Graham Sword

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Graham at the International Cross-Country in Edinburgh

Graham Sword has been involved in Scottish athletics for over four decades and is one of the most respected of administrators and officials.   I first met him when we both took our daughters along to Strathkelvin Ladies AC in the late 70’s.   Run by Mollie Wilmoth, Aileen Lusk and Lillias Gorman, it trained at Huntershill along with Springburn Harriers and was a good, well-organised, athletic club.   He himself had no running background but was keen to see Sally Ann and her sister Mandy do well and the family supported the club whole  heartedly.   Although he had no athletics or running bachground, he had been a good all-round sportsman.

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Graham came from a sporting tradition, his father played rugby in the Borders when it was the real hotbed of the sport in Scotland.  Graham was brought up in Forfar where he played football for a number of teams – the picture above is with the Forfar Renton Under 16 – they had just won two trophies in the season the picture was taken.   He also played cricket for the Strathmore club as a wicket-keeper and later as a member of the Bank of Scotland team which played all over the country with regular trips to Ireland.   Given that background, the girls were always going to be active in sport.

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Sally’s track career lasted longer than Mandy’s: she was a good runner who ran track and cross-country as a young athlete but became a very good sprinter who competed in open meetings, inter-clubs and championships.   As far as times go, she had personal bests of 12.6 seconds (100m), 25.96 (200m), 58.5 (400m outdoors) and 58.71 (400m indoors when finishing third in the Scottish championships in 1993) and was ranked at Scottish level every year from 1990 to 1995.

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Sally at Glenurquhart Highland Games: the final one of the season and

the one where all the prizes are presented

Competitively she was also a very successful highland games athlete, winning many prizes and awards and travelling to  Highland Gatherings all over Scotland.   Her husband, Gary Condie, tells us

“Sally took part in The Highland Games from 1982 to 1999 when she announced her retirement.
The Sword girls first entered Fort William Highland Games  in 1982 with Sally in the track events while younger sister Amanda ran the ‘Quarter Ben’ up Ben Nevis. This whetted their appetite for the Highland Games circuit meaning many weekends for their mum and dad around the country.  When she started out, Sally was able to compete on either the south HG circuit or the North HG Circuit.
In the south she regularly ran at Airdrie, Carluke, Shotts, Bute, Bridge of Allan, Dunblane, Falkirk, Cupar and at the Glasgow Show.    At Bute, track events shared with the pipe bands and one day the 400m set off.   As Sally entered the back straight in the lead the massed bands approached the track.    The race was not recalled and the girls had to negotiate the band as well as the bend to fight their way to the line.  Sal did not come out of the melee first. Well known West of District official, the late Brian Goodwin, who that day was track referee, decided that the result should stand much to the amusement of the athletes.   At Cupar Sally also did not always get the rub of the green when in the handicapped 100m, the front marker athletes got a flyer and were not recalled. When the track referee,  the late George Duncan, was asked why the race was not restarted he told them it was “only a slight false start!”
The most lucrative Highland Gathering in the South was Strathallan HG at Bridge of Allan.   There are only four events for women, Sal didn’t do the 800m, which attracted some of the best sprinters in Scotland.    Sally usually medalled and one year after a very successful day won ‘Athlete of the Day’.
Most of Sal’s success was on the Northern HG Circuit consisting of eight venues – Forres, Elgin, Fort William, Nethy Bridge, Newtonmore, Nairn, Inverness and Drumnadrochit.   At first she was seen as the southern invader and was handicapped out of events because of her successes at other events. Handicapping punished athletes who supported the Highland Games. In one 100m event she started behind a Scottish International.
In her Highland Games career she won the North of Scotland Highland Games championship at 100m, 200m and 400m championship and was overall Champion on 2 occassions. She also won various high jumps, long jumps and relays.   At Elgin while the ladies were competing at the Long Jump the 400m took place without most of the athletes.    Another race was hastily organised but with no medals or vouchers as these had been given out in the other 400m Sally sprinted away to win a bottle of the local sponsors whisky.   A prize she gave to her dad.
Whisky plays a big part in a Highland Games as many local distillers sponsor the events. In Inverness the prizes were a bottle for 1st, half bottle for 2nd and miniatures for third. As Sal won or was placed in the 100m, 200m, 400m, long jump, high jump shot putt and relay, they needed an extra bag to bring the drink home.
At the season’s finale at Drumnadrochit, the heavies, athletes – male and female – must wear a kilt to run a handicapped kilted 200m. While some of the ladies wore small children’s kilts Sally had to borrow a full kilt from the heavies officials while he wore her trousers to cover his modesty. Even when Sally was old enough to take herself to the games it was not unusual for her mum and dad to make a surprise appearance at Drumnadrochit, Nethy Bridge or Inverness as they were “just passing”

