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A history of Leeds AC
Written by John Lunn
Chapter 7: New directions and old frustrations
The1976 and 1977 track seasons were both interesting, because each of them was to see an important stage in the history both of the Club and athletics in the North in general. In each of these years there was a major development in team competition. 1976 saw the Women’s section moving into League competition, while there were signs in the same year of the emergence of league competition for young male athletes; in 1977 the Club first entered the National Young Athletes’ League. The two came from very different routes; one had grown out of the major clubs, while the other came form a single spark. In the winter season between the two the Club also enhanced its reputation for promoting cross-country events.
League competition for men had developed at the Senior end of the spectrum; and if some people had had their way within athletic administration, would probably have remained so for much longer. Women’s athletics, on the other hand, had tended to be weak at Senior level, but was developing rapidly among the younger age-groups. It was part - and an unsung part - of the increasing movement which is often described, somewhat inaccurately, as ‘Women’s Lib;’ it was really much more a case of younger girls following older generations who had for fifty years before the Seventies been less and less willing to accept the gender stereotypes of previous generations. Whole books have been written on the subject from all sorts of angles; it would be possible to cite the rise of the ‘teenager’ as a separate socio-economic entity in the 1950s, a more adventurous approach in some schools’ Physical Education departments from the ‘traditional female’ activities of hockey, netball and rounders, in athletics the appearance of role-models in the 1960s such as Ann Packer and Lillian Board, and even the steady reduction in the weight and complexity of women’s clothing and in particular of underclothing. Remembering the monstrous whalebone corsets without which his mother didn’t consider herself properly dressed, and even the much lighter ‘girdle’ of the 1960s which vanished when the appearance of tights made suspenders obsolete, the writer feels it’s no coincidence that young women became more likely to take up active sports such as athletics at a time when these changes took place.
At any rate, when women’s league athletics had developed, with what was at first known as the Motorway League, the teams covered three age-groups - Under-15s, Under-17s and Seniors, as they would now be called. The Northern Women’s League had followed the same format; and Leeds City had really had to wait until enough of its members were older than 16 to put out a worthwhile Senior section before considering going into League athletics. 1976 was the year they took the plunge; and it was a successful start, as the Ladies had an unbeaten record in Division 4B. Not that it was the strongest of Divisions; it started off with five clubs, but Middlesbrough only attended one of the thee matches, and Sheffield A.C. gave the last one a miss.
The Club won the first match, at Sheffield in early May, by over forty points with no less than thirteen individual winning events; two of them would now be ‘illegal’ under UKA rules, as Sandra Arthurton won both the Under-15 800m and 1500m (which she regularly did - nowadays boys aren’t allowed to do the double either.) There were also ‘doubles’ for Sarah Shipley in the sprints and Karen Morley in the throws; Tonia Phillpots won the High Jump, Carole Wood and Paula Staiano gained maximum points in the Under-17 800m, and Diana Greenwood, a staff colleague of Mike Sherman at Garforth, won the 400m Hurdles in spite of never having done it before. She was the first really effective practitioner of the event in Club history.
There was a delay of almost three months to the second meeting at Rotherham, where the margin of victory was 34 points over Sheffield and the three ‘doublers’ of Round 1 repeated the dose; There were also senior wins for Julie Whiteley (800), Christine Thompson and Lesley Doyle (3000), and Diana Greenwood (400mH and 100mH.) In the younger age-groups there were plenty of winners; among the Under-17s Carole Wood (800m) and Christine Clarkson and Janice Swan (Discus), while in the Under-15s there were doubles form Sandra Arthurton and Jane Rostron (800), Karen Morley and Diane Swan (Shot), and 13-year-old Angela Bruce and Jane Bottomley (Javelin), and a win for hurdler Philippa Peters. There was also a remarkable performance from Wendy Hirst, who won the B 1500m with a clocking of 5.09.1 - at the age of 12. Only a few Under-13s have beaten it since, and now they seldom get the opportunity.
Phillipa and Jane Bottomley were two of a group of girls who became Club members in somewhat odd circumstances. Alan Whitworth was best known for coaching middle-distance runners; the athletes he brought with him from Wakefield all fitted into that category. However, somehow (the circumstances have not been recorded) he’d established a connection with a school somewhere in Halifax or the surrounding area; and in 1976 Leeds City suddenly got an influx of girls from the area. Several of them made substantial impacts on the Club’s performances for some time; they did so in the third league match of the year in August at Kirkby, when another ‘Calderdale’ hurdler, Janet Patchett, was part of a double with Christine Linton (who was a neighbour of Mike Sherman’s) over the now-abolished distance of 200 metres hurdles. The winning margin was 61 points, but the meeting was extremely distorted by the participation of only three clubs; one sign of this was that Leeds City didn’t drop a single point in all the middle-distance events, and out of 62 individual events the Club provided exactly half the winners.
For the fourth successive year Leeds City’s Senior Men’s team was pretty well unchallenged in the Northern League Division 1, though the unbeaten records of 1973 and 1975 weren’t emulated. The first match, at Cleckheaton in early May, produced a 29-point margin of victory over Longwood, whose performance was enhanced by decathletes Alan Shaw and Martin Maynard. The Leeds team was weakened (as first-round teams often were in subsequent years when the first fixture was on the first weekend in May) by a clash with the British Students’ Championships; both Andy Staniland and Ian Lindley were taking titles in that on the same weekend. The Club scored maxima in four events - 1500 with Dave Nicholl and Chris Hudson, Triple Jump with Mike Gledhill and Walter Bronjewski, Discus with Paul Armstrong and Tony Gummerson (who also won the Shot) and javelin with Chris Harbage and his younger brother Colin; in addition Sean Cahill took the A 800 and Steve Denton the B Vault.
The second meeting, in early July, was held at the Kirkby Stadium, an important venue for many years, but one which had suffered from being sited in a huge and featureless ‘new town’ - for which read council estate with precious little other than pubs in the way of leisure facilities. It had suffered for some time from the attention of vandals (with on one occasion an international athlete’s car being jumped on until the roof was flattened), and it has the doubtful distinction of being about the first all-weather track the use of which was discontinued. The meeting was also held on one of the hottest days John Lunn, who won the 5000m with Pete Bradley taking the B, can ever remember racing in; his recollection is of temperatures of “105 in the shade - and there wasn’t any!” John Ashton (after what Granville Beckett described as “a swashbuckling first lap”) and Sean Cahill in the 800, and Dave Nicholl and Mike Baxter in the 1500, ensured a clean sweep in the distance events, while Mike Gledhill and Ian Lindley won their specialities. There was also a mention of one of the odd people the Club has picked up from time to time who add interest to its history - long-jumper Alan Ainsworth, an acquisition from Leeds University. The very ordinary-sounding name hides the fact that he added another nationality to our list - Alan was, and clearly looked, a Hong Kong Chinese.
The League title was virtually assured with a victory by 51 points at Huddersfield in the third match four weeks later; maximum points were recorded in the Shot, Discus, Javelin and Pole Vault, and only dropped points in the middle distances in the 5000m and Steeplechase - and that in spite of a list of seven key athletes mentioned as being missing for the meeting. Indeed Roger Norton was at pains to stress how necessary it was becoming for Leeds City to get into the British League. He reckoned that even in the Northern League’s top division “the overall standard is poor (and) offers very little incentive to any except the very youngest of the Leeds Athletes, who can get better competition in open meetings or in the Stretford League.” He also criticised the organisation for shortage of officials, comparing it to the Gateshead shambles of 1975. The Huddersfield meeting also saw the first appearance of one of the most memorable sprinters the Club ever produced - Ron Small.
