Doug Gillon : What they say ~

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Doug on Ben Ledi with Norrie Foster, Russell Walker and Ross Hepburn

You will note from the above photograph (courtesy Ross Hepburn) that although Doug is associated strongly with cross-country, road and long distance running, his enthusiasm covers every event on the calendar and his continuing friendship with Norrie Foster (Shettleston – multi events), Russell Walker, and Ross Hepburn (Edinburgh AC, former world age group high jump record holder) is evidence of that.   The comments below come from some of his many friends in the sport and we start with two former Olympic 1500m finalists ~ Frank Clement and Lynne MacDougall

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Frank Clement

“I came across Dougie in the early 70’s, probably at one of the Scottish Championships. We related to each other pretty well and, unlike other athletics journalists, I felt I could trust him and indeed this proved to be the case throughout both my athletics and work career.  We met each other often at major events and sports dinners  and also during the winter road and country seasons. When I began working at Babcock and Wilcox in 1974 Dougie would join myself and my training partner Norrie Scott for lunchtime runs around Barshaw Park in Renfrew. Dougie was working for the Sunday Post at that time and would arrive at our  training ground (Moorcroft Park) in his company’s pool car which was a black Morris Minor.  He and his wife Mary attended our wedding in 1975 and when I joined Glasgow City Council in 1978 Dougie and I would communicate regularly on a professional basis. Part of my job was to secure major events and Dougie was always supportive in encouraging this with forewards to bid documents, articles in programmes and of course newspaper articles.   

He was an active member of the Glasgow Sports Promotion Council (provides funding for major sports events in the city) and also served on the Selection Panel for the annual Sportsperson of the year Awards ceremony.   

I recall one particular story that we hatched up concerning the Scottish Vets Cross Country Championships that my club Linlithgow Athletics Club were organising in the 1991. The route took us past a medium sized but disused workshop at the bottom of Linlithgow Golf course and after some discussion with Dougie we agreed to open both doors of the building and take the race right through the workshop and past the lathes and turning machines. 

This step was duly rewarded with a headline in the Herald ‘ Linlithgow AC stage first ever indoor cross country championships’.  

One of my more recent memories was when Dougie was awarded the Lord Provosts Award in 2010 (Provost Bob Winter) for Journalism which coincided with his retirement. It was a fitting tribute to a man who gained the respect of all who had dealings with him, was always true to his profession and remained a trusted friend all through his career. “

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Lynne MacDougall
Doug Gillon was a stable fixture all through my up and down athletics career.  I saw him at most races and became friendly with him over the years.  I would always get a Herald on a Monday to read Doug’s articles.  He really championed athletics in a city where sport is dominated by football. He achieved so many column inches because his coverage was erudite, entertaining and passionate so that even people not interested in athletics would appreciate the articles.  Doug was very interested in telling the athletes’ stories, not just reporting their performances and took the trouble to get to know people.  You could tell him things were ‘off the record’ and be confident that he would not write about them.  This meant that people were confident about speaking to him. He wrote a very nice and positive article about me in the mid 1990s which I appreciated a lot at the time.  
Doug really wanted Scottish athletes to do well. I remember that he took the trouble to  come to speak to me before an Olympic Trials final. This was not part of his work, but he wanted to encourage me. I don’t think I had any chance of making the team but I felt that he really believed that I could.  I think that this shows that Doug was much more than a journalist to many of the athletes that he wrote about.  
Doug also liked to have a drink after events!  One evening after the indoor championships at Cosford I found myself on a station platform with Doug, Mary Anderson and Andrew Currie (father of Alan and Alistair) Currie with the prospect of a 5 hour train journey on a Saturday night back to Glasgow. Doug set off to find an off licence and I thought that he was about to miss the train. He arrived back at the last minute, but empty handed.  However, there was a bar on the train and we passed the journey with rounds of whisky miniatures.  I’d had a rubbish run at Cosford but  left the train feeling very merry!
It was a great loss to athletics in Scotland when Doug retired, but I hope he is enjoying it!

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Another Scottish Olympian – seventh in the marathon in Munich – who speaks highly of Doug is Donald Macgregor who has known him for many years and says ~

“Scottish sports writers of quality are rare; athletics writers of quality even rarer. While most column inches are occupied with football, in search of an imaginary triumphant past, Doug’s athletics writing has set a higher standard. He was one of the first to be aware of the threat of drugs in sport, one of the regular columnists in The Herald whose stories went far beyond the banal ‘well done’ for winners and ‘must do better next time’ for losers. I sincerely hope that Doug will continue to produce such high quality articles”

