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A history of Leeds AC
Written by John Lunn
Chapter 3: The start of the new track order
While the winter season of 1969-70 was still in progress the question of starting a Northern Track & Field League was finally faced. The Northern Counties' A.A. had been watching how the Midland and British Leagues had progressed, and had earlier in the year asked Ray Barrow to draw up a workable structure. On November 8th, 1969 a meeting was held at the Leeds Church Institute to found a Northern Athletics League; Leeds City were one of the twelve clubs represented, with Ray, Malcolm Cox and John Lunn the delegates. Two divisions were initially formed, east and west of the Pennines, for the 1970 season; but before it started six other clubs came in to make up a third, Trans-Pennine, division. The really new feature was that the league would, with the exception of the 10,000 metres, cater for all the standard track and field events on the Olympic programme. In 1970 was really taking a long step away from Northern, or even Trophy Meeting, tradition, where the events staged were either the more 'popular' ones or the ones where the host club was strong! It would give clubs the opportunity, and the incentive, to develop away from past traditions and turn themselves into all-round athletic clubs - if they had the will and determination to do it, the facilities to encourage it (though some, including Leeds City, managed it with less than ideal facilities for many years) and could find the people to lead the process. Ray clearly intended that Leeds City should lead from the front; as soon as the League was formally inaugurated he set about collecting a team strong enough to participate well.
The formation of the League was not universally welcomed. There was the obvious fear that not enough clubs would be able to produce complete teams, and those that couldn’t would be sidelined. There was, almost predictably, an article from Walter Pearson just before the Church Institute meeting, denigrating the idea on the grounds that League competition would not prove attractive to spectators; he didn’t appear to have noticed that in their last few years of existence the traditional ‘sports meeting’ hadn’t exactly been drawing the crowds, which was one reason for their demise. He noted that in its first season the British Athletics League had over-estimated the spectator potential of the competition and printed an unrealistic and expensive number of programmes; they had evidently made the same mistake about the spectator appeal of grass-roots athletics that he had! While he conceded that “if (it) is to provide competition where it has been missing, that is all to the good,” he was, only five months later, expressing his pleasure at a proposal to revive the Swillington Sports meeting. It was one of his last articles; the following month a ‘Special Correspondent’ (who was actually Roger Norton) writing his column in his place, previewed the new League and made much of its potential to provide field event athletes with sufficient competition to make training worthwhile. Granville Beckett took up the same theme in the Yorkshire Post, stating that “providing the competing clubs make an effort to fill the hitherto empty spaces in their field event ranks (the League) might be an important step in the sport’s development.”
The first Northern Men’s Track & Field League season, in 1970, was a successful one in competitive terms and a lot of a learning process. The latter was true of all the clubs - as the very first race, the 400 Hurdles, got on its marks at Cleckheaton on May 16th it was held up while Jim Exley pulled Wakefield steeplechase international Steve Hollings off the track to change into the proper vest! The Club seems to have learned pretty quickly; although it hadn’t really been clear at the outset that it would be possible to produce a full team, it won all three matches in the East of Pennines division by gradually-increasing margins; 29 in the first match at Cleckheaton (16TH May), 32 in the second at Gateshead (7th June), and forty in the last at Derby (28th June).
At Cleckheaton the middle distances were solid; from 400 to 5000 only Andy Watson, John Lunn and Ron Pannell failed to win, and they were all second. Chris Hudson and Len I'Anson in the 800, Malcolm Cox and Mike Baxter in the 1500, and Gordon Richards in the A 400, all won. The Hurdles were similarly noteworthy; David Lyall and Dave Warburton monopolised the short event, and David Brewster took the 400m A race. By contrast, in the field, the Club had only one winner - Malcolm Edwards in the B Javelin. Among other field competitors was one who was to gain sporting distinction elsewhere; future England Rugby manager Geoff Cooke, then teaching at Temple Moor, threw Shot, Discus and Hammer. In the lesser placings decathlete John Saunders began to amass some of the 114 points he was to collect during the campaign. In general terms, however, the most gratifying feature was that the participant clubs, and not just Leeds City, appeared to have heeded Granville Beckett’s comments; he noted with emphasis that “the six clubs (in the East Pennine Division) turned out more athletes in the field events than one has come to expect at the Yorkshire or Northern Championships.” In the long term this has been the League’s biggest contribution to the sport.
The Gateshead match was enlivened by the failure of Derby to get there due to a transport foul-up - all save airman Keith Daykin, who did about nine events as a solo team. From a Leeds point of view is was another satisfactory day; Messrs Hudson, I'Anson, Cox and Baxter repeated the dose young sprinter Keith Boothroyd won the 200m, Gordon Richards took the 400m, John Lunn the 5000, Dave Warburton the High Jump and John Saunders had two wins - B Hurdles and A Vault, the latter a maximum-point affair with John Watson. The last match at Derby was slightly different as a lot of points came from the sprints - the simple reason being the presence of Eric Pape, who won both. Our only other track winners were Pete Bygate in the B 800, Ron Pannell in the B 5000, Dave Warburton in the Hurdles, and inevitably Mike Baxter in the 1500. (It will be noticed that Mike seldom ran his international distance in the League; he treated the matches as a sort of advanced speed-training for his 5000s, and the Club got far more points out of him as a willing 1500 runner.) In the field events we supplied only two winners; Mike Campbell in the B High Jump, and, another inevitable, John Saunders - who this time won the triple Jump. It looks as though on this occasion the Club won with a weakened team because everybody else was even more weakened.
