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A history of Leeds AC
Written by John Lunn
Chapter 4: The roots of Leeds AC
The winter season of 1971-2 was not to be one of the most distinguished in the Club's history, but it did start out with a landmark; in October Leeds City staged its first major championship. The Club had been awarded the Northern 6-stage Road Relay, and chose to stage it from Cross Green School, on a course that thirty years on would raise eyebrows in several directions. In recent years most such relays have been run on hard tarmac paths in public parks; anything else would be homicidal in modern traffic conditions. The course selected started in the Cross Green industrial estate, went into the socially-deprived (even then) Osmondthorpe council estate, cut through a number of back-streets into East End Park, and returned to the start by using the pavement on a notorious blind bridge over the railway by the now-closed Bridgefield pub. Today the combination of police disapproval and anti-social possibilities would render the course impractical; in 1971 it seemed to raise little comment.
In organisational terms the race went well; certainly it was well discussed at Committee meetings beforehand, though after the fashion of athletic clubs everything seemed to be discussed but the race. The vast majority of space in the Minutes of the preceding meeting were taken up with discussions about providing refreshments; the only organisational matter was a request from Arthur Cockcroft for nine marshals, which got almost a passing reference. Anyway, Roger Norton's Evening Post column described the conduct of the event as "a credit to the Club." It was certainly organised well enough to get the Club awarded the A.A.A. Championship on the same course the following year.
Competitively, however, it wasn't so good; the team which had been hoping to crown the Club's biggest day so far flopped disastrously into 13th place, not enough - in those stringent qualifying times - to gain a place in the A.A.A. event at Southport two weeks later. Mike Baxter recalls that he ran slowly - for him - due to having got back from holiday the day before; the only member of the squad who got a mention from Roger for running a fair leg was John Lunn - and he wasn't in the fastest dozen times. Bolton United won the race, with the strongest Yorkshire challenge coming from Sheffield United Harriers.
In fact, the 1971 winter was a disappointing season all round for the Senior cross-country squad. Perusal of the local press gives few mentions of any serious team success; while Longwood, Bingley and Airedale & Spen Valley fought out the local League events, Leeds City barely rated a mention. The Seniors actually finished 5th team overall, but were not only beaten by the three above, but on one occasion at least by Skyrac A.C. Perhaps this was less surprising than it appears at first; this was the period when Dave Slater first made his mark as a Senior, and a very considerable mark on West Yorkshire, and national, distance-running it was to be. Part of the problem, at any rate, seemed to be that athletes were for the first time being asked to pay an entry fee for League races; the old Leeds & District league had always been free entry, and by the sound of comments passed in Committee a lot of runners didn't like the change. The one moment of something like success appeared in the Club's own Aaron races, where a team of Bruce Kilner, John Lunn, Mike Baxter and Malcolm Cox finished within six seconds of Bolton; but two-mile blasts are little pointer to success in longer races, and there wasn't much of that.
One problem for the Club was establishing a winter training venue. From the beginning the lads had used Harehills Harriers' old stamping-ground at the Liberal Club; but while this was free, and had the benefit (for the more social members) of a bar with cheap ale, it had no showering facilities, and was pretty basic. The athletes changed in the Committee Room, around a large table, and it could be quite fun falling over all your mates on the way out! It wasn't particularly suitable for young kids, and as a female section developed it wasn't suitable for them at all.
Meanwhile out in the east John Smeaton High School was developing as about the first school in Leeds to have community-use sports facilities, and Dave Young in particular was anxious for the Club to use it. 1971-2 was the first season when some people did; but it had a number of disadvantages. It was right on the edge of Leeds; bus services, more important then, were infrequent; and above all people had to pay. The Club eased the matter by block-buying enough of the Council's Leisurecards to cover those who used it, but it never really took off fully; by the end of the decade it had become established that the younger athletes used Smeaton and the Seniors used the Liberal Club.
Yet in hindsight this period was to see the beginnings of the development of the Club's first outstanding period as a Senior Harriers' club, and the rise of a team which, until very recently, held the high-spots of its level of achievement in this area of the sport. Three indicators, in the same period, pointed the way. The first was the continued progress of the Juniors, even when they began to go away to University. Simon Richardson went to Sheffield to study dentistry; Alan Black to Newcastle, and Martin Dell to Cambridge; and that autumn reports of their university exploits appeared quite regularly in the Evening Post. In December Martin made history by becoming the Club's first Cambridge Blue, finishing fourth in the Varsity Race; Messrs Lunn, Rhys and Hudson had already represented "the other place," and Richard Brewster ran for Oxford in the same race as Martin. (In those long-gone days, the Varsity cross-country match was a significant enough fixture to make the back pages of the 'broadsheets.') A Junior team seemed to be in the building.
