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A history of Leeds AC
Written by John Lunn
Chapter 6: The team of '76
Leeds City came into 1974 with a new team in charge of its administration. Treasurer Dave Hodgson was the only one of the principal officers to continue at the A.G.M. in April; the Presidency went (deservedly, if it's considered as the highest honour in the Club) to Ray Barrow, who had done so much to build up its track side. Jack Lawton's replacement as Hon. Secretary was a crucial matter; fortunately the Club did have the ready-made answer that Roger Norton had seen as so necessary in Mick Stark. Mick (who at the time of writing is still around and active in Club and League affairs) was a product of St. Marks' long association with Roundhay School; a former cross-country runner who had at least once done the somewhat uncommon feat of the 1940s by running a marathon, he had also served on the Committee for many years, and despite his mainly 'harrier' background was to serve the Northern Men's League for many years as a Divisional Secretary. The other interesting facet of the elections was the comparative youth of the Committee; there was still the older element among the Vice-Presidents, but the majority of the elected members were competing athletes.
The Harriers had ended the winter of 1974 on a high note, the next two seasons were to see anything the Club had previously done on the country eclipsed. A combination of the growing maturity of some of the runners who had come through the ranks, a series of fortunate acquisitions as people moved to Leeds, and above all the influence of having Mike Baxter around as a lead and inspiration had already created a situation where people in the Senior team were expecting more of themselves. Moreover, there was a growing base of younger boys who were adding to the Club's laurels, and an emerging group of girls who were beginning to make a mark; and while in many cases it would be some time, if at all, before they contributed to Senior performances, they all added to a growing atmosphere about the Leeds City Harriers' section that it meant business. Even so, the explosion that transpired in the 1974-5 season could hardly have been expected.
Around this period there were quite a number of changes affecting the traditional Harriers' scene; one was recorded in the Minutes of the September Committee meeting, when the Yorkshire Cross-Country Association changed the conditions of championship entry. Up to then teams had to be pre-entered, and only nine could run; if Leeds City wanted to run more than nine, it had to enter two teams, and specify which athletes were entered for which (although some duplication was permitted.) On many occasions clubs had been caught out when several A team runners got injured between the closing date and the championship, or somebody entered in the B team suddenly improved. In 1975 the Association agreed to accept block entries (at 5p per head), and the first six finishers would count as the team.
One symptom of the Club's growing strength was the decision to pay for the printing of a Harriers' fixture card. There had usually been one, traditionally, and for many years former St. Mark's runner Don Edmondson, who was in the printing trade, had generously donated them. The growing numbers required, and the growing number of races shown, however, had made the Committee feel they couldn't "impose on his generosity" any longer; and the 1974-5 card was the first for a while to be paid for.
1974-5 was to be a season of 'firsts' at several levels in the Club; and the process started early with the Northern 6-Stage Relay. It has to be admitted that by the standards of recent years the event was a bit lacklustre; Roger Norton commented that only twelve teams turned up for it, and a lot of 'leading lights' were missing, which was perhaps unsurprising. The Northern Counties' A.A. at the time believed in moving the race round the region, but the chosen venue, Cleethorpes, was then very much out on a limb; there was no M18, no Humber Bridge and not much of the M62, and the 80-mile trip on some pretty rough roads from Leeds was bad enough, let alone travelling there from somewhere like Gateshead or Liverpool. Nonetheless there were two Club firsts - the first set of Northern medals, and the first victory over the then formidable Airedale & Spen Valley outfit.
It was an up-and-down performance - the course was up and down the promenade, and the team were up and down the order. Ed Williams led off with a sound 19.25, but placed sixth as several clubs put their best man early; Leeds put theirs second, and Mike Baxter obliged with 18.42, which it looked as though only Steve Kenyon's 18.35 for Bolton would beat. It took the team to second, which was a bit rarefied for Brwsi Kilner, who dropped the four Mike had made running 20.13; but Dave Nicholl on four (19.08) got three of them back, and Pete Stevens (19.40) held it. That would have been considered a good performance - third behind Liverpool and ASVAC - but we had reckoned without Martin Dell! Setting off with 32 seconds to make up on Airedale's Richard May (no mean performer himself) Martin had one of his days - he started cutting into it from the off; and as the wit who wrote the newsletter report tactfully put it, "once the Flying Steamroller has got somebody in his sights he just doesn't let go." He caught Richard half a mile out and finished seven seconds in front - and ran two seconds faster than Mike. Life was never dull with Martin around! The Club, however, did not contest the A.A.A. race; the venue was switched at the last minute from Keele University (within reasonable travelling reach) to Wimbledon, which would have meant an overnight stop.
The increased level of commitment and expectation showed before Christmas in two facts - the West Yorkshire League was taken very seriously, with near full turn-outs at all three races, and the Club went out looking for additional competition. The first League race, "on our own midden" at Templenewsam, (which according to the Minutes was organised smoothly) saw the Club finish second to Bingley by only two points; in those days only four counted, and things might have been different if six had then been the rule. Mike Baxter duly won, the anticipated challenge from Dave Slater petering out when the latter found himself slithering in road shoes (he ran the last three miles barefoot); his closest Club attendant was Pete Stevens in fifth. The other two counters were Mike Gue (15) and Dave Nicholl (16). Ed Williams was right behind the pair of them (17); Brian Hilton had an off-day, finishing a place behind Ron Pannell in 29th. There was, however, a Leeds City win on the day, and as emphatic a one as they come; in the Under-13 race - then still called Colts - Gary Hayton, Trevor Wilson and Trevor Smith took the first three places, in that order, and with Robin Moran in 9th the victory was described as "overwhelming" in the Evening Post.
The second League race took place on Airedale's course at Judy Woods, Low Moor; but the event is surrounded in mystery for historians. Reports of it are difficult to find, due to its coinciding with a newspaper strike; Roger Norton has no record of it in his collection of clippings, and his otherwise comprehensive collection of Athletics Weekly has a four-week gap at that point. Consultation of the notes kept by the other main local journalist of the time, Longwood Harriers' long-serving official Granville Beckett, gave the basic information that the first three were Dave Slater, Mike Baxter and Airedale's John Temperton (now the North of England A.A.'s Development Officer), and that Leeds City won by nine points from Airedale. Two points further behind was a portent of future developments - it was one of the first times that Holmfirth Harriers, always regarded in his youth by the writer as a struggling village club, appeared in the frame. A study of the Club Newsletter - the only real source - reveals that the counters were Mike, Dave Nicholl (8), Pete Stevens (10) and Brian Hilton (19), and that the Colts' team won again.
The third race, in December on an extremely tough course through the woods around Newmillerdam in Wakefield, saw the Club confirm its strength by not only taking the League title for the first time, but doing something it wouldn't have anticipated doing even the year before - winning a race without Mike Baxter, who was running and winning in the major sponsored event at Gateshead. The four counters placed in the first ten - Dave Nicholl was runner-up to Bingley's Alan Spence, who was something of a hard-courses specialist, Martin Dell finished fourth, Pete Stevens 8th, and John Lunn 10th. The Colts' team also took their league title, with Gary Hayton winning overall; on the day he was backed up by Trevor Wilson and Trevor Smith again, plus Neill Marshall.
Between the League races there was plenty of other action. On the road there was a good turn-out in October for the popular Batley event that Airedale's Bob Tristram organised - which started in the town's market square and featured one of the wickedest hills on any local road race courses. The four-man winning team was again unusual - Mike Baxter was third counter behind Martin Dell and Dave Nicholl, but as they were third, fourth and sixth it was pretty emphatic. Pete Stevens (15) made up the number, and John Lunn (18), and Brian Hilton (20) were lurking close behind. With Ron Pannell (29) and Richard Spirett (37) they took the award for first B team - another sign of growing strength.
Over the country the Club won the Aaron Relay from Loughborough the same four counters as at Batley made up the winning team, with Mike anchoring, whole John and Brian teamed up with Mike Gue and Ed Williams to bring the B team in 6th. However, although everything went smoothly on the day, the Committee meeting after the event considered a couple of problems not unknown in events before and since - late entries, and athletes running under somebody else's name without being entered. The Club also got placed in the Harry Whitehurst race on Graves Park, Sheffield, though Roger Norton noted that the second place was the first time in five races that Leeds City had finished behind Airedale. There was good reason for this, however; both Baxter and Dell were missing, and the four counters who lost by only six points were Dave Nicholl (6), Pete Stevens (10), Brian Hilton (11) and John Lunn (15). The power balance at Senior level was clearly changing when a severely weakened Leeds team could hold its own.