This took the team into the play-off match, involving the first two in each Division, at Cleckheaton; and one where the weaknesses in the Club's squad came out. Short of a number of the regular-season side, the Club could only manage second place to Blackburn, just ahead of Stretford (as they then were) with a team where doubling -up appeared to be rampant; Gordon Richards ran a rare 800, Huw Pryderi Rhys doubled in 800 and 1500, Ray Barrow triple-jumped and javelin-thrower Bob Linton covered the Shot as well. Winners were very few; the only new name was Mike Gledhill who took the Triple Jump, while the other three were the familiar ones of Baxter (5000 for once), Warburton (Hurdles) and Saunders (B Vault.) Nonetheless this led to the Club being invited to participate in the British League Qualifying match - an invitation which the Club had already chosen to turn down before the match had even taken place, the Committee having debated the matter in the week after the Derby match.
There were those who thought this was a mistake; the League was expanding from three divisions to four, and six of the eight participants were guaranteed a place. However, the reasons, as set out in the Evening Post, were strong; the Club could only do well with a full team out every match, travelling would strain finances, a lot of promising youngsters weren't ready to be pitched into such competition, and above all the Club lacked a track in Leeds to promote home matches on. Some of these reasons were still to be cited fifteen years later! The decision in the event was probably justified - Stretford didn't make it, and Blackburn only just scraped into Division 4 in sixth place. One thing it did get the Club was, for a short time, a degree of local publicity.
The League, the West Yorkshire League and Bingley’s Open Meetings give the 1970 season a profile much closer, though not yet anything like, the 21st-Century pattern of fixtures; the handicap meeting, as far as West Yorkshire was concerned, was a thing of the past, and to be honest was missed by few. There certainly seemed to be plenty of West Yorkshire League action; two meetings were recorded in the early weeks of the season, with John Lunn winning the three miles at the first, at Huddersfield, and Mike Baxter (3000) and Gordon Richards (400) scoring wins at Keighley a week later. John also had a win before the League season over 5000 at Keighley, where Chris Hudson took the 800m. The West Yorkshire League certainly didn’t lack enterprise; in 1970 it ran a relay championship meeting at which Leeds City won several events. However, it was the last regular competition in the area to stick to imperial distances, which it did in 1970 at least.
Mike Baxter's policy of running 1500s in preference to 5000s extended beyond the League in 1970; he deliberately chose to do the shorter event in both the Yorkshire and Northern Championships as part of his preparation for major events. In the former - which incidentally were the first ‘metric’ Yorkshires - he was the only individual winner the Club provided in either Senior or Junior events; in the latter he finished second and took the Club’s only Senior medal. The move certainly paid dividends for his international ambitions for the 1970 season, which in terms of times, if not of competitive record, was probably his best. His aim was selection for the Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh; the trial race for the England team was held on the Meadowbank track, during an international meeting, and Mike rose to the occasion with a vengeance, slicing a massive 11.4 seconds off his previous season's best with a 13.35.2 clocking that still, over thirty years later, stands second on the ranking list. At the time it was the fourth fastest ever 5000 by a British runner, and Mike himself says he was running "in the form of my life." Speaking to the writer, he recounted a tale of a training session with Ian Stewart, who won the title; "Ian was a phenomenally hard trainer," he said, "and that day he couldn't get rid of me."
However six weeks after the Trial he couldn’t reproduce that sort of form; he qualified for the final, but in a race rated by many as a classic - the battle being between Stewart and Ian McCaffrey - he finished a disappointed last in 14.03.0. In reality he shouldn't have run at all. Shortly before the Games he went down with what his doctor thought was a bout of pharyngitis, but was subsequently discovered to be glandular fever; in the week before the event there were times when he wasn't even able to take solid food. That he actually ran at all speaks volumes for his spirit; and those who say it could be at the expense of his sense should think back to the number of times they've tried to ignore feeling 'off colour' or carried a minor injury into a race they've really wanted to do. At any rate, he took a break from running on medical advice, and came back strongly towards the end of the year. As well as his international exploits, he also set a Club record at 1500 metres with 3.47.7, and another over 10,000 finishing second in the Yorkshire championship to Bingley's John Waterhouse. He was subsequently to better both these times.
Nowadays, with many athletes at the higher levels able to make a living from their sport, there is a tendency to think that international athletes have a comparatively cushioned life. It might already have been that way for some in 1970, but for others there was the problem of combining international representation with a full-time job. A sidelight into the matter comes from what is believed to have been Mike's only foray into the correspondence columns of "Athletics Weekly" in the spring of 1971, a lengthy letter in which he pointed out that the 1969 European Games had cost him all his honeymoon except for one day, the 1970 Commonwealth had taken his holiday allowance, leaving wife Gillian "with her holidays and no-one to spend them with," and the 1970 International Cross-Country had only been possible because the E.C.C.U. had generously paid for him to travel late - all because his employer wouldn't give him more time off, even without pay.
The Editor (Mel Watman) commented that it might have been hoped that "an employer would be proud of, or at least interested in, an employee who is talented enough to represent his country;" whether it rang any bells with Mike's is doubtful. At any rate, some time later he moved from that company into the sports goods industry, where he cut out a successful career.
