Plebeian Harriers was a wonderful club for team performances, winning gold, silver and bronze in almost every championship for which they were eligible although it is fair to say that they performed best of all in the Edinburgh to Glasgow eight-stage road relay. There were however some very good individual athletes among them including such as Walter J Gunn, Maxie Rayne and SK Tombe.
Known as Sam or Sammy Tombe and occasionally as Sergeant Tombe, he almost always got both initials in reports and results – SK Tombe. Samuel Kennedy Tombe was born in 1906 and died in 2001 at the age of 95. He won medals of every shade as a team member and many as an individual and represented Scotland three times in the Cross-Country International. For the profile, I will measure cross-country running looking at the Western/Midland District Relays, the Edinburgh to Glasgow Relay and the National Championships. Although there was a District Championship, it tended to feature the Plebeian ‘B’ team and such as SK Tombe, WJ Gunn and Max Rayne never ever ran in it. Some of the top men built it into their winter training and racing schedule and athletes like JC Flockhart turned out in it but the Plebeians seemed to have a definite policy of not running their best men in it.
Tombe first appeared on the National scene when he won the Novice Championship in 1925 and then in the Scottish National results in March, 1926 he finished fifty seventh in the team which, led by WJ Gunn in 22nd, finished fifth. The high team placing should have been no surprise to anyone: had not the team finished second in the inaugural West District relays at Paisley in November 1925? In fact the Daily Record commented that “A pleasing feature of the race was the sound performance put up by that fast improving club, Plebeian Harriers.” The team consisted of Clark, Gunn, Allan and Tombe.
In the District Relays in November 1926, Plebeian Harriers were fifth with Tombe running on the first stage. The ‘Glasgow Herald’ puts him in good company. “In the first section of the journey notable men like T Riddell, Shettleston; CH Johnston, Glasgow University; P Nicol, Kilmarnock; D McLean, Paisley; F Stevenson, Monkland and SK Tombe, Plebeian, all lined up. As expected, a great race ensued between Riddell (he had come up specially from London) and CH Johnston they drew clear from the field but Johnston could not hold Riddell in the run in: time 14 min 03 sec. Don McLean, Maryhill, Peter Nicol, Frank Stevenson, CH Blue, Garscube, and SK Tombe were next in that order.” Tombe’s time was 14:35, Allan Ferguson and Gunn were the others in the team with Allan fastest, five seconds up on Tombe. Came the National in March, 1927, and a Plebeian team minus Allan and Gunn were led home by Tombe in eleventh with the team position sixth. A good run from our man, but not enough for international selection.
The club improved four places to be first in the District Relays in November with Tombe on the first stage their fastest man. All times were quick that day and the ‘Daily Record’ suggested that this could have been because (a) The course was short; (b) The course conditions favoured faster running; or (c) the standard of competition brought out faster racing. However that may have been, the relative positions of the runners would have been pretty constant, and Tombe was fastest Plebeian Harrier and second fastest on the course ahead of such good men as Frank Stevenson and CH Blue. In the National Championships in March, the club was second – by far their best National performance. The runners in finishing order were Tombe (4), Gunn (5), Rayne (10), Connelly (26), McCallum (36), James (41). The Daily Record said: “To the surprise of many, Plebeian Harriers came up trump, defeating more fancied clubs for the minor honour of runners-up.” The Glasgow Herald phrased things a bit more felicitously when they said: “The Plebeian must have surprised themselves by an exhibition of good team work. SK Tombe and WJ Gunn – but particularly Gunn – laid the foundation of a very fine effort. Maxwell Rayne who ran tenth and third for Plebeian is also a first year runner who has thus made his mark.” Tombe was selected for and ran in the International for the first time and finished 39th.
In the District Relays in November, 1928, the headlines read “Plebeian First Again. Relay Champions Great Running.” And the article read, “Plebeian Harriers more than justified the good opinion held of their chances to retain the Western District 10 Mile Relay Championship at Thornliebank on Saturday. The manner of their victory over Shettleston Harriers left no doubt of their merit. The conditions were not at all propitious and the course was all the more trying on that account. Thirty one teams out of an entry of 32 made a start. Wellpark B was the absent team.
Monkland Harriers through Frank Stevenson led all the way through the first lap, returning the fast time of 12 min 29 sec. WT Anderson Shettleston did very well to chase Stevenson to a 13 sec margin. SK Tombe, Plebeian, occupied third place a further 3 sec behind Anderson.” Tombe’s time was 12:35 and E James on the second stage took them into the lead with 12:49, Max Rayne kept the position with 12:56 and Walter Gunn brought them home first by 22 seconds with his time of 12:50. Sammy Tombe was fifth fastest overall with James sixth. with only 21 seconds between their fastest man and their fourth runner it was indeed a magnificent performance. Unfortunately he did not run in the National championship in March 1929 where his team mate Walter Gunn finished third and was selected for the international.