How Ron came to the Club, as recounted to the writer by Ray Barrow, is a tale in itself, which might even have got Ron ‘banned’ for ‘professionalism’ if it had come out at the time. Ray first heard from a colleague about a guy who was racing al-comers in Harehills Park and staking his car on the outcome - and who had according to his informant never lost. Ray went along to see, and persuaded Ron he might have a future in ‘real’ athletics. He became a team regular for several seasons - and those who saw “Thunderbird Ron” sprint seldom forgot it. There are those who say a runner’s style is an outward indication of mechanical efficiency, though there is no such thing as a ‘perfect style’ for any event; some sprinters flow fluently over the ground, and some attack the event with muscular aggression. Ron’s style defied all known description, and could only be fully appreciated, as the writer once did, by standing looking straight down his lane and watching him approach. Between his elbows and his knees, if you looked carefully, he was a normal sprinter of the ‘chunky’ kind; from there outwards his lower limbs rotated in circles! Combined with a pronounced backward lean, the result was like nothing else ever seen, and would have appeared comic - to anyone who wasn’t trying to catch him! Ron’s personal best for the 100 metres was 10.7, which the majority of present-day Club sprinters would be more than happy to equal! He was the classic instance of never judging an athletic book by the cover, and living proof that that there’s more than one way of achieving. Certainly the Club team was more than glad to have him in the squad.
It was significant that in the final match at Warrington - in which the Club finished second to Liverpool Pembroke - at least two 16-year-olds were given their first taste of Senior League action - John Burns who accompanied Club captain Pete Bygate (“making his first appearance in more than a year”) in the 800m, and Simon Cahill in the 1500, partnering Kim McDonald who was on vacation from Western Kentucky University. Another two youngsters had good wins; Beresford Herbert, in only his second appearance, won the High jump and was second in the triple, while Chris Harbage advanced the Club Javelin record to 57.12. There were contributions form young decathlete Martin Waterhouse, who did five events, and a ‘second-level’ distance-running squad which included Nigel Bailey, Pete Bradley, Brwsi Kilner and John Lunn.
The fifth attempt at qualifying was probably the most frustrating yet. Not only did we miss out, in joint fourth place, but Sheffield A.C., who had been scoring ridiculous totals in Division 3 of the League, applied to be considered in the ‘paper match’ for the last place, were given it, and qualified in second place. Moreover, the Club’s failure at Haringey was brought about principally by the non-appearance, without notice or explanation, of some of our better throwers; it was in a write-up in the next Newsletter after this that Arthur Cockcroft, usually slow to criticise, made a scathing reference to “Messrs Garbage and Hummerson.” There were still some strong performances; the jumpers did particularly well, scoring 76 out of a possible 80 points, and besides vaulters Robin Murphy and Steve Wright (the latter winning with a 4.20 clearance in the rain), triple-jumpers Mike Gledhill and another promising youngster, Martin Stitch were singled out for mention. On the track Mike Baxter won both B 1500 and 5000, though not long back from injury, while Andy Staniland, Kevin Walton (now more often running 400s after opening his account in May by running 49.3 at his first try early in the year) and young John Smeaton School multi-eventer Martin Waterhouse, who ran the 400m Hurdles, were also mentioned by Roger Norton.
The Club’s participation in the B.A.L. Cup followed a not untypical pattern. An all-Yorkshire first round at the Alderman Kneeshaw track in Hull was won by a reasonably comfortable margin from Wakefield and Longwood; the semi-final at Meadowbank saw a weakened team finish seventh of eight, with Wakefield 5th. At Hull Chris Harbage set a Javelin record (56.06) which he was subsequently to beat, while John Ashton, Robin Murphy, Mike Gledhill, Ian Lindley and Tony Gummerson won their regular events. There were only two winners at Meadowbank - John Ashton again and Dave Nicholl over 5000 - and only Simon Richardson in the ‘Chase (3rd) and Pete Bradley in the 10,000 (4th) rated a mention in Athletics Weekly. It clearly wasn’t a memorable effort.
Championships and open meetings added interest to the developing Club. Leeds City organised its own series of Open Meetings - at Cleckheaton, inevitably - and the spring one saw good sprinting from Andy Staniland and youngster Paul Richards, a fine 3000 from Dave Nicholl (among those he beat was Charlie Spedding of Gateshead) and good performances from Simon Cahill, Neil Turnbull and Russ Varney among the youngsters. Roger Norton claimed it had been successful in attracting numbers, but not in the field events, which he praised the Club for ‘pushing;’ Paul Armstrong had been the only competitor in the Shot, for example. The summer one was even more of a success; though the numbers showing up were in some ways an indication that there wasn’t enough ‘formal’ competition to go round then. Earlier than that the Club had already seen a landmark, winning two age-group indoor titles at Cosford; Sean Cahill took the Under-20 3000, an event he preferred at the time, while in the Under-15 Girls 1500 Sandra Arthurton took the lead after 100 metres and was never challenged again. Her domination was such that her winning time of 4.50.3 was three seconds slower than her heat time - and in the heat she’d set a personal best - for the first 800 metres, covered in 2.22!. Sarah Shipley took a bronze in the Under-15 60m, and Phil Condon wasn’t far off in the Under-17 1500m.
In County, Area and National championships medals were harder to come by than for some time. In the Yorkshires, for instance, only one title fell to a Senior member - John Ashton taking the 800m; and silver medals for Dave Nicholl (5000), Ian Lindley (Shot) and Tony Gummerson (Discus, with bronze in the Shot) were the only other ‘takings.’ In the Under-20 age-group there was more; Andy Staniland had a sprint double, and Sean Cahill (800), Steve Wright (Vault, with Steve Denton almost inevitably second) and Paul Armstrong took one each. We also had a claim on 110m Hurdles champion Derek East - but that day he was wearing his Army vest. On the women’s side the only champions were among the Under-15s - Sarah Shipley, Sandra Arthurton and Karen Morley. Similarly, only one Northern Men’s Senior title came the Club’s way - Robin Murphy took the Vault, with Steve Wright third; Steve subsequently took the Under-20 title ahead of Steve Denton. There were also medals for Ian Lindley (3rd Senior Shot) and Paul Maney (2nd U17 100). The Northern Women’s Championships introduced another significant new name - that of Alison Downie, who won the Under-15 Long Jump - and saw one of the great surviving Club records set when Tonia Phillpots cleared 1.75 to win the Under-17 High Jump. While no medals were taken at the A.A.A. Championships Club members did well enough in the Under-20s for three of them - Paul Armstrong, John Ashton and Sean Cahill - to gain age-group internationals at the end of the year.
The West Yorkshire Schools brought titles almost too numerous to mention - sixteen of them, with the ‘usual suspects’ well to the fore. Besides the familiar names of Armstrong, Arthurton, Bluemink, Cahill, Phillpots, Shipley, Wood and Wright and the increasingly familiar ones of Burns, Condon and Patchett there were some new ones; Vivienne Grant in the Senior Javelin (another of the ‘Halifax contingent,’ she was a member of the Scottish Clan Grant of Grantown-on-Spey), Paul Maney in the Under-17 200, and three Under-15s - spear-thrower Adrian Riggs, high-jumper Chris Lumb and sprinter Garry Yeadon. Of these Garry, a precociously well-built 14-year-old who like a lot of others was a Rugby winger, was to go on to become one of our two English Schools’ champions of the year, setting a record that has only once been subsequently beaten; his Yorkshire runner-up Philip Griffin, also a Club member, took the bronze medal. The other winner was Sean Cahill, who took the Senior 1500m.
By the end in the season two names were missing from the team-sheets, and would be so permanently. Dave Slater abruptly left the Club in mid-season to join Bingley Harriers; and Martin Dell took a job in Hereford and within a matter of months wrote back to inform the Club of his retirement. He was deeply involved at that time with the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, and felt that his participation in this was more important than athletics; his final contribution to the Newsletter was a brief article about a meeting at York to try and prevent the starting of a race - “the Arms Race” - which had been address by former Olympic athlete Philip Noel-Baker, a strong C.N.D. supporter. He made the comment that it as “a pity that the £5bn spent...to keep Britain in the race couldn’t be spent on athletics - or something.” Nobody made the least disparaging comment, because Martin’s commitment to such causes was well-known and well respected.
