The Teviotdale Harriers team which won the Wyoming Cup in the medley Relay at Hawick Common Riding Games in 1910.
WR Sutherland and AJ Grieve standing, and JS Turnbull and RH Burton
Have a look at those spikes!
Scottish ahletics fans always liked relays. Maybe because of the opportunity to see a baton dropped – the same reason for the clustering of spectators at the water jump at a steeplechase – mabe because of the discipline required not only to get the baton to your team mate without mishap, but to do so within a confined space. That was and is true of both 4 x 100 and 4 x 400. But if they liked relays, they loved the medley relay, sometimes called the mile relay which was a bit confusing because the 4 x 440 was also called a mile relay at times. Teams needed an 800m runner, a 400m runner and two 200m men. The mix of distances, the changes of pace and the final shoot-out over a serious distance rather than a quick dash up the track as in the 100 metres/yards. The Scottish way of doing the event was to start with the half mile, follow that with two furlongs and finish with a quarter mile; the English way was to have the quarter first and the half last. There are arguments in favour of both orders but in recent years Scots seem to have given way to the foreign method – much to the irritation of some of us!
Although there was no SAAA Championship for the medley until 1919, the event was hotly contested since before 1909 when the Wyoming Cup was first competed for at Hawick. What follows explains the title but because it was originally featured at the relatively small Hawick amateur meeting, there were results when the result was not published nationally. However it was written up, the first race was on 12th June 1909 and was previewed in the ‘Glasgow Herald’ as follows: “Hawick FC are giving a £20 cup for a relay race on June 12th, and from this district West of Scotland Harriers and Bellahouston Harriers will send teams. The distances are two 220 yards, 440 yards and 880 yards. John McGough will run the half-mile distance for Bellahouston, and either J Fairbairn-Crawford or J Hepburn will represent the West of Scotland Harriers.”
reported in the ‘Glasgow Herald’ on 14th as follows:
“HAWICK. One Mile Team Relay Race for the Wyoming silver challenge cup (presented by Hawick Callants in Wyoming, USA). 1. West of Scotland Harriers (RC Duncan, John Miller, George Hepburn, D Fairbairn Crawford); 2. Heaton Harriers. Crawford finished grandly for the winners, and there was a rare run in between Jameson of Heaton, and Grieve of Teviotdale for second place. The winning team each received a prize worth 20/-.”
In 1910 Teviotdale Harriers, third the year before, won the trophy with a team of AJ Grieve, WR Sutherland, JS Turnbull and RH Burton. Then before the race in 1911, the ‘Glasgow Herald of May 15th, 1911, said: “The Hawick “Callants” who form quite a colony now in Wyoming, and who two years ago gave a handsome challenge cup for the one mile relay at the Hawick Common Riding Sports, are sending home this year £20 as a further donation. In consequence, the Committee have decided to double the value of the prizes for this race. The winning four will receive awards of the value of £2:02:00 and the runners-up and third team prizes will be worth £1:01:00 and 10/6 respectively. The sports will be held on Friday, June 9th, and Mr James Thomson, ex-President of the Scottish Border AAA is again the secretary.”
Came Friday, 9th June and the cup was won by West of Scotland Harriers from a Teviotdale team which was basically the same as the year before, the only change being JM Ballantyne for Turnbull. The Centenary History of Teviotdale Harriers elaborates on the origins of the Trophy as follows.
“Between the years 1909 and 1913 a star attraction at the Common Riding Games was a one-mile team relay for the Wyoming Silver Challenge Cup presented by the Hawick Callants in Wyoming, USA. Valued at 22 guineas, the solid silver cup, weighing over 70 ounces, was supplied by Mr FE Rutherford, jeweller, Hawick, and was according to the rules “open to all amateur harriers clubs in Great Britain and Ireland/” Intimation of the handsome 18″ high cup in the form of a loving cup with three handles, was sent by ‘Teri’ exile Mr Frank Deans who had taken a great interest in athletics when in Hawick. His initiative in procuring 20 subscribers was evidence of the interest he and other exiled Teries had of their native town. “
The trophy was won almost exclusively by either West of Scotland Harriers from Glasgow and Teviotdale Harriers – after three races it was West two wins and Teviotdale one but the score was evened out on 8th June, 1912 when the Glasgow Herald reported: Amateur Sports at Hawick. Team Relay Race for the silver Wyoming Cup and prizes. – 1. Teviotdale Harriers (T Bell, JM Ballantyne, WR Sutherland, RH Burton); 2. West of Scotland Harriers (JH Rodger, RC Duncan, HJ Christie, WS Unkles). Time: 3 min 48 sec.
Robert Burton: the trophy can perhaps be seen more clearly in this one.
Records of the West of Scotland Harriers at this time tell that the entry fee was four shillings and sixpence per team, and the importance of the event was shown in their willingness to pay travelling expenses from Glasgow to Hawick for the runners. eg 1914’s fares and expenses amounted to £2:08:4. In 1913 the situation was complicated. It was a time when it was not unusual for a team which won a trophy three times, or more usually three times in succession, was allowed to keep it for their own use or trophy cabinet and there was a variation written into the rules for the Wyoming Cup. The Teviotdale history again: “the situation for 1913 was that each club had two wins to their credit and the rules stated that three wins would give absolute custody. That year it once again went to West of Scotland and so they claimed permanent possession. Teviotdale’s team of Bell, Ballantyne, Sutherland and Burton were runners-up. Investigation since has revealed that the West team (JH Rodger, RC Duncan, HJ Christie and G Dallas), contrary to the rules laid down for the competition did not comprise a full complement of first claim members, the last named being from Maryhill Harriers, and so in actual fact should have lost the cup by default.”
George Dallas was well known in Scottish athletics and was never anything other than a member of Maryhill Harriers and he was an easy man to recognise as well as being a talented athlete at distances from 100 yards to the half mile. However, the following passage had appeared in the ‘Sports Miscellany’ column of the Glasgow Herald of 19th May, 1913:
“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.”
It looks as though there was a kind of second-claim connection with the West of Scotland Harriers: 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. Was the run at Hawick legal by the standards prevailing? That depends on (a) whether the rules stipulated first or second claim runners only, and (b) what Dallas’s status actually was. The West of Scotland handbook for season 1913/14 reported that “‘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 which were held frequently over the summer season and. like other Glasgow clubs, they held the occasional meeting at Dunoon.
In 1914 the Hawick Common Riding Sports took place on 6th June and there was a one mile relay – but the Wyoming Cup was not mentioned in the results. The race was won by West of Scotland with a team of J Dallas, G Hamilton, HJ Christie and D McPhee. McPhee had been a Clydesdale Harrier who had joined West in May 1914 and J Dallas is probably George Dallas, again running for the West. Later in the 1914 season at the Celtic FC Sports meeting on 10th August, 1914, George Dallas was entered in a 1000 yards handicap as “G Dallas (West of Scotland Harriers) 35 yards ” However the West club’s handbook for that season pointed out their relay successes: “Our Club has again been very successful in Relay Racing. At Hawick, Greenock (Glenpark Harriers) and our own meeting we won easily over the 880, two 220 and 440 yards, and at Edinburgh Northern Harriers Meeting we were again successful in winning their Challenge Trophy over the four laps’
The West of Scotland Sports at Ibrox on 14th June, 1919, had a relay race which was won by Maryhill Harriers (Dallas, Goodwin, Hamilton and Colberry) over Greenock Glenpark Harriers. There was no mention of the Wyoming Cup but the report on the meeting the following year seems to indicate that it was indeed up for competition. On 12th June 1920 in a report on a West of Scotland Harriers meeting at Ibrox Park, the report credited Duncan McPhee with helping West win the invitation relay over Maryhill saying: He had not a little to do with the winning of the relay race for his club, the West of Scotland Harriers, who thus checked the career of Maryhill Harriers. The latter won the race last year and the two clubs now own one share each in the Wyoming Cup, which becomes the property of the club winning it three times, not necessarily in succession.” The West team was Christie, Todd, Kavanagh and McPhee and the Maryhill squad contained Bell, Colberry, Hamilton and Dallas.
The 1921 race at Ibrox was a joint promotion between West of Scotland and the Glasgow Tramways and was held on 11th June. The report mentioned that the most interesting race on the programme was the mile relay which resolved itself into a duel between West of Scotland and Maryhill Harriers. Dallas and McPhee were the respective half-milers, and the latter ran a great race, finishing a yard ahead and securing the Wyoming Cup for the promoting club.”
10th June 1922 was the date for the next joint West of Scotland Harriers and Glasgow Corporation Tramways AAA meeting at Ibrox and “chief place was given to the relay for the Wyoming Cup, and the West by winning having made the trophy their own for the second time, thanks mainly to the fine running of JCS Ponsford of Glasgow University.” JG McCall, HJ Christie, D McPhee and JCS Ponsford made up the winning team with Shettleston Harriers (Dunbar, Brown, Stevenson and Annand) second. The comment about the West having made the trophy their own indicated to the public that they had won the relay in three consecutive years. This did not stop them putting it up for competition the next year: the race was again held at Ibrox Park and the ‘Glasgow Herald’ in its ‘Notes on Sports’ column of 11th June, 1923, had a special paragraph headed
THE WYOMING CUP
The Harrier clubs in the West who promote open meetings are, of necessity, optimists of the first degree, otherwise the apathy of the public would have cured them of the habit long ere now. Not even the relay race for the Wyoming Cup nor the opportunity of seeing a quarter-mile over hurdles could induce more than a meagre sprinkling of spectators to line the ropes at Ibrox Park, where West of Scotland held their meeting on Saturday. Yet the racing throughout was of the honest description and the times returned in most of the events were quite good. The chief feature did not provide a thrilling race – the superiority of the promoting club when the final quarter was entered was too pronounced for that – but two of the competitors ran very well. These were George Malcolm of the Edinburgh Southern Harriers, who exhibited a fine burst of speed against McPhee in the half-mile and was only beaten by a few yards, and AH Graham of Maryhill Harriers whose effort in the final quarter was worthy of a better fate. AM McKay of Leith ran for Edinburgh Southern but his display over the furlong clearly showed that the Inter-Scholastic champion’s best distance is the quarter. West’s victory, their fourth in succession, was gained by 10 yards from Maryhill Harriers, the other two competing clubs, Edinburgh Southern and Bellahouston Harriers, finishing well down.”
The Inter-Scholastic Championships referred to were the fore runners of the Scottish Schools championships but contested mainly by the fee-paying schools pupils. In the results column, the Cup was again referred to as the chief event in the programme – Scots did and still do like their rrelays and the Mile medley (880, 220,220, 440) had a special place in their affections, and for the clubs concerned it was a magnificnt piece of silverware that FE Rutherford had crafted all those years before.
1924 was Olympic Games year and with selection for the British team important, the SAAA Championships were brought forward to the second Saturday in June – the date of the West of Scotland meeting. With almost every Saturday already being the focus for one established meeting or another (eg Queen’s Park FC, Greenock Glenpark Harriers, Glasgow Police, Partick Thistle all had their regular dates in June or early July) there was no week end sports put on by West of Scotland.
There was no meeting held by West of Scotland in June 1925, either on their own or in tandem with the Tramways or Shettleston, although on June 22nd at the Glasgow Police Sports at Ibrox the mile medley relay was won by Maryhill from West of Scotland Harriers, Calderwood, Duncan, Graham and McCrae making up the team.