1929’s District Relays had Plebeian Harriers going for a three-in-a-row in the new in the new Midland District. They achieved it but with one change in the team from previous years and an altered order of running. In the absence of Sammy Tombe, Walter Gunn took the opening stage and … “Plebeian Harriers A Team ran a brilliant race throughout to win a race which by no means provided the classic contest generally expected.” Gunn ‘won’ the first stage by 30 yards and was followed by James, Rayne and Ingram to win by 53 seconds from Garscube. Why wasn’t Tombe racing for the team? He was running on the day but for West of Scotland rather than for Plebeian. He was on the fourth stage for the team which finished 14th in a time of 15:08: the Plebeian times were, in running order, 14:19, 14:54, 14:30 and 14:45.
Came the Nationals in March and there was no note of Tombe at the top end of the field, nor was he in the Plebeian team.
The following season however saw him run for Plebeian Harriers again in the District Relays in November 193o. They were second team to Motherwell and their runners were Gunn (14:45), Tombe (15:06), Clark (15:52) and Ingram (15:26). Gunn led the first stage home and Tombe dropped a place to Motherwell and that was the order at the finish. Gunn had fastest time of the afternoon with Tombe 11th quickest over the course. He was fifth scorer for his club in the National that year finishing thirty fourth and the team was third behind Maryhill and Garscube. He had better luck in the Edinburgh to Glasgow relay in April when, running on the fourth stage, he not only had quickest time of the afternoon but also set a new course record. The club had gone into the lead on the first stage and just stayed there for the duration of the race. It was a gold medal to go with the bronze from the national and silver from the midland relay. A full set!
Into winter 1931 and the Midland Relays in November and the story was that Plebeian Harriers had again won the event. Their new opening runner Walter Gunn repeated the previous year’s feat of turning in the fastest time of the day and Tombe on the third stage, was tenth fastest. The other two runners were Maxie Rayne and Alex Armstrong the former Clydesdale Harrier, who ran the eleventh fastest time of the day. The Edinburgh to Glasgow was for some reason absent from the calendar in 1932 – it would return in 1933 – and the next major test was the National in March 1932. The surprise of the day was the running of Max Rayne who finished fifth with Tombe, twelfth, the second Plebeian finisher in the team that was third. Unfortunately Walter Gunn had to drop out suffering the after effects of a bout of flu. He was nevertheless selected for the international with Rayne and the unfortunate Tombe had to miss out yet again.
Gunn was again the lead off runner for the team at the Midlands relays and was second at the end of the first stage to hand over to Armstrong who had the misfortune to start just ahead of Flockhart of Shettleston who had only just taken up the sport. Flockhart started 13 seconds down on the leader and handed over 13 seconds ahead of Armstrong. Next up was SK Tombe who was the only man to offer any challenge to the Shettleston runners: it was such a challenge that he turned in the fastest time of the day which was 11 seconds faster the McDonald of St Peter’s who ad won the first stage and 14 seconds quicker than Flockhart. Gunn was two seconds slower than Flockhart in fourth fastest.
Into the National in 1933 and SK Tombe finished fifth to win his second international vest. The story of the day was Flockhart’s victory after only six months in athletics. The Daily Record described the progress of the race thus. “JK Hewitt (Edinburgh University) was in the van at the end of the first circuit of the racecourse followed by H McIntosh, W Hinde and JP Laidlaw, J Wilson, JC Flockhart, JR Smith and RR Sutherland were lying handy. At the five mile stage, Smith and Flockhart were running shoulder to shoulder while Wilson came behind the pair. SK Tombe and RR Sutherland came next, 150 yards behind, then followed JC Ross, H McIntosh, JP Laidlaw, JK Hewitt and J Girvin. When three-quarters of the course was covered, Flockhart had opened up a gap leading Wilson by 200 yards. Smith was 50 yards behind and the time was 32 min 30 sec. RR Sutherland and SK Tombe were still together 50 yards in the rear. It was while Flockhart took the drop down to the lower reaches of the banks of the Clyde that he got further away from Wilson. Though the soldier and Smith regained some of the lost ground, it did not prevent Flockhart from racing home in spanking form.”