His departure did deprive Leeds of one of its more remarkable athletic sights; prior to his departure he’d been working for Yorkshire Water in Garforth, and was often to be seen running home through the centre of Leeds, often past the Central Bus Station, carrying a huge ‘day-glo’ back-pack, and wearing the inevitable green tracksuit and blue gabardine raincoat, topped off with a flat cap with a transistor radio beneath it! There’ll never be another!
However, the history of the Club seems to be forever a case of, “as one door closes, another opens.” This was the period - from 1972 to 1992 - when education in Leeds was organised on a three-tier system, and the Leeds Middle Schools held their own championships - usually at Temple Newsam - and a perusal of the winners shows a number of names who were to feature in Club teams. On the Girls’ side Angela Bruce (Javelin) and hurdler Rita Panayi figured in the Under-13s, while the Under-12 800 (in 2.31.5) went to Wendy Hirst; while among the Boys Mark Johnson, who still holds the Senior 110m Hurdles record, gained his first mention. The ‘headline’ event was a clash between two Club members in the Under-12 1500 - Gary Hayton, younger brother of Colin, and David Holdsworth, whose sister Lorraine had already appeared in Club colours the previous season, and figures in ranking lists. Gary had two ‘careers’ at Leeds City - as a schoolboy distance-runner, and later as a multi-eventing ‘filler-in’ for the B team, along with Colin and Steve Denton, in the 1980s. He was also a successful local league footballer; and it was when returning from a football match that he was to be killed in a horrific crash on the notoriously dangerous stretch of the A59 between Harrogate and Blubberhouses. The award for the outstanding young sportsman in the county’s awards for disabled sportsmen is named in his memory.
Before the season had started, in April, there had been a serious Club attempt on the Three Peaks’ Fell Race. There were strong Leeds associations with the race, besides the fact that Jack Bloor had won the second race in 1954; quite a lot of the older members had run it, Dave Hodgson and former St. Mark’s secretary Harry Croft had been involved in the organisation, and Harry’s son Douglas, though never himself an athlete, was secretary of the organisation’s association for many years. On paper the Club had quite a strong team; besides veterans Dave and Jack Lawton, a quartet of younger members, Nigel Bailey, Brian Hilton, Brwsi Kilner and John Lunn, had entered, and the latter two had even gone to Horton for a week’s holiday training over the course. In the event Nigel and Brian dropped out, and John, in spite of problems handling heights, ran the fastest time by a Club member on the second manifestation of the course with 3.06 50. There are two contrasting accounts in a Club Newsletter - the seasoned Dave reckoning the course isn’t really that hard, while the tyro John presents a somewhat different, and more cautious, picture. The race wasn’t ever one to take lightly, as event two years later were to prove.
Again the distance-runners were active through the summer; and their activities were clearly influenced by increasing car ownership and the improved travel opportunities the motorways had brought. They took part in more races in Lancashire and Cheshire that year than in Yorkshire, if the Club Newsletter is an indication. There were also not infrequent references to “practising the manly arts” - a euphemism for finishing up in a pub! Pete Bradley, Brwsi Kilner and John Lunn were regular participants, though occasionally others appeared; a race at Bolton, for instance, was Dave Slater’s last outing for the Club. They were also noted at Hyde (for an eight-miler on a flat six-mile course which finished on top of a huge hill, Heywood, the fell race at Barnoldswick, and a relay in Salford; they also had a little flurry (with Mike Baxter and Brian Hilton) to the east coast to help the new Scarborough A.C. launch its first race.
However, perhaps the most memorable was a four-mile town-centre race in Congleton, for two reasons. One was the comment in the Newsletter about John Lunn’s distress at “running four times round three sides of a Tetley’s house without going in;” the other was the first appearance of yet another memorable individual - Joe Clancy.
There are often arguments about what the function of an athletic club - especially one of the size and with the competitive record of Leeds City - should be all about. There is the school of thought which says that our aim should be to produce Olympic champions, outstanding individuals and winning teams - and the writer wouldn’t quarrel with that as being one of our aims. However, he and a lot of other people have also seen it as the job of athletic clubs of all sizes and pretensions to offer the chance to anybody who wants to take part, of whatever standard, to do so and gain enjoyment from it, and to encourage them to do it a bit better. Anyone who says that this is a waste of time, and we should only work with people who are ‘assessed’ as having ‘talent,’ should consider the story of Joe, which the writer told in a newsletter in 1977.
Joe first appeared with son John, who was then about eight, in the summer of 1975 jogging round the Templenewsam track. The Club wit who thought “he resembled unto an Irish brickie” hadn’t got it quite right; he was in fact a carpenter and joiner, aged 29 and clearly looking as if he’d never done any serious sport for years. Perhaps it reflected the increasingly ‘middle-class’ attitudes of Club members that nobody expected him to stick to running, even when after a few weeks he asked Dennis Wood if he could go for a run with him. The ‘star’ Seniors were even more surprised when some weeks later he asked if he could go out with them; he lasted about two miles; and the wise heads reckoned that was the last we’d see of him. The wise heads got it wrong. Next week Joe was back - and lasted about three miles; and so it went on. Joe clearly “didn’t seem to worry about being dropped, and if he was he was quite happy just to keep going at his own pace.” As the winter went on he stuck for longer and longer, and in early 1976 he joined the Club and ran his first race, the Bingley cross-country handicap, “off a starter’s mark which gave him no chance - and duly finished nowhere.” Eighteen months later he was within thirty seconds of getting a first-class standard in the Three Peaks, and he was later to run in the British League as a steeplechaser.
Joe’s attitude to training, as explained in the 1977 article, isn’t a bad guide to anyone of any ability in any athletic epoch - “he has never expected miracles, his approach to training has always been sensible, but as soon as he has found himself able to push a bit harder he’s done so.” As to whether a Club like Leeds City should bother with such people, the writer recalls a conversation with Pudsey & Bramley’s Pete Watson when that club started a ‘jogging section’ in the early ‘80s marathon boom, where he reckoned that if two similar ‘joggers came along, and one trained with the jogging section and the other with the ‘traditional’ harriers they progressed at very different rates. If Joe had gone to one of the ‘small, friendly running clubs’ that sprang up around that time he’d never have done a 10.14 ‘Chase or a 2.37 Marathon; and Leeds City would have lost a lot.
The winter season was almost certain to see a shift of emphasis in the Club’s fortunes, and the effect of the departures on the Men’s side didn’t take long to show. Roger Norton previewed the season with an article in which he contrasted Leeds City’s weakened resources to the strength of the Airedale & Spen Valley team; this was particularly ironic in that the latter contained a whole list of present and former Leeds University students. Personal influence often has a great deal to do with deciding which club an athlete joins if he or she moves into an area; and the strong figure in Leeds University running in the late 1970s was an ASVAC member, Gary Smith. The presence of the likes of Tony Bird and John Fox (whose brother was a long-standing Sale Harrier) in the ASVAC squad was largely down to ‘Big G.’ There was still plenty of ‘paper’ strength about in Leeds City; but there was something of the feel of an era coming to an end despite this. Several of the ‘regulars’ were now either approaching or the long side of thirty - seen as pretty elderly in those days. The opening events of the year didn’t do much to dispel this. The Northern 6-stage, at Derby (on a depressingly flat course) saw almost everybody, including Mike Baxter, have ‘shockers’ - and that was Mike’s description of the first three legs and the last one, respectively by Brian Hilton, John Lunn, himself and Brwsi Kilner. Dave Nicholl and Pete Bradley restored things a bit, but 10th after last year was a distinct come-down. A slightly stronger team of Andy Hitchen, Mike (who ran better), John Ashton, Dave, Pete Brad. and Pete Stevens fared better in the A.A.A. at Southport, finishing 14th.