There was even time for the Club - or its "disreputable alter ego" the British Irwin Club - to show its face in University events. In October a team, with none of the stars in it, turned out in the Leeds University 'Big Match' - one of the major pre-Christmas events for northern universities - led home by Mike Gue in 8th, with John Lunn (11), a visiting Huw Pryderi Rhys (18), Ron Pannell (21), Len I'Anson (27) and the by then somewhat portly Stewart Dobson (36) - and even there the lads finished ahead of Airedale! They also did so just before Christmas in the Leeds University Relay, in which event they continued another well-known tradition - the entire team ran under names which were not only false, but not in the best possible taste. (The few survivors are prepared to reveal them in private between consenting adult members!) Usually the only people who noticed were those present; but whether the team was especially strong or the universities especially weak, in 1974 the Irwin Club finished fifth - and to the mortification of George Stead the full team was printed in all its glory in Athletics Weekly!
There is little report in that Autumn of the activities of the younger athletes, other than the successful Colts' team; but things were undoubtedly stirring. Sean Cahill, after a summer season that had seen him ranked second Under-17 in Britain over 1500m and third over 3000m, was having one of his better winter seasons; at Under-15 level brother Simon was prospering, but had a rival for pre-eminence in the Club in Phil Condon, picked up from St. Thomas Aquinas School in Meanwood (which later "mated with St. John Bosco next door and begat Cardinal Heenan," according to one Club wit!), Phil was to be around and make a considerable mark for about three years until his family moved to Manchester, when he had a few seasons with Stretford. They were to spearhead a good team, but in the first part of the season there was little mention of it.
There was, however, plenty of activity among the growing Women's Section. There was one apparent disappointment; after running 8th in the opening Northern League match at Rawtenstall the previous year's great discovery, Julie Whiteley, dropped out of the sport at the age of 15. Fortunately her 'retirement' - which the writer seems to recall had something to do with a boy-friend who also quit running at the same time - was very temporary; invited to the next Presentation Evening to receive an award, she decided to give it another go - and went on, as will be told, to international honours. However, there was already another name on the horizon; the autumn of 1974 saw the start of the legend of Sandra Arthurton.
The writer intends no disrespect to the Angie Hulleys, Veronique Marots and Lucy Wrights that have graced and contributed to the Club in succeeding years when he says that, in his opinion, Leeds City has never had a female distance-runner of such raw and unadulterated talent as the tiny, skinny, coffee-skinned youngster who emerged from Chapeltown and took Yorkshire, Northern and National distance-running by storm. When she first appeared Sandra looked as if a strong wind would carry her off; but the fact that almost a quarter of a century later no less than nine Club records, three of them Senior records, still stand to her name is testimony enough. In the first Northern Women's League race of the season she was so inexperienced she ran the hilly and sticky Rawtenstall course in plimsolls and still finished seventh in the Under-13 race. On that day she had only one team-mate; but Sandra Gent showed she was no mean performer herself by being only four places behind. 'The Other Sandra' was to be around for some time and make quite a mark on the Club scene.
By the second league race in November, nearer home at Cleckheaton, there was a foursome in the Under-13s; 'the Sandras' were 9th and 12th, in the same order, but with the support of Debra Henderson (76) and Tracy Fickling (103) the team was 8th - the first Club team to count in a League meeting. In early December at Stretford the numbers had swollen to six, thanks to some determined recruiting by Pat Brewster at the Leeds Schools; Sandra Arthurton placed third, Sandra Gent 9th, and the counters were Julie Dawson (51) and Susan Elam (60) with Debra (61) and Tracy (66) in close attendance.
More milestones were to be passed in 1974-5. The Yorkshire Women's Championships were held at the end of November on a course at Huddersfield described in the Club Newsletter as "more suited to mountain goats;" Sandra A set off steadily, but after about half a mile "decided the girls in front weren't running fast enough" and took off. Those watching saw the first demonstration of what was to become a familiar local sight over the next few years - Sandra Arthurton demolishing the opposition. Backed by Sandra Gent in a fine fifth place, Debra Henderson (37) and Tracy Fickling (41) our first female County Champion led the team home fourth, up to then the best finish of any female team. In January the West Yorkshire Schools' was held at Exley, just outside Halifax, on another course which gave Sandra the chance to show her command of hills; on this occasion the rest were running for minor placings from the gun. She just went up the fell-side (and it was!) like a lift. Sandra Gent (4) and Julie Dawson (6) also gained County selection that day.
There was more success to come after that. At Hull Sandra Arthurton picked up a silver medal, and led Sandra Gent (24) and the much-improved Julie Dawson (26) and Susan Elam (34) to fourth team spot in the Northern Championship. Julie indeed came on by laps and bounds that winter; and by the time the National Women's was held in late February (in chaotic conditions on London's Parliament Hill Fields) it was as much her day as Sandra Arthurton's. Sandra placed a splendid sixth, but Julie's run in 18th place was an outstanding improvement; and with Sandra Gent in 45th and Susan 64th the team completed a remarkable first season by finishing 6th. If a point has to be chosen when women's distance-running in Leeds City really started to take off, this was it; and it was to be the precursor of some years of success with Mike Sherman doing much of the coaching.
For the men the pace picked up after Christmas, starting with the County Individual race, from which four members were selected for County duty and one title was won. Oddly, despite a tough course at Rotherham, it went to Sean Cahill, even then regarded as a ‘track man,’ who "coped best" with the conditions to beat Halifax steeplechaser Adrian Howden, who was to appear again in the story. In the Senior race Mike Baxter and Dave Nicholl finished together in joint fourth place, with Mike "running just for a place in the team," and Simon Richardson finished 7th. Pete Stevens (11) missed out, and Martin Dell (17) had an off-day. Judging by reports almost all the Yorkshire team had one in the Inter-counties.
However, interest was principally focused on the 'real' Yorkshires at the end of January; in his preview the week before Roger Norton anticipated "one of the most open team races ever," and anticipated Leeds City, Bingley and Sheffield United all challenging to break Airedale's three-year run. As the day approached the Leeds challenge appeared to be about to evaporate; Dave Nicholl had dropped out of the Yorkshire team with stomach trouble, Pete Stevens had rejected a County call-up because of a back injury, Mike Baxter had been below form in the Inter-counties, suffering from the effect of his bizarre encounter with a boxer dog described earlier. A promising season seemed about to come unlaced at the wrong moment, and it looked as if Leeds City's first Yorkshire Senior title would have to wait a while.
What happened has stuck in John Lunn's memory ever since. John at 33 was having probably the best cross-country season of his career - and at Graves Park he produced what he regards as one of his better Yorkshires. In a star-loaded field he battled solidly for nine miles, and finished in an excellent 20th position - and he didn't even get a medal! There were six Leeds City men ahead of him! Even then the team only won by six points - it was every bit as close as Roger had predicted. Mike Baxter stormed back to form, and led for the entire race, with Martin Dell pursuing all the way to give a magnificent one-two. Airedale then put their first four in together between fifth and eighth; but Brian Hilton also shook off patchy form to finish right behind in ninth, and Pete Stevens was right behind him. In the early stages it had looked bad for Leeds, but Dave Nicholl (16) and Sid Richardson (17) - the former after an understandably cautious start - came through strongly in the last half. On top of that, such was the depth of Leeds' turn-out that a total of 22 Club members finished, and John led home a second six which included Ed Williams (27), Ron Pannell (37), Malcolm Cox (38), Mike Gue (40) and Richard Spirett (57) which placed a theoretical fifth - they didn't count B teams then.
It's just possible that the Seniors gained inspiration from events earlier in the afternoon - because Leeds City came back from Sheffield with not one team title but three. They'd started the day by winning the Colts' race without their pre-Christmas leader Gary Hayton; but he was well replaced by Roger Bloor, whose size and strength told on the hard course to take him to second place. Neill Marshall and Carl Blackwell occupied seventh and eighth, while Trevor Wilson made up the team in 19th, not as well up as early-season form would have suggested but principally due to a fall during the race. The second came in the Boys (Under-15s today) race, where Phil Condon took the individual bronze ahead of Simon Cahill (5), and Gary Ineson's younger brother Tony (10) and Steven White (18) made up the team.
