Donald McLean

Donald McLean, headshotDonald McLean in 1938

Donald McLean, also known as Don McLean, was a Greenock Policeman who was also a distinguished member of Maryhill Harriers   When the photograph above was taken, after the National Cross-Country Championship in 1948, he was 46 years old.   The race was won that day by his team mate John Emmett Farrell, and one of the counting runners was Gordon Porteous, both of who were still running and racing in their 90’s.  Maryhill did have a lot of older athletes – Alex Wilson reminds me of George Barber (who ran in the 1912 Olympic marathon trial also ran in the Polytechnic Marathon in 1939 when he was 48) and Jimmy McNamara who was still active after the war (McNamara had a rousing reception when finishing the Drymen to Firhill road race at the age of 60).   Had the veteran athletics scene existed then, no doubt Donald would also have been an enthusiastic veteran.   Emmet Farrell in his autobiography speaks quite often about Donald and his respect and admiration shine through.   He tells one story about the policeman who had to ask the way though –


Although I have indicated how modest our training methods were in those far-off days compared with the moderns we did by our own standards have some really hard sessions on occasion.   Our club Maryhill Harriers trained from the public-baths wash-house at Gairbraid Avenue and often on a Tuesday there were perhaps twenty runners all ready to start a real hard 7 or 8 miles run.   Champions of the class of Dunky Wright, Donald Robertson, Tom Blakely, the 3 mile Scottish champion and Greenock policeman Donald McLean whose versatility ranged from half-mile to two miles on the track and even in the veteran stage provided a strong tail on cross-country team events.

When Donald made the special journey from Greenock we knew that there were going to be firworks and when pace-man Willie Nelson shouted in stentorian tones “Right lads” and left like a greyhound in the slips it was easy to lose contact with the pack if one was dilatory.   It was a clear moonlight evening crisp and exhilarating, and so was the pace.   Donald was in rampant form and none of us could hold him.   Unfortunately he wasn’t too familiar with the trail and failed to take a left turn and arrived at Charing Cross over two miles away and had to ask his way home to the Baths.   The red-faced policeman eventually arrived but it was a long time before we let him forget about this incident.   It’s not every day that a policeman has to ask the way home.   Donald blamed Dunky for not shouting left turn as the latter was well-known as a jokester but the latter countered by saying that he was too far ahead to hear instructions.”

Donald McLean first appears in the results columns in 1924 as a member of Greenock Wellpark Harriers who ran mainly in mile races.   On 7th June he was second in the open mile handicap at Queens Park FC Sports, a week later he ran in the SAAA Championships but was merely noted as ‘also competed’, in the Glasgow Police Sports on 28th June he won the confined 880 yards in 2:07.6 and in the Greenock Glenpark Harriers Sports  on 26th July he won the half-mile very easily in 1:58 off a mark of 42 yards.   He was clearly already a very good runner although he does not appear in any results for the principal meetings in 1923.   An interesting aside is the prize winning habits of his Wellpark Harrier team mate, Duncan McSwein, who was picking up several prizes a year, albeit from big handicaps, at grounds around the West of Scotland.   Duncan went on to become a very long-serving Treasurer of the SCCU.  

In 1925 he started his season at the Kilmarnock Sports on 23rd May in the Mile where he was third behind James Mitchell of Kilmarnock Harriers and P Nichol also Kilmarnock Harriers – two very able athletes who started well behind his 140 yard handicap.   The next outing was on 6 June in the Queen’s Park FC Sports at Hampden, where he was timed at 9:42.0 to be a close second in 2 miles team race against Tom Riddell.   This was his first run in a Maryhill Harriers vest, and the race report read: “From the spectacular point of view the tit-bit of the meeting was the finish of the Two Miles race.   Not since Johnston and McIntyre fought out their memorable duel in the championship last June has there been so thrilling a struggle as as that which took place between T Riddell and D McLean, the Greenock policeman, who runs with Maryhill Harriers.   The resemblance between the two races was further accentuated by the fact that Riddell, the winner of Saturday’s race, collapsed, like Johnston, after passing the tape.   There was nothing between the pair from the moment the bell sounded until the finishing post was reached , and as an exhibition of splendid courage on the party of both runners it could scarcely be surpassed.”    He might have been running well, but at this point he could not get into his club’s Mile relay team – WH Calderwood was running too well for that – nor did the 23 year old McLean pick up any medals at the SAAA Championships that year.   He did compete in the latter but was not among the first three who were Riddell, Mackie and Johnston.    He remedied the latter the following summer.

