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A history of Leeds AC
Written by John Lunn
Chapter 8: Finally in the National League
Almost every organisation goes through periods of transition; in the case of Leeds City A.C. 1977-8 clearly was one such on several fronts. One was in the personnel of administration; in the autumn Mick Stark gave notice that he wished to stand down as Hon. Secretary at the following year’s A.G.M. after four years in the post. His departure prompted the Newsletter Editor to review the state of the Club, and come up with a fair number of points that weren’t too positive. He drafted a list of things which the Club needed to make more progress; one, the continuing lack of a central base, the Club could do little about, but the others were clearly calls for effort. He commented on the need to improve the way in which the Club was administered; the need for more people to take on jobs, and not leave it to a dangerously overloaded few; the need for better communication between the Committee and members; and the need for people in all parts of the Club to moan less and be more positive. It’s a litany that hadn’t changed in the Club’s ten years of existence - and some aspects were to take another ten or twenty years before real progress was seen.
Certainly not everything was negative; and there were some more people getting involved with running things. Tony Lett had considerably boosted both coaching and organisation on the Women’s side; and a similar boost was to come from a parent who at first seemed an unlikely source. When he first came to the Committee’s attention in about 1975 Arthur Riggs, father of the talented Angela, seemed like the sort of over-critical parent who wanted to storm in and change everything without thinking; but it didn’t take long before he decided the best way to do so was to get stuck in himself, and the Committee came to realise he had been thinking, and thinking positively. With no real background he took to coaching and Committee work with a salutary burst of enthusiasm which did the Club no harm at all. John Lunn has never tired of quoting one saying of Arthur’s which in his view says a lot about the problems and challenges of running a Club, and is worth thinking about by anyone of whatever experience:-
“There’s two kinds of people in this Club. There are the ones who say, ‘This, this and this is wrong with Leeds City, and what are you going to do about it.’ Then there are the ones who say, ‘This, this and this is wrong with Leeds City, and what are we going to do about it.’ ”
For the comparatively short time he was with the Club - he died suddenly in 1979 from a heart attack after a lunchtime run - Arthur was emphatically one of the latter.
The Women opened the winter season with a bang. They visited their Derbyshire haunts to win just about everything at Kirk Hallam and Sutton-in-Ashfield, took composite relays at Frodsham and Batley (the latter on a new course away from the town centre, which didn’t prove as popular as hoped), and in the first Northern Women’s League provided two individual winners in a hailstorm at Rawtenstall in Sandra Arthurton (inevitable) and Julie Whiteley. The second race in the League, however, saw a rare occurrence - Sandra was beaten, by Hull’s Janice Moody, but only because she was misdirected. The Under-17 team, with Carole Wood, Lesley Doyle and Sandra Gent backing Sandra, was formidable, but still found Sale hard to beat, while at Under-15 level Wendy Hirst, Lorraine Holdsworth and the rapidly-improving Diane Burton former the core of another powerful squad. An even younger team was building around Janine Midgley and a more than useful newcomer, Karen Jenkinson; while in the third race at Rawtenstall another newcomer, Sally Ramsdale, made an undistinguished start to what was to be a notable career by falling 300 yards form the finish. She was to do better later in the season.
The pattern in the Under-17s was set early; the team was second in the Northern League, second in the Northern Road Relay and second in the National relay, and each time to Sale. The Under-13s preformed consistently, finishing 6th in the Northern and 11th in the National; but while the Under-15s narrowly missed a Northern Relay medal, they had a collective off-day in the National due partly to unavailable athletes but also, according to the Newsletter report produced by Tony Lett, to an embarrassing disaster to one young lady, when what was discreetly referred to as “the disintegration of a certain item of apparel” put her both at a considerable disadvantage and open to some predictable puns! Moreover the lady in question was a sprinter who’d only been press-ganged to make up the team.
When the Yorkshire Women’s Championships came round in December the Club was almost completely dominant, winning every team title except the Senior and surpassing the previous year’s record of supplying eight County representatives by three. There were individual wins for Janine Midgley in the Under-13s and Sandra Arthurton in the Under-17s; in the former Gail Addinall (3) and Beverley Bates (5) made up the winning trio and Karen Jenkinson (7) also made the County squad, while with Carole Wood second, Sandra Gent 4th and Lesley Doyle 6th the Under-17 was a formality. The two leading Under-15s, Wendy Hirst and Lorraine Holdsworth, were reckoned to be ”rather below par” - in third and fourth places - while Diane Burton finished 9th in a gaggle of three all given the same time, just missing out on a first County selection. Julie Whiteley also got in, finishing 7th in a field so strong that nine internationals fought for eight team places. It was sometimes hard to recall amid what was becoming, at all levels below Senior at least, a picture of Leeds City domination of the Yorkshire scene that only seven years previously the Club didn’t even have a Women’s section, and five years earlier had only turned out one competitor in the equivalent race!
The Senior Men made a sound start at the Northern Relay, finishing 12th; but the real interest was that for the first time an Under-17 Championship was held, and a useful team of Jonathan Metcalfe, John Doherty, Russ Varney and Simon Cahill finished second. Moreover, John had moved up a gear in the summer, probably under the influence of Mike Baxter’s training advice; on the second leg he ran one of the two equal-fastest legs of the day. The race also foreshadowed one of the two big personal duels that John would have with a pair of equally talented contemporaries; joint fastest with him was Blackburn’s Mike Morton, a runner who looked, if his career hadn’t later been blighted by injury, to be one of the future greats. Later in the autumn he was to tangle in the Aaron Races with another great name - Rossendale’s Dave Lewis - and beat him; and another of his rivals, whom he usually beat in this season, who was to have an illustrious career was Bingley’s Colin Moore. The only big disappointment was that the team lacked the main name of 1977; Chris Bennett became one of the many who over the years didn’t come through to fruition.
There were some reasonable early-season performances form the Senior Men. A team consisting of John Ashton, Andy Hitchen, Dave Nicholl, Malcolm Thomas and Pete Bradley finished fourth in Sheffield University’s popular Cutlers’ Relay, behind three strong University squads, in spite of the whole team, plus Mike Baxter, having run the A.A.A. Relay the previous day. The team did reasonably well in the West Yorkshire League, finishing third in the first race at Huddersfield (on a course that brought more protests of excessive laps) with a team of Kim McDonald (5), Mike (11), Malcolm Thomas (22) and Andy (26). Kim improved to take his only win in a League race at the second race at Pudsey, while Mike finished 9th, but the team slipped to fourth, Team results of the third race have so far proved elusive, though individually Mike had a much better run in second place; but the team was clearly not challenging the powerful Airedale squad as it once had. The loss of Slater, Dell and Stevens had knocked a big hole in it; and another was expected at the end of the season. While Dave Nicholl turned out in the winning Aaron relay team (along with Kim, Mike and Simon Cahill) he had recently moved to a new job in the Midlands, and was planning to join Wolverhampton and Bilston A.C. - then the great power in the track land - at the end of the season. The Club still had numbers - six Senior teams and a quartet of Veterans turned out - but the quality wasn’t quite the same. Moreover, some of the best of the new generation were very much more middle-distance track runners rather than cross-country specialists.