Simon Cahill, however, saved his best effort for a fortnight later, when two more 'firsts' went down; on the flat and boggy Towneley Park at Burnley he became the Club's first-ever Northern Cross-Country Champion and led his team to the Club's first Northern team title. It was a different squad, almost; Phil Condon finished sixth, but the other two were a couple more John Smeaton products in Glenn Ogg (45) and Neil Turnbull (58). The team was 29 points clear of Gateshead. The Seniors had hopes of medals which proved to be a bit optimistic, but fifth was to be the best Leeds City placing yet - and although it was equalled the following year it was not to be exceeded until the 1990s. Mike Baxter led home in 6th place, with Martin Dell (24), Brian Hilton (37), Dave Nicholl (41), John Lunn (44) and Mike Gue (55) providing the backing and Pete Stevens (66) also in the first hundred.
Among the firsts there was also a last - the Leeds & District Cross-Country Championships was run for the last time, at Thornes Park, Wakefield (it was briefly revived in the 1990s, but never caught on.) It provided John Lunn with his one and only Senior title - ironically just ahead of his brother-in-law Brian Hilton. Ron Pannell and Martin Brown made up the winning team, and Phil Condon took the Boys' race.
There was some expectation going into the 'National' - could the team beat its 1974 effort - finish in the Top Ten - be near the medals? All pipe-dreams three years earlier - but on the magnificent Stopsley Common course at Luton (possibly the very last time a 'National' course included a ploughed field, sweeping down an escarpment with a wicked climb through the woods) they very nearly came true! Leeds City's seniors finished sixth with 537 points (two years earlier, remember, their sixth man had been in the 800s!) - and this was despite some last-minute withdrawals reported by Roger Norton in his write-up, and one disastrous incident. One factor shown by the results is very significant; sixth in England, the team was also fifth in the North (Derby ran in the Midlands then), and third Yorkshire club to finish, behind Airedale (3rd with 508) and Sheffield United (5th with 530 in their last race before amalgamation.) If the 1975-6 team was good, it had to be; the opposition that it faced even in local competition was red-hot.
The disaster befell Mike Baxter. 16th in that field was good, but he'd fallen heavily when lying sixth, and Mike was always a 'puller-through;' the fall almost certainly cost him another international vest. Martin Dell improved on his previous year's showing in 47th place, while in 68th John Lunn had unquestionably the best cross-country race of his long Senior career, finishing only two places behind Northern champion and former Leeds University student Frank Briscoe. Dave Nicholl (95) was, however, down on his early-season form; Pete Stevens (139) and Brian Hilton (172) ran to expectations, and in Brian's case over thirty places ahead of 1974. Again we had a full nine finishing - Ed Williams (342), Brwsi Kilner (499) and Richard Spirett (511) were the others - but we were pipped by Sheffield for the Charles Otway Trophy, the 'pot' given for the first team to finish all nine. It's still given, and we've won it since.
There were two more team efforts to end an excellent year - one good, one not so. In late March a team victory was recorded for the first time in some years in a long-distance road event when John Lunn, Brian Hilton and Martin Dell contested the Spenborough 20-Miler. The race, which must be one of the toughest 'twenties' in Britain, saw the rare sight of John attempting to break the opposition from the front, in this case Bingley's County man Alan Spence, a 'hard nut' to take on. He led for a full lap, from five miles to fifteen, and then found himself hanging on in the last mile after the fierce descent from Roberttown, trying to hold off a fast-finishing Duncan Gaskell on wobbly legs. Brian ran a more sensible race for 5th; he was perhaps a bit fortunate, as Martin's run in sixth place included a detour to explore Cleckheaton bus station and the park next to it in search of a toilet. John’s run gained him selection for the Yorkshire team for the Inter-Counties event, run on this occasion (possibly for the first time) as a stand-alone race; he placed 13th and gained his second team silver medal.
The less good one was the Northern 12-stage Relay at Liverpool - mainly because for about the only time that season the Club failed to turn out its strongest team. Roger Norton reported that three athletes were missing - he didn't say which three, but Brian Hilton had been ill and Simon Richardson was hoping to return from holiday and possibly didn't - who could have made four minutes' difference. Furthermore, Mike Baxter's bizarre injury, which had been mercifully quiet during the Championships, flared up again, so that he could only run a medium-length stage, and not as fast as usual at that. John Lunn recalls running a poor long leg; and one of the short legs had been entrusted to Sean Cahill, who was still inexperienced in such races. Two years earlier ninth would have been a satisfactory showing; now it was a severe disappointment.
However, as the Club members went into an active summer season of road as well as track, there were hints that great things were on the horizon. The team, already strong, was about to get two massive strengthenings. In February Dave Slater resigned from Guiseley-based Skyrac A.C. to join Leeds City; and suddenly Mike Baxter had a challenger, and a younger one, for Club primacy, as Dave came with international experience and county titles. That was a huge boost, though it was one that people had half-expected to happen for a while; Dave had seldom had the incentive of a team to run with at Skyrac.
In summer a second one came when Pete Stevens persuaded a mate of his from Thames Valley Harriers, then living in Sheffield, to move to Leeds City; the mate was no less a figure than 1972 National Champion Malcolm Thomas. Malcolm was perhaps not quite the lion of 1972; he'd had injury problems and put on a bit of weight (John Lunn used to refer to him, jocularly if somewhat unkindly, as 'Fatman') but he was still a regular in Welsh international teams. His arrival produced a pre-season quote from John which summed up the bullish mood of the Club - "If Gateshead want to beat us, Brendan Foster will have to run - and run well!".
Malcolm's accession to the Club is one of the rare occasions in its history where there is a case of, "now it can be told;" it was one of the few times when members of Leeds City set out to 'bend' the First-Claim rules. In those days these were extremely strict; athletes normally had to live, at the time of joining a Club, within twenty miles of its headquarters unless there was an exceedingly good reason, or face a ban of fourteen months (later shortened to nine) before they could represent their new Club. Moreover, Leeds City had every incentive not to try to cheat; at the helm of the Northern First Claims Committee was their own official Jim Exley, and everybody in Northern athletics knew how unbending Jim was over all matters pertaining to Club moves. Malcolm's address in Sheffield was outside the twenty-mile barrier; and so when he filled in his application form he gave an address in Huddersfield - which happened to be that of one of Pete Stevens' relatives! He got away with it; but the fact that the writer remembers it so vividly is an indication of what a rarity it was, and how clandestine the whole business had to be. What Jim would have thought of athletes resident in Leeds representing Birmingham clubs doesn't bear thinking about.
As the Club turned to track activity in the 1975 season, early reports drew attention to the continuing shortage of all-weather tracks; by their nature provision of them was slow, and for a long time Cleckheaton was the only one in the new county of West Yorkshire - or for that matter in the rest of the county. Unsurprisingly there was a tendency for everybody ton want to compete on them as much as possible; certainly when Sheffield A.C. decided to put on a pre-season meeting in April it was staged there; unusually it featured a10,000 metres, an event which distance-runners still, thirty years later, find few competitive opportunities for. The one that day left a mark on Club rankings; it was quick, and the times run by Martin Dell and John Lunn still stand fourth and fifth on the All-Time list.
There were also problems created by local government reorganisation, a move that had been shown to be politically desirable but upset ‘traditionalists’ in many places; and two of the places where ‘tradition’ is most strongly ensconced are athletics and Yorkshire! The Broad Acres had been split six ways, on the grounds that the previous boundaries no longer represented the pattern of real, and particularly urban, settlement; many of the decisions were probably right, but caused huge amounts of opposition in some localities. Athletically it had considerable effects; schools’ athletics went with the new boundaries, but the Yorkshire County Association resolutely refused to divide - with one big exception. The new county of Humberside determined to strike out on its own, which left athletes based in Hull who had strong Yorkshire affiliations somewhat out on a limb. On a smaller scale the formation of the county of Cleveland took Midldlesbrough-based athletes out of the county; in the long term this, and the move of Saddleworth into Greater Manchester, didn’t cause the same degree of ruction. Furthermore the boundaries cut across existing local competition; several member clubs of the West Yorkshire Leagues, both summer and winter, now found themselves in North Yorkshire. In that respect it changed very little.
The continuing development of Leeds City as a Track and Field club since the amalgamation was beginning to throw up its own tensions, and the start of the 1975 track season saw the Club make some attempt to overcome one which was to take a long time to resolve. Coaching is invariably a problem; the need to find people with the combination of interest in the varied activities which make up athletics and technical know-how is one that hasn’t, and never will, go away. More important, the complexity of the sport means that it always requires somebody to organise the efforts and direct new athletes in the right direction; and finding such a person was to prove a perennial problem. The Club, as has been recorded already, fortunate in finding a number of outstanding individuals to coach in its early years; the co-ordination problem was always harder to deal with.
