JP Laidlaw, a member of Edinburgh Northern Harriers, was a very versatile track runner throughout the 1930’s with SAAA Medals at 880 yards, 1 Mile and Three Miles and the winner of Scottish representative honours. Running the Mile at the same time as Tom Riddell and the Three Miles alongside GM Carstairs he did not have it easy, and his career merits closer scrutiny that it has received so far in athletics histories. A comprehensive list of his racing, courtesy Alex Wilson, is on the accompanying page of ‘Jackie Laidlaw’s Racing’
First appearing in the SAAA Championships on 27 June 1931, Laidlaw was the focus of some attention, and not because he won a silver medal either. He was second to Tom Riddell in the mile being 30 yards behind the winner who was timed at 4:29. It was in the half mile however that the real drama was to be found. Laidlaw had won his heat in 2 minutes 3 – 4-5th secs from CM Wells, the second heat being won by Hood of Shettleston Harriers from Calderwood of Maryhill. The ‘Glasgow Herald’ on the following Monday reported as follows on the final. “The necessity of having stewards at the bends was emphasised in the half-mile final. From the stand it was observed that there was much unnecessary jostlin taking place and it was culminated when JP Laidlaw was brought down: it was a slow run race this, the slowest in twelve years. The first quarter was covered in 64 seconds and the whole in 2 mins 4 1-5th secs. But the final, fought out between James Hood of Shettleston and CM Wells was the keenest for a long time. Wells was in front entering the straight, but after a stirring finish Hood managed to get on terms 20 yards from the tape and won by inches.”
Despite the excitement, the reporter in commenting on the Mile had this to say “JP Laidlaw of Edinburgh Northern Harriers was second man home. Still a Youth, he has made a big advance since last season and looks like developing into a front rank man.”
The SAAA Championships on 27 June 1932 were better than those of 1931 in that Laidlaw came away with two medals rather than one – but they were both silver, In the Mile it was Tom Riddell who beat him for the second year in succession and the inning time was 4:29, while one place behind him was Bobby Graham. In the half mile he was second to Maryhill’s WH Calderwood who won in 1:58 1-5th. The half-mile winning time was the third fastest ever and was attributed to the hard front running of TJ McAlister who eventually finished third. The report on the mile read: “In the Mile TM Riddell achieved, as expected, an easy win and the fact that his time showed an advance of 3 secs upon last year was due to the urge of the youthful R Graham of Motherwell. This youth and JP Laidlaw of Edinburgh Northern had an interesting duel for second place, although neither was near the winner at the finish.” The winning distance was given as 20 yards.
Laidlaw was then selected for the half mile in the International against Ireland at Powderhall on 16th July where he was given a time of 2:03 when he finished three yards behind the winner. The Scottish champion was unpolaced and was only one of several other Scottish champions who performed poorly on the gras track. Ireland won the match comprehensively but Laidlaw ran well.
On May 20th, 1933, Laidlaw took part in what seemed to be an over-distance race for him when he competed in the Monkland Harriers sports. In the Two Miles team race he not only competed but he won the race from such notables as Suttie Smith (second), Jim Flockhart (third) and Tom Blakely of Maryhill in 9 mins 43 2-5th secs.
A week later in the Queen’s Park FC Sports (on 27th May) Laidlaw created another bit of an upset. The cause? He defeated TM Riddell over 1000 yards. The main headline for the report was ‘Another Scottish Record for Blakely’ but just below the sub-head read ‘Laidlaw defeats Riddell’ and the actual race report read, “The first appearance on a Scottish track this season of TM Riddell, the mile champion, was awaited with interest. Riddell as usual served up a good race in the 1000 yards special event but was eclipsed on the afternoon by JP Laidlaw who, while running from 10 yds, not only won the race with comfort but actually returned better time over the distance than did the champion. Last Saturday he he secured first place in the Monkland Harriers two miles, and then on Saturday he again broke the tape. He has then amply realised the promise of last season and in addition to pace he possesses a high sense of track tactics. He was content to let Riddell do the forcing work in Saturday’s race, but never allowed himself to be far away. When the champion went to the front in the back straight, Laidlaw was only a couple of yards behind, and when he made his effort 100 yards from the tape, Riddell could not hold him and was beaten by a good five yards.
Laidlaw’s convincing time for the race was 2 mins 15 3-5th secs, and running out the full distance, he was returned as doing 2 mins 16 4-5th secs, 4-5th secs outside Duncan McPhee’s record. Riddell’s time was returned as 2 mins 17 secs. If, as has been hinted, Laidlaw’s ambition is to secure the Scottish mile honour, a stern struggle is promised in the championships between the pair and possibly another record breaking performance. Riddell will be fitter then and will not accept defeat lightly.”
It should be noted that Riddell ran off scratch. Later in the same meeting Laidlaw ‘won’ the first half mile stage of the inter-city relay from WH Calderwood by five yards.