 Donald started the 1926 season as he did on the last Saturday in May when he turned out on 25th May at Hampden and won the Mile in 4:366.4.   In the Glasgow Police Sports on 19th June he won the confined in 2:04, described in the ‘Herald’ as ‘won easily’.   This led nicely into the SAAA Championships the following week when he was entered in the Mile.   This turned into a race between himself and Tom Riddell which Riddell won by 7 yards with McLean being timed at 4:27.4.    This gained him selection for the Triangular International at Hampden Park on the Second Saturday in July.   The Mile was won by Tom Riddell  but McLean was not in the first three in the race.  It was back to the domestic round after this and the Mile Relay which had been traditionally run in Scotland with the 880 yards first, then the two furlongs and ending with the quarter-mile had been changed to one where the race began with the two furlongs, then there came the quarter and finally the half-mile which made it a totally different race.   McLean’s next place was in the Celtic FC Sports, held on Tuesday, 10th August.   Nor was it in the half-mile or Mile that he appeared – it was the Three Miles flat handicap which he won with  a handicap allowance of 145 yards from WH Calderwood (125) and FL Stevenson (145).   This finished the domestic athletic season as the football started the very next Saturday.

McLean is not reported as running in too many cross-country races but at the end of the winter of 1926-27 he was sixth in the National Cross-Country Championship and second scoring runner for Maryhill behind Dunky Wright who won it.   The Maryhill team won the gold medals.

He started 1927 on  23rd May, in the Maryhill Harriers Sports at Ibrox Park.   He was timed at 9.31.8, in second place to Walter Beavers in 2 miles.   The ‘Glasgow Herald’ report read:   “The Two Miles Team Race proved an interesting struggle with a surprise caused by the prominent running of Donald McLean, Maryhill Harriers, who in finishing second to W Beavers, of York, created a new Native record for the distance.   His time of 9:31 is 1 2-5th sec better than the previous figures set up by J McGough in 1904.”   Beavers’s winning time was 9:29 3-5th.   Two weeks later on 4th June, at Hampden in the Queen’s Park FC Sports, Donald won the Three Miles Team Race in 15.30.0, with the Maryhill squad of McLean, T Blakely 4, D Wright 6) winning from Monkland Harriers.   On 11th June on a meeting organised jointly by West of Scotland Harriers and Shettleston Harriers at Celtic Park, McLean ran in the Mile Relay for his club which finished second to West of Scotland.

The traditional prelude to the SAAA Championships was the Glasgow Police Sports held one week before the big day.  They fell on 18 June this year (1927) and were held at Ibrox.    McLean was first in the mile (first class) handicap in 4.27.8, where he was virtual backmarker off 25 yards.   He followed up with first in the half mile handicap, which was a race confined to policemen, off scratch, in 2.03.6.   It had often the case in the past that there were two mile races – a first class race with the faster me running, and the second class race with those off bigger handicaps contesting it, and it was revived as ‘an experiment’.   He was also the half-miler in the relay team which won the day.  The ‘Sunday Post’ commented that “Donald McLean of Maryhill made the meeting memorable by scoring a double win, and also by finishing first in the relay race”   The ‘Glasgow Herald’s take on it was “The experiment of dividing the mile handicap into two classes was a success, and this reduced size of field gave D McLean an opportunity of registering a success from his virtual scratch mark of 35 yards in good time.   It was rather curious that in both first class and second class the winners’ times should have only shown a difference of one-fifth of a second which indicates how little chance the back-marker has of getting through the huge fields which are usually found in these events.   McLean had a successful afternoon as, in addition to his victory in the mile, he won the confined half-mile and laid the foundation of his club’s victory in the relay race.”  

Clearly in very good form, he headed for the SAAA Championships on the 25th.   He contested the mile and won his first SAAA gold.   The report read: “In the mile the Greenock man had little or no serious opposition and was forced to make all of his own running in the last lap.   The impression grows that the best has not been seen of McLean yet, and certainly this season the better the opposition, the better he has been, witness his appearances in the team races with Birchfield Harriers and York Harriers at his own club meeting in May.   He has entered for the AAA Championships and it will be interesting to see how he fares.   A natural easy style, he only wants opportunity to be a real top-notcher.”   His winning time in a day of heavy rain throughout the meeting was 4:28.8.   He also ran the half mile leg of the relay and was first at the change-over for the winning team to receive his second gold medal of the afternoon.

Whatever the ‘Herald’ said about entering the AAA’s, McLean avoided the London meeting, preferring to attempt a Two Miles record at the Celtic Sports (2 July).   The report was that he had run a badly judged race and after taking the lead a lap from the finish ‘ran himself out’ and placed third in the event.    He did redeem himself somewhat in the Triangular international at Manchester on 16th July.   The Scots were soundly thrashed.   England won with 23.5 points, Ireland had 8.5 points and Scotland had only 1 point which was won for them by McLean.   He was the solitary points winner when he was second in the Mile in 4:25.8, three yards behind JW Moore of England.   Continuing the representative matches on Friday, 4th August he turned out at Craiglockhart, in a  Scotland v Achilles match.   There was some pre-race haggling over events.   Achilles had competed against Atalanta at Hampden the previous evening and they turned up in Edinburgh wanting to alter the programme.   “The Mile and Four Mile were deleted to suit the Englishmen and a Two Miles race substituted.   It was unfortunate that J Suttie Smith, the Four Miles champion, was unable to compete.    But Donald McLean filled the gap in the revised distance events, and WH Calderwood took McLean’s place in the half-mile.   McLean ran a well-judged race, and, after being content to run third behind FL Stevenson and VE Morgan went in the lead at the bell and resisted the stout challenge by the Englishman to get home by about 20 yards.”      His winning time was  9.35.0.