On Tuesday June 15th, 1926, the relay for the Wyoming Cup was held once again. This time at the joint Shettleston/West of Scotland Harriers meeting at Ibrox Park. It was won by West of Scotland, represented by McIntyre, Burns, Urquhart and Hope from Shettleston Harriers who had Tom Riddell on the opening half-mile stage, followed by Crawford, Harrison and Stanley. The report commented: “Riddell ran again for Shettleston Harriers in the relay race for the Wyoming Cup and the five yards lead he gained from RB McIntyre gave his side a lead which was maintained until the final quarter. Here JD Hope running very strongly finished an easy winner by 15 yards.”
11th June, 1927 at Celtic Park, the intro read “the chief event of the meeting, the Wyoming Cup for the one mile relay, was won by West of Scotland Harriers after an interesting struggle with Maryhill Harriers.” The team was made up of Mcintyre, Burns, McLean and Hope and the winning time was 3 min 42 3-5th sec.
On the second Saturday of June 1928 most meetings in the West were cancelled because of the weather, only those at Clydebank (Singer’s Sports) and Glasgow University OTC went ahead – although the Hawick Common Riding Sports were ‘ carried through under favourable track conditions as the times returned in various events would suggest.” The one mile relay there was won by Edinburgh University AC from English team, Gateshead Congers. 1928 also saw the birth of a series of annual big inter-club meetings organised by St Peter’s AAC at Scotstoun in Glasgow.
These meetings consisted of a whole series of relays from 4 x 110 yards to four miles relay and including the half mile relay, 4 x 440 yards hurdles relay, mile relay and two miles relay as well as the mile team race, the three miles team race as well as many standard field events. These were held in the middle of June and they may have been a factor in the virtual disappearance of the West of Scotland Harriers meetings.
This is where things get complicated however: although the trail goes cold as far as newspaper reports are concerned, the West of Scotland archive has some information. These contain dates for the “cleaning and engraving of their trophies: in 1920 they specify the Wyoming Cup. In 1928 the relays were mentioned and the engraving was carried out by James McMenamin, engraver. As is the way with different secretaries, details of items such as “engraving and cleaning” are more or less detailed from year to year but after several years of this entry, the note for June 16th 1933 mentions the engraving of the Wyoming Cup at a cost of 7/-. What does all this tell us? It tells us that the cup was in circulation at this time but not what it was awarded for or to whom it was awarded,
The Queen’s Park Sports of 1925 had been very successful with many of the top athletes participating. The meeting of 1926 also had several top men in action across the board. Held on 5th June in brilliant sunshine and before a crowd of approximately 7000 spectators, Tom Riddell was the top performer – or the ‘feature of the meeting’ as the Herald report had it. He finished second in the half-mile and defeated CB Mein (above)in the first stage of the inter-city relay race. This played no small part in Glasgow winning the event for the first time. The Two Miles Harriers Race was won by Walter Calderwood of Maryhill Harriers with Frank Stevenson of Motherwell second, Charlie Freshwater and Dunky Wright of Caledonia AC third and fourth. Caledonia AC was set up to be a ‘club of champions’ with W Sans Unkles and Dunky Wright the main protagonists. It only lasted for the one season – Charlie Freshwater had signed up from Clydesdale Harriers and Wright had come from Clydesdale by way of Shettleston before going on to jon Maryhill when the Caledonia adventure came to naught. The club won the team race from Maryhill Harriers. Celtic beat Rangers in the final of the five-a-sides by 2 goals to none. In the open events, Walter Lawn won the 100 yards and was third in the 220 yards – Lawn went on to have a printing business that provided numbers for the SAAA championships for many years as well as for most open meetings of any size.
In 1927 the club sports were held on June 4th and the report in the ‘Glasgow Herald’ read:
The weather and ground conditions which prevailed at the Queen’s Park club’s annual sports on Saturday afternoon were not of the kind conducive to to exceptional performances, yet the sport throughout was interesting and the times recorded were distinctly good. The outstanding event at the meeting, both in point of competition and on merit, was the invitation quarter-mile, and in winning from two yards in 51 4-5th sec, RB Hoole gave a glimpse of better form than he has hitherto shown in the West. He had to fight all the way for his victory against RT Hollinger of Plebeian Harriers and JC Hamilton the Glasgow University champion, and the manner in which he secured victory on the tape from the first named, was a tribute to his pace, stamina and judgment.
JD Hope, the champion, was not suited by the conditions. He is of a build better suited to calm than storm, and he was never concerned with the ultimate issue. Hoole and Hope were down to meet later in the afternoon in the inter-city relay race, but the withdrawal of HC Maingay from the Edinburgh team robbed this promised trial of skill on level terms in the quarter-mile section, and also that of RD Allison and R McLean in the furlong, of much of their interest, as CB Mein, who sportingly stepped to the vacancy was obviously not fit and accordingly not able to hold RB McIntyre who ran the half-mile for Glasgow. The ground lost there was never regained by Edinburgh and we will have to wait untl the championships to have the merits of these opponents accurately tested. Enough was seen, however, to suggest that both furlong and quarter-mile championships will prove exceedingly interesting.
As is usual, the student element was strongly represented in the prize list. In addition to Hoole, AF Clarke and GPS Macpherson occupied first and second places in the hurdles; R Patience of Glasgow won the Mile with something in hand, and A Tindal, also a Gilmorehill student, took second place in the open hundred. Tindal’s achievement in the hundred was somewhat unique, as he has hitherto been regarded as a distance man, and not only did he win the Mile at his University competition, but he took part in the SAAA 10 mile championhip in mid-April. Patience, a strongly built lad, was suited by the conditions in the Mile, but apart from that it was apparent that the handicapper took too lenient a view of the ability which several good judges are convinced he possessed.
T McLean, the Rover Scout, is running well at present. as his victory in the 220 yards following upon his third in the hundred suggests, and another genuine runner, J Calder of Beith Harriers, added another win to the series he has at his credit by capturing the half-mile off 30 yards in 1 min 59 sec. Under the conditions this time was much better than it reads on paper. The three miles revealed a very level degree of merit between Maryhill Harriers and Monkland Harriers, the first named being winners by one point only, and the issue depending on the efforts of the third man in each team. It was all the more rgrettable therefor that the race should be marred by a series of incidents which were, to say the least, not creditable to the runners concerned. It was all the more welcome that Donald McLean, the Maryhill Harrier who was first man home, was not in the trouble and his win was decisive enough to suggest that he is to be a strong candidate for a title at the championships in three weeks hence.”
There was no meeting reported for 1928 but the event was only resting and it was back on the usual Saturday in 1929.
On 1st June 1929, J Suttie Smith from Dundee wanted to attempt a new Scottish record: he was a top class internationalist on the track and over the country with several national titles to his credit and Queen’s Park regulars were keen to see him in action. “Chief interest in the meeting of Queen’s Park at Hampden lay in the attempt made by J Suttie Smith upon the existing Scottish native record for two miles. A special handicap had been framed for the occasion, and had the champion been able to head WJ Gunn , who ran off 85 yards, he might have been able to accomplish it, the Plebeian Harrier’s winning time being 9 min 31 1-5th sec. As it was Smith failed to do this, his time for the distance being 2 3-5th sec seconds worse than McLean’s existing figures of 9 min 31 sec.
Smith did not appear to be moving too freely in the first three laps, but ran well in the closing stages. The times in the open races were fast, and it appears now that to win an open sprint even-time is necessary, judging by what happened at the Maryhill meeting and also at Hampden. Two juniors of last season figured successfully in these events. AD Turner of Maryhill Harriers who had almost a monopoly in his class last year, made a bright debut as a senior, as he ran second in the 100 yards, and won the furlong in 22 4-5th sec, while R Davie of Springburn Harriers, in his first public essay over the distance captured the half-mile in 1 min 58 3-5th sec. Both will win further races.
Donald McLean again turned out in the Mile, but again ran indifferently. His clubmate WH Calderwood ran well bth in the first class mile and in the relay. The latter event was won by Beith Harriers, who triumphed over Maryhill Harriers and West of Scotland Harriers. The Ayrshire club has two excellent runners in J Calder and TJ McAllister, and this pair contribted largely to their success.”
There were ten track races plus an obstacle race, a high jump and a five-a-side competition won by Partick Thistle from Rangers by two goals to one afterextra time. Because of the very large numbers, the mile was divided into two races – the first class mile for the best runners (ie those with low handicaps) entered, and the second class mile for those with higher handicaps.
WA Peterkin: Winner of the first ever SAAA 100 yards and 440 yards championships
There were four meetings on 2nd June, 1883, two in Edinburgh, one in Glasgow and one in Kilmarnock. The Glasgow one was at the Shawfield grounds amd was a professional meeting. It occurs to me that in the early 1950’s the Clyde Football Club Sports, held at Shawfield, were professional in nature and the amateur meeting there was the Lanarkshire Police Sports. Were the Clyde Sports a continuation of these nineteenth century pedestrian events? Whatever the situation, there were 1000 spectators on this first Saturday in June to see the 130 yards sprint and the half-mile handicap. There were fifteen heats of the sprint. I quote from the report: “The contests in the sprint were somewhat disappointing , and in several of the heats the non tryers were conspicuous, but the half-mile eas really a capital race, upwards of 32 pedestrians facing the starter. … Half-mile handicap prizes were £10, £1:10:00 and 10 shillings. 1st T Stott, Newton, 70 yards; 2nd A Bird, Glasgow, 80 yards; 3rd G Wilson, Glasgow, 70 yards; 4th A Young, Falkirk, 30 yards.”
“ATHLETIC GATHERING IN EDINBURGH: About 60 persons assembled at Edinburgh Royal Gymnasium on Saturday to witness the contests for a number of events which were announced to take place under the auspices of the “Scottish Athletic Society”. Being the first championship meeting of the Society, most of the visitors anticipated that the ‘best records’ in the various arrangements would have been beaten. The meeting was very tame, and was prolonged to a wearying extent – the performance lasting from four o’clock until half past seven. ” There were about sixteen events, most being field events, track consisting of 100 yards, quarter-mile, Mile and Two Miles.
“EDINBURGH INSTITUTION SPORTS: The annual sports in connection with the Edinburgh Institution came off on Saturday at the Institution’s grounds at Warriston, Edinburgh, and the weather being fine were witnessed by a large concourse of ladies and gentlemen. ” There were thirteen events, all but one confined to either pupils or former pupils. The exception was a half mile, open to amateurs which was won by a Canadian from Montreal AAC.
“KILMARNOCK: Sports under the auspices of the Kilmarnock Bicycle Club were held at the Rugby Park on Saturday. In the bicycling competition, Barton of the ESBC carried off no fewer than three first place honours. Fortunately the weather was very favourable and the track everything that could be desired. About 2000 spectators were present.” The programme was entirely made up of cycle races except for a tug of war, 100 yards and quarter mile.
Four meetings. one professional, two amateur and one mainly a cycle meeting.
There were four meetings on on the following Saturday, June 9th, too but the only one at the same venue as the first week in June was at the Shawfield Grounds where the events were the 130 yards and the One Mile handicap where the prizes were £10, £1:10:0 and 10/-.
Ayr was always a good athletics venue and the Ayr Academical Club’s Annual Sports were held on this Saturday. It was a very big meeting and popular with competitors and spectators alike. “These sports took place at Springvale Park on Saturday and were highly successful. The arrangements were of an elaborate description, and the programme was an excellent one. The weather was very fine and there was a large crowd of spectators – a greater number than had turned out for anything of the kind for a number of years and every seat in the grand stand was occupied. The programme comprised twenty two events, of which four were bicycle races, and the bicycle races were probably the most exciting on the card. ” The lengthy report went on to detail many of the events completed on the day when there were many competitors from all the University Athletic clubs, former pupils clubs, plus several football clubs such as Queen’s Park FC, Vale of Leven FC, West of Scotland FC, and other clubs like 1st LRVAC and so on. The winning competitor in the Two Miles Flat Race handicap was A Findlay of Ayr FC who would go on to win the first ever Scottish Cross-Country championship in the colours of Clydesdale Harriers.