She married Gary Condie in 1992, competed for several years before she retired in 1999.  She returned as a Masters athlete and tried her hand at longer races with respectable times at 5K, 10K, Half and Full Marathons, the last of which was in 2014.  The sisters often ran in the same races and the picture below is a really good one.   Both women looking really happy doing what they’re doing, in each other’s company and an excellent advert for the sport.   Unlike many track people who go up to 26 miles on the road and are never  able to come back down, she has now returned to sprinting with an excellent 9.0 seconds for the indoor 60 metres.    Graham always enjoyed seeing the girls compete all the way through their athletics careers.

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Sally and Mandy finishing the Aviemore Half Marathon

Back home, Graham helped out as often as he could at the club and became a qualified time-keeper before moving to Kirkintilloch Olympians when Strathkelvin LAC folded.   As a time keeper he officiated at every kind of meeting imaginable: open gradeds, local meetings, District and National Championships and Highland Gatherings.   Good time-keepers are hard to come by, and Graham was always in demand.   He officiated at club league competitions for both clubs he has been connected with.   That was in summer, but where do timekeepers go in winter?   Cross-country and road running also need qualified officials and he was seen there too, doing his bit for the sport.   He still found time to encourage newer officials and Margaret Daly comments: “I worked with Graham as a time keeper (or assisted as a recorder) at several road and cross-country events both at District and National level.   Some of my fondest memories of my early timekeeping days were thoise working with Graham, Duncan McLaren, Duncan McSwein and Raymond Hutcheson.   Maybe that’s because they used to joke that I brought the average age of timekeepers down by 20 years!   They also referred to me as ‘the youngster’ which did my morale no end of good.”

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Graham also worked as a timekeeper at various international meetings such as the Special Olympics in Glasgow from 2nd to 9th July, 2005, which offered 26 sports to the nations competing.   Then there were the Natwest Islands Games XI in Shetland in from 9th to 15th July, 2005.  The Games enconpassed 15 sports and these were contested by 24 islands or island groups including Bermuda, Cayman Islands, Rhodes, Faro, Gotland and St Helena.

  There were of course some other non-athletics benefits for a good time-keeper and one of these involved the UEFA Cup Final which was held in Glasgow in 2007 between Sevilla and Espanol.   The phone call came in to the offices for a driver for the occasion.   Graham was appointed and had the pleasure of driving a variety of dignitaries to and from their accommodation in East Kilbride and to the airport.   In return for their services, Graham and fellow drivers were allocated seats behind the dug-out for the actual game.

 His value was recognised by the winter enthusiasts as much as by the summer, as is shown by the fact that in addition to local and national races, open meetings and championships, Graham worked at international cross-country events, including European and World championships whenever they were held in Scotland: in Edinburgh, at Bellahouston and at Tollcross in  Glasgow, at Coatbridge and at Veterans internationals as well as at Senior and Junior matches.   International duty has also taken him to England as a team manager and to Greece.

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With Sally and Mandy

Like all quality officials however, his involvement did not stop at his first qualification or involvement in the sport.   His work as an administrator of the very highest calibre has been recognised nationally in Scotland and also at GB level.