The tendency for road racing to go on between, and alongside, both Track & Field and Cross-country was continuing to grow in the early 1970s, and Leeds City didn’t neglect this side of the sport. Ten miles remained the most common distance; John Lunn, Ron Pannell and usually Bernard Gomersall (still at the time good for 55 minutes or so) were quite frequent pot-hunters at the distance, taking the team prize at Ripon in July, for instance, when John placed third to Wakefield’s John Newsome, an athlete who had only limited form on any other surface but was a most tenacious performer on tarmac. In April 1970, however, John started taking long road races seriously. Better known up to then as a reliable counter in cross-country teams, a fair track runner and a reasonably regular prize-winner in 'tens', he had some, but not much experience of the long stuff before 1970, having gained a County vest in 1966 after his first venture at marathons and most notably finishing second in the 25-kilometre track race in which Ron Hill set world best times in 1965. His first effort was the Huddersfield Marathon, in which he ran 2.19.48 - which doesn't appear on the Club lists as it was half a mile short! He remembers it for 'hitting the wall' with a vengeance and losing over four minutes in the last six miles to an athlete from the wilds of western Ireland called Mick Molloy.
This placed him second in the Yorkshire championships to the redoubtable John Newsome; a month later he finished second, again to John Newsome, in the East Hull 20-mile race, which gained him selection for the Yorkshire team for the Inter-Counties 20, and led to his best performance as a County representative. He finished fifth in the Inter-Counties 20 in a heatwave at Leicester in a team which only failed to win the team race by a point; John Newsome placed third, but the third man was unaware that there were team medals, and allowed Worcestershire’s third man to pass him in the last two miles as he cruised to the finish. Bob Ellis has never been allowed to forget it! The race was run in a temperature of over 100 degrees (that’s about 38o Centigrade); John’s abiding memory is of the Saffron Lane treatment room afterwards, with a runner from Warwickshire who’d collapsed with cramp and couldn’t be moved off a massage-bed without going into spasm, and an over-ambitious and inexperienced Lancastrian who’d led early, collapsed due to dehydration and couldn’t stand when the Red Cross people tried to get him off the stretcher.
In July John took part in the first running of the heavily-sponsored Maxol Marathon in Manchester, recording a legitimate 2.26.26 which was at the time a Club record. His main memory of the race was of the official Japanese team of three which took part, with very mixed fortunes; they all blasted off at the start (they were about forty yards up on the field going out of Albert Square after 250!), but while Akio Usami won and his compatriot Yoshiaki Unetani was runner-up the third man, one Suzuki, ‘blew up’ about as comprehensively as anyone he has ever seen. John passed him on the short finishing loop in Trafford Park with about 1½ miles to go, and beat him by seven minutes; he reckons that if somebody had come to the finish line on Manchester United’s ground with a samurai sword Suzuki would have gratefully fallen on it!
The 1971 winter season was a bit better competitively than all three of its predecessors in some respects, bit it didn’t start out too well; indeed, perusing the local press before Christmas it’s difficult to find many mentions of the Senior team, at any rate, doing much at all. A team did turn out in the Northern Six-Stage relay at the end of September, but finished 14th and well out of qualifying for the A.A.A. event. The main change to early-season competition was the expansion of the Leeds & District Cross-Country League to become the West Yorkshire League. It was a move that both made sense and made the league a great deal more competitive; however, it brought the Club into regular competition with what were then the two ‘powers in the land’ in West Yorkshire cross-country, Bingley Harriers and above all Airedale & Spen Valley A.C. The latter was another amalgamation, between the long-established Bradford club Airedale Harriers and the 60’s creation Spen Valley A.C.; the leading figure in the latter club, Bob Tristram, was very much the engine-room of the combined club, coaching many of the early figures in its success. In 1970 its most well-known name was Dave Atkin, who had just moved into the Senior ranks after enjoying successes as a youngster, but before the season was out another schoolboy, Alwyn Dewhurst, was to emerge as a strong contender for local honours.
There are few details of the new League in local papers; both Granville Beckett and Dave Young, for some reason, rarely mentioned it, and Roger Norton’s summaries deal more with individuals than teams. However, in both respects Leeds City rated few mentions; ASVAC won all three team races, and Dave Atkin won all the individual contests. The only Leeds City members who rated a mention in their columns was Alan Black, who won one youngsters’ race (the first, at Templenewsam, at which Mike Baxter won the Senior race) and was placed in the other two. Alan was also involved in the only other pre-Christmas event to get a report, the Leeds November handicap; he was third in the under-17 race from somewhere near the back, while Dennis Wood (9th) was the only Club member in the first ten. The story taken up by the press, however, was the fact that Skyrac A.C. (which had changed its name from Airedale & Wharfedale after an abortive attempt to amalgamate with Pudsey & Bramley!) won the team race, but failed to take the prizes. IN those days a separate team entry fee was usually payable at such races, and Skyrac, still a new and inexperienced club, had forgotten to pay the necessary five shillings!
Even in the Championships after Christmas Club teams were not always firing on all cylinders. We did finish a Senior team in the National, in 41st place, but the significant thing about it is the missing names, consisting as it did of Mike Baxter (17th), Malcolm Cox, Mark Willingham and Bruce Kilner between 150 and 350, and Dennis Wood and Allan Lawton near the back. The Seniors did get its first lot of team medals that year, finishing second in the Yorkshire C.C.A. at Bingley six weeks earlier; Mike won, with John Lunn 8th, Malcolm 16th, and Willingham, Ron Pannell and Kilner 26th to 28th. Passing time has clouded why John and Ron weren't at Norwich, but it did point to the hugely greater importance that the "proper Yorkshire" took on then. In the Northern there wasn't a Leeds City Senior in the first fifty; in part this was due to Mike, unusually for him, ‘ducking’ a Championship deliberately to prepare for a more important race, the National, though shortly afterwards he did turn out in the Leeds & District race.