One figure who took on the task, for a time at any rate, was Alan Whitworth. He was at this time in the process of moving from Wakefield with the intention of developing his coaching work with a larger and more track-orientated Club, and in March 1975 became “the secretary of a new coaching panel” which attempted to bring some rationalisation into the proceedings. He proposed, among other things, setting up ‘coaching clinics’ at the Temple Newsam arena on Sunday mornings; their inception in the spring of 1975 got a considerable amount of coverage in the press from Roger Norton, who saw them as “an enterprising move by Leeds City (which) could go some way to alleviate the high drop-out rate...among (young) athletes.” Roger wrote another article about further coaching initiatives at the end of the season, so thought was clearly being given to the problem; but it didn’t seem to go away.
The Northern League season opened late in May, with Leeds City looking stronger than even the previous year; not only were their youngsters maturing and the distance squad as strong as ever, but there were several important newcomers, some of whom were to be part of the team for a considerable time. Ian Lindley had appeared the previous summer, though he had yet to figure in Senior teams; Roger Norton mentioned four others in his preview of the first match, at the Alderman Kneeshaw track in east Hull. High-jumper Steven Booth made his first appearance, as did Northern Ireland international Colin Beattie, a Leeds University student able to exercise his right to a ‘mainland’ club, and Kevin Walton, a young sprinter who was for several years to perform well in spite of the handicap of being profoundly deaf. The fourth newcomer was one of the more remarkable characters to adorn the team, and possibly one of the few whose reputation for unusual characteristics can rival that of Martin Dell - Robin Murphy. The former Oxford Blue was head of Mathematics at Ampleforth College; he held a Ph.D in the subject, and contributed learned articles to the Mathematical Quarterly. However, athletically, he was a vaulter; and probably the finest practitioner of psychological warfare the Club ever possessed, with the possible exception of Steve Denton - and he learned most of the art from Robin. The writer remembers well such incidents as Robin practising chip-shots with an eight-iron across the track from where his rivals were struggling over low heights; and the tale of the Slithering Stands of Leicester will appear in a later chapter.
Certainly the first match indicated that Leeds City were likely to be out on their own in Division 1. The Club won by over sixty points, with Blackburn, their strong rivals of the previous year, appearing to be “one the decline” and only North Shields Poly. Offering much resistance. The Club’s score of 289 points was the highest ever achieved in Division 1 up to that date. Five individual events gained maximum points, with Tony Gummerson participating in two of them, winning the B Shot behind Ian Lindley and partnering Paul Armstrong in the Discus. Dave Warburton and Ron Ramos took the High Hurdles, Robin Murphy and Steve Wright the Pole Vault (Roger Norton reckoned they would “not get the competition they needed” in this Division), and in the 1500 17-year-old Sean Cahill “ran a shrewd race” to win, with Kim McDonald in support. Three other B-strings won - Pete Bygate the 400m, Brian Scott the 400 Hurdles and Chris Maltby the Javelin - and the 4x400m relay rounded off a good day - or was it? In fact the Club had had a number of disasters - Ron Ramos missing the Long Jump because nobody in Hull seemed top know where the Kneeshaw track was, and Brwsi Kilner, steeplechasing on an injury, had a bad fall. And then there was what was to become a theme of this period of Northern League history - the organisation!
People inclined to quarrel with facilities and organisation in the early 21st century might read the review of the match from the Evening Post as a cautionary tale. The Alderman Kneeshaw track was ‘out in the sticks,’ a cinder track in a park with only a very ‘basic’ pavilion for facilities and no cover; and the weather for this match was foul. Furthermore the match clearly suffered, as so many have since, from lack of officials, especially in the field; and although the last track event took place at 4.30 the field programme took much longer to get through, with every single field event starting late. The idea of clubs helping to provide people to official hadn’t yet percolated as far as the League’s organisation. There is also another change which has revolutionised league athletics in the past thirty years without a lot of people noticing that it has - the development of technology. In 2004 the majority of meetings end with team managers going away with a full set of computer-generated and photocopied results within about ten minutes of the last event taking place. On this occasion Leeds City didn’t leave until 6 p.m., while the results were completed, presumably by being typed on Roneo stencils and laboriously duplicated. Having used both methods - and hand-written result sheets - the writer knows which he prefers.
The pattern of results - with changes in the minor placings - was repeated in the rest of the League programme. North Shields put on the second match at Gateshead; they did slightly better, but the victory margin was still over fifty points. Ian Lindley, Robin Murphy and Dave Warburton repeated their victories, Ian setting what was then a Club record of 14.92, while in the Steeplechase Martin Dell ran his fastest ever - this is believed by the writer to be the occasion when the displacement of water from Martin’s passage through the pit covered the four inside lanes of the track! Tony Gummerson picked up an immense number of points, and there was an excellent second in the B Triple Jump from Bill O’Neill - the more surprising as he’d only volunteered to do it on the coach going to the match. If anything this match as organisationally worse; commenting in the Newsletter, Arthur Cockcroft went as far as to say that “if one was trying to wreck the Northern League, this was the way to do it.”
At Huddersfield, where Longwood finished second on their home territory and the margin of victory was seventy points, Martin Dell forsook the ‘Chase and partnered Dave Slater, making his Club debut, in the 5000, where needless to say they got maximum points, leaving Pete Stevens to pick up where he left off, and Tony Gummerson claimed another 31 points. This was also the scene of a Club landmark when Robin Murphy became the first Leeds City member to clear four metres. The organisation was for once markedly better, Dave Young being complimentary about Longwood’s efforts, though not about the Leeds Road ‘dust-bowl.’ The last match was rather different - Leeds City won at Blackburn by only eight points, and only overtook Rowntree’s on the last couple of events. It was clearly a much-weakened team that took part; and while injuries and holidays took their toll, and a misunderstanding led to two team members not being picked up by the coach, Roger Norton’s review of the match puts forward a strongly critical note on two grounds. The most important was the question of commitment; he pointed out that several athletes had declared themselves unavailable without giving particular reasons, and suggested (though not in so many words) that if Leeds City got into the British League that level of commitment would see them out again very quickly. Another matter Roger took up was the absence of Mike Baxter for the whole of the season due to the long-term injury he was battling at the time; he had a lot to say about the current fashion for heavy-mileage training and a lack of attention to warming-up and stretching, questions which are still controversial thirty years on.
His other criticism was a more serious one. The meeting clashed with the semi-final of the Pye Gold Cup, for which the Club had qualified in May; and the decision had been taken to withdraw the team to concentrate on the League. Roger was less than impressed; in the first place by doing so Leeds City had denied Bingley (who finished third in the first round) the opportunity to participate, and again it reflected badly on the commitment of members - and of the Club’s administration. He contrasted Leeds City’s efforts with the commitment of Edinburgh A.C.’s Jim Dingwall (nowadays and for many years a veteran member of Kingston-on-Hull) who had represented Scotland in Wales on the Saturday and his club at Gateshead on the Sunday. Roger had a point; but such levels of success, and the accompanying pressures, were still a new thing to Leeds City then, and if errors of judgment were made and athletes weren’t always perfect in their commitment, it was still part of a learning curve.
The Cup match in June offered an interesting and prophetic sidelight on the strength of Yorkshire Track and Field clubs, in which there had been one significant change since 1970 - the emergence of Sheffield A.C. Traditionally there had been strong rivalry in the Steel City between Sheffield United Harriers and Hallamshire Harriers; but in about 1972 a third force, Sheffield City A.C., had been formed around Olympic medallist John Sherwood and his wife Sheila and former Longwood decathlete Mike Corden. In April 1975 Sheffield City and Sheffield United had amalgamated; the resultant Sheffield A.C. (some said the initials stood for Sherwood And Corden, who got a high proportion of their points) showed signs of becoming a power in the land. A clash between Sheffield and Leeds City was therefore of considerable local interest, spiced up by the presence of Bingley, Longwood, Airedale and Hallamshire.