The Hawick Borders Games always drew a good number of athletes but these were mainly local from the other Borders towns with some few athletes coming from further afield. Most events were running events and there was not only a mile race, there were two races over the mile and a half distance. No times were given although distances were noted for the throws and jumps.
There were several meetings held over the summer that called themselves ‘National Games’. This particular weekend, it was the Greenock National Games. “Favoured by splendid weather the seventeenth annual tournament of national games at Greenock came off with great success at Academy Park on Saturday afternoon. The arrangements made by the committee were most complete and everything worked smopothly. It was estimated that 5000 people were in the park at one time. There were in all 27 “events” on the programme including exhibitions of tasks with sword, bayonet, Indian clubs and quarter-staff. ” It continued with comments on several events with the two miles race with 16 runners written up as the race of the afternoon. No teams, clubs orother organisations were listed – only the competitor’s town after the fashion of the professionals.
It can be seen from the meetings so far that there were plenty of openings for amateur athletes to get good competition before decent sized crowds. With no affiliation essential before competing, any grouping, be it a football club, a military regiment, a cycling or cricket club, could enter its members for these sports and games. It was not a situation that would last for much longer – the first ever SAAA championships would take place on 23rd June 1883.
DS Duncan: Winner of the Mile in the first ever SAAA Championships
On 23rd June, 1883 there was the usual weekly meeting at Shawfield Grounds plus two meetings organised by Pollok FC and Kilbirnie FC but the real story was the first ever National Championships organised by the Scottish Amateur Athletic Association. The report read:
“The first championship meeting under the auspices of the Association was held on Saturday afternoon at Powderhall Grounds, Edinburgh, and proved a very successful meeting. The weather being all that could be desired, about ? ladies and gentlemen witnessed the proceedings, which were greatly enhanced by the band of the Gordon Highlanders dispensing a splendid programme of music. Most of the events passed off without a hitch excepting the pole jump in which Mr Hodgson while attempting to jump 9′ 9″ came to grief, the pole he was using snapping when he was almost over. He fell heavily on his shoulder but soon recovered. The final of the 100 yards was a splendid sight. A capital start was effected, and Smith about half-distance was leading by a yard. Here Peterkin crept up and gradually reducing the space passed him just at the tape and won by 5 inches. …. ”
The complete results with a note on the events contested can be found at www.anentscottishrunning.com/track-championships. The amateur era had pretty well arrived although it would be another two years before amateur clubs were to take part.
Nevertheless on this day ‘an unusually large crowd of spectators’ attended the professional event at Shawfield where there were only two events on the programme – the sprint whose first round was held a week earlier (prizes £15, £2:15:0, £1:10:0 and 10/-) and a one mile handicap (£20, £5, £1 and £1) race. Given that the amateur movement was driven in part by the abuses of the pro system which included professionals impersonating amateurs, non-trying in races, betting while the races were in progress, it was clearly far from dead.
At the Pollok FC fixture where there were 700 spectators, the prize winners all came from football clubs – Queen’s Park FC members were the biggest winners, but others were Dumbarton FC, Abercorn FC, Johnstone Athletic FC, Govanhill FC and, of course, Pollok FC. And at Kilbirnie, no club affiliation was quoted, simply where the athlete came from which seems to indicate a professional meeting.
The month ended with a Saturday fixture at Shawfield but this time there was a difference. “The West of Scotland National Games and Athletic Sports took place at Shawfield Grounds on Saturday. The weather was splendid and between five and six thousand spectators were present. A very varied programme was provided, which in addition to the national games of quoiting, wrestling, hammer throwing, pole-vaulting, dancing, etc, also included a more than usually seen number of athletic events.” So far, so good but then it spoils things by saying that the prizes for the 120 yards hurdles were £3, £2 and £1. It would have fourteen heats with the final to be run the following Saturday. Read on through the report and the meeting, which was indeed varied and interesting, and you will see prize money listed for several of the races with the going rate seeming to be £2, 15/- and 5/-.
The only other meeting on the last Saturday in June was the Arthurlie Cricket and Football Club Amateur Athletic Sports. Unlike sports quoted earlier which featured the drop-kick for distance with a football, this sports had a place-kick which was won by D Cunningham of rthurlie with a distance of 154′ 9″. There were also several names on the programme who would feature as club members in another couple of years – eg W McAuslan from Dumbartion who would be a member of the Clydesdale Harriers Dumbarton section. Many football teams were represented and the furthest travelled prze winner came from Granton.
Was there a demand for athletics from the public in 1883? Certainly, we only have to look at the thousands who turned out to watch some of the meetings, whether they were amateur or professional. Was there a demand from the competitors for such meetings? With over a dozen heats in some meetings, een over two dozen in others, there was a clear demand for them. Now in 1883 there was a national amateur championship run by the SAAA. The competitors came from Universities and fee-paying schools, from football, cricket, cycling, rowing and other sports clubs. It was only a matter of time before purely athletic clubs would appear on the scene.
Trophy for the Drop Kick (football) for distance at the Glasgow Academicals Sports of 1886
The first Saturday in May, 1883, was the fifth of the month and sports/athletic meetings were held at Shawfield Running Grounds, at Kelvingrove where the Glasgow Police Sports took place, at Kelvinside where the Glasgow Academical Club held their meeting and at the Dollar Institution. Despite the heading being ‘Athletics’ the Shawfield programme contained two events: the final of the peds 300 yards, the preliminaries of which had been held the week before, and a One Mile Handicap. The Police Sports included, in addition to a selection of athletic events, Highland Dancing (won by John McCallum from Lanarkshire), wrestling, a ‘catch the thief’ race for policemen dressed in day uniform, three legged race and tug of war. The Police Sports were one of the very last to adopt the amateur code, being professional right up to the late 1940’s.
The ones most like current meetings were the two school sports meetings – all amateurs completing a programme of purely athletics events. The Glasgow meeting had many open races in which some university and cricket club members took part. The report on the Glasgow Academy Sports read: “The annual sports of the Glasgow Academical Club came off on Saturday at the ground of the club at Kelvinside. In consequence of the heavy rain in the forepart of the day the ground was in a soft condition – unfavourable for the work in hand. A large and fashionable gathering graced the field the whole of the afternoon and the various events were watched with evident interest. The band and pipers of the 51st Highlanders were present and dispensed selections of music between the various items on the card. At the conclusion of the meeting the prizes were presented to the winners by Mike Cross.”
There were over 20 events including several open events with competitors coming from as far afield as the Ulster Cricket Club and including such as 1st Lanark Rifle Volunteer Club AC and University and Old Boys clubs. The Academy Sports are one of the longest running in the country, having been started in 1866, only Edinburgh Academy (1858) and Royal High School (1864) with Merchiston also starting up in 1866.
In Dollar, other than a half-mile for FP’s, the events were all for school pupils. It should be noted that the programmes for the latter meetings were the longest while, true to form, the Shawfield meeting only had a couple of events but a crowd of approx 2000.
The Academicals Sports are one of the oldest in the country.
Several of the Academicals took part in the Glasgow University Sports at Gilmorehill on 19th May – they even had one of the four teams in the tug of war with the University, the Junior Clyde Yacht Club and the Southern FC, an event which the host team won. Events included a drop kick (football) for distance with the winner clearing 130′ 10″, putting the cannon ball, pole vault, two mile bicycle race, high jump, throwing the hammer, 100 yards flat, quarter mile flat, half mile flat, one mile flat, 120 yards hurdles and tug of war. All of the running events as well as the two miles cycle race had open races and confiend races. It looks like a very interesting meeting indeed.
At Shawfield, the professional meeting, there was the final of the 120 yards from the previous week, a half mile and a quarter mile race for a first prize of £18. The crowds at Shawfield are always given – this meeting had 3000 in attendance – but no figures are given for University or Schools meetings. Three events at Shawfield but around two dozen at Gilmorehill.
The last weekend in May had the Helensburgh Larchfield Sports and the Annan FC Sports. Organised by the Helensburgh Academical Club at Ardencaple, these were attended by a large and fashionable crowd. 21 events, all athletic events that we would recognise, were contested and the Bonhill Band played in the intervals between events. The annual Annan FC Sports were being contested for the second time and one might have expected the drop kick to be on the programme, but no, there were only running events plus a running high jump.
Before Clydesdale Harriers and Edinburgh Harriers were founded in 1885, the only amateur clubs were approximately a dozen Former Pupils and University clubs. But the arrival on the scene of the open athletics clubs was not the start of amateur athletics in the country. Not by a long way. Little is known of the sport pre-1885 and it might be instructive to look at athletics in Scotland before that. We can start with a look at athletics in 1883, before the clubs were gleams in the eye of anyone in either Glasgow or Edinburgh. Given that meetings were held on most weekdays as well as Saturdays, we can look at coverage in the ‘Glasgow Herald’ of Tuesday and Saturday events for that summer beginning with the month of April.
On April 7th there were three athletics meetings reported including the Inter-Scholastic Games, under the auspices of the ‘Edinburgh University Athletic Club’, took place at Corstorphine in the presence of ‘ a large and impressive assemblage.’ In addition to the Edinburgh schools, there was representation from Blair Lodge, Polmont, Trinity College, Glenalmond, Morrison’s Academy, Crieff and the Dollar Institution. It was reported that ‘as in former years, a large proportion of the prizes went to Loretto . There were 25 events contested including pole vault, hurdles and a bicycle race. There was a mile handicap race at Manchester in which many Scots were involved including W Cummings of Paisley (scratch) and it was won by the limit man (off 150 yards), J Morgan of Manchester. Cummings was absent for the simple reason that he was racing in a meeting at the Shawfield Grounds and making an attempt on the Mile record. Approximately 5000 were present to see ‘the great match against Time’ by Cummings who held every British title from one to ten miles. He was attempting to break Lang’s and Richards’s record of 4 min 17 2/5th sec and bets of £20 to £40 were taken against him. Four timekeepers were appointed – one for each quarter and one for the final time. At half distance, odds of 3 to 1 were laid that he would break the record. His third quarter was a bit slower than required, and despite being loudly cheered in the finishing straight, he had paced himself too much in the first half (I quote) and returned a time of 4 min 21 sec. There was also a 130 yards handicap with five heats and a final – the odds against each runner were quoted for readers.
The following week – 14th April – the biggest meeting was the West of Scotland Amateur Sports. Not to be confused with the West of Scotland Harriers which appeared later in the 1880’s, this meeting was
“The promenade and amateur athletic sports held annually under the auspices of the West of Scotland Amateur Cricket Club came off on Saturday afternoon on Hamilton Crescent Cricket Ground, Partick. The weather, the all important matter in out-of-door proceedings, was dull but not unfavourable, and the turnout of spectators was numerous. The car was, as usual, a very attractive one and embraced a great variety of athletic work. The events included throwing cricket ball, broad, pole and high jumps, one mile and two mile bicycle races, hundred yards, quarter, half and mile races, wheelbarrow race, hundred and twenty yards hurdle, tug of war over water, and a steeplechase with four water jumps.
The sports were on the whole quite up to the standard of former years. Nearly all the crack amateurs were present, and some excellent athletic work was accomplished. The various races were timed, as usual, by a cronograph kindly supplied by Messrs George Edward & sone, Buchanan Street. “
The other meeting that aftrernoon was the Royal High School Sports in Edinburgh, held on the School Ground at Holyrood.