Lower down the ages, new names were also appearing. The Leeds Schools' League of that winter was dominated as Senior level by Bill Ward, an amiable former member of Harrogate A.C. who had moved to Temple Moor and was to be around the Club for a number of years, until his untimely early death from cancer in his early thirties. At a younger level another new name was appearing - in duplicate. The 'Smeaton Effect' was coming through strongly; Dave Young was building up a formidable spirit among the kids at that school, and seemed to be able to take them, as a team, all over the place (they regularly competed, for instance, in the Midlands.) Most of the better lads became members of Leeds City; and the Smeaton Name of 1971 was Cahill. At the Under-14 level Sean began winning events regularly; two years below younger brother Simon was also featuring, though not at first as highly. Both became Club members in January 1972. Other Smeaton youngsters who were to appear in Leeds City colours - Donald Robins, Martin Waterhouse and Brian Lazenby, for instance - all got mentions in the local papers. Dave was already looking for competition for his charges further afield; in 1971-2 several John Smeaton youngsters were reported as taking part in events as far away as Leicester, where Sean Cahill set what was then a Club Under-15 record for 3000m.
There was, however, a further Smeaton effect - from the staff. The Aaron report mentioned that Leeds City had not yet been able to field their newest recruit - Dave Nicholl. The former Loughborough College student had taken a job at John Smeaton in 1970, and was persuaded after a year to leave his previous club, Halifax Harriers, principally because of his coaching involvement with the youngsters who had joined Leeds City. Already a formidable performer over 1500 metres, Dave was to give Leeds City several years of good service on track and country; and he was the first in a number of athletes who were to come into the Club in the next three years or so. In 1972 they were joined by Chris Hudson, who survived the culture shock of moving from Ampleforth College to east Leeds; perhaps it wasn't such a shock as all that to a lad brought up about half a mile from Armley Town Street. Also in the seventies Huw Pryderi Rhys was on the staff at Smeaton; in fact, as Dave Young could also run a bit when he got stuck in, the staff could turn out quite a fair four-man relay squad.
It wasn't all Smeaton, though; the same meeting saw the election of Mike Sherman to membership, and he was to bring a fair few athletes across from Garforth over the next thirty years. In the early days the main names from that source was Martin Stoker and Gary Bell, both of whom figured prominently in Leeds Schools' events at the time. They were joined by Sean Garrity, from Dave’s former school at Temple Moor, Richard Horsman form Matthew Murray, where John Lunn was teaching, and a Pudsey youngster called Neil Jennings - not the same Neil Jennings who was to figure some years later. This group had quite a bit of success in local races in the autumn of 1971. The Club wasn’t the only thing Mike was elected to; in the same year he became Hon. Secretary of the Leeds Schools Cross-Country Association, thus beginning a connection with organising schools’ athletics in Leeds which has remained unbroken since.
On an individual level Mike Baxter was continuing his success story; one change in it was that during the latter months of 1971 his name regularly appeared in English Cross-Country Union teams taking part in races on the continent. In November he finished fifth behind Lutz Philipp of West Germany in Bonn; the next month he was second to the legendary "Tricky Gaston" Roelants in Luxembourg, ahead of two of the more consistent English distance-runners of the period, Andy Holden and Phil Banning. However, it is noticeable that all these trips were, comparatively speaking, near home; Mike's employers were no more generous with time off than in the Commonwealth Games year, and Mike could only manage trips where he could fly out on Saturday morning, race on Sunday, and get an evening flight back. His first major local success should have been the Yorkshire C.A.A.A. Championship at Hull; but he fell with two miles to go, and only managed third behind Slater.
Mike, in fact, did little turning out in Championships that year; he was looking for an Olympic place, being selective about his racing, and getting what international experience he could. There seems to have been some comment made about this by other athletes; at any rate Mike felt strongly enough to write to the committee complaining about comments that had been passed. He explained his reasons for not turning out in Championships, and asked that his stance be backed. The committee recorded its support of Mike, and the matter was not raised again.
His absence showed in the Club's Championship placings. The Yorkshire saw quite a reasonable score of 211 points in fifth, led home by Dave Nicholl (17) with Phil Puckrin (27) the only other finisher in the first thirty. The Club's performance, however, caused some of the older Committee members to be strongly critical of a "lack of team spirit," which in their view caused by "small groups training on their own and not training together as a team." There was no lack of spirit among the younger age-groups, however; three of the team (Martin Dell, Alan Black and Sid Richardson) had been selected for the Yorkshire Under-20 team, and at the Association Championships Sean Cahill took a bronze medal in the under-15s and led a team consisting of Nicholas Bailey, Donald Robins and Graham Needham to silver medals, while Sean Garrity and Alan Black took individual bronzes.
The Northern was not a good show all round on Leeds City’s part, according to Dave Young’s report. In the Seniors, with Dave 47th, Huw Pryderi Rhys 86th, and 634 points amassed in 14th. Clearly several leading lights were missing - no mention of Lunn, Pannell, Cox, etc (though a report in the Skyrack Express points out that John was injured). Among the youngsters only a fourth place in the Under-17s by Sean Garrity relieved the gloom, and Dave was pretty scathing about the poor turn-out. When it came to the 1972 National the Club finished 75th of 92 teams, and amassed, on the official result sheets at least, the massive total of 3,469 - the highest score in its history. But the story isn't quite as simple as that.
For whatever reason the writer missed the 1972 National, he is profoundly grateful he did! The race was held at Sutton Coldfield, and has gone down as possibly the most notorious National of the last half-century, for one reason alone - the weather! The course in Sutton Park was over fair country, but crossed several ditches and a ford; and like many 'National' courses it was some distance - about two miles - from the school being used for changing. The Youths' race (in which Bill Ward finished 112th) was run in wintry, but pleasant conditions, but rain appeared to be in the offing; by the Junior race (of which more later) the rain was falling, but it wasn't particularly cold.