Hopes were probably high after the Monklands and Queen’s Park races – Monklands over distance and QPFC under distance – but in the Scottish championships held at Hampden he was again second in the mile – for the third successive year in 4:20.6 on 24th June. Praise was fulsome from the Glasgow Herald reporter. “The best running of the meeting was seen in the Mile where TM Riddell, JP Laidlaw and J Gifford put up an exhibition that has never been bettered in the history of the race. Riddell’s winning time was 4 min 18 3-5th secs, only 3-5th secs outside his own Scottish record made at the Rangers Sports two years ago. Laidlaw was times ta 4 min 21 secs and Gifford at 4 mins 24 secs and the merit of the performances lies in the fact that Gifford’s time was actually faster than any of the previous winners of the event. What enhances the running is that the conditions were none too good: a strong breeze is always a deterrent rather than a help in distance races.
A month ago at the Queen’s Park meeting Riddell was surprised and beaten by Laidlaw’s pace at the finish of the 1000 yards. On Saturday the champion showed that he had profited by the experience, as after his clubmate W Sutherland had led the field for the first quarter in 61 secs Riddell went to the front and set a pace that proved too strong for his eastern opponent. Laidlaw ran a very fine race nevertheless while Gifford enhanced a growing reputation. Had Riddell not been there either would have been a worthy champion.”
1934 did not start as well for Laidlaw and he could only finish fifth in the half-mile at Monklands although the reporter hinted that he was holding himself back. Came the SAAA Championships in June 1934, Laidlaw concentrated on the Mile but again finished second to Riddell who won in 4 mins 22 2-5th secs but the race was not what it had been a year earlier. Despite finishing 35 yards down on the winner, Laidlaw nevertheless defeated some good men including WH Calderwood, W Struthers and JN Lapraik.
1935 season saw Laidlaw tackle the two miles handicap race at the Monkland Sports. His participation was commented on thus: The distance races at this meeting have always been a feature and Saturday’s two mile handicap proved no exception. In this, JP Laidlaw ran from virtual scratch, off 25 yards, in a good field which included W Sutherland the 10 miles champion. Sutherland who had 220 yards concession from the back marker, and Laidlaw boith ran to form and at one time seemed to dominate the race, but their task in the closing stages was made very difficult by the surprising virility of H McPhee of Springburn Harriers who was on the 145 yards mark. In the last three or four laps McPhee opened out and finally wn by 10 yards from Sutherland in 9 mins 17 4-5th secs – remarkably good time when it is noted- that there were 13 laps in the distance and that Blakely’s Scottish record is 9 mins 10 4-5th secs. This track evidently suits McPhee as it was in this race a year ago that he achieved his initial success in track racing.” McPhee won by 20 yards.
One week later at the Queens Park sports, the sub-headline read ‘Laidlaw Wins Again’ and the account of the race was as follows:
“In the three miles JP Laidlaw defeated W Sutherland once again and it is evident that at this distance he is superior to the Shettleston man. It is understood that this season Laidlaw is concentrating on the three miles in the Scottish championship. It looks like being his for the taking as it was year ago that he dropped his chance to challenge Riddell in the mile.” The winning time was14 mins 59 2-5th secs. On 8th June, Laidlaw dropped down a distance when he won the mile easily in 4 mins 40 1-5th secs in an inter-club contest at Penicuik. The following week, Laidlaw did not race anywhere – it was the week before the championships.
The SAAA Championships were held again at Hampden and Lailaw won his first Scottish title in 14:46.4. The report read, JP Laidlaw won his first title in the three miles in emphatic fashion. His only challenge came from WC Wylie but the national cross-country champion’s effort faded out before the finishing pace of the Edinburgh Northern runner.” Laidlaw won by 10 yards.
He ran slightly quicker the following week (29th June) when representing Britain in an international match against Finland at Hampden, he finished third and first GB runner in 14:44.8. He competed in the Three Miles at the AAA’s championships on 13th July but according to the ‘Glasgow Herald’ JP Laidlaw was outclassed in the Three Miles, just as JC Flockhart had been in the Six Miles the previous evening.’ On 3rd August, having done his best running of the season, having followed a prolific racing programme, Laidlaw won the second Mile race at the Rangers sports in 4 minutes 40 4-10th secs.
After all the successful racing in 1935, Laidlaw did not defend his title in the SAAA Championships in June 1936 in fact there was no sign of him in any of the meetings that he usually graced. Meetings such as Monkland, Glasgow Police, Queens Park, Penicuik. However he reappeared in 1937 and turned in a time of 14:59.4 for Three Miles on 5th June at the Queen’s Park Sports. The headline in the ‘Glasgow Herald’ read “LAIDLAW’S FINE EFFORT” and the paragraph below read as follows:
“The Three Miles was also a keen race and the lead fluctuated many times. First JC Flockhart, the International Cross-Country champion, set the pace and others took their turn in leading the field, but the actual winner, JP Laidlaw (Edinburgh Northern Harriers), waited until 60 yards from the tape and challenged JE Farrell (Maryhill Harriers). Running on strongly Laidlaw won with five yards to spare. He held the Three Miles championship two years ago but sustained a serious injury last year and could not defend his title, which was won by Jack Gifford (Bellahouston Harriers). Gifford never showed any signs of winning Saturday’s race and was a poor fourth although he will doubtless do better on championship day.” Laidlaw won by five yards.
