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A history of Leeds AC
Written by John Lunn
Chapter 2: Steady beginning in changing times
The three 'old' clubs ceased to exist at Midnight on September 30th, 1967; some of the last hours were spent floating the memories away on a tide of ale at the Myrtle Tavern at Meanwood, a night immortalised for the present-day survivors (there aren't many) by the activities of javelin-thrower Dave Longley. (But that's another story.) The following day the Club, according to the Yorkshire Post; “made an encouraging start” with a team victory in its first road race, at Holmfirth; Ron Pannell, Mike Baxter and Richard Musgrave put the Club on the map, while Mark Willingham won the associated Youths' race. They weren't, however, wearing the new Club vest; the first prize was won in two different colours. They still didn't feature at Halifax the following week, when the Club finished second in a composite relay, or a fortnight later, when four teams turned out in the Hull to Hornsea relay, and the A team finished fourth - behind a Middlesbrough & Cleveland team with former Leeds A.C. member John Lunn on second leg. John, at the time teaching in Darlington, was to return to the city in the following April and reconnect his long association with athletics in Leeds; he had been Yorkshire Under-18 champion in 1959 and 1960, gained a Blue at Oxford and represented the Universities' Athletic Union (at, of all things, indoor running!) while at Manchester University.
The vest followed the fashion of the day of looking like an American college strip - plain royal blue, with gold trim and the Club's name printed on the front in gold. To be frank, it wasn't a good choice; for one thing, it looked too much like the Dorothy Hyman Club vest, which was later to produce a bizarre incident. In addition, yellow printed on blue is a poor combination, and even though Ray Barrow personally printed the first batch (as told the writer in an interview) the name quickly washed off. The writer's own vest was about the last to carry the name, as his mother had replicated the print in gold ribbon. However, it had the virtue of not looking anything like the old ones (Leeds A.C. had adopted a similar vest with reversed colours a few years earlier) and when they did arrive it boosted morale quite a bit.
The first Annual General Meeting of the Club took place on October 2nd; its main function was to adopt formally the Club constitution and elect a Committee. (Just one - the complexities of Club administration had yet to produce a structure.) For the first year the Presidency was held by Walter Pearson of Leeds A.C., a veteran administrator who also wrote for the sports' edition of the Evening Post under the name of Short Spike. His other main function was as local area handicapper, when handicap races made up much of the track programme; the standing joke was that anyone who got a good mark in a particular meeting had been "digging Walter's garden." Walter was, however, in the twilight of his administrative career; in 1968 he retired from the post of Honorary Secretary to the Yorkshire A.A.A. after a tenure dating back to before the Second World War. The key posts of Hon. Secretary and Hon. Treasurer were taken by two people still at the time of writing around, but not now actively connected with the Club - Jack Lawton, of Harehills, took the former post, while Dave Hodgson, of St. Mark's, took the latter. Both held them for some years; Dave in particular put the Club on a sound footing financially from the word go. Both were also still competitive; Jack was to run, principally in road races, right into his seventies, while Dave continued his fell-running career into the next millennium. His record in this somewhat esoteric branch of the sport was formidable, particularly in what's reckoned to be the pinnacle of long-distance fell-running, the Three Peaks' Race. He never won it, but he was runner-up no less than four times, and subsequently chaired the Association which runs the race for fifteen years; besides that he was the chairman of the England mountain-running selection committee for some time. He certainly looked the part; he ran with an angular action and high knee-lift that could best be described as 'craggy.'
The Committee was the sort of balance to be expected at the time - three sprinters, all ex-Leeds A.C. (Ray Barrow, John Cousins and Mick Gledhill), two young distance-runners (Mike Wells, St Mark's and Richard Musgrave, Harehills) and four veteran distance-runners (Dennis Wood, St. Mark's, and Arthur Cockcroft, Bernard Gomersall and Allan Lawton, all Harehills.) The Club had cash assets of £483, two-thirds of which came from Harehills, by far the most active partner in the last separate years.
Walter only held the presidency for a year, to get things going; he was succeeded by a figure not likely to be forgotten by that generation of athletes - Jim Exley. Jim was very much one of the old school; and while he would most certainly not have appreciated the language, the force of the description of him by an official of another Leeds club would probably have appealed to him - "You know just where you are with Jim; he's a b*****d, but he's a straight b*****d." A pillar of rectitude, Jim served as first-claims secretary for the Northern Counties for many years, and few ever got away with any sort of fiddling; as a track referee he went precisely by the rule-book, which like the Bible he knew from cover to cover, and treated with similar reverence. Jim could not be said to be a comfortable man, but in a sport where it is not unknown for people to take a yard if offered an inch, his firm and unflinching honesty was a pearl of great price; and his service to the Club was very considerable, though his heart probably remained with Harehills.
Jim's tenure of this office was also short - only a year - mainly due to his commitments with the Northern Counties' A.A. His replacement at the 1969 A.G.M., who held the office for a couple of years, was former Leeds A.C. secretary George Stead, one of the Club's more distinguished officers. George, whose athletic career went back to being a counter in the winning team of the very first Leeds & District Cross-Country League season in 1935, was, to the writer's mind, the epitome of a type of person who has vanished from the face of British society - the 'Respectable Working Class,' the kind of men and women of apparently limited education and social pretension who, when you really got to know them, showed amazing hidden depths. George spent most of his life working in a mundane job reading gas-meters, and living in a back-to-back terrace house in Harehills; he was undemonstrative, gruff, dryly humorous and in every apparent respect ordinary. Yet he was a lifelong Guardian reader, and the writer can recall, in his days as a pretentious young undergraduate, being loaned such books as Cobbett's Rural Rides and the pacifist writings of Fenner Brockway from George's remarkably sizeable library. Had he been born thirty years later he would probably have followed the children of his like to university and out into the professional lower middle classes - which is why they don't make Georges any more. It would be a fair description of both men to say he had the honesty and respect for the sport of Jim Exley with a much more human face; and he served the Club well and honourably in many capacities almost up to his death.
Athletics in Leeds in a state of flux in 1968; and much the same was true of athletics in general, as the period coincided with a number of changes which affected the very nature of the sport. One was the introduction of the all-weather rubber-surfaced or ‘Tartan’ track; the writer had forgotten just how rare 'plastic' tracks were in the late sixties and early seventies until he re-read newspaper articles of 1968 which reminded him that the Mexico City Olympics was the first event ever to be run on one, and Mike Baxter pointed out that the first time he ever set foot on one in competition was in the heat of the 1969 European Championships. Only those (very old now) members who have done a 5000 or 10,000 on a shale surface such as (say) Templenewsam, Leeds Road Huddersfield, or the Yellow Monstrosity at Hartlepool can appreciate just how much more comfortable it is to run on Tartan; the old tracks could be baked-hard, rutted, and dusty in a dry spell and too wet to race on in heavy rain. Surprisingly, one Yorkshire council was quick off the mark in this matter; Middlesbrough was reported to be considering a plan to lay a Tartan track at its Clairville Stadium as early as October 1968.
Combined with this was the introduction of the screw-in spike, which prevented the blistering or worse that runners got from spikes set in plates between the inner and outer sole, which tended to shift after use on hard tracks. The writer recalls with a shudder even now the state of his and the other finishers’ feet after participating in a 25-kilometre track race in 1965, with a group of participants sitting in a pub mutually popping each other’s blisters.
The change came out of considerable study about what the ideal shoe for the new Tartan tracks would be like. One shoe manufacturer had even invented a new ‘spike’ for the surface, a shoe with several hundred tiny spikes rather like a miniature scrubbing-brush to give better grip; the I.A.A.F. promptly banned its use.
On the field side the foam-rubber block landing area appeared at the same time; like Tartan, it first appeared around the time of the Mexico Olympics, because until it did the High Jump champion of that year, Dick Fosbury, would have been risking becoming a paraplegic landing on his neck even in well-raked sand. The foam landing area took some time to come in; in 1969 at a Home Countries International at Edinburgh the vaulters refused to participate because of the dangerous state of the landing area - sand, with timber sides!
Another change which affected matters regionally was the cancelling by the Northern Counties’ A.A. of its rule which prevented athletes joining clubs more than twenty miles from their place of residence; there had been a long-running dispute over John Kirkbride, who lived in West Cumberland (which had no clubs of any strength) and had joined Blackpool & Fylde A.C., which had brought this issue to a head. As a later case involving Leeds City indicates, however, any athlete moving to a club more than twenty miles from his home would still be likely to have to serve a suspension of several months; and this, though modified, is still true at the time of writing.