There wasn’t much more joy in the early rounds of the West Yorkshire League; in the first match we were behind Holmfirth as well as ASVAC, with Mike Baxter 4th, Dave Nicholl 12th, Pete Stevens 15th and Pete Bradley 16th, and while we rose to second at the second race (Mike 1st, Andy Hitchen 7th, Pete Stevens 10th and Brian Hilton 13th) the pendulum had clearly swung. A few individual efforts - Mike’s win and David Holdsworth’s second in the Under-13 in the second race, Simon Cahill finishing second in the joint U17/U15 race - lightened the gloom a bit. It lightened considerably more in the last race, where despite the absence of Mike a Senior win was recorded; the counters were Brian (6), John Ashton (9), Andy (10) and Pete Bradley (14). Mike was away representing the North; the result seems to indicate that some of the ASVAC lads were in the same team. Another lightener of the atmosphere was that year’s Aaron Races, which showed that at least numbers could be got out; five Seniors and one and a half Veterans’ teams turned out, and the A team of Andy Hitchen, Mike Baxter, John Ashton and Dave Nicholl finished second to a Loughborough Colleges’ quartet which included Sebastian Coe.
There was even more joy about the younger Aaron races. The Under-13s and Under-17s both won; in the former Gary Hayton was first home, and David Holdsworth and Darren Marshall were 6th and 7th; Darren’s brother Neill was our best Under-15 in 5th. The Under-17s also had the winner in Simon Cahill, and with Chris Bennett and Phil Condon 4th and 5th it was even more emphatic. The Club had already resigned itself to the fact that at the end of the winter Phil would leave; his family had moved to Manchester, though he intended to see the season out. There was, however, a replacement waiting in the wings; fourth counter in eighth place was a youngster making only about his second appearance for the Club. In this first season he was very much the fourth of a strong quartet; but more was to be heard, and before not too long, of John Doherty.
There was even the usual bit of University hilarity when the British Irwin Club, which the year before had set a course record for a team wearing the same hat, set a second for the fastest team ever to carry a pint tankard (empty, needless to say) round the course. The miscreants involved were Len I’Anson, Pete Bradley, John Lunn (who supplied the pot), Gary Ineson, Nigel Bailey and a newcomer, former amateur soccer player Paul Greenwood.
At the last West Yorkshire League meeting the younger athletes - except for David Holdsworth, who took an overall award - were conspicuous by their absence; they competed the next day at Worksop, in a young athletes’ meeting of some quality, judging by the opposition the Under-17s beat - Tipton, Sheffield and Birchfield were all behind them. Simon Cahill won, Phil Condon finished 5th and Chris Bennett 12th, and even though John Doherty had “an off-day” in 34th hopes of a medal in the ‘National’ were being raised. However, the almost perennial comments about youngsters over-racing due to Club and school commitments, and the influence of this on the drop-out rate, appeared in an article by Roger Norton earlier in the year which also mentioned another phenomenon - the growth of interest among Veterans, which he said would bring “nothing but good to the sport.” John Lunn had a different ‘moan’ about cross-country matters in the Newsletter, and again it was one that had recurred - West Yorkshire League courses containing excessive numbers of laps.
There was certainly no gloom about the women’s side of the Club, however. Opening the competitive season with a composite relay win at Sutton-in Ashfield - where the only challenge to Sandra Arthurton on the Junior leg came from Lorraine Holdsworth - the Club went on to a good season in the Northern Women’s League. Julie Whiteley was placing well in Senior races; Carole Wood was usually near the front of the Under-17s (6th in the first race); Wendy Hirst never won any of the Under-13 races, but took the overall trophy; while Sandra seemed to have got the mastery of her earlier rival Pauline Clark from Sale, and won the all three Under-15 races. A Newsletter article of the time noted that the organisation of the Women’s League wasn’t quite up to the standard of ‘slickness’ that men’s competition was noted for, but put it down to the comparative newness of women’s cross-country. With Sandra running fastest leg of the day, Lorraine Holdsworth and the improving Fiona Worton, a good sixth placing in the National Relay in the age-group was achieved.
There were also successes in other open races, a number of which, to the Newsletter correspondents’ obvious amusement, were in the North Midlands; was it significant that Julie Whiteley’s future husband, who appeared on the scene at about this time, came from Derby? Certainly the Batley Road Races were enlivened by Julie’s failure to get there from Derby due to the peculiarities of Sunday railway timetables - to say nothing of the fastest leg of all being run by an Under-15 competitor - Sandra Arthurton, who else! The Yorkshire Championships saw two individual titles won -Wendy and Sandra - and four other girls, Julie, Lorraine, Carole and Lesley Doyle - gain County selection. The three younger teams all finished second, and the Seniors 4th. It was also another feather in the Club’s organisational cap; the Committee Minutes record thanks from Association secretary Margaret Midgley of the successful promotion at Beckett Park, which the Club was increasingly using for running events.
While all this was going on on the competitive front, there was another matter exercising the Club’s mind. There was still a strong feeling that the Club was a collection of bits rather than an entity, and that a Club headquarters would be the catalyst for pulling it together. However, there was no chance of anything being done about Templenewsam, John Smeaton wasn’t really satisfactory, and the University and Polytechnic were still student-only preserves. In the autumn of 1976, however, a proposal came up to buy “a defunct Conservative Club in Roundhay.” (The Newsletter editor of the time was John Lunn, and his comment was “I didn’t believe it, either!”) Mike Baxter had much to do with the plan to borrow money from a brewery (one showed interest), do up the building by volunteer labour, convert part of it for weight- and circuit-training, train in Roundhay Park and on the recently-laid 300m cinder track at Allerton Grange School, and pay for it out of bar takings. Considering the sums involved - there was talk of borrowing £40,000 - the project now looks very much a flight of fancy; but it was seriously pursued until the brewery lost interest - which in retrospect was probably just as well. Not long afterwards there was another scheme on the table for a joint headquarters with Colton Cricket Club, which did have the virtue of being within warming-up distance of Templenewsam - but nothing came of that, either.
Another matter - which again still hangs around - was the question of Club finance, and in particular the slow payment of annual subscriptions. In December 1976 the Newsletter carried an article in which several people who were involved on the Club’s financial side - Mike Baxter, who was running discos as well as races, Arthur Cockcroft, who was organising the Christmas raffle, and principally Treasurer Dave Hodgson - put in their two-penn’orth on the subject. The most telling point was made by Dave, who said that in the previous financial year the cost of running the Club was £1,600, which compared strikingly with the total receipt from Subs - £570! In fairness, it had been an exceptionally heavy year for expenditure on equipment. Fund-raising of various sorts made up the rest, which really made little economic sense. It made even less when a formidable list of people was mentioned, though not by name, as not having paid up; it included everyone from competing athletes to “FOUR MEMBERS OF THE GENERAL COMMITTEE” (the capitals were in the Newsletter, and rightly so!) Something was done about it; it involved appointing John Lunn as Membership Secretary with instructions to rake the arrears in. It was a rôle which put his notorious bloody-mindedness to practical use; and by January, after four months, he was able to report to the Committee that only six people remained unpaid. Of these “three could be regarded as lapsed, two were away at college and the last was an unknown quantity.” (He can’t remember who the last one was - perhaps mercifully!) At a later date four members of the Club (again unnamed in the Minute Book) were suspended for non-payment.
1977 started a little better competitively on all sides. To the six female County representatives (augmented to eight when Fiona Worton and Paula Staiano got late call-ups) were added five male names after the Yorkshire ‘Trial’ - Mike Baxter and the entire counting four of the Under-17s, which gave John Doherty, who placed 5th, the distinction of “going from complete novice to County man in six months.” (The other three occupied the first three places.) In the Inter-Counties Mike finished 17th, fourth counter in a winning team, while the youngsters made up three-quarters of Yorkshire’s champion quartet. Phil Condon, in 34th, was the only one to run down on form; Simon Cahill was 8th, Chris Bennett 12th and John 29th.
The Women made a big contribution to Yorkshire’s successes - none more than Julie Whiteley, who didn’t get a medal but secured four for the rest of the Seniors by passing the fourth Greater Manchester counter on the run-in to give Yorkshire a one-point victory. Carole Wood’s 24th in the Under-17 was a fine run after getting off a sick-bed (Lesley Doyle was 95th and Paula Staiano 145th); and Wendy Hirst was ninth in the Under-13s in her first representative race. And why leave the Under-15s till last? Why else but because the Club provided its first Inter-County champion, as Sandra Arthurton romped it, while Lorraine Holdsworth and Fiona Worton had honourable runs in 34th and 59th.
