Douglas at the Jack Crawford Memorial Race
13th January 1996
Douglas joined the club at the end of 1964 when a pupil at Clydebank High School. He had run for the local Fontana Youth Club in the County Youth Sports and was approached by two senior Clydesdale members and invited along to training. He proved to be a very talented runner at all endurance events whether on the track, road or over the country where he was selected on several occasions to represent Scottish select teams. This talent was seen initially in club championships where he won track and cross country titles as an Under 17 and Under 20 in the mid sixties. The Dugald Cameron Shield for the Junior Men’s Championship was won in both 1965-66 and 1966-67 and it was not the first of the club’s coveted trophies he was to pick up. He won a total of seven trophies on ten occasions over a ten year period when the club was very strong in his events. There were of course many minor placings in these events as well. It is however his career as a senior athlete that we will be examining here.
He had a good record in club championships at a time when the club had a large number of able and competitive athletes in his events. He won the Sinclair Trophy for the road race championship in 1968 and 1969; the Harold Wright Cup for the first club runner home in the National in 1971 and the Dunbartonshire Cup for the first club runner in the Balloch-Clydebank 12 Miles Road Race; The Hannah Cup for fastest time in the cross country Handicap in 1973 and 1977; the Dan McDonald Cup for the highest points total in championship races (county, district and national championships and relays) in 1973 and 1977; the Semple Merit Award for the outstanding performance in the winter season in 1974 and the Challenge Cup for the club cross country championship in 1977.
Outwith championship races, Douglas ran in the Edinburgh – Glasgow Relay on no fewer than seventeen occasions, sixteen of them in succession, with the first being in 1965. His career went from the early 60’s into the ‘80s with a comeback in the mid 90’s. It would be impossible to cover every race, every year for that time so I would like to look at his record in championship races over the period. This will include club championships as well as county, district and national relays and championships as well of course as the Edinburgh to Glasgow. His medal haul was very impressive with gold, silver and bronze individual and team medals all in his display cabinet. We can look at District Championships first, then County and then the Edinburgh – Glasgow in some detail and also look at one year to see the pattern of races.
In the District Championships it had long been an ambition of the club to win the Maley Trophy for the winning team – this was clearly stated before the 1914 War in the club handbook at a time when the club was winning almost everything it could in the country. The ambition was achieved in 1973 and it was Douglas who led the team home with an excellent run finishing in fourth place. Although he was actually fourth, he was awarded the third place medal since David McMeekin of Victoria Park who had been third was awarded the first Junior (Under 20) medal. The pleasure for the club was increased because the huge trophy presented to the winning team had been donated by Willie Maley who won the Scottish 100 yards championship in 1906 in Clydesdale colours. This was not of course his first run in the event – that had been some time earlier. That was in 1966/67 in fact when the team was sixth and he was thirty ninth individual, second club counter behind Ian Donald who was in tenth place. He did not contest the event the following year but then a year later was third counter behind Ian Leggett (fourth) and Ian Donald (twelfth) when he finished twentieth and gain his first medal in the event when the team was third. Missing the 1969/70 event, he led the team into third place in 1970/71 when he was twenty sixth. In 1971/72 the team was second and then in 1972/73 came the moment that the club had waited almost seventy years for. The team was second again in ‘74/’75 but no awards were won for three years until 1979 when the team was second without his participation. The race was won again in 1980 over the rolling countryside of the Park and Golf Course at Dalmuir in Clydebank and the team was Phil Dolan tenth, George Carlin fourteenth, Gary Millar fifteenth, Douglas McDonald seventeenth, Robert McWatt twenty ninth and John MacKay thirty seventh. Gold, silver and bronze in the District Championships were his as was the honour of being the man to lead the club to its first ever team win in the event is a proud record.