The Club could derive some satisfaction, however, from the younger teams. Darren Marshall had regularly been near the front in all kinds of Under-13 races; he’d won two of the three League races to take the overall title, and he had a team behind him. Yet another collection of Dave Young’s pupils were moving into the Club, the outstanding one at this age-group being Richard Walker, a diminutive youngster who showed a degree of fight in races in inverse proportion to his body-weight. He first appeared in the Young Athletes’ League on the tack in the previous summer, but a couple of others came along early in the winter season to back this pair up. One, Darren Bottomley, didn’t stay long, but two others did, and one made a considerable impression on the youngsters’ middle-distance performances. Mark Hind, who first appeared with Darren and Richard in the runner-up team in the Aaron Races, was to be a sound member of both track and cross-country teams, while Chris Ryalls still holds, at the time of writing, the Club Under-15 3000 metres record. Chris was to develop into a fearsome competitor, with a penchant for sitting on opponents up hills and ‘kicking’ over the summit. That was a long way off when he made his first appearance, however; but his team were the centre of a controversy in an event which John Lunn described in the newsletter as “a shiny apple that most people ate to the full - (but) unfortunately like most shiny apples, there were a few rotten bits, and (I) got all those.”
The middle seventies’ distance-running scene in Britain was dominated, as the early Seventies had been, by one athlete - Brendan Foster. Having started his career as a talented North-eastern youngster, Bren had nearly drifted out of the sport in his student days, until his apparently declining performance was discovered to be due to an iron deficiency. From that point on, in about 1969, his career moved upwards, but really started to take off in the year he spent in Leeds doing teacher training at Carnegie College - and a fair amount of training with Mike Baxter. By 1978 he’d won a European title, a Commonwealth title and an Olympic bronze medal - but there was more to it than that. For a time he made Gateshead the Athletic Capital of England; the Council expanded the local football ground into the Gateshead International Stadium, major meetings were held there, an already strong Senior cross-country team at Gateshead Harriers was strengthened by migration of athletes from all over the North-East and beyond, and Bren could attract a crowd in Gateshead just by turning up. One positive aspect of the ‘Bren Effect’ was the staging by Gateshead Council of a series of major cross-country meetings on the ‘Gateshead Bowl’ - the landscaped area which had formerly held industrial premises next to the Stadium. The course was designed for television, with a small, tight but pretty tough lap including one fearsome hill, and a televised ‘spectacular’ race formed the centrepiece; but the programme included races for all age-groups, and for a time it proved a very popular event. 1977 was Leeds City’s first mass participation in it; and we found some of the realities behind it that were never seen on television.
The writer doesn’t wish to start a ‘turf war’ with the many friends he’s made in the North-East, but he’s always reckoned, since the time he lived and worked there, that the standard of organisation of events between the Tyne and the Tees isn’t as high as in some other places. It’s partly due, he reckons, to the region’s comparative isolation, and also partly due to the insular mentality that coal-mining areas in particular tend to breed (and he’s worked in South Yorkshire as well), but the feeling he had about the Gateshead events were that they were a big meeting put on by people used to handling smaller meetings who couldn’t see that something better was needed. Certainly that day there were deficiencies. Getting a timetable of events out of the organiser before the event had been difficult, and on the day, although the course was well marked, there seemed to be a serious shortage of marshals in crucial places. In the Senior race (in which Simon Cahill, after leading early on, finished 12th) a lot of competitors near the back were turned into the finish a lap short, much to the anger of those who were beating them. The Club came home with two prize-winners; the first was quite clear, when Dennis Wood finished second in the Over-50 section of the Veterans’ race, with a sprint finish which elicited cries of wonder from the younger acolytes of the British Irwin Club. The other was harder to get, as the Newsletter report showed.
It was clear from an early stage in the first race that the Under-13 team were in the prizes. Darren Marshall was contesting third place form early on, and eventually only “lost it by a squeak,” while “the tiny Richard Walker,” who “found the daunting double hill no hardship at all,” finished 12th. Chris Ryalls and Darren Bottomley finished 36th and 38th, in spite of the former being so ‘raw’ that he hadn’t yet got any spikes, and it looked all set for at least third. However, “there was only ONE recorder for a field of 160-plus,” and somehow a wrong number had been put down instead of Richard’s. The result was the only time in his career when John Lunn made a formal, official protest under A.A.A. Laws (complete with £1 deposit) and demanded a recount. On finding that the number written down hadn’t even been claimed, the referee upheld the protest; but the meeting organiser, Gateshead Harrier John Caine, proposed to present the prizes as per the original result sheet. He wasn’t allowed to; a sizeable assembly of Leeds City parents and athletes, marshalled by John, made it clear that their protests would be vocal if he did. “It was, of course, no way for the Team Manager to behave,” John pointed out; and he’s glad to say that he’s never known the need to repeat it.
The new developments in winter competition, however, went hand in hand with the disappearance of some old ones. In October the more or less moribund Leeds & District Cross-Country Association abandoned its long-established November Handicap race when it failed to find a venue for it. It would have been the fiftieth running of the race; but in fact it had been losing numbers of entrants for some time, and its demise came as no surprise. It was one of the three such races which had been prominent features of the local calendar at least into the 1950s; but the York Handicap had succumbed some years earlier, and the Bob Smith Handicap at Bingley was not to last much longer. Once the handicap races had served a useful purpose, giving ‘lesser lights’ a chance to win something; but the idea of handicap events, both on the track and over the country, had become an anachronism with a generation where even such runners preferred to compete on equal terms and judge their improvement by time and finishing place. Walter Pearson was the last ‘real’ official handicapper in West Yorkshire; though Granville Beckett kept the office for some years, his services were seldom called on after about 1970.