In the event Sheffield won the contest by nineteen points; the two above-named athletes played a big part in the win, but were upstaged by triple-jumper Dave Johnson, who set a Cup record of 16.15 in spite of starting his run-up from boards placed over the long-jump pit. It was a precursor of future events, but also showed a very different approach by the two Clubs. While the Sheffield team consisted of only ten individuals, with Corden covering six events, Leeds City put out a full team including eight Under-20s and Under-17s. There were win for Andy Staniland (100m), Dale Bluemink (400), Tony Gummerson (Discus) and Ian Lindley (Shot); but it was an indication that Leeds City were no longer the only ‘big fish’ in the Yorkshire pond. One other winner made a rare appearance for his club - Sebastian Coe took the 800m.
When it came to the Qualifying Match in September, at Warley in the West Midlands, the Club missed out again. In theory, finishing fifth as against third the previous year represented a backward step; in fact we put out one of our better teams, but 1975 was a particularly strong year. The qualifying teams were Brighton and Shaftesbury Barnet; the latter turned out the likes of Julian Goater, while for the former one Steve Ovett featured in four events - 800, 1500 and both relays. Just how much stronger was indicated by one comparison - Martin Dell’s 9.31.1 to win the B steeplechase was thirteen seconds faster than the equivalent winning time of 1974. In his review Roger Norton reported on this side of the story, but missed out the other factor in the equation - The Tale of The Bus!
In those days we invariably hired our coaches from Godsons of Seacroft - a connection which Dave Young had set up when he used the firm for John Smeaton School teams. On this occasion a lot of people wanted to travel to support the lads, necessitating two coaches; for some reason David Godson had had to sub-contract the second bus out, and while Godson’s own buses were always of a good standard this one wasn’t. It was a second-hand Bedford VAL, a curious design of the late 1960s with twin steering axles, and whoever owned it hadn’t been too good on the maintenance. The journey was described by John Lunn, with his usual excess of flowery words, as “an unbelievable mixture of high farce, stark terror and sheer bathos” - and for once he wasn’t overdoing it! As we headed over the M62 in a rainstorm the over-light power steering was making the vehicle wander around alarmingly, whole the ‘skylight’ ventilators were leaking all over the place. Furthermore it couldn’t keep up with Godson’s own vehicle, and there was every chance some of the team wouldn’t get there on time; fortunately the first bus was still in the coach-park at Knutsford services, so we were able to transfer all the early-event performers. However, it had an effect on several athletes - Chris Hudson, for one, declared that he was getting off at Knutsford and hitching back to Leeds (he didn’t - he was one of the ‘transfers.).
There was no shortage of good performances at Warley, but only one winner - Dave Slater, who took the 5000m (in exactly fourteen minutes) after tracking Julian Goater and Pete Standing for most of the race. Dave Warburton and Ian Lindley took second places in the 100m Hurdles and Shot, while the Pole Vault saw the highest event score, Robin Murphy placing second and Steve Wright winning the B event; in addition Sean Cahill had a good 1500 after showing the boldness of youth and taking on Steve Ovett from the gun. It was by no means a bad effort; but in commenting on the Club performance after the event Roger Norton made a valid point. He noted that Leeds City were pointing to the bright future offered by their very promising younger athletes; “but unfortunately Leeds City have been pointing to their talented Juniors since the League started in 1970.” He then listed a whole string of promising performers “none of whom are competing now.” It’s another problem that hasn’t gone away in the intervening years.
A report from the beginning of the season served to show another are of development in Club activities; in May the Women’s team finished third in the Airedale Trophy meeting, which at the time, before regular league competition for women, was a major local event. The report mentions good performances by several younger athletes, including Valerie Biscomb in the Long Jump and hurdler Madelaine Barber; but the major new name to emerge was that of Karen Morley. Karen was to be around well into the Carnegie era of the Club, and has only recently had her pre-eminence in the throwing events in the All-Time Lists challenged; on this occasion she won the Under-15 Discus, and finished second in what was to be her main event, the Shot. Karen was to feature in Club teams for over a decade. The women were also ‘dominating the West Yorkshire League,” at lest in the younger age-groups.
As yet such women’s team competitions were comparatively rare, but individual exploits continued to show how the Women’s Section was growing. Another competition - the Bovril Cup at Cleckheaton - saw a record set that’s still on the books after almost three decades - Tonia Phillpots’ clearance of 1.75 in the High Jump, still the Under-17 mark. There were regular reports from local League meetings of wins for Julie Whiteley and Sandra Arthurton in the middle distances, not infrequently mentioning Sandra’s diminutive physical stature - there was never any question of her competitive stature! One win for Sandra was in the Yorkshire Under-13 1500 metres Championship, which was farmed out to an Open meeting at Rotherham, not an unusual thing for the youngest age-groups at the time.
In the Yorkshire Championships the Club had a surprisingly low haul of Senior winners - only Ian Lindley and Eileen Pitts took titles (Eileen injuring herself in the process after coming back from a long lay-off), and Martin Dell, Brian Scott and Chris Hudson took silver medals, the latter for the eleventh time! The Under-20 Men, however, was a different story; seven titles came home, two of them to Steve Wright, who took both Pole Vault and High Jump titles - though he was really too young, being still an Under-17. The others fell to Dale Bluemink (400), Bill O’Neill (110H), Paul Armstrong (Discus), Andy Lunn (Hammer) and Chris Harbage (Javelin), while Steve Denton and Sean Cahill took silver. On the Women’s side there was what must up to that point have been a record haul of medals in the younger age-groups, though no titles were taken; there was one Silver (Julie Whiteley in the Under-17 800) and five Under-15 Bronzes - Sandra Gent (800), Madeleine Barber (75H), Karen Morley (SP), Victoria Ferguson (DT) and Regina Myers (JT.
Northern titles fell to a similar pattern; while Robin Murphy was the only Senior winner, Paul and Chris repeated their Yorkshire wins, and Steve Wright did even better - he won both Under-17 and Under-20 Vaults, and the Under-17 High Jump. Vicky Ferguson (2nd), Tonia Phillpots (3rd), and Karen Morley (3rd) all took medals in their specialist events to continue the tale of female success. The best performance raised in the A.A.A. Juniors was Paul Armstrong’s fourth place; but this was good enough for him to be awarded an Under-20-international-late in the year.
The inaugural West Yorkshire Schools’ Championships saw numerous Club members taking titles; most were familiar names Staniland, Bluemink, O’Neill, Lindley, Armstrong, Wright and Julie Whiteley - but an important new one appeared when Steve Burnage, running in Wakefield Schools’ colours, took the 400m Hurdles title. Steve and his brother John were to be a feature of the Men’s team for some subsequent seasons; originating from the Normanton area which was subsequently to be a fruitful source of vaulters, both were excellent hurdlers over both distances, and ran very fair sprint times.-Other titles fell to Peter Elliot (no, not that one) in the Junior 100m and Helen Capstick in the same event among Senior girls.-The only one who went on to take an English Schools’ title was Ian Lindley, who won his fourth Shot title; but an interesting aside was Roger Norton’s comments on schools’ athletics.-He reckoned the reorganisation of County boundaries had ruined the atmosphere of both county and national events, in the former case by reducing severely the size of fields; conversely he thought that the E.S.A.A. Championship was that it was too big, too expensive to stage and conducive of “athletic indigestion;” and that a reorganised structure should have county, regional and national championships.-In view of the current fixture list congestion it’s as well nobody took any notice; but it must be remembered that this was a year or two before the National Young Athletes’ League spread to the North, and the schools’ events provided a higher proportion of competition for the best young athletes than they do today.
However, facilities in Leeds for athletics were not getting any better; in February the Club Committee was discussing the decision by the Council to remove the groundsman from Templenewsam track.-The same could be said for the rest of West Yorkshire; the existence of the all-weather track at Cleckheaton seemed to discourage some authorities from spending money on maintaining even the cinder tracks that existed.-One press report, rather sadly, saw the writing on the wall for Keighley’s Marley Stadium.-Dave Young criticised its condition when a West Yorkshire League meeting was held there; Dave had run a 1500 on it, and described it as “diabolical.”-Others seemed to agree, and Bingley Harriers had already decided to move the Hardaker-King Trophy meeting to Cleckheaton that September.-It was a sad end to what had been a popular venue, noted locally for fast times; and it could perhaps be no coincidence that in 1974 Keighley ceased to be a borough in its own right and became part of Bradford Metropolitan District.-The newly-created Kirklees (which didn’t have a single town as its definite centre) was more supportive of Cleckheaton.