Press coverage of athletics on a national scale around the time of Mexico shows that despite the considerable changes which have come about many of the ‘problems’ and controversies of the sport remain very similar. There was the continuing argument, which had gone on for years, about the amateurish administration of amateur athletics; a committee headed by Liberal life peer Frank Byers had just published a report recommending the appointment of a professional administrator, which was meeting with resistance from some of the older generation on the A.A.A. and B.A.A.B. committees Suggestions were also being bandied about that competition was inadequate because it was underfunded, and the A.A.A. was putting forward a scheme to make athletes pay a registration fee (ten shillings - 50p - for every athlete under 19) to fund improvements; that was also meeting heavy opposition, and not solely from the entrenched ‘powers that be,’ and Walter Pearson wrote a long article opposing it. It was probably, with personal computers a long way off (computers then took up a whole room) not a practical proposition, though cycling, a sport not dissimilar in its structure to athletics, already had such a scheme. Even in 1968 there was clearly a gap between the perceptions of national administration and ‘grass-roots’ athletes and officials about what the priorities of the sport really were.
The writer compiled a piece for a Club Newsletter some years ago about Leeds St. Mark's between the Wars in which he said that if the minute-books are studied the impression would be gained that the Club's main function was running whist-drives. On reading the first minute-book of Leeds City he discovered that the competitive aspects was still undermentioned, though to not such a great extent, and social and fund-raising matters seemed to concern the Committee more. Social matters such as Christmas dinners, and running raffles and Christmas draws, took up a fair amount of time. The Club even had a social secretary; John Cousins in the first couple of years, and then John Lunn, in his first administrative function. (Like many other offices later, he didn't stay in it long.) Coach hire to events was another major feature; even in the late sixties less people had cars, the motorway network was less complete, and to get to championships or distant events a coach was a necessity. The costs were by modern standards negligible - £21 to Blackpool, and £45 to London, for instance - but at the time a teacher with four years' experience was still earning less than £100 a month net.
According to former St. Marks' official Joe Mayne, the main reason for the amalgamation had been to strengthen the Club's cross-country reputation; like a lot of the older officials, Joe didn't really believe in track running. If that was the intention, it didn't show forth in the first few years. Of course, perspectives then were very different. The all-important winter competition was the Yorkshire Cross-Country Association Championship at the end of January; we MUST have a team out for that. The National mattered, unless it was miles away; even then, the Club's Senior teams in the first years of its existence don’t seem to have ever been at full strength.
In the first two years we never finished in the first forty teams, and on each occasion at least two of a redoubtable trio of veterans, Allan Lawton, Jack Lawton and Dennis Wood, were counters. For some reason nobody took the Northern very seriously (the Club seldom finished well up in the Senior race) and the Yorkshire County Athletic Association Cross-Country Championship was in essence only a trial for the County’s team for the Inter-Counties’ Championship, with no team contest, and only taken seriously by those who fancied their chances of selection.
At this early stage in Club history the man putting the Club's name in front of the public was definitely Mike Baxter. A success at regional level as a youngster with St. Mark's, he was by the late sixties on the verge of developing into something else - a regular and consistent international on the track and on the country. He was also very much the driving force behind the training done by the Club’s distance-runners; it was Mike who instituted the Tuesday night fartlek sessions that saw an awful lot of fairly average ‘hackers’ blossom into something considerably better, and the long Sunday mornings from Templenewsam which, in many people's view, laid the foundation for people to train harder than they'd ever expected to. Mike set the agenda for Leeds City's distance squad for its first ten years; the presence, almost a quarter of a century later, of so many performances from that era in the Club's Senior ranking list is testimony to what he achieved. It would be a few years before Mike's performances, and his influence on Club distance-running hit its peak; however, the foundations for future team success were being laid as early as the first year.
The first regular competition the new Club found itself involved in was what was then the Leeds & District Cross-country League. It became the West Yorkshire early in the seventies, but even before that it covered a much wider area than merely the city; not only did Wakefield Harriers compete, but clubs from York and Harrogate, who didn’t have much local opposition, had been members since before the War. Leeds City certainly beat Wakefield, the 1966 winners, in the first two League races, but these early results didn’t indicate great strength. The first race was won by Mike Baxter, but the team success was accomplished with the aid of a second-claim member, former Cambridge Blue Roger Robinson, who was a lecturer at Leeds University; the other two members were former Harehills stalwarts Ron Pannell and Stewart Dobson. In the second fixture of three, Mike and Stewart were accompanied buy another second-claimer, North-Eastern legend Lindsay Dunn, who was working in Leeds for a number of years. Lindsay was later to be much of the motivation behind the growth of Gateshead Harriers, and the career of Brendan Foster. At least the Senior team did enough to win the League, with Mike winning the third meeting and Stewart placing third.
There was also some success in the races for younger athletes, though to modern observers the descriptions of these can prove confusing. In the 1960s the definitions ‘Juniors,’ ‘Youths’ and ‘Boys’ were used respectively for Under-21s, Under-18s and Under-16s; within the first few years of the Club’s existence the age-ranges changed to the present format, and the writer has, to spare confusion, used the modern definitions throughout. The winner of the first two League races for younger athletes (which were a recent departure from League tradition, and in which ‘Youths’ and ‘Boys’ ran together) was Mark Willingham, one of the team of youngsters that Arthur Cockcroft had been coaching at Harehills. To Arthur’s regret most of the team didn’t continue running for very long; Mark, however went on competing into the early ‘seventies. Not far behind Mark in most of the League races was a younger athlete who can go down as possibly one of the Club’s greatest disappointments; at this period Trevor Tuohey, was carrying just about everything before him locally in the Under-16 age-group. However, he was later to have the unenviable distinction to be the first of only two members of the Club to be formally expelled from it. His enormous talent was not to be able to overcome a family background that could best be described as unfortunate.
Mark, Trevor and the Senior team were all winners of their age-group races at another event which typified the time, but has now disappeared - the York Open Handicap (though at York the youngsters’ races weren’t handicaps.) There were three such races which had been regularly contested in the West Riding at the time - the York in October, the Leeds November, and the Bingley Handicap just after Christmas. Looking at the press reports of the time it’s quite remarkable how few events there were, and how limited was the distance over which members travelled to race.
In the whole of the 1967-8 winter the Yorkshire Post mentions participation by Leeds City members in only two open road races - the Ferriby Ten at Hull in January, and a ten-miler at Scunthorpe in April which Mike won. The Handicaps therefore constituted a large amount of the competition which was available to distance-runners in the late ‘Sixties outside the League and Championship events, and even leading athletes competed in them. In the 1967 ‘November,’ for instance, Roger Robinson did fastest time running through to fifth, while at Bingley Mike Baxter was fastest man in fourth place, just behind young miler Malcolm Cox, and the winner was a future Bingley road star, Alan Spence.
Handicaps were supposed to give the lesser lights a chance of actually winning something, and in a sense they did; but the younger generation was beginning to find them unsatisfactory. The major criticism of them was that the handicapping was never ‘fair’ - either because whoever was saying so hadn’t got what he considered to be a decent ‘mark’ or because somebody else had clearly been handicapped too ‘softly’ for his known potential. The reality is that handicapping is (as the writer, having done it for Club events, is well aware) a difficult art; there’s more to it than looking at the times people have done and subtracting accordingly, even if you know all the performances of all the competitors - and the official Handicap Entry Form, now completely vanished, wasn’t the clearest document in the world. The writing was on clearly seen on the wall when in 1969 the York Handicap was discontinued; and nowadays handicaps purely for Club members are virtually the only ones left, though these are often popular and a lot of Yorkshire clubs besides Leeds City run them.
The Club at first ran a number of its own handicap races, which filled in some of the blank weekends between the traditional fixtures. Most of them have now disappeared, pushed out by the growing number of open races both on the road and the country, and the ease of travel which has come about with mass car ownership - to say nothing of the change in traffic patterns which would now make it virtually impossible to run a Club race on public roads. A clear example of this is the Club's six-mile handicap, which was then run in December; a description of the course will give some idea the different culture, both of running and the surroundings it took place in. It ran from the Harehills Liberal Club - for long the winter headquarters - down Oak Tree Drive through the Gipton Estate, along Foundry Lane to the Melbourne roundabout, up York Road, through Seacroft Village to the Ring Road, along to Wellington Hill, down the A61 and along Dib Lane and Foundry Lane to the foot of, and back up to the top of, Oak Tree Drive.