The Championship season after Christmas proved to be something of an ‘Indian Summer’ for Mike Baxter. He set two records in January - he gained his twelfth County representative place, finishing seventh in the ‘Yorkshire Trial,’ and in the Association Championship he excelled himself by winning for the fifth time. Only two athletes, both Hallamshire Harriers, Ernest Glover around the First World War and Ernest Harper in the 1920s and ‘30s, had taken as many titles. The Evening Post described him as “Yorkshire’s most consistent cross-country runner;” few would argue with that in historic terms. He also produced another superlative performance to finish second in the Northern at Birkenhead, in a race where a searing last half-mile belied some of his own opinions about his finishing speed - on the country at any rate. The team was out of the first three in the Yorkshire, but a sound 7th in the Northern thanks to Mike, Kim McDonald in fifth place, and a good run form another new name - Pete McGouran, who finished 29th. The other counters were Pete Bradley (62), Malcolm Thomas (69, after his hamstring gave out on him) and Bernard Hutchinson (197).
Pete, who had first put in an appearance in Club colours at Worksop in December, added yet another legendary character to the Club ranks; a Northern Ireland international studying engineering at Leeds University, he was to stay in Leeds for several years after graduation, and contributed well to the Club at a time when the Men’s Harriers’ section found itself struggling. A cheerful and sociable individual, he was at the time of joining courting his future wife Ursula, and the pair of them’s chronic inability to keep their hands off each other in the pub after training led to the nickname by which he was generally known - ‘Fondles.’ He can also be said to have left more of a permanent mark on his adopted city than any other member of the Club. He worked in the Traffic Engineering section of the City Council, and was a member of the team which some years later designed the layout of the big cross-roads at the bottom of Chapeltown Road and Roundhay Road which replaced a notoriously choked one-way system and freed up the movement of traffic along a main artery. However, the legend that this led to his departure from Leeds before the city’s Irish community found out that it was an Irishman who signed the demolition order for the old Roscoe Tavern on Chapeltown Road, the most famous pub in Yorkshire for Irish music, to carry out the design was, unfortunately, just that - a legend!
In the younger age-groups the Under-17s lost the Yorkshire team title to Bingley by a point, led home by John Doherty, who won the race by a street; support came from Roger Bloor (8), Stuart Newby (11) and Ashley Farnell (15). The most noteworthy feature of the Under-15 race was a “promising debut” from another product of John Smeaton, Wayne Aylesbury, while the Under-13 team of Chris Ryalls (6), Darren Marshall (12), Richard Walker (13) and Mark Hind (22) also took silver medals. John placed third in the Northern, behind Dave Lewis and Steve Cram, where Simon Cahill had his best run of the year in the Under-20 race, finishing fifth; but there seemed to be a lack of commitment from some of the younger members for this race. Arthur Cockcroft wrote a scathing comment on the poor turn-out, and compared it to the level of willingness to turn out in all manner of competitions that John had shown. The writer can’t remember if there was some particular reason why so few youngsters went to Arrowe Park; but it was a worrying sign for a Club which was making such a thing of its developing and promising young athletes. There was, for instance, no mention of Neill Marshall, who had earned a County vest in January, taking part.
The Women had their moments after Christmas, too. In January Sandra Arthurton gained her first International in the home Countries’ event at Barry, and won the Under-17 race by about 100 yards. In the next fortnight she was equally emphatic in taking both the Inter-Counties race and the Northern title, and leading the Under-17 team to silver medals in the latter; behind her Carole Wood finished 5th, Lesley Doyle 22nd and Sandra Gent 24th. In fact the interest was building up as to whether Sandra could take a clean sweep of all available titles by taking the ‘National;’ but a formidable obstacle appeared to stand in her way in the person of Jo White. The Mitcham athlete was about as dominant in the South as Sandra was in the North; moreover she had the ‘advantage,’ according to the pundits who wrote in Athletics Weekly, of being coached by Harry Wilson, who also coached Steve Ovett and was along with Brendan Foster’s coach Stan Long one of the principal ‘gurus’ of distance-running at the time. In addition she was over a year older, and a big, strong girl, in contrast to the almost waif-like Sandra. When the meeting came at High Wycombe, however, it was no contest; on a hilly section half-way round the course Sandra applied the pressure and simply drifted away to win by thirteen seconds. Once again Carole (35) Lesley (60) and Sandra (96) supported well enough to come away with team medals, bronze on this occasion. They weren’t alone among the medals, however; the Under-13 girls also brought home bronze, with Janine Midgley (22), Gail Addinall (27), Sally Ramsdale (57) and Beverley Bates (97) scoring. The meeting was memorable in other ways; Mike Sherman mentioned the disorganisation of an event with over 2,000 competitors, changing accommodation 1½ miles from the course, and only TWO shuttle buses! That wasn’t the end of Sandra’s winter efforts; a fortnight after the National the young athlete who reckoned in a profile article by Roger Norton that cross-country was her real preference proceeded to set a personal best - and a Championship record and British Age-15 best - of 4.27.1 in winning the A.A.A. Under-17 1500m title. There were also bronze medals in this Championship over 60m for Sarah Shipley and in the Shot for Karen Morley.
The promotion of the ‘National’ at Roundhay Park brought considerable local publicity to the Club. Planning had gone on since the Northern of the previous year; a couple of features of that race’s lap which had proved unsatisfactory - notably a sharp little climb off the bank of Waterloo lake - had been altered, Arthur Cockcroft and Mike Baxter had been working on getting Club members and other out to help, and Yorkshire Association president Eddie Hardy had been acting as liaison officer with the Council. Over the 24 hours before the race an immense amount of work was done; while Council workers did the main staking of the course, Leeds City members took on the host of menial jobs needed to get the event going, both on course and at Roundhay School, the base for the event. In what was to become a precedent the Club was not alone; people from Skyrac A.C., Longwood Harriers and Sheffield A.C. were mentioned as having given up time to help. At later Leeds ‘Nationals’ this was to be expanded into anything up to twenty local clubs taking part in the arrangements under the direction of the County Association. The organisers had certainly produced a course to remember; the writer recalls that for years afterwards the mention of Hill 60 was enough to send shivers down Southern cross-country runners’ spines.
The local press also took up another aspect of the race - the presence in Leeds City’s team of one of its more remarkable recruits. At that time Veterans’ running was a small-scale ‘fringe’ activity, and athletes were seen as ‘over the hill’ once they got much beyond 30; Mike Baxter was described by Roger Norton as “the old man of the team” when he gained yet another Yorkshire vest in this season, and Mike was 32. People in general, and even people in athletics, didn’t expect older people to take up a sport like athletics; so when John Lunn was asked by Pat Brewster one evening in the summer of 1977 at Templenewsam if a rather bizarrely-dressed gent of apparently about forty years of age, wearing an old three-button leisure shirt and khaki shorts, could go out for a run with a group of Seniors he was a bit dubious. He was pleasantly surprised that the old fellow could keep up at a reasonable steady pace; pleased when the guy asked for a membership form; and utterly gobsmacked when he put down his year of birth as 1928! This was Leeds City’s introduction to Bill Fielding.
