Charles Blatherwick, President of Clydesdale Harriers from 1885 to 1897
Clydesdale Harriers was founded on 4th May, 1885. Their first track race was a 300 yards at Meadowside, Partick Thistle’s football ground, but their famous and highly regarded Sports did not begin until July 1988. Their first training track was at the Rangers FC ground at Kinning Park and when the club moved to Ibrox, the Harriers moved as well. There were many links between the clubs who had many members, indeed committee members, in common. Co-operation between clubs was not unusual at that time and Scotland at that point really was a sport loving country. The sports pages covered not only football, cricket, rugby and athletics but also bowling, cycling, shinty, chess, quoiting and others on an almost daily basis.
It was no surprise then that the first sports meeting held at Ibrox, on 7th July 1888, was a joint venture. Because it was the first, the report from the Glasgow Herald is reproduced below:
” The Clydesdale Harriers and Rangers Joint Athletic Meeting”
This important athletics fixture was held at Ibrox Park, the ground of the latter, on Saturday afternoon. Between 5000 and 6000 persons were present and the large stands were almost filled, but the cold weather doubtless prevented any great display of gorgeous dresses by those of the fair sex present. A very heavy programme was arranged and but for the fact that several of the events were run off at once instead of in heats, the proceedings would have been protracted until a very late hour. The fact that the five miles and one mile Scottish bicycle championships were to be decided, brought a large contingent of noted wheelists to witness the contests and gave great interest to the sport. Wilson of Edinburgh, last year’s champion, rode in rare form, not only retaining the honour of champion for another year, but also winning the three miles handicap. He then won his heat in the mile open handicap but, as he had beaten Bruce on level terms, he did not start in the final. Vallance was again unfortunate in the hurdles race for after winning his heat in fine style, he fell at the third hurdle in the final and gave up. The steeplechase and 440 yards handicaps which concluded the programme, were among the most exciting of the programme. “
The report went on to the results of a meeting that included many events that look a bit strange at this distance – a four-a-side football match featuring 3rd LRV, Rangers, Partick Thistle and Queen’s Park in which the 3rd LRV defeated Rangers in the final by 4 – 1. The comments on the football matches were of interest to those of us who thought that they were just tougher versions of five-a-sides: eg “First tie: Rangers beat Queen’s Park by one touhc down to nil after a fine game; Second tie: 3rd LRV beat Partick Thistle by two goals and one touch down to one goal.” Touch down implies carrying the ball in the hand, does it not?
For the ‘wheelists’ there were the two championships. plus one mile and five mile tricycle races; there was also a sack race and an obstacle race. There were the cycle races of course and track races at distances ranging from 100 yards to the three miles steeplechase handicap.
John Mellish, and leading figure at the organisation of the first joint sports
Mellish was President of Rangers and of ClydesdaleHarriers
Many well known sportsmen took part, maybe the best race in this respect was the 120 yards hurdles which was won by JR Gow (Rangers and CH), from TE Maley (CH) with A Vallance (CH and Rangers) falling in the final. All three competed in other races with varying degrees of success. Since it was the first one, the results of the main track races will be given:
100 yards: Six heats. Heat winners: A Gillespie (CH and Falkirk FC); A Hastie (CH), TE Maley (CH), K Thomson (Larchfield Academicals); . TW Young (CH); in the fourth heat there had been a tie between R Neil Battlefield FC and DR Gow (CH). There was a run over in which Gow won by a yard. Final: 1. Gow; 2. Thomson; 3. Maley. Time: 10.4 seconds
One Mile Handicap: 23 started in this race. 1. AW Fullarton (Irvine FC 90 yards); 2. AB McKenzie (CH and Rangers 80 yards); 3. James Erskine (CH 80 yards) Time: 4:28.6 “The scratch man, Blane of Maybole, was never in it .” Blane was also a Clydesdale Harrier who won the SAAA Championship and set Scottish records for the One Mile.