At the younger end, however, we had a couple of outstanding performers emerging. Alan Black suddenly emerged as a real prospect; second in the Yorkshire, 9th in the Northern and 15th in the National was a fine Championship season from a first-year who had shown rather more than average promise as a Boy the previous year without hitting the heights. Even this, however, was overshadowed by the first real emergence of one of the Club's finest athletes and more remarkable characters - Martin Dell. At seventeen Martin was already showing all the signs of being one of the great eccentrics, though in this respect he didn't come into full flower until his University days; but the famous green track-suit and gabardine school raincoat were already in evidence (they would be for the rest of his Leeds City days), as was the total unflappability which also characterised his entire career. Once a race got going this rather odd-looking and slightly detached individual was transformed into a racing machine of high order; in 1971 he won the Yorkshire C.C.A. race, finished second in the 'other' Yorkshire and also in the Northern, and a splendid fifth in the National - and the measure of that is that the two who finished immediately behind hem were one Barry Smith (who later did a bit for Gateshead and Great Britain) and a guy called Moorcroft. With Alan in second place and Ian Sanderson and Bill Ward in the teens, the Youths took the Yorkshire team title; and Alan and Simon Richardson gained places in the Yorkshire Schools’ team by finishing 4th and 6th in that Championship. We didn't do much in the younger age-groups; the only interest there was in the Yorkshire Colts race, won by another very droppable name - Sebastian Coe, who also won the Junior race in the Yorkshire Schools. Those immediately behind him were also notable - runner-up, then representing Bingley, was Kim McDonald, whole Hull’s Malcolm Prince was third.
The Club may not have had a lot of success in championships, and didn’t even send a team to the Northern 12-Stage Relay (which that year was notable for Hallamshire Harriers getting disqualified when some of their members did two legs!); but the popular four-man relays which then abounded (and were in the writer's view one reason why distance-men seemed to hit higher performances on the track then than they do now) were the scene of quite a bit of Leeds City pot-hunting. In April 1971, for instance, the four-man squad of Mike Baxter, John Lunn, Ron Pannell and Bruce Kilner were placed twice in eight days - third at Blackpool, with Mike doing fastest leg, and second at Rotherham, where only Trevor Wright was faster.
Of course, in a relay one outstanding man can make a lot of difference, but it wouldn't be altogether true to say the other three 'took a ride' on Mike; they had to be good enough not to throw away the advantage he gave them. John and Ron were of course County-class runners in their own right; while the contribution made by Bruce (usually spelt Brwsi, for reasons lost in the mists of time) should not be undervalued. He was very much a case in point that association with Baxter made indifferent runners a great deal better; a fairly average schoolboy, he progressed to become a reliable first-team steepelchaser and steady counter in cross-country teams, though his particular forte was road relays. Put him on a three-mile leg with a few to chase, and he seemed to find a gear which never quite emerged in other events.
There were some road races between the Championships that winter. In January 1971 John Lunn and Ron Pannell, with Bruce Kilner as third counter, took the team prize in the Ferriby race on a superb course (now lost to traffic considerations) round the villages on the west side of Hull which encouraged fast times. John set a personal best in third place, but remembers it mainly for a losing battle down the apparently never-ending finish on the A63 with Hull Spartan's Peter Moon - in later years Bingley Harriers' team manager. The turn into the finish was just after a footbridge that could literally be seen a mile away, and John reckoned “the thing seemed to move backwards and thumb its nose at you.”
Not long after the end of the 1971 season Joe Mayne died. If he'd been asked, he's probably have concluded that from the team point of view the Club hadn't lived up to his expectations. True, there were plenty of people, by the standards of the time, running, and a lot of youngsters coming through; but where was the great challenge to the likes of Bingley, Airedale & Spen Valley and Sheffield United? It frankly hadn't materialised - yet. However, people were certainly getting together and enjoying their running, and a few of them are still doing it.
Mike Baxter moved into the 1971track campaign on the strength of a sound cross-country season, looking forward to another excellent season, culminating in the European Games of that year. (1969 and 1971 were an 'odd' period when the normal four-yearly sequence was disturbed - it was intended to have them biennially, but it never happened again.) In a sense he was successful, reaching what was possibly his highest track achievement; in another it was highly frustrating, because Mike became the British Champion That Nobody Remembers. The reason for this can be summed up in two words - David Bedford.
Bedford was probably one of the best, and certainly the most controversial, distance-runner of his day. He had got beyond the athletics press; indeed he was probably the first athlete made into a national figure by television. He was young, brash, and cocky; his training method was to do phenomenal amounts of mileage (200 a week was talked of); his racing tactics consisted of hitting the front and grinding the opposition down by sheer pace; and he had really hit the headlines as a Junior by winning the Southern Senior cross-country championship over nine miles by a street, and then twenty minutes later starting the Junior race over six miles and winning that as well. The year before he had cracked the world 10,000 metres record by a fair margin, and at the start of 1971 he seemed pretty well unstoppable. This was Mike's main opposition that year - and they were to meet in the A.A.A. Championships at Crystal Palace, moved specially, to attract a good first-night 'gate' to the event, to the Friday evening.
