16th April, 1881, was the start of a new decade of sports at Hamilton Crescent and the conditions were excellent for the athletes and spectators. The list of events had grown to no fewer than 21 including bicycle races and several ‘novelty’ events but the real bread and butter athletics events were all well catered for. Flat races from 100 yards to the Mile plus the hurdles and steeplechase and a range of field events including three of the jumps and the cricket ball throw. Wauchope and Parsons won their principal events, there was a wide range of schools,universities and sports clubs represented and the day was a resounding success.
Another member of the Vallance family won the Broad Jump at the event on 15th April 1882 – this time it was Alex, Tom’s younger brother, who also took the honours in the 120 yards hurdles. The win in the broad jump was actually a walk-over of 18’6″ but in the hurdles race, in which he was a future SAAA champion, but in the hurdles he was followed closely home by JS Blair. The reporter in the Scotsman was fairly crictical of the meeting saying, “An encouraging number of spectators fringed the ring, and as the sports proceeded the attendance increased, there being ultimately some 4000 people within the gates, to say nothing of those who took up the vantage ground outside. The programme was on the face of it calculated to excite some interest, but in being performed it paled very much. Really the contests call for no special remark unless it be that there is room for improvement on the part of the management. ” There is a sentence or two more in the same vein but for the athletes it was another good competition on a very good surface. There were only 19 events in 1882 with ‘fine and stirring music’ from the Highland Light Infantry. The Indian Tug o’War over water somewhat contradicts the reporter from the Scotsman when it says that “carried away by enthusiasm a number of spectators burst into the ring and some time elapsed before a clearance could be effected.”
The SAAA was formed in 1883 and they held their first championships in June that year. It was a significant year with enthusiasm for athletics at a peak. One of the keys to success for an athlete in any event is regular competition and meetings such as those offered by the cricket and football clubs were important in this respect – more important than most highland games or works sports simply because of the quality of the surface on which they were held. A cricket sward is usually smoother and better maintaned than the local farmer’s field. This year the West Cricket Club held their own sports on 14th April 1883 which was the start of both the athletics and cricket seasons. The results should come first this year.
Throwing the cricket Ball: HL Fleming, BLAC; 2. AGG Asher. 106 yds 6 ins; Broad Jump: JW Parsons; 2. AGG Asher. 19′ 5″; Pole Jump: AGG Asher; Quarter Mile Handicap Confined: HR Cobbold; 100 yards: *** ; Quarter Mile Flat Race: AS Blair 52 1/2 sec; High Jump: JW Parsons 5’10 1/2 ins; One Mile: George Gibson; Half Mile Race TG Connell; 3. JJ Johnstone; 120 yards hurdles: JW Parsons; 2. HA Watt [Watt actually came in first but was disqualified for fouling]; 200 yards handicap: JS Blair; 2. AS Blair; Steeplechase: AGG Asher; 2. John Johnstone.
*** The 100 yards had four finalists – Parsons, AS Blair, JS Blair and TD Stevenson. The two Blairs and Parsons came to the post together and so the three of them had to run again. The result was a dead heat between the two Blairs and it was decided to split the verdict. There were also some ‘novelty races such as the Tug of War over Water and the Blind Wheelbarrow Race. In the former, the Fettes team did not turn up so Glasgow Academy got a bye into the final where they met West of Scotland (who had disposed of 1st LRV in the first round) who won. There were also several cycle races on the programme.
A word about AGG Asher might be in order. Sir Augustus Gordon Grant Asher was born in Poona, India in December 1861 and was a Scottish international rugby and cricket player. He was educated at Fettes and Oxford and competed for the Fettesian-Lorettonians club. In athletics, he won the SAAA pole vault in 1885 and 1886, was second in the 120 yards hurdles in 1885 and in the broad jump in 1886. As a rugby player, he played four times for Scotland and the rugby historian RJ Philips said that: “No one has arisen to bear comparison to AR Don Wauchope at quarter or half back where he and AGG Asher still hold claim as the greatest pair to have played together for their country.”
When it came to the SAAA championships on 23rd June, past competitors who had competed here such as Harvie, Peterkin and Wauchope were successful, and of those who turned out in Partick in April, Johnstone was third in the mile, Watt was third in the hurdles and Wauchope had two silvers. Parsons and Asher had a particularly good meeting but missed the first SAAA championship although they would go on to have a very good career in their events.