Many of the Senior field, especially the front runners aiming for speed, were wearing only singlet and shorts - it was March, after all. Nobody could have predicted at the start that within twenty minutes the rain would turn to wet, cloying snow and a nearly gale-force wind would be blowing down the last more or less straight mile. From then on it turned into an endurance test - which a lot of people didn't pass! The horror stories ranged all down the field as athletes were overcome by hypothermia; even such a redoubtable performer as Trevor Wright was caught out, slipping from fifth to 23rd and falling five times in the last mile, and Dave Slater suffered a similar trauma and finished up in an ambulance. He wasn't the only one; the Athletics Weekly report talks about athletes huddling in the officials' tent, weeping with cold, and frightened at what was happening to them - we knew less about hypothermia then. Many competitors suffered on the way back to the changing rooms, and most of Birmingham's ambulance fleet was called out to cope. The Club's performance was affected by one weather-related incident; our score should have been about 400 points less, but when the Club officials finally got a frozen Len I'Anson on the bus he was still clutching his disc in his clenched hand - so after all that he was never recorded as finishing. Mick Stark recalls Dave Nicholl sitting on the bus, covered in a blanket and still shivering half an hour after finishing, being fed whisky by one of the Club's Vice-Presidents.
For the record, the six who got through the funnel were Dave Nicholl (181), Richard Spirett (471), Peter Edwards (549), Dennis Wood (699 - it would take more than weather to stop him!), Allan Lawton (756) and Rod Futtrell (813). The Club also was to have a future interest in the winner - Thames Valley Harriers' Welsh international Malcolm Thomas, who was having probably his best-ever season. It could, however, have been significant that he was one of those who wore a t-shirt under his vest.
Somewhat forgotten amid all this, the Junior team had produced the Club's best performance of the day. They finished eighth in an excellent field, with the first three packing well up - Martin Dell 18th, Sid Richardson 22nd, and Alan Black 26th - and Richard, the eldest of the Brewsters, rounding off in 133rd place. The merit of the front three's performance might best be pointed out by looking at who else was in the field. The winner was David Black, who was already a track international; second and third were Ray Smedley and Julian Goater, who were to be fixtures on international teams for several years in the late seventies and early eighties; 11th and 12th were Bernie Ford and Dave Moorcroft; and one place behind Sid finished Charlie Spedding. Something of a Who's Who of the next fifteen years!
1972 was the beginning of a period of Track & Field development characterised by two things - the building-up of an underlying strength that had not previously been present, and the frustration of dominating the north but repeatedly failing to enter the British Athletics League. As with other aspects of the Club, it was also the period when the Women's side of the Club began to emerge slowly from its fledgling status into a serious contender in local level competition at least. Frustration was to be evident in other areas too; the continued absence of anything resembling suitable facilities to develop the sport properly.
The theme was taken up (again) by Roger Norton in his Evening Post preview of the season, in which he contrasted the state of Temple Newsam with Cleckheaton, where "every effort is being made to ensure that (facilities) are as good as cinder tracks and run-ups can be." He dramatically juxtaposed this with a description of Templenewsam stating that "athletes...would be risking injury by using...the jump run-ups," and noting that while steeplechase facilities had been promised the water-jump barrier was yet to be fitted. Cleckheaton was gaining a reputation as "the athletics centre of the West Riding," and had been awarded the Northern Senior Championships for the year; clearly much of the reason for this was the fact that Spenborough Urban District Council saw such events as one of the few ways it could gain regional prestige, and its concern to do so was sharply different from local government attitudes in Leeds - and for that matter Wakefield, where the track was in a similar state. It wasn't even entirely ours to use; for a long time the Centre was used for football, and in August 1973 the Committee reported a clash between footballers and hammer-throwers over its use. (With all the advances in facilities since, that particular problem is still around!) There was only one improvement at Templenewsam; in the spring of 1972 a Tartan run-up was laid for the long- and triple-jump pit.
His prediction of the team competition for the season, in which the Northern League expanded from three division to five, was that both Leeds City and Stretford would be in the frame to take part in the British League qualifying match - not a surprising opinion after the previous year's close contest. However, the first match, at Cleckheaton in May, saw the Club start out on what was to be a 'clean-sweep' season with a 27-point victory; and confidence was such that at the next Committee meeting Ray Barrow was already suggesting that a coach be booked for the Qualifier in September. Clearly, something had given the Club an edge over Stretford they didn't have in the previous year, and the analysis of individual scorers reveals some of the causes.