In a Newsletter article the following summer John described Bill as ‘a singular man;’ he still reckons that’s the best possible description. Bill’s story was remarkable; a racing cyclist in his teens and twenties, he’d given up sport when he married, but decided in his forties he wasn’t getting enough exercise. He began by swimming (which he swears, because a quarter of a century later he can still be seen walking and cycling round Middleton Woods, is the best way for any older person to return to an exercise régime), went on to hiking, and at about 47 returned to cycling. In 1976 he was out on a walk in the Dales when he happened to see the Three Peaks race in progress, and decided he fancied the idea; the following year he sent in an entry, which was rejected mainly because he was ‘unattached.’ The organisers clearly felt that a man of 49 with no previous experience could be a danger to himself and others. Bill proceeded to remedy the deficiency in his curriculum vitae by joining Leeds City; and within eight months, a month or two after turning 50, he was selected for the Club team for the National Senior Championships. He’d also acquired a nickname; somebody described him as “the father of the Team,” and Father Fielding it was from then on - much to the embarrassment of one young lady from a Catholic school who thought she was training alongside a priest!
The ‘National’ of 1978 can really be said to be the last kick of the 1976 Senior team. The Club could still put five athletes well up in the 1,300-strong field, by the standards of most clubs; but there was definitely an ‘over-the-hill’ feel about the team that finished 23rd. Neither Mike Baxter (53) nor Kim McDonald (127) matched their Northern performance, though in Mike’s case his organisational effort was probably to blame. Dave Nicholl (72) was running his last race for the Club, and while he and Brian Hilton (who in 84th had his best-ever run in the race) could be highly satisfied, and Pete Bradley (228) did all that could have been asked of him, we had to wait until 689th for our sixth man - the first of only two occasions in his long membership that Roger Parker counted in a ‘National.’ Joe Clancy (801) and an unfit Brwsi Kilner (989) were some way behind the remarkable Bill Fielding’s 731st - indeed Roger was keeping an eye out for the old man - but whatever the merit of that run there had to be sympathy for the view that someone had expressed that things weren’t good when a 50-year-old could almost get among the counters.
There wasn’t even the consolation of a good performance among the youngsters that day. After winning both ‘Yorkshire’ titles, taking a medal in the Northern and leading a silver medal-winning Yorkshire team in 7th place in the Inter-Counties John Doherty might have been expected to feature well, but he dropped out of the Under-17s with an injury, and a team of Stuart Newby (80), Ashley Farnell (82), Neill Marshall (137) and Mark Clark (239) exactly emulated its Seniors in finishing 23rd. Moreover a further member of the ’76 team passed into history; after battling with hamstring injuries for much of the season, and missing the ‘National’ due to them, Malcolm Thomas was forced to call it a day. There was one other feature noted in the Club Newsletter; the number of ‘exiles,’ former members of the Club who were competing at Roundhay Park for other clubs. The writer mentioned Ron Pannell, who had moved to Bristol due to a promotion at work, Richard Spirett and ‘Petal’ Edwards, now teaching in Leicestershire and St. Albans respectively, and Huw Pryderi Rhys, who turned out for Ilford and was beaten by his old schoolmate Roger Parker.
Bill Fielding had certainly made his mark in the Veterans’ scene by then. He’d turned fifty around Christmas, and celebrated by almost holding off Mike Baxter in a Club Handicap. He contested his first serious age-group race in the Yorkshire Vets.’ Championship, and won it handsomely; he’d only managed third in the Northern event, but led a team of Jack Bloor (12) and Dennis Wood (17) to medals. In the National Vets.’, however, he found his form and won splendidly, and with Jack Bloor 19th and Jack Lawton 27th silver medals were taken; Dennis missed out by one place! At the end of April he ended his amazing opening season by showing the Three Peaks’ organisers the error of their ways by breaking the First Class standard time of 3½ hours by just about a minute and being well clear in the Over-50 category. However, the organisers had more serious things to worry about than their rejection of Bill’s 1977 entry; Blackheath Harrier Ted Pepper, an experienced distance-runner but a novice on the fells, went off course during the race, became disorientated and died of hypothermia. It was the end of the ‘age of innocence’ of the Three Peaks race; after this strict qualifying conditions for entry and stringent safety precautions became the order of the day.
The start of the track season coincided with the Club’s Annual General Meeting, at which a major change in the Club’s administrative personnel took place. After four years in office Mick Stark stood down as Hon. Secretary due to outside commitments, and John Lunn began the first of his three spells in the office. John has, indeed, held a very large number of offices within the Club over almost four decades, and opinion remains divided about what his influence on its development has been. He certainly has tended to bring enthusiasm and energy to the jobs he has done; but some would say that the price the Club has had to pay for this is has been having to put up with his bouts of egotism and lack of tact which have on occasions caused the Club severe embarrassment. The Club has also been landed with his outgoing - some would say outrageous - personality and appearance; there are few other officials who have held senior administrative posts in the sport - and John has held office at County, Area and National League level - who have been in the habit of greeting other colleagues with a big kiss on the cheek, or turning out to compete at the age of 60 in flowered Lycra tights. As he’s still active in Club affairs at the time of writing final judgment on his contribution has yet to be passed.
1978 was to be a significant track season in a number of other ways; but for the Senior men the key fact was the announcement before it started that in 1979 the British Athletic League was to expand to five divisions. Eight years earlier it had grown from three to four, and for reasons that seemed good at the time the Club had deliberately missed out; now, after six failures to qualify, there was a feeling of ‘now or never’ about it. With six clubs going into the League Leeds City could simply not afford to miss the chance again. Moreover, for the first time since Stretford had been promoted the Club appeared to be facing serious opposition in the form of Wakefield Harriers, who had a small coterie of extremely talented athletes. The Brothers Alan and Roger Bell were sprinters and hurdlers of high quality; Alan was to gain international honours over 400 metres, and they had the potential to win several events at a meeting. English Schools’ Long-Jump champion Alan Slack was also a formidable sprinter, and supported by County Rugby Union wing and future England captain Mick Harrison, who could also produce a mean Triple Jump, gave another area of strength. There were enough other talented Wakefield athletes to back up this quartet, not least being the familiar name of Tony Gummerson, who had returned to his original club after resigning from Leeds City some time earlier over a clash of personalities. As the first meeting at Cleckheaton loomed the possibility existed in some minds that the Club could miss out on its best opportunity yet to ‘go National’ by failing to win the Northern League.