Not content with that, he was out the very next afternoon at Ibrox in the Rangers Sports where he ran in the Open Mile and finished third in the first class event which was won by C Ellis from scratch, with WH Calderwood second(125), and McLean was racing from 25 yards.   The winner was clocked at 4:18.8.   And that was the finish of his 1927 season


In the St Peter’s Sports at the beginning of June, 1928, Maryhill Harriers were tied with Plebeian Harriers at the start of the last race of the afternoon, the Three Miles but McLean came to the rescue with a final burst to the tape that won the race and the match for his club.  At the Glasgow Police Sports on 16th June, McLean won the confined half-mile from Scratch in 2:03.2 and ran the half-mile leg of the mile relay “The Maryhill man handed over with fully four yards in advance of the current half-mile champion and it may be with weak opposition promised at his own distance, the mile, that McLean will have a cut at the half-mile also.   With HC Maingay added to the field this will be an event worth seeing.”   He also ran in the Mile but, as the report said, having run two fast half miles already, he contented himself with having a view of the leaders at the finish.   The reporter was correct – McLean did ‘have a cut at the half-mile’ and cut it well enough to finish second to Maingay who won in 2:01.4.  He also won his speciality, the Mile, in 4:34.8 before running the half-mile leg of the relay for the winning Maryhill team.    There were mixed reports of the two races – “The half-mile found HC Maingay justify all the good things that have been expected of him by his performances at the University meetings.   His time – 2 min 1 3-5th sec – was much below his best, but his defeat of Donald McLean was emphatic.   The conditions suited the Maryhill man, but his judgment in allowing Maingay to get too far ahead in the earlier stages of the race was not of the best.   McLean had a very easy task in the mile against a moderate field.”    One week later he was at Tynecastle, on a six-laps-to-the-mile track, in a meeting organised by Hearts FC, Edinburgh Harriers and Edinburgh Northern Harriers for a two miles race.   Suffering from a cold he was no match for JF Wood of Heriot’s to whom he was conceding 80 yards.   He withdrew from the relay with Calderwood unsuccessfully taking on Maingay in the half-mile leg.

On 11th August there was what was billed as the first athletic festival of the police of the United Kingdom and which took place at Liverpool.   All the athletic events were contested and Donald McLean was second in the half-mile which had 21 entries, and won the mile title in 4 min  35 sec to bring the 1928 season to a successful close.       It had been a fairly good season.   There had been no triangular international since it was an Olympic year but he had three medals from the Scottish championships and run some good races.   Doubts were however expressed about his judgment and tactics – not for the first time either.   But unlike the previous year, with no cross-country form to show how he was progressing over the winter it was into 1929.


His first real race that year was at Hampden.   The Queen’s Park sports were on 1st June in 1929, and and Suttie Smith attempted to break McLean’s Two Miles record there but failed to do so in a race won by WJ Gunn of Plebeian who, running from 85 yards, won in 9:32.2.   McLean himself ran in the Mile but’ran indifferently’ and failed to finish in the first three.    At the St Peter’s AAC  Meeting at Scotstoun on 8th June 1929, McLean ran a Mile – this meeting was well known as ‘the unofficial club championship of Scotland’ as it involved relays over 440 yards, 880 yards, One, Two and Four Miles relays plus a 440 yards hurdles relay as well as a Three Mile team race.  The Four Miles relay was later removed from the programme and the ThreeMiles Team Race became a Two Miles.    He was timed, unofficially at 4:41.6 fr his stretch of the Four Miles Relay and the comment was that he moved more freely than at any time that season so far.   It is interesting that there have been some attempts to organise purely relay meetings at other times in Britain – notably the Bracknell Relays in the 60’s – but they have never taken off,  although there are many such meetings in the USA which are perennial favourites.   Certainly the St Peter’s meeting which moved around the various grounds in Glasgow were popular with the athletes and spectators.