120 yards Hurdles Handicap (Open): First heat: JR Gow (CH 8 yards); T Maley (CH 8 yards); Second heat: R Vallance (champion, CH and Rangers 13 yards) R White (CH and Hamilton AFC 6 yards). Final: 1. Gow; 2. Maley; 3 R White Time 19.4 seconds
660 yards Scratch Race: 1. J Logan (CH and Vale of Leven FC); 2. T Blair (QPFC); 3. JB Green (CH) Time 1 min 16.4 (this cut down previous record which was 1:17.2)
Half Mile Handicap (open): 1. John Anderson (CH) 35 yards; 2. JH Ferguson (CH) 55 yards; 3. J Rodgers (Montgrennan CC) 50 yards. 29 started. Time 2:00.0
440 yards: Heat winners and seconds: First Heat: R Welsh (Ayr Section, CH 22 yards), MJ Ferguson (CH 35 yards); Second heat: JB Green (Clydesdale Harriers 6 yards), MJ Gilmore (Irvine FC); third heat: JT Ward (CH and Rangers 20 yards), TW Young (CH and Rangers 5 yards); fourth heat: G Ramsay (CH 40 yards) TE Maley (CH 12 yards). Final: 1. TW Young; 2. JB Green 3. TE Maley. Time 52.0.
The three miles steeplechase handicap was won by Andrew Hannah, junior (CH), from A Saunders (London) and R Graham (CH). Saunders with a handicap of 440 yards was leading by 200 yards at the end of two miles. Hannah, off 20 yards, won in 16:03.8.
The day was indeed a success and the following year they were advertised as the Rangers and Clydesdale Harriers Annual Sports and were held on 6th July, 1889. The Harriers at that time had members who were cyclists, boxers, skater and swimmers as well as runners and football players. On the day of the sports it was announced that the club had fixed up a football match with the Preston North End at Ibrox on September 6th who would go on to open the new Aberdeen FC ground the next day. To take this a wee bit further, the club handbook for 1889/90 contained the following: “Grounds with a cinder track have repeatedly been spoken of, but so long as the resent friendly relations with Rangers FC , the Committee feel that there is no necessity for moving in this matter.” It went on to say that a Football team had been spoken of and the club had defeated Preston North End, Third Lanark and Celtic but the ‘time was not yet ripe for keeping up a permanent organisation.’ However we should return to the Sports of 1889.
The meeting was again a success – held in fine weather but with a choppy wind that affected times in the track events, the crowd was a good one when the meeting started at two o’clock and steadily increased in size until there was a very good attendance. Top performance on the day was by TE Maley of ‘the Celtic’ who won the 100 yards and the won the 220 in 23.4 ‘which is as good as the Scottish record. In favourable weather, Maley could slice a second or two off that record.” JR Gow was the other stand out performer on the day – easily winning the hurdles race and finishing a close third in the 220 yards. The 660 yards scratch race was won by J Logan of Vale of Leven and Clydesdale, T Blair of QPFC was second and R Mitchell of St Mirren and Clydesdale was third. There were the usual cycle races and the four-a-side tournament was held again, Cowlairs defeated St Mirren in the final and again there were touchdowns involved in the scoring.
Ibrox, 5th July, 1890, saw the third Clydesdale Harriers and Rangers Annual Sports: “The Clydesdale Harriers and Rangers Football Club had a most successful sports on Saturday. Finer foot racing has not been witnessed for a long time than which took place at Ibrox Park. The final in the 100 yards was blemished by an unfortunate accident to Lindsay who lost first place through his feet getting entangled in the strings; but otherwise the finishes in the sprints were most exciting, and it would be difficult to conceive finer races than the two heats of the second round of the 100 yards. The 220 yards heats and final alike produced some keen competition; and the half-mile and mile, after some severe exertion, were just won on the tape. But it was reserved for A Hannah, of the Clydesdale Harriers, to create the sensation of the meeting by breaking the two mile record. Mr Duncan was the last holder, his time being 9:48.2, while on Saturday Hannah got home in 9:43.4. Two safety records with the pneumatics out were most interesting and the finishes of last year were recalled when Lees, Allan and Collins got home in the one mile handicap in a bunch. Regarding the pneumatic machines we are informed that the St Mirren and Maybole clubs have decided not to accept entries from those that use them and other clubs will no doubt follow the example of these two. The finishes in the ordinary races were not such happy handicapping efforts as the others; but the racing in these, and also in the other events, constituted an afternoon’s enjoyment greatly relished by all who shared in it.”
