Frank Stevenson following Suttie Smith in the 10 miles championship of 1930
Frank Stevenson was one of the best runners in the country in the late 1920’s and early 1930s and he went on competing for his club (Monkland Harriers) when he was well past his best right up to the start of the Second World War. The Coatbridge club was comparatively strong at the time with Intenational vests being won by to more of his colleagues at the time. He was good on the track with gold, silver and bronze medals in the SAAA Championships defeating such good runners as J Suttie Smith, Dunky Wright and many others; he won silver and bronze in the Scottish Cross-Country Championships and even led the Scottish team home in the International Championships in 1927; and although it probably came too late for him, he ran in three Edinburgh to Glasgow Relays turning in the fastest time on his stage in 1930 and having two third fastest runs. Nor did he just hang up his spikes when he had, as Emmet Farrell said in a different context, ‘shed his silk’ – he ran right up to 1939 in the national finishing twice in the 40’s and twice in the 60’s. He sounds like a ‘runner’s runner’ to me!
He first appears in the prize lists on 18th April, 1925 when at Celtic Park he was third in the SAAA Ten Miles championship behind Dunky Wright and John Mitchell. The ‘Glasgow Herald’ reported as follows: “The 10 Miles championship was an interesting race. Twenty two out of an entry of twenty nine faced the starter. Soon it was observed that the race would resolve itself into a tussle between D McL Wright (Shettleston), James Mitchell (Mauchline) and F Stevenson (Monkland), a comparatively new recruit to distance running. Wright and Mitchell eventually got clear of the field and despite repeated efforts on the part of Wright to shake off Mitchell, the latter refused to be dropped on the way. At the bell, Wright piled on the pace and still Mitchell clung on. Coming into the straight the latter was unable to withstand the final burst and Wright ran home a winner by nearly 10 yards in the time of 54 mins 2 3-5th secs. F Stevenson (Monkland), W Plant (Monkland), A Pettigrew (Greenock Glenpark), ME Anderson (Shettleston), W Stewart (Paisley Harriers) and D Mussell (Aberdeen University) succeeded in getting inside standard time.” This bronze was the first of seven consecutive medals that he would win in the event.
On 6th Match 1926 he ran in the National Championships where he finished third and Colin Shields describes the race: “After a long absence the 1926 National championship returned to Hamilton Park Racecourse where a flooding River Clyde prevented the use of the grassland between the river and Hamilton Palace with the result that the race distance did not exceed 9 miles. The rapidly improving James Micthell, now running for Kilmarnock H, had just finished 10 yards behind Dunky Wright in the previous summer’s 10 miles track race, quickly went into the lead. At half distance Mitchell had Wright (Caledonia AC) on his heels, with Frank Stevenson (Monkland) and WH Calderwood (Maryhill) a fair distance behind. Over the final two miles, Mitchell powered clear from the defending champion to win from right by 14 seconds, with Stevenson winning the Junior title in third position. ” The run gained Stevenson his first international cap with the race being run in Brussels and he was 16th finisher and the team was third.
In 1926 the Ten Miles track championship was again held at Celtic Park and this time he gained another bronze medal, this time behind Dunky Wright and D Quinn. “At the start champion D McL Wright was content to maintain a forward position without actually assuming the lead. For the first three miles F Stevenson made the pace, but when another half-mile had been covered, Wright forged ahead and thereafter the issue was never in doubt. At the tape the margin in favour of the title holder was but a few yards short of a quarter of a mile. Wright’s time last year was quicker by some 16 seconds but on that occasion he was chased all the way by James Mitchell, Kilmarnock Harriers, whereas on Saturday he did not have to exert himself unduly. Mitchell who last month deprived Wright of his Scottish cross-country title, was an absentee owing to a foot injury sustained after the international in Brussels three weeks ago. Result: 1. D Wright 54:25; 2. D Quinn, Garscube Harriers, 55:48.6; 3. F Stevenson, Monkland Harriers, 56:13.4′ 4. J S Smith, Dundee Thistle Harriers, 56:43.2. The foregoing were the only competitors to complete the distance within the standard time of 57 minutes”. On 26th June he had a good run in the SAAA Four Miles where he finished behind WH Calderwood but turned the tables on Dunky Wright who was third. Wright had run in he AAA marathon just two weeks before had probably not helped his cause.
In the 1927 National held at Redford Barracks in Edinburgh on 6th March, he was second. “Three times National Champion Wright led from 6 miles followed by Frank Stevenson and West District champion CH Johnston. On the final lap he opened up a 50 yard gap over Stevenson to win in 60 minutes 23 seconds – the slow time reflecting the heavy going over the tough country which slowed him to one of the slowest winning times over 10 miles since the race was inaugurated, ” was how Shields reported on the event. He goes on to report on the international race “The International Championship was held at Caerleon Racecourse in Newport and, as so often was the case at this Welsh venue, the weather was appalling. Frank Stevenson had the best run of his career when finishing fourth, just beaten by two seconds in the finishing sprint for third place with H Gallet (France). With the rest of the Scottish team performing without merit Scotland took third place behind France and England in the five nation competition.” Stevenson’s team mate WC Plant (fourth in the 1925 SAAA 10 miles championship) was also selected for the Scottish team and finished forty second.