On April 21st, there were no meetings reported under the ‘Athletics heading’ but there was a single entry under the ‘Pedestrianism’ heading. This was a meetimng at the Shawfield Ground that had only one race. This was a 600 yards handicap with four prizes – £12, £2, 15 shillings and five shillings. These were to be competed for by some well known English peds as well as the local ‘cracks’. There were to be nine heats but a wee problem developed.
“Everything promised to pass off pleasantly until the final heat came up for decision. It was then apparent that something was amiss, and several of the bookmakers asserted that Hodgson of Hatton was running under an assumed name. This was positively denied and the race went on, but just when the competitors were nearing the goal the cry came that “the Englishman wins”. The crowd then swarmed onto the track, the tape was broken and the race declared void. The large prizes given by the proprietor have hitherto induced pedestrians from all parts of the country to enter the lists, and the running has been proportionately improved. It would therefor be cause for regret if these contests should cease owing to unfairness on the part of spectators towards strangers.
As far as the final heat was concerned, Hodgson was running and we read:
“Pye of Morpeth had brought Hodgson from England for the purpose of lifting the handicap and when heats were run off it was clear that the latter had the race at his mercy. When betting on the Final was opened, the Englishman was made a hot favourite at 2 – 1 on. But even this price was only taken for a short time and the bookmakers stopped further business. Latterly however a few bets at 3 – 1 were taken, when a rumour was circulated that Hodgson was not the pedestrian’s name. Mr Hanratty cautioned him that if he was not properly entered and passed the post first, he would be disqualified. Hodgson replied that he had just returned from America and that he was running under his own name. In these circumstances the men went to their marks and were sent on their journey with a capital start, Wilson leading the field for half the distance. At this stage it looked as if the Englishman had a poor chance of winning. On entering the straigh for home however, Hodgson gained considerably on his opponents and 60 yards from the post was almost certain of victory. But the crowd then broke in and considerably interfered with him; and the referee, Mr D Speirs, considering the state of matters, at once broke the tape and declared it no race. The proprietors took the same view and ordered the final heat to be run over on Saturday first.”
The following week, the last in April, at the same venue, there were preliminary heats of a 300 yards handicap and a three-quarter mile invitation sweepstake for which the prizes were £25, £3, £1:10:00 and £1. These were then augmented by 10/- for each acceptee. Cummings was entered for this race. The final heat of the 600 yards carried over from the previous Saturday, A Baird of Glasgow won with Hodgson not in the first three. Despite the big money, Cummings was again an absentee but there were eleven runners in the handicap. The report contained many details of betting odds throughout the afternoon and of the prize monery for the various events.
The preliminary heats of a 220 yards race were run off at the Royal Gymnasium in Edinburgh.
1909 Aberdeen Marathon Trophy
The Association of Road Running Statisticians website (with the intentionally humorous online address of www.arrs.net) includes, along with a vast range of information, race histories, including that of the Aberdeen Marathon, which was run twelve times (1979 to 1990). (Click on Race Histories, then Marathon, then Scotland, then Aberdeen Marathon (or directly to: http://arrs.net/HP_AberdeenMa.htm
An appendix lists the results of the much earlier Aberdeenshire Harriers so-called marathons run annually from 1909 to 1913 and from 1920 to 1925. Then there was a gap until 1928. These events covered a number of distances (15 to 20 miles) and routes, starting from small towns such as Banchory, Inverurie and Oldmeldrum, but always finishing in the city of Aberdeen itself, often at Central Park, Kittybrewster. The only true marathon was the 1923 race, won with considerable difficulty by Duncan McLeod Wright (who later took part in three Olympic marathons), only 37 seconds in front of local athlete Jim Ronaldson.
The Aberdeen Marathon was conceived at the height of the first marathon boom inspired by the epic Marathon race at the Olympic Games of 1908 (which will forever be associated with the tragic figure of Dorando Pietri). The promoting club, Aberdeenshire Harriers, had, among other activities, been holding road races since their inception in 1888 so when marathon running became the “in” thing to do, they dived in with hungry enthusiasm.
A more in-depth explanation of how the event originated is given by the Aberdeen Daily Journal: “Enterprising and up-to-date in all matters pertaining to sport, Aberdeen caught up what may aptly be termed the “Marathon craze”, and with the conception of the idea by the Aberdeenshire Harriers Club, the management did not allow the grass to grow under their feet. The club is strong in numbers and strong in talent, and when the notion was first mooted at an “at home”, the members received the suggestion with such indications of hearty approval that those at the head of affairs immediately determined to carry out the bold suggestion. Mr. William Jamieson, the hon. president of the club, made the first practical move by presenting a handsome silver cup and gold medal to stimulate interest in the competition, and his lead was early and enthusiastically followed by other gentlemen interested in the club, with the result that there was soon an attractive list of awards to entice the best talent of the club to come forward. The club management evidently felt that it was incumbent upon them to do something of a similar nature, and hence the presentation of bronze medals for all competitors who showed ability to cover a long distance. With such inducements everything was in favour of the projected “marathon”, and the running members of the club evinced the greatest enthusiasm and readiness to carry out the idea. On due consideration regarding the question of a route, it was decided to fix upon Deeside. Banchory was ultimately selected as the starting point, so that a distance of 18 miles would be covered.”
The “Aberdeenshire Harriers’ Marathon” was, therefore, well short of the 26 miles 385 yards “standard” set at the Summer Olympics eight months earlier (a distance that would eventually be codified by the IAAF in 1921). But, at 18 miles, it was still very much a journey deep into uncharted territory for the club’s members, none of whom had ever raced beyond ten miles, a sentiment echoed by the Aberdeen Daily Journal, according to which “it was felt that the run from Banchory to Aberdeen would be quite sufficient as a severe test of the powers of endurance of the club members”. Moreover, it was a good deal longer than the vast majority of that year’s ubiqitous so-called marathons, such as the mere five-mile jaunt which constituted the “Marathon Race” at the Dalbeatie Gala.
1909 Aberdeen Marathon, Joe Munro
The first Aberdeenshire Harriers Marathon was decided on Saturday 23rd March 1909 when twenty intrepid members were bundled onto charabancs and taken to Banchory where they were given a rousing send-off by a crowd so large it must have accounted for about the entire population of the town and surrounding area. An exciting 18 mile race saw the lead switch back and forth several times before reaching its dramatic conclusion in Aberdeen, when Joe Munro wrested pole position from Jim Hall on Anderson Drive and opened up a good gap by the finish at the junction of St Andrew’s Street and George Street where he was besieged by clammering well-wishers. His winning time: 2hrs. 5mins. Jim Hall had to fight his his way through dense crowds to salvage second in 2hrs. 10mins. ahead of Walter Reid, who was third in 2hrs. 13mins. In the “do” held that evening at The Rest, Munro was awarded the “Marathon Cup” to keep for one year and a valuable gold medal donated by club benefactor William Jamieson. The second prize was a timepiece, the third a gold medal of lesser value and the fourth a medal with a gold centre, with all finishers (twelve in number) receiving a commemorative bronze medal.
1910 Aberdeen Marathon start
The second race for the Aberdeenshire Harriers’ Marathon Cup promotion was a toughish 16 miler from Inverurie to Central Park, Kittybrewster, held on Saturday 26th March 1910 in dry but windy conditions and contested by 22 members. The previous year’s winner, Joe Munro, was prominent until the 13th mile when he suddenly gave up owing to stomach cramp brought on, it was reckoned, by his ingesting dust (widespread paving of public roads did not begin until the 1920’s). Munro’s exit left the way clear for Jim Greig (a member of the ‘Shire since 1900), who won the 16 mile contest by about quarter a mile in a time of 1hr. 39mins. 35secs. George Davie (1.41.02) finished second and club captain Harry Russell took third (1.43.02) ahead of Walter Reid (1.45.00). ‘Shire trainer Tom Knowles expressed his satisfaction with the result and acknowledged that his men had “trained well” for the race. He had, it was reported, been making his charges do 13 or 14 miles on Tuesdays and shorter spins on Thursdays.
1910 Aberdeen Marathon Winner: Jim Greig
Variety being the spice of life, as they say, the ‘Shire once again chose a different route for the third edition of their now annual fixture, a distance of 18 miles from Oldmeldrum to Central Park, Aberdeen. The race was scheduled about a month later than previously, on Saturday 22nd April 1911, and started from the 18th milestone on the Aberdeen road, where 16 members set off at about 4 p.m. each accompanied by an official cyclist carrying refreshments not to mention a goodly retinue of spectator cyclists. The race marked a return to form for Joe Munro who reclaimed the Marathon Cup in a time of 1hr. 45mins. 15secs., albeit with great difficulty after being pressed hard all the way by talented 17-year-old novice Alick King (1.45.40). Jimmy Gray was a distant third in 1hr. 58mins. 45secs. and Walter Reid again finished fourth in 2hrs 1min. 14secs.
The fourth edition of the race on Saturday 27th April 1912 was again run from Banchory to Central Park, Aberdeen, but by adding a bit at the end the Aberdeenshire Harriers contrived to extend the course to 20 miles, making this the longest race yet. 16 of the 21 entrants faced the starter, a notable absentee being the previous year’s winner Joe Munro. This race marked the rise to ascendency of the runner Munro had beaten in 1911, Alick King. The youngester shrugged off windy and dusty conditions to win easily in 2hrs. 14mins 38secs., having belied his age and inexperience by holding back in the early stages before launching a decisive attack in the 14th mile. George Mackenzie, a recent new recruit, showed good judgement to take second in 2hrs. 21mins. 29secs. ahead of Jimmie Gray (2.26.49) and Harry Russell (2.27.25). Finishing down the order in 11th place was another Russell, Billy, who in 1924 was appointed trainer of Aberdeen Football Club.
Two months after his win in the Aberdeenshire Harriers Marathon, Alick King was 7th in the Scottish Marathon Trial for the Stockholm Olympics at Glasgow. This is, incidentally, the only occasion on which the Scottish Amateur Athletics Association has ever held such a trial, which in any case turned out to be a rather pointless exercise because not even the winner was deemed worthy by the B.O.C. selectors in London.
Preparations for the fifth Aberdeenshire Harriers Marathon race got under way early in the year when the club organised a number of Saturday practice runs in which the members were divided into paced and whipped slow and fast packs, the fast packs regularly being led by Alick King. The club’s Marathon Race Committee voted at a meeting in January for the 16-mile course from Inverurie to Aberdeen, the second time the race had been run from the northern town since 1910. Whereas in former years the race had been confined to members of the Aberdeenshire Harriers, on this occasion the members of the fledgling Aberdeen Y.M.C.A. Harriers were invited to compete (on certain undisclosed conditions), and several took part. Altogether, 17 men faced the starter at Inverurie Town House on Saturday 5th April 1913. The weather was fine but a troublesome crosswind meant that runners had to contend throughout with clouds of dust raised by the attending army of cyclists. Alick King once again showed maturity beyond his years by holding back in the early stages (in fact he was still 400 yards behind the leader at 9 miles) before forging ahead in the 12th mile and running out an easy winner. His time of 1hr. 39mins. 54secs. was just 19 seconds outside Jim Greig’s course record set in better conditions. Fred Stewart was second in 1hr. 43mins. 26secs. and the ever-consistent Walter Reid third in 1hr. 43mins. 50secs. Jim Barron, 5th in a respectable time of 1hr. 45mins. 40secs, was the first Y.M.C.A. runner home. It is also worth noting that there was not a single retirement, all 17 starters taking receipt of the coveted Aberdeenshire Harriers Marathon finisher’s medal.