Mike's early-season competition had followed a not-uncommon pattern. He had run a couple of swift 1500s early on, winning the B race in the first Northern League meeting and finishing second to Malcolm Cox in the Yorkshire Championships, and then somewhat unusually run the 10,000 for Yorkshire in the Inter-Counties, finishing 5th in 29.26.8; in late June he had followed this by running the fourth-fastest 3000m time done in the world that year. Again unusually, he had done the 5000 in the next League match, winning easily in 14.09, as well as doing the B 1500. He went into the A.A.A. as one of the likely ones in a large field, but none of them were much mentioned - the previews, even in "Athletics Weekly," were full of Bedford, and his stated intention to crack the British record for 3000 metres - on the way to breaking the great Ron Clarke's world record of 13.16.6. A 14,000 crowd, and the television cameras, waited for the dramatics. They got them all right - but not how they'd anticipated.
Bedford went off like the proverbial bat - 60.6 for the first lap, 3.06 after three, four seconds ahead of schedule after a kilometre, everybody but Alan Rushmer keeping a respectful distance (and he didn't last long) - all seemed to be going to plan. Mike set off far more steadily, but at three kilometres was nicely placed in a bunch of four some ten seconds behind the leader. And then suddenly the plot went wrong - Bedford pulled up, clutching a hamstring which had apparently gone (in fact it was an attack of cramp). Presented with a sudden chance, Mike seized it; he broke at four kilometres, established a solid lead ahead of Alan Blinston, and finished setting a championship record of 13.39.4. For all the majority of people noticed, he might as well have dropped out; the cameras did, as the writer recalls, cover the finish, but the focus was back on Bedford almost at once. Mike's finest hour became an instant afterthought.
There were questions at the time; there have been questions since. There was little doubt that the cramp attack was genuine - the look on Dave's face was enough to tell anyone that. However, one fact, reported in "A.W." and few other places, was that although he was still up on world record schedule at 2,000 metres, by 1.8 seconds, by 3km he was down by at least as much - and whatever else he was, Dave Bedford was no finishing kicker. Mike had, as his last kilometre shows, run almost a perfectly-judged race; he had five laps to pull back ten seconds, and he was a lot faster over 1500 than Bedford. Could he have punctured the biggest reputation around? We shall, of course, never know.
After that, the European itself in Helsinki was a bit of an anti-climax. The distance events were dominated by the one-week wonder that was Juha Vaatainen; and to be frank, the 5,000 competitors appeared to be hypnotised by that incredible 53.9-second last lap with which the fastest set of mutton-chop whiskers in athletic history took the 10,000-metre title. Mike's run in the final was described by "A.W." editor Mel Watman as "totally uninspired;" but the fact was that he was only four seconds slower than his A.A.A.-winning time (13.43.2) in eleventh place, and he'd qualified two days earlier in a heat (13.45.6) in which the last 800 metres was covered in a fraction outside two minutes, and in which Jos Hermens set a Netherlands record and didn't qualify. It was probably the best two back-to-back races Mike ever ran; but everybody in the field was waiting for Vaatainen to kick, and he duly did, with another 54-second scorcher. Only a Bedford might have had the nerve to take him on - and Dave had already been minced in that finest of 10,000s.
Mike had almost another decade of high-level competition ahead of him, but after 1971 he never made another major Games; so perhaps this is the place to ask, how good was he as a track runner? Undoubtedly in terms of the Club he was outstanding; only John Doherty challenges Mike's position (and Mike coached him), and the fact that one of his Club records still stands thirty years on is a testimony to that. However, his record in the three big Games he ran in is patchy, though illness obviously played a part in 1970. What is beyond question is that Mike was to a large extent a 'manufactured runner,' and even more a self-manufactured runner, as a letter to the writer makes very clear. He had little or no basic speed; as a 16-year-old his best times for 880 yards and the mile were 2.19.0 and 5.06.0, and while his own assertion that "most 11 and 12-year-olds would beat them" is probably a case of Mike being over-critical of his own abilities, they are little better than an average Under-15 Young Athletes' league competitor would do today.
The successes he achieved came from sheer hard graft, a determination to "set a goal each year," and consistency of effort. The latter factor was well known to his contemporaries, and can be seen from his training diaries. Mike was clearly well aware of his own weaknesses, which he also set out. He claimed that "I could not sprint - I could have joined in the 5000m final at Helsinki at the bell and still not got a medal!" His best mile, at 4.04, was nearly ten seconds slower than some contemporary distance-men; and his training diaries show the assiduous sprint training he did to try to improve his speed. He kindly supplied the writer with two extracts from his 1970 diary; one for the week before the Yorkshire Cross-Country, and the other a pre-season track week in April. They are set out in an Appendix, and are well worth studying by any young hopeful who wants to know what makes an international. Mike also quoted to the writer the opinion expressed by the impressive North-Eastern triumvirate of Brendan Foster, Lindsay Dunn and Stan Long that he did too much racing ever to get to a real peak.
He admits this is possibly right, but says that this was not due to anybody (such as the Club) putting pressure on him, but "the trouble was, I loved racing, 12 months a year, on all surfaces." The record of his career with Leeds City emphatically proves this point. He also feels that the unsympathetic attitude of his employer barred him from getting crucial experience of international competition in the three years when it would have been of greatest value to him - particularly in 1970, the year he was "flying." Perhaps the fairest judgement is that he was a worthy international, and got there entirely on his own terms without any Svengali of a coach, but he never quite had that little bit extra that marks out a Brendan (with whom he trained in the early seventies while Bren was studying at Carnegie), Ian Stewart or Dave Moorcroft. Anyway, to any such speculation on the part of people like the writer, Mike has the unanswerable rejoinder - "You never got there, mate; I did!"