There was a good attendance – the large stand was completely filled and ’round the ring’ spectators were three and four deep. The strife caused by the use of pneumatic tyres rumbled on and for a while there were races in meeting programmes for solid tyres and for pneumatics separately and over the same distances. As for poor old Lindsay catching his foot in the ‘strings’ … Sprint lanes were divided one from the other by string at a height of about a foot from the ground supported at intervals by pegs all the way down the straight. The meeting this year had a six-a-side football tournament where results were by goals and points. There were no touchdowns this time round.
As far as the results are concerned –
*JT Weir (Milngavie FC) won the 100 yards from AR Downes (Rangers);
*120 yards hurdles won in a very close finish by D Robertson (Clyde FC 5 yards) from TE Maley (CH this year, 10 yards). Won by inches with spectators unable to decide who had won.
*W Murray, Jnr, (CH 27 yards) won the 440 yards handicap from MD Robertson (CH 24 yards) and TW Young (CH);
*Patterson of QPFC made the most of his 72 yards start in the handicap to win. nearly 40 competed, “when the long line of pedestrians were sent on their journey …”
*RM Walker (Ayr FC 82 yards) won the Mile from C McCann (CH 95 yards) “anther very big field demonstrated the difficulty the back markers had…”
*Two Miles handicap: 1st AG Colquhoun (CH 125 yards) from A Hannah, Jnr (CH scratch) by half a dozen yards.
The next annual sports were at Ibrox on 4th July, 1891. There had been another at Barrowfield Park in May which had been pushed back because of the weather and the re-dated meeting incurred a loss. The annual sports at Ibrox were held and they were “ a huge success numerically, athletically and financially, and enabled us not only to discharge all our debts but to leave a balance at the credit of the club.” The meeting was reported under the headline ‘CLYDESDALE HARRIERS SPORTS’. The report said that the weather was dull and gloomy at the start but brightened up later on when the largest crowd ever seen at an athletic meeting in Scotland put in an appearance. In the principal races, the Mile was won by Small of Cliftonville AC in Ireland after Hannah had dropped out – running from scratch, he started off with a great rush and reduced the gap on his rivals early one but called time when he had great difficulty getting through the ‘great crowd’ of competitors. In the 220 yards, where the meeting record stood to the credit of T Blair (QPFC), the winner was McLeod of Glasgow University, running from scratch, from Finlayson (QPFC, off three and a half yards) with Blair failing to finish.
In the twenty first century, football demands exclusivity and there are many examples of that: not least when this professional sport demands public money to develop their sport while they refuse to take part in many joint community sports forums. But the Harriers Sports, at one of the best football grounds in the country saw representatives from Rangers, Queen’s Park, Dunfermline, Morton, St Mirren, Killearn, Maryhill and Irvine football clubs. The ‘cross-fertilisation’ was good for both sports.
The Harriers had two sports meetings in 1892, in May and on the traditional date of the first Saturday in July. The report in the club handbook on the meeting reads: “Sports Meetings were held by the club in May and July at Ibrox Park and from an Athletic point of view were most successful but from a combination of causes – chiefly a a great Political Demonstration held on the day of our July meeting – we regret that the meetings resulted in a financial loss. The meeting on 2nd July will be chiefly remembered on account of the magnificent performances by WH Morton, of the Salford Harriers, who broke the Scottish records for the One Mile and Two Miles Flat Races, for NA McLeod’s record in the 220 yards, and W Malcolm’s record in the half-mile flat races, and also for the fine Exhibition of Bicycle Riding by E Leitch of the London Polytechnic Club. who succeeded in breaking the existing record for the half-mile.” The great political demonstration referred to was the visit to Glasgow of Gladstone who visited the Liberal Club, and also spoke at the Theatre Royal. It is maybe difficult to see a politician’s visit to Glasgow in the twenty first century adversely affecting attendance at a sports fixture. It was an excellent sports from the club’s point of view with most prizes being won by club members, especially in the half-mile where all three placed runners came from Clydesdale.