The Hardaker-King meeting saw Dave Nicholl win the West Yorkshire 5000m championship with Brian Hilton third, Sean Cahill outkick Dave Slater over 1500, and Steve Harrison make his first recorded appearance, in the Under-17 sprints; and both the above meetings marked the appearance of an important name for the future on the female side, as junior sprinter Sarah Shipley was reported picking up wins; indeed in the Marley meeting she ran 27.5 for 200m on “a track resembling Blackpool beach,” according to another competitor.-There was also a late-season West Yorkshire championship meeting, where several titles were taken; it never really took off, and in later years it became subsumed in the West Yorkshire League as its championships.
At the end of the season Leeds City acquired a number of new members form other sources; the most controversial were three members of Wakefield Harriers, who had considerable reputations over middle-distance events.-John Ashton had come within fractions of a second of qualifying for the European Under-20 Championships over 800 metres; Andy Hitchen was a 1500 runner who was good enough to take on the best of Yorkshire’s Seniors; and Jonathan Metcalfe was one of the County’s leading Under-17s.-The moves were initiated by their coach Alan Whitworth, who had also come to the Club; and the motivation was clearly to get a higher level of competition than Wakefield were at the time able to provide. However, it did arouse accusations of ‘poaching’ in some quarters; and Roger Norton, in noting both these moves and those of Dave Slater and Malcolm Thomas, rejected any such suggestion on the part of the Club, but noted the growing tendency for bigger clubs to become stronger.
Between track races that summer there as a fair bit of activity on the road. Road racing in 1975 hadn't attained the position it has now; there weren't hordes of tiny road-running only clubs (that came with the 'Marathon Boom' of the 1980s, and some put down the supposedly declining standards of middle-distance running to their rise), and the ubiquitous 10k had not yet swamped the ten-miler as the favoured distance. 1975 was Martin Dell's summer on the road, he had wins at Redcar and Ripon (in the latter leading Brian Hilton and Brwsi Kilner to take the team prize) and a second to the still formidable Bolton international Mike Freary at Burnsall. The team finished third, with Brian in 12th place winning the grossly under-advertised West Yorkshire Championship (they never bothered to organise one again); third counter was another 'acquisition,' Jeff Windsor, who had come from Harrogate A.C. some months earlier after moving to Leeds. Jeff was around the Club for a long time, but had other interests besides athletics; in later years he became an ordained minister.
In the early part of the 1975-6 winter season it was the girls, rather than the men, who began to hit the spotlight. For one thing Julie Whiteley was back in the fold, and running well from early in the year; and another name to conjure with appeared late in the summer. The successful Under-13 team moved en bloc to the Under-15s, and their first race was a win in the Frodsham relays. Sandra Arthurton and Sandra Gent made up two-thirds of the team, but the third member was a newcomer a year older - Carole Wood. It's quite enough to put Carole in her rightful place in the Club's middle-distance pedigree to point out that at Under-17, Under-20 and Senior level, wherever you find Sandra Arthurton's name on the Club Track Ranking Lists you seldom have to look far - in a lot of cases only one place behind - to find Carole. Her forte was track - she was a lethal 800-metre finisher - but her record over the country and in road relays stands to compare with the best we've ever had.
Moreover it wasn't now a single team - by November there were two Leeds City teams challenging for Northern Women's League honours. The Under-15s started well in early October at Sale, with a second place to the home club; even with Sandra Gent having an off-day due to illness in 56th place, the rest - Sandra Arthurton 4th, Carole Wood 8th and Julie Dawson 27th - were well clear of the rest. Three weeks later they repeated the dose with a lower score in the same order, respectively 2nd, 14th, 23rd and 31st; but on this occasion the Under-17 team finished third. The returned Julie Whiteley, in third place, was supported by Christine Thompson (15), who had been one of the rare under-17s running the previous year, Carolyn Bell (33) and Paula Staiano (46 - though the Club Newsletter states she actually finished 25th and was missed by the judges).
The two teams took the same places in the Northern Women's relays at Rawtenstall. In the Junior race Sandra Arthurton led off on first leg - and despite being 'left' on the line came in thirteen seconds up; her time was third fastest, behind the two girls with whom she had a seasons' formidable competition - Sale's Pauline Clark and Hull's Janice Moody. Carole Wood, on second leg, recalled in a letter to the writer that she had been told how important it was to beat Sale Harriers, and as a result had gone off far too fast on the notorious Rawtenstall ‘glue-pot; at the top of the biggest hill she stopped dead, but got going again after some encouragement and held on to second place, and Julie Dawson held off Janice Moody's challenge to hold it. The Intermediate race followed a similar pattern; a big lead (32 seconds) from Julie Whiteley, a fighting run from Christine Thompson, only passed by Derby's star of the time Yvonne Rowe and future international Sue Parker, and a heroic hanging-on last leg from Paula Staiano, who hadn't trained for a fortnight due to acting in a school play.
The Men's side started the year by staging the Northern Six-stage Relay, prophetically, in Middleton Park, with the start and finish half-way up the longer side of the hilly loop, to be as near the changing accommodation at what was then Parkside High School. It wasn't one of the easier courses; and the Club chose that particular day to be well below strength. With two reserves in the pack the decision was taken to put the stronger men off first and try to hang on; but basically it didn't work. In the early stages, with an excellent run in third place on the opening leg from Brian Hilton (21.07), it looked as though it might; even after Pete Stevens (22.03) dropped a bit, two more sound efforts from Dave Nicholl (21.32) and Martin Dell (21.21) kept the team in contention. But on the fifth leg was the very young Sean Cahill, and on the sixth the not too fit Len I'Anson; and Middleton Park wasn't the place to throw in tyros or 'good Club guys' with any hope of success. They lost about six minutes (24.33 and 24.05) on what first-choice runners would have done, according to Roger Norton's review the following week. Tenth, on our own course, was a real disappointment.
The West Yorkshire League season got off to a reasonable start - but partly because both Airedale and Bingley were competing in the National 6-stage relay at Wimbledon. (The Club could have gone as well, but only received the invitation about a week beforehand, and couldn't get a full-strength team out.) Dave Slater started out on an unbeaten season in League races, winning the Bingley race from Holmfirth's Graham Ellis, one of the rising youngsters that club was beginning to produce. With Brian Hilton third, Pete Stevens 6th and Martin Dell 12th, the team was something of a formality. This wasn't the case at the next meeting - held, curiously, at Graves Park, Sheffield; at the time both the new Sheffield A.C. and Rotherham Harriers had been allowed to join to gain better competition than they could locally, just as 25 years later Scunthorpe and Kingston-on-Hull could be found taking part. Allocating a race to Sheffield had been controversial, and Roger Norton was highly critical of the actual organisation stating that Sheffield A.C. "didn't particularly want the meeting, as it was virtually ignored by their athletes and officials." The team that day, behind Dave, was made up of Dave Nicholl (8), Pete Stevens (an off form 25th) and Malcolm Thomas, in only his second race for two years. 41st showed that the former champion had a long way to go to get back to anything like his true form. On this occasion Airedale were at strength - and Leeds City were 59 points adrift. A small aside was that the Colts' race was won by a stringy-looking bespectacled lad from Rotherham called Peter Elliott.
In fact, Malcolm's debut was if anything even less auspicious; a week earlier he had run the first leg of the Aaron Relay, and been almost a minute behind Dave Slater, and over half a minute slower than the other members of the team, Dave Nicholl and Brian Hilton. Leeds were third, to Manchester & District Lads Club and Loughborough. The younger lads were out in some force, but not among the medals. In the Boys Chris Bennett, who was to be about the most consistent scorer for the club, finished seventh, backed by Terry O'Neill and Tony Hirst for fifth team; while a B team of Neill Marshall, Mark Clark and Roger Bloor were said to have "been ahead of many Clubs' first teams." The Youths team of Simon Cahill, Phil Condon and Tony Ineson suffered somewhat from being last year's Under-15s. The notable feature of this period was the complete absence of Mike Baxter, due to injury; he returned for the last League race, on a frozen course at Judy Woods, Bradford, and on minimal training finished fifth. Brian Hilton and Pete Stevens (11th and 17th) did enough to retain the title. The youngsters, who had featured well at Sheffield (though mostly Boys in the combined Boys/Youths races of the time) were not out in any numbers.