In the County Relays and Championships his record is even better. In 1967/68 he was a member of the team that was second in the championships and the following year went one better with second team in the relays and winners in the championships. In 69/70 it was first team in the relays and in the championships and this pattern was repeated the following year. In 70/71 it was first in the relays and second in the championships and in 1971/72 there were two firsts. Douglas was a fixture in all these teams and had bronze, four silver and five gold medals from the ten events. Ian Leggett was also an ever present and Ian Donald only missed one race with Bobby Shields, Allan Faulds, Cyril O’Boyle and Pat Younger all sharing in the successes. The run of successes for this extended period was unparalleled in the club’s history with the top four changing from time to time – initially it was Ian Donald, Ian Leggett and Douglas with Bobby Shields and Sandy MacNeil making up the team. Then for the three years of Allan Faulds’ membership it was a settled quartet of Douglas, Phil Dolan, Allan Faulds and Ian Donald then when Allan left the district and Ian’s illness seriously affected his running Robert McWatt, George Carlin and Gary Millar came into the team but the one man who was in all the teams in all the races below was Douglas. In 1976 he won the title over a frozen and rutted course at Braidfield Farm in Clydebank. The team record in the ‘Gemmell Years’ was as follows – 16 gold medals, 5 silver medals and 1 bronze summarised in the table below.
In the National Championships he also progressed steadily – although no medals were won at this level there were some notable team performances with fifth in 1970 being the best. In 1971 he was first club finisher when he was twenty sixth with Allan Faulds fortieth and Ian Donald fifty second.
A YEAR IN THE LIFE …
At this time the club was very strong and it might be appropriate to look at 1969 as a fairly typical year at this point. He started the year with a good run in the Nigel Barge Road Race where the club was third behind Shettleston Harriers and Edinburgh Athletic Club. Ian Donald was twentieth, Ian Leggett twenty second and Douglas twenty fourth in a field of 164 finishers over the tough traditional classic trail. A week later in the club Hannah Cup Cross Country Handicap Race he finished second in 35:25 – the third fastest time of the day behind Ian Donald’s 34:01 and Ian Leggett’s 35:00 and then the following week the club was fifth in the Midland District Championship at Bellahouston with Douglas in twentieth position the third club finisher again behind Ian Leggett in fourth place and Ian Donald in twelfth. By the time February came along he was third club man in the Inter Counties championship with Ian Leggett second, Ian Donald twelfth and Douglas twentieth – almost an exact re-run of the Midland District placings. The club championships were held and again the finishing order was Ian Donald, Ian Leggett and Douglas in third place. He was running extremely well but still finishing third behind two excellent athletes on almost every race. He had a quiet period, missing the National Championships after injuring his back in a rather bizarre way – he injured it boarding the bus to the race which was held at Duddingston in Edinburgh. He also missed the early season road races but in the club track Three Miles Championship the first three were Ian Donald in 15:04, Ian Leggett in 15:08 and Douglas Gemmell in 15:35. In the 800 metres championship two weeks later the result was Douglas first, Ian Donald second and Sandy MacNeil third. The first serious championships of the summer were the West District Championships at Westerlands in which he was sixth in 15:27. At the start of July in the Glasgow Transport Sports he was second club counter in the 3000 metres team race in 8:59 behind Ian Leggett (8:50) and in front of Ian Donald (9:03). At the end of the month he led the Two Miles team home in the Gourock Highland Games when he was eighth with Brian McAusland ninth and Phil Dolan twelfth. Ian Leggett was third in the 14 miles road race at the same meeting and Ian Donald was winning the Half Ben Nevis Race at Fort William on the same afternoon. At the start of August in the Strathallan Meeting he was third in the One Mile Handicap with Brian McAusland the only other club runner fifth. Later in the month there was an inter club against Springburn Harriers at Bishopbriggs and Douglas won the One Mile from Junior International Cross Country runner Eddie Knox.