If that was so, the first meeting soon eased the nerves. The team went into the meeting, according to a Newsletter report, with cold feet, and came out with a 51-point margin of victory over Wakefield. Wakefield did indeed take five maximum points events, and at the half-way stage led by 19 points; but they suffered essentially form lack of depth, relying on Messrs. Bell, Bell, Harrison and Slack for 100 of their points, and as the meeting went on Leeds City moved further away. There were several bonuses - a return to action by Malcolm Cox in the 5000, the emergence from retirement of Dave Warburton, inspired by coaching youngsters to have a go himself, and the return from Australia of the mighty Ian Mowat, who suffered the trauma in the Shot of breaking the Northern Irish Shot record with 16.04 and not being able to claim it due to a lack of a steel tape. Moreover he didn’t even win the event - Ian Lindley produced 16.12.
There were several ‘old hands’ out doing their bit - Messrs. Baxter, Hilton, Armstrong, Ashton, Murphy, Denton, Staniland, McDonald and Sean Cahill all contributed, in the case of Mike not long after his first effort at a Marathon. There were also some excellent returns from younger members - Otis Parris returning from basketball to set a best Long Jump, and Gary Launder and Chris Lumb scored well in the High Jump. Two Club records went down; the Discus, which Ian removed from Tony Gummerson’s possession with 48.24, and the 4x400m relay, where the 3.20 barrier was broken for the first time. Another new name made its debut - that of Alwhille Macdonald, who competed in the Long Jump, his “third-choice event.” “Ollie” was yet another larger-than-life character; those who were around between 1978 an his untimely death in 1986 (just as the Club were about to try to persuade Jamaica to select him for the Commonwealth Decathlon) won’t forget in a hurry the prolonged pre-meeting frisbee sessions involving all the clubs in a match, or the famous crawl across the pub floor to apologise for an accidentally-spilled dinner. He was also a Team Manager’s dream; the number of occasion he was rung on a Thursday night to do anything from Hurdles to High Jump to Discus, and came up with the characteristic answer, “Why not?”, was enormous.
The second and third matches, at Wythenshawe and Huddersfield, were a different story, but in their own way something of a comfort. Injuries and unavailability meant that weakened teams were turned out, and though Leeds City won both, it was by a seriously reduced margin - eleven points in the second, twelve in the third. At Wythenshawe the Club only provided two A-string winners, Ian Mowat and Ian Lindley winning Discus and Shot and taking maximum points in those events; however, there was a good supply of second places, and four B-string wins from Kevin Walton (400), Simon Cahill (800), Brian Hilton (5000) and John Burnage (110mH). Roger Norton complimented the Club on winning with “such a depleted team,” stating that it showed “(the) sort of depth ... that Wakefield simply can’t match,” and emphasising the point by noting in the same article that Leeds City were also that day fielding a B team for the first time. The Huddersfield meeting produced the most serious attack of Club collywobbles yet, when after seven event the team was laying fourth behind Wakefield, Longwood and Rowntrees; however, later events were often strong scorers, and with Ian Mowat and Paul Armstrong (who in Arthur Cockcroft’s words “would throw a fit if Barrie Knowles asked them to,”) doubling Shot and Discus, Rowan Black (making one of his rare appearances on leave from the R.A.F., though it wasn’t his only one that year) and Charlie Beaumont challenging the Bell brothers in the sprints, and a youthful 1500 pairing of Simon Cahill and John Doherty taking two seconds in the 1500, the team got back on track. There was also a major contribution from Martin Stitch, who for much of the season found himself covering all three jumps.
The Club had been considering a B team for a season or so, but took the plunge when the Northern League arranged to put on a couple of ‘experimental’ meetings for clubs which wanted to see if they had the strength to qualify for a place; the B team found itself up against such rivals as Hallamshire Harriers, Harrogate A.C. and East Hull Harriers. The first took place at Hull on the day of the Sale match, and was memorable for a number of bizarre reasons. It certainly showed that the Club had depth; our event-winners included at 10.9 100m and 22.4 200m from 16-year-old Paul Murray and a 13.22 Triple Jump from the even younger Aamer Khan, and the Club felt strong enough to put the versatile Alwhille Macdonald in the ‘stiffs’ for the High Jump and Javelin (he expressed himself forcibly as “totally disgusted” when he fouled out in the latter) and Brian Scott, who had recently moved to a new job at a hospital in Lincoln, in the hurdles. It turned out to be just as well that Brian was there, as Gary Ineson suffered a unique injury in the Steeplechase, falling at the water-jump and breaking his shoulder-blade when he hit the side of the pit. Brian, warming up for the ‘Highs,’ got his race postponed for about half an hour while he stood by for the arrival of an ambulance and stopped anybody moving Gary and making things worse. He then lost a close finish. Other memorable happenings were the track debut on Roger Parker in the 5000 (he is believed to have run one more track race); the first appearance in a senior team, at the age of 15, of vaulter Tony Matthews, who continued to compete for the Club well into the 1990s (his partner in a maximum-point event, Gary Briggs, was the same age); and a most curious incident in the 4x100m relay where the Hallamshire athlete running the first leg handed over to the similarly-clad East Hull runner - in spite of Hallamshire being in land two and East Hull in lane five! After all that, the B team won!
No detailed account exists of the second B team match, on the same weekend as the last Division 1 meeting, but the writer remembers Brwsi Kilner describing how events were filled in; he ran the B 200, jogged to the start of the 5000 without changing his spikes, and on the way stepped in - literally - as B-string shot-putter! He was having to do an emergency job, as a number of those originally selected for the reserves were ‘changed bus’ before departure and whisked off to Nottingham, where Derby were promoting. This match was incredibly close; Leeds City won by 25 points, a safer-looking margin, but only seven covered the next four teams. The team was held up by the field events; seven of its nine winners, and all three of its maximum-points events, came from this area, with Robin Murphy and Steve Denton taking the vault and Ian Lindley and Paul Armstrong doing another Shot/Discus double taking one each. The three other wins came from Vince Smith in the B Javelin (the youthful Chris Rider was third in the A), Pete Bygate in the B 800 and Colin Hayton, who on that day was being used as a hurdler and won the B 110m. With Wakefield only finishing equal fourth this time the final league table looked a lot more comfortable than it really had been.