If you attempted that as a training run today, even on a quiet evening, you'd be having to watch the traffic with care; in 1970 it was raced round on a Saturday afternoon, with no marshals, no control at road crossings and no thought of seeking police permission. (It probably helped that Inspector John McKenna was a member.) In 1969 The Club’s veterans had a field-day in it; Jack Lawton won, with brother Allan fourth and Dennis Wood third, and only John Lunn, who ran fastest time, keeping them from a clean sweep. The following year John was second again, this time to Pete Edwards - generally known by the lads, from his after-school job filling the toilet-roll counter in a supermarket, as Petal -, with Mike Baxter running fastest in third; but in the Youths race (twice round the Gipton estate - try that nowadays - second place went to a youngster from the new John Smeaton school called Graham Needham. 31 years on he was still to be found training and sinking pints at South Leeds.
Two handicaps, however, remain from before the formation of the Club, although one has changed its form, and both revolve around Christmas. Leeds A.C. had run a pre-Christmas handicap which was more of a social event, usually from a country pub with a meal afterwards Harehills Harriers, on the other hand, had since the 1920s run its Christmas Handicap on Harehills Park on Boxing Day. The latter has survived unchanged as perhaps the strongest link to the ‘pre-history’ of Leeds City; the combination of tough five-lap course, strong tradition and the quality of performances which have been done in the race make it an event which almost deserves to have its own chapter (indeed separate research on its history is being done). The former, however, has undergone several changes of venue, format and course, and was finally reinvented in the 1980s as the Deserter’s Dash, which at the time of writing is run from South Leeds Stadium. Essentially, then, the Handicap has shrunk from being a major aspect of competition to a ‘fun event’ where the challenge for the handicapper is to get as close a finish as possible. In Club events nowadays it’s often achieved.
The main sources of information about the activities of the new Club would be expected to be in the local press; but in fact coverage of athletics has always been rather thin in Leeds, tending to get crowded out, and not just by coverage of soccer, Rugby League and cricket. In the winter of 1969, for instance, the Yorkshire Post devoted about twice as many column-inches to foxhunting as it did to athletics, and the coverage it did give seemed more often to be slanted towards national events than local ones. The paper did not appear to have a regular athletics correspondent, and published things in a somewhat irregular manner. It might not be surprising, for instance, that in the autumn of 1968 it gave a lot of coverage to the Olympic Games in Mexico City; but that it featured more about times done in training runs there than about those done in races in West Yorkshire comes as a considerable shock.
Up to about 1970 Walter Pearson continued to write his ‘Short Spike’ column in the ‘Green’ Sports edition of the Yorkshire Evening Post, but Walter’s advancing age showed pretty clearly in it. Walter was not a man who was receptive to changes; in much of his writing there was a tendency to sanctify ‘tradition’ and regard new developments as unlikely to be an improvement. However by 1970 the decline of coverage in the main local press prompted two people to contact the Yorkshire Post Group to complain about it; and the Group solved its problems by inviting them to take on the job of reporting athletics. One was the Hon. Secretary of Huddersfield’s Longwood Harriers, Granville Beckett, who already contributed to the Huddersfield Examiner; the other was another member of the same club, former Oxford Blue Roger Norton (known to the Leeds City gang, for a reason lost in the mists of Athletics Weekly, as ‘Reader’), who was at the time a teacher at Leeds Grammar School. Granville began to write for the morning Post, and Roger took over Walter’s column; they still suffered from over-zealous editing, but the level of coverage improved considerably. Much of the material for this History comes from their columns.
Some of the local weekly papers gave some space to local matters, if an interested individual was prepared to submit ‘copy;’ and from 1968 the Skyrac Express, which served east Leeds, Garforth and areas as far out as Tadcaster, began to print occasional reports sent by Dave Young, the assistant P.E. teacher at Temple Moor School, who had become a member of the Club about that time. At first they appeared rather sporadically, and after a few mentions of Club affairs in the first six months of its existence tended to concentrate on his own and other local schools. There was also a long gap in 1969 and early 1970 when nothing appeared; this was about the time when Dave was creating from scratch the Physical Education Department at the new John Smeaton High School which was about to open. From then on Club affairs began to appear more in the revived column, and by the summer of 1971 Club achievements became a regular feature of the paper. Dave’s writings are also a major source of material.
The 1968 cross-country Championship season gave little indication that the new Leeds City was going to be a power in the land. In the first ‘Yorkshire’ the Club contested the Seniors could finish no better than fifth, with Mike Baxter in sixth place; Mike had earlier finished second in the ‘Trial.’ However, there were signs of future strengthening in this area in the early performances in younger age-groups, and in particular the Club gained its first two County Champions; Mark Willingham won the Youths’ race, and Trevor Tuohey the Boys’. The Northern Championship that year was unusual in that the venue had to be changed at the last minute due to a serious outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease which restricted access to agricultural land. It should have been run at Hartlepool on a course including pasture and plough, but finished up being held on a public park - albeit the tough Graves Park course at Sheffield. The Senior team, which placed 9th of 20 finishers, was virtually an “old Leeds St. marks’ squad’ with the addition of a couple of former Harehills Harriers in Ron Pannell (32) and Bernard Gomersall (139); otherwise the counters were Mike Baxter (7), Adrian Jackson (112), Dave Hodgson (116) and in 147th place Pete Wadsworth, a reliable harrier and fell-runner who often discouraged other athletes with his unconscious habit of talking to himself in races - “Come on. Pete, get stuck in,” et cetera. There was also a first team success at this level, when Malcolm Cox (7th), Huw Pryderi Rhys (17), Roy Bean (26) and Bruce Kilner (46) placed second of six in the Junior (nowadays Under-20) race. Mark Willingham placed 5th in the Youths, and Trevor Tuohy’s bronze medal in the Boys’ race was achieved only a few seconds behind one of the biggest names to come out of North-Eastern athletics in the past four decades - Elswick Harrier Mike McLeod.
In the first 'National' of the Leeds City era, the Senior team made little impact, though Mike Baxter had a reasonably good run in 28th place. However, a number of names appear who were to figure in Club affairs for several years. The Junior team was by far the most successful, finishing 10th; it included Malcolm Cox (already building a track reputation as 'the Head Waiter' for picking off Mile fields at a late stage) who finished 13th, and former St. Mark's Harriers Huw Pryderi Rhys and Bruce Kilner. From the same source in the Youths (under-17) came Graham Towers, the diminutive Richard Spirrett and 'the famous artist' Len I'Anson; somewhere in the background was a gangling youth called Roger Parker, already noted for the handkerchief wrapped round his hand. Apart from Mark Willingham and for a short time Roy Bean, none of the former Harehills Youths’ team figured greatly in the Championships. There was a ‘hidden contribution’ to Club successes, however; in the Leeds Grammar School team which finished third in the Northern Boys that year were three names to conjure with - Richard Brewster, Martin Dell and Simon (Sid) Richardson.
In the next few years this group were to become the engine-room of a growing squad. Several of these featured in what was then an event given some local importance - the Leeds & District Championship. The race fell a victim in the 1970s to changes in competitive patterns, but even as late as 1968 could produce competitive races; Mike Baxter could only manage second place to Leeds University’s rising star and future international Frank Briscoe, and Leeds City were well beaten by Wakefield Harriers, with only Ron Pannell in the first six. In the other age-groups things went better, with both Mark Willingham and Trevor Tuohey winning their respective events, and the Juniors and Youths taking team titles. There were names which would last - Bruce Kilner and Malcolm Cox - but also names of promising athletes that went no further, such as former Harehills Harriers Roy Bean and Kevin Durkan. Mike won it by 2½ minutes the following year, when the Senior finished second to Wakefield again; the Club also provided the Boys’ race winner in Alan Black.
It was a striking feature of the early period that while, with the exception of Mark, the former Harehills lads seemed to fall by the wayside, the ex-St. Mark’s Harriers mostly kept running. It might not be a coincidence that they tended to be the more ‘social’ characters, and the writer puts a lot of the influence down to a man who at first sight appeared to be the very epitome of the ‘plodder’ - Dennis Wood. Dennis, who in 1968 finished 186th in the Northern, was already a sort of legend; he’d been running since just after the end of the War, and taken part in most things, from track races to marathons, with no great distinction; but he was always there, and always willing to give time. Huw Pryderi Rhys recalls him as "extremely significant as a coach" for the younger lads at this time, and he certainly seemed to get the message of enjoyment across. Quite a few of 'his lads' had long careers, and one, Roger Parker, is still around after 40 years. He had one characteristic which many members found useful; his remarkable consistency of pace when running. In his later years he wasn't fast, but would set off and keep exactly the same speed going for an entire run. A lot of fitter, younger and faster lads found it incredibly useful to go out with Dennis when they were coming back from an injury; somehow he prevented you from overdoing it and setting back your recovery. The writer was grateful to him for this more than once.