It really was Sandra Arthurton’s year; there were two more ‘firsts’ to come, in every sense of the word. First she proved that Burnley’s Townley Park was a happy hunting-ground for Leeds youngsters; on the ground where Simon Cahill had become the Club’s first area champion two years earlier she became the first female area champion - though not before Pauline Clark had pushed her to a second! The team of Lorraine (13), Julie Dawson (28) and Jane Rostron (72) placed 5th, a place matched in the Under-13s by a team featuring Wendy Hirst (5) and at least two other names set to play a big part in future years - Janine Midgley, nowadays better known as a one of West Yorkshire’s leading sports-injury physiotherapists, who was 43rd, and Diane Burton, who was 52nd. Fourth member Amanda Taylor (44) was, however, only a member for a short time. Two weeks later on a mud-bath at Stoke Sandra exceeded anything any Leeds City member had done on the country before - she took an English title. She’s also, to the writer’s knowledge, the only Club member to have taken any title of any sort wearing only one shoe - the other one vanished in the mire. Wendy Hirst was a splendid 8th among the younger girls, while Julie Whiteley’s 30th was a solid start to her Senior career.
The Men’s Championship programme was certainly of interest to Leeds City in 1977 as the Club staged the biggest promotion it had ever handled - the Northern Championships - in the full knowledge that it was only a rehearsal for an even bigger effort with the following year’s ‘National.’ It was quite interesting that three weeks before the event they were given an object lesson in how not to do it by the newly-formed, enthusiastic but inexperienced Barnsley Road Runners’ efforts to stage the Yorkshire. The course was on reclaimed slag-heaps at Carlton, held together with tough grass (probably selected by Martin Dell’s father, whose speciality this was.) Unfortunately the Barnsley club chose to mark the course with very little tape, and pale blue flags which were very small and virtually indistinguishable from the surrounding grass. This “game of ‘hunt the marker flag,’” as Arthur Cockcroft described it, didn’t stop the Club setting another small landmark by picking up medals in every age-group for the first time, including taking the two youngest titles; not hard in the case of the Under-13s when Gary Hayton, David Holdsworth, Steve Hardcastle and Darren Marshall came in between third and tenth. The Under-15s were just as emphatic (Neill Marshall 2nd, Richard Burrow 5th, Roger Bloor 10th and Gary Howarth 13th) in a race won by “the impressive Elliott of Rotherham.” The Under-17 only placed second, but both Simon Cahill and John Doherty were out with niggles, so Chris Bennett and Phil Condon (3rd and 4th) were backed up by Steve White (21) and Paul McKenna (24) who both ran well for their medals. A Junior team was only possible because John Ashton had been knocked out of the 800 at Cosford on the Friday night; he rushed back and finished 4th, so that Kim McDonald (19), Sean Cahill (20) and Gary Ineson (50) could take a bronze medal home. The Seniors, even after all the traumas, still came within four points of the title, which went to Sheffield A.C.; Mike Baxter navigated his way round to win, supported by Brian Hilton (8), Andy Hitchen (11), Dave Nicholl (12), Pete Stevens (14) and Pete Bradley (18). A “below-par” ASVAC team finished third, its “only disappointment,” according to the Evening Post, in an otherwise dominant season.
The Northern at Roundhay was an organisational triumph and a competitive disappointment - with one exception. Arthur Cockcroft’s call for all hands to the pumps had received “replies in such superabundance that I was hard put to find jobs for everyone.” The course was designed by Mike Baxter, though he had the help of the unknown landscape artist of the 1820s who first laid out Roundhay Park in its present form; from experience of organising later ‘Nationals’ on it the writer has often expressed the opinion that he must have known that someone would want to put in a three-mile championship lap, as all you have to do to mark it out is follow the copses and natural features. However, Mike was the first to use it, and his course, ‘tweaked’ slightly after the experience of running a race on it, was so well done that in essence it’s been used on each of the four subsequent occasions the ‘National’ has been run there.
It all proved a bit much for Mike, though - because in the Senior race, for one of the few times in his Senior career, he failed to finish. He put it down to the work and worry over getting the course right, and having done similar events the writer agrees with his conclusion; you use up too much energy organising to run well. The Senior team finished 7th in spite of his absence; Dave Nicholl led home 34th, with Malcolm Thomas 45th, Pete Stevens 49th, Brian Hilton 70th, Andy Hitchen 71st, and Pete Bradley 85th. The Junior team did themselves no favours by being caught getting their track-suits off when the gun went; the same quartet as in the Yorkshire finished in the first 100, but kicked themselves roundly afterwards. The only bright moment came when the Under-17s packed four in the first 20 (Simon Cahill 5, Phil Condon 7, Chris Bennett 9 and John Doherty 19) to take their title.
Clearly big things were now expected of the Under-17s; but “blessed is he who expecteth nothing, for he shall not be disappointed.” When it came to the National, on London’s Parliament Hill Fields, only Chris Bennett (24th) ran to anything like form; the other three all had their worst day of the season at once. It was especially a disappointing way for Phil Condon to end his connection with Leeds City! The Senior race was one of the most notorious in ‘National’ history; the huge start has never been easy to control, but on that day, for whatever reason (and the writer can’t remember, because he was in the thick of it) the field was at least 400 yards up the course when the official starting gun fired - and you can’t recall about 1,200 runners! Considering Mike Baxter was ill, Malcolm Thomas injured yet again, and Dave Nicholl (206) clearly had an off-day, 25th wasn’t a bad finish; Brian Hilton (135) and Andy Hitchen (149) made up a bit for Dave, while John Lunn (276), Pete Stevens (289) and Pete Bradley (290) packed well. That had been the story of the year - good packing, but a bit further back down the field.
One other Club team picked up medals - a fine pair of ‘bronzes in both Northern and National Veterans’ Championships. The names were extremely familiar to Leeds City members; the trio of magnificent Over-50s consisted of Jack Bloor, Dennis Wood and Allan Lawton. Ten years on from the founding of the Club they were continuing to carry the flag, a little more slowly but with no less determination. At Rotherham they finished 5th, 15th and 19th, and at Perry Barr, Birmingham, they were 12th, 24th and 44th, in each case in the above order. At a younger level fifteen members - Mesdemoiselles Whiteley, Thompson, Staiano, Arthurton, Wood, Doyle, Dawson, Hirst, Holdsworth and Worton, and Messrs Simon Cahill, Bennett, Doherty, White and Neill Marshall - represented West Yorkshire in the English Schools’ Championships; and here again for the first time Leeds City provided a winner - and not just one but two. Sandra Arthurton’s victory in the Intermediate age-group might have been predicted; Julie Whiteley’s Senior win was an unexpected but welcome bonus.
Road running also hadn’t been forgotten, and was to see a good deal of activity throughout 1977. In January Pete Bradley won the ‘Ferriby Ten’ at Hull, while at the end of the winter Brian Hilton was second counter in the Yorkshire team which for the first time ever took the Inter-Counties 20-mile team title; the race was of such quality that Yorkshire’s fourth counter, Bingley’s Bill Padgett, was inside 1 hour 48 minutes in twentieth place. Mike Baxter, Dave Nicholl and Pete had a sort of ‘Easter tour’ in Lancashire, winning the team race in the Salford 7 and coming second in a very strong field at the Chris Vose 10 in Warrington. Even the youngsters were to have a bash; in August the Junior Boys’ team of Dave Holdsworth (who won), Steve Hardcastle and Darren Marshall took the team prize in their age-group at the Barnsley Road races, another major promotion by the newly-formed club in that town. It was a race which had a considerable vogue for a few years, but the writer can’t remember whether the youngsters had to tackle the main feature of the course - the fearsomely steep Old Mill Lane.