After Alick King’s second win in the Aberdeenshire Harriers Marathon the question of northern supremacy arose when King was challenged to a race by John Tosh the well-known professional from Arbroath. A 20 mile race for the “Championship of the North of Scotland” and a side stake was decided at Pittodrie Park, Aberdeen, on Saturday 6th September 1913, King emerging victorious in 2hrs. 10mins. 00.4secs. It is not clear if dabbling with professionalism would have affected Alick King’s amateur status because he emigrated to Canada shortly after, and all was forgotten.
The Aberdeenshire Harriers’ Marathon had to be cancelled in 1914 owing to the large number of their members that had emigrated, but Aberdeen Y.M.C.A. Harriers at least ensured some continuity by staging their own race on Saturday 18th April over a 16 ½ mile course from the club’s headquarters at Kepplestone to the Y.M.C.A. building in Union Street. The race was decided at Mannofield when Charles Howie, the club secretary, took the lead from Jim Barron, the club captain, and finished strongly to take custody of the Y.M.C.A. “Marathon” Cup for one year with a winning time of in 1hr. 57mins. Barron finished second in 2 hours exactly and Charlie Watt came third in 2hrs. 3mins., ten of the twelve starters (all Y.M.C.A.) completing the course.
Harrier activities were suspended completely throughout the war, which also took its toll on the membership of both the ‘Shire and the Y.M.C.A. clubs, whose casualities included marathoners James Gray, who was seriously wounded and lost an arm, and Jimmie Rice, who was shot in the neck.
There was good news for the Aberdeenshire Harriers when Alick King, who had served in the Canadian Over-Seas Expeditionary Force during the war and represented Canada in the Inter-Allied Games, returned to his native Aberdeen after the war. He was a prominent competitor in the Victory Sports held by Aberdeenshire Harriers at Pittodrie Park on 19th July 1919.
Having established their own Marathon races before the war, the Aberdeenshire Harriers and the Aberdeen Y.M.C.A. Harriers continued where they left off when they reformed after the war, with the result that, from 1920 to 1922, Aberdeen hosted not one, but two, marathons!
The Y.M.C.A. race was held on 6th March 1920 when a field of 16 runners braved wretched weather during their 18 mile run from Banchory to Manofield. In a close-run race Oliver Coutts emerged triumphant in a time of 1hrs. 48mins., with Charlie Watt (1.48.30) and Alan Sutherland (1.49.10) filling the minor placings. At the prize-giving that evening Coutts took custody of the Y.M.C.A. “Marathon” Cup for the year, a gold medal and another prize valued at two guineas. Meanwhile Watt was presented with a silver medal with a gold centre, a palm stand and a Chinese vase, Sutherland taking home a silver medal and set of Army surplus hair brushes.
On 17th April 1920 the Aberdeenshire Harriers successfully revived their annual Marathon race after a seven-year hiatus. This was a bigger event that the rival Y.M.C.A. race, attracting 40 entries (of which 33 started) including several members of the Aberdeen City Police, who had been invited to compete. In the run-up to the event the ‘Shire membership had, said the Evening News, undergone “strenuous training such as long walks, distance road running and finishing up with skipping rope and punch-ball”. There had been large turnouts for the trice-weekly pack runs from the club’s King Street headquarters culminating in a 16 miler in the preceding week. Many handsome prizes had been forwarded by patrons of the club, and as a special inducement for everyone to accomplish the distance it had been arranged to have a special bronze medal engraved and awarded to those who finished. As had been the tradition since the inaugural race, the principal prize was the Marathon Cup, which was donated by hon. president William Jamieson. The route chosen for the 1920 race was, as in 1912, a distance of 20 miles from Banchory to Aberdeen. Keith Rennie, a sixteen year old boy, came close to causing a sensation by leading to within a mile of the finish, when he was overhauled by the experienced Charlie Watt, who, it will be noted, was a member of both the ‘Shire and Y.M.C.A. clubs! Watt won in a time of 2hrs. 17mins. 30 secs., thus missing the record set by Alick King in 1912 by about three minutes. Rennie (who collapsed after passing the finishing post and had to be carried off) was second in 2hrs. 19mins. 10secs. and Oliver Ward third in 2hrs. 28mins. 10secs. The runners who completed the course included two seasoned veterans of the first Aberdeen Marathon, Walter Reid and Jim Greig, who finished 8th and 12th respectively.
Aberdeen Marathon Medal, 1920
The third edition of the Aberdeen Y.M.C.A. Harriers Marathon Saturday 23rd April 1921 was contested by 10 members and run was over a 20 mile course starting and finishing at the Y.M.C.A. sports ground in Linksfield Road. On this occasion, unlike in the previous year, youth would prevail over experience, debutant Ted Lawson finishing in great style to deny Charlie Watt a successful defense of his title in the closing stages. His winning time of 2hrs. 14mins. 4secs. was good going considering the blustery conditions and the fact the he had only been with the club since the start of the season. Watt (2.16.30) settled for second ahead of another youngster, Daniel Gibb.
The Aberdeenshire Harriers’ race, held the following weekend, featured Alick King making a long-awaited comeback in their annual “Marathon”, which was run in unseasonably warm conditions over a 17 ¼ mile course starting and finishing Pittodrie Park where several thousand spectators at the Scottish League match between Aberdeen FC and Albion Rovers awaited the arrival of the runners. First man through the gate was the indefatiguable Alick King, who picked up seamlessly where he left off in 1913 with a commanding win which earned him a rousing ovation. He even had the time to complete the final two laps of the ground before the next runner put in an appearance. In addition to the usual array of handsome prizes a special bronze medal was presented to all who completed the course inside 2 hours 6 mins.
Alick King, 1hr. 55min. 4.6sec.;
Leslie Smith 2.04.15.6;
James Dey 2.06.06;
The fourth and – as it transpires – last of the Aberdeen Y.M.C.A. Harriers’ Marathon races on 15th April 1922 was run over a 15 mile course from Kintore to Pittodrie. It featured a neck-and-neck battle between the holder Ted Lawson and Alan Sutherland which culminated in the most thrilling finish yet to any Aberdeen Marathon, Lawson prevailing by less than 10 yards in 1hr. 30min. 10secs. Jim Ronaldson finished a distant 3rd, with 11 of the 13 starters completing the course.
City rivals the ‘Shire held their eighth annual Marathon over a distance of 16 miles starting and finishing at Pittodrie Park on Monday 1st May 1922 when the runners encountered windy conditions and heavy roads to Belhelvie and back. The entire membership had been coached by Alick King and so it showed as the first 10 men all finished inside two hours. They were led home by pre-race favourite J. Duncan in a time of 1hr. 46min. 00.4sec., followed by Eddie Watson (1.46.43) and William Angus, with old hand Walter “Wattie” Reid finishing in 7th, one place ahead of an unfit Alick King.
In 1923, with the usual inter-club cross-country fixtures out of the way, the ‘Shire and the Y.M.C.A. Harriers joined forces to organise a Marathon race over the classic distance of 26 miles 385 yards from Fyvie Castle to Aberdeen in the hope that such a race might in the words of the Press and Journal “reveal obscure talent that could worthily uphold the country’s name in the competitions at the Olympiad”. Duncan “Dunky” McLeod Wright was not exactly an obscure talent. The previous month he had become the ten-mile cross country champion of Scotland and had competed in his fourth consecutive International Cross Country Championship race. The organising clubs provided all but three of the starting line-up of eleven runners. Wright was representing Clydesdale Harriers and the other two non-Aberdeen entrants – James Walker and David Ritchie – came from Dundee Thistle Harriers. There was great disappointment at the absence through injury of top local runner Alick King, so it was left to Ted Lawson, William Angus, Jim Ronaldson, Joe Tastard, Harry Russell, James Davidson, Reggie Jones and Walter Reid to carry the Aberdeen banner in this, Scotland’s first full-length amateur marathon. The race started at the gates of Fyvie Castle, some 26 miles north west of Aberdeen on a day in which the runners faced a stiff and cold headwind, not to mention heavy roads still sodden after recent rains. Wright set off at a brisk pace, having taken the ridiculous advice of his coach, Dick Vickers, to get away as fast as he could. At the halfway mark the pocket-sized Glaswegian (1hr. 20mins.) was over quarter of a mile ahead of his closest pursuer, Ted Lawson (1.21.55), who in turn was followed at intervals by Walker (1.25.32), Ritchie (1.26.16), Ronaldson (1.28.35), James Davidson (1.31.16) Angus (1.32.13) and Russell (1.32.35). On his arrival at the Parkhill feeding station at about 19 miles, Wright (2hrs. 4mins. 35secs.) was beginning to show signs of distress. Shivering with the cold, he asked for brandy and tea, but when informed by an apologetic marshal that no tea was available he settled for some brandy and ran on. The next to arrive at Parkhead was Jim Ronaldson, who had moved up into second place after the retirement of Lawson and Walker, but he was almost eight minutes behind the leader. The outcome looked to be a foregone conclusion until Wright began resorting to walking breaks, unlike Ronaldson, who by maintaining a steady trot began to make inroads on Wright’s seemingly unassailable lead. Excitement grew as the runners entered the city and it became obvious that Ronaldson was capable of catching the race favourite. Hundreds of people lined the streets and cheered on the local man as Wright’s lead was whittled down to 300 yards with little over a mile to go to the finish at Advocates’ Park. A final effort by Ronaldson along King Street reduced Wright’s slender advantage still further, but the Glaswegian dug deep and somehow held on to win by 150 yards. Inside the ground, both men were given a tremendous ovation by several thousand wildly cheering spectators. Wright’s winning time of 3hrs. 12mins. 12.4secs. was modest even by the standards of the day, but it provided him with some valuable lessons while giving an early indication of the steely resolve that would stand him in good stead for the rest of his successful career.
The full result was:
1 – Duncan McLeod Wright, Clydesdale Harriers, 18.104.22.168;
2 – James Ronaldson, Aberdeen Y.M.C.A. Harriers, 22.214.171.124;
3 – William Angus, Aberdeenshire Harriers, 126.96.36.199;
4 – Harry Russell, Aberdeenshire Harriers, 188.8.131.52;
5 – David Ritchie, Dundee Thistle Harriers, 4.00.58.6
Jim Ronaldson’s training was idiosyncratic. In preparation for the ‘marathon’, which was held in March, April or May, he would stop smoking and drinking on January 2nd and would run 16 or 17 miles three times a week until the race. Then after four months training, he would start smoking and drinking again!
Dunky Wright’s club, Clydesdale Harriers, was the most important in Scotland at the time. Training there concentrated on nightly pack road runs of five or six miles, with Friday off, followed by a race or a steady club run of anything between 7 and 15 miles over the country. Sundays might be the occasion for a seriously long hillwalk.
The Aberdeenshire Harriers Club celebrated the 10th running of their annual Marathon race on Saturday 3rd May 1924 when 12 members tackled a 15 mile course starting and finishing at the club’s headquarters in King’s Crescent and run in what were described as “extremely adverse weather conditions”. Wind and rain were against the competitors over the greater part of the course, while the ground was so heavy the cyclists had trouble keeping up with the runners! J. Duncan eventually ran out a clear winner in a time of 1hr. 35mins. 7.2secs. to take custody of the Marathon Cup for a second time ahead of William Angus (184.108.40.206). One of the remarkable features of the race was the success of veterans such as Harry Russell (3rd in 1hr. 38mins. 3.8secs) and Walter Reid (8th in 1hr. 48mins. 6secs.). 11of the 12 starters completed the course, all within the standard time of two hours, for which each received a special bronze medallion.