It was at about this period that he uttered his famous saying which led to the coining of the Dennis Factor. John Lunn always recalled it as, "You're all right if you're running more miles than you're drinking pints;" however, he has been corrected in this belief by Pryderi, who recalls the exact words as "You can't go far wrong if you run two miles for every pint you drink." His 'disciples' seemed to do quite a lot of it. Indeed Pryderi recalls, in an e-mail to the writer, his predicament when he stepped up to 100 miles a week for three months, and found "it was impossible to consume the requisite seven pints a night." Not everybody approved of this 'ale culture;' indeed, in December 1970, John received an official rebuke from the Committee for his drinking, industrial language and bad influence on the younger members of the Club - some would say little has changed in over three decades! Sometime about 1968, at the time of the formation of the British Milers' Club and the like, it was decided that they needed a specialist club for athletes of their ilk - and so was born the British Irwin Club, a sort of disreputable alter ego for Leeds City which surfaced from time to time in University races and the like. It even had it's own vest, with beer-pot, motto, and curious inscription on the back. Dennis, who had his ‘regular round’ of pubs to be visited, was regarded by its members as their ‘spiritual father.’
Pryderi also pointed to the other great influence on young runners, then and throughout the Club's history; indeed the contribution is probably not recognised enough because to the time of writing the man is still with us contributing. If George Stead was the epitome of the 'Respectable Working Class,' Arthur Cockcroft may be the last survivor in athletics; and anybody who wants to consider how big a contribution a very ordinary person can make to something they really want to see succeed could do worse than consider the little man. Arthur is a product of old east Leeds, of the generation who left school at 14 because they had little choice and considered an apprenticeship a step up in the world; he spent fifty years, apart from war service, in mundane jobs in the city, and to the world at large his life would make no mark. But talk to anybody associated with Leeds City; consider the stream of youngsters he has encouraged, coached and cajoled since his Harehills days, and listen to the respect with which the Club's star names of yesterday and today speak of him, and a different picture emerges.
Arthur is a distilled walking version of common sense; the writer and others have gone away and thought twice if any of their grandiose ideas hasn't appealed to him. Coaches with paper qualifications he doesn't possess have used him as a litmus test for their own ideas - and still do. Moreover, his writings for the newsletter reveal touches which say a remarkable amount for the 'elementary' education to be found in schools seventy or so years ago; certainly two Oxford graduates reading an account of one of them "going to St. James' and having two pints of John Smiths drained from his psychological knee" both looked at each other with the clear wish that they'd thought of it! The fact that there are other areas of the city - notably his local junior school - which are just as appreciative of his efforts speaks volumes for him. Long may he last!
One other event which was to become a major feature of the Club’s efforts first saw the light of day in the spring of1968; the Northern Counties A.A. organised its first official 12-Stage Relay Championship at Derby. This event was intended to replace the old Manchester-Blackpool race, which had become impossible to stage due to the growth of traffic; it had acted as a ‘feeder’ for the National London to Brighton event (which Harehills Harriers had done well in on several occasions). There had been at least one ‘unofficial’ predecessor of this event, probably in the previous year; John Lunn recalls running for Middlesbrough & Cleveland in it. In this first Leeds City were second Yorkshire club to finish, in eighth place; but the race was mainly notable as being the last competitive appearance of Longwood’s former world mile record holder Derek Ibbotson.
One area that in the early days didn't feature as much as it was to later were the long-distance road events; indeed road running was for many at the time either a fill-in between cross-country seasons or a break from the track. There was no standard short distance in the way that ten kilometres has become nowadays, and of course women didn't do it at all! The favoured distance for medium events was ten miles, with several regular ones which the Club tended to patronise; Longwood, Ferriby (at Hull, where Roger Robinson, Mike Baxter and Ron Pannell were first three home in 1968), and Redcar were among those regularly entered. The motorway network was just beginning to make trans-Pennine venues accessible, but something like the Derwentwater was quite an expedition.
The Club was also involved in promoting the Roundhay Ten-mile Road Race, run in conjunction with the Council-supported Printers' Sports and Gala on August Bank Holiday Monday. Up to the early 'seventies this was a very popular and classy race - it included the Yorkshire Championship, and in 1969 Mike Baxter finished second - but eventually the Club pulled out of running it. The reason was something which was to bedevil road running more and more as the years went on - safety. In the first place the course crossed the Ring Road twice - which the police would now not permit, though then they provided a ‘copper’ at each crossing-point. The growth of traffic since the 1970s would now put this out of the question. It also ran along major roads - today traffic would make racing up Wellington Hill on the A58 hazardous, but then the long drag on the fourth mile was seen as one of the race's challenges. Moreover, the country lanes around Shadwell, the middle section of the course, were not quite so full of executive homes or traversed by the 1960s equivalents of BMWs.
By far the most dangerous traffic to be met with, however, was the human traffic on the last mile through Roundhay Park, where the crowds at the Gala - most of whom probably had no idea that the race was going on - crossed the course between the fun-fair and the lakes with total disregard for weary runners bashing their guts out downhill. Whether anyone actually did follow the advice of one particular maverick member of the Club and shove anyone who got in his way out of it is doubtful; nowadays a runner would probably be sued if he collided with anybody, much less shoved them. As early as the summer of 1969 the Committee had "a great deal of discussion" over safety aspects of the course, and sought to contact the gala organisers about its worries; the Minute Book doesn't record whether a reply was forthcoming. Eventually in June 1974 the Committee told the Council it wasn't prepared to be responsible for the risks - and the Roundhay Ten died.
At that time there were few marathons, next to no half-marathons, and not a lot of other longer races. The Lawton brothers and Bernard Gomersall, out of the former Harehills marathon runners, were still competing, and still winning team prizes, as they did in both the 1968 and 1969 Longwood marathons, and the 1968 Liverpool marathon, which was the first that Bernard had ever actually won. He tended more to stick to the ultra-distances at which his name was even more illustrious. He was the first British runner to win the Comrades' Marathon (over 48 miles!) in South Africa, was a regular London-Brighton competitor (a race he also won in Harehills days), winning the race in Leeds City colours in 1968, and in 1970 set a Club record for 40 miles on the track which still stands. However, all the ex-Harehills lads were getting on a bit in years at the time - Jack and Allan were already veterans - though they continued to compete for some time into the Leeds City era. It was part of the ‘mythology’ of distance-running at the time that marathons were an old man’s game, taken to when runners got too old and slow for shorter races, a view encouraged by the lower age limit of 21 which was then put on taking part in them. This view was beginning to be challenged; Walter Pearson was critical of Airedale’s young international Dave Atkin for taking one on at the age of 21 in 1968, and the writer remembers Croydon Harrier Don Faircloth making an impression by entering and winning twenty-milers within weeks of his 21st birthday in the early 1970s.
Probably the most regularly successful runner at 'tens' in the early Club days was Ron Pannell, a hard competitor and an even more fearsome trainer. Ron was an expert at turning the screw on long training runs, staying half a yard in front of his companions and just going faster and faster; there was one incredible Sunday morning which Mike Baxter might remember with a shudder. Ron is Jewish (he represented Great Britain in the Maccabiah Games a couple of times); he didn't keep every festival, but he did keep Black Fast. This particular Sunday he went out for the regular fifteen-mile circuit from Templenewsam, and after 24 hours' fasting he wasn't feeling pain! Even Mike was hanging on like grim death; what the rest of us were like doesn't bear thinking about!
In the first two years of the Club's history Track & Field was very much secondary; indeed, this can be said of the North of England as a whole. Perusing the pages of Athletics Weekly for the time shows a mass of inter-club trophy meetings in the South, and barely any results outside championships from the North. Some of this was lack of reporting, but far more was lack of competition; the second A.G.M. report in 1968 mentioned only five track meetings altogether. In such Open Meetings as they were the ‘popular’ events - sprints and middle distances - tended to dominate; it was still difficult, especially in such events as hurdles, pole vault and some of the throws, to find much competition at all outside championship events. However, the Club was going with the flow towards more 'modern' levels of competition; in 1968 it paid the expenses of three competitors, - Senior Mike Baxter and Juniors Mark Willingham and hammer-thrower Ronald Rosenhead - to compete in the A.A.A. Championships.