Again the Club appeared in University events as well (they usually involved ale afterwards!), and the Big Match saw Jeff Windsor have a good run in 5th place - his best since joining. He was supported by Brwsi Kilner, who in 12th was for once one ahead of John Lunn, Stewart Dobson (23), teenage Grammar-School lad Grahame Lunt (31) and Roger Parker (35). George Stead was not further embarrassed, however; at the Leeds University relay a team of Jeff Windsor, John Lunn, new acquisition Nigel Bailey, Brwsi Kilner, Grahame Lunt and Garry Ineson finished a respectable seventh, but did not appear in the Weekly!
Nigel had moved to Leeds from Edinburgh, and the Club had acquired another interesting character to add to its collection; an established steeplechaser who had British League experience with both Blackheath and Edinburgh Southern, he was also something of a character, two of his interests being home brewing and Scottish dancing. Due to injuries and family problems (he divorced during his stay in Leeds) he never quite fulfilled the promise he brought, though he was around for some time. He started promisingly, though, winning the Club's pre-Christmas handicap at John Smeaton School, a race in which Dave Slater did the fastest time without troubling to take his track-suit off.
Meanwhile the girls went from strength to strength - and so, for that matter, did the Club's organisational experience. There was a little flurry on the road, where a mixed-age team of Sandra Arthurton (Under-15), Julie Whiteley (Under-17) and Christine Thompson (masquerading as a Senior) finished second at Batley; and two more best -ever placings for the Under-15s (7th) and Under-17s (11th) in the National Road Relays, the teams in question being Arthurton, Wood and Dawson and Whiteley, Thompson and Staiano. These two teams were becoming among the strongest in the North, and certainly showed themselves the strongest in Yorkshire, though in the Junior race Sandra Gent replaced Carole in the count. Both Sandra Arthurton and Julie Whiteley took their respective age-group titles; in the Under-15 Sandra Gent was 4th and Julie Dawson 7th, while in the Inters Christine Thompson was 6th and Paula Staiano 16th. Five County representatives also set a new standard for the Club.
The organisational challenge was to run the Northern Women's Championships for the first time - and at a venue which at first seems surprising, until it is recalled that Mike Sherman has spent practically his whole teaching career at Garforth Comprehensive School (or Community College, as now is.) The course was an interesting one; it must be the only Championship course in the past thirty years that crossed a main road! Not that the traffic on the A63 would have noticed - Mike used the disused Garforth-Castleford railway line which ran alongside the school field to take the course under the road and out into a farmer's land at the other side. The staging was good enough to gain Roger Norton's praises; though Mike recalled the school's Head of Physical Education refusing to have anything further to do with cross-country after being sworn at while acting as a car-park attendant. Unfortunately the Club couldn't manage to find a winner at its first Women's promotion, but the two leading individuals continued to show their good form; Julie Whiteley just missed a medal on home ground in the Under-17s, and Sandra Arthurton took the Bronze in the Under-15s. The good organisation was something of a portent for future activities; the Club was also staging the Yorkshire Men's Championship at Templenewsam in January, and the announcement had already been made that Roundhay Park was to be the venue for the 1977 Northern and 1978 National Championships.
In January 1976 yet another in what was proving a year of female milestones was passed; the first Leeds City distance runner donned an England vest. Julie Whiteley had had a splendid run in the Inter-League race just before Christmas, which led to selection for the Home Countries Women's International, run at what was then something of a hotbed of female distance-running - Rawtenstall in Lancashire. On a tough course Julie ran second most of the way, but was outkicked by two team-mates in the last half-mile; still, fourth in really good company showed that her return to competition had been no flash in the pan.
The Girls only got one medal in the Club's first Championship promotion; in the second, the Yorkshire Association race, the lads got a hatful - literally something in every race. The only one where there was no team medal was the Colts, where Gary Hayton took third place; but the Boys and Youths, of whom little note had been taken in the press before Christmas, came up trumps with second places in both. Simon Cahill led the youths to a narrow win over Wakefield in 6th place, Neil Turnbull was 17th, Phil Condon 22nd in spite of an injured back, and Tony Ineson 26th. The Boy's team, however, did even better; Steven White (6), Chris Bennett (7), Terry O'Neill (12) and Tony Hirst (16) coming out as clear winners. Only Chris was to make much of a future mark; but Tony, who had run for the short-lived and essentially school-team New Farnley A.C. the year before, brought along his younger sister at some stage - and Wendy Hirst was to have a considerable impact. Remarkably the Club finished two more Boys' teams.
The Senior race was expected to be a cracker, and lived up to Roger Norton's expectations. On the form of the year the individual race was reckoned to be Dave Slater's, and so it proved; without ever being under pressure he left Alwyn Dewhirst twenty seconds adrift. The packing was equally impressive; Malcolm Thomas maintaining his improvement to finish fourth, Dave Nicholl 8th, Martin Dell back to form in 9th, all in before Airedale's second man. Mike Baxter, who played his usual captain's part by running in spite of a recent dose of 'flu, finished 17th, and Pete Stevens rounded off in 22nd, to give the Club a narrow win. It was probably about fair; Airedale were two men short, one the reliable John Temperton, but Mike's lowly position could be argued against that. To emphasise the point, Airedale's seventh man was in the late thirties, while Leeds City had Nigel Bailey 24th and Brian Hilton 26th. The Club's organisation was again commended, but there was one disturbing outcome when the headmaster of Temple Moor School wrote complaining of damage to the premises. It took some shine off things; the Committee considered stewarding at future promotions.
An outsider reading the Evening Post could have suspected that everything was fine with Leeds City; but there were aspects of the Club's organisation which were still causing concern. One had been the balance-sheet; in 1974-5, for the first time for a while, Dave Hodgson had had to report what was then a fairly substantial loss of £436. There was much talk of fund-raising - but as ever it needed somebody to do something about it. The somebody, remarkably as if he wasn't doing enough competitively and as a captain, was Mike Baxter, who during 1975 and 1976 organised several Discos with somewhat mixed support. Two of them certainly went well and made money; on, another occasion, however, Club members stayed away in droves, and it only made money because he flogged the tickets round friends and workmates - a matter which Mike was sharply critical about in the newsletter. With Mike's efforts, and a Summer Fair at a school in Halton, a corner was turned; and at the next A.G.M. Dave was able to report a profit of £636.
After the Yorkshire the Northern was, as wasn't uncommon, something of an anti-climax, but not in retrospect too bad a performance, considering Dave and Malcolm were missing - not surprisingly, with the Inter-Counties the following week. On a frozen and miserable course at Morpeth, a long way from the changing accommodation, the Seniors repeated their fifth place of the previous year. Mike Baxter had shaken off his 'flu, and led home in 16th place, and both Dave Nicholl (26) and Pete Stevens (36) had good runs; but Martin Dell (73) had a shocker in what was an up-and-down season for him, and both Brian Hilton (57) and Nigel Bailey (69) were in front of him. The 'lesser lights' didn't have a bad day; John Lunn finished 101st, Jeff Windsor, in his first major Championship run, 129th, and Brwsi Kilner 136th. If the lack of improved placing was a disappointment, the Club could take comfort from its depth. The Youths team were even closer to the medals; they finished 4th, led by Simon Cahill in 12th place, with Neil Turnbull 38th, Tony Ineson 44th, and ahead of them a recruit from an unlikely source - Russell Varney (33), a student at Batley Grammar School. Former Thames Valley Harrier Bob Ellis, although a member of Longwood, usually sent the lads he taught up the road to Spenborough; why Russ came to Leeds is lost in the mists of time, but he was to be around for a while, making most mark as a steeplechaser.
1976 was a most peculiar cross-country season for the 'old-timers,' as the traditional programme was changed by moving the International Championship to an earlier date, before the 'National;' in a precursor of the future the Inter-Counties was to be used as a selection race. Club members had gained three places in the County teams after the ‘Yorkshire Trial’ in January; Andy Hitchen was sixth in the Junior race at (almost inevitably that year) Graves Park, while in the Senior Dave Slater didn't run (he was at a wedding) but was nonetheless selected; the only other vest went to Malcolm Thomas, who in fourth place showed clearly that whatever state of fitness he'd been in at the start of the season, he was now very much in shape. Martin Dell, 11th, had been the only other Leeds City man close up.
If the Inter-Counties was intended as a selection race, Dave Slater should have been selected straight off; he finished 8th, but the selectors in their wisdom had chosen to pick the non-running Brendan Foster and David Black. Their wisdom was called into question by Roger Norton, who pointed out that Foster had expressly stated that he did not plan to run any cross-country that winter - not even in the 'National' to help Gateshead defend the title. Roger not unreasonably asked why the selectors hadn't checked up first! Anyway, Dave got his place, and justified it by finishing third English counter at Chepstow in 15th, in a winning team. Malcolm Thomas, finishing 66th, was fourth counter for the Welsh team that closed in 8th on its home territory. Both Dave and Malcolm were to receive commemorative tankards.