 At the Glasgow Police Sports the week before the SAAA Championships, McLean won the confined half-mile but according to the ‘Herald’ journalist, ‘in the opinion of many McLean was favoured in getting the decision of the judges.’   The Championships on 22nd June at Hampden saw McLean second in the Mile to his team mate WH Calderwood who won in 4:29.8.  The Glasgow Herald report: “His previous performances this season had shown that McLean had lost much of his form, but it is questionable that if at his best, he could have given anything to WH Calderwood, the victor in Saturday’s mile.   Calderwood not only ran with better judgment, but carried the stronger finish and his time, 4 min 29 4-5th sec, represented good running.”   

After the championships, McLean missed the Partick Thistle  Sports but ran at Lochwinnoch on 6th July where he finished second in the invitation half-mile on the same day that Cyril Ellis won both half-mile and mile at the AAA Championships in London.   Two weeks later on July 20th, the Beith Games were held and Maryhill Harriers won the relay “thanks to the early superiority of Donald McLean and AD Turner.”   On 3 August at the Rangers Sports McLean ran in and won the  3/4 mile handicap in 3.08.6 off 30 yards.   (He ran out full distance in 3.13.4 which was only 1.2 secs. outside Duncan McPhee’s Scottish record.   The journalist was enthusiastic: “McLEAN’S REVIVAL.   The feature of the three-quarter mile was the form shown by Donald McLean .   Prior to the Championships he was running indifferently without an ounce of reserve for his finishes.   He is stated to have altered his training methods since losing his title, and if that is the reason for the decided improvement that was reflected in his work on Saturday it has been a wise move.   Not only did he run with more judgment than usual, but he carried a powerful finish to the tape – too powerful for Ellis who looked a winner coming down the back straight, but could get no better than fourth place.   It was a fast run race in the earlier stages, and McLean’s winning time from 30 yards was 3 mins 8 3-5th sec, and and for the full distance 3 min 13 2-5th sec.   This was the first defeat sustained by Ellis in Scotland this season.”    It was a good way to end the season after a disappointing start and he must have gone into the winter training in good heart.


His first race in 1930 was not a track race at all, nor was it cross-country.   It was as part of the Maryhill team in the first ever Edinburgh-Glasgow relay.   McLean was to run in three of them and get a medal in each one. This one was run on 26th April, and he was on the seventh stage.   Taking over from Tom Blakely and handing over to Dunky Wright it was a remarkably strong finish for the team.   On the stage from Airdrie-Barrachnie, 5 ½ miles 31.11, he was fifth quickest on the leg but held thrid place which was their finishing position.

On the track he ran in the Tynecastle meeting on 31st May in the Two Miles Team race, won by Suttie Smith, as part of the winning Maryhill Harriers team in which WH Calderwood was fourth, McLean fifth and DT Muir seventh.   At the Queen’s Park meeting the following week, he again ran in the Two Miles team race which he won in 9:39.6, and with Calderwood third and Blakely seventh, Maryhill won the team event from Plebeian Harriers.    The following week, 14th June 1930, was the St Peter’s AAC meeting with all the relays.   McLean was part of the Two Miles (4 x 880 yards) Relay team and the Mile Team Race.   “The finest race of the afternoon was the Two Miles Relay , and it was brought about by the fact that here Donald McLean and HC Maingay were in opposition over the last half-mile of the race.   In the earlier stages of the race it looked as if the Edinburgh University team would not be concerned with the finish but CM Wells put up an excellent race in the third section and made up a lot of ground.   In the burst for the line however he could not hold Calderwood and as a result Donald McLean set out on the final half-mile with a lead over Maingay of about 30 yards.   The Scottish champion, however, was not dismayed.   He went after McLean in fine style, caught him in the back straight of the concluding lap, and entered the straight a yard or two ahead.   The effort, however, had taken too much out of him, while McLean had something in reserve, and Maingay was beaten in the final burst by about three yards.    

Maingay  was timed as doing 57 1-5th for the quarter, and 1 min 58 1-5th for the full distance.   The reserve which McLean has found since the Tynecastle meeting a fortnight ago was again in evidence in the mile team race in which he resisted a stout challenge from Neil Morison of Glasgow University.   McLean’s time in winning this race was 4 min 37 4-5th sec.”   
In the Glasgow Police Sports on 21st June. McLean again won the confined 880 yards from scratch in 2:01.6 and then headed for the SAAA Championships at Hampden on 28th June where he tackled the mile and Tom Riddell, who had been living and working in Ireland for the previous two years.   At the championships ‘heavy rain and blustery showers made the conditions none too favourable’.   In the race itself, McLean ran a good time of 4:29 to be second to Riddell and defeated by fully 20 yards.  “AS GOOD AS EVER.   Tom Riddell’s victory in the mile was decisive, and the form he exhibited indicated clearly that, despite his comparative inaction during the past two seasons, he is just as good a runner as when he lived amongst us.    He cut out the pace himself from the start, and only on one occasion did Donald McLean get on terms with him.”
After missing the Partick Thistle meeting on the following Saturday he travelled to Luton on 12th June for the third annual Police Championships and won the Mile by 60 yards in 4:30.4.   Some members of Maryhill Harriers – including WH Calderwood – had travelled to the Birchfield Harriers Sports and the English team was expected to send some of their top men, including Scotsman RR Sutherland, to the Largs Sports on Monday, 21st July.  The sports were to celebrate the opening of the new Barrfield Park.  However it worked out, there was not a single Burchfield runner in the first three at any event and it is maybe fair to assume that they just did not turn up.   On a sunny afternoon in front of 3000 spectators McLean ran in the one and a half mile scratch race where he finished second to WH Calderwood and in front of Frank Stevenson (Monkland Harriers).   The winning time was 7:05.4.

