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A history of Leeds AC
Written by John Lunn
Chapter 5: Progress maintained
As the 1973 season opened the Club to be about to get a shot in the track arm, or so it had seemed. In October Ray Barrow announced that three overseas students from what was then still officially Carnegie College were joining the Club - and one of them was an Olympic finalist. The man in question was Stavros Tziorzis, a Cypriot who had represented Greece in the 400m Hurdles at Munich, and finished 7th in 49.7 behind John Akii-Bua; moreover, the other two were his compatriot, near-international class sprinter Aris Messalides - and one of Akii-Bua's 43 half-brothers, Sam Ageta-Bua (No joke - their father was a polygamist with about six wives!), who was a Ugandan international at Long and Triple Jump. They should have been a formidable addition to strength - but the Club had reckoned without student politics. The secretary of the Carnegie College Athletic Club was a person with an agenda for his future curriculum vitae, and was also out to make use of the talents of his international members; and managed to arrange fixtures in such a way that the trio never actually turned out for a Club team. Their performances while in England remain on the Club ranking lists, as yet another of the might-have-beens of the Seventies. Sam at any rate was to win Yorkshire titles in Club colours; he took both the Long and Triple Jumps, the later with a County record of 15.23. He also provided something of a chilling insight into the politics of the time; the writer recalls Ray recounting a conversation he had with Sam, at the time when the East African Asians were being expelled from both Kenya and Uganda. "They're lucky," Sam said, describing the recently-installed President of his country; "he's only kicking them out. He's killing us!" At the time some of us thought it was exaggeration - we know better now!
Even without the Carnegie Connection, and for that matter an injured Mike Baxter, the Club took the first Northern League match of '73, at Derby in May, by a 30-point margin. The Club was well served in the Throws, with the massive Northern Ireland international Ian Mowat, who stood around 6’ 6”, taking the Shot and Discus, and Hugh Richardson the Hammer. On the track Paul Temporal came up from Oxford, (that year he captained an Oxford/Cambridge touring team which met Harvard and Yale) to win the 200m; our only other winner was Andy Watson in the B 800. Roger Norton reported a significant contribution from some of the Club's youngsters, who were clearly drafted in when the Carnegie group pulled out (his pre-meeting review had suggested they would turn out); Singled out were John Smeaton triple-jumper Tony Dean, high-jumper David Robson, and sprinter Otis Parris, later to make a bigger mark as a long-jumper but that day doing a relay leg. None could have been much more than fifteen. There was drafting in at the other end, too - Ray Barrow did the short hurdles, and Dave Young the 400 Hurdles (in a quite respectable 61.6!) One 'memorial' of this match exists - in the Club Newsletter of Autumn 2003 a picture was published, to the amusement of younger members, of the 5000m pairing leading the race - brothers-in-law John Lunn and Brian Hilton!
That, however, was to be it for wins. The Club did not do badly in either of the other two matches; quite simply Stretford got an excellent team together, and got most of their lads out. Probably the athlete of the season was Hammer-thrower Barry Williams, who exceeded the British and Commonwealth record with 71.58 in the third match at Blackburn; the writer recalls the considerable furore when it was found that there weren't enough highly-graded officials present for the throw to be ratified.
We got a taste of what was coming at the second match, when on their own surface - still cinder - we were beaten by 41, and were pressed to hold Blackburn off for second. Oddly enough we had more winners than in the first round. Dave Nicholl made way for Mike in the 1500, moved up to 5000, and won, with John Lunn following home for maximum; Colin Lambert, by now at Loughborough, took the 100, Dave Warburton the Hurdles (and second in the High Jump) and Ian Mowat the shot. We also dominated the B events from 400 to 1500, though Andy Robertson, former Blackpool athlete Chris McGuire (running against his old team, which included his brother Frank) and Graham Mountcastle. Once again youngsters were called in - first-year youth Cameron Davies made his first appearance - in the Shot.
The Blackburn encounter was considerably closer - 21 points - and more exciting; the Club was only overhauled in the later stages having put up an early lead. There were two 'double' events; the 800m, with the formidable pairing of Chris Hudson and Pete Bygate, and the Pole vault, won by Kevin Atkinson, but marking the first appearance in Leeds colours of former Wakefield decathlete Tony Gummerson. A formidable talent - he had been Northern Champion at the multi-event - Tony made his mark that day with a 30-point personal haul. There was another near-double in the 5000m, from Brian Hilton and John Lunn - the latter winning the B race, which seems to have been his speciality about then. Young Otis Parris took the B 100m; Dave Warburton repeated his Hurdles success, and over other barriers the match marked the first Steeplechase appearance of Martin Dell. Those of that generation will remember the Dell barrier technique well - it simply didn't exist! Martin ran the races on sheer strength, clearing as best he could; on this day, on cinder, he ran 9.26.
At the end of the season the Club went into a 'paper' match - actually decided, in very advanced manner for 1973, by computer - to go into the Qualifier, and were successful in getting placed. However, the team did little better than the previous year - in fact, one place worse, although after Stretford and Coventry the competition was so close that Leeds City were only 32 points off third. The only winner of the day was Mike Baxter, who ran under 14 minutes in the 5,000, towing Brian Hilton to a personal best; Ian Mowat and Tony Gummerson put up a solid throwing performance, with three seconds and a third, and Dave Nicholl was second in a quick 1500m. However once again Roger's press comment after the match spoke of 15 absentees from the team for various reasons - some injured, some unavailable when the match was switched late to Saturday from Sunday, but other with excuses which he described as "flimsy or non-existent." In 1973 the commitment to get in wasn't quite there - yet. Dave Nicholl, writing a comment on the Qualifier in the Newsletter, saw a great deal of hope in the youngsters who had stepped in for the missing Seniors; he felt that this would ultimately be the making of the Club as a British League outfit.