The team had been boosted in strength, among other things, by an incursion from West Germany, as it then was, by recruiting a couple of language 'assistants' working in Leeds schools for a year. Both made an impact; Bernd Neef had already won an impressive 800 in the season's first Open Meeting at Keighley, and at Leicester in April claimed a share, with Malcolm Cox, Chris Hudson and Peter Bygate, in the Senior 4x800m Relay record which remained unchallenged for eighteen years. He was to win two of the three B-string 800 metre events during the season, but at the first match his compatriot Dieter Banz made a considerably bigger mark. He scored 36 points, including B-string wins in the 110m Hurdles and Pole Vault, combining respectively with Dave Warburton and John Sneideris for maxima. The only other full-pointer in the first meeting came in the Steeplechase, from Bruce Kilner and Len I'Anson, both of whom were late replacements; the sole A string wins were the 4x400 team and Chris Hudson in the 800, while B-string winds came from Mike Gledhill (Triple Jump, Mike Carpenter (Hammer), John Lunn (5000m) and Dave Nicholl (1500m). Some of the A-strings who didn't win were up against fierce opposition; Mike Baxter, for instance, lost the 1500 to Stretford's Andy Carter, who still holds the League 800m record after nearly thirty years. Two other newcomers appeared scoring well in the 440m Hurdles - David Brewster set a personal best of 57 seconds, and Brian Scott, a newly-appointed doctor at St. James' also ran inside sixty.
Another formidable figure - in every sense of the word - emerged into more regular competition; second in the Hammer at Cleckheaton, and winner at Hull, was Hugh Richardson. Hugh was one of those slightly larger-than -life characters that athletics seems to throw up; a Cumbrian, a respected practising solicitor whose preferred mode of transport was a very large motor-cycle (not the Harley-Davidson that the writer had long thought, but according to Ray Barrow a shaft-drive B.M.W.), he was a mighty competitor, although already approaching the veteran stage. He was also possessed of a considerable, and occasionally volcanic, temperament, and was not a person to be trifled with. The writer remembers a memorable occasion at the Inter-Counties Championships at Leicester in 1970, when Hugh arrived in the afternoon, due to misinformation, to compete for Cumberland & Westmoreland in an event that had taken place in the morning. How he managed it was not clear - but somehow he took his six throws in splendid isolation before the rest of the field competition could continue.
Hull, in June, saw an even more dominant Leeds City, storming to a 56-point victory with four maximum-point events and three other wins. One was the familiar Baxter-Cox double in the 1500m, with Mike producing a 3.48.2 clocking which Roger Norton saw as part of "timing his Olympic campaign well." The others were in the 400m, where Pete Bygate was partnered by Leeds University student Andy Robertson, another new face in the team; the Hammer, with Terry Garrett backing Hugh up; and the 5000m, here yet another incomer, former Mitcham athlete Graham Mountcastle, made his first appearance behind, but not far behind, Dave Nicholl. Dave Warburton had another Hurdles/High Jump double, and Bernd Neef took the B 800m. With an 83-point margin of safety, it was going to take more than home advantage for Stretford to prevent the Club form reaching the Qualifier by right; and now the Committee was discussing selection trials, using the popular Hardaker-King Trophy meting at Keighley for the purpose.
Between the two matches the Club had picked up its expected bag of titles at the Yorkshire Championships at Hull, though Mike Baxter once again wasn't among them; Malcolm Cox had the hex over him when it came to that particular event. There was a Hurdles double from Dave Warburton and Brian Scott, while John Sneideris took the Pole Vault, and Keith Boothroyd "caught the eye" taking the Junior 400m. Dave and Keith were to go on to take Northern titles later in the year. The separate Women's event at Rotherham saw the Club gain its first Senior medal from discus-thrower Gillian Anderson, who took silver with 31.96; Gillian was to reappear under another two names over the next few years. There was also an early female record when Eileen Pitts won the Intermediate Pentathlon with 3.230 points; she was to break it later in the year with 3,289 when she took one of her two W.A.A.A. Championship silver medals, the other being the Long Jump with 5.42. This still remains second on the Club list, and always will; nowadays Under-17s do all seven events. There was progress, but as yet there wasn't a women's team - when the suggested formation of a Northern Women's League was discussed by the Committee, it was agreed to vote in favour, but that there was little likelihood of the Club turning out in it in the immediate future.
One undoubted source of underlying strength was that some talented youngsters were beginning to appear; and one of the major names of the next few years was elected to membership in June. It was a name already well known around sporting Leeds - Staniland; Andy's father Arthur played centre for Leeds (no nasal horns then!) in the 1950s, and Andy himself combined a lengthy athletic career with playing on the wing for Roundhay R.U.F.C., achieving B international selection. He had, according to an e-mail he sent the writer, been competing for the Club in the previous season without actually becoming a member; but in 1972 he became part of a pretty formidable Under-17 sprint squad. In the days before the Young Athletes' League their main competition came in Schools' and Open Championships; and in 1972 Andy, Steve Rowley, Rowan Black and Bill O'Neill ran 45.7 at Cleckheaton in the Northern Championships. All four were to make some impact as Seniors, though Andy and Steve were to have the longest connection; Andy and Rowan still hold a share of the 100m Club record.
Andy, however, wasn't one of the eleven Leeds City members to take Yorkshire Schools' titles that year. Six of them, all Under-15s (Junior Boys in those days) came from John Smeaton, and all bar one were field eventers. Two left lasting marks; at Washington, Co. Durham in July Tony Chapman finished second in the English Schools' 400m and Cameron Davies occupied the same place, and both the 52.5 Tony ran in the heat and Cameron's 43.32 throw remain Club records thirty years later. The four others from what was becoming the Leeds Schools' engine room included shot-putter Paul Armstrong and Javelin-thrower Chris Harbage, Triple-jumper Tony Dean and pole-vaulter Paul Todd; while from elsewhere in the city came long-jumper Martin Coleman, Under-17 triple-jumper Steve McGuire, and on the female side Eileen Pitts and Gillian Anderson. As ever, some made only a brief mark on Club affairs, but several were around for long enough to perform well at Senior level.