Track and Field in the North, or in Yorkshire at any rate, was at this point at something of a cross-roads. The traditional form of competition, the handicap meeting, was falling out of favour with a younger generation of athletes more used to competing on 'proper' tracks and more concerned with times and distances. Mentioning the Swillington Miners’ Welfare Sports in his column in June 1968, Walter Pearson bemoaned the small fields in most events - only five in the half-mile, won by Gordon Richards - and said it “makes one wonder what all the athletes do with themselves.” He suggested that the poor turn-out at such formerly major events as the Bradford Police Sports on the Park Avenue cricket ground might dissuade organisations from promoting - and he was to be proved correct very quickly, as 1968 was the last year the meeting was held.
The club had inherited Leeds A.C.'s sprinters, of whom at the time the most prominent were short sprinter Glen Beaumont, a regular Northern finalist, former Leeds University student Eric Pape, who still holds a share of the Club 100-metre record after 30 years, and 400-metre runner Gordon Richards. The latter was a larger-than-life ex-airman who claimed a 47.9 clocking which the National Union of Track Statisticians wouldn't accept; in an interview Ray Barrow stated that he unofficially timed 'Ricky' in the race, at Oldham in the early 'sixties, and he was only three or four strides down on the great Adrian Metcalfe. Ray reckoned that when the latter was asked about the time by Southern-based statisticians, he claimed Ricky wasn't capable of it - and he was believed.
It also acquired the services of hurdler Dave Lyall, who became the Club's first County Track & Field champion, wining both hurdles events in 1969. Much of the success was due to the coaching of Ray, then still himself active in competition; he was also teaching at Allerton Grange School, and was instrumental in encouraging such people as middle-distance runners Malcolm Cox and Alan Black and long-jumper Alan Cattell to take up the sport. At an earlier stage he also influenced another long-time Club performer - half-miler Chris Hudson. The 1962 English Schools' champion, Chris also had a remarkable record in Yorkshire championships - runner-up over the half-mile and 800 metres eleven times at various age-groups without ever winning. His career happened to coincide with that of one of Yorkshire's middle-distance legends, Walter Wilkinson. Another educational influence at this stage was the presence of Roger Norton at Leeds Grammar School, from 1967 to 1971; though himself a member of Longwood Harriers, he pointed a large number of athletes towards the Club. His protégés included distance-runners Martin Dell and Simon Richardson, the three talented Brewster brothers; in addition high-jumper and hurdler Dave Warburton, current coach Mike Stayman, outstanding young 400-metre runner Dale Bluemink; and two still-extant Club record-holders - sprinter Andy Staniland, and discus-thrower Jonathan Hartley - came from that source.
A third, and long-lasting one, was provided by Dave Young. At first his influence didn’t appear great; his first recorded contribution to Club business, in July 1969 was to advocate the first production of a Club Newsletter, which not untypically hadn't got off the ground some months later. However, already by then a trickle of lads had begun to flow from Temple Moor - and in later years, as head of P.E. at the newly-opened John Smeaton High School, he was to supply a conveyor-belt of youngsters over the whole range of events who were to contribute the first real boom in the Club's track and field performance. Arthur Cockcroft has described Dave as the best all-round athletic coach he ever met - no mean praise. However, the Club's first English Schools' champion came from none of the above; hurdler John Greenwood, who won the 1969 Junior 80-metre event, was at Cross Green in east Leeds.
Changes, however, were starting to come about on the Track & Field front. The Club had shown some enterprise in this direction as early as 1968, when it took part in meetings as far away as Warrington; but as recorded above it didn’t take part in many of them. Bingley Harriers had begun to put on put on regular open meetings at the now-vanished Marley track at Keighley a few years earlier; at one of them in May Mike Baxter ran a fast winning three miles (14.11.4), Mark Willingham won the Junior 880 yards in 1.58.7 (which would be considered respectable today) and a six-foot plus 14-year-old, Stephen Ward, ran an 11.2/ 25.2 ‘double’ for 100 yards and the furlong which, converted, still sees him in the Under-15 Ranking lists.
The September Hardaker-King (Men) and Margaret Leighton (Women) Trophy meeting, which was Bingley’s most important promotion, had almost gained the status of an unofficial Yorkshire team championship. The West Yorkshire League was founded in 1968 (though the Weekly never mentioned it); Walter Pearson, noting that the number of “traditional sports meetings” was no longer sufficient to “give a consistent programme of competition to athletes,” saw the League as part of an effort by clubs to fill the gaps. Its first meeting was held on May 1st, and once again Mike was the most prominent Club name, winning the mile in 4.20.8. Mark placed second in the two-mile race that night, behind future distance-running coach Dennis Quinlan, going on to take the County Junior title over the same distance at Huddersfield ten days later at a meeting in which Len I’Anson won the Junior Mile. By this time some Leeds athletes were already going over to meetings at Stretford; it was there in August that Mark ran a mile in 4.10.8, at that time considered quick for a Junior.
None of these, though useful in developing the sport, gave the sort of all-round, all-events type of competition which would encourage clubs to cater for all aspects of athletics. The breakthrough into the modern era of track and field development spread from elsewhere in the country into the North at the end of the 1969 track season, but it came after a fairly lengthy period of gestation. Only a matter of weeks after the formation of Leeds City the Yorkshire Post carried an article about discussion by the A.A.A. of setting up a league for the country’s ‘top clubs;’ the suggestion was for a league of 18 clubs in three divisions, with “promotion and relegation to local leagues.” There was considerable opposition in some quarters, on the grounds that “it would mean the disappearance of many Saturday trophy meetings.”
This may have been a consideration in the South, but Yorkshire had few such meetings to disappear; a fact which didn’t stop Walter Pearson dismissing the idea in the Evening Post as “one of those schemes which looks wonderful on paper.” In 1968 the Midland Counties had started the first Track & Field League in the country; a pilot National Men’s League of twelve clubs in two divisions (with only one Northern participant, Sale) was launched in the same year, and the ‘real’ British Athletics League followed in 1969. A Yorkshire League could have started at the same time; in June 1968 the Committee discussed a letter from Sheffield University proposing such a move, but nobody could be persuaded to represent the Club at the projected meeting, and though the Committee asked to be kept informed nothing more seems to have come of it. A pilot league was, however, run in Lancashire in the summer of 1969; so that when the North looked to move forward into League competition, it had something to build on.
With no major League meetings yet, the main events reported on in the press in 1968 were the County and Regional Championships; and the new Club did make some impression in them. In the Yorkshire Men’s Championship there was only one winner - Dave Warburton, still at the Grammar School, took the Junior High Jump, which at the time was his principal event. There were a couple of Senior silver medals, for Hugh Richardson in the Hammer and Gordon Richards in the 440 yards, and five bronzes - Glen Beaumont (100), Paul Temporal (440), Malcolm Cox (Mile), Mike Baxter (3 miles) and Dave Longley (Javelin). In the Junior events former Leeds A.C. member Steve Kemp took two 440-yard medals, bronze on the flat and silver ‘over the sticks,’ while Mark Willingham added mile silver to his haul and Graham Towers, a solid journeyman runner late of St. Mark’s, took bronze in the Steeplechase. One interesting controversy in the local press arose out of this meeting; 15-year-old Skyrac A.C. triple-jumper Peter Dale won the Junior championship and set a new record, under a recently-introduced rule that allowed ‘Youths’ to compete against older athletes if they’d achieved a certain standard. Almost inevitably Walter Pearson was opposed to the idea; ten years later 15-year-old Aamer Khan was to help Leeds City qualify for the British League in the same event. The controversy about ‘over-exploiting’ youngsters still rumbles on at the time of writing.
Mark added further to his collection of silver medals in the Northern Junior Championships, gaining one in each of the mile and 3000 metres (held at separate meetings, the latter with the Seniors), while Dave also took Northern gold; in addition Club members gained another of each when John Sneideris won the Junior Pole Vault and Simon Richardson was runner-up in the 2000m Steeplechase. There were a number of Open Meetings promoted by clubs; one at Rotherham featured Mike Baxter winning the three miles, Malcolm Cox the 880 yards, and Glen getting second places in both sprints.
The new West Yorkshire League was also setting out its stall, though it still invited criticism from Walter Pearson, who thought ten meetings was too many and “five would be enough” (for once he was probably right!) He also noted that Leeds City had thrown away the chance of winning by failing to attend one meeting at all, and suggested this showed little enthusiasm for the League; what it really showed was that athletes were less willing to accept such venues as Spring Hall, Halifax, where the competitive surface was not only grass, but on a slope, now they had more experience of ‘real’ tracks. The League ran a ‘Championship’ race at many of its meetings, and attracting some good athletes; Mike Baxter, for instance, was one of 22 entries for the three-mile race, and was beaten by Bingley Harrier Gordon McBride, who was having a good season. Others to win such events were Glen Beaumont (100), Malcolm Cox (880y) and Lindsay Dunn (2 miles). However, it’s not always easy to find out how good the performances were; even Dave Young published few times in his reports at this stage.