The Senior team also took part in another innovation in 1973 - the first British League Knock-Out competition. The Club's first taste of one-a-side knock-out competition came at Nottingham's Harvey Hadden Stadium in early May, and the Club got comfortably through the first round behind Notts A.C., a B.A.L. club. Only three wins were recorded, two of them by Ian Mowat and the other by the 4x400m relay squad; but another six finished second, and that was more than enough. The Semi-Final; at Kirkby in July, was altogether tougher; the Club finished fifth, and only Dave Nicholl's valiant attempt to stick with international Andy Carter in the 1500m rated an individual mention in the Evening Post. From a team point of view, however, finishing fifth, and beating two B.A.L. clubs in Liverpool and Notts, was seen as an achievement. The pattern set that year - easily through the early round, and out in the Semis - was to remain the Club's lot for many years.
The breakthrough to the top flight, wiseacres reckoned, might come when the younger generation really started to come through. The work of Dave Young and his gang at John Smeaton, and a steady influx from other sources - Leeds Grammar School in particular - saw the gradual strengthening of what was becoming a remarkably talented squad. Dave seemed particularly adept at finding throwers; he had already unearthed Paul Armstrong and Cameron Davis, the latter a prodigious potential multi-talent who hurdled as well as he threw; in the Northern Championships he set a record of 37.14 in the Discus and took the sliver medal in the Hurdles.
Dave had also, of course, found the Cahill brothers, who were beginning to make their mark on age-group times - though Sean had not impressed as an Under-15, he came through strongly in the Under-17 age-group. He seemed to be able to find people form other schools and persuade them into Club membership, too; from Wetherby, for instance, came another record-breaker, Andy Lunn, who set an Under-17 Club and County Schools' Under-17 Hammer record with 48.60; in thirty years it has been beaten only once.
However, he was also about to embark on the thing for which he is best known in British athletics as a whole - pole-vault coaching. If anything was to mark a real change in the development of athletics, it was the sudden appearance in the early 'seventies of a Pole Vault squad in a place where the event had been almost unheard of. (In the early days Ray had had to coax 1960 Yorkshire Schools' champion John Verity out of retirement to fill the event.) Kevin Atkinson and Jim Dugdale had started it; now the additional names were Steve Wright (also a fine high-jumper) and a chunky 14-year-old called Steve Denton. The merit of Dave's coaching could be seen thirty years on in 2002, when a somewhat more chunky 43-year-old Steve heaved his 17 stones over not far short of three metres - the waistline may have spread a bit, but the technique was still there! At about the same time as Steve joined he brought with him a slightly younger mate - Colin Hayton.
Leeds Grammar School almost traditionally provided sprinters; and were doing so in the early seventies. Andy Staniland was by now an established figure, though his real breakthrough came a couple of years later; but form the same source the Club picked up one of its most talented ever sprinters - Dale Bluemink. The first thing that hit people was, of course, the name; coincidentally a group called Blue Mink had a Number One hit at about that time, and a lot of people from other clubs thought it was a joke. Those who were burned off by a youngster who at 15 was breaking 51 seconds for 400 metres on cinder tracks didn't laugh for long! At the time he didn't have things his own way, though - Tony Chapman was still around - but both Andy and Dale, along with Paul, Andy, Steve Wright and high-jumper Beresford Herbert, took County Schools' titles in the younger age-groups.
In the Senior group we had only two ; Steve Rowley at 400m, and the first in what was to be an illustrious line - Grace Thompson became the first female middle-distance runner to take a title of any sort. Her time of 2.27.1 for 800, achieved on a very bumpy track at York, would not be negligible today. There would almost certainly have been another, but Eileen Pitts was sick and didn't turn out; the Yorkshire selectors, criticised heavily for taking a very small team and leaving good athletes behind, picked her on past performances. While there was as yet little opportunity, outside local league competition, for the fledgling Women's section to shine, a small landmark was crossed when the Club had a match with Carnegie College - for the first time ever a Women's team turned out. Unfortunately there is no surviving record of who the pioneers were; but obviously Pat Brewster and her helpers were starting to make things hum. One member who was to play a big part in the section's subsequent growth also appeared at this time; Garforth schoolgirl Julie Whiteley, a promising-looking distance-runner, was elected to membership in May.
All in all, 1973 had been a year of growth, and the Club could take pride in its members' achievements; but there was one area where the organisation not only hadn't yet got properly organised, but wasn't to do so for a long time. At the Annual general meeting in April 1974 every office was filled bar one - the post of Coaching Secretary was "held over" until a suitable person could be found. Over the next fifteen years or so it was an office the Club was seldom able to fill; and it was symptomatic of the Club's ancestry and the state of coaching at the time. There was, supposedly, a A.A.A. Coaching Scheme; there were National Coaches; but at club level in general, certainly in the North, there was only anything like coaching if you had an enthusiast prepared to do it. The Club depended heavily on the expertise of certain people - notably Dave Young, Ray Barrow and Arthur Cockcroft at this period - and event coverage was therefore somewhat patchy. There was also, on the part of certain of the long-distance section, an indifference or even a positive antipathy towards formal coaching; one of the great weaknesses in John Lunn's athletic character, for instance, is his tendency to put down and mock coaching. He's grown out of it a bit in recent years; but his opinions of some well-known coaches are notorious, and frankly based on prejudice as much as thought.