These were all helping sharpen him up for the cross country season and he began by finishing second to Ian Leggett in the club trial to select the team for the McAndrew Relay but ahead of Ian Donald. In the McAndrew Relay itself two weeks later he was a member of the first team which finished sixth and although third fastest he was much closer than before: Ian Leggett was fourth on the first stage in 14:27; Douglas held fourth on the second stage in 14:28, Phil Dolan dropped to tenth in 15:43 and Ian Donald pulled the team back to sixth with 14:30. Three seconds covered the first three times. Things were not so close the following week when the club won the County Relays. Bobby Shields (who had been twenty seconds faster than Phil the previous week was promoted to the first team) ran first in 16:01, Ian Leggett second in 14:58, Douglas Gemmell next in 15:30 and Ian Donald in 15:13 brought the team home. At the end of October the club Sinclair Trophy race was held and Douglas proved the winner in 29:46 beating Ian Leggett by 29 seconds. On the first of November the team went to Bellshill for the Midlands Relays and Douglas was second fastest club man in the team which placed fourth – Ian Leggett was fastest club man with Douglas two seconds quicker than Ian Donald. The big race was as ever the Edinburgh to Glasgow Relay on the third Sunday in November and Douglas ran a good second stage – usually reckoned to be the most difficult – to bring the team which finished eleventh up two places from the thirteenth of the first leg to eleventh. In the County Championships at the start of December club runners were third, fourth and fifth with Ian Donald third, Ian Leggett fourth and Douglas fifth.
The second half of the winter season started with the Nigel Barge Road Race at Maryhill and Douglas was seventeenth in 23:33 with Brian McAusland (43rd) and Pat Younger the only other club runners. The club was strengthened quite dramatically in January 1970 when Allan Faulds joined. Allan was the kind of runner who always joined the local club, always gave it 100% effort and brought real hardness and determination with him. Just when everyone was expecting Ian Leggett or Douglas to win the championship because Ian Donald’s from had slipped a bit from the five years when he was virtually unbeatable in the club, along came Allan with his determination and he won the championship not just in 1970 but also in ’71 and ’72.
A measure of his quality over a long period could be had by looking at his performances in the Edinburgh to Glasgow over the eighteen year period when he raced in it. The E-G, as it was known, was an eight stage relay which was entered by invitation only and was limited to the top twenty clubs in the country. The toughest of eight tough stages were usually reckoned to be, in order, (1) the second six mile stage where all the big names were turned out by their clubs and was the most feared of all, (2) the seven mile sixth stage where the standard of runners was also high, (3) the fourth stage of five plus miles was also usually populated with athletes of a very high standard and (4) then the first stage had a huge amount of responsibility. His speciality stage however was the second where he faced such as Olympians Fergus Murray and Ian Stewart, Commonwealth marathon winner Jim Alder, Commonwealth 10000 metres champion Lachie Stewart, Olympic fourth placer Frank Clement, four minute miler Lawrie Spence, and many other top men: he looked at home in their company and often ran faster than more celebrated athletes. Douglas first turned out in the E-G in 1965 and was on the fourth stage where he was fourteenth fastest against some very good athletes. In 1966 he was eleventh on the first stage and in 1967 he was again fourteenth fastest on the fourth stage. Three races on two of the four toughest legs of the event. This was a baptism of fire in the event. If the fourth and first were difficult, he was rewarded with the awesome standard of the second stage in 1968 where he was the eleventh fastest time – this was running of the highest standard because he was self paced in the middle of nowhere and managed to pick up one place for the team. The following year he again ran on the second stage and if it had been hard the year before, the standard was even higher this time but he picked up two places with the twelfth fastest time of the morning. The next year was virtually a triumph for the club when they finished fifth and received the medals for the most meritorious unplaced performance and Douglas had the seventh fastest time on the stage surrounded by top international runners. In 1971 the club was sixth and again Douglas took on the best on the second stage: it was a complement that he was asked to do this demanding stint year in and year out. This time he was sixth fastest only one second behind Commonwealth Games Marathon winner Jim Alder and ahead of several established Scottish representative runners when he picked up four places. In 1972 he again contested the stage and was seventh fastest but this time he was 26 seconds up on Jim Alder. Many of the faces on the stage changed with the years but for the fifth year Douglas was there finding out more about the stage and getting more out of himself every time. 1973 saw him again lining up at Maybury Cross for the second stage and again he was seventh fastest picking up three other clubs. 