The other area where Club members were heavily involved was in schools’ championships; the Yorkshire Schools, which covered the whole of the old County, was a big event in numerical terms, and when Leeds hosted it the track events were held on the University track at Weetwood and the field events scattered around four adjacent schools’ playing-fields. Members took three Senior and two Intermediate titles - Mark Willingham (three miles in a respectable 14.27.6), Dave Warburton (High Jump), Dave Longley (Javelin), Richard Brewster (1km ‘Chase) and Ronald Rosenhead (Hammer).
And that was pretty well the whole track season for Leeds City in its first year, apart from handicap meetings which seldom made the press. The only ones the writer could find were a preview of Lumb’s Sports at Castleford (which included some of the Yorkshire Youths’ Championships, which were then ‘farmed out’), and a major one at a venue which was then one of Yorkshire’s top sporting venues, but which has virtually vanished - Park Avenue at Bradford.
The article reporting this announcement coincided with the appearance in the Yorkshire Post of a critical review from coach Wilf Paish about the paucity of facilities in Leeds. It’s interesting to re-read it now, from two points of view; it shows how long the problem (only finally alleviated, and then not entirely solved, by the Lottery-funded building of South Leeds Stadium) has run on, and it also indicates the writer’s view that coaches, however talented, are not always very practical on organisational matters. Wilf pointed out, quite correctly, that the lack of a really worthwhile track anywhere but the University, and the lack of access to that one (anyone wanting to put an event on there “had to go cap in hand” to the authorities), but also claimed that while there were no winter training facilities in Leeds “smaller places like Billingham and Stockton had them.” (If this was true, the writer never found out about them when he lived in the area!) His suggestion was a joint funding venture to provide a better one between Council, University and “local athletes and sports enthusiasts.” It’s hard to see, even allowing for the subsequent escalation of costs, who the latter group might have been; while experience in later years at Beckett Park was to reveal the sort of political minefield that joint control and funding tends to produce - and of which Wilf himself was often a victim.
The following year Wilf was involved in an exchange of views with Walter Pearson on the strength of Yorkshire athletics, both arguing from entrenched viewpoints; while Wilf pointed out that County records were being broken more slowly than elsewhere, Walter pointed to Yorkshire’s team performances in the Inter-Counties. Wilf’s solution was the building of a central high-quality facility for the use of all the County’s athletes; at that early stage of motorway development it was none too practical, and tended towards the assumption that ‘athletes’ meant only the most talented. In any case, wherever in Yorkshire it was suggested that such a facility might be sited it would invariably cause ructions from somewhere else.
The Club's second cross-country season started as the Mexico games were getting under way, and as a result it’s not easy to find much press coverage of the early part of it. The only early-season events even mentioned in the local press were a composite-age relay at Halifax (the team was 5th) and the Hull-Hornsea relay (third), of which few details were included; similarly the York Handicap only got a passing mention, and the only reason that the Club’s team win in the first Leeds and District League match surfaces is that there was a preview of the second race.
The Club won all three to retain the title, but at the time only four runners counted rather than six, so it wasn’t necessarily a pointer to Championship success. Mike Baxter certainly won two of the three races; his main support came from John Lunn, second in the second race and fifth in the third. In the younger age-groups Len I’Anson was regularly placed in the first six. Mike also took fastest time in the Leeds November Handicap, an event a putative international would nowadays not have considered; but Mike was the sort of runner who sought out rather than avoided races. In fact 1969 was a particularly good season over the country for Mike. He won the Yorkshire individual County Championship was second in both the 'real' Yorkshire and the Northern, and sixth in the National, and gained his first England representative honours, running at Hannut in Belgium. He would in fact have been Yorkshire’s outstanding runner - but for a fellow called Trevor Wright. The diminutive Hallamshire Harrier had an even more outstanding season, taking a clean sweep of County, Area and National titles; few other Yorkshiremen have equalled it. It also has to be said that Mike’s one victory came in a race where Trevor as missing on international duty; and that fact was part of the story of an altercation of the sort which has been all too familiar in the history of Yorkshire cross-country running.
The problem was a complex one unique to the sport - what constituted the county of Yorkshire? Anywhere but in the North of England that would have been athletically obvious; but in the North there was a dichotomy between the Northern Counties’ Athletic Association and the Northern Cross-Country Association. The former used the boundaries of the administrative counties, except in the case of Northumberland and Durham which were always ‘federated;’ the latter had four ‘regions’ which had been given ‘county’ names for convenience. The effect was that for Cross-Country purposes Derbyshire was in Yorkshire and Middlesbrough wasn’t! To add to the confusion every other cross-country event was run by the English Cross-Country Union, while the Inter-Counties was run by the Counties’ Athletic Union, which only recognised the ‘athletic’ boundaries. Of such wonderful accidents are the traditions of our sport made up!
This had led to the Yorkshire County A.A. picking the team before the Association Championship had been run; and that had produced so many arguments that the ‘Yorkshire Trial,’ as it was commonly known, had been instituted. This was all very well, if the Y.C.A.A. had then always picked the first nine finishers; but not infrequently, as happened in 1969, some possible candidates for selection might not be able to run the ‘Trial.’ On this occasion the Yorkshire selectors only picked the first seven in the ‘Trial,’ plus Trevor Wright and Gordon McBride. There was no argument about Trevor’s selection, but Gordon was selected on the strength of the Bingley Harrier’s track form of the previous summer; and during the winter Gordon hadn’t been hitting the same peaks. Moreover, his absence was due to taking a school party skiing, which wasn’t seen as a good enough reason by many. The real problem, however, was who it was who finished eighth - Walter Wilkinson.
At the time the York railwayman, regarded as probably the best miler in the country and no mean cross-country runner, was competing for Longwood Harriers, and his coach was the redoubtable former world mile record-holder Derek Ibbotson - who was not backward at coming forward. Walter hit the roof and threatened never to run for the County again; Longwood made a formal protest over his non-selection; “Ibby” also put in his two-penn’orth of objections, and Longwood’s secretary Granville Beckett publicly remarked that “the trouble is the County Athletic Association is responsible to no-one” (unlike the more representatively-structured Cross-Country Association.) Long-serving County secretary Geoff Clarke, at the time new in the job, took Walter at his word and refused even to enter him in the fifteen permitted names. Meanwhile Bob Ellis (nowadays quite a familiar figure round South Leeds through his West Yorkshire Schools involvement), who had finished seventh, offered to stand down in Walter’s favour, an offer which Walter rightly refused. The situation became even more bizarre when Gordon returned from his trip, declared himself unfit, and withdrew. This incident may appear to have little to do with the history of Leeds City A.C.; but in fact it was neither the first nor the last such contretemps to surround Yorkshire cross-country selection, Moreover on at least one occasion, in the 1990s, it was a Leeds City athlete who missed out to an ‘absentee;’ and that happened after the two Championships were combined.
Meanwhile the Leeds City Harriers’ team was taking some time to develop, though a sign of some progress was that in the Y.C.C.A. Championship both Senior and Junior teams came away with medals. The Seniors placed third, led home by Mike in second place and Malcolm Cox in 16th; the other counters were in the thirties. Meanwhile the Juniors who took silver medals were an entirely ex-St. Mark’s quartet; Huw Pryderi Rhys (10), Bruce Kilner (11) and Graham Towers (12) were a pretty talented trio, but needed a fourth man and the fourth man was one of a pair of brothers who served the Club very well in many capacities but were principally known for being among the slowest runners who ever turned out for Leeds City. In this case it was Graham Hartney, who finished 28th and almost certainly last - but the others couldn’t have got the medals without him! There was one champion other than Mike; in what may well have been the first ever Northern Veterans’ Championship former Harehills man Fred Wrigley combined with the Lawton brothers to take the team title, and Fred went on to win the European Vets’ title over a 5-kilomtre course in Belgium. In the major Championships, however, there was little team success, though at least in the Northern a Club team finished in every race bar the Boys’.