Serious business started again for the cross-country season in September and October, for a winter which was to prove, in retrospect, a turning-point in the Club's history; it was the year we raised our sights. In one area at least it was muted; the Club appeared to make little impression on the West Yorkshire League as a Senior team, apart from Mike Baxter winning the third race. This was at least partly because, along with Airedale & Spen Valley (still very much the dominant force in the area) we missed the first race altogether, to send a team to the A.A.A. Six-Stage Relay at Keele University. It proved worthwhile, as the team recorded an improvement on the previous year in ninth place; it was also unusual in the Mike was only the third fastest of our runners (was he just back from holiday again?) Dave Nicholl came through stormingly after a steady start from Brian Hilton, and then Martin Dell and Mike consolidated well to get up as high as seventh. The air was a little too rarefied for the last two men, who each lost a place, being Huw Pryderi Rhys and a newcomer - Edric Williams. Ed, a native of Cambridge and a English Schools' finalist over 800 metres, had moved to Leeds that summer; he was a good steady competitor for a couple of years until he moved on again. His prime characteristic was that he was possibly the most flat-footed runner the Club ever had; but it didn't slow him down that much. He also featured, with Dave, Brian and Mike, in the team that duly won the Aaron Relay. An additional new name, who made his mark later in the season, came from a different source - the Army. Mike Gue, a sergeant instructor stationed at the Army Apprentices' College at Harrogate, was attracted (by Ray Barrow, who'd come across him arranging a Junior track fixture) to Leeds City rather than the local Club, and was to prove another asset, though his appearances were restricted by service commitments.
We did have one West Yorkshire League success - Simon Cahill began to emerge as the youngster to note, winning two of the three races. He'd earlier won the then prestigious Philip Cup road race at Kendal the previous April, and was to go on to gain County Schools' representative honours in February. The younger age-groups continued to make steady progress, though they weren't often seen taking team awards just then; one individual win came from Martin Stoker in the Leeds November handicap, off a none-too-generous mark. In Leeds Schools' races a name familiar to the older generation was appearing - Roger Bloor, son of Jack who had been a leading Harehills figure (and was to emerge again as a veteran) was featuring in Leeds Schools races, fighting them out on occasion with a name for the future - Trevor Wilson. Both became members around this time - though Roger was to move on in his teens towards orienteering, while Trevor's career was to pursue a very varied course.
A further direction in which the Club made progress was on the women's side. By this time some age-groups were taking part in the Northern Women's Cross-Country League which had been formed during the 1960s. This league was very dissimilar to the situation found on the men's side of the sport, where league competition is and always has been very local. It was eventually to succumb to the fact that travelling all the way across the North of England in winter with runners ranging in age from eleven up is none too practical a proposition, but at the time the comparatively small number of women distance-runners meant that it was the only way to stimulate meaningful competition. The League also ran a representative match with other regional leagues; and in December Garforth schoolgirl Julie Whiteley became the first Club member to be selected for the League's team, in the Under-15 age-group, finishing fifth in the event. She followed this in February be becoming the first female member of Leeds City to win a title over the country, taking the Yorkshire Schools Junior Championship, and ending an excellent season by placing fifth in the Northern and sixth in the National Women's Championships in the same age-group.
The Men's Championship season began rather weakly. In the Yorkshire Individual event at Hull only Dave Nicholl finished in the first ten, and he didn't get a county place; 'his' spot was given to Mike Baxter, who justified the selectors' faith (he had missed the County race due to illness) by finishing 37th, just outside the count in a winning team. The Club's 'Yorkshire, at Holmfirth at the end of January, was not a good day for Club teams either, though it's not easy to find out, now, what happened. Results often appeared very late in Athletics Weekly at the time, but due to the Commonwealth Games in Christchurch happening at the same time the Yorkshire Association event got crowded out totally; and in the only local newspaper account Roger Norton only mentions the winning team (Airedale, not unnaturally.) The full story was eventually run to ground in the obvious place - the Club Newsletter.
For various reasons few younger athletes ran - Kim McDonald being one, though as he’d just moved from Bingley and wasn’t eligible yet he got a medal in the Junior running for his school. The Seniors had a disastrous day. Mike Baxter aggravated an ankle injury and had to drop out, Brian Hilton managed to finish 19th in spite of falling and “head-butting a wall. (The wall is recovering.)” John Lunn was out of the count running on an injury, and the rest of the team was Dave Nicholl (7), Sid Richardson (12), Mike Gue (43), Richard Spirett (47) and Ed Williams (50). One odd feature of the races was a very early starting time; this was the period of the 'Three-Day Week' during Edward Heath's ultimately disastrous confrontation with the trade unions, and the chance of electricity being cut off to the changing accommodation had prompted the move. It also was one explanation for the non-appearance of the results in AW, which was having printing problems.
The Northern, however, saw a major turn-round. Held at Lightcliffe, near Halifax, on a course of almost unbelievable bogginess, the Senior race produced several surprises - winner Bob Patterson, from Blaydon, was a notorious 'mudlark' who never won anything else - of which the most pleasant was the Club's seventh placing. Mike was not quite back at his best, finishing 9th; but the backing was solid, with Martin Dell (34), Mike Gue (63), Brian Hilton (69), Ed Williams (111) and Huw Pryderi Rhys (129). This was by far the strongest performance a Club Senior team had produced; alongside it winning the by now fairly moribund Leeds & District title (Mike 1st, Brian 6th and John Lunn 7th being the team) didn't assume a lot of significance. More significant, in fact was the Boys' race, open to clubs from outside the district, in which Simon Cahill won a duel for the title with a Halifax youngster called Adrian Howden.