There would be no criticism, mild or otherwise, from the Scotsman’s reporter for the sports of 12th April 1884. One of the biggest names in athletics in Britain was present – WG George. He ran in several races and the steeplechase but, said the report, “he found no rival worthy of his metal.” There were twenty two events this time round, These included for the first time Putting the Weight which was won by K Whitton. As well as the bicycle race there was a tricycle race, a blind wheelbarrow race, a half mile obstacle race and a mile obstacle race. George won the steeplechase and the Mile. As a man who had broken the world record three times and had a best time for the half mile of 1:57, his time in Partick of 4:40 for the distance was a disappointment.
The 11th April, 1885, was one of the days when the Glasgow weather did not co-operate and the spectator numbers were down because of the dull, cold conditions with rain threatening all afternoon. There were twenty four events in all, mainly bicycle, tricycle and flat races. WG George was back up again and won the mile – this time in 5 minutes 07 seconds. This was the year in which he turned professional and for a man who regularly ran faster than 4:20 it was a mockery of a time. Wauchope and Parsons were there again as was Asher who, showing his versatility, won the steeplechase with its 4 water jumps. This year the Throwing the Hammer was intriduced and was won by K Whitton who won the SAAA title for the event; another star athlete was J Logan from Vale of Leven who won the half mile and would win the half mile at the Championships that year and the Mile two years later. It was quite a cast that the organisers were offering the Glasgow Public: George, Logan, Parsons, Wauchope, and Whitton,. Four Scottish champions and a world record holder. Athletics in Scotland was in a good condition and the West of Scotland was encouraging it.
By 17th April 1886 there were two open amateur clubs in Scotland – Clydesdale Harriers and Edinburgh Harriers – and one might have expected them to appear at the sports organised by the West of Scotland Cricket Club but this does not appear to have been the case but there was a good number of class acts at Partick. The report reads:
“This important fixture came off on Saturday afernoon at Hamilton Crescent Grounds, Partick. The weather being favourable, there was a very large attendance. Music was supplied by the band and pipers of the Royal Scots, under the conductorship of Mr SC Griffiths. The card contained nineteen events, all of which were well contested, many of the entrants being first class athletes. The open 100 yards was won by Mr RS Blair of Oxford University, who also gained first place in the quarter mile. Mr WS Duncan of Edinburgh Royal High School, came in first in the open half mile race, a yard in advance of the second man, after a fine run. The tug of war was an interesting contest, and here the Queen’s Edinburgh team succeeded in overcoming all opponents in fine style. Only two contestants appeared for the pole jumping (Mr Asher and Mr Hodgson, both of Edinburgh) and the “blue and white” came off victor. The first prize for hammer throwing – one of the best contested events on the card – was won by Mr W Weir, who was several feet in front of the second man. The open mile handicap brought out nine competitors and after a stiff race Mr Smeaton, Kincardine-on-Forth, came first to the tape, several yards separating him from the winner of the second place. The hurdle and obstacle race and the steeplechase were the amusing features of the day’s proceedings. Some good sport was witnessed in the school events, all the prizes of which were carried off by representatives of the Edinburgh Schools.”
Before noting the results of those events which were recognised for the SAAA championships, it is worth noting that the pole vault had been, and continued to be, a duel between Asher and Hodgson. Hodgson had won it in the national championships in 1883 and 1884 in the absence of Asher; Asher won it from Hodgson in 1885 and 1886 and neither would contest it after that. They met up again at meetings such as this one which was won by Asher of Fettesian-Lorettonians from Hodgson, representing Edinburgh Harriers. Results of major events:
100 yds Flat Race, open: 1. AS Blair, 10 2-5th sec; 2. JW Parsons. Quarter Mile Flat Race, open: 1. AS Blair, Oxford, 52 2-5th sec; 2. D Landale, Fettes; 880 yards (scr, open): 1. DS Duncan, Royal High, 2 min 7 4-5th sec; 2. HD Ritchie, Watson’s College. One Mile handicap, open: 1. J Smeaton, Loretto, 4 min 49 3-5th sec; 2. A Brown, Ayr FC.