The Girls rounded off their season in a very satisfactory manner. The last Northern League match at Derby saw not two but three Leeds City teams flourishing; the first record of the Under-13 team appears in the Club Newsletter. The aforementioned Wendy Hirst was third counter that day, finishing 30th to support Susan Elam (23) and another new name that was to leave a mark - Lorraine Holdsworth (20). Both Wendy and Lorraine can still be found high on the Ranking Lists. The older age-groups held their places; the Under-15s were second to Sale (again) with Sandra Arthurton second to Pauline Clark (again) and packing five in 32 - the others being Carole Wood (12) Julie Dawson (17), Sandra Gent (20) and Lesley Doyle - another new name that was to be around for some time. Julie Whiteley also took a second place, and led Christine Thompson (9) and Paula Staiano (31) to third place overall.
Two girls took titles in the West Yorkshire Schools', Sandra Arthurton in the Junior Girls' and Carole Wood in the Inters, with Julie Whiteley second in the Senior race (Simon Cahill took the Inter. Boys, our only male success.) The National Championships saw Julie finish a slightly disappointing 12th in the Inter. Race - only disappointing alongside her magnificent earlier performances - and the Juniors finished 8th, led home by bronze medallist Sandra Arthurton - another Club first. Moreover, Sandra could have another crack at the title next year - but so, ominously could the runner-up, Sale's Pauline Clarke. Sandra Gent (80) had as good a race as she'd had all season; Carole Wood (104) probably had the opposite; and Julie Dawson (135) was pressed hard by Lesley Doyle, who finished 145th.
Whatever else had motivated the season, however, did not compare with the anticipation surrounding March 11th and Western Park, Leicester. So close in the previous year, and with new strength 'up front,' could a medal, or even a title, come home? Roger Norton outlined the team the week before - the strong-looking nine of Slater, Thomas, Baxter, Dell, Nicholl, Bailey, Hilton, Stevens, and Lunn, with Richardson, Kilner and Spirett named as reserves. It looked good - but even in praising their efforts and raising their hopes Roger was cautious. He pointed out that Mike had struggled with injury, Martin had been erratic, and John was unlikely to repeat 1975; he also noted that well though they were going there was no guarantee of them even being the first Yorkshire team home. Airedale had been beaten - but never by much, and any team containing the likes of Alwyn Dewhirst, John Temperton, Jim Todd, Richard May and Dennis Mayho couldn't be written off. Still, the team went down with every intention of doing itself justice - and it did all of that!
In terms of being competitive there can have been few better National Senior team races ever. In 1975 only thirty points had covered third to sixth places, but Gateshead had been 150 or so in front; in '76 they held their title, but by a margin of only 42 in a field in which exactly 200 points covered the first seven teams. And in the middle were Leeds City - an agonising FIVE POINTS short of taking medals, and only 82 points off taking the title, with a score 200 points less than the previous year. Furthermore, the club one in front of us was CARDIFF - who nowadays wouldn't be allowed to enter the ENGLISH Championship. Ironically, the man who probably cost the Club the medal was the man who'd probably done most to make it all possible - Mike Baxter.
On what could have been the day of days for Mike's illustrious Club career, he ran "the worst National I ever did" - his words, not the writer's. Mike was fifth counter in 87th place; if he had run to the same form as in the Northern (where he was one behind Liverpool's Roger Harrison, who finished 46th) the team would have beaten Cambridge & Coleridge for silver medals. It's impossible, however, to criticise Mike. For a start, he turned out with a creaking foot injury, and by his own reckoning limped about seven of the nine miles; writing in the Club newsletter Brwsi Kilner described his run as "an object lesson in guts." It could be said as well that the number of times he ran in these two years with injuries and illness to support the team, and the training he had missed as a result, took their toll at the wrong time. Even in its narrow failure he had driven, cajoled and inspired the team to a peak which would take over twenty years to emulate and almost thirty to better.
Mike was doubly gutted because the other five counters ran up to or even bettered expected form. Dave Slater was with the pace most of the way, and finished a splendid sixth; Malcolm Thomas showed just how far he'd come back for a storming 13th place; and Martin Dell shrugged off all the question-marks over his patchy form when it mattered to get in the first fifty - on that day an achievement. Dave Nicholl continued his steady effort in Club teams in 77th; and Brian Hilton's 111th was the highest placing he had so far occupied in 'Nationals.' For the record, John Lunn was 230th, Pete Stevens 316th, and Nigel Bailey was badly spiked after only about 100 yards and dropped out. Overlooked in the euphoria and disappointment, a Youths team, without Simon Cahill and Phil Condon and consisting of Russ Varney (154), Neil Turnbull (172) Paul McKenna 183) and Carl Blackwell (316) finished 37th.
There were a couple of other team excellent team performances to come before the start of the track season. The Spenborough 20 team race was won for the second consecutive year, with Martin Dell finishing third, Brian Hilton 10th and Nigel Bailey 12th; and the team were, again, just outside the medals in the Northern 12-stage, run on a curious course at Gateshead, from the Team Valley industrial estate, in which the short leg was very short and dead flat, and the long leg was very long and went up a mountain-side. The team was short of Malcolm Thomas, carrying an injury, and Dave Slater had to be talked into doing a long leg the week before an international; Malcolm's replacement was a newcomer to the Club, and an interesting one. Pete Bradley had only joined the Club a matter of weeks before the race; although a Leeds lad, he had come from Medway A.C. in Kent, having just left the Royal Navy after several years' service in nuclear submarines. Some found Pete difficult to get on with; he was sometimes prickly, and more than a bit of a 'loner.' However, he was to give the Club five or six years of solid performances before he left in somewhat unusual circumstances - but that comes later.
The team was given a splendid lead-off by "probably the last man to make the team," as Roger Norton described him - Brwsi Kilner, who probably ran the best of his many good relay legs that day. One of the features of the team, in fact, was the consistency of the short-leg runners; Brwsi ran 10.50, John Lunn 10 57, Pete Stevens 10.55, Malcolm Cox also 10.55, Pete 11.08, and only last-minute call-up Mike Sherman (yes, he raced as well!) was a lot slower with 11.55. The long legs saw Dave Slater excel himself again, doing the fastest of the day with 29.15 for a pretty torrid six miles on the eighth leg; again there was consistency with Dave Nicholl doing 30.50, Mike Baxter 31.01, Brian Hilton 31.59 and Martin Dell, running into a hole on last, 31.48. Nigel Bailey (32.48) being the only slightly disappointing long-stager. However, the Club didn't contest the A.A.A. race for which it had qualified.
The Club has gone on to other triumphs at Senior level on the road and the country; but until recently the question has always hung around - were the '76 team as good as, or better than, the teams of the 1990s and the new Millennium? In 2001 the writer contributed a comparison to the Club Newsletter, which can be found as an appendix to this History; having reconsidered it when writing this account, he feels that his view - that while later teams were more consistent and won more things over a longer period, in terms of pure talent the '76 team was the better - is a fair one. Of course, he admits to prejudice; the days of the '76 team were his own good running days, and throughout history the old men will always tell you that the grass was greener, the courses were harder, the competition was tougher and the achievements were harder-earned in the long-gone, golden days when they were young. He also admits that the younger generation have won more, won for longer, and got to higher levels than his team ever did; and if some suggest that the competition in the 'Seventies was tougher - well, you can only beat the opposition that's there, and the modern boys had no easier task defeating Bingley, Morpeth and Salford than we did defeating Airedale and Sheffield United. He has cheered on, enjoyed, and rejoiced in, all the successes the last fifteen years have brought - but in his heart the boys of '76 will always be 'The Team.'
The question we were asking, of course, in April 1976 was, where do we go from here? Surveying what the team had achieved, and looking at the personnel, there were plenty of high hopes. We didn't expect the answer to the question which actually happened - that the way we were going to go was down, into a trough in Senior Harrier activity at Leeds City which was to take the best part of a decade to climb out of. It was a great time - but regrettably, a short one. The torch of advancing the reputation of the Club was to pass, in those years, from the Senior Men Harriers to the track-men, the rising Women's section, and the growing body of young athletes - and they were to carry it well.