The third league match at Stretford was chiefly notable for a blistering 5000m from Mike Baxter; just how blistering the writer remembers well. Mike was rated as a contender for the Olympics at one of the longer track distances; he had already achieved the qualifying standard for 5000m the year before at Helsinki, but was well aware this might not be enough with the opponents that were about at the time. For once, therefore, Mike abandoned his usual shorter-race tactic and asked to do the 5000, with the intention of replicating what he might have to do if he got to Munich - two hard races in a few days. In the week before the Stretford event he'd done 13.49 in Warsaw, and in the League match he set out with the intention of running the first mile as hard as he could. The atmosphere of the race seemed to be catching; for when Mike went through the first lap in a blistering 62 seconds, his second-string John Lunn was only two strides behind. They both paid for it; Mike ran out of steam over the last four, and came in with 14.02.6, while even though he set a personal best (14.39.4) that stayed in the Top 25 for another thirty years, John recalls the end of the race as a sort of red mist with Wakefield's Duncan Gaskell closing hand-over-fist. He - just - held on.
Thirty years on Mike could not recall his motivation for the race until he consulted his training diaries; but he recalled the outcome in the A.A.A. Championships a fortnight later, and reckoned he had probably made an error. He had been undecided about sticking with the 5,000 or moving up to the 10,000, an event at which he hadn't thus far shown the same form but at which he should, if he had concentrated on it, done well. He stuck to 'known territory' - and found himself in another of the great races, in which Dave Bedford missed Ron Clarke's world record by 0.6 seconds 13.17.2), and Ian McCafferty and Ian Stewart ran two of the fastest times in the world that year. Mike trailed in 12th in a respectable but not (for him) outstanding 13.51.4; the following day's 10,000 (which Bedford also won) saw many of the field drop out in the heat and Dave Holt, an athlete Mike rated as one he could beat, get into the team with a comparatively modest time. Looking back, Mike is convinced he could have made it.
Again the Club won the match, holding off Stretford by a mere seven points this time; and again there were some formidable performances. Malcolm Cox stepped down to 800m, and performed his 'head waiter' act to good effect, with Bernd Neef making a maximum of it; Sid Richardson and Bruce Kilner did likewise in the 'Chase, and the only reason the 400m didn't follow suit was that Andy Carter stepped down to prevent Pete Bygate teaming up for twenty with Andy Robertson. The field wasn't quite as well covered, but there were B string wins for Mick Gledhill (long jump), Mike Spiers (triple) and Kevin Atkinson (pole vault.) The club's foot was in the British League door. Unfortunately, that was as far as it got in 1972 - and for another six years!
The Club was well aware that getting in the British League would require a full-strength team; but for the first effort circumstances were against it. For a start, the Qualifier was in London, at Crystal Palace; this meant that the Club had to travel a lot further than it was used to. Secondly, the Northern League, with its three-match structure, was over in July, and some athletes had clearly lost enthusiasm, where as the Southern League had already, by that date, gone on to its 25-club, six-match divisional structure which meant that the League season extended to the end of August.
Allowing for all this, however, the fact was that in 1972 Leeds City lost its chance in the throws - because Hugh Richardson injured himself two day before the event, and three other throwers, in the Evening Post's words, "failed to turn up without any explanation." The fact that this left team manager Ray Barrow as the main thrower is indicative of the hole created; Roger Norton estimated it cost the Club fifty points, and with those we could have finished second and qualified.
Some people were certainly committed to the task; none more so that Mike Baxter, who not only ran the 5000m but for about the only time in his senior career turned out in the Steeplechase, and made a fair fist of it. His 9.03.4 for second place (behind another name not widely known at the distance, Luton's Tony Simmons) still, thirty years later, remains the fifth fastest in Club history; and he was well supported by Sid Richardson, who set a personal best of 9.23.4 winning the B race. B string wins also came in the 5000m, from John Lunn, and the 400m Hurdles, from David Brewster, and Chris Hudson and Dave Nicholl picked up a second place in the 800m and 1500m respectively; triple-jumper Mike Spiers set another PB, and Roger in his post-meeting article particularly praised pole-vaulters Kevin Atkinson and Jim Dugdale, both teenagers. Generally, however, it was a disappointing end to a promising season.