1974, another race but the same stage and this time he was eleventh fastest but still managed to pick up two places for the club. In 1975 he was again the man for the hardest stage in any road relay in the country and this time picked up three places. Eleventh time in 1976 was exactly the same time as Olympian Frank Clement and that was typical of the standard that Douglas was taking on year after year. Two clubs were passed this time. It is also a tribute to Douglas that he didn’t refuse the invitation to tackle it at any point: the club needed him to do it, he was good enough to run it and, more important, confident enough to do it. He ran it again in 1978 for the eleventh time in a row, surely a record – I cannot find anyone in any club who has run it more often. He was sixteenth quickest on the stage. In 1979 he had a break and turned out on the exposed fifth stage across the highest and windiest part of the course and picked up one place with eleventh fastest time. Came 1980 and he had the undulating third stage – the shortest in the race at approximately four miles and had fourteenth time on the stage. He missed 1981 but in 1982 he was again in the eight runners for the club and this time ran the difficult sixth stage – a long, winding downhill stretch through some of the most soul destroying country side in industrial Lanarkshire where the club had been looking for a good runner for some years. There is no club in the country that could not have benefited from having Douglas in its ranks. A summary of his performances is below: many are content to hold their place on a stage of the race; most would be content to hold their place on the second stage – Douglas only dropped one place on three occasions and against there is the year when he picked up four and another when he gained three places. In eleven runs on this stage he made a total gain of 15 places for a net loss of only 3!
He was also good on the track and won club, County and District medals and titles there too. In 1971 for instance he was ranked twenty fifth in Scotland for 3000 metres with his time of 8:39, twenty sixth in the 5000 metres with a best of 14:53.4 and twenty sixth in the 10000 metres with a best of 31:35.0 and in 1974 on the road was ranked eighteenth in the marathon with his first run over the distance in 2:29:02. His road running as evidenced by the Edinburgh – Glasgow running and many excellent races on the road was also very good. He competed with distinction in many road races such as the short 5+ Miles Dunky Wright Road Race, the middle range of Tom Scott 10 Miles and 12 miles of the Balloch – Clydebank 12 Miles and the Clydebank to Helensburgh 16 Miles as well as the long distance Strathallan Meeting 22 Miles and the marathon. The Strathallan Meeting was one which was watched by Jock Semple of Clydesdale Harriers and the Boston Marathon who was home on holiday and Douglas acquitted himself well much to Jock’s delight. In 1975 he did what most club members were doing at that time and ran in the Mamore Hill race where he finished fourth behind Phil Dolan’s second win in the race with Pat Younger and Bobby Shields, recovering from an eye injury, supporting from the sidelines. He has personal best times of 8:39 for 3000 metres, 14:53.4 for 5000 metres, 31:16 for 10000 metres (both track times) and 2:29:02 for the marathon.
* * * * *
In the 1980’s he was living and working in Edinburgh and following a series of injury problems disappeared from the racing scene for some time but Douglas always kept himself fit and made a comeback in the mid 1990’s. The comeback started in 1994 when he ran in the club’s cross country handicap for the Hannah Cup and he finished fourth in the fifth fastest time on the day. Soon afterwards he ran in the club championship where he was fourth and first veteran in the championship. 1995 was the first real racing season back and he was third in the club championships in December behind James Austin and John Hanratty. In January 1996 in the County Championships, run in a snowstorm at Bearsden, he finished fourth and a member of the winning team – first veteran and first team made it two more Dunbartonshire gold to add to his collection. First in the Hannah Cup in second fastest time behind James Austin and third and again first veteran in the club championships set him up for the National Championships where he was fifth club runner. In the Scottish Veterans Cross Country Championship he was ninth, first M45 from any club and first Clydesdale runner to finish. He ran and raced well over the summer running twice for the club’s track and field team – once over 5000 metres and once over 10000 metres.