Graham entered a new phase of his involvement with athletics in the early 1990’s.   Brian Goodwin of Bellahouston Harriers was Secretary of both the SCCU and SAAA West District committees and a semi-formal group consisting of Brian, Graham, Margaret Daly and Derek McGinley started working in the SAAA District offices in Glasgow dealing with the postal entries for championships.    Margaret recalls these experiences from the viewpoint of someone new to the sport at the time: “I was a latecomer to athletics, taking up jogging in my 30’s, and being well and truly bitten by the running bug.   That led to me being part of the group that founded Shettleston Harriers Ladies and within a few months taking on the role as secretary to the club.   I attended (with some trepidation) West District meetings, then held in the Boys Brigade offices in Bath Street.   At that time meetings were well attended and Brian Goodwin was West District Secretary.    I found Graham to be a committed and knowledgeable official.   He had the patience of a saint in my book, the way he handled entries for events, dealing with queries, last minute changes, gripes and complaints from clubs.   His home became an extension of the Scottish Athletics office at entry closing dates with his phone ringing at all hours of the day and night with club officials queries about entry forms.   He always struck me as very athlete-focused and would always try to ensure that if it were possible an athlete would compete in an event, applying rules fairly and with some degree of flexibility as long as it would not compromise an event or a result.”

When Brian moved on to become secretary of the new Scottish Athletics Federation Cross-Country Commission, Graham took over first as secretary of the West District Cross-Country and subsequently also of the Track & Field committees.  His contemporary in the East District was Alex Jackson who says: “For many years Graham was West District secretary and we worked in tandem on many things as I have been East Secretary since 1988.   Graham and Brian Goodwin spent many days/hours working in the SAL Edinburgh office around 2000 to 2005 .   This was in the early days of email and acknowledgments to athletes and other mail still had to go by post.   They used to camp themselves in the meeting room there doing boring but vital tasks like stuffing envelopes while listening to “real” music like Sinatra.”

It is instructive to look at how much work was involved at that time when all championship entries were on paper and sent by post.   For instance, for a championship meeting, they would meet three or four days a week in the Glasgow office.   The postal entries would all come in and had to be entered on ‘spreadsheets’.   These were not Microsoft Word Spreadsheets but large paper documents where every athlete, every club and every event had to be entered legibly by hand.   From these the programme had to be made up and Margaret, as the best typist, typed them up to go to the printer.   Meanwhile entry tickets and timetables had to be sent out to the athletes – the time spent stuffing the envelopes is incalculable.   In addition to that work, there were invitations to go to officials and accommodation and venue had to be booked well in advance.   Graham was still time keeping on the Saturdays while this was all going on.   Then came the day/days of the championship and the troops were back in action.   Graham was involved at many meetings taking the declarations at the meetings  or  taking entry money at the door   and/or  selling programmes.   And then of course, at the end of the meeting there was prize giving to be dealt with.   Often enough Graham had to present prizes.   Graham had done all that work prior to the meeting and on the day he did not see much of the action as he was doing the chores listed above but he still says that the job he liked least was when he had to come into the public eye and present the awards.

It is impossible to keep one with his talents a secret and in 2001/02: he was appointed Finance Officer for  the Scottish Athletics Track & Field Commission and subsequently Raod Running & Cross-Country Commission.   This post was significantly different from anything g he had done previously in athletics.  He held this position at a crucial time in the development of Scottish athletics from an amateur body into a professional one.   Leslie Roy, who has been involved with Scottish and British athletics for at least the whole of the twenty first century so far and with every Commonwealth Games team since 2000, says:

“Graham has held many roles over the years but as a retired Bank Manager his skills have mainly been used in Treasurer/Finance officer roles.  These roles have been with scottishathletics Track & Field Commission, scottishathletics Road & XC Commission, Scottish Young Athletes league and Scottish Athletics Indoor League. 

Graham has done a great job over the years managing the ‘books’ in his own quiet way but he is often seen at scottishathletics championship events taking entry money from spectators and selling programmes as they arrive at stadium.

He has kept finances in order, he is reliable, hardworking, always helpful and everything is done to ensure it is in the best interest of the athletes.  For a great many years he could be found in the scottishathletics office prior to Championships folding letters to athletes and putting these into envelopes ensuring that athletes had all their pre event information. Nowadays, this is all done via Email. Not many people would volunteer to do that or clean all the trophies prior to championships, Graham did.”

He held the post of Finance Officer until 2014/15.   His efforts have been recognised of course by the governing bodies, not only of Scottish athletics but also at British level.   He was made an honorary life member in the early 2000’s but the really big honour was when he was presented with the Tom Stillie Award in 2004.   This Award takes the form of long sword and is gor services to Scottish athletics.   The first winner was Allan Wells and other recipients include Cameron Sharp, Leslie Roy and George Duncan.   The headline afterwards read, of course, “Sword gets Sword!”