Celtic FC had been having problems with the date of their annual sports.   They had traditionally used the second Saturday in August, the week after the Rangers Sports, and it was the traditional end to the big summer athletics meetings.   Then the SFA decided to start their new season on that date, the club had nowhere to go.   At this point they were trying to get a good turn out on the Tuesday after the Rangers Sports and they would go on to attempt to hold the event on the second Saturday in July, but after one year, the SAAA, AAA and NIAAA switched the triangular international – to the second weekend in July.   It was a continuing problem.   In 1930 the event was held on Tuesday 5th August and attracted 5000 spectators on a fine evening.   McLean’s event was the Two Miles Team Race.   Not only did McLean win the race from Calderwood but DT Muir was sixth and they won the team race.   This ended the track season for him and a mixed kind of season it had been: starting fairly well there had been no real highlights for him but at least that season there were no complaints from the writers about his judgment!

On 9th March in the National Cross-Country Championship, Maryhill won the team race with McLean seventeenth.   The second Edinburgh to Glasgow eight stage relay was on 25th April and Maryhill was second.   The same men ran on the last three stages but in different order – Dunky Wright on the long sixth stage, Tom Blakely on the seventh and Don McLean on the eighth.  That the selection was the right one was shown by the fact that each of them ran the fastest time on his stage.   Track rival and team mate WH Calderwood was second on the first stage.

When it came to the track season in 1931, the first meeting was at Coatbridge on 23rd May and McLean was third in the Two Miles team race behind Gunn of Plebeian and Calderwood of Maryhill: the race report gave Gunn great credit for the way in which he ran the race – at the bell he was leading but McLean shot into the lead and when he eased slightly Gunn made his move which was decisive.   The race was almost exactly repeated the following Monday at Firhill in the Maryhill Harriers meeting, Gunn again won the Two Miles team race, and again Calderwood was second and McLean was third.

All three would meet up again on 30th May, at Hampden.   It was part of a big weekend in the city – called the Glasgow Civic and Empire week with two ships-of-war  –  HMS Basilisk and HMS Beagle  –  being visited by 25,000 people and special events all around the city and a parade of massed bands in George Square.   The Queen’s Park FC Sports was on that weekend before a crowd of 5000 and Gunn, Calderwood and McLean ran in the Two Miles Team Race for the third time in eight days.   The report is quite interesting, dealing as it does of the rivalry of the two teams.  “The keen rivalry that exists at the moment between the two evenly matched teams of the Maryhill and Plebeian clubs is tending to elevate the two mile scratch races for Harrier clubs into the chief events of the meetings in which they appear.  At the Monkland Harriers meeting last Saturday, at Firhill Park on Monday, and again at Hampden Park on Saturday, the racing in this event transcended anything else in the programme.

This was due as much to the personal duel between WJ Gunn of Plebeian on the one hand, and WH Calderwood and Donald McLean of Maryhill on the other, as to the struggle for supremacy between the clubs.   In all three runs during the past ten days Gunn has had the measure of the ex-Scottish champions, and as each has been run through in different fashion, the Plebeian Harrier can claim that, both in the matter of tactics and in the matter of pace, that he is the best man in the district at the moment over the distance.”   Gunn’s winning time was 9:38.8  and McLean’s was 9:41.   Just over 2 seconds between first and third!

The St Peter’s AAC meeting was held on 13th June at Celtic Park.   With club reputation on the line, all hands were on deck.    McLean ran in two events – he was in the winning team in the two mile (4 x 880y) relay with Calderwood, J Wilson and A McNiven,  and Calderwood and McLean ran on the last two stages; he was also in the winning team in the mile team race where he was second in 4:33.6 with Calderwood (4) and Blakely (6)  –   and the race winner was Walter Gunn of Plebeian in 4:33.2.    The winning margin was only two yards.    In the Glasgow Police Sports on 20th June, McLean again won the confined 880 yards, this time in 2:02.2.    McLean did turn out in the mile at the SAAA Championships at the end of June but was simply noted as ‘also ran’.   His season had effectively ended at this point and he was maybe suffering ant from the rather hectic start with three races in eight days and then almost a race a week thereafter.