As already mentioned, Mike played an active part in the second Northern League season - which was probably one of the most competitive we ever were in. Most of the six teams which had contested the 1970 Play-0ff meeting were now in a First Division, and the first match, in late May at the long-departed Alderman Kneeshaw track in East Hull, illustrated what a battle would go on. Airedale & Spen Valley (144) and Longwood (133) were tailed off; Wakefield and Hull Spartan tied for third (203), and Leeds City and Stretford tied for first (267), with Bob Linton sealing the tie with his last Javelin throw of 48.46. The Club scored very heavily in the middle distances, with the almost obligatory Cox/Baxter 1500 double, a John Lunn win in the 5000; Dave Warburton took the Highs, Pete Bygate the B 800, and Sid Richardson and Bruce Kilner pulled out an 18-pointer in the 'Chase.
We scored almost as many points in the second meeting at Stretford in July (262), but the home side got everybody out that day, and we lost by thirty points; this was to be the crucial match. We had plenty of people in second place, but only two winners - Mike in the 5000, and hammer-thrower Mike Carpenter with his best ever of 41.08. The third match was as near home as we got - the notoriously rough Leeds Road track at Huddersfield (even in '71 it could be hard finding three all-weather tracks in the North, and Leeds Road was considered good enough to stage the Yorkshire Championships that year.) We managed to win - but only by three points. Again we had few winners - Mike, in his last meeting before Helsinki, doubled in the 800 and 5000 and won both, Malcolm Cox took the 1500, and Dave Warburton the Highs. Even though we were a mere 27 match points adrift, the Club was not placed in the 'paper' match to fill the last places in the British League qualifier.
One person had absolutely no doubt where the root of the Club's problems lay, and did a lot of sounding off about it. On two occasions that summer Roger Norton had articles in the old 'Green 'Un' edition of the Yorkshire Evening Post in which he castigated Leeds City Council for the lack of facilities in the city. After the second League meeting he made a marked comparison between "the superb facilities at Longford Park, (where) changing, spectator and refreshment accommodation and above all the fine track and field facilities are first-class," with what Templenewsam had to offer. After the third he was even more scathing, citing a 'black list' of the worst 100 tracks in the country being compiled at the time by the Specialist Clubs' Committee, and suggesting that both Templenewsam and Thornes Park at Wakefield would be on it. Facilities at Templenewsam were rapidly dismissed - "Track surface - loose and badly maintained; winter lighting - none; changing accommodation - inadequate; spectator arrangements - none; refreshments - none; High Jump and Pole Vault pits - sand, which is no longer an approved landing area; water jump - none."
At the time there was talk, which had first been reported in the local press in 1969, of Leeds seeking the Commonwealth Games in 1978, with a stadium at Weetwood; Roger was dismissive, stating that if the Council "had a real interest in athletics at all levels, and were not merely concerned with the prestige value the Games would bring, they would surely be just as concerned with present facilities." Coincidentally Yorkshire Post sports columnist Richard Ulyatt, commenting on the proposal suggested it would make more sense, if the Council was actually serious about the idea, to “build the tracks and accommodation required, and if they prove good enough apply for the Games;” he anticipated that Leeds would have a good chance of obtaining them, but in 1982 rather than 1978. The message from both sources was clear - but was to fall on deaf ears as far as decent facilities were concerned for another decade or more.
On an individual level, outside the League, the Club had a fair bit of success - and one other national champion, at an event now long forgotten. Even as late as the early seventies the athletics authorities were far more protective of youngsters than they are now - or than many youngsters wanted them to be. Matters had gone beyond the belief that if 14-year-old girls ran such huge distances as 1500 metres fleets of ambulances would need to be standing by to haul them off as they collapsed; but steeplechasing for younger men was still regarded as something to be treated with caution. The standard distance for Under-20 runners had only recently risen from 1500 to 2000 metres; so when the A.A.A and the English Schools introduced the event to Under-17 competition the distance was set at a kilometre. It was significant that when this event produced the second-ever Leeds City English Schools' champion, the winner was David Brewster. David won the Yorkshire title at Sheffield in 2.55.6, in a race in which Dave Baxter was third; and then ran over twelve seconds faster at Crystal Palace to set a Club record that will now never be broken. The significance comes when Dave's later career is examined; as an Under-20 and Senior he appears on the Club rankings mainly in the 400 metres hurdles. The athletic authorities appear to have reached a similar conclusion, that the very short distance favoured hurdlers who could run rather than runners who could hurdle, and within a couple of years the present 1500-metre distance was introduced.
At County and County Schools' level the Club had a hatful of champions - Mike Baxter not being one of them, as stated above. In addition to "the Head Waiter" in the 1500 (Malcolm's ability to 'read' a last lap was remarkable), Dave Warburton took the High Jump, and Colin Lambert the Junior 100 - the latter partly because Keith Boothroyd moved out of his way to essay quarter-miling, and took the Junior 400 impressively. North of England medals, however, numbered only two, and both were bronze - Malcolm in the 1500m and Dave in the High Hurdles. When it came to the Schools', the club provided five other County champions besides Dave Brewster - Sid Richardson (Senior 'Chase), Jonathan Hartley (Senior Discus), John Greenwood (Inter. Hurdles), Tony Chapman (Junior 200) and Andy Lunn (Junior Hammer - he was to take a silver medal at Crystal Palace). Tony Chapman is interesting as being the first product of John Smeaton School, which had only been open a couple of years, to make an impact on the Club scene.