The prospect for the 1977 track season had had a bit of a boost in the winter. Not only had several of our sprinters of all ages appeared ‘on the boards’ at Cosford, but a considerable addition to strength in this direction was the move from Dorothy Hyman Track Club of Charlie Beaumont. A tall, rangy quarter-miler who had already been well placed in County 400-metre championships as an Under-20, Charlie was to have a long career with the Club, and to be a fixture in teams through the late Seventies and early Eighties. He made his first appearance in Club colours in November 1976, when he ran a good 200m - but only slightly faster than the redoubtable 15-year-old Garry Yeadon at the same meeting. On the same day Ron Small ran a 7.2 60m, an event for which he was well suited.
At roughly the same time Andy Staniland was selected for a Junior Sprint Talent Squad, an early example of attempts to “nurture outstanding talent.” In Andy’s case it was probably justified, though he was never completely committed to athletics due to his equally successful rugby career.
The major development of the season, however, came with the decision of the Club to take part in the National Young Athletes’ League for the first time, in the League’s second season in the North. This League has arguably been one of the most important stimuli for the development of this and other clubs; and yet it was an area that the official athletics establishment ignored and in some cases actually discouraged. Clearly one stimulus for its own development was that with the development of the all-age Women’s Leagues in most of the country an imbalance had been created; there was League competition for young girls, but not for young boys. However, there was the continual cry from administrators and certain coaches that there would be too much competition, and school competition would be enough. There had been no move from the athletics establishment to start leagues for youngsters, and the league really owes its existence to one remarkable man, to whom athletics should be very grateful but whom it has never honoured - Ron Sales.
A more unlikely athletic pioneer than Ron it would be hard to imagine. A chain-smoking middle-aged man from Essex, who himself had never competed (in later years he once threw the Hammer for Thurrock Harriers in a Southern League match), he came into the sport as the parent of a young athlete, as so many valuable people have; and realising the lack of regular team competition for people of his son’s age, he organised a local league of clubs in the surrounding area in the very early Seventies. The fact that it caught on and grew very quickly indicates that there was a clear demand for such competition; clubs from a wider area around London began to apply to join, and by 1974 it was becoming quite large. Word spread, and clubs beyond the South got interested; though the first Yorkshire involvement in it didn’t come from a club at all, but from Malet Lambert High School in Hull, who actually travelled to the South to compete at one stage. By 1976 it had grown to cover most of the South and embrace a Midlands division; and when moves to start a Northern Area began, it was no surprise that Leeds City were quickly involved. There had been inter-school matches between Malet Lambert and John Smeaton schools for some time, and Dave Young was aware of developments. Leeds City had participated in Warrington’s young athletes’ competition for some time beofre1976; a press report in June in Roger Norton’s collection mentions double wins for two promising young members in their first season with the Club, sprinter Paul Richards (Under-17 100 and 200) and John Burns, who won the 400 and 800 in the same age-group. However, that was a mixed meeting, and the need was at first clearly on the male side.
One problem which had to be sorted was the need to find a team manager, and here Dave struck gold by persuading a candidate for the job - the parent of an athlete who himself was to have a remarkable career. He approached Eddie Linsell, who had a background in local football administration, but none whatever in athletics, but whose son Steve had recently started high-jumping at the age of 11, and whose nephew Paul, a highly-promising long-jumper, was a pupil at John Smeaton. Eddie was to embrace the job with success for several years, and embrace an interest in Leeds City for many more. You could draw parallels between Ron Sales and Eddie Linsell; and one of them is that they both, in their different fields, made contributions to a sport which was originally not their own, for which athletics on the one hand and Leeds City on the other should be deeply grateful. As for Steve Linsell, it’s enough to say he holds two Club High Jump records - the Under-13s, set in 1977, and the Over-40s, set in 2004! In between he has, with one exception due to a season out with injury, cleared 1.80 or better in every season since 1980 - a remarkable record in an event where participants tend to go out young.
The structure in the early days was different from its present, Southern League-style ‘round-robin’ format; the Club was in a Central Division with five other clubs, and finished the three-match series in third place to Stretford and Longwood, largely because the team turned out in the first match at Huddersfield in May was significantly weaker than the other two. The team placed fourth in that meeting; in the other two it was narrowly second to Stretford, in the case of the second match only losing because the Under-17 4x400m relay team was disqualified.
At the first meeting, at Huddersfield in late April, the Club hadn’t quite got its act together; the team had a fair number of holes in it, and could only finish third behind hosts Longwood And Malet Lambert. Nonetheless a large number of names appeared in this first team who still feature in Ranking Lists a quarter of a century on. In the sprints Garry Yeadon and Phil Griffin began a season-long collaboration which scored heavily, particularly as Garry scored the first of three ‘sprint doubles’, while the strong middle-distance section also scored heavily; the fast-improving John Doherty and Richard Burrow took maximum in the Under-17 Steeplechase, as did Neill Marshall and Karl Blackwell over 1500m, while Chris Bennett and Mark Clark just missed doing so over 3000m and Stuart Newby won the 800m. Newcomer Steve Savage took not only his principal event, the Triple Jump (partnered by Neil Slater, who also won) but the B-string Hurdles as well, and Adrian Riggs won the Javelin. Among the younger lads future Hurdles record-holder Mark Johnson marked his first appearance wit a win, and Steve Collinson was half a maximum in the High Jump. The other half was a precursor of future events; Steve Linsell scored his first points. There were also a plethora of young high-jumpers at the time - Gary Launder, Chris Lumb also rated a mention - principally due to the emergence of Bill Hodson, a school-teacher and ‘also-ran’ road runner, as a more than useful High-jump coach. Bill had ‘come in from the cold’ after previously starting a separate club, New Farnley A.C., based on the school he taught at; it only lasted about a year.
The second match, as Stretford, was a much closer affair - in fact the team would have won it but for a disqualification in the Under-17 4x400m Relay. Once again the sprinters were prominent. Garry Yeadon made his effort a triple by winning the Shot as well, while he was supported by B sprint wins by Ray Barrow’s nephew Nicky George, a more than useful performer; while there appeared yet another Club ‘oddball’ in Leeds Grammar School quarter-miler Daniel Brown. Dan was one of those incredible talents who never actually seemed to train but still produced times, in addition to which he was a juvenile chain-smoker whose propensity in this direction earned him the nickname of “Dan, Dan, the Fag-Ash Man” in certain quarters. From Dave Young’s account he appeared to be at the centre of the disqualification incident, after winning the individual event. With Gary Launder, Adrian Dobson and the Two Steves the Club had a High-Jump bonanza, while John Doherty doubled 800 and 1500, winning the latter in maximum partnership with Gary Howarth, and David Lambert and Neil Slater maximised the Javelin. The Under-15 Triple Jump saw another maximum when Mark Johnson (after winning the Hurdles) supported another newcomer - Aamer Khan, who remains one of our few 15-metre performers. He was to set a new record before the season was over.
The last meeting at Cleckheaton was not quite as close - Stretford won by five points rather than two! The Under-17 middle-distances and the High Jumpers across the board continued to contribute heavily; in the latter case Simon Mountford added his name to the list of event winners. The middle-distance highlight was a Club Steeplechase record of 4.36.8 from John Doherty; his second-string Richard Burrow also featured in a maximum-point 3000 with Mark Clark. Steve Savage and Neil Slater took Triple Jump honours again, while Garry Yeadon and Nicky George staged more sprint successes. Mark Johnson and Aamer Khan did likewise in the younger age-group, and yet another useful performer emerged at this point, after improving remarkably during the summer - Hammer-thrower Keith Burley, another John Smeaton product, who won his event.
It was a good season, but not quite good enough for the Club to make national Finals yet; in a Newsletter article Dave Young reckoned the team could do even better if the Club stepped up its recruitment before the following summer - and got a few more people interested in coaching them.
The Senior Men’s League followed a predictable pattern; even though at the first match Ray Barrow was quoted as saying “This is the one where we fall apart,” the smallest winning margin of the season was 38 points. The opening meeting, with a weakened team on a foul day at Cleckheaton, saw Paul Armstrong double the Shot and Discus, Steve Wright win both B Vault and Long Jump, partnering Robin Murphy and Allan Ainsworth (2nd) respectively, B-string wins for Simon Cahill (1500) and Pete Bradley (5000) and a victorious 4x100m relay team of such youthfulness that “Ron Small at 25 (was) feeling like Grandpa.”