Later that year, on 16th April at Celtic Park, he turned out in the SAAA 10 Miles and defeated two really outstanding runners at whose hands he suffered many defeats – Suttie Smith and Dunky Wright. The ‘Glasgow Herald’ report read as follows. “Duncan Wright, Maryhill Harriers, last year’s 10mile champion had to country strong opposition from which CH Johnstone, Glasgow University, was a notable absentee. At the end of the first mile, A Mitchell, Maryhill Harriers, led the field, Wright being second in 4 min 58.2-5th sec. From this point until being dispossessed of the lead in the final mile, Wright fulfilled the duties of pacemaker. The order practically throughout was Wright, F Stevenson (Monkland Harriers) and J Suttie Smith (Dundee Thistle Harriers), all being in close succession, with A Pettigrew (Glenpark Harriers) temporarily on the lead in the third mile. Except those mentioned none of the eighteen starters at any stage appeared likely to disturb the leaders and with Pettigrew also dropping back in the sixth mile, the race resolved itself into a contest with Wright, Stevenson and Suttie Smith. The last named headed Wright at nine and a half miles but had in turn to give way to Stevenson whose sustained effort over the last 600 yards carried him to the tape some 20 yards ahead of the Dundee runner with Wright 35 yards behind Smith.
Result: 1. F Stevenson (Monkland Harriers) 53 min 31.1 sec; 2. J Suttie Smith (Dundee Thistle Harriers) 53 min 35 sec; 3. D Wright (Maryhill Harriers) 53 min 43 sec; 4. A Pettigrew (Greenock Glenpark Harriers) 55 min 33 2-5th sec; 5. W Stewart (Paisley Harriers) 56 min 41 3-5th sec. These all qualified for standard medals.”
In the SAAA Championships at Hampden on 25th June Suttie Smith regained the initiative when he won the Four Miles Championships. “Smith ran a well-judged race. He allowed Stevenson to make the pace and still had sufficient speed left in reserve to win with something in hand.”
In the National in March 1928 he was again second. Coln Shields chronicled the event as follows. “Excellent weather with good, fast underfoot conditions welcomed 220 runners from 20 clubs to the National Championships at Hamilton Racecourse. There were two one and a half mile laps round the button-hook race track and two large 3 mile laps sweeping out into the country at Low Park by the River Clyde. The leading group of runners were together until the 6 mile point when Suttie Smith and Frank Stevenson, running together, opened up a 50 yard gap from WH Calderwood (Maryhill). Over the final 3 mile lap, the Dundonian raced away to establish a winning 120 yard gap over Stevenson with Calderwood a similar distance behind in third position.” His second second place in the National had him safely intto the International team for the match to be held that year in Ayr. Stevenson was fourteenth.
Into summer 1928 and in the Ten Miles at Celtic Park on , he split Suttie Smith (1st) and Dunky Wright (3rd) to take the silver medal. It was a similar result at Craiglockhart in Edinburgh in the Four Miles when he was second to Suttie Smith with JF Wood behind him in third. “Suttie Smith in the Four Miles had to extend himself to shake off his great rival, FL Stevenson who despite the fact that the Dundonian had beaten him every time they have met this season, always comes back pluckily to make a fight of it. Smith’s time of 20 min 24 2-5th sec has been equalled only twice in the history of the championships.”
The 1929 national was held at Hamilton over a course with difficult underfoot conditions – a slight thaw the previous night making footing difficult. Stevenson was only one of several who had to drop out following a heavy fall. He was nonetheless selected for the International to be held in Paris where there were ten countries competing. Stevenson finished in twenty first place to be a scoring runner for the team which was fifth.
On the 20th April 1929, the Ten Miles was held at Hampden Park and he was again second to Suttie Smith, who had had an unusual off day at the international, with H McDonald third. It was some race and the ‘Herald’ was quite excited about it! “SUTTIE SMITH’S NARROW WIN FROM STEVENSON.” was the headline and the article read “At Hampden Park on Saturday an exciting race between J Suttie Smith, Dundee and F Stevenson, Monkland, for the ten miles championship of Scotland resulted in four Scottish records being broken. In winning the race Smith broke the record for the distance. Over seven miles he created a new record and Stevenson set up new records over eight miles and nine miles. For the ten miles Smith was 26 3-5th seconds inside the record established at Celtic Park in 1920 by James Wilson of Glenpark Harriers. The detailed report followed “once the field had settled down, it was seen that a repetition of last year’s duel between J Suttie Smith (holder) and F Stevenson (winner in 1927). These two great rivals were of a class apart, and soon there was a wide gap between them and the rest of the field. Smith was invariably in the lead but Stevenson was always in close touch with the champion and kept him from taking things easy had he been so inclined. Thus the miles were reeled off until at half-distance it was obvious that there was a prospect of some records being broken. Smith’s time at six miles was only a couple of seconds slower than the record, but when another mile had been covered it was found that the old figures had received a bit of a shake-up. The further they went the better the time returned, new figures being set for 8, 9 and 10 miles, the time for the full journey being almost half a minute inside the old record. A better race has not been seen in Glasgow for a long time, for not only was the issue in doubt right to the end, but the form of the two leaders that they are just about the best pair of ten milers Scotland has produced.