There was no long trip for the 'National' in 1974 - it was held at Graves Park, Sheffield (one of the great courses which nowadays would be considered too small for the event in its modern form.) Perhaps it was the familiar ground, or perhaps it was just a good day - but Leeds City's Senior team took a further big step forward. 33rd in 1973 had been great, but 13th was something else - and for the first time no Lawtons, Woods or Gomersalls were needed to fill out the count. Mike Baxter led home in 28th, Dave Nicholl finished 43rd and Martin Dell 69th; and even though Mike's run was undistinguished in his own terms two in the first fifty and three in 100 was new territory for Leeds City. Backing up were another four between 200 and 300 - Brian Hilton (209), Sid Richardson (245), Mike Gue (246) and John Lunn (262); and Ed Williams (432) and Richard Spirett (522) completed a turnout that saw all nine finish around 300 places higher up that the sixth counter of twelve months earlier. This was another major change - when only nine per club could start, it was the first time when almost the best available nine had been got out; and it made some people believe what could be possible. It seemed that the new sub-committee was justifying its existence by getting people out. Joe Mayne's desire to see the amalgamation produce a strong harriers' club had begun to come to pass - but too late for Joe to see. It seemed that the new Sub-committee was justifying its existence. Much of the credit went to Huw Pryderi Rhys, who was team manager and did the job well; but the National as also his Club swansong. He moved from school-teaching to college lecturing, from Leeds to east London, and from Leeds City to Ilford A.C.; and Leeds City was a less lively place for his departure.
The season wasn't over yet; and there were more steps towards the "Peak of '76" to come. The Club had one bad memory to erase, and at Blackpool's Stanley Park it was duly erased when the Club finished 8th in the Northern 12-Stage relay with a remarkably ‘scratch’ team. The make-up of the race was odd, with four short legs first, followed by five medium legs and then three long ones. The team manager took the risk - which produced some interesting newsletter comment - of putting some of his ‘weaker’ links first - a none-too-fit Len I’Anson on Leg 1, half-milers Chris Hudson and Pete Bygate on 2 and 4, and Brwsi Kilner on 3 - and was rewarded when they all, and Brwsi in particular, ran way above expectations. The medium legs were a see-saw, with Bill Ward dropping places in spite of a good run, Brian Hilton running a stormer to put the team fifth, Richard Spirett running his guts out and still losing all Brian’s gains on a star-studded leg, Ed Williams picking back up, and near-veteran Ron Pannell dropping again running bravely on a creaking injury. The first two long legs were in the capable hands of Mike Baxter, who ran fastest of the day, and Dave Nicholl, who wasn’t that much slower; but the writer remembers clearest of all who was on the last leg!
By now Martin Dell was well established as the Club's great eccentric; but his other great characteristic was his unbelievably calm approach to races, and the Club made use of this by putting him on a late leg, in the knowledge that (unlike, say, John Lunn, who would have exhausted himself cheering on everybody else) he would not be carried away. On this day he was preparing for his run in a not untypical manner - sitting reading beneath a tree, wearing the legendary green tracksuit and gabardine raincoat, when a policeman approached him with the intention of arresting him for vagrancy! He desisted when he looked over Martin's shoulder and noted the reading matter - an extremely erudite work on water pollution. He then got up, warmed up, and proceeded to beat his bogey-man Jeff Eley of Derby. Finishing 8th seemed a disappointment, as only six in those days qualified for the A.A.A. event at Sutton Coldfield; but that year the field was expanded, and for the first time Leeds City qualified. Times were:-
|Len I’Anson||12.04||Bill Ward||22.47||Mike Baxter||26.13|
|Chris Hudson||11.35||Brian Hilton||22.00||Dave Nicholl||26.47|
|Bruce Kilner||11.38||Richard Spirett||23.55||Martin Dell||27.13|
|Pete Bygate||11.53||Ed Williams||22.42||Ron Pannell||24.37|
Between the two events there were other relays. The Club staged its own cross-country relay on Soldier's Field (unfortunately it wasn't repeated) in which a team of Mike Gue, Dave Nicholl, Brian Hilton, Mike Baxter, Ed Williams and Martin Dell were beaten by the old Manchester & District Lads' Club - then a power in the land. It also took part in the Egerton Relay at Bolton (another course lost to growing traffic - you couldn't race up the main road between Bolton and Blackburn on a Saturday afternoon today!) where the team included another new name - Pete Stevens.
The former Thames Valley Harrier, who had moved to Leeds a few months earlier, was to make more of a mark on the track as a steeplechaser, but he became eligible for the Club just in time to step into the National 12-stage team.