One aspect of future British League membership was already impinging on Club thinking - it was going to cost a lot in travel terms (the League was, as now but not as later, unsponsored.) Funds were going to have to be raised - and somebody had the idea, still quite novel at the time, of a Sponsored Run, of two hours round the Templenewsam track. The sum raised sounds fairly petty now - £222.78 - but at the time was well worth having; in those days you could buy a house for just under £4,000. (The writer knows - he did!) Quite a large number of members, old and young, covered as much distance as they could; one party, led needless to say by Mike Baxter and including most of the senior distance regulars of the time, kept going for the whole time, though not flat out. Ray Barrow recalls running further at a stretch than ever before or since in his life - "kept jogging and stopping for a bit, trundling on as best I could; I couldn't walk for the next three days!" The abiding memory, however, in the writer's mind is not of the runners - but of Harry Rose.Every Club at some time has a Harry Rose. A veteran of the pre-war days of Harehills Harriers, Harry, a Vice-President of the Club in the days when that honour gave the right to attend and vote in committee meetings, was the classic Old Curmudgeon, or so it seemed; permanently questioning the bright, thrusting ideas of the younger generation, endlessly critical of anything too high-flying, and invariably wanting everything costed! To some of the Bright Young Things around the Committee - the Lunns, Rhyses and Kilners among them - Harry was a bit of a pain in the backside - until the Sponsored Run. On that day Harry, who was in his seventies but always went out for his Sunday 'constitutional,' turned up with stout shoes, trilby hat and walking-stick and walked round Templenewsam track for two hours to raise his bit towards the funds. After that, as far as the writer was concerned, Harry could be as much of a curmudgeon as he liked! (He wasn't spared long to do so. One Sunday in March two years later he was out for his Sunday walk, and near the Red Lion pub in Shadwell waved a greeting as he passed Baxter, Nicholl, Pannell and a group of the lads out for their long Sunday run. They ran round the corner; he walked 100 yards up the road - and had a massive coronary that killed him. It was probably the way he would have wanted to go!)
The 1972-3 winter season was to see several more signs of the steady development of the Club’s strength, though the start wasn't over auspicious. The Club warmed up for staging the National Relay by finishing a slightly-improved ninth in the northern event at Sefton Park, Liverpool, much of the credit going to Mike Baxter running the fourth-fastest leg of the day. It was something of a similar story at Cross Green; after a sound start by Dave Nicholl and John Lunn put the team on the edge of the first ten, and Huw Pryderi Rhys dropped a few to fast men, Mike ran the fourth best time of the day to hit ninth. Ron Pannell and an apparently of-colour Malcolm Cox only dropped a couple, for a fair finish. At least this time we were there - but as hosts we'd have been expected to be.
On the organisational front the event was a great success, again due to planning which has started early; Northern treasurer Gordon Wright was inspecting the course as early as the preceding April. Roger Norton, however, was very critical of the lack of general support for the Club's efforts. Today we're used to fifty or sixty teams at least in the equivalent race; but in 1972 only 23 turned out. In some part this was due to regionalism; only Reading appeared from the South, and City of Stoke (the winners), Tipton and Small Heath from the Midlands. Roger was quite scathing about the absence of clubs who would have had little difficulty getting to Leeds by motorway; but considerably more so of the leading Northern clubs, such as Sale, and even major local names of the time such as Longwood, who didn't show. It was still fairly difficult to get clubs to travel to any event outside their area except the 'traditional' Championships, and some areas - the North-East particularly - were much worse than others.
Early-season cross-country seemed to confirm that the Club was getting a bit stronger at Senior level, and also showed one reason why; a number of 'outside' recruits appear for the first time. The first West Yorkshire League race saw former Skyrac member Martin Brown turn out for the first time; he finished 15th as fourth counter in a team which also included Messrs. Baxter, Nicholl and Lunn ahead of him. Martin was around for a only a couple of seasons; not quite as long as another interesting recruit, whose first appearance was running in the Club's B team at the Aaron Relays, drew a prophetic comment from Roger Norton in the Green 'Un. He said the second-leg runner, newly moved from Darlington Harriers, "should be an asset to the Club;" even he would hardly have predicted that Brian Hilton would turn out for the Club in a national senior relay championship thirty years later! The Aaron that year saw the Club win everything in the relay - first A, first B, and first Vets' team. It certainly attracted opposition of a high quality; John Lunn, taking over in the lead, lost one place to "promising Loughborough student" Dave Moorcroft, and yet again it was Mike Baxter who fashioned a win. With a two seconds and a third in the three West Yorkshire League races, the Club's overall performance was a great deal more solid; in the second fixture the team of Mike (2), Martin (5), Brian (19) and Ron Pannell (19) did well to finish second allowing for the absence of Dave Nicholl, Malcolm Cox and John Lunn, who went to try their hand at indoor running at Cosford - on the then brand-new banked wooden track. (They all ran respectable 300m times.) Mike and Martin were ever-present, and both Dave and John appeared more regularly; behind them the likes of Phil Puckrin, Huw Pryderi Rhys and Richard Spirett gave increasing signs of solidity.
The other area where the team picked up strength was as some of its promising youngsters grew up. Though Alan Black ceased to feature in results, both Martin Dell and Simon Richardson were coming on apace. Martin's senior contribution was still in the future, but 'Sid' had graduated to the senior ranks, and in the early season was showing real promise. He won the Northern U.A.U selection race in November, and in January was second counter in the Yorkshire C.C.A. team (of which more shortly.) In February he finished 21st in the British Universities' Championship, five places behind Martin, who was to crown an outstanding season at Parliament Hill by finishing 7th in the 'National' and missing Junior International status by a narrow margin.