His 1996/97 cross country season began with the DAAA Relays at Maryhill in October where running in the second team he was part of a club clean sweep of the individual medals with Ian Murphy being fastest in the race, Graeme Reid fastest Junior and Douglas taking fastest veteran. On to the National Relays at Irvine, he was fastest in the second team in a time (13:42) only two seconds slower than Graeme Reid in the first team. This B Team was a veterans team which was second in their class and won silver for the effort. Still in November the Harriers notes in the Clydebank Post started –
“It’s just as well that Clydesdale Harrier Douglas Gemmell is not an abstainer – for he came away from the Braid Hills Race with a crate of Greenmantle packed away in the boot of his car. This was his prize for yet another win as a veteran. This time over six miles he recorded 26:29 to take the race by only two seconds.” At the end of the month he ran in the District Championships at Cumnock he was twenty eighth and the club’s fourth counter behind Ian Murphy (fifth), James Austin ninth, Des Roache (tenth) and ahead of Derek Halpin (thirty second) and John Hanratty (sixty second). The team finished third and Douglas had another medal to add to his Districts tally. A week later and it was the club Hannah Cup being run for the hundredth time and Douglas was first veteran.
Came 1997 and in January Douglas was ninth in the Nigel Barge Road Race (pictured above at the start wearing number 210) taking the first Over 50 award, defeating all the Over 40’s as well in a time of 27:33. One week later the club cross country championships were held over the traditional Braidfield Farm trail and Douglas won the title. It was exactly twenty years since he had last done so and he defeated John McArthur by twelve seconds. In the Dunbartonshire County Championships Clydesdale had the first five finishers and Douglas was seventh. Having won the title with the first four, the silver was won by the second team: a silver medal was added to his collection along with the gold for the first veteran. In February he tried out the indoor scene at the Scottish Vets 3000 metres championship and won the Over 50 class in a time of 9:32.8 from Bobby Young. Having travelled to Perth for the National Cross Country Championships in good form he lost a contact lens on the way to the start and missed the race while he looked for it! He made up for it when he contested the BVAF Indoor 3000 metres championships in Kelvin Hall and won his first British title in 9:27. He went to the BVAF Cross Country Championships at Silksworth in Sunderland on 26th March and finished second after a terrific race against strong favourite Brian O’Neill from Aldershot. ‘Athletics Weekly’ described it thus:
“In the separate M50 race Brian O’Neill lived up to his tag as favourite but was pressed all the way by Dougie Gemmell. The Aldershot man was 10 yards ahead by the end of the first circuit, but Gemmell closed up on the descents. With O’Neill stronger going up the hills and the Scotsman better going down, it was a see-saw affair as the minor placings and older age group races became somewhat overshadowed. The two leaders continued their battle until the final hill. “I wanted it so much,” O’Neill said. “I knew I could get away up the hills however he stuck in.” The difference between the two at the finish was a mere four seconds: 34:04 to 34:08.
The British Veterans Indoor Championship was next and he won that too in 9:27. The Veterans Six Stage Road Relay at Torrance had two teams from Clydesdale Harriers competing and again Douglas was the star man with a superb run on the final stage. The season ended with the Six Stage Road Relays at Kirkintilloch where he seemed in well known territory from E-G days when he ran on the second stage for the first team, taking over in third from Kheredine Idessane and did well to limit the drop in places to four – the team finished a creditable fifth.