His next recorded race was at Goldenacre in Edinburgh on 15th June when he again raced over three miles and was slightly quicker with 14:57.5. A week later he ran in the SAAA Championships against such as GM Carstairs, the winner, JE Farrell and J Gifford and indeed Carstairs did win from Farrell with SK Tombe of Plebeian Harriers third. On the 30th June, Laidlaw made it three races in a row on the east coast when he raced another three miles at Craiglockhart this time, and was timed at 14:51.4.
The season was not yet finished for him however, and his next race was at a ‘four-cornered meeting’ at Craiglockhart on 8th July. Four cornered? It was a competition between Edinburgh University & Former Pupils Union, Glasgow University & Former Pupils Union, Edinburgh Open Clubs and Glasgow Open Clubs. Laidlaw had his revenge over Carstairs that night and the report read, “GM Carstairs (Edinburgh University) another SAAA title-holder was 10 yards behind JP Laidlaw in the three mile race. Laidlaw’s time was only four seconds outside the Scottish record.” The race result was 1. JP Laidlaw (Edinburgh Open Clubs); 2. GM Carstairs (Edinburgh University); 3. WG Black (Glasgow Open Clubs). Time: 14 mins 37 1/2 secs. Then on 17th July at Shettleston he was timed at 9:38.0 for two miles, a time that he bettered by no less than nine seconds at Shawfield on 31st July. Running in the Clyde FC Sports, Laidlaw won by 15 yards from Emmet Farrell in 9:29 with WC Wylie of Darlington third. With the furthest race at the Rangers Sports on the first Saturday in August, Laidlaw’s season was over for 1937. It had been a very good season with the only gap being at the SAAA Championships where he would almost certainly been among the medals.
1938 would be another good season, at least initially, which started at Hampden Park track on 31st May over three miles. The event was a Tuesday evening meeting between Glasgow and Edinburgh and Laidlaw was ‘master of the distance runners’ – he won by 40 yards from JE Farrell in 15 mins 00.8 secs. It was a good start to the season and he next competed on 7th June at Goldenacre, again over three miles but was a little slower with 15:06.6. The big improvement came on 14th June at Craiglockhart when he took over 25 seconds from that time when he recorded 14:41.2.
In the championships there were hopes that he might defeat GM Carstairs for the title, but he had to yield first place when he finished over 100 yards behind the champion in 15:06.0 – Carstairs ran 14:40.8. Laidlaw came down a distance at the Dundee Police Sports at Dens Park on 9th July when he won the invitation Mile from the in-form PJ Allwell in 4 mins 20 6-10th. Although an invitation event it was also a handicap race with Laidlaw off 90 yards and Allwell off 100. There were no more races reported that summer but given that his best three miles time of the season – 14:41.2 at Craiglockhart two weeks before the SAAA championships was less than half a seond behind Carstairs’ winning time, it is a pity that he did not contest the event.
The only track result that we have found for 1939 was after the SAAA Championships which he did not run and it was for 27th June 1939 when Laidlaw ran 6:58.0 at Helenvale track in Glasgow for the seldom run mile and a half distance.
It should be noted that although he is mainly known as a track runner he was no mean cross-country exponent and even represented Scotland in the international cross-country race in Wales in 1934. He first ran in the National in 1930/31 when he finished eighteenth and was second counter for the Edinburgh Northern team that finished seventh. There was a team that finished thirteenth the following year but no Laidlaw. In 1932/33 the team finished fifth with H McIntosh 4th, W Hinde 5th and Laidlaw thirteenth – he had run well but faded towards the finish. There was no repeat the next year when he was third with the team also third. The team was helped by the presence of J Suttie Smith who had added Edinburgh Northern to his list of clubs for the next two years. In the international itself he finished 27th to be a scoring runner for the Scots team. Suttie Smith had finished ninth that year but in 1935 he was second and the team won the championship with Laidlaw back in thirty second. He did not run the following year and Suttie Smith had moved on so the team could do no better than tenth. In 1936/37 the club finished seventh and was led home by WQ Hinde in sixth and JP Laidlaw in eighteenth. Missong 1937/38, he turned out in the 1938/39 event and finished twelfth for the team that was ninth.
He excelled not only on the track and country. but he was also a better than average road runner if his performances in the eight stage Edinburgh to Glasgow relay are an indicator. In the very first race in 1930, he was eighth on the first stage for the team that finished thirteenth. In 1931 he was third on the same stage for the team that finished fourth and out of the medals but in 1933 (there was no race in 1932) he was first on the opening leg of the race and the team picked up third place medals. In 1934 he moved to the seventh stage and moved the team up from third to second when he ran the fastest time of the day for the stage. He did not run again in the race. Nevertheless ‘winning’ the first leg and having fastest time in another represented good running.
Jackie Laidlaw’s career included medalson the track over 880 yards, Mile and Three Miles with an SAAA Championship and international recognition and the collection of many good ‘scalps’, over the country there were team and individual medals plus international honours and his running on the road has been noted. He was clearly a talented athlete running at a time when the standard in Scotland was possibly as high as in any other decade. He would have done well at any time.