As far as Senior championships went, the story was similar, but with a major limitation - we never seemed to get the full potential team out. (Why, for instance, did John Lunn never figure as a counter, except in the Leeds & District, from January to March that year? From Newsletter comments the answer would seem to be a run of injuries, but he can't remember!) In spite of this, performances were more solid, except in the Northern, where Mike was taken ill during the race and had one of his rare drop-outs. He also missed the Yorkshire C.C.A. for an international call - Roger's Evening Post article shortly before pointed out that this was a calculated decision, as his presence, even if he had won, would not have led to the Club placing much higher. His one pre-National turn-out was to win the Yorkshire A.A.A. Championship just after Christmas from Junior Dennis Coates (in 12th Martin Dell was second Junior) and with Dave Nicholl (9th) gain selection of Yorkshire. In addition to Martin, Bill Ward in 6th place made the County Under-20 team.
Mike’s decision over the Association race was proved right by the fact that the Club gained its second set of Senior County medals, beating Sheffield United by two points for second place. We were still a good distance behind the Airedale & Spen Valley team which in the early Seventies dominated Yorkshire cross-country running; and the closeness of the race for places can be judged by the fact that four of our counters were in the thirties. Dave Nicholl, rapidly reaching form ahead of that in his days with Halifax, finished third; Sid Richardson was 13th in his first Senior; and the 'engine-room' saw the lesser lights such as Brian Hilton (31), Phil Puckrin (32), Huw Pryderi Rhys (35) and Richard Spirett (38) take medals home. There were few youngsters near the front in the age-group races; only Sean Cahill (6th Under-15) and Garforth schoolboy Ian Howe (8th Under-13) made the first ten. In the Northern only Dave (38) and Brian (95) were in the first 100, and the team was for the only time that year placed lower than in 1972. Mike (2), Dave (5), Brian (6) and John Lunn (11) took the Leeds and District title.
The 'National' at Parliament Hill, London, was another memorable one, but for a very different reason; it was the year that the New Zealand international team were allowed to run as guests, and Dave Bedford, for all the hype, was hammered by a rising antipodean talent called Rod Dixon. The Club's improvement was marked, and at the time seen as encouraging; but when it's analysed the most striking fact was that we still had to rely on Jack Lawton's 829th place as a counter! 33rd, though, was a vast improvement, and 1,955 points a lot more respectable. Mike ran one of his better races, placed 10th (he actually finished 17th, but the New Zealanders were discounted) and was selected as reserve for the England team (he ran, as Dave Bedford was involved in a road accident, and was fifth counter.) In the Under-20 race this was paralleled by Martin Dell, who finished 7th. Dave Nicholl had a better run than in the Northern in 59th, while Brian Hilton (267) and Richard Spirett (494) were sound, and Huw Pryderi Rhys (296) had what was probably his best Championship run up to that point.
Pryderi was one of those guys who were always seen as 'fringe' members of the team, but who had more impact than sometimes given credit for; he certainly added a lot of character to the Club at the time. The son of a Leeds University philosophy lecturer (who was reputedly working on a project to translate the works of Lenin into Welsh), he was a combination of academic mathematician, widely-read and fairly left-wing intellectual, shifter of pints, and possessor to a high degree of the quality the Welsh refer to as hwyl - lively high spirits. He and John Lunn seemed to spend a lot of time and effort in verbal fencing and jesting, one form of which was the writing of pastiche lyrics to songs; their efforts included a parody of three tracks of the Beatles' Sergeant Pepper LP and a complete rewrite of Don McLean's American Pie featuring the Club personalities of the day. It tends to get forgotten by the older generation who remember him in this way that he also ran inside fifteen minutes for 5000m and a 2.32. marathon.
There was one unusual event after the end of the Cross-Country season; a Club team won a road relay without needing to call on the services of Mike Baxter. The Rotherham Relay was a popular one at the time, though again the course used, from Herringthorpe playing fields, would now be totally impossible due to traffic. A team consisting of Brian Hilton, Dave Nicholl, Sid Richardson and John Lunn were responsible, Dave doing the damage after a sound start and John surprising himself by catching Sheffield United’ Brian Barden on the downhill and hanging on.
The Club, however, still had a bit to learn about getting its organisational act in order; 1973 was to see one of its more spectacular debacles, though who was actually responsible for it has been lost in the mists of fading memories. The Northern 12-stage Relay was at Morpeth, and the Club was reckoned to be in with a fighting chance of qualifying for the national event. The team was selected - but somehow somebody (a Newsletter report suggests Bruce Kilner, who as team managing) forgot to tell Pete Bygate he was in it, and only eleven runners made the trip. Just how much of a blow it was can be seen by the fact that at two points in the race Leeds City was in the lead - on Leg 3 Dave Nicholl hit the front, and on Leg 7 the honour fell to John Lunn. He remembers it mainly for a reference to another, non-athletic, event - as he ran along the banks of the Wansbeck to finish, Bolton's international Mike Freary greeted him with, "Bloody hell, here comes Lunny, star of television!"