April, May, June and July saw almost incessant racing. In April it was back on to the roads and he was first Over 50 in the Scottish Vets 10 miles championship at Greenock in 56:53. Next race was also a 10 miles – the Tom Scott Race and he was again first Over 50 in 54:17. He ran in a track race for the club in a League Match at Greenock in a meeting that was abandoned immediately after the 5000 metres and times were not taken. The comeback was going well! In May at the Scottish Veterans McInnes Road Race at Coatbridge he was second and first Over 50 again. Called to Track League duty he ran the 5000 metres and ran well before tackling the Polaroid 10K Series which consisted of only three races at this time. In the first one at Helensburgh he was twenty third and first Over 50 in 33:42. The next one was at Dumbarton and again he was first Over 50. The Walter Ross Veterans Road Race resulted in third place and first Over 50 again 33:54. In the final Polaroid Race he was again first Over 50 – this time in 33:45. In July he took the age group award again in the Veterans 5K Road Race at Lochinch in 15:56 which was one minute upon the second runner. And in the Veterans 7 Miles Road Race at Bannockburn he was again first in his class. Back on to the track the Scottish Veterans Over 50 5000 metres was won in 17:01 after winning the 1500 in 4:36. After a bit of a rest he was in action again in August where he was timed at 10:01 for the ‘Runners are Smilers’ Two Miles Road Race: the fastest ever by a Scot Veteran. In September he took part in the Andy Forbes Memorial Race for Veterans and was second and again first Over 50 in 33:42. The times for 10K over the summer were wonderfully consistent with two at 33:42 and the slowest of the summer being 33:54. He didn’t race again in September but this kind of running gets you noticed and he was selected for the match against the North of England in Cumberland. Not content with one event he tackled three: he was second in the 800 in 2:16; first in the 1500 in 4:39 and third in the 5000 in 17:00.
His winter campaign started with the Edinburgh Festival of Road Running in October where he repeated the win of the previous year in 35:07. In the National Relays in October he ran in the B (veterans) team and picked up 14 places on the third stage indicating that he had lost none of his sharpness. When the British rankings for summer were released, his name led all the rest at 5K with his 15:56 clocking from the Lochinch run. In November he was off to Ballymena in Ireland for the annual Veterans International where he was ninth overall in 34:13 for 10K. Also in November he ran in the Edinburgh University Braid Hills Six Miles Race and was for the second year in succession he was first veteran in 35:27 for the notoriously hilly course – and went home with four litres of St Andrew’s Ale. In the District Championships in December he was second club counter (behind James Austin) in the team that finished third and got him another district medal when he was twenty seventh finisher.
Twenty first in the Nigel Barge race in 27:47 in January 1998 he took the first Over 50, he turned out in the Jack Crawford road race at Bishopbriggs where he finished twenty sixth and was again first Over 50. A week later DAAA Champs he was still carrying the injury and finished twenty third – the previous year he had been seventh. After resting it and trying various treatments he eventually had to miss the Scottish Veterans Championships in March due to the persistent hip injury. As far as the comeback was concerned it was ‘The End’.
* * * * *
In any assessment of Douglas’s career as a runner it has to be remembered that he was running and racing at a time when the standard in Scotland in his chosen events had never been higher. Even bearing that in mind he has to go down as one of the best ever Clydesdale Harriers runners in my 50+ years in the club. His record in the Edinburgh – Glasgow alone merits recognition and respect. His twelve gold medals in the Dunbartonshire Championships are more than any other runner in my time in the club – the team changed around him but he was always there. He was a bit unfortunate in the strength within the club at the time that he only won the one club cross country championship but some of that could maybe be put down to the nature of the course used for the race which did not particularly suit his style of running. With five of the top twelve or thirteen men in the club in my time as his contemporaries, it was a good time to be a racer but a bad time to be looking for championship victories! But his involvement and influence did not stop there. He was a good club committee man and held several positions on the Committee including a stint as Captain. He wrote the Harriers notes every week in the ‘Clydebank Press’ under the pseudonym of ‘Tortoise’. And at a time when other clubs were approaching our top men, and when we lost runners such as Willie Reid to Edinburgh Southern Harriers and Alan Marshall to Shettleston as well as Bob and Ishbel Peel, top officials, to Shettleston Harriers Ladies, Douglas and Phil Dolan did so much for the club by simply staying as good club members and serving as role models for the younger athletes coming through that their worth cannot be over estimated. He was running so well when he moved to Edinburgh and the standard of running displayed during his brief comeback makes you ask “What could he have done without the break?” There is a good case to be made (but one that I personally don’t buy) that his second career was more successful than the first: County and District medals, a second club cross country championship, Scottish and British Indoor titles, Scottish international appearances and a British cross country championship silver medal. Had that been his only career it was one to be proud of. But there was more to Dougie than that: as Clydesdale Harriers go – Douglas has to be one of the very best.