Mike's real breakthrough came in the '69 track season - he won the Northern 5000 metres title (which made him the very first Northern 5000 champion, as it was the first year the event went metric); finished 4th in the A.A.A.; set a personal best of 13.50.4 in his first international selection against France; and was chosen for the European Championships, in spite of being only seventh-fastest man in Britain at the event. The selectors set more store by his competitive record, which showed him having beaten at one time or another that year all the athletes who were passed over. He made the final in Athens, but after some early pacemaking fell away to last - still, most of us never get there. However, this was another 'first' for Mike - the Club's first participant in a major Games - and the Committee felt that Mike should have a tangible token of the Club's appreciation; and so it's with Mike that one of the Club's more pleasant traditions, of making presentations for international recognition, originates. The surprising thing - though less so in view of some of Mike’s own comments quoted later in this account, is the number of times he turned out in ‘minor’ events; remarkably, he even put in five races at various distances in the month between the A.A.A Championships and his selection. Nowadays even fringe internationals aren’t likely to be seen much in the equivalent of the Leeds & District Cross-Country Championships, a minor road relay in Bolton or the West Yorkshire Track & Field League - in all of which Mike participated in 1969.
To some extent, however, he had to; if he didn’t there wasn’t much else to race in. The summer of 1969, the last ‘pre-League’ track season, still showed a very patchy number and distribution of competitive events, and perhaps indicates why such good fields could be found in races at places like Marley Stadium and Templenewsam. Indeed Yorkshire, and in, particular West Yorkshire, was still very short of even cinder tracks, and a ‘Special Correspondent’ who took over Walter Pearson’s column while he was in hospital compared the situation unfavourably with Lancashire, where according to him much money had been spent and good tracks abounded. The suggestion appeared to be that many of the Yorkshire tracks were also poorly maintained - which was certainly true of Templenewsam, Horsfall Playing Fields at Bradford and Leeds Road at Huddersfield.
There was, however, an accelerating change in the sort of meetings available; 1969 was, as far as West Yorkshire was concerned, the death-knell of the handicap meeting. The previous year there had only been five or six of them; but reporting in April, Walter Pearson stated that only two - the Roundhay Gala and Lumb’s Sports at Castleford - were scheduled. In contrast, Bingley Harriers were planning to run six open meetings at Marley Stadium during the year, while the West Yorkshire League - reduced to six meetings, two on Saturdays rather than evenings - was to continue. Walter saw this as the clubs acting to take over providing competition form outside bodies, of which he approved; but he didn’t like the growing trend of athletes being allowed to enter on the day. He saw this as making the sport “purely a participant activity” by giving the general public no idea who would be taking part; what he couldn’t see was that the growth of television, car ownership and a wider range of activities meant that all spectator sports were (until the hyping of professional soccer by the media) going to attract less people. The picnic atmosphere of the pre-war Community Sports Day was simply beyond recapture.
Even so, it has proved hard to find evidence of members’ participation in the meetings held. The press reports often only mention winners, and in the season’s first meeting at Keighley, for instance, only young Stephen Ward appears on the list. This was also the last season when the majority of meetings were run over ‘Imperial’ distances, though the Mile still tended to be popular for some time afterwards; but County and Regional Championships, even when ‘farmed out’ to another meeting, had started to go metric. Typically, for instance, in a meeting a Keighley in May the Yorkshire 10,000m was run and Bruce Kilner won a mile. The 1969 Yorkshires were notable for not a single medal being taken by a Leeds City member; even Mike Baxter succumbed to illness and didn’t take part. Locally, however, ‘yards’ were still run even in championships; Malcolm Cox (who narrowly failed to win the Northern 1500m) beat Dennis Quinlan and Mike for the West Yorkshire Mile title in June. Mike also took the West Yorkshire 3-miles title, and not with a half-hearted effort either, but a time of 13.21.3 - worth inside 13.50 for 5000m, and needed to get the better of John Waterhouse of Bingley. There was also one medal in the A.A.A Championships - not from Mike, who finished 4th in the 5000, but from Eric Pape, who sneaked a third in the 200m. Certainly some of the new sources of competition seemed to work; an open meeting at Huddersfield in August, for instance, attracted a whole host of star names, with Mike finishing second in the Mile behind Salford’s international half-miler Andy Green.
In the midst of all this the Club was beginning to go through organisational developments which showed that even in the still fairly traditional 'harrier' environment that things were changing. In the autumn of 1969 there is a reference in the Minute Book of the Committee to John Lunn raising the topic of the "Northern Relay Fiasco." The event referred to was the very first Northern 6-Stage Relay Championship, held at Darlington in September. Whether the Northern clubs were ready for such an event is at least questionable, as only fourteen entered and ten turned up; the event appears to have been organised at very short notice, and on a date that clashed with other events. It produced a protest from Salford Harriers, as the date chosen was the same as that of their long-established Hollingworth Lake relay, and caused Halifax Harriers to cancel the Senior race in their event. Quite what the ‘fiasco’ was isn't clear from the Minutes or from reports (Athletics Weekly merely gave the results), and so far memories are blurred, but it would appear to have been to do with the Club’s organisation of the team, and the result was clearly not the sort of thing Joe Mayne had in mind. Far from the new superpower of Yorkshire athletics playing a starring role, the club finished tenth and last, over eleven minutes behind the winning Saltwell Harriers' team, nearly five behind Airedale, and almost three full minutes behind the host club, Darlington Harriers. The latter result gave particular pleasure to one Yorkshire exile on the Darlington team - a promising youngster called Brian Hilton.
John's recommendation to the Committee was that team managers should be appointed. It may seem odd to the present generation of athletes that this had never been done; but it was part of the move away from the tight, community-based, virtually 'single-discipline' clubs such as St. Mark's and Harehills. Members lived further apart; younger members were more likely to be at university; and not everybody trained together as they once did, though it was not a 'scattered' as the present day. Races were also at greater distance, no longer fitted so closely into a 'traditional' fixture pattern, and such matters as organising transport, even if only by shared lifts, were becoming considerations. As late as the 1950s teams could organise themselves; now somebody had to take responsibility for their organising. The new Club was moving, almost imperceptibly to some, into new times, and the old ways were having to be modified.
However, some problems never change - and the Club Minute Book, which if readers are interested can be consulted in the Local History Library in Leeds, gives a picture of recurring problems that haven't gone away. The question of a proper headquarters - which in essentials the Club still hasn't got - were discussed in the autumn of 1969, with the idea of putting up some sort of a building at Templenewsam; considering the possible problems of that isolated site, and its proximity to some of Leeds' social problems, it's probably as well that somebody pointed out we'd need a lot more money than we'd then raised. The question was to be aired several times in later years.
Another permanent question was enhancing the Club's public profile and raising members. One suggested answer in the 1960s was to organise races at half-time at the city's professional football grounds; but he Elland Road of the Revie years was considered by the Committee to be more conducive to barracking than support, and Leeds R.L. squashed the idea flat when approached.
Perhaps the most pressing matter, however, was the collection of subscriptions; athletic clubs are always beset by the odd member (or several) who manages to 'forget' to pay for a number of reasons. Some, it must be admitted, were of the Club's making; in 1969 future England Rugby manager Geoff Cooke, recently elected to the Club, replied when challenged over non-payment that nobody had told him his election had gone through. At this stage subscriptions were still the province of the Treasurer, and Dave Hodgson found himself, like other Club officers, having to invent new solutions to the problems of a changing and developing Club. It was some years before a dedicated Subscriptions Secretary was to be elected; Dave claims that Mick Stark was the first to hold the unenviable office.
The winter season of 1969-70 opened with one ‘odd’ team success in an area in which the Club has only intermittently been successful; a Club trio, led by Dave Hodgson in sixth place, was second in the Burnsall Fell race. Fell-running is a discipline which tends to attract only a limited number of devotees, though both Harehills and St. Mark’s had usually had a few such; however, they tend to congregate in particular clubs which have a reputation in the field, and locally Pudsey & Bramley (or Bramley & District Harriers as it was until the 1969-70 season, when it adopted its new name) has always been one of them - possibly because of the presence of Peter Watson, who is still connected with that club at the time of writing and must go down as one of the best ‘pure’ fellmen. ‘Burnsall’ has always had a particular regard among fell-runners as the ‘purest’ of races; it’s very short, but absolutely straight up and down, and the best way to see what it entails is to go along one August and watch it. The 1969 race was special for Pete; he broke the record set by a professional runner which had stood for over forty years, and had been considered at one time unbeatable.
Before Christmas there was another, and sadder, connection between the Club and mountain running, though the incident had nothing to do with mountains. In November former Leeds A.C. distance-runner Eric Beard was killed in a car crash on the M6 motorway while on his way to run a 24-hour run in Liverpool; his connection with the Club by that time had become slight, though he was actually a member, but his death robbed it of one of its more remarkable characters. In the more standard realms of athletics ‘Beardie’ was a minor figure, but in long-distance mountain running he was a legend; he was the fifth man ever (after Bob Graham himself) to complete the ‘Bob Graham Round’ of 42 peaks in the Lake District (actually covering 57 in 24 hours), and held the record for the crossing of the Cuillins in Skye for many years. But it wasn’t just that - Beardie was a legend in other ways, not the least of which being that he must be the only person from Brudenell Road (or just off it) to have his obituary written in a national newspaper by a Cambridge graduate and Olympic champion.