Earlier in the winter the Club had been approached by a television production company to appear as extras in a play about a middle-aged man who decided he was going to be the next Olympic marathon champion. More to the point, it was offered £10 a head for Club funds for 12 people to turn up. Quite how it grew from there is not remembered, but eventually a coachload of 28 Club members went out to Barden Bridge in Wharfedale for a day's filming; and the Club was paid £12 per head! The sequence was supposed to be a fell race, and it turned out to be an appropriately snowy, freezing winter's day for it. We got a bit wet - but with a catering wagon supplying hot soup on demand and a full lunch nobody complained too loudly. Eight hours' work produced about three minutes of footage, which showed a triumphant-looking John Lunn 'winning' the 'race' - in spite of being outsprinted by the family dog. Three of the lads who could take time off work went out during the following week (by taxi, all expenses paid) to film some 'race' shots. It was broadcast in the week before the 12-Stage - hence the witticisms! We even got a repeat fee when it was shown again.
It was possibly the 12-stage farrago which caused the A.G.M., held only a month later, to approve, for the first time, the setting-up of formal sub-committees to run the Track & Field and Harriers' sections of the Club. Huw Pryderi Rhys figured on both bodies; on the track side he joined Ray Barrow and Dave Young, while his Harriers' colleagues were John Lunn and vice-president Harry Boddill. This was one of several changes to the Club's administration which came in during 1973; the main reason for them was that the Club was changing its character.
The number who went to Barden Bridge indicates, for one thing, that it was getting very much bigger; and this was cause a new set of stresses. In addition it was getting more widespread; in March the Committee had approved paying a percentage of the fares of Martin Dell and Richard Spirett, so they could travel from Cambridge and Leicester, where they were studying, for Championship races.
At its inception the Club's administration had been closely based on the model of the clubs it replaced, but these were all small local harriers' clubs in essence; from his own memory the writer can seldom remember a time when Leeds A.C. cold field much more than the nine Senior distance-runners which in those days was the maximum that could be entered in a Championship; and it was considered remarkably strong in the late 'Fifties when it had six Boys (Under-16 then) to field a full team. Now the Club had well over a hundred members in all disciplines, spread throughout the city and beyond, and organising them was becoming a more complex matter. Moreover, administration costs were going up; it was no longer enough to expect to turn up at the Club a week before an event and tell everybody personally about arrangements. The Club had to move on - and as happens in every generation, the older generation didn't always like it.
The question of communication was beginning to be an issue; and one thing addressing it was the Club Newsletter, or as it was at first styled Bulletin. Dave Young had suggested the idea very early, but it had lain dormant until Roger Norton took it up - in spite of competing for a different club, Roger was always our first-line press contact from the off. The early editions are very basic; the oldest survivor, which can be found with the rest in the Local History Library in Leeds, dates from the spring of 1972. Like most of those produced in the first ten years, it was typed, either by Roger or John Lunn, on the old-fashioned Roneo stencils and then laboriously hand-duplicated. They often reproduced badly due to the typewriter keys clogging with wax from the stencil and not cutting cleanly; some editions can only be read with the greatest care. They also, if the typist didn’t have handy a bottle of the ‘correcting fluid’ which looked like crude pink nail-varnish (and today probably wouldn’t be sold as it’s fairly ‘sniffable’) perpetuated the typist’s errors; there was one memorable occasion when John had to overtype a report that Ian Lindley had “produced a magnificent performance in the Shot” where his error was all too plain to see! (Those with keyboard skills can work it out for themselves!) However, it clearly did a lot for communication, and carried some surprisingly erudite articles on coaching, administrative and other matters.
The Committee also took another step into the future; at that meeting for the first time the Ladies' Section was given formal representation when Pat Brewster was co-opted. The section had grown sufficiently to justify representation. This, and the sub-committees, went through fairly smoothly, as also did the move to put the membership list on to a card index system; prior to that it was kept by the Hon. Secretary in a ledger. Not all the changes were as easily accepted; when Huw Pryderi proposed to post fixture cards and Newsletters to members, incurring a postage bill which he estimated would run to about £5, Jack and Allan Lawton were up in arms about the extravagance. There were also some changes of personnel; long-time supporter, committee member and former Harehills Harrier Harry Boddill had a spell as President in 1973, followed by Ray Barrow the following year, and at the 1973 A.G.M. Jack Lawton gave notice of wishing to stand down as Hon. Secretary, though he was prepared to do another year. Later in the year Roger Norton stressed the need in a Newsletter editorial to find a good replacement.
The above show that by the start of its sixth summer as a single entity Leeds City Athletic Club had gone some way beyond its founding constituents; its changes were in some part a reflection of the changing society around it. In the 1950s the membership of the constituent clubs still, from the writer’s memory, contained a high proportion of workers in the traditional Leeds industries - engineers, printers, clothing industry workers - with a comparatively small number of office-workers and salesmen; there were still plenty who left school at 14 or 15, dependent on their age, and though the number of people with more educational qualifications was growing, it was still a minority. By 1972 there was a higher proportion of ‘professionals,’ including a significant number of teachers. A younger generation used to travelling further afield - even continental holidays were beginning to be fairly common - familiar with the sport from television, and with rather more disposable income than their forebears looked for a better level of competition and were prepared, with the boom in car ownership, to go further to get it. The Club was much bigger, bolder and more diverse in its activities; but there was a lot to do yet before it could be a power in the athletic land.