There was no record of him running in District or National Championships over the country, and there was no Edinburgh to Glasgow Relay in 1932, so it was straight into the Track season.   There was no record of him in the Monkland Sports, at the Maryhill Harriers Meeting (where the team race was won by Salford Harriers) or at the Queen’s Park Sports on 28th May.    His first outing was at the St Peter’s meeting on 4th June where, running on the third stage, he just held his place and left Calderwood too much to do on the last stage, and he was fourth in the Mile team race which was won by Calderwood and wth Muir in fifth, Maryhill Harriers won the team race.   On the 18th June, 1932, at Ibrox in the  Glasgow Police Sports, although out of the medals, and consequently out of the report, McLean finished fourth in the handicap half mile off scratch, although he was only third in the confined half-mile this year.   The two events were probably very close together on the programme and that may have accounted for the poor run in the latter.    Regardless of the reason for that, he did run in the Mile at the SAAA again but was listed this time as ‘also competed.’      McLean was now 30 years old and was maybe feeling the pace a bit because he either did not run fr the rest of the summer or did run but fail to make the prize lists.   Whatever the reason, his 1932 season was over.


Although he was not a counting runner in the 1933 National and he may not have raced at all, on 8th April,McLean ran the last leg of the Edinburgh to Glasgow Relay for the Maryhill team that finished third behind  Plebeian and Dundee Thistle.   He had run the second fastest time of the day on that final stage.   He started the summer at the Monkland Sports on 20th May when he was eighth finisher and third counter for the Maryhill Harriers team in the Two Miles team race where they were second to Edinburgh Southern Harriers.   Missing the Queen’s Park Sports, he was out again at the St Peter’s meeting at Celtic Park on 3rd June where he ran in the 2 miles relay for the team that finished third, and then won the One Mile Team Race in 4:33.8 by 15 yards from W Sutherland of Shettleston Harriers.   At the Glasgow Police Sports on 17th June, McLean passed up on the confined half mile and the open events to run in the invitation where, running from 35 yards, he finished fourth in a race won by Tom Riddell in 4:26.   The first three in that race – Riddell, Laidlaw and Gifford – were also the first three in a thrilling SAAA Mile seven days later with McLean also in the final field.   The British Police Championships were held at Rugby on 15th July and Donald McLean was noted in the ‘Glasgow Herald’ as being runner-up in the Mile.   The trio mentioned above dominated the mile at virtually all the major sports meetings for the rest of the season and it had been a disappointing season for Donald McLean.


McLean was not a member of the Maryhill team that was third in the Edinburgh to Glasgow at the start of 1934,  nor was he in the National Cross-Country Championship squad.   When the Glasgow Police Sports were held on the first Saturday in June, earlier than usual, Donald McLean was there and running well.   Held at Ibrox on 2nd June, the sports featured the usual confined events and the report on McLean’s race read, “The performance which Donald McLean set up in the Police half-mile was in a way the best at the meeting for the Greenock man has been running for a long time and he was fresh from night duty.   At Helenvale last month he gave some indication that he had recaptured some of the form that gained him his championship, and that was fully borne out in Saturday’s race as, from the five yards mark, he won in the easiest fashion in 1 min 58 3-5th sec.   All the way he was timed at doing a shade inside 1:59, not bad time for a veteran.”   The St Peter’s AAC meeting was held at Celtic Park on 16th June and McLean ran in the Two Miles relay which Maryhill won by three yards from Glasgow University and finished second in the One Mile team race behind his old rival, Walter Gunn of Plebeian Harriers.   Well though he seemed to be running, he did not go in the SAAA Championships where Gunn won the Two Miles Steeplechase.   However, at the Partick Thistle Sports on 30th June he ran in the Invitation Half-Mile and finished third off 12 yards behind Graham of Maryhill (3 yards) and Deas of Motherwell (30 yards).   The seventh annual championship of the Police Assciation was held at Hampden Park on 7th July 1934 and a great occasion it was.   Twenty four police forces from all over the UK took part but, it was sadly remarked, only four out of forty Scottish forces were represented.   “A new record was created by Donald McLean in the Mile where he returned 4 min 29 1-5th sec in defeating the holder, RD Clapp.    McLean’s time was also 3-5th sec better than the previous record set by WC Houseman three years ago.   So long has McLean been competing that we have come to regard him as approaching the veteran stage.   There was no suggestion of the veteran in Saturday’s running.   With his experience of his West Sussex opponent he made the pace from the bell a hot one and left Clapp with no reserve at the finish.   McLean’s victory was enhanced by the fact that he came off duty only at six o’clock on Saturday morning.”

Approaching the veteran stage?   The man was only 32, although I suppose that by the standards of the day he was a bit long in the tooth.   Veteran or no, that was effectively the end of his 1934 summer season.