Meanwhile the Women’s team found itself under new management, and the Club found itself without two important influences, when Pat Brewster (who had divorced her husband some time before) and Tony Lett married and departed to Kenya around Christmas; it was a compliment to what Pat had largely created that the loss of two such influential servants caused no serious disruption of the Women’s section. The team continued in 1978 as it had left off in the two previous seasons, and achieved its third successive promotion since joining the League. It was beginning to find itself up against stiffer opposition, principally in the form of City of Hull; second was the best that could be managed in most of the meetings, but it was never too distant a second (although at the time of writing finding actual results for the first meeting has proved difficult.) Unsurprisingly from the first match on - which the team lost by 28 points - the middle distances saw an almost complete Leeds dominance, with Sandra Arthurton, Carole Wood (who showed her speed over 400 this time out), Julie Whiteley, Lesley Doyle and Lorraine Holdsworth to call on at Senior level, and Janine Midgley, Diane Burton, Wendy Hirst and Sandra Gent lower down. There was steady scoring in the sprints, solid throwing form the likes of Karen Morley and Diane Rimmington producing a number of wins, and Tonia Phillpots noted as much for Long Jumping as her specialist event.
The outstanding memorable event at the second match, which was even closer, had nothing to do with the competition; there were complaints in a Newsletter article about Sandra Gent “sending the ice-cream van to Huddersfield (‘You’ll get more trade at the Men’s League’) and depriving us of sustenance” on the only hot day of the summer. As Sandra was one of the co-authors of the article, however, the complaint wasn’t too severe. The team was short, for once, of Sandra Arthurton, but still picked up huge points in the longer track events, Carole Wood setting a Club record of 58.2 in the 400m. The throws section was weakened by Diane Rimmington being injured; but as it was merely a shoulder strain she decided that sprinting and jumping was possible, and managed a win in the B Long Jump. Diane Greenwood and Sarah Shipley had 100m wins in their age-groups, and the Dianes Rimmington and Greenwood doubled in the Senior Hurdles; Tonia Phillpots again had a jumping double, while Janine Midgley and Sally Ramsdale cleaned up in the Junior 1500m. The last match, at Rawtenstall at the end of the summer holidays, saw a weakened team out, especially in the Under-17 age-group; the number of events in the programme for these girls was limited, but basically Karen Morley and Diane Swan threw everything while multi-eventer Debbie Bussey, sprinter Sharon Flower-Ellis and distance-runners Sandra Gent and Jane Rostron did everything else. There was also a debut performance, but not to some people’s surprise a Club record, over 3000m from Sandra Arthurton, maximum points in four other Senior events, and a fine performance by the Juniors with few wins (Angela Riggs’ club record of 11.7 in the 75m Hurdles being one of them) but plenty of consistent seconds and thirds to score higher than Hull in this age-group.
For the first time both Men’s and Women’s teams progressed to the semi-finals of the G.R.E. Gold and Jubilee Cup competitions, though as usual got no further; and yet again there was serious complaint at the Club being ‘saddled’ with a trip to Edinburgh. This time it was due to a clash with the W.A.A.A. Championships at Crystal Palace, making it very difficult for any of our outstanding competitors to turn out on successive days if they’d wanted to. It was a greater shame since the First Round meeting at Hull the team put on one of its better efforts in winning. There were only three individual winners - “a tigerish Carole Wood ...an unperturbed Julie Whiteley ... and an almost disdainful Sandra Arthurton” - but the team was sustained by picking up second place in every field event and two or three on the track. There was, however, one ominous feature of the meeting - the new all-weather track came close to flooding after heavy rain.
The Men were involved in controversy of a different sort in their Round 1 match at Cleckheaton, where they once more beat the rest of Yorkshire and lost narrowly to Sheffield. There were five individual wins for the Club - one of whom finished second - and a sixth athlete won his event but wasn’t credited with it. Charlie Beaumont (400), Dave Warburton (110H), Ian Lindley (Shot) and Ian Mowat (Discus) won, and Brian Hilton was placed first in the 10,000m. The race was actually ‘won’ by Sheffield’s former Leeds University captain Peter Rawnsley (known since his student days as ‘Romper’), who was disqualified for not wearing the correct Club vest; having lost his club vest at a race the previous week, he wore a yellow vest with a red hoop rather than Sheffield’s all-yellow strip. Neither team managers nor athletes had objected, but the track referee that day was Jim Exley, who had “always been known for his strict interpretation of the rules.” Not best pleased about this, Sheffield then objected that Jim Ferguson, who had won the Hammer, had not been wearing one either, and he was duly disqualified. In the semi-final a team described by Roger Norton as “weakened” did well to finish fourth, with Sean Cahill in the 800 metres and Paul Armstrong in the Discus the only winners; Roger suggested that there was “a degree of apathy” towards the event within the Club, although holidays also played their part. The major problem was the choice of date; and in view of it the fact that Leeds City finished last of six in the Women’s event is less important than the fact they got a team out at all - even if it was, in Dave Young’s words, “an entire team of reserves.”.
The Young Athletes’ team entered its second season with considerable hopes of success in a structure which saw it in a North Central division; the first three in this and the first three in the Northern Division would play off for a place in the National Final (only one then) at Crystal Palace. Dave Young had stressed the need for recruiting a strong side; and even though at the first match at Cleckheaton the team was “as full of holes as a gruyère cheese” it was far too strong for the opposition. A number of key names made early appearances; powerful 14-year-old rugby-player Andy Rivett made a mark over 400 metres, Dave Warburton’s young hurdlers Stuart Moran and Andrew Heywood appeared successfully, and hammer-thrower Colin Gardner opened his account. Mark Johnson had an early and successful attempt at 400m hurdling, along with 800-metre runner Dean Hulme, and future steeplechase international Wayne Aylesbury, possibly the most smooth and elegant distance-runner the Club has ever had, set what was thought to be a Club record in the Under-15 3000m, partnered in a double by Richard Walker. The remarkable Dan Brown wiped up the Under-17 sprints, Aamer Khan’s little brother Aasim scored heavily in the Under-15 jumps, with winning partners Steve Linsell (High Jump) and Radley Lowry (Triple Jump), and Gary Hayton and Steve Hardcastle equally dominated the Under-15 1500m. The report, however, mentions “a lot of people doing ‘odd’ events.’