The writer makes no apologies for giving our first appearance in this event a lot of attention. In the succeeding years there has been much controversy over the comparative strength of the team of the mid-1970s and those of the years following the Club's re-emergence as a major Harriers' power from 1989 onwards. There are very few ways to make a direct comparison - but one is the National 12-stage, which is run on exactly the same course now as then. In its first effort the team finished 18th out of the 28 teams; the performances of the individual members are tabulated below. A good start from Brian Hilton seemed to have been lost when Len I'Anson, Pete Stevens and Chris Hudson found sound runs only indifferent against strong opposition; but Dave Nicholl had a fine surge, and Brwsi Kilner held it well, as he so often did in relays. Mike Gue then had a shocker, and Richard Spirett (probably the 'weak link' on the day) made little impression; but Mike Baxter certainly did, running the fifth fastest "long 'un" of the afternoon. Ed Williams made two more with our fastest "short 'un," but Martin Dell and Ron Pannell dropped one each. Times were:-
|1||Brian Hilton||26.57||16||2||Len I'Anson||15.49||24|
|3||Pete Stevens||27.25||25||4||Chris Hudson||15.19||25|
|5||Dave Nicholl||26.23||20||6||Bruce Kilner||15.13||20|
|7||Mike Gue||28.34||26||8||Richard Spirett||15.49||26|
|9||Mike Baxter||25.29||18||10||Ed Williams||15.04||16|
|11||Martin Dell||27.03||17||12||Ron Pannell||15.47||18|
How good this performance was could be indicated by putting it alongside the 2002 team which finished 15th, in an event which now regularly sees over 50 clubs start :-
|1||Andy Beevers||28.14||38||2||Kevin Ritchie||15.25||34|
|3||Mike Burrett||28.08||33||4||Aidan Adams||15.12||26|
|5||Trevor Wilks||28.25||27||6||David Webb||14.52||18|
|7||Martin Farran||28.57||19||8||Andy Jones||15.50||17|
|9||Martin Hilton||27.21||14||10||Brian Hilton||17.20||16|
|11||Greg Hull||28.10||15||12||Tony Gill||16.36||15|
This comparison must not be taken too seriously. The 2002 team was by no means the strongest the Club could have turned out; it included three Veterans (including the 54-year-old Brian Hilton, who had also run in 1974) and its two strongest members had run a marathon only a week before. It does, however, give some credence to the belief that overall standards are lower today in British middle-distance running when a team running twelve minutes slower places three positions higher. It also has to be said that overall 1974 was a particularly strong year. Mike's splendid time, for instance, was a full minute slower than Brendan Foster's superlative run on the same leg; one of those who passed Len I'Anson was National Youths' champion Mike Longthorne; Pete Stevens had Dave Moorcroft on his leg; and Cardiff could afford to put international 800 man Gareth Morgan on a short leg - he ran fastest of the day.
On the track 1974 was being looked forward to as a year of consolidation at least. After a winter where even some of the cross-country men had essayed the indoors at Cosford, we went into the Northern League's first four-round season knowing we no longer had to face Stretford, but with Blackburn a power in the land. Just how much of a power we were to see at the first fixture, on Blackburn's Witton Park track; a number of last-minute drop-outs had weakened the team, and the contest was enormously close throughout. The match ended in controversy, however, when Ray Barrow, acting as Team Manager, officially objected to one of Blackburn's relay team not wearing the correct vest - and the disqualification that resulted was just enough to give Leeds City a five-point victory. There were those who said that Ray's action was gamesmanship - he had not protested at two previous Blackburn offences - but as Roger Norton pointed out, he should never have been put in the position to need to do it.
On a more positive athletic note, the Club picked up its usual hatful of middle-distance points, though without many of the usual names. Dave Nicholl stepped up to 5000m, and scored a maximum with Brian Hilton, and Chris Hudson and Chris McGuire, the latter winning the B, took another 18 in the 800m. However, the star of the day was 17-year-old Kim McDonald, a Keighley schoolboy who had left Bingley Harriers the previous year to get better competition; already a heavy mileage runner, doing about 90 a week, he led the 1500m from the start, ran 3.56.7, and did what few others could at the time - ran the finish out of Malcolm Cox. The only other A wins were in the relays, and the 100m, which came from the improving Otis Parris. Roger's report, however, suggested the Club lacked a really class sprinter (Otis was only 17, and more of a long-jumper), and "rely too heavily on the versatile Tony Gummerson in the throwing events."
The second match was very different - on our "home" ground at Cleckheaton, now at last an all-weather track the Club won by a clear 37.5 points. The track events were a complete mop-up - only four points were dropped on maximum (The 'honourable droppers' being Pete Bygate in the B 800 - who made up for it in the B 400 - and his partner in the latter race, Dale Bluemink, who nonetheless ran 49.7 to set an under-17 record which was to stand for 29 years. The sprints were covered by York University student Dave Chapman and Colin Lambert, home from Loughborough; Chris McGuire took the A 800, the 5000 was the Nicholl-Hilton "mixture as before," and Mike Baxter paired up with Ed Williams in the 1500. Needless to say both relays were won; and the one big-scoring field event was the javelin, while teenage Chris Maltby won the B event but was beaten by a prodigious 53.06 throw from Chris Harbage - at 15 only just old enough to be picked.
By late June the Club was feeling confident, but there was no way to relax; the third match at Middlesbrough was as tight as the first. In fact, we had to wait after the relays for the over-running javelin to finish to be sure of winning - but the two Chrises turned up trumps with a maximum, and the Club's eleven-point win gave us a three-point cushion with one to go. The only other 'max' came from Dave Nicholl and Brian Hilton in the 5000 (again). Mike Baxter took the 1500 with a very fast clocking (3.46.4), while our other A win was unusual - Chris Hudson took the 400 - and B event wins came from Pete Bygate (800), Martin Dell ('Chase) and John Sneideris (Vault.)