At Kirkby in June there were another hatful of wins - Andy Staniland won the 200, Dave Nicholl and Simon Cahill doubled the 1500, and Steve Wright and Steve Denton did likewise in the Vault, the former with remarkable economy. He only took four vaults - a successful one at 3.50 and three fails at 4.00! The meeting also saw the A team debut of Joe Clancy as a Steeplechaser, only a couple of months after a more remarkable debut - in the Three Peaks, which he’d covered in half a minute over 3½ hours. He was quite slow at this meeting, but produced a dramatic improvement later in the year.
The last two matches were held on cinder tracks - illustrating the fact that even after ten years ‘Tartan’ was a rarity. On a baking hot July day at Hull Andy Staniland and Ron Small shared the sprints, each winning a B race and finishing second in an A, Dave Nicholl and Mike Baxter did their 1500m double-act yet again, John Lunn won the B 5000 (he claimed never to have lost one in eight years!), Charlie Beaumont and John Ashton took 400 and 800, Paul Armstrong doubled Shot and Discus, and Robin Murphy and Steve Wright took the Vault, Steve winning the B High Jump as well. The season closed at Huddersfield with the match in which Robin Murphy passed the time, while waiting for everybody except Steve Denton to fail before he started vaulting, practising chips with an 8-iron at the other side of the track. John and Steven Burnage doubled the 400m Hurdles, whole Paul Armstrong and Ian Lindley put up a double maximum in Shot and Discus and Dave Nicholl did the B 800 as well as winning the 5000.
The team had had another new face when veteran track-runner Barrie Knowles took over from Ray Barrow as team manager; he’d had something of a rough introduction to the job, in a season with more than the usual share of last-minute drop-outs, and commented in the Newsletter that “I came to dread the sound of the telephone bell.” It’s one aspect that hasn’t, and probably never will change; there’s another which hasn’t (and hopefully won’t), and John Lunn had something to say about it. At Kirkby he was press-ganged into being a field official with Francis and Graham Hartney, and described the experience; they were all willing but inexperienced, and John commented on the way the competitors and “accepted our efforts with good humour and corrected our mistakes without complaint. It’s nice to see there’s still one sport in which you can find keen rivalry and friendliness at the same time.” Barrie also commented on Ray Barrow’s performances as an emergency Hammer-thrower in the later matches.
The Women’s team started the season in Division 3 of the Northern League, but the rise in status didn’t seem to cause any great difficulties for the girls; the first match, promoted at Cleckheaton, was won by over thirty points from City of Hull. The most remarkable feature of the match was the number of Club records that went down; indeed between this match, the County Championships and a couple of early-season competitions only two of the Senior Women’s records which existed in March had survived by the end of June. Pat Brewster put in a motion of thanks to Club officials and others who had helped run a successful meeting. The second meeting at St. Helens (both the glass town’s two clubs were in the same Division) saw the team’s first defeat in five matches, Hull winning by 4½ points. There were one or two surprising wins; Sarah Shipley took both Senior sprints and the 100m Hurdles, while Carole Wood won the Under-17 800, the Senior 400, and the B Long Jump! Sandra Arthurton was B string in two events - Senior 1500 and Under-17 800 - winning both, while Vivienne Grant (Senior Javelin), Karen Morley (U17 Shot) and young multi-eventer Angela Riggs (U15 Long Jump) were all winners. Hull beat the girls again in the third meeting; but second place in that event gained the team promotion for the second successive season.
The Girls had one further moment of glory. After qualifying for the semi-final of the Jubilee Cup by finishing second at Gateshead, they finished an honourable third at Kirkby, beaten only by two National League teams. While this didn’t reflect the Club’s growing depth, with only one competitor per event, it did reflect the number of talented individuals the Club had developed. There were two notable features about the performance; one was that the team didn’t win a single event in either round, though there were good second places, to strong opponents, from Sarah Shipley, Carole Wood, Sandra Arthurton, Julie Whiteley, Diana Greenwood and Tonia Phillpots, and a Club Shot record for Karen Morley. The other remarkable feature was the team’s average age - 17 years and four months.
With all the emphasis on major League competitions it might be thought the Club did little else - which would be a misconception. There were other activities by both teams and individuals, which were recorded in the Newsletter and the Club’s minutes. One aside in the latter - a comment that a match against Leeds University had been “marred by lack of strong refreshment” - seems to indicate that the British Irwin Club almost developed a track section. Another was the setting of a record that still stands - founder-member Gordon Richards, in one of his last competitive appearances, took third place in the National Veterans’ 400 metres championship in a time of 54.0. The Club was still involved in the Yorkshire League, but a report from Bill Hodson on a match held at a school in Hull goes a long way to explain why it went defunct.
Another area of competition which appears for the first time in 1977 was many years later to become a significant part of Leeds City’s activities, but one which had hitherto not been a major feature of athletics in the North - multi-events. The limited nature of track competition before Leagues came along hadn’t really provided a fertile environment for its development; the need to ‘fill gaps’ in League matches is sometimes blamed for causing youngsters in particular either to over-compete or even risk life and limb, but it does also provide an incentive for the athlete who’s not brilliant at one event but competent at several to consider an outlet for such talents. Two people helped to encourage this around 1977; Dave Young had already taken several of his pupils to an event run by Sheffield Schools, and a recently-arrived figure, Tony Lett, had been suggesting the possibility to several of the girls. Tony’s coaching background was interesting; he was a former R.A.F. athlete who’d got a job teaching engineering in Swaziland on leaving the service, and had drifted into becoming National Coach for the African nation by virtue of being the only person coaching there at the time! He’d moved to a job in the Leeds area in about 1974, and was for a short time - a couple of years, until he moved on in employment - to be a valued coach.
In 1977 the first reports of a sizeable number of athletes taking part in multi-event competitions appear in the newsletter, including the name most strongly associated with multi-eventing in the Club for many years. Colin Hayton wrote an article about his participation, along with fellow John Smeaton student Martin Waterhouse (referred to throughout the article as “Bear”) in the Northern Under-20 Championship at Kirkby in August. Colin’s 5396 remained a Junior Record for a long time, and Martin chipped in with a sound 4895; and the Committee had been sufficiently impressed of the importance of their participation to part-fund their overnight stay in Liverpool. The following month ten members took part in the Yorkshire Women’s Pentathlon Championships at Cudworth, where Alison Downie (2610) and Angela Riggs (2484) set Club record for Under-17s and Under-15s respectively. The event, according to Tony Lett, was now “much harder than it once was” by substituting the 800m for the 200m.” In addition, a new Senior record for the Decathlon of 5,572 points was set at Loughborough by John Burnage.
County and Area titles came in profusion both on the Men’s and Women’s side. There were nine of each in the Yorkshire events, with seven of the Women’s titles coming in the Under-17 age-group; they included a double in Discus and Javelin for new recruit Diane Rimmington, who had moved to Leeds City for a better level of competition from - Dorothy Hyman Track Club! Following Charlie Beaumont doing likewise, it was almost as if the Club was extracting repayment for Joslyn Hoyte! On the Men’s side there was a double in the Under-20 800 and 1500 from Sean Cahill - with brother Simon second in the latter - and a win for Garry Yeadon in the Under-20 200m - at fifteen! The Northern featured a return to winning ways - and sub14-minute clockings - for Mike Baxter at 32, and another win - in the Javelin - for Diane. The best Championship success, however, came in the A.A.A. Under-20s, when Sean Cahill took the 1500m title in 3.48.0, which won him selection for the European Junior Championships.