There was one other champion at both events - and it marked the next major stage of development in the Club. In March Roger Norton had written a report of Yorkshire team successes, and mentioned the recent and successful formation of a women's section by his own Club, Longwood; in contrast he pointed out the lack off such a section at Leeds City. About a month earlier Dave Young, writing about the Yorkshire Schools’ Cross-Country Championships, compared the strong performance of the Leeds boys’ teams to the poor showing by the city’s girls, and suggested that things would only get better if and when Leeds City started a women’s section. Whether either of them were aware that moves had actually been afoot for almost a year to start one isn't clear from the actual articles. The basic problem was twofold - the lack of anyone to organise it, and the existence but total lack of activity of Leeds Women's A.C. The first move, however, appears to have come in April 1970, and actually came from long-standing official Phyllis Pope, secretary of Leeds Women's, who wrote to the Club to offer to amalgamate the two bodies. The letter was read at the Annual General Meeting, and the Club cautiously invited Mrs. Pope to "put her ideas to the Committee" at a future date. This transpired as early June, when Mrs Pope attended a meeting which approved the idea in principle, but resolved that "we must not rush into anything." In the meantime, any women and girls who came to train were to be encouraged as far as possible. They were as good as their word; nothing was actually done until the following April, after Roger's article had appeared. One of the main stumbling-blocks was that none of the older - and exclusively male - officials had much experience of dealing with women in athletic surroundings; and one or two who had were more than a bit misogynistic. In addition, organising a new section would stretch severely the resources of a Club that was only just building them. At the1971 A.G.M., therefore, it was resolved that a Women's Section would be formed by amalgamation if Mrs Pope could find at least three people who would assist in running it. On receiving a reply that she'd found more than that, the amalgamation took place.
It was definitely a case of cometh the hour, cometh the woman - among the people who agreed to help with the new girls was Pat Brewster. Already well known within the Club, and the local athletics community, as the mother of three actively-competing sons, she was regarded by some members - in particular the "British Irwin" gang - as a typical middle-class "pushy parent;" it was to be a revelation to several of their number just how useful a well-organised middle-class lady can be, and an admirable lesson in not judging books by covers, nor (to be frank) letting prejudices get in the way of really knowing people. Pat was one of those approached (she recalls it being "someone from the Council" who did so, but can't remember who) and agreed to be the first team manager. In a phone conversation Pat recalled to the writer that there was a certain amount of resistance to the idea of a women's section from some of the "flat cap brigade," as she calls them; however she also recalled that the same people who grunted about it - the likes of George Stead, Harry Boddill and Arthur Cockcroft - were later to become among the staunchest supporters. as officials, of her efforts. Her contribution to the first years of the Women's section of Leeds City was enormous; without her it could easily have fallen flat.
Just how quickly the process was concluded can be judged by the fact that only weeks later', in the first week of June, Eileen Pitts became the Club's first Yorkshire Champion when she took the Intermediate Long-Jump title at Middlesbrough. An outstanding long-jumper and hurdler, already being coached by Dave Young, her presence was another catalyst pushing Pat into action; she simply didn't want to see another outstanding young Leeds athlete go outside the city to develop, as Joslyn Hoyte had been forced to do. In that first summer there were not many other girls around; it was to be a year or two before the section grew. However, it made its sartorial mark straight away; Pat insisted that the Leeds City men's vest looked too much like Dorothy Hyman Track Club's colours, so after 1973 for the first few seasons the women ran in different colours - yellow with a blue diagonal. Pat had obviously never heard of Jarrow and Hebburn!
An interesting local Championship race was also reported on that summer, which can be taken as an indication of the low standard of facilities or the high standard of middle-distance performances of the time, as the reader chooses. It came when the West Yorkshire League, which by now was well established, ran its 800m championship; it was won by Alan Gibson of Bingley Harriers, in a time inside 1.55, with Malcolm Cox and Pete Bygate second and third, in 1.56.6 and 1.56.9. Not a bad standard race for any era at this sort of level; but the point is that it was run at Spring Hall, Halifax, on a grass track with a notorious slope.
There was also more activity on the road running front; in fact 1971 was to make a considerable mark on the performance lists for the longer events. A new name which appeared early in the year was that of, Phil Puckrin, like John Lunn a former Middlesbrough man, who had moved to Leeds in about 1970, and stayed for some time; in April he registered 2.32.40 on the Huddersfield course, a particularly testing one involving two big climbs in the Holmfirth area. John himself had from the time point of view his best year at the longer distances. He again ran the East Hull 20, and finished third in a very strong field, setting a personal best of 1.44.40, which he thinks is the fastest ever done by a Leeds City member (though records at the distance have not been kept); he recalls passing Bingley’s Alan Spence with about a mile to go to make sure of County selection. Winner Keith Angus, from Sheffield A.C., was at the time ineligible to run for Yorkshire, having represented Worcestershire the previous year (but on the track rather than the road); so John, Alan and John Newsome formed a potentially very strong team for the Inter-County race. Unfortunately all three of them chose Spring Bank Holiday Monday to run their worst race of the year! John’s other big improvement came in the second Maxol Marathon in July, which was the trial for the European Games, and consequently a high-quality affair; it was won by Ron Hill with a British best performance, while in second place Trevor Wright ran what was up to then the fastest time ever done by anyone in his debut at the distance. John wasn’t quite in that company, but nonetheless he did himself justice, finishing 34th of over 500 and improving his Club record to 2.23.30, which stood for over a decade. The previous year he had experimented with carbohydrate-loading, and not been convinced of the result; on this occasion his pre-race diet preparation was more what present-day members might expect of him - he recalls it as “four pints and a Chinese meal the previous night. He also came close to dropping out with a twinge of cramp at 15 miles; but when he slowed down to get to a marshal it eased off, so he picked up again to beat John Newsome for the only time that year.