Clearly, however, between that meeting and the second, at Hull in June, somebody had been busy, and “many of the holes have been plugged.” Among the new names - sprinters Martyn Hart and Dave Fitzgerald and throwers Shaun Holdsworth and David Uttley were mentioned - were two of the greatest ‘might-have-beens’ in Club history. Francis O’Donnell was one of the few Under-17 discus-throwers to challenge the historic record of Jonathan Hartley (his younger brother Michael was no mean performer, either); he was English Schools’ champion in 1978, but didn’t keep throwing for long after leaving school. The other, in the writer’s opinion, had the potential to be at least as good with the javelin as Mick Hill, and for a few seasons it looked as if he might be; and anyone who doubts the comment - which is made with no disrespect to Mick - should look at the pre-1986 rankings with the ‘old-style’ javelin and consider the performances of Jonathan Buckley.
At Huddersfield in July a further name first appeared; the Under-17 triple Jump was won by Wetherby-based athlete Mike Makin, who was to become one of the Club’s handful of major games’ medallists, with Aamer Khan taking the B event. The balance of the team appeared to have tipped somewhat; whereas early in the season the Under-17s were ‘carrying’ the younger lads, by this match the Under-15 were pulling their weight and then some. Martyn Hart doubled the sprints, Andy Rivett took the 400m and B 200m and Javelin, Stuart Moran and Andy Heywood scored another Hurdles maximum, and there were similar scores in the 3000m (Gary Hayton and Richard Walker), High Jump (Aasim Khan and Steve Linsell) and Javelin (Jonathan Buckley and Andy). The latter event produced a clean sweep, as Adrian Riggs and Chris Rider monopolised the Under-17 event. There was a lot of confidence, after this, that the single place in the Main Final from the North-East was there to be taken.
The play-off meeting produced one of the most serious attacks of jangling nerves in Club history - not due to events on the track but due to some architect’s bad planning. The play-off was scheduled a fortnight before the Finals on the then brand-new tartan track at Costello Park, Hull; but the summer of ’78 had seen quite a bit of rain, there was a downpour on the Saturday night, and whoever designed the drainage of the Costello track hadn’t foreseen the possibility of the outflow getting blocked up by Humber silt. The result was that when the teams - including Border Harriers from Carlisle, who were the Club’s strongest rivals - turned up they were faced with a lake! We could have taken warning from the Women’s experience in May - but it certainly made the meeting impossible. There was much arguing about what to do, but the only real answer was a rearrangement the following week; from the Club's point of view this gave very little time for booking accommodation for a team of around fifty which might then fail to qualify. Anyway, with its heart in its financial mouth, the Club booked a University hall of residence and a coach, and then crossed its fingers that the kids would perform at Cleckheaton.
They didn’t fail! Border, who fancied themselves for qualifying, were close for eight events, but once Wayne Aylesbury (who was a more than useful occasional vaulter) and Tony Matthews’ little brother Phil had won the Under-15 Vault the team never looked back. There was a Club record for another new member, Andy Taylor (who had been “snatched from Bingley’s very jaws”), in the Under-15 800m, and another for the Under-15 4x400m team of Allan Mowat, Andy, Julian West and Andy Rivett. There were doubles in the Under-15 200 (Martyn Hart and Andy), 400 (Andy and Allan), 80m Hurdles (Stuart Moran and Andy Heywood), Long Jump (Paul Linsell and Radley Lowry), Triple Jump (Paul and Aasim Khan) and Discus (David Uttley and David McBryde), and the Under-17 Triple Jump (Mike Makin and Aamer Khan). The athlete who caught the eye, though, was one who was around for a very long time - indeed is still seen in occasional road races at the time of writing - and yet another of the Club’s many ‘characters,’ Mike Cheseldine. Mike, who even at fifteen was a well-known figure in branches of William Hill and Ladbrooke, carried on another great Leeds City tradition of ‘rough steeplechasing;’ his style over the barriers has been likened for grace and fluency to fellow ex-Grammar School pupil Martin Dell - which says a lot! The Club qualified with ease for the Final the following week - on the day after the promotion match for the British League.
The season’s outstanding individual performance came in an event which didn’t last long but was controversial at the time. There had been a body of opinion for some time that objected to the number of A.A.A. and W.A.A.A. titles that finished up going abroad; the argument was not so much chauvinist as the denial of opportunities for home talent to gain access to the event. In 1978 the authorities bowed to pressure and held a U.K. Closed Championship, on the same day as the second Northern Women’s League meeting; and some excellent fields were assembled in most events. The Women’s 1500m field was a pretty good compendium of the big names of the time - Hilary Hollick, Ruth Smeeth, Susan Harvey, Gillian Dainty, Angela Mason, Cherry Hanson and Wendy Smith (later Sly). And on the line with these big guns stood a tiny, skinny 15-year-old in yellow and blue, looking as if she’d got in with the big girls by mistake. Some mistake!
The pace was quick, but the field was still bunched after 600 yards, when Hanson and Smith collided massively and brought each other down. Some of the field seemed a bit disconcerted; but Sandra Arthurton, a couple of yards behind them, neatly skirted the chaos, set off in pursuit of Hollick and Smeeth, and held on. It could be said that her bronze medal was a stroke of luck; but there was nothing in the least fortuitous about the time, which at 4.17.9 was a British age-best by a considerable margin. The meeting was televised, and the writer’s abiding memory of it is not the race, but when the cameras came back to the meeting after a break for some other sport. The presentation had just taken place, and the camera zoomed in on Sandra, clutching her medal in her hot little hand and staring at it as if she was afraid it would vanish like Cinderella’s glass slipper. Overshadowed in both the public eye and the athletics press by Sandra’s performance, Tonia Phillpots took a silver medal in the High Jump.
Sandra was one of three Club members selected for an Under-20 international against West Germany late in the summer, the other two being Simon Cahill and John Doherty; the trio would have company as well, as the match was the first in which Ray Barrow acted as an international team manager. However, the number of internationals should have been one greater; in June Carole Wood was selected to compete against Poland, but was denied the vest by a piece of wretched luck. She suffered what turned out to be a stress fracture of the ankle and was forced to pull out; a picture in the Evening Post showed an extremely disconsolate-looking Carole bathing the damaged foot in hot water to get the swelling down.