120 yards hurdles: 1. JW Parsons; 2. A Vallance, Rangers FC;
Throwing the Cricket Ball: 1, AGG Asher 104 yds 3ft 6 ins; 2. JG Gill, 1st LRV. Putting the Weight, handicap, open: 1. WB Johnstone (8′ handicap) 40′ 4″; 2. C Reid, Edinburgh (scratch) 40′ 0″; Throwing the Hammer, handicap, open: 1. W Weir, St Mirren’s FC, 97′ 10″; 2. J Maclachlan, GUAC;
The sports in 1887 were held on 16th April and were described as one of the most fashionable in the Glasgow season and there were between 4000 and 5000 spectators present to see a programme of 19 events. Alex Vallance, above, was back and running in the hurdles where he led over the last hurdle, stumbled and finished second by three yards to JL Greig of Fettes. There were runners from all three existing clubs running – Clydesdale, Edinburgh and West of Scotland Harriers all taking part. Indeed in the new event of a two miles steeplechase there were two from Clydesdale Harriers and two from Edinburgh Harriers making up the field. This was a serious event over a serious distance rather than the 700 yards+ race with four hurdles and four water jumps. WM Thomson of Clydesdale Harriers defeated W Jack of Edinburgh with W Henderson third and DS Duncan fourth. There was a good turn out in most events with 13 men out for the Mile, won by JJ Smeaton of Tulliallan from WM Thomson of Clydesdale.
After the Clydesdale Harriers and Edinburgh Harriers were established in 1885, several more athletic clubs appeared and the open athletics movement was really gathering pace in 1888. There were only 17 events this time round, many were cycle and tricycle races and there were no heavy throws, the Shot putt and the Hammer being conspicuous by their absence. The Sports were held again on 14th April that year and the results tell their own story.
100 Yards: 1. JJ Williamson, Hamilton NEFC; 2. HCL Tindall Cambridge UAC; 3. IW Reeve, Ediburgh Harriers. 200 Yards flat race open: 1. NA MacLeod Loretto; 2. H Whitelaw Edinburgh Harriers; 3. HCL Tindall Cambridge UAC. 440 Yards: 1. Tindall Cambridge; 2. A Maxwell St Mirren FC; 3. T Blair Queen’s Park FC. One Mile Flat Race, open: 1. TS Young, Hamilton Harriers; 2. G Hume Edinburgh Harriers; 3. WM Thomson Clydesdale Harriers.
120 yards hurdles: 1. GT Ward Clydesdale H; 2. W Whitelaw. Steeplechase Handicap: 1. WM Thomson Clydesdale Harriers (scr); 2. J Anderson Clydesdale Harriers (30y); 3. A Hannah Clydesdale Harriers (20).
Obstacle Race: 1. JB Park Kelvinside Academicals; 2. AG Colquhoun Clydesdale Harriers
Throwing the Cricket Ball: 1. R Hughes, Motherwell Trinity; 2. J Gill, Poloc CC.
The referee on the day was AGG Asher.
The Sports on 13th April, 1889, had 17 events on the programme “for which very good entries had been received although the standard was hardly up to usual.” The meeting started at 2:00 pm and finished at 5:00 pm. Described as ‘the event which practically opens the athletics season’ , all of the events were open. To keep the spectators entertained on a dull day, the band of the 1st Battalion The Lancashire Fusiliers had 45 performers on site. Maybe the Scotsman felt thatthe standard was not quite the best but there were at the very least some outstanding athletes on display. For instance, JR Gow, Rangers FC and Clydesdale Harriers, a future SAAA Champion, won both heat and final of the 120 yards hurdles and the final of the 200 yards, R Mitchell, St Mirren FC and Clydesdale Harriers, who would win the SAAA half mile that year and held the Scottish half mile record, won the Mile. There were also some stars in the cycle races including the popular RA Vogt who won races at distances from a half mile up on both track and road all over Britain. It was a better meeting than the scribe maybe appreciated.
And so the decade closed. The West of Scotland Cricket Club had promoted their meeting now for over 20 years and seen the mammoth changes from a sport that was almost exclusively the domain of public schools and universities to one where there was a multitude of open clubs, a national athletics governing body and an atmosphere of competition rather than entertainment (although there was still a place for the bands).