We couldn't manage an unbeaten season - Blackburn prevailed by 18 points at the last match at Derby - but in that defeat came one of the great legends of the Club. This was the match that above any other stamped Martin Dell on its history.
Martin had not travelled with the team - he was building a nature reserve near Doncaster - and came to Derby by train to discover the buses were on strike. Undeterred, he went into the station toilets, changed, put his clothes in the white plastic bin-liner he had brought his kit in, stuck it under his arm and set off to run the four miles to Osmaston Park. He'd given himself plenty of time, fortunately, but he arrived not long before the Steeplechase he was carded for; in spite of his efforts he produced a sound run for third in about 9.34. However, Brian Hilton's partner in the 5,000 hadn't turned up (the writer can't remember why), and Martin was prevailed upon to "trot round for a point." The race started; Derby's Jeff Eley shot into the lead, cutting out a firm pace, Brian hung in about fourth, and Martin was doing enough early on to finish second in the B race. Then, about half-way through, he started moving through. With a just over a lap to go he had moved up to Brian, with Eley and Pete Lynch of Blackburn fifty and thirty yards up; and at the bell he literally launched himself. Head back, arms pumping across his chest, uttering the characteristic "hoo, hoo, hoo" of Dell at high speed, he stormed past Lynch, caught Eley alongside the water jump and summarily dismissed him, and finished thirty yards in front in 14.37.0, covering the last lap in under 62 seconds. After which he jogged a couple of laps to cool down, picked up his bin-liner, and ran back to the station to get on with the serious business! Legend has it that Jeff Eley never smiled again! Brian won the B race in 14.50.4.
The rest of the afternoon was more orthodox. The Club wasn't at strength, but still supplied its share of winners. Chris Hudson and Dave Nicholl (in that order) maxed the 1500, while Pete Bygate and Junior Steve Sloper did likewise in the 800 (Pete also took the B 400); Dave Chapman took the A 100, Dale Bluemink the B 200, while the final B win came from an exotic source. Ron Ramos, an Army sergeant-instructor from the Apprentices' College at Harrogate, and undoubtedly the only Gibraltarian ever to compete for Leeds City, won the B Vault. Enough had been done - the Club had its first Northern League title, and the Qualifier, for once, was near home - at Kirkby.
The Club made an altogether better shift of this Qualifier, but although the team was a great deal stronger than in the previous two years, it was still not at full strength and missed out again, in third place. There was no quarrel with being beaten by Essex Beagles (not then with Newham), but there was a strong resentment in some quarters at the presence of Metropolitan Police, which might be formally an open club but was to all intents and purposes closed; even though he was ultimately to get on well with MPAC's officials in later years, the writer still feels they should not have been allowed to participate (any more than Achilles Club should have been invited to join the League originally). On the individual level Martin Dell ran probably his best -ever track race for the Club, winning the 5000m in 14.20.8; the 16-year-old Sean Cahill "ran with maturity beyond his years" to win the B 1500m; and the often unsung but immensely reliable and valuable Steve Rowley had his moment winning the B 400m. Ron Ramos covered four events and scored heavily, while Andy Lunn and vaulters Steve Wright and Steve Denton made valuable field contributions. Overall the Club could be pleased with progress; but the writer recalls coming away from Kirkby feeling very frustrated indeed.
Between the first two League matches the Yorkshire Championships had seen several scalps taken; indeed in the 800m there was the striking sight of Leeds vests in the first three places. (Inevitably Chris Hudson was second, with Chris McGuire in front and Pete Bygate behind.) Dave Nicholl was our only other Senior champion, in the 1500 - he went on to represent Yorkshire, and the conversion of his 4.02.5 Mile in the Inter-Counties still stands second on the Club 1500m list. At Junior level there were more successes, significantly all in the field - Otis Parris in the Long Jump, Steve McGuire (no relation) in the triple, Andy Lunn in the hammer, and in the Pole Vault the 16-year-old Steve Denton. We had no women winners, but an inaugural Club 800m record of 2.18.3 from the youthful Julie Whiteley.
The Club got few other Senior championship placings that year, but in contrast the efforts of its younger members read like a roll on honour for this developing period; standards were set which even thirty years on are there for the present generation to aim at. The Leeds Schools' championships in mid-May saw names appearing which were to figure prominently as the Club moved up. Armstrong and Harbage were already familiar as winners; two more who figured were Under-20 sprinter Paul Maney and Under-17 triple-jumper Walter Bronjewski, the latter in particular to put in a lot of service over the next few years. At the younger ages, besides the already familiar Bluemink and Cahill, winners among the boys were Paul Hutchinson (U17 100), Garry Ineson (U17 1500), and Joe Dyer (U17 800). Garry was to represent the Club regularly through his student days until he moved to the Midlands, while Joe came from another unusual background; he and his father were regular Beaglers, and in case you don't know the hunters who follow beagles customarily do so on foot rather than horseback.
There were also a range of winners on the female side, a sign of the rapid growth on the track wing of the ladies' section. The only senior was sprinter Helen Capstick, while at Under-17 level Janice Swan, the elder of two throwing sisters, won the Shot, and at the youngest level sprinter Vicky Hardisty, hurdler Madelaine Barber and distance-runner Paula Staiano all featured. One important figure didn't need to; she was selected for the Under-15 High Jump in the County Schools' without competing as the only entrant. However, it wasn't to be long before Tonia Phillpots began to make what has up to now been an indelible mark on the Club record lists.