The 11th edition of the Aberdeenshire Harriers Marathon was staged on Saturday 9th May 1925 and run over a 16 mile route from Banchory to Mannofield, the course being by the North Deeside Road from the eighteenth to the second milestone. There were only six starters, the smallest number ever, but they included Alick King and the up-and-coming James Shearer, as well as nostalgic favourite Walter Reid and a good race for the Marathon Cup presented by W. Jamieson was expected. As usual, the conditions were awful, a torrential downpour and a headwind conspiring to make the race a “severe test of stamina”. From the start Shearer, an 18 year old of promise, took the lead, closely followed by King, now 31, who bided his time until a mile from the finish before unleashing a spurt which carried him to his fourth win since 1912. He finished 80 yards to the good in a time of 1hr. 48mins 33secs. to 1hr. 49mins 3secs for Shearer. H.T. Robertson followed a mile behind in 3rd and finished comfortably ahead of Walter Reid, whose remarkable record in this event now read:
1909 –3rd, 1910 – 4th, 1911 – 4th, 1912 – 12th, 1913 – 3rd, 1920 – 8th, 1921 – 6th, 1922 – 7th, 1924, 8th, 1925 – 4th.
The officials were: Starter – Mr. W. Jamieson; timekeeper – Mr. J.C. Watson; judges – Messrs. J.S. Gray, J. Smart and R. Duncan.
Despite the theory that these races were ‘annual marathons’, they do not seem to have taken place in 1926 and 1927. Perhaps the number of entrants became too small. James Shearer seems to have tried his luck as a professional athlete for a while. However the Aberdeenshire Harriers Club ran their 1928 ‘marathon’ race on Monday 7th May. The route was from Banchory to Mannofield in Aberdeen, by the North Deeside Road. There were twelve entries, all of them ‘first season men’ apart from James Shearer (a reinstated amateur, who had been second in the 1925 race over the same course). A bus took the competitors and officials from Gordon’s College to the start, outside the Burnett Arms Hotel.
At 11.15 a.m. the race commenced, with nine men taking part. The Aberdeen Press & Journal described events in their edition published on Wednesday 9th May. “W. Hall led from Banchory, followed closely by James Shearer and W. Stuart, who ran side by side until entering Culter, with W. Chapman fourth. Stuart gradually fell behind, allowing Hall and Shearer to maintain supremacy. Misfortune, however, befell W. Hall at Cults Square, where he fell over a stone on the road. This allowed James Shearer to take the lead. The placings then became – Shearer, Hall and Stuart, with Chapman and Sutherland close behind. This position remained until a mile from home, when Shearer increased his pace, and W. Stuart then passed Hall to run Shearer a close race to the finish. The winner’s time was 1 hour 48 minutes 30 and two-fifths seconds. Stuart’s time was 1.49.52. W. Hall did well to recover after his fall. The officials were: starter, Mr F.G. Glegg, hon. president; timekeeper, Mr J.S. Greig, SAAA; judges, Messrs W. Russell, sen, R. Duncan and W. Simpson.” The club’s bronze medallions were presented to competitors who finished within a specified time.
Aberdeen Marathon in 1929: niote the starting point is the same as in the 1913 picture above
A fascinating article from a 1929 ‘Evening Express’ was written under the nom-de-plume of “Chuck”, who was clearly enthusiastic and knowledgeable about fitness. The headline is “With The Cyclists, Harriers and Walkers in Aberdeen and District” and the subheading is “Suggestion for Gymnastic League”.
He begins with some excellent advice for cyclists on the topic “How to Avoid Fatigue”. There is an analysis of problems with wrists, shoulders, back, chest and thighs, with ideas about how to relieve discomfort. One is led to expect, after 50 miles hard cycling, “a peculiar benumbed sensation over the heart”! No need to panic, however, since a change of position may be “as good as a rest”.
Chuck moves on rapidly to “Next Week’s Big Walk”, which mentions that “a splendid entry has been received for the North Eastern Harriers Association five-mile scratch walking race on Aberdeen Links”. The favourite was T. C. (Clarence) Andrews, who later won the Shire Harriers Three-Mile Walking Championship. Also rated was twenty-year-old E.(Ernest) G. Marshall of the Shire Harriers, who later finished second in the 3 mile race. Chuck reckoned that “these two lads are coming along very nicely in the walking game”.
Shamrock Athletic Club’s half-mile and quarter-mile open novice races are also mentioned; and the Wheelers Cycling Club Sunday morning two-mile handicap races. Chuck’s favoured cyclist was A. Cruden, who was described as “a rare good boy”. The journalist adds “These events are proving a great attraction to devotees of the early Sunday morning walking exercise. They walk out to the starting point on the Skene Road, view the race, then proceed on their way to where their fancy leads.”
Chuck ends his article with a rallying cry to make Aberdeen once again “one of the greatest gymnastic centres in the kingdom” by forming a Gymnastic League.
The overall impression given by Chuck’s writing is of Aberdeen and district athletes engaging in a range of “cross-training” in search of fitness, fun and competition. Surely such a philosophy should be welcome if reintroduced in the 21st century!
Indeed, the aforementioned young race-walker Ernie Marshall went on to demonstrate his versatility by completing two Shire Harriers running ‘marathons’: the 1929 17-mile Inverurie to Aberdeen; and the 1930 18-mile Oldmeldrum to Central Park, Kittybrewster, Aberdeen. In preparation for the challenge, he ran a club 7 mile road race on 16th February 1929, finishing first (from 15 starters) in 41.18.
Alexander Allan won both long-distance events. In between the last ‘marathon’ in 1925 and this one in1929, Aberdeenshire Harriers running section had moved their training accommodation to a hut in King’s Crescent. There the athletes had been overshadowed by the boxing fraternity, so that no long road races had been held from 1926-1928.
However in early 1929 James Greig, the 1910 record-holder for the 17mile Inverurie to Aberdeen route, generously offered to present a gold medal to any runner who could “smash his record” of 1.39.35. The winner would also become the holder of the William Jamieson silver challenge cup. At 2.30 p.m. prompt, on Saturday 20th April 1929, the race started and the route went from The Square, Inverurie, via Kintore, Blackburn, Bucksburn, Woodside, Anderson Road, and Clifton road, concluding with four laps of Central Park, Kittybrewster. The Bon-Accord Cycling club acted as clerks of the course, to ensure that there was “no pacing in the race”. However it was Alex Allan of Aberdeenshire Harriers, running “a faultless, well-timed race”, who easily broke the record with a finishing time of 1.38.28 and two-fifths seconds; and, not far behind, John McRobb also beat the previous best with 1.39.01. James Shearer was third (220.127.116.11). He was followed by Alex Sutherland (1.41.43); William T. Stuart (1.45.29); John Troup (1.46.04.4); young Ernie Marshall was seventh (18.104.22.168); Harry Chapman (22.214.171.124); Angus Allan (2.04.38); and finally, Robert Smith tenth (2.17.45). The only non-finisher was W. Hall. Medals were presented to those under the standard time of two hours. The presentation of the season’s prizes took place at the Shire Harriers Annual Whist Drive and Dance in the Bon-Accord Hotel, Market Street, Aberdeen on Friday 26th April.
A further report in the Evening Express, which certainly sounds as if it was written by Chuck, included the following. “I warned my readers Allan would be the surprise packet, and he did not belie my confidence in him. He ran a magnificent race throughout. To me it was an inspiring tribute to the school of young runners in the city. Alex Allan is one of the best boys I have ever seen on this particular course. He joined the ranks of the Shire only ten weeks ago and soon proved himself to be a chip off the old block, viz Jamie Allan, who was a fine runner years ago. Alex is only 22 years of age and a fine specimen of manhood. Thanks are also due to Dod Fraser, the club’s trainer who has worked so hard since taking charge this season. The club has prospered beyond my wildest dreams.”
The route for the Saturday 12th April 1930 Oldmeldrum to Aberdeen 18 mile ‘marathon’ was from the Square at Oldmeldrum via Dyce to the railway bridge. From there it continued to Bankhead and Woodside, along Anderson Road and Clifton Road and into the final four laps of Central Park at Kittybrewster. The ‘P and J’ account is as follows. “Nine runners faced the starter under ideal weather conditions, which prevailed until Dyce, when heavy rain fell until the finish of the race. The rain undoubtedly spoiled the efforts of Alex Allan to reduce Joe Munroe’s record of 1 hour 45 minutes 15 seconds, created in 1911, for up to this point in the race, Allan was going strongly, and high hopes were entertained of his putting up a new record. Right from the start, Allan forced a hot pace from W. Begg (also a race-walker) and J. McRobb. At Whiterashes only seven runners were on the road, Angus Allan and Alex Wallace dropping out near the Post Office. At Newmachar, Allan was leading by 300 yards from Begg, with McRobb in close attendance, the remainder being strung out. At half distance, Allan increased his lead to 600 yards from McRobb, who displaced Begg of his second place. At this point it was seen than Marshall, who had been lying well behind, was gaining rapidly on the leaders, forcing his way up to fourth position. Nearing the city, Allan still held the lead from McRobb, with Marshall running strongly into third place. Hall and Begg dropped out with leg trouble, thus reducing the field to five runners. Allan’s battle against the rain told its tale, and on entering the Central Park, he contented himself to keep going at a slow pace to complete the distance and win his second Marathon race. McRobb entered the Park in a similar way and, hanging onto his lead from Marshall, he too completed the distance. E.G. Marshall apparently had a big reserve in hand, for he ran the last mile in a very convincing manner.
The full results were:
1 Alex Allan, 1 hour 50 minutes 25 seconds
2 John McRobb, 1 hour 54 minutes 1.5 seconds
3 Ernie G. Marshall, 1 hour 56 minutes 36 seconds
4 Peter Burnett, 2 hours 3 minutes 51 seconds
5 Alex Gordon, 2 hours 4 minutes
(Medals were presented to all finishers, since they were faster than the standard time of 2 hours 15 minutes.)
Starter and timekeeper – Mr Fred J. Glegg; Judge – Mr Charles C. Russell. The Aberdeen Wheelers supplied the stewards, and accomplished their work in an admirable manner.”
On Saturday 18th April 1931 Jack McRobb exacted revenge on Alex Allan for previous defeats. “Ten runners faced the starter at the Aberdeenshire Harriers annual “Marathon” race (18 miles) from Oldmeldrum to Central Park, Kittybrewster. Weather conditions favoured the competitors, a heavy following wind greatly assisting the first four men to return good times. Alex Allan (winner of the last two races over the distance) set up a hot pace right from the pistol shot, and was closely followed by J. McRobb and H. Gordon. The first five miles saw Allan clinging to his lead by three yards from McRobb, Gordon having dropped back 150 yards in the rear. Nearing the ninth mile McRobb displaced Allan. H.Gordon was then making headway and on nearing Stoneywood passed Allan to occupy second place. Passing through Stoneywood McRobb held 250 yards lead from Gordon, and both were going strongly. Keen disappointment was expressed at this stage as Allan, owing to stomach trouble, retired from the race, leaving A.Gordon, who was gradually creeping up to take third position. Woodside was reached with McRobb holding on to his lead from the other two. Entering the Central Park, McRobb held his lead, but only with a super effort did he manage to stave off the apparently fresher H.Gordon, who tried hard to catch the leader, but failed to do so by about 110 yards. McRobb’s victory was highly popular, and he received a great ovation from the large crowd of spectators. Four men duly qualified for standard time badges, which were given to those who accomplished the distance in two hours.
Jack McRobb 1 hour 46 minutes 35 seconds;
Harry Gordon 1.46.53; Alex Gordon 1.48.03;
David Stewart 1.55.04; Frank Yeoman 2.24.45;
Arthur Mair 2.27.58; James Peter 3.18.15.