Eric’s real love was the mountains. He left school at 14 as so many did with no ‘paper’ qualifications, but he was climbing by his teens as well as running, and even then he adopted a curious lifestyle of getting a casual job in Leeds during the winter (for a short time he was a tram conductor, and worked with John Lunn’s father) and disappearing in the summer to climb somewhere in Wales, Scotland or the Alps. Legends grew round him - his reputed diet of sweet tea and honey butties, his getting by on the minimum of money, the occasion when he went to climb Mont Blanc and hitch-hiked to Chamonix from Leeds - in one lift! However, in the early 1960s he got a job at the outdoor pursuits centre opened by former international runners John Disley and Chris Brasher at Plas-y-Brenin in Snowdonia, and he found his real place. In the obituary he wrote in The Observer Brasher described him as “the finest natural teacher of climbing to young people” he had ever seen, welling the story of how Eric had “lead a group of children off a mountain after being out all night in the mist, and they were all smiling.” George Stead told the writer that the wake after the funeral descended into laughter as every group of people there knew a different ‘Beardie Story’ that none of the others had heard. They are no mean tributes.
The period up to Christmas is usually one in which competition is comparatively low-key before the Championship season, and in those days this tendency was even more marked. For Senior runners the major local competition was still the Leeds & District League, which in 1969 Leeds City managed to win; the major opposition came not from local clubs, but from Leeds University, which at the time had a particularly strong team. Just how strong in indicated by the fact that in the second League race both the team and Mike Baxter were beaten - though it did take Frank Briscoe to achieve the latter. Mike had won the first race at Harrogate, courtesy of Malcolm Cox, who had run with him and ‘allowed’ him the win because Mike had been ‘favouring’ an ankle injury on a course rough enough to lead to protests. John Lunn was third counter in 8th place; at Weetwood he went one better, and Bruce Kilner placed ninth. The last race was won by another student, but not from Leeds (yet at any rate); Halifax Harrier Dave Nicholl, running for St. John’s College, York, beat John and Malcolm, who were backed up by Huw Pryderi Rhys in 5th place and Bruce in 7th. Mike and Frank were on representative duty in an inter-area match, and the University team were on vacation. The combined Boys’ and Youths’ race saw season-long battles between one of Ray Barrow's Allerton Grange pupils, a quiet, skinny, bespectacled youth called Alan Black, and a second-claim member from Gateshead Harriers, Ray Stirling, whose father was working in the area. They placed first and second in all three races, Alan winning the first two and Ray the last. Summing up the season, however, Walter Pearson noted that Leeds City was still showing “a lack of strength in depth, which the amalgamation has done little to remedy.”
The Club made one small ‘first’ that year; along with a number of others, it was invited to take part in the Leeds University Relay, an event which was beginning to establish itself as a major part of the student cross-country calendar at a time when university teams tended to p be pretty strong - a matter which caused controversy when University clubs entered open championships, as will be seen later. It’s significant that although Mike Baxter did the day’s fastest leg, the Club wasn’t in the first six. Mike also did fastest time in the November Handicap, in which Bruce Kilner finished 6th and Alan Black won the Under-18 race. One thing the Seniors didn’t run in was the Aaron trophy races; the Senior Relay had yet to be included in the meeting, and in spite of successes in the local League the Club had nobody in the first ten of either the Boys’ or Youths’ race. There was no success for Club members in the Bingley handicap in January; but there was to be a macabre connection with the winner, a promising half-miler from the promoting club called Michael Sams. Some twenty years later he was imprisoned for the murder of a young Leeds prostitute, Julie Dart - who in her schooldays was a cross-country runner and hurdler with Leeds City.
However, cross-country wasn’t the only thing on athletic - and other - minds that autumn. Leeds City Council approved the production of a brochure aimed as ‘selling’ the city’s possible application for a future Commonwealth Games; and the Yorkshire County A.A. was reported to be in discussion to revive the indoor meetings which in the mid-Sixties had been held at R.A.F. Leeming on a 200-yard unbanked track painted on a hangar floor. (The original track at Cosford had been similar.) However, inspection of the state of the track ruled this out.
For Mike Baxter the1970 Championship campaign was even better than his successful one of the year before. Although still the county's 'second fiddle' to Trevor Wright (first and second in the Yorkshire A.A. race), he won the more prestigious Y.C.C.A title at the end of January, placed 6th in the Inter-Counties in between, and in March at Blackpool ran probably his best-ever 'National' in fifth place. The strength of the England cross-country team of the time - before the East Africans really got into their stride - can be judged by the fact that Mike's contribution to its efforts was an excellent run in fourteenth place - which just got him a team medal as the sixth counter! The other five England runners placed in the first seven! The season proved an excellent build-up for his summer on the track - of which more later.
From the team point of view, however, the1969-70 cross-country Championships were a disappointment. The Yorkshire Association Championships did see a second set of Senior team medals won; led by Mike, who to the approval of Walter Pearson had turned down a continental race to turn out, the team finished second. Malcolm Cox and John Lunn finished 8th and 13th respectively (in the Y.A.A.A they’d occupied 11th and 14th), while the other three counters couldn’t have been closer; they were former Yorkshire steeplechase champion Kerry Brierley (31), a tough and craggy character who built houses for his estate-agent father to sell, Club treasurer Dave Hodgson (32) and Brwsi Kilner (33). Mike was missing for the Northern race (recovering from a stomach bug picked up while running in an E.C.C.U. team in Sicily - to the disapproval of Walter Pearson), and the team, placed 11th, had nobody finishing in the first 50. In the National we only finished five men, and if one or two of the notable missing people had turned out we could have made a reasonable show.
We did have a Junior team in the National, mainly of former St. Mark's lads (Len I'Anson, Richard Spirrett and Graham Towers, with the addition of Londoner Pete Edwards) which finished well down; the only other placing of note was third in the Yorkshire for Mark Willingham, now a student. In the Youths 'our' team was representing Leeds Grammar School, with Martin Dell finishing 15th in the National. Fighting for 'National' medals looked a long way off at that stage. The Club did manage two team wins in the Leeds and District Championships; in the Senior race Mike Baxter won and led home Stewart Dobson (5), Bruce Kilner (6) and Dave Hodgson (9), whole Mike’s younger brother David (who didn’t run for very long) placed third in the Youths, leading home two equally fugitive figures in Neil Thompson (5) and Paul Balmer (6).
There was also a certain amount of road running in 1970. John Lunn ran into a bit of form on the tarmac, placing second in the Ferriby Ten-miler at Hull in January and running the fastest medium-length leg of the day at the Northern 12-stage Relay at Derby in April (by virtue of all the ‘star’ runners being on the ‘long’ stages at a time when three different lengths of leg was common). However the team, without Mike on international call again, only managed 11th. There was also one team victory in a ten-miler, when Mike (2nd), John (4th) and Ron Pannell (7th) won the Ernest Harper Memorial race at Stannington, near Sheffield; and the occasion is well etched into the memory of all three of them! The course was beyond question one of the most fiendish ever devised for a road race; starting at 700 feet above sea level, it dropped 350 feet in the first two miles, crossed a valley and then climbed 700 in the next four - after which it dropped most of them in the next mile and a half, ran along the valley for a bit, and got back to the start with a last mile including the inside of a hairpin bend which must have been about 1in 1½ ! The race was on an April Sunday; on the next day John had to have all his classes moved into a room where he didn’t have to climb stairs, as every time he attempted to do so he went into a cramp spasm. Meanwhile Mike was out ‘repping’ in Bradford, describing himself as “walking along the street like Chester in Gun Law when I saw another guy walking towards me walking like Chester - and as he approached I realised it was Ron.” (For those too young to remember, Gun Law was a television Western series - Chester was the sheriff’s crippled sidekick.) In addition to these traditional winter activities there also one indoor track success when Eric Pape took second place in the A.A.A. Indoor 200m at Cosford in March.
All in all the Leeds City of April 1970 wasn’t as yet a great advance on its ancestors; it had not yet had a vast impact on the Yorkshire cross-country scene, and had not yet had the opportunity to develop any improvement as a track club, for which opportunities were still lacking in its early years. It had produced a degree more cohesion, had got its own internal house into greater order, and taken the first steps towards developing a more sophisticated administration. The latter was just as well, as it was now standing on the verge of a new future; the following month League Track and Field came to the North of England, and Leeds City was in there from the start.