!   There were two heats and Downer was in the second, the first having been won by James Richardson of Cupar FC.   “Downer ran very unsteadily coming up the straight and failed to catch Home (Motherwell Harriers) but managed to qualify for the final.”  In the Final, Downer (scratch) won from Home (5 1/2 yards) and Richardson (8 yards).   Downer just won on the tape in a time of 10.2 seconds.   

Downer appeared again in the Quarter Mile but “raced himself off his feet and had to retire.”   The race was won by RA Bruce of Watson’s from .J MacRitchie, also Watson’s College, and JD Hill. Edinburgh Harriers in 53 seconds.

  F Bacon, one of the country’s top runners, was favourite for the Half Mile Handicap but running from scratch he had to be content with second place behind TRH Scott of Edinburgh Harriers running from 55 yards who won in 1:59.4

The One Mile Handicap was won jy J Harris of Elderslie Harriers (145 yards)with D Urquhart, Edinburgh Harriers (155 yards) second and A Reid, Edinburgh Harriers (115 yards) third.   The winning time was 4:25.4.    

In the Three Miles race for the Davidson Trophy, the first mile was run in 5minutes 01 second, the second in in 10:20 and the third in 15:21.6.   The winning team was Clydesdale Harriers with 11 points from Edinburgh Northern (20 points) and Edinburgh Harriers (21 points).   “Robertson and Duffus bore the brunt of the work at the outset, though the numerous admirers of Welsh noted with satisfaction that their favourite always held a commanding position.  Three laps from home it was a nice race between the three, and with Welsh in the rear it hardly looked as if he would be able to make it up on his men.   Going round the bend for the last time he, however, made his effort, and from that point the race was never in doubt, for he sprinted in beautiful style, and won amid loud cheering.”

WH Welsh

It may be that because of the club’s transition to professional status the sports were dropped at that point but we could find no results or any word at all of a Hearts Sports meeting after that date.   In 1895 there was a meeting organised by Edinburgh Harriers on that date – and in 1896 and 1897 too.   On 10th June, 1895, Edinburgh Harriers held a sports meeting at Powderhall before a crowd estimated at 2000+.   The officials included WM Lapsley and F Lumley; the athletes included H Welsh and Hugh Barr, seven times SAAA LJ Champion and also an international sprinter.   



John Wands

John, from Rosyth in West Fife, came into the sport as a runner and competitor on the professional games circuit.   Many from Fife ran as professionals – partly because of the county’s traditional circuit which was as well established as the Border Games and the Highland Games but possibly also because of the difficulties of linking up with any amateur club.  It may simply be that there were a number of pro schools in his area and he went along with some of his pals..   Whatever the reason, John was a well-known athlete on the professional circuit where he won a number of prizes and has been described as a formidable competitor.    The photograph below shows him running in a handicap event at Braemar with other competitors such as Alastair Macfarlane from Bannockburn and the Murray brothers from Kilmarnock.   He competed throughout the 1960’s and his career as a runner gradually moved into one as a coach.


Braemar handicap mile: John is on the right

.Like many ex-professionals, he went in to coaching with an amateur club.   In his case this was with Pitreavie AAC where he started coaching in the early/mid-70’s.   He initially assisted other coaches but soon found his own coaching niche in middle/long distance and cross country and continued coaching in these events for the next 50yrs , even when latterly , he was not in the best of health.  He coached countless numbers of youngsters, many of them going on to win Championship medals at Scottish and British Championships.    One of them is below with a proud John in the middle of the back row..   Among his most successful athletes were 

Clark Murphy, who represented Great Britain on the track and cross-country ;

John Newson; who went on to win 9 medals in Scottish championships with 3 different clubs

Emily Nicholson who was part of the GB Junior team at the World Mountain Running Champs in Bulgaria in Sept 2016 , finishing 33rd.
Her sister , Zoe Nicholson represented Scot in the International Youth Cup , again for Mountain Running in Italy in both 2017 & 2018 ( at Lanzada)

Kathryn Pennel; ranked 14 times at distances between 800m and 3000m

Siobhan Coleman; aan outstanding distance runner for Pitreavie and Villanova University, USA

Ben Potrykus, who was twice placed third in Scottish championships and ran for Pitreavie and Bradley University, USA

Justly proud of Clark Murphy’s selection as the first home Scot to run for Britin in the re-vamped World Cross eligibility rules, he is quoted in the following cutting.


A very good club coach but more than that – John became Scottish Staff Coach for 5000m and 10,000m in the 1990s.    This involved working with the Scottish squad at training days and in competition, filling a similar role with the Development squad (ie U17 and U20 athletes) and in coach education.   I remember that on one warm weather training camp in Portugal, John noticed Steve Ovett’s coach, Harry Wilson, at a nearby table in the cafeteria.   He approached him, introduced himself and asked Harry if he would talk to the members of the Scottisg endurance squad.   Harry obliged and the squad benefited from the session the following afternoon.   The full complement of coaches for the national squad at the time included Brian McAusland (Group Coach),  Mike Johnston (800/1500), John Wands. (5000/10000m), Gordon Crawford (steeplechase), and John Graham (Marathon).   Not bad company to be in.   

He coached countless numbers of youngsters, many of them going on to win Championship medals at Scottish and British Championships.    One such team is below with a proud John in the middle of the back row.. 

He was listed in the Pitreavie AAC Coaching set up as a Performance Coach working with two Development Coaches in Euan Miller and Bill Lindsay who were Assistant Coaches.   His involvement did not stop there however.   He had grown to love the Highland Games and Gatherings all over the land and was involved in the main as an announcer, and as an announcer he was one of those who knew the events, who knew the competitors and had enough knowledge the traditions of the various meetings to be able to fill in the blanks in the programmes – and even the ‘down time’ between events.   The talent did not go unnoticed  and he developed the role into being a commentator at Scottish championships in arenas across the country, such as the Emirates indoor arena in Glasgow.   

As an indication of the esteem in which he was held, he was elected a Life Member of Pitreavie in 2003.   Knowing John, though, despite all the various things he was involved in, he was happiest among his athletes and mixing with the competitors.   At Pitreavie, the comment of another club member was simply: 

 “He’ll be sadly missed around the place as he’s always been there, seemed to never be a club training night that he wasn’t there.”