Frank Yeoman won the special prize for the youngest competitor to finish in the prize list. Starter and timekeeper: Mr Fred J. Glegg. Judges: Messrs J.S.Greig and J.K.Smart. Stewards of the course – Wheelers Cycling Club members.”
On Saturday 9th April 1932 there was a final Oldmeldrum to Aberdeen race. The ‘P and J’ reported as follows. “Eight men lined up for the start. A stiff wind was against the runners, and hopes for a record time being accomplished were not very bright. From the pistol shot last year’s winner Jack McRobb went to the front, closely followed by H.Gordon and James Shearer. After four miles had been covered, these three were running abreast. Passing through Newmachar the same order was maintained. Yeoman and Aitken dropped out hereabouts, leaving only six competitors. Nine miles was accomplished in 58 minutes by the leaders, McRobb, Shearer and Gordon, who were clinging together. A.Gordon was lying fourth about 400 yards in the rear. Andrew Raeper fell out with leg trouble at this point, leaving only five men on the road. At Stoneywood H.Gordon and McRobb had broken away from J.Shearer, both running strongly. At Persley McRobb opened up and shaking off Gordon took the lead. At Woodside McRobb increased his lead from Gordon by 200 yards. Entering the Central Park McRobb had a clear lead and finished the course just as Gordon appeared. McRobb’s victory was highly popular, considering the wind and showers of rain. He improved on his last year’s time by 13 seconds, failing to beat Joe Munroe’s record by 37 seconds. Only four finished the journey.
Jack McRobb 1 hour 46 minutes 13 and one-fifth seconds;
Harry Gordon 1.51.41 and two-fifths seconds;
James Shearer 1.56.50; Alex Gordon 1.58.14.
Officials: Starter and timekeeper, Mr F.J. Glegg; Judges Messrs J.S.Greig, C.C.Russell and J.K.Smart.”
On 1st May 1933 there was a final Aberdeenshire Harriers ‘marathon’. This time the sixteen-mile road race started and finished at Advocates’ Park. The route went out to Dyce and back again. The event was covered in detail in a newspaper report.
“Alexander Gordon, Aberdeenshire Harriers, sprang a big surprise in winning the open sixteen miles road race organised by his club at Aberdeen yesterday. His time – 1 hour 31 minutes 42 seconds – was a brilliant performance. Eleven competitors faced the starter in the enclosure at Advocates’ Park in ideal weather conditions. From the start, Gordon, Beattie, Clark, McRobb, Chapman (all of ‘Shire), Brown (YMCA) and Cumming (‘Varsity) went to the front in a bunch and kept together until near Scotstown Moor, when Gordon and McRobb pulled away. At Parkhill, Gordon and McRobb had a lead of 200 yards from Brown, with Clark and Chapman a similar distance in the rear. At Dyce, Gordon, running with perfect ease, came away strongly from McRobb, who appeared to be labouring. Brown also was feeling the gruelling effects of the hot pace, being third. Nearing Don Street, Woodside, Gordon held a 400 yard lead from Chapman, who had moved into second place. McRobb, still labouring, being third, with Clark fourth. Coming down St Machar Drive, McRobb collapsed and retired.
Entering Advocates’ Park, Gordon had a comfortable lead of over 500 yards, and finished the two laps before the second man appeared. Chapman came next, with Clark at this heels, and a thrilling duel took place between them, with Chapman gaining second place by about 20 yards. The first three home gained standard medals for accomplishing the distance in the time limit of 1 hour 35 minutes. Gordon’s victory was his best performance in five years participation in harrier activities.
1 Alex Gordon 1.31.42;
2 Harry Chapman 1.34.43;
3 Edward Clark 1.34.45;
4 Robert Forbes (Shamrock Sports Club) 1.35.4 and three-fifths seconds;
5 George Brown 1.36.46.
Starter and timekeeper – Mr Fred J Glegg; Judges – Messrs CC Russell and JS Greig.”
In 1934 there seems to have been no ‘marathon’, although there was a 16 mile Banchory to Aberdeen walking race (won by 1923 marathon finisher William Angus). Officials from Aberdeenshire Harriers helped with this event, which included a Women’s walking race, won by Miss Chrissie Webster of the Aberdeen Ladies’ Hiking and Athletic Club, who won by only seven seconds from Miss Ella Cumming.
Probably due to a lack of entrants, the Shire Harriers ‘marathons’ did not continue. However these reports give a real flavour of Aberdeen long-distance running at the time. Aberdeenshire Harriers continued to encourage the sport helping to organise a host of other promotions, including their annual seven-mile cross country championship, North-Eastern Harriers Association championships, the Round-the-Town 20 miles relay race, miscellaneous sports meetings, Xmas and New Year handicaps and inter-club cross-country matches against the YMCA, Aberdeen University Hare & Hounds and new rivals like Shamrock Sports Club.
Clydesdale Harriers in 1913
This article is reprinted here with the permission of Hugh Barrow, who wrote it for westend report.
The harrier world of north west Glasgow was traditionally split on geographical grounds, writes Glasgow Hawks’ Hugh Barrow. Clydesdale Harriers used Hall Street and then Bruce St Baths in Clydebank, Maryhill Harriers used the baths at Gairbraid Avenue, Victoria Park used the Whiteinch Baths on Medwyn St and Garscube Harriers had their own hut next to Westerton Station. The common factor here was a supply of hot water!!
It is well known that Clydesdale Harriers was the first open athletic club in Scotland and their first track race was held in 1885. They also had annual sports – mainly at Kinning Park and Ibrox but also at other football grounds such as the Meadowside (Partick Thistle’s original home), Celtic Park and even at Dunoon. Prior to the Harriers, athletic sports were either carried on by the professionals or by the public schools. The earliest in the west of a Scotland was organised by the Glasgow Academical Club . The Glasgow Academy Sports, as it later became known, is maybe not a name that jumps out the athletics calendar at you but it is an event that provides a timeline for the history of athletics in Scotland and is probably the oldest surviving meeting in the west.
It first saw light of day in May 1868 some 15 years before the SAAA were formed in 1883 and has taken place every year since even throughout two World Wars. Originally organised as the Glasgow Academical Sports it was first held at the historic Burnbank ground, which lay on the south side of Great Western Road between the present Park Road and flyover on the M8 at St George’s Cross. This ground was home at various times to Glasgow Accies Rugby Club, Rangers FC, various cricket clubs and saw the birth of the world’s oldest inter district rugby match when Glasgow first met Edinburgh in 1872 in the Inter City. It can also lay claim to be the ground that gave William Smith the impetus to found the Boys Brigade as he drilled there with the 1st Lanarkshire Volunteer Rifles. He founded the Brigade nearby at North Woodside Road in 1883.
Initially the Sports’ programme included a wide range of events for pupils and former pupils and also included “strangers” races which in effect were open events that helped to encourage athletics in the area. It was common practice at the time for rugby and football clubs to host athletics meetings and this is reflected in the founder clubs of the SAAA. Over time the event moved to Kelvinside in the 1870s and then on to Old Anniesland in 1883, finally making its current venue at New Anniesland in 1903. At the end of the Victorian era the Sports had become a major social gathering with the Royal Scots Greys band stopping off to play en route to the Boer War.
The Academical Club also organised a paper chase – also known as hares and hounds – where two runners (hares) set off carrying crescent shaped bags full of paper trimmings under their armpits and laid a trail, made up on the hoof, to be followed by the main pack (the hounds). The course finished at Burnbank and went as far as Balmore and Bardowie. Now largely built up, at that time it was clear country most of the way until they came back through Hillhead. The prime movers of this event were JW Arthur and Tom Chalmers who both played rugby and cricket for Scotland – and the latter almost made it for football as well! The actual route was as follows: meet at Bishopbriggs station – Cadder – Balmore – Glenorchard – Milngavie Road – Bardowie Loch – Allander Toll – Killermont – Canniesburn – Garscube – Great Western Road – Hyndland Road – Dowanhill – Hillhead – Burnbank. The course as described would later become the training territory for the harrier clubs of west Glasgow.
Charlie Robertson wearing the distinctive club vest
Dundee is famous for having two football teams but not many people know that there were once two very good athletic clubs in the city. Dundee Hawkhill Harriers had a counterpart – Dundee Thistle Harriers was founded in the same year (1899). ie only fourteen years after the first open athletics club in Scotland was established. The club had a distinctive running vest unlike any other in the country – a white thistle centrally positioned on a blue vest.
Dundee Thistle Harriers was a very good club which graced Scottish athletics for sixty years. Without access to the local press of the day the first signs of activity nationally are in the 1920’s and 30’s. When we look at its record in the major championships this will become evident.
The next most important event in the cross country calendar was the District Championships, and again the club was successful wining the team title five times – in 1929, 1932, 1934, 1935 and 1947.
The District Relays were monopolised by Edinburgh Northern Harriers and Dundee Thistle between 1926 and 1936 with the Thistle winning in 1928, 1929 and 1936 and ENH having 9 victories. These were not easy victories however with ‘keen tussles’ between both clubs with Edinburgh Southern Harriers also in the mix.
Of course, the winter was not just cross-country: road races took place then and, from 1930, the biggest of these was the eight-stage Edinburgh to Glasgow Relay Race. The Thistle team acquitted itself well and was second in the very first race. The club record was a good one.
In the inaugural event in 1930, the club set three stage records, J Brannan on the second stage, JM Petrie on four and J Suttie Smith on six. Only 53 seconds behind all conquering Plebeian Harriers it was a good show. Not one of the above trio turned out in 1933, their next appearance, but the club was again second with JMS Melville setting a new stage record on eight. There were two races in 1933 and the team was second to Plebeian again in the second running. 1934 was the first year in which the club won the race with a team of Slidders, Gowans, Murray, Adams (fastest stage time on four), McKechnie, Coburn, Simpkin and Hay. Several of these names will be mentioned later in their own right but it should be noted that Slidders and Hay had run in all races so far. In 1935 the ‘old order’ of Plebeian, Dundee Thistle and Edinburgh Northern sharing the spoils was disturbed when Garscube Harriers finished second to Edinburgh Northern with Plebeians third and Thistle fourth. Fourth again in 1936 as West Coast clubs Bellahouston Harriers and Shettleston Harriers finished first and second with Plebeian third and Thistle again fourth. Regrouping a bit in 1937 Thistle won the event for a second time with AT Whitecross fastest on stage four taking the club from third to first – a position which they held to the finish in Glasgow. In 1938, they slumped a bit to third place although AM Donnett was fastest on the first stage. 1939 was the last race of the series before the War and the club could do no better than sixth that time out. It had been a very good run of results in the nine years while local rivals Dundee Hawkhill had not yet contested it. They were back in 1949 but finished eleventh and were to win no more medals in the race with their best position being seventh in 1952 and 1953. City rivals Dundee Hawkhill Harriers first ran in the race in 1961 when they finished sixteenth, taking the award for the most meritorious unplaced performance.
John Suttie Smith
Between their inception in 1899 and the start of the War in 1939, Dundee Thistle Harriers had been one of the top teams in the land winning gold, silver and bronze in National and District Championships, in District relays and in the prestigious Edinburgh to Glasgow relay. They could not have done this without some outstanding individuals among their ranks.