After following this with the Scottish Off Track Official of the Year, in 2006 he received the UK Off Track Official of the Year.   The presentation was made on 25th November 2006 at a glittering function attended by the great and the good of UK Athletics.   Alan Potts received the award for Volunteer Co-ordinator of the Year at the same function but neither man is keen on such high profile occasions and both had to be asked more than once to go down: although they had been nominated, neither thought that they would receive anything!   They both did because they both deserved to.

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So far we have seen Graham as a parent-helper, time keeper and official, championship administrator and now finance officer.   The honours that have come his way have been well earned but when he was asked what he got out of the sport, what he enjoyed doing most, the reply came like lightning.   “Watching the girls running.”   After 50 years in the sport (and counting) what brought him into athletics is what still gives him pleasure.      Other than that he says he also gets satisfaction out seeing that jobs are done properly .

Typical of the many tributes to Graham from those who worked with him was the following from Clare Barr.

“I first met Graham Sword several years ago when I attended a West District Commission meeting as a rookie club rep, and somehow found myself, completely by accident, as the new District Convenor (I think I sneezed at the wrong moment or something, like when people unintentionally buy a Ming vase due to waving at their friend just as the auctioneer bangs their hammer.)

Anyway, Graham was the West District Secretary and he took me gently under his wing, subtly pointing me in the right direction and showing me the ropes, but he did it so tactfully that I did not realise at the time how much he was helping me.   Graham knows EVERYBODY, and has done for years, and all the District history, so he was brilliant for me as a total newbie – showing me how all the paperwork is processed, and introducing me to all the Officials etc.    Everybody likes Graham. 

At the start I did not realise how much work Graham did on behalf of the West District (on top of his work with the National Road Running & Cross-Country Commission), such as taking in all the West Cross-Country entries to his home address.   I bet the Postman loved him, squashing a mountain of big envelopes through his front door letterbox, but Graham had to sort out and process all the contents before inputting all the entries onto his trusty computer – all in a back bedroom, I believe – before then stuffing all the race envelopes with the bib numbers and declaration sheets etc.   Graham is one of those magic elves, doing all the work that everyone else assumes ‘just happens’, and he never once looks for praise or recognition.   He is truly an unsung hero, and a lovely, lovely, gentle man to boot, and it is always a pleasure to bump into him, when invariably he is ‘on the door’ at athletics events taking the entry money and meeting and greeting the masses.”

Clare’s predecessor as Convenor of the West District was Margaret Daly, herself a respected official who has been quoted above, and says:

“I think I can attribute my own involvement as an official in athletics to the dual persuasion of Graham and Brian Goodwin.  At District meetings, being a ‘new’ apprehensive face in a room full of knowledgeable athletics people, they quickly spotted a gullible potential volunteer and ‘cajoled’ me into turning up to record on the finish line of District Cross Country Championships, initially and soon I found myself at the Edinburgh to Glasgow Road Race, National Road Race Championships, Cross Country Championships and more.  Between them, they got me involved in helping out at track and field events, providing assistance with presentations and encouraged me into a wide range of roles, including timekeeping, administration and team management/selection. I will always be grateful for Graham’s encouragement and support, a support that often extended to him kindly providing a chauffeur service to events when my own transport arrangements fell through.”

Margaret’s last remark puts her in good company – one of Graham’s many functions at some internationals was to act as ‘driver to the stars’ as one correspondent put it!

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Graham with Sally, Mandie and the next generation of Ewan and Alastair 

Very much a family man, he still has his interest in football and he likes watching Clyde and Blackpool with Grandson Ewan.   He has been known to get an athletic meeting started then nip off to pick up his grandson and head for the game.    He even ‘dragged’ son-in-law Gary on holiday to see Carlisle v Blackpool!

Although athletics was not his own sport originally, Graham has done a lot of seriously good work for athletics and contributed to the success of many, many events the length and breadth of the land.   Liked and respected in equal measure, a more-than-capable official, he needn’t hang up his watch for some time yet.   Finally –

Alex Jackson sent this video link – Graham appears talking to the camera at about 1 minute 15 seconds into it.   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YmWHbofCtPs   It is of the West Dsitrict Championships in 1996 and Graham appears several times in the course of it.