When the County Schools' came round - at the unlikely setting of Swinton, near Rotherham - Club members took nine titles at least; with the exception of Under-17 hammer-thrower Jim Ferguson all were familiar names - Under-20 winners Steve Rowley (400) and Andy Lunn (Hammer), and at Under-17 Dale Bluemink, Sean Cahill, Walter Bronjewski, Steve Wright, Paul Armstrong and Chris Harbage. They were to have another distinction - they were the last Yorkshire Schools' Champions the Club was to have, as local government reform was to sunder the county into its three regions. Former County Schools' secretary Dennis Ward remembers the relays taking place in a thunderstorm, and thinking it was a judgement from the gods on the 'sacrilege' of dividing Yorkshire!
Three of the above went on to take English Schools' medals; Chris Harbage bronze in the Javelin, Dale Bluemink silver in the 400, and Paul Armstrong took pride of place as Under-17 Discus champion. Dale he had the misfortune to tangle virtually constantly, in all competitions, with Blackburn's equally talented youngster Martin Francis; however, he took the Northern Under-17 title, and Steve Wright took the vault at the same meeting. Paul and Chris were both runners-up in this event (Paul in Shot as well as Discus), a placing shared with Sean Cahill (1500) and John Smeaton hammer-thrower Graham Hogg, also a Club member. When it came to the A.A.A. Juniors, however, Dale lost out to his rival again; Sean Cahill also took silver, while Steve Wright and Walter Bronjewski were both only one place from a medal. The plethora of titles and medals, and the appearance of many of the winners in League teams, was a further sign of the rise of the first post-amalgamation generation.
One additional title-winning athlete came to the Club at the end of the season, though most of the titles were won competing in his school's colours. Bradford Grammar School pupil Ian Lindley had never joined a club; he was snatched, probably by Ray Barrow, virtually from under Bingley Harriers' nose, and for the next six or seven years the Club had the services of one of the outstanding young shot-putters of the time. (He eventually did go back to Bingley many years and subsequent travels later, and was still throwing, and winning, in League competitions as recently as 2002.) Almost his first move after joining was to set a new Club record of 16.79 - it's still there.
As yet there were few female champions; as most of the growing section were in the younger age-groups this is perhaps no surprise. However, in July there was a sign of progress when the Club turned out a team in a trophy meeting at Cleckheaton, and while not finishing well up gave a sound account of themselves. This was the first real team appearance by the Club (as distinct from the odd 'straight' match and West Yorkshire League competitions), and the increase in activity and level of performance inspired Roger Norton to highlight the section in the Evening Post's sports edition in July. He highlighted the work of several people in getting the section under way I so short a time; Pat Brewster as chief administrator, Mike Sherman and Dave Young for their coaching efforts, and one person who thirty years on is still around - Moira Gallagher. Moira is nowadays better known as a top-graded official and for her long and tireless efforts with disabled athletes; but in her early years with the Club she also coached, administered, and even on occasion ran.
The Club was certainly looking to a national future; but another incident during the year was to highlight the fact that in many ways it was still a provincial organisation with less than extensive knowledge of the athletic world outside the North of England. It also illustrates well the problem that bedevilled, and continues to bedevil, athletics - the fact that many of its structures grew up by accident, and the unwillingness of anyone to remove the anomalies thus created and sanctified by the deadest hand of all - 'tradition.' These were the events that surrounded the Club's participation in the Pye Gold Cup - as it was then called.
The early stage was straightforward - the Club went to a first-round match at Sheffield, was well beaten by Sale Harriers, but finished comfortably clear of Hull Spartan to make the semi-final. When the draw came out, we were placed with a new venue for Club teams - Edinburgh. People were looking forward to competing in the Commonwealth Games Stadium at Meadowbank as a bit of an adventure; it turned into a farce. We selected a strong team, and not unnaturally it included several of our most talented youngsters, who had already turned out in League and Cup matches - Dale Bluemink, Walter Bronjewski, Steve Denton, and Chris Harbage. What we didn't know - and weren't told by the British Athletics League or anyone else - was that Scotland, athletically, is Another Country. The meeting was being held under Scottish rules - under which Under-17 athletes were permitted to jump, but not to run or throw, against Seniors - and the Club hadn't been acquainted of the difference in rules in advance. Ray Barrow recalls someone - he can't remember who - was waiting as the Club coach arrived at Meadowbank to inform us that neither Dale nor Chris would be permitted to compete. The Club team management made strenuous protest, but to no avail. It wasn't that the elimination cost us the chance of a Final place - the team was acknowledged not to be strong enough to beat the two Edinburgh clubs - but that the two lads would have been allowed to compete in any other semi-final; and that even tough the League paid Clubs some travel expenses for the competition they had paid a £16 contribution to their accommodation and travel costs - not a negligible amount in 1974. 'Progress' on sorting out the inequalities of rules (and other matters) can be adjudged by the fact that the same rules would apply today. For the record, we finished a very distant third, providing only one winner all; afternoon - Tony Gummerson in the Discus - and four second-placers - Steve, Dave Chapman (100), Pete Bygate (800) and Dave Nicholl (1500).
There were, of course, plenty of other competitive activities. Mike Baxter failed to make the European or Commonwealth Games' teams; but he was decidedly unfortunate in both cases. His failure to get into the Commonwealth event - run in the British mid-winter in Christchurch, New Zealand - he puts down to a bizarre incident; he was attacked while training in Roundhay Park by "one of a pair of large boxer dogs" in the summer of 1973, and suffered as a result for a painful injury to the pelvis, which was only diagnosed after some time as a cracked symphasys pubis - a distinctly rare injury. There was certainly a period when Mike was running badly; the writer remembers going for treatment from Dr. Ian Adams at St. James' Hospital for one of his own many injuries and finding Mike being tested to see if his pelvis was actually tilted out of balance.