The club’s earliest internationalist in the Cross-Country International was JS Matthews in 1908 and the last man from the club to compete in the event was Charles Robertson in 1952. As in the team races, their best years were undoubtedly the twenties and thirties, with four of their six Scottish representatives in the annual cross-country international coming from that period. The six were
JS Matthews in 1908 when he finished 29th;
JM Petrie in 1930 (finishing 40th), 1931 (31st), 1932 (35th);
CD Robertson in 1948 (20th), 1950 (44th), 1951 (51st), 1952 (34th)
WD Slidders in 1933 (16th)
J Suttie Smith in 1927 (18th), 1928 (2nd), 1929 (16th), 1930 (13th)*
AT Whitecross in 1937 (41st)
In the East District Championships, the individual winners are noted below.
|A Suttie||1927||J Suttie Smith|
|JS Matthew||1929||JM Petrie|
|T Whitton||1933||A Hay|
|GA Farquharson||1947||CD Robertson|
CD Robertson of course was a top class marathon runner and he won the District Championship for the second time in 1950. That was the last year in which he won the championship.
The club was on a bit of a high when the War of 1939 – 45 started. Most clubs struggled with problems of man-power, accommodation, finances, buying kit when all clothing was subject to strict rationing via clothing coupons, training in the blackout, etc. In Dundee, we learn from the Hawkhill Harriers website that
“Dundee Hawkhill Harriers and Dundee Thistle Harriers were struggling to maintain member numbers, with so many heading off to the armed forces. In 1940, the Luftwaffe bombed the Thistle Harriers clubrooms in Abbotsford Street.
With both clubs struggling, they amalgamated into the “Dundee Harriers”, becoming the only functioning Harriers club in the East of Scotland during the war. During the war years, The Perth to Dundee Marathon, which had originally sprung to life in 1894 (James M Galloway winning the 21 mile 1540 yards race in 2:20:00), was resurrected by Harrier’s Captain, Jimmy Brannan. A few Perth to Dundee races were run around the turn of the century with a gap before six more events were staged in the early to mid 1930’s. Original winner Galloway’s sons, George and Alex won 5 between them! Again there was a gap until 1942, when Brannan resurrected the event in an attempt to erase Galloway’s 1894 record. At the end of the war, the clubs went their separate ways, apart from maintaining a joint committee from 1946 to organise the Perth to Dundee Marathon. Dundee Hawkhill Harriers reconvened on Thursday 27 September 1945.”
The wartime activities were described as follows in an article on the Dundee Kingsway Relay in the November 1946 issue of the ‘Scots Athlete’ by DM Thomson:
“Seasons 1939-40 and 1940-41, you will doubtless recollect, were pretty drab and uninspiring events everywhere, but nowhere, I think, could they have been as dismal as Dundee. Of the score or so clubs affiliated to the Eastern District Committee, NCCU, in 1937-38, all but Thistle and Hawkhill were, through force of circumstances, obliged to close down for the duration. Rapidly depleting memberships, owing to the call-up, scarcity of recruits, and lack of competition resulted in a not unnatural waning of interest in the ranks.
During this period of depression Hitler & Co decided to eliminate Thistle’s Headquarters. The obvious solution was followed. Hawks and Thistle amalgamated for the duration, and proceded to operate from the former club’s premises under the name of ‘Dundee Harriers’. “
On the question of training venues at the time, Colin Shields in “Whatever the Weather” gives us more information: “Early in the War the clubrooms of Dundee Thistle were bombed during a sneak German bombing raid. The destruction occurred on a club training night and runneres luckily escaped with scratches and shock. The Thistle Harriers then shared the Hawkhill clubrooms and the two clubs amalgamated to form Dundee Harriers. But the Hawkhill clubrooms were then requisitioned for use as National Fire Service sleeping quarters, and the club found itself homeless. However they kept the sport going in Dundee by using football club rooms, cyclists’ huts and even tennis pavilions for training, and indeed managed to promote races which secured support from all over Scotland.”
The races promoted included the start-up of the East District Cross-Country League, and old idea that had long disappeared from the fixture list, the Dundee Kingsway Relay, the ‘Round Dundee’ Relay and, after the war, the Perth – Dundee marathon was another joint project. The League was credited with a very successful Dundee representation in the SCCA Championships during the war. The SCCA was an ad hoc body appointed to look after the sport for the duration and they held an unofficial Scottish cross-country championship. In 1941-42 it was won by A Haddow of RAF Leuchars with James Brannan, the ‘live wire’ Hawkhill man partly responsible for the re-start of the League, in sixth position. The following year Jim Brannan won for Dundee Harriers and although the team was not quite as successful as the individuals, it was never out of the first four teams between 1942 and 1945.
The old rivalry came to the fore again after the cessation of hostilities withe each club running its own show. The very first iussue of the ‘Scots Athlete’ in March 1946 carried the following: “The war time union of Dundee Thistle and Dundee Hawkhill has dissolvesm each club now looks after its own affairs. With the interest in Dundee, there is ample room for two clubs. During the war Dundee has served the sport well and have done much to keep the sport in Scotland alive.”
A month or two later in the ‘Round The Clubhouses’ section of the ‘Scots Athlete’ was the following announcement:
“DUNDEE THISTLE HARRIERS have a great tradition. In pre-war days were one of the most powerful clubs in Scotland. Intend to regain former strength. Contact Hon Secretary C Donnet at 45 Commercial Street, Dundee.”
The cartoon below is self explanatory: in the first issue of the ‘Scots Athlete’ it was one of the last promotions of Dundee Harriers.
But the reality was that there were hard times for all athletic clubs after the war. This was as true in Dundee as elsewhere but the club’s difficult times were perhaps disguised by the brilliant running of Charlie (sometimes Chick) Robertson. Between the first post-war national in 1946/47 and their demise in 1959/60, the club did not finish a complete team at all in the premier national event. In ’46/’47 there was an incomplete team the following year a Youths team was 12th out of 20 clubs and that was it. Robertson ran in six nationals between 1947/48 and 1952/53 and there were a few Juniors and Youths running as individuals but that was it. Dundee Hawkhill first appeared after the war in 1954/55 when a Youth team was ninth and their strength built up over the years – in 1956/57 the Youth team was seventh and the Junior team was twelfth. Their first medal winners were theboys of the Youths team in 1959/60 who finished third. The last appearance of a Thistle runner in trhe national was in 1958/59 when J Abbott was 52nd in the Youths race and J Fotheringham 51st in the Junior event.
In the District Championships, the results were slightly better but followed a smilar pattern. In the first championship after the war, the club provided the individual (CD Robertson) and team winners. There followed two years when no team in any age group was forward from the club. The placings for the years from 1950 to 1957 inclusive were seventh, incomplete team, third, second, fourth, sixth, sixth and eighth. There was no club representation after that.
The running done on the club’s behalf by CD Robertson hgas to be remarked upon. Even when he was obviously unfit, he turned out seven times between 1950 and 1957 finishing first, second, – , fourth, sixteenth, eighteenth, twenty ninth, twentieth. There were times when he was not the club’s first man home but he still turned out. Six men were required for a team here, but only four were needed for the relays, so how did the team fare there after the war? About the same as in the national, Edinburgh to Glasgow and Districts is the answer. Teams entered and ran in 1947 (fifth), ’48 (12th), ’49 (fifth), ’50 (fourth), ’51 (fifth), ’52 (two teams: fourth and 17th), ’53 (seventh), – , ’56 (eighth), ’57 (15th). Some good runs, mostly by Robertson, but that was it. By 1960/’61 the club had not raced in it for several years and Hawkhill Harriers were running three teams in it. Several of the names listed by Hawkhill were those of runners who had turned out for Thistle.
Dundee Thistle Harriers had been a very good team right up until the war in 1939 but they never seemed to recover from it, the momentum was lost and the trajectory was downhill until 1960 when they were no more. Hawkhill Harriers were to be the Dundee club to carry the city’s athletic hopes on into the twenty first century.
Ian A Clarke, the Scottish hurdles champion, who gained such a surprising victory against Ireland at Powderhall on July 20th, is going into residence at Oxford University in October, probably for two years, and should stand an excellent chance of securing a “double blue” in athletics and rugby football. He is studying forestry, and will with that object in view spend his vacations in Germany.
The “Olympic Games ” in aid of the Hamilton Brasss Band Fund have resulted in a profit of £200, which is much in excess of what was expected. Provost Smellie was at the head of the movement, and the result must be gratifying to all who lent their services, chief among them was Mr Thomas Moore of Hamilton Academicals. There has been quite revival in athletics in the ducal town this season, and, no doubt, other industrial centres will keep mind of this fact when another summer comes around.
WR Applegarth (Polytechnic Harriers), perhaps the fastest sprinter in Britain, was second in a 300 yards handicap at Windsor last week, 33 1-5th sec being the winner’s time. The track was a grass one with bad corners and these facts should be kept in mind when estimating the worth of Applegarth’s performance.
Poloc Cricket Club have set aside September 21st for their annual fete – a form of entertainment which they have made their own. Mr William Dunsmore is again convener, and hopes to introduce one or two recreative novelties which will tax the stamina of the competitors, and produce no end or merriment for the guests of the club. Poloc excel in this class of thing.
Salford Harriers Sports on 14th September will be patronised by one or two Scottish runners. The programme will include two first class and two second class handicaps over half-mile and mile. Imitation, we are told, is the sincerest form of flattery and Rangers and Celtic should therefore feel proud that a club of the influence of Salford Harriers are not above taking a leaf from their books. These special handicaps bring to the surface qualities that are often lost in races where the fields are large and composed for the most part of inexperienced runners. And what is more to the point, they develop a higher standard of speed.
Harry Hughes will not be able to run for the West of Scotland Harriers in the team race at the Edinburgh Southern Harriers Sports on Saturday, He is the only distance runner of note that the ‘West’ have, and the team without Hughes will not be very formidable. It is strange that while the West of Scotland Harriers have always been more or less well replenished with sprint and middle distance runners, Clydesdale Harriers, on the other hand have always been rich in distance talent and poor in sprinters. The ‘West’ will be represented by A McPhee, R Hutcheson, D Peat and G Mason.
The Germans are making sound progress in the science of athletics. Their championships were held at Duisburg a few days ago, and the performances generally are astonishing when it is borne in mind that it is only recently that the Germans organised a national test. Hanns Braun, who was here recently, won the 400 metres in 51 3-5th sec, but does not seem to have taken part in the 800 metres, the winner of which was Lehman in 2 min 0 9-10th sec. R Rau, a very fine sprinter, won the 100 and 200 metres, the former in 11 -5th sec and the latter in 23 1-5th sec, but to the surprise of all, himself included, he was beaten in the 110 metres hurdles by one Martin in 15 4-5th sec which is German record. R Passoman, an ex-AAA champion, won the long jump with 21ft 0 3/4in but was beaten in the pole vault by Olaf after tieing at 11 feet 5 in. In the high jump the winner cleared 6 ft 1 3/4 in, and the winning put was 35 feet 5 3/4 in. Germans are nothing if not efficient, and these performances represent a development in applied athletics, which if maintained will them serious rivals to Britons and Americans alike.
South London Harriers who will always have a warm place in the affections of Glasgow athletes owing to the helping hand they extended to the West of Scotland Harriers some seasons ago in connection with the Connell Cup competition, are including a three miles invitation handicap in their programme on the 14th of next month with the object of breaking record, so we are told. But in the meantime there is not a runner in England capable of lowering Shrubb’s three mile record, and the little embellishment about record breaking therefore displays an ignorance of the resources of English distance runners that is surprising in a club like South London Harriers. Unless it be R Hales, whose splendid performances at Celtic Sports a few days ago have produced a modified sensation in athletic circles across the Border, there is no one in Britain capable of coming within reasonable distance of Shrubb’s monumental time – 14 min 27 1-5th sec. And even Hales has yet to demonstrate that he is of the same fibre as Shrubb. GM Hutson may in another year accomplish something big but, like the Irish crack, he is some way off the magical zone of record breaking.