SK Tombe and Sutherland had the same time of 60 min 17 sec which was 31 seconds behind Suttie Smith and 72 behind Flockhart. This was Tombe’s second International, the first having been in 1928. Plebeian was fourth in the team race with Walter Gunn being their third counter in twenty sixth. The International was held at Caerleon Racecourse in Wales and Colin Shields describes it as Scotland’s most successful team ever in the international Competition. Running in heatwave conditions, Flockhart injured his ankle but the top six were Sutherland, second; Suttie Smith, third; Harry McIntosh, eleventh; Flockhart, twelfth; WD Slidders sixteenth and SK Tombe eighteenth with the points total of 62 placing them second in the team race. The Edinburgh to Glasgow eight man relay was run twice in 1933, the first one being on 8th April. Plebeian’s form in relay racing had been quite outstanding and this race ended up with another set of gold medals for the club. There were also three stage records set. On the first stage, Walter Gunn, on the second Maxie Rayne, on the third Alex McGregor, and on the seventh stage Alex Armstrong all did the job and the team had led from the first stage to the Glasgow City Centre. Tombe ran the long sixth stage where he was only 4 seconds slower than Flockhart and 56 seconds faster than Dunky Wright.
The 1933/34 season started with the Midlands Relay on November 27th at Hamilton where the defeated the holders Shettleston by 60 yards. The report read:
“The outstanding competitor of the race was JC Flockhart (Shettleston) who easily established the fastest time for the two and a half mile course. The holders started well through the agency of JC Ross who kept in front of SK Tombe (Plebeian) with Jackie Campbell, Bellahouston, third. During the second lap A McGregor Plebeian, the novice champion, passed H McCubbin, Shettleston, for the lead. Flockhart took over for Shettleston, 35 seconds behind M Rayne, Plebeian, and when little more than a mile had been traversed, was actually on the heels of the leader. The Shettleston man handed over to T Littlejohn and advantage of 15 yards against WJ Gunn. Gunn was content to wait until the finishing straight to beat his rivals comfortably.” Tombe had the third fastest time of the day (13:44) with Flockhart and Ross of Shettleston recording 13:34 and 13:42. McGregor (13:52 was fourth fastest and Rayne was tenth equal with 14:12. Gunn on 14:45 was the slowest but his job on the last lap was clear and he did it well with no reason for heroics required. The second 1933 Edinburgh to Glasgow was held in November and the Plebeians again took first place. After running second at the end of the first and second stages, the went into a lead that they never lost. Tombe was again on the sixth stage and extended the lead from 46 seconds when he took over the baton to two minutes 04 seconds when he handed over to A Ingram at Barrachnie.
In the 1934 Scottish Championship, Tombe finished seventh being preceded over the finishing line by Flockhart, RR Sutherland, Laidlaw, Hinde, Wilson and Dow. The race resulted in a tie for first team between Plebeians and Dundee Thistle with two sets of gold medals being issued. Had current tie-breaking rules been in place, Dundee would have won but the rules then said two sets of gold. Tombe won his third and last international vest that year and although the Scottish team finished third he was unfortunately not in the squad. The gold medals from District Relays, Edinburgh to Glasgow and the National might have been some consolation.
The best that the club could do in the District Relay in 1934 was third with a team of Gunn, McGregor, Tombe and Connelly in which only Gunn distinguished himself with a place in the fastest times sheet. he was third fastest behind Flockhart and T Lamb of Bellahouston. Edinburgh to Glasgow had been a happy hunting ground in the past but all good things come to an end and the best that the 1934 squad could do was fourth. The only Plebeian to distinguish himself here was SK Tombe who on the sixth stage ran the fastest time of the day when pulling the team from fifth to fourth. 36 seconds faster than the next man and 68 seconds ahead of Dunky Wright was not a bad run at all.
The team in the National in 1935 was well down the field in their own terms – sixth – with first finisher being WJ Gunn in 13th. SK Tombe was only fifth scoring man when he was 43rd. No international vests for the Plebeians that year then.
In the District Relay in 1935, Plebeian regained their title with a team of Gunn, McGregor Tombe and Black with Tombe and Gunn fourth and sixth fastest over the course on the day and the entire team inside 14 minutes for their respective stages. Two weeks earlier they had been third in the Edinburgh to Glasgow with Duff on the third leg and Tombe on the long leg setting fastest times on the day. Tombe was 20 seconds faster than the next runner – W Hinde of Edinburgh Northern. In the National at the end of the season, Gunn was first club man home when he was seventh. The team was out of the medals in fourth, equal placed with Shettleston, and Tombe was second counter when he finished nineteenth.
Sam Tombe did a very good job for the club in the Midland Relay in 1936 when he brought them from third to a lead of 10 yards on the second stage (eleventh fastest of the day) but their man on the third stage had to yield to Flockhart at the end of the third stage before the last runner dropped well back and the team finished seventh. In the Edinburgh to Glasgow in 1936, the team minus Tombe was third behind Bellahouston and Shettleston. In the National of 1937, Plebeian was led home by J Wilkie in twelfth with SK Tombe third club runner in twenty fifth and WJ Gunn their last scoring man in fifty fourth. The team was third however to add a bronze to their medal collection.