While Stevenson failed to regain the title – there was little more than ten yards in it at the tape – his was nevertheless a glorious failure, for besides placing the Scottish records for his credit, he also had the satisfaction of knowing that his time for the full distance, even if 3 1-5th seconds slower than Smith is considerably faster than anything recorded in the past. The old and new figures follow (old figures bracketed).
7 Miles: J Smith 36 min 01 sec (36 min 7 3-5th sec); 8 Miles : F Stevenson 41 min 17 sec (41 min 29 3-5th sec); 9 Miles: F Stevenson 46 min 30 sec (46 min 48 3-5th sec); 10 Miles: JS Smith 51 min 37 4-5th sec (52min 04 3-5th sec). The old records stood to the credit of James Wilson, Greenock Glenpark Harriers, and were set at Celtic Park nine years ago.” The rivals met up again in the Scottish Championships in June in the SAAA Four Miles at Hampden. The ‘Herald’ had little to say of the race only that it surprised them that Suttie Smith had eighteen rivals in the four miles. He won comfortably in 20:25.4 from Stevenson and JF ‘Ginger’ Wood. –
In the 1930 National cross-country championship, he was third – not a bad record – two seconds, two thirds and a dnf (injured) in five years. This time Suttie Smith won by 150 yards from Robert Sutherland with Stevenson a further 150 yards down. The International at Royal Leamington Spa was run in front of a huge crowd of 30,000 spectators. Stevenson was twenty second in this race which was notable for the tough finish in which Robert Sutherland was second to Evenson of England (look at the picture in Sutherland’s profile on this website).
There are many rivalries in sport where an excellent athlete continually finishes second to the same victor time after time with very few exceptions – Mimoun behind Zatopek, Lincoln behind Elliot are two that spring immediately to mind – and Frank Stevenson certainly finished second to Suttie Smith very often. It was no different in the Ten Miles of 1930 at Hampden Park when he was behind the great man once again after a race in which he actually led Smith by over 50 yards. “Twenty six of the twenty eight entrants faced the starter and 16 of them finished the course. Suttie Smith, the holder jumped into the lead right away and, with FL Stevenson at his heels, rapidly drew away from the field. The pair ran together until five and a quarter miles when Smith had some trouble with one of his shoes. Ere he had this adjusted Stevenson had gained a lead of 60 yards, but before the seven miles ark had been passed, Smith was in front again. The pair ran together until the ninth mile when Smith began to draw away from his rival, and eventually broke the tape 60 yards ahead. Stevenson put up a plucky fight but was beaten for pace in the final half-mile. It had been pointed out earlier in the report that a strong wind was blowing from one end of the field to the other and that during the ten miles there was a heavy shower of hailstones. The times were irrelevant and the race was all. For the record, Suttis Smith ran 53:17 and it should be noted that JF Wood and RR Sutherland both failed to finish. In the Four Miles at Hampden on 28th June, there was no Suttie Smith in the field and after a hard race, Robert R Sutherland won from ‘Ginger’ Wood with Frank Stevenson third. The Edinburgh to Glasgow eight man relay was first run in 1930 and Stevenson ran on the eighth stage into the finish in Glasgow – he set the fastest time of the day and it was a record that would last for many years.
In 1931, he did not run in the National, and there were to be no more international appearances for him – his run of five consecutive appearances ended in 1930. He had more medals to win on the track however and in the Ten Miles at Hamden on 18th April he was third behind JF Wood and DT Muir. His time of 55 minutes 04 seconds was almost a minute behind the winner. In the Edinburgh to Glasgow that year he was ‘promoted’ to the long sixth stage where he held on to sixth position with the third fastest time of the afternoon.
Finishing twenty ninth in the National, he was not even in the running for the international but his club mate P Peattie was fourth and was called into the Scottish team to be the third from Monkland Harriers in the team in four years. In the Edinburgh to Glasgow later that year he was equal third fastest time on the eighth stage to start a winter that would lead to him finishing fortieth in the National in 1933. Edinburgh to Glasgow details for the years 1933, ’34, ’35 are not available for Monkland Harriers although they were in the race in each of these years, and they were not included in the event between 1936 and ’19 inclusive.
He went on running in the National and finished twenty ninth in 1934, twenty fourth in 1935, sixty fourth in 196 when the Monkland team was seventeenth, forty sixth in 1937 running as an individual and sixty fifth in 1938 when his team was eleventh.
Frank Stevenson clearly loved his sport turning out year after year, on all surfaces, always with the same club, regardless of its fortunes, and was the kind of runner who garners respect from athletes of all generations. He raced against the very top men of his generation and more than held his own.