It's quite difficult to decide how strong the Club was in track and field terms after its first four years of existence; partly because you first have to decide what to measure it against. In one sense it was immensely stronger than anything there had been before in Leeds - but that was because there really hadn't been anything before in Leeds. It was probably the strongest club in Yorkshire - but that was again because very few of the rival clubs had any more tradition of track and field that Leeds had. Looking at the 1970 league results - the only ones, thanks to a notebook of Ray Barrow's surviving, that are available in full, the Club depended on a small number of individuals in a lot of events, and could be stressed if any of them were missing.
One possible source of insight into the level of performance is the Club's all-time ranking lists, but imperfections in the compiling have to be allowed for; the fact that recent research has filled a considerable number of gaps from the period doesn't mean that more gaps haven't been left gaping. The picture the Lists show at the time of writing (Spring of 2002) is that comparatively few performances from the period 1967-71 survive in the lists. Most of those that do are at Senior or Under-20 level; this isn't surprising, as there was no formal team competition covering all events for Under-17s and below at the time. One major point of interest is that the only area in which there could be said to be any concentration of 'ancient' marks still standing is in the sprints - five marks in the 100 metres, three in the 200 and four in the 400 on the 25-deep lists. They include the only individual Senior record still standing from that time - Eric Pape's much-equalled but never certainly surpassed 10.5 at Blackburn in 1969. The pre-eminence of this discipline has to go down to Ray Barrow, who was already coaching and advising. It's also interesting that the sprinters came from a number of sources; Glen Beaumont inherited from Leeds A.C. as a Senior, Paul Temporal from Leeds Grammar School, Stephen Ward by contrast from Matthew Murray School, Keith Boothroyd and Colin Lambert (both Juniors at the time) moving from Wakefield Harriers to get better coaching from Ray, and Eric from Leeds University, not having been a club member in his native north-east.
Apart from this group, only odd performances still survive as good enough to rank - Mike Baxter and Malcolm Cox among middle-distance runners, David Lyall among hurdlers, John Saunders around most field events, Mike Gledhill in the lateral jumps, Mike Carpenter in the Hammer. It has to be remembered that most of the performances of this period, even including championships and league matches, would have been done on shale tracks. How much allowance can you make to compare, for instance, Malcolm's 14.33.0 5000, knowing it was done at Marley Stadium, Keighley; is it intrinsically better than (say) Simon Deakin's 14.25.8 in a specially-arranged event on tartan at Solihull in 2001? You could argue forever. This is in fact another reason why so few times survive from 1967-71 - many of the athletes, as all-weather tracks became more common after those years, went a lot faster. The lists also reveal the perennial problem of athletics - the promising youngsters who for whatever reason never make it. The only other Club record to survive from the period is the prodigious 54.90 Discus throw of Jonathan Hartley; no other member has got within eight metres of it in thirty years, but he doesn't ever appear to have thrown much as an under-20, much less a Senior. Sometimes the explanation is a very prosaic one - for instance in 1969 Len I'Anson ran an outstanding (for the day) 6.11.0 2000-metre Steeplechase as a Junior. The time ought to have indicated a great future in the event; yet the best that "Mister L.J." ever achieved in later years was 9.34.6. The reason was that he simply didn't like steeplechasing, and could only occasionally be persuaded to do one.
By the end of 1971 it's safe to say that both on the track and in the 'Harriers' events Leeds City had become an established presence, and that there was a feeling of progress being made. More importantly, the people were in place who had both the drive and the ability to contribute to further advance. What was certainly not in place yet was an adequate venue to build a club, a fact highlighted by an article in the Skyrack Express which quoted Dave Young. Dave had spent his summer holiday that year in Scandinavia, part of it watching the European Games to report on Mike Baxter’s performance, and he made some cutting comparisons between facilities in Leeds and those in much smaller towns in Sweden and Finland.
He reckoned that even towns with populations as small as 20,000 in the latter country had well-maintained tracks, and contrasted that with Templenewsam, which he pithily described, picking up every unsatisfactory feature from the lack of spectator seating, loose surface and ‘dead’ jumping run-ups to the inadequate and often inoperative showers. He noted that if the Club were to qualify for the British Athletic League it would only be able to stage a match in the city at the “privately-owned” Weetwood track, and was more likely - as it already had for the Northern League - to take its fixtures to Cleckheaton. The newspaper also published the response from the Council’s parks Director, L. G. Knight, which admitted the shortcomings, blamed either lack of finance or vandalism for most of them, and promised improvements ranging from a steeplechase water-jump to a throwing cage - none of which were to emerge in the next few years. The Club was to receive many similar assurances and many similar cases of lack of performance over the next decade as it continued to battle to persuade the local authority to provide suitable facilities - and that struggle was to be, in the words of a song of the time, a "long and winding road."