The most remarkable title won, however, came in the West Yorkshire Schools’ Championships at Cleckheaton. At the time facilities at the track were not fully developed; there was as yet no stand, and the public address was done form a portable plastic builders’ hut parked on the infield behind the judges. The meeting was as usual scheduled for the third Saturday in June, a time of year when, even allowing for the British climate, there’s a reasonable chance of a good day; but Cleckheaton also had a reputation -probably unfounded - for saving up its worst weather for its bigger occasions, and in 1977 it produced a storm so fearsome that something like half the field events had to be held over to the following day. It wasn’t just rain, however - it started with scattered hailstones the size of golf-balls and went on to a curtain of hail of which the writer - who was announcing that day - has never seen the like. Retiring to the ‘shelter’ of the builders’ hut produced an effect rather like being shut in a box and pelted with ball-bearings from a hosepipe; the noise was deafening. As the storm broke the Intermediate 3,000 metres had just started - and in these conditions, finishing on the last lap with the track ankle-deep in hailstones, John Doherty seta personal best, a county schools’ record for the distance, and achieved the English Schools’ qualifying time! Dave Young’s comment that he went faster to get out of the hail more quickly may well have had some truth in it!
However, the Yorkshire Men’s Championships were to have an effect on the future appearance of the Club for a different reason, which came out of the Senior Sprint Relay. The team chanced to be drawn one lane inside Dorothy Hyman Track Club, who were reckoned to be one of our main rivals - and wore practically the same colours. At the first change-over Steve Harrison was passing to Andy Staniland, and on hearing the cry of ‘Hand’ form Steve Andy stuck his left hand back and received the baton perfectly. The only problem was as his right hand came back on the next stride another baton landed in it - the DHTC runner had picked the wrong blue vest! Not only did it cost the team the race - Andy understandably hesitated before throwing the extraneous baton over the perimeter fence - but created a serious debate about the Club’s colours. In addition to possible local confusion of this nature, many members had never found it satisfactory that the Men and Women competed in different colours. In the summer of 1977 the matter remained one for discussion; but before the end of the Committee agreed to consider a change.
This wasn’t the only matter on the Committee’s mind; the election of a new member that summer was to bring world politics into Leeds City’s orbit for one of the few times in its history. In July 1977 an application for membership received from a sprinter called Greg Colin caused considerable debate. His appearance in Leeds prompted an article in the local press in which he was built up as a possible Olympic hope, and a valuable acquisition for the Club. The potential wasn’t in doubt; he had a reputed clocking of 10.2 for 100 metres, achieved at altitude, to his credit; the problem was where it had been achieved - Stellenbosch, in South Africa. This was the middle of the apartheid years, and for some time there had been a boycott of South African sports organisations by practically every sport across the world, which is now reckoned to be one of the major contributing factors to the ultimate end of that unpleasant political system. However, there were ways round it for a few South Africans - if they could establish dual nationality. Leeds City was to have two such applications; but the status of one of them, steeplechaser Julian Marsay was quite clear - he had been born in Leeds to parents who had subsequently emigrated but retained British passports, and had relatives in the city.
The case of Greg Colin was somewhat different. True, he had also been born in Leeds - but his father, Ronnie Colin, was one of a number of South Africans who had come over in the late 1950s to play Rugby League, and while he had played for Hunslet for several seasons he had retained South African nationality and subsequently returned. The press article pictured father and son running with Andy Staniland, whose own family Rugby connections were of course strong. Greg only applied for a British passport - which he received - when his talent had become obvious and the anti-apartheid blockade was beginning to bite.
There was a feeling among some members that his application was a form of boycott-breaking by the back door, and as we had a reasonable number of black members, and black sprinters in particular, it was also felt that they might object to a white South African alongside them. There was an equally strongly-held view that politically-based decisions like this were none of the Club’s business, and if Greg’s dual nationality were deemed acceptable by the government we had no right to exclude him. In the event he was elected, but only had a short-lived impact on Club affairs, and never lived up to his theoretical promise; in Britain he never ran faster than a wind-assisted 10.6. His main success came in the A.A.A. Under-20s, in which he took two silver medals.
These ‘off-the-track’ considerations didn’t detract from everybody’s continuing belief that the Senior Men’s team needed to get itself into the British League; this would be the sixth attempt, and it was beginning to be a worrying story since Sheffield had beaten the Club to it. However, not only was this to be another year of disappointment, but on the surface it appeared to be the weakest performance the Club had produced in the meeting, managing only sixth place. Not a single A-string event was won, and only four B events - by Andy Staniland (100), Ron Small (200), John Ashton (800) and Kim McDonald (1500). Dave Nicholl (1500) and Robin Murphy (Vault) took a couple of ‘seconds,’ but otherwise all Roger Norton had to enthuse about was the efforts of the younger members - including two personal bests, in his ‘lesser’ events of Long Jump and High Jump, by triple-jumper Martin Stitch and a good performance from the very young Adrian Riggs in the javelin - who were often outclassed by older opponents. He omitted to mention a Club record of 42.6 in the 4x100m relay.
Roger concluded that at the moment Leeds City were “simply not good enough for the British League,” while being so dominant in the Northern League that the competition “no longer motivates them, and its main function has become to give promising young athletes a taste of senior competition.” His conclusions were echoed in the newsletter by John Lunn, but he put a considerably more positive view on it. He noted the fact that on this occasion, compared to the previous year, there had been no ‘missing persons’ on the team bus; that several athletes, in particular Mike Baxter and Steve Rowley, had competed when not at their best due to injury; and that there was “no despair on the bus going home.” He did conclude, however, that the weak areas of the team - Hurdles, Steeplechase, Jumps, Hammer and Javelin - were those in which the Club was “short of coaches and of depth. However, characters it was not short of; his report also mentions Robin Murphy “spending much of the time between vaults walking up and down the runway - on his hands!”
For the men it was a disappointing end to the year; it contrasted strongly with an article, written only a week after the above, praising the considerable improvement of the Women’s section during the season, and mentioning both team successes and Sandra Arthurton becoming the fastest 14-year-old in British history over 1500m with a 4.31.0 performance in the Schools’ International, Roger had plenty to say, throughout the year, on other athletic themes, one in particular being the ‘old chestnut’ of inadequate facilities in the city. He started the year by being critical of the continued lack of good competitive, and even training, facilities, lambasting Templenewsam’s familiar shortcomings; he ended it with a suggestion that there was a site suitable for the development of a major sporting facility, which was already in the Council’s possession. The site he had in mind was Quarry Hill, where the famous - or by 1977 infamous - Flats were coming to the end of their life. He sketched the idea of a major stadium, with “other outdoor sporting facilities” attached, at a 23-acre city centre site comparable in size with London’s Crystal Palace and with excellent communications. It is believed the Council at one point had the possibility of such a project in mind - Roger quotes a scheme prepared by the University School of Town Planning for a similar project on Wellington Street - but it never happened.
1977 saw another first appearance, though it showed its face in the Newsletter early in 1978; the first Club All-Time Lists. They were compiled, with considerable help from the likes of Ray Barrow and Dave Young, by John Lunn, and published along with a list of performances done in the previous season and a list of Club records, in the March 1978 edition. This first serious attempt at statistics covered eight pages of foolscap (the present edition extends to over 100 of A4) and only covered Senior events; it makes interesting reading nowadays.
On the men’s side only two of the records still stand - the 100 Metres (Eric Pape, though it’s been equalled) and the 10,000m (Mike Baxter); while all the Women’s records have gone, almost half of them swept away in the holocaust of the following season. There are also a number of errors in the younger age-groups that subsequent research was to identify. There are, however, a fair number of survivors from the period in the present-day All-Time Lists; the pioneer list were compiled to pre-set standards, and only at the most went twenty deep. They show a remarkable unevenness in some events - the second-best Women’s High Jump behind Tonia Phillpots’ 1.75, for instance, was only 1.43, while the Men’s middle-distance events, though with a much longer ‘tail’ than now, were more compact in performances.
However, the year did see one prediction of the future history of athletics in Leeds - but few would have noticed it, tucked away as it was in the results of the Leeds Middle Schools Championships in July and involving people who weren’t yet members. The Under-13 Javelin was won by a lad called Gerard Murphy, who was to throw for a couple of seasons in the Young Athletes’ team, with a throw of 33 metres. Behind him, in third place with a respectable but not outstanding 30.88, was a youngster from the Ireland Wood estate, in the north of the city. His name was Michael Hill.