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Robert Quinn, Scottish internationalist on the track, on the country and road and on the hills too, a multi national champion on all surfaces, a runner respected throughout Scotland and beyond has this to add:
“Doug Gillon was part of the fabric of Scottish athletics, particularly distance running and cross country, for virtually the whole of my time competing.  He travelled the length and breadth of the country attending local as well as national events. I remember coming across him when out for a run through Johnstone one rainy September Saturday in the early nineties.  He was on his way to cover the Kilbarchan road relays and had got his dates mixed up and was a week early.  Of course he still returned the next week to cover this local race.  We were spoilt in those days getting such extensive press coverage and that was solely down to Doug’s determination to give our sport such a positive national profile.
 Doug enjoyed interacting with athletes and always took an interest in their life stories and reflected these colourfully in his articles.  He developed friendships with athletes and officials and I fondly remember many times enjoying a pint with Doug in the company of his Victoria Park club mate and internationalist Alastair Douglas. In student circles he was known affectionally as “Dougie Greenwelly” as proclaimed by the the unofficial magazine of the time “the Nippler”.
Doug was a staunch supporter of Scottish athletes and would accompany teams to many international events including the world cross country.  I once was sent the wrong way at the end of the Gateshead International cross country, dropping from 2nd to 4th.  As I went to confront the officials I noticed  Doug had beaten me to it and was already urging the race referee to reverse the result – which he eventually did.
Doug is a very talented writer and his coverage of athletic events was always rich and descriptive and never just factual and perfunctory like much of the coverage nowadays.  Friends and colleagues who had no connection to our sport would often remark to me that they always enjoyed Doug’s pieces which reflected all the drama and excitement of our sport. As an example here is Doug’s introduction to his report on the 1998 National Cross Country:
“THEY crested the final hill together, like the four horsemen of the Apocalypse, wind and rain lashing horizontally at their backs, each intent on the destruction of the others.

After seven undulating miles over Irvine’s Beach Park, with nearly 500 rivals broken in their wake, just they remained: three former winners, plus the heir apparent, each with every chance of victory, and just 600 metres to run.”

It is great that Doug still occasionally contributes his thoughts on Scottish athletics…..it warms the hearts of old runners like me….long may he continue.”

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Colin Youngson is probably the most successful Scottish road runner of them all in terms of medals won – ten in the Scottish marathon, thirty Edinburgh – Glasgow relays, and all the classic races such as the Mc Andrews, the Nigel Barge, Edinburgh to North Berwick, the Two Bridges, etc.   He is now a  successful veteran runner has long been an admirer of Doug’s work as well as a friend.

As I gradually became a decent road relay and marathon runner, Doug Gillon often turned up at major Scottish races, cheering enthusiastically and then quickly interviewing successful participants. We all looked forward to his reports in The Glasgow Herald (which became The Herald) on Mondays. Such precise, insightful, celebratory journalism, laced with characteristic wit and encouragement. He tackled controversial topics resolutely and was particularly unforgiving towards drug-taking athletes. Doug Gillon contributed hugely to the sport for so many decades and remains a very well-liked and respected man.

Two quotations from his writing are lodged clearly in my memory. One is from June 1981, when I had to work extremely hard to win my second Scottish Marathon title (which finished at Meadowbank, Edinburgh) not far in front of 1972 Olympian and reigning World Veteran Marathon champion Donald Macgregor and the talented Alastair Macfarlane, a Scottish International runner. By the time that the medal presentation took place, most spectators at the Scottish Track Championships had gone home. Doug reported wryly in the Sunday Standard, describing the three medallists as “ageing but speedy war-horses, mounting the rostrum”. (I was only 33, Donald 41 and Alastair 35). Fair comment, though!

Then, in November1 983, Aberdeen AAC was at last in with a good chance of winning for the first time the wonderful E to G (for many years sponsored by Scotland’s other national drink: Barr’s Iron Brew). On the final stage, I was handed an uncomfortable lead of 53 seconds from the rising star and recent Glasgow Marathon victor Peter Fleming of Bellahouston Harriers. While I tried to pace my effort, Peter raced ever closer until he was only twenty seconds behind. Luckily a couple of uphills let me ease a little further away. Doug Gillon drove past telling me to “Slow down! Relax! All you’ve got to do is stand up to win!” With a final effort, victory was secured by forty seconds, to my great relief. On Monday, the Aberdeen team really enjoyed reading Doug’s comments on our achievement: “The eight-stage relay, the blue riband of the Scottish road racing calendar, finishes along the straight of Glasgow’s Ingram Street, the tape dominated by the library. The pillars of the old Grecian-style building seem somehow to symbolise the race. In an era when athletics is plagued by appearance money and prima donnas, there was just wholehearted effort from 20 teams, every yard of the way. In the end, it was the special brew of iron men from the north who won the race, sponsored by Barr’s, a company whose produce owes more, we are told, to girders than to Corinthian architecture.” 

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Well known and highly respected athletics historian Bob Phillips, long time friend of Doug’s, writes.

“In an ever depleting world of genuinely enthusiastic and knowledgable athletics writers, Doug Gillon is one of a very small and elite band.    Unlike most of the self-opinionated hacks who monopolise the internet and the printed columns, he likes athletes and prefers to write about them rather than the tawdry politics in which the sport is so often now immersed. I think that he, like a few others of us, really harks back to the eras of Pirie, Bannister, Zatopek and Clarke, when everything seemed so much simpler.”