The 1937/8 cross country season saw the last of Plebeian’s relay supremacy before the war stared in 1939. In the District Relays, SK Tombe was second on the first stage and the team finished fifth; in the E-G Plebeians Minus SK Tombe finished 6th and again out of the medals. In the 1938 National the team was eighth. With no Sam Tombe or Walter Gunn, and with Max Rayne long gone, there was a completely new team representing the club. They had all three been great runners for the club with 6 international vests for Gunn, 3 for Tombe and 1 for Rayne – and maybe Tombe and Rayne were just unlucky not to get more – at a time when the standard of Scottish cross-country running was at its highest.
Tombe also ran on the track and picked up more medals to show for his efforts.
In 1927 at the SAAA Championships at Hampden Park he was third in the Mile behind D Maclean and RJ Patience: the winning time was 4:28.8, Reports indicated that Donald McLean from Greenock ‘had little or no opposition’ but nevertheless it was Tombe’s first SAAA championdhip medal, and at a distance below his recognised best. In the Glasgow Police Sports Mile on 16th May 1928, the event was won by Walter Gunn with Tombe second. Gunn was off 65 yards and Tombe off 70 yards and victory was only gained by a margin of three yards! It must have been some battle between the two Plebeians!
There were of course many meetings where the featured event was a two or even three miles team race and the Plebeian Team had some hard battles with Maryhill and Shettleston for supremacy. Walter Gunn tended to be the main runner for the club but Sammy Tombe did his share. He also competed in the Mile at the various sports meetings held as well as in the SAAA Championships. On 7th June 1930 for instance he ran in the Mile at Queen’s Park FC Sports at Hampden and won in 4:25.3, and although he competed in the Mile at the championships he was unplaced.
in 1932 he was second in the ten miles at Hampden Park in April, behind JF Wood but in front of D McNab Robertson: the winning time was 52:31 and the times at 5 and 6 miles were new Scottish records. “Wood’s victory in the 10 mile was emphatic. He was his own pacemaker from start to finish and finally breasted the tape 600 yards ahead of SK Tombe of Plebeian Harriers. Setting a fast pace from the outset, Wood spurted after one and a quarter miles and gained a lead of 30 yards from Suttie Smith. At two miles he had increased his advantage to 90 yards, at three miles to 150 yards, at four miles to 220 yards, and when the National Cross-Country champion retired after five miles had been covered, he was fully 300 yards behind Wood and had been passed shortly before by Tombe. Wood tapered off considerably in the seventh and eighth miles but finished strongly in 52 mins 31 sec – 1 min 44 sec faster than his winning time of a year ago. Twenty six of the twenty eight entrants started and 16 finished; nine runners apart from Wood and Tombe, receiving medals for finishing inside the standard time of 57 min.” Tombe’s time was 54:20 and McNab Robertson’s was 54:58. He was still doing all the two mile team races – in 1931 in particular the Plebeian team performed very well indeed – and at Monkland at the end of May he was second. In the Scottish Championships in June 1932, Tom Blakely of Maryhill set a new 3 miles record and Tombe was only 30 yards down as he crossed the finishing line. The ‘Glasgow Herald’ correspondent thought that this was the best running Tombe had done over the distance – Blakely’s record was 14:38 1-5th.
Also credited with 15:11.6 for three miles in Glasgow on the 23rd June 1933, on the following day in the SAAA Championships, he was fourth in the Four Miles behind RR Sutherland, J Wilson and JF Wood.
On 15th April, 1934, in the SAAA championships he ran 53:40.4 for 10 miles to finish second to Alex Dow but defeating Jim Flockhart.. Times were 53:12 for Dow and 53:49 for Flockhart with JF Wood fourth in 54:34.6. He followed this up with a good second in the two miles at the Atalanta v SAAA match at the end of May at Westerlands. On 26th May, 1934, at Hampden in the Queen’s Park FC sports, Tombe won by the three miles team race by 10 yards from W Sutherland and Alex Dow in 14:55.8. Later in 1934 he was third in the SAAA 6 Miles, 5 yards behind James Wilson in 31:06.2. The Glasgow Herald report read: “There was a great race in the Six Miles between J Wilson and SK Tombe. A Dow, the ten miles champion, led all the way but 300 yards from the tape, Wilson shot out in front. The 5 yards he gained from the soldier held in a most rousing finish. ” Alex Dow was third. He did not appear at the SAAA Championships again until June 1937 when he was third in the three miles behind GM Carstairs and JE Farrell. Carstairs was 150 yards ahead of Farrell who was 60 yards up on Tombe. His club mate WJ Gunn who had won the inaugural Two Miles Steeplechase championship finished second in that event behind RR Sutherland.
Tombe also ran for his regiment in many Army events – championships from regimental to national – and performed well in them too. Gold, silver and bronze came his way over the country and on the road, on the track in National Championships he won silver and bronze at distances from the Mile to Ten Miles giving many of the best runners in a decade full of good athletes a serious run for their money. SK Tombe was a runner to be reckoned with.