The following year the club sports were held on 8th July, 1893, Ibrox Park with a supplementary meeting on the following Monday. The report in the club handbook reads: Unfortunately the weather on both occasions, and especially on the Saturday, was of such an unpropitious nature as to almost completely spoil the attendance of the public. Great efforts had been put forth to make these Meetings worthy of the standing of the Club, the prizes being of exceptionally high value, but owing to the adverse weather conditions the club was involved in considerable pecuniary loss.; which however the club are hopeful of clearing off during the season. The athletic ability at these meetings was, as usual, of a very high order, but in consequence of the sodden nature of the track, record performances could scarcely be expected. … On the Monday evening TW Messenger of the Salford Harriers, and now a member of the CH, made a successful attack on the 220 yards record which he lowered by two-fifth seconds. All the events were ably contested.”
The ‘Glasgow Herald’ report referred to ‘the thunderstorm which broke over the city on Saturday forenoon’ and said that as the afternoon progressed the crowd reached 4000. Changed days when a crowd of 4000 at an athletics meeting is seen as a disaster by the organising committee. The competitors were indeed of very high quality – in the 100 yards were Hugh Barr (CH) Scottish long jump champion and international sprinter, JR Gow (CH and Rangers), Tom Blair (QPFC) but the winner was William Gibson (CH) from Gow. The Mile handicap was won by Hamilton of Maryhill Harriers from Robertson of Clydesdale, and the same duo finished in the same order in the half-mile. The Three Miles was won by Thomas from Ranelagh Harriers from G Stevenson from Ayr FC. There was quality all through the programme and the range of clubs was wide with Queen’s Park, Rangers, Clyde, and 3rd LRV among the Glasgow football clubs represented on the track.
In 1894 the sports were held on 30th June and at Hampden rather than Ibrox. The report from the club annual handbook (emphasis in the second para is mine) says:
“Our annual sports took place this year at Hampden Park – the Saturday meeting on 30th June and an Evening Meeting on the following Monday. The sport provided on both occasions was such as to ought to have secured one of the largest gates of the season, but notwithstanding a brilliant array of talent, and excellent weather on the Saturday, the attendance of the public was disappointingly small, the consequence being a financial deficiency. On Monday the conditions were most unfavourable, and any opportunity that remained of recouping ourselves for Saturday’s loss was completely spoiled by rain. This bad luck has now attended us for three successive seasons, but we trust that there are brighter days in store for us.
“One of the most interesting events in connection with the Saturday meeting, was the Inter-Club Team Race with the Newcastle Harriers (for the Silver Challenge Cup presented for competition by them last season), when our Team, consisting of Messrs A Hannah, W Robertson, A Russell and J McLaren, were successful in winning the trophy for the second time, which according to the conditions of contest, becomes our property.”
The Harriers won the silver cup for the two miles race against Newcastle by 21 points and Hannah won the individual race by 15 yards from Lyall of Newcastle.
In 1895 the Annual Sports were held at Ibrox Park again on 29th June an all that the handbook had to say about the meeting was that “although not quite so successful financially as anticipated, partly on account of the weather and partly to a counter-attraction in the form of a yacht race, we managed to have a balance on the right side.” It had been a successful meeting with very good athletes throughout the programme. Not always in their best events. For instance RS Langlands of Clydesdale Harriers won the 1000 yards handicap in 2:21.4 without exerting himself – Langlands would go on to be the first Scot to run under two minutes for the half-mile. Further up the distance scale, the Two Miles handicap was won by W Robertson from S Duffus with A Hannah dropping out with two laps to go. Fifteen men started but only two finished. It is of interest to note that Alex Maley won his heat of the 100 yards but was unplaced in the final. Tom Maley had been a top class athlete, Willie won the SAAU 100 yards and Alex was the younger brother of the three and like the others, he went on to become a football manager.