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Tom McNab was a Scottish international athlete, a world class coach and is a renowned novelist and playwright knows Doug and his work well too:

“Unlike most journalists, Doug entered  his profession with an enthusiasm driven by strong practical experience of athletics. That radiates through everything that he has written. “

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Fellow journalist Sandy Sutherland says:

“I reported many events with Doug often the only other journo there or only other Scot!   Generous to a fault Doug would always help you out even when up to the eyes himself! A workaholic maybe but a thorough pro! Dont make them like that any more! A fan with a typewriter as we used to say! “

Ex-high jumper, turned former marathon runner, Russell Walker (picture at the top of the page) says:

Doug, as well as being one of the most interesting writers about sport in the English language, is also one of the friendliest and most generous of companions (although his driving is a bit frightening!).    Anything that Doug writes will get you thinking about the role of sport in all of our lives, participants or not, and, unless you are lucky enough to be as knowledgeable as he is, is guaranteed to provide you with new information or facts that you had never come across before. Anything he writes will have been very well researched and is of interest not just to those with a passion for sport. 
I know he has been a great support for many Scottish athletes and not only when they are in their prime but long afterwards, offering advice and practical help. 
He has been a great champion of Scottish sport and in particular, of Scottish athletics,over more than half a century. 

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Ross Hepburn first met Doug when he (Ross) was a world age group record holder for the high jump.   They are still great friends and Ross was keen to have his say.

“My first memory of Doug dates from when he interviewed me at the Guinness School of Sport at Dunfermline College in 76/77.   It wasn’t until the late eighties until we met up again, by then I had lived in Germany since 79.

Now a young man, sort of foreign to his native country, whenever I came home for a holiday it was Doug who helped me along unselfishly.   Whenever I needed some sort of assistance, he was always there to help and point this or that out.   Even on the phone from Germany before “deadlines” if I had a question or something on my mind he would always help to sort it out!

I still have good memories as a younger lad getting the chance to visit the Herald sports desk, and getting tucked into bacon rolls at the paper’s local greasy spoon. Also the great stays at his house in Glasgow and Cornwall along with good conversations with him and his wife Mary still go through my head from time to time.

Equally I thoroughly enjoyed meeting up with him and his journalist mates during, amongst others, the World Championships in Stuttgart and Berlin. The one competition which topped the lot though was the European in Budapest in 98.   Due to a ruptured achilles tendon caused by a last try at high-jumping about 4 weeks earlier, I travelled by train with a stookie on from Stuttgart to Budapest changing in Munich and Vienna.  It was in Munich that I lost my rucksack with the anti-thrombosis injections inside, this was a bit worrying.

Once off the train in Hungary I contacted Doug, told him the story and without delay he phoned the British Team doctor who quickly arranged a meeting point.   Once it was clear what I needed we all got in a taxi to the next chemist and the necessary medication was purchased.   There we were, standing on the street with the medication,  when the doctor disappears quickly into a taxi back to the athletes hotel.  I said to Doug that I was going to ask him to give me an injection because I couldn’t do it myself.   “WHAT!” He says, “come on let’s get back to the press centre and let me have a think about this.” Back at the centre I tell him that in Germany the old lady next door has been giving me the injections. “OK, lets go in the gents and I’ll do it”.   We are by this time both in hysterics. We get into a cubicle, I lift up my t-shirt and say “Stick it into my belly!”   Then someone at the same time flushes in a neighboring cubicle.  Words cannot describe the horror we both felt at maybe being caught together in the gents in a cubicle – in went the needle, exercise over!   And we didn’t get caught.

Oh, and another thing (sorry about the plagiarism), I have to thank Doug for more than that injection and look forward to meeting up with him again sometime soon!

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Eric Fisher is a well known and successful coach from the East of Scotland.   The subject of a previous profile he has worked with athletes of Scottish and British standard.   He says

“I had the pleasure of meeting Doug early in my coaching life. Always knowledgeable he could be relied on to give solid advise and over the years I built up a good relationship with him. I could rely on him to support many of the athletes I coached and myself on some of the occasions when I was deemed out of order by the politicians of our sport. When he “retired” I felt that the sport was losing a man that always attempted to keep us in the forefront of the public”s mind.  He was always supportive in the development of the coaches in the sport and able to give good unbiased advice when asked. I always hoped he would write a book on his experiences within the sport ,but maybe that is his latest project. Can I be at the front when it is published.”

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Hamish Telfer, top class coach and administrator at GB level:

Always professional but not afraid of tackling the bigger issues within the sport.  He is a respected figure withing the coaching fraternity and his knowledge of athletics is encyclopedic.  The athletes both like and respect him.  He probes and often surrounds his reporting with personal touches.  He knows the sport inside out and is a strong advocate for Scottish athletes and Scottish Athletics and it is evident that he is always intensely proud when a Scot comes good.

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And John Anderson encapsulates what everybody else has said with ~

“He’s a great guy!”