The European Games was even more galling; the British Amateur Athletic Board had declared that there would be no doubling-up of distance events, so Mike had decided to go for the 10000 metres. He certainly hit form; in Germany in May he set the one Club record that still stands to his name, running a 28.16.0 10,000. The week before that he ran what he regards as an even better race, vying with his 1970 Edinburgh effort as the best of his career - a win in a ten-mile road race at Altrincham in 47.05, almost certainly the fastest in Club history. It wasn't just the time; the field he left in his wake that day reads like an Honours List of 1970s British distance running - Mike Tagg, Ron Hill, Ricky Wilde and Alan Blinston were only four of the field, and Derby's long-serving official Alan Domleo (who finished about tenth in just outside 48 minutes) recalled the race thirty years later in conversation with the writer as the hottest he'd ever been in. Moreover he had done all this on around 110 miles a week without his usual intensive speed training. Mike reckons he should have been a certainty - but then two things happened. First Dave Black - or his coach, managed to persuade the B.A.A.B. to allow him to double up - and Mike was the one who missed out. However, Mike wonders if he'd have gone as well as he had been going anyway; about two weeks later his daughter Caroline was born, and like any new father his sleep pattern was disturbed. He did, however, play a part in one world record - when Brendan Foster set a 3,000m best on the opening day of the Gateshead International Stadium, Mike was one of the pacemakers. It wasn't just a 'commercial' gesture - Mike and Bren had trained together (with Bren's 'guru' Lindsay Dunn) quite a bit while Bren was a graduate student at Carnegie College.
As a team the Club also participated in the Yorkshire League; and while it was always a bit of a gimcrack competition (leagues which try to cover all ages and both genders always finish up by leaving too much out) it was taken sufficiently seriously for the first-tem regulars such as Brian Scott, Paul Armstrong, Andy Lunn and Sean Cahill to turn out during the season. Some effort was made to improve the programme; John Lunn worked out a scheme which was submitted to the League's secretary, the Rotherham official Ralph Rowbotham, but nothing came of it. In the autumn of 1974 new Club secretary Mick Stark made some fairly cutting comments about this in the Club's Minute Book. Even the West Yorkshire League was still regarded as an event in which a Senior athlete might do times in a competitive event, though the limitations of its programme were also apparent.
The development of the Club over the three years covered by this chapter can be clearly seen from studying the Club All-Time ranking Lists in comparison to the first four years. Instead of the forty or so performances dotted unevenly around the events, and confined with a minority of exceptions to the Senior and Under-20 lists, there are over 130 performances extant from the period 1972-4. Of these around 20 are female, which of course could hardly exist before 1972; the survival of so many not only shows the speed of development (though the next few years were to eclipse it) but suggests what might have been lost to women's athletics in Leeds by the lack of opportunity before 1971. The Men's side shows a number of interesting patterns. In the Senior list the most important change is not so much the 45 performances as the range of events; every one of the twenty 'standard' individual events has at least one mark from this time, including the striking number of five in the 110m Hurdles. However, the only Club Senior records to date from then are Mike's 10,000m and Dave Chapman's share of the 100m. The other large area is in the Under-17 age-group, and again interestingly well over half of these are in field events. The Under-15 Boys were slower to develop, and the Under-20 age-group was in a period where most of its original members had moved up to Seniors and the younger lads would make a bigger impression in a couple of years.
By the end of the 1974 season, in retrospect, it was clear to see what progress had come about since the amalgamation of 1967. On the Harriers’ side, an impartial commentator looking at the state Section at the end of April 1974 would probably be suggesting a considerable degree of progress over previous seasons on several fronts, and the need to do better on others. There were young lads coming through who were to make a name for themselves and the Club within the next few years, though as yet the solid body of youngsters had not really gathered. Some of the generation who were youngsters on the foundation of the Club were coming to the maturity for which their coaches had hoped, though as it the way with athletics some equally good ones had faded away.
The Women's section had made a promising start, and in the younger age-groups were stirrings of future success. The Senior team had started to make progress; training with Mike had made several reasonable athletes very good, and the Club had been fortunate in a couple of acquisitions. There was a platform for further advance - but even in 1974 few suspected how radical the progress might be.
Change in Track and Field had been even more radical; the Club had spread into events and areas of competition which had not been in evidence at all in 1967, and was providing itself with a strong base for further progress. There were vaulters, jumpers and throwers where there had been few before; and there were women, admittedly still few and mostly young, where there had been none. Whether the amalgamation had stimulated the change, whether the League was the catalyst that meant that competition was guaranteed several times a year in every event, whether it gave the impetus for people already working in the sport to do more, or whether the fortuitous emergence of Messrs. Baxter, Young and Sherman, Mrs. Brewster and others had been the trigger, could be argued about over several pints. What was clear was that the City of Leeds at last had an Athletic Club that seemed to be going somewhere, and if the wind held in the right direction, and the Council would give it a push, it could do considerable things. Its administration was becoming more sophisticated, its competitive ambition greater, and slowly its recruitment was coming from a wider range of schools. A lot, however, remained to be done; and on the track side a lot more heartache was to ensue before the Club got into the major league.