After another winter when he was not a counting runner in any major cross-country championship, there was the 1935 summer season to look forward to.   The summer started for him on the 1st June in the Queen’s Park Sports when he lined up again with Tom Riddell in the invitation mile race.   It was a fairly comfortable win for Riddell as the report indicates.   “Tom Riddell made his first appearance of the season on a Scottish track in the special mile and, while there was one period in the final lap when he did not look too happy, his winning time of 4 min 18 2-5th sec was distinctly good with the wind conditions which prevailed.   Riddell must be the most consistent distance champion Scotland has ever hadfor not once in the past 10 years has he served up a bad race in public.

It is a coincidence that it was 10 years ago at the same meeting that Riddell and Donald McLean served up a thrilling duel in the two mile team race.   McLean ran in Saturday’s race also, but was not concerned in the finish.”       It should also be noted that 10 years earlier McLean was a bit older than Riddell.   Age was really starting to be noted by journalists if not by other runners.   Nevertheless he was still getting the invitations to the best races.

The second Saturday in June, the 8th this year, was when athletes in the West of Scotland in particular prepared for the inter-club contest at the St Peter’s AAC Sports at Celtic Park.   McLean again ran in two events.   He ran the first stage of the Two Miles Relay Race with Calderwood on the final leg, and Maryhill won the event.   He then turned out in the Mile team race where he was first in 4:39.8 and with L Osborne 7th and Calderwood 8th, they won that one too.   In the Glasgow Police Sports on 17th June, he won the confined half-mile in 2 min 03 4-5th sec.    Those who thought that McLean’s days of winning SAAA medals were over, were forced to think again on 22nd June at the SAAA Championships at Hampden where he finished third behind Riddell and Gifford.   The British Police Championships were held at New Brighton on 6th July but this time there was no Donald McLean of Greenock Police taking part – there was a Donald McLean of Glasgow Police competing but since he won the Hammer Throw with 143 feet, I don’t think it was the same fellow!    Thereafter, despite several very interesting meetings being on the programme, Donald McLean was not among the prize winners.   One particularly interesting meeting was held at Shawfield where Clyde FC reverted to the amateur code of athletics.   Their meeting had, in the beginning been amateur but switched to being a professional meeting probably in an attempt to be ‘different’ and attract their own crowd.   On 27th July 1935, they reverted to the amateur ranks with a star-studded meeting featuring Americans from Harvard and Yale as well as several home-grown champions.

Donald McLean, Helenvale Park 30.06.1936

McLean receiving the trophy in 1936

McLean finished 18th in the National Cross-Country Championship of 1936 and third scoring runner for the Maryhill team that finished second, so he was in good shape f0r the start of the summer season.   The first run of note was at Queen’s Park Sports at Hampden on 6th June where McLean was third in the Three Miles Team Race behind J Gifford (Bellahouston Harriers) and JC Flockhart (Shettleston Harriers) the winning time being 14:49.6.   Withe Emmet Farrell fourth and W Nelson eighth Maryhill won the team race.   On 13th June, Babcock and Wilcox held their sports meeting at the opening of a new pavilion at Moorcroft Park in Renfrew and McLean was third in the open half-mile running off 24 yards.   On 20th June, in the Glasgow Police Sports, McLean won the confined 880 yards off 9 yards in 1:58.6 to set a quite daunting record.   “Donald McLean (Greenock Police) the well-known Maryhill Harrier, was the hero in the confined police half-mile, which he won from nine yards in 1 min 58 6-10th sec.   Incidentally, this proved to be the eleventh win for McLean, surely a record never likely to be equalled, far less excelled.”    

As ever, the SAAA Championships took place the following week.   Held in excellent weather with many fast times recorded, Donald McLean moved up another distance and competed in the three miles.   He finished second behind Jack Gifford of Bellahouston Harriers and one place ahead of his young club mate Emmet Farrell.   Standard medals were won by JC Flockhart and A Dow among others.   Several notable scalps taken there by the ‘near veteran’  in a good race described as follows:   “A fine spectacular race was the Three Miles won by J Gifford (Victoria Park).   It was the veteran Donald McLean (Maryhill Harriers) who made it a great race by compelling the favourite of Victoria Park to pull out all he knew to head the big smiling Greenock policeman in the good time of 14 min 54 sec.”   McLean’s time was 14:55.

Helenvale Track on the south east of Glasgow, was a good track in a nice compact arena which was the traditional home of the Glasgow Transport Sports which continued right through to the 1960’s and were a popular event.   Perhaps the fact that they were held on a mid-week evening contributed to their lack of notice in the press generally but times were usually very good there.   It was there on 30th June, 1936, that Donald McLean won a two miles invitation race in 9:34.8 from his club mate Emmet Farrell.  “Donald McLean’s two-miles win was the finest individual effort. The stalwart Greenock policeman – he is thirty-four years of age and held the S.A.A.A. mile championship in 1927 and 1928 – ran with any amount of fire, and after being seemingly beaten by clubmate Farrell he staged a great finish to get home by a yard“

McLean did not compete in the British Police Championships at Bradford on 4th July, but at Dunoon on 18th July he gave his cluib a two yard lead at the first hand-over on the relay – a lead they kept until the finish.   An unusual event was at the Clyde FC Sports on 25th July at Shawfield.   Some of the English Olympic team had come up to Glasgow for the event and one of them was the quarter-miler Roberts who took to the track first of all in the 440 special handicap where, despite running his hardest, he finished second to CF Campbell of Springburn Harriers who ran from the 22 yard mark.   Campbell was timed at 48.9 and Roberts, from scratch, at 50.3 seconds.   Then came the mile medley relay where McLean had a role to play:   “The other event in which Roberts played a part was the invitation relay race, and if his task in the handicap was severe, he had only to canter round the last lap of the relay after his colleagues had given him an overwhelming lead.   It was FR Handley who finished second to JV Powell in the AAA half-mile who set Salford on the way to success in this race.   Running against Donald McLean, Maryhill Harriers, Handley cut out a fast pace, and handed over the baton to Rangeley 20 yards ahead of the Scot.   Rangeley and Dignam increased this advantage and Roberts had an easy task in the final quarter-mile to beat Maryhill Harriers by 30 yards with Shettleston Harriers only a yard behind the runner-up.    It was a pity that Bellahouston Harriers, Scottish champions and record holders could not field a team.”    With the football season starting just two weeks later, there was only the Rangers Sports left and McLean does not seem to have run there and it was into the winter cross-country programme before the 1937 track season.  

His first race in June, 1937,  was on the 5th at the Queen’s Park FC Sports in the three mile team race which Maryhill Harriers won with Emmet Farrell in second place as their first counter with McLean in sixth and Nelson tenth.   The race was won by J Laidlaw in 14:50.4: he had followed Farrell until 60 yards from the tape when he moved away to win by five yards.   He was next seen in the results on 29th June when he was back at the Transport Sports at Helenvale running in the two miles.   The race was won fairly comfortably by F Close, an English internationalist from Emmet Farrell with McLean third.    The winning time was 9:30 and McLean was clocked at 9:36.2.   The British Police Sports had been a happy hunting ground for Donald McLean and he travelled down to Molesey in Surrey on 3rd July in 1937 to contest the Mile which he had won four times before.    The report read: “Donald McLean (Greenock Burgh), four times holder of the one mile title – he also achieved the best time in the championship in 1934 – was rather disappointing on Saturday.   It may have been that the strong cross breeze which prevailed unsettled him, but he never really found his stride.   KJN Neagle (London Metropolitan) not only won the race as he liked, but set up a new police record of 4 min 27.5 sec.” 

1938 Cowal HG, 6 milesCowal Six Miles Road Race, 24th July, 1938: JE Farrell leading the pack and D McLean in the rear behind what looks like Gordon Porteous

1938 was Maryhill Harriers Jubilee year and they celebrated twice in the National Cross-Country Championships: Emmet Farrell won the individual title and the club won the team race.   The sixth counter for the winning team was none other than Donald McLean, 13 years after he had joined the club.    He followed this on 11th April in the Edinburgh-Glasgow relay where he ran on the undulating and exposed 5th stage from Armadale-Forrestfield, 5 ½ miles in distance, in 28:28 (2nd fastest time on stage ), and the club finished second overall.   Two winter team medals, gold and silver, plus the six miles road race at Cowal seem to indicate that at 36 he felt his days of fast track running were behind him.   

There are very few appearances on record for McLean in 1938 – possibly because of his employment becoming more demanding, possibly because his keenness was slightly diminished after 14 years in the sport where he had won so much and represented his country – but he did compete in the British Police Championships on 2nd July at Meadowbank Grounds in Edinburgh.    He competed in the half-mile where he was unplaced.   “Donald McLean, Greenock Police, who finished a good fourth in this race, ran at the initial meeting in 1928, running second to T Hoyland, Bradford Police.”  

He ran in neither National Cross-Country nor Edinburgh to Glasgow in 1939, nor does his name appear at any of the major meetings of the summer, not even at the British Police Sports in Brighton on 1st July.    The intervention of the war in 1939 probably put paid to his racing career – there is no note of him competing any of the championships or major meetings after 1945 – but it had been a remarkable career with SAAA medals at half-mile, mile and three miles, police championships, really good victories over quality athletes in mile, two mile and three mile races, Scottish international and representative matches on the track, team medals over the country and on the road in all three colours, and a longer career than most of his contemporaries.    He should be better known.