There were plenty of other Championship successes. The Yorkshire Men’s saw the return of Messrs. Mowat, Cox and Warburton (the first and last taking titles), titles for John Doherty and Robin Murphy and a lot of both Senior and Under-20 medals, while on the distaff side Carole Wood, Sandra Arthurton (running as a Senior) Diane Rimmington and Tonia Phillpots took golds, the latter setting a Club record of 1.77 which at the time of writing still stands, amid a shower of other hardware. Sandra opted to take the Northern title in the Under-20 age-group, but could equally well have challenged for the Senior title; while among the men Ian Lindley, Robin Murphy and Kim McDonald were winners. Kim was at this point regularly beating Mike Baxter, in spite of the latter’s good season over the country, but Mike had taken some time to recover from his first serious attempt at a marathon - about the one distance event he never mastered. In the younger age-groups Mark Johnson took the Northern Under-17 Hurdles title with six other medals coming to Club members, and with a squad of Carole Wood, Julie Whiteley and Sandra Arthurton the Women’s 3x800m Relay (a regularly-contested event then) was won easily. The same squad, plus Lorraine Holdsworth, took the W.A.A.A. 4x800 title; their impressive ‘split times’ were 2.13.4(Carole), 2.13.3 (Julie), 2.22.2 (Lorraine) and 2.09.5 (Sandra).
Sandra and Francis O’Donnell took English Schools’ titles and gained international places as a result; there was the usual solid number of West Yorkshire Schools’ champions, many of whom were new recruits to the advancing younger end of the Women’s section or to the Young Athletes’ team. The burst of multi-eventing of 1977 was also built on, with Colin Hayton taking silver in the Northern Under-20 Decathlon and Angela Riggs doing likewise in the Yorkshire Under-15 Pentathlon; coincidentally the W.A.A.A had that year conducted “an experiment at the request of the I.A.A.F.” and organised the first heptathlon held in the country. Finally in September there was another Yorkshire title to celebrate; Brian Hilton won the county Marathon Championship, and secured a bronze medal in the Northern, on a hilly course at Rotherham. It had been a good all-round competitive season; but the climax was to come in mid-September.
Qualification for the British League was to take the form of two meetings, with the winners of each going into Division 4 and the next two making up the new Division 5; Leeds City were allocated to the match at Saffron Lane, Leicester, with Bedford and County, Leicester Coritanian, Chelmsford and City of Stoke as opposition. On paper it didn’t look too difficult; but the disappointments of the previous six years appeared to have eaten their way into the consciousness of Leeds City, and there was something of an air of foreboding about the meeting.
Needless to say in the fortnight or so before the meeting all the old fears began to come up. Injuries and other commitments put holes in the best possible team, with Dave Warburton, high-jumper Chris Lumb, the Northern Under-17 runner-up, and hammer-throwers Andy Lunn and Jim Ferguson out. There were weaknesses in crucial events; in particular the Steeplechase had been a worry all year. At least the team would have one thing it had never had before - a supporters’ club. The Young Athletes’ team, going to their Final at Crystal Palace, would be stopping off at Saffron Lane; as it turned out, four of those who went to watch finished up in the team! Writing about it in the Newsletter afterwards, John Lunn described the match as “the Rubicon;” and there certainly was the feeling that if it went wrong this time it might never go right.
At first everybody’s worst fears appeared to be about to be realised. The early events were those where the likes of long-jumper Steve Savage and hammer-thrower Colin Gardner had to be pitched in against Seniors, and where Robin Murphy had to make a token run over 400m Hurdles to fill a gap. To add to the calamities Steve Denton did one of the few ‘no-heights’ he ever did for the Club. Things came round a bit with a maximum in the 800 from a tactical Sean Cahill “lurking like a two-legged cobra” and a muscular Pete Bygate barging through a half-existent gap; but some of the other teams had international sprinters and with seven events in the Club was struggling. The came the real turning-point, in the event the Team manager feared most - the Steeplechase. In a howling gale, against half a dozen athletes with times of 9.30 or better, “what could Leeds offer? - Russ Varney’s ten minutes, and an under-age debutant with no known form!” Hearts sank even further when after two laps 16-year-old John Doherty took the lead. “It was a maniac, brave, suicidal and stupid thing to do, we told ourselves, as John methodically and pitilessly ground a string of reputations into the Tartan ... and finished the length of the straight clear of his shattered opponents.” His time of 9.18.6 is likely to stand as a Club record for Under-17s forever, as these days League rules prevent such young runners doing the event; on that day it raised everyone’s spirits.
The Steeplechase win coincided with the Shot result - Ian Mowat and Ian Lindley taking both - and with Ian M. and Paul Armstrong, in spite of a taped-up hand, doing likewise in the Discus, Charlie Beaumont running a superb winning 400m in the gale, and B-string wins for Simon Cahill over 1500m and Pete Bradley over 5000m (Mike Baxter finishing second in the A race) things got back on target. Further contributions from Martin Stitch as the all-purpose jumper and youngsters Chris Rider in the Javelin and Aamer Khan, at 15 the youngest competitor to appear in a Senior team, in the Triple Jump, made sure of third place. There had been some assistance from the fact that City of Stoke were even weaker than we were; the Newsletter article cites four missing athletes who could have made a fatal difference to our hopes. No matter - by the time we assembled two “scratch” relay teams the team was a clear third. At last we were in!
The following day the Young Athletes finished seventh of eight in their first Final appearance, which one parent who didn’t know a lot about the standards involved suggested to John Lunn wasn’t too good a performance; “in the nicest possible way,” said John in his Newsletter report, “it gave me great pleasure to set him right.” True enough, only three events were won; Jonathan Buckley took the Under-17 Javelin, Wayne Aylesbury “drifted away” from the Under-15 3000m field, backed up by Richard Walker, “one athlete who’s definitely not on Dianabol,” and Dan Brown, “looking as ever on the verge of expiring,” won the B 200m. However, in the context of an event where some winning performances were better than those at Leicester the previous day the display of the lads was tremendous. There was a pair of silver medals for Gary Briggs in Vault and Javelin, a bronze and a Club record of 13.56 for Mike Makin in the Triple Jump, a silver for Francis O’Donnell in the Discus, bronzes for Wayne in the Under-15 Vault and volunteer B-string steeplechaser Chris Reid, and another Club record of 3.43.4 and silver for the Under-15 4x400m relay squad, with Andy Rivett clocked at 51.9 on the last leg. There were 32 personal bests throughout the team, in every age-group and a huge range of events. Athlete of the match, though, was Under-17 800m runner Mike Shaw, who had been carded for three events, including the 400m Hurdles, and a relay; on the night before he slipped on some steps at the hall of residence and turned his ankle, but with no reserves available did his full stint. The performance couldn’t have been more timely; there was every sign that the seniors in the British League could look over their shoulders and see the new strength coming through behind them.
With these two performances the Club had enhanced its status; and over the preceding four years it had also enhanced its standards of performance by quite a bit. Perusal of the current (2004) All-Time Ranking Lists shows that from the years 1975-8 there are still over 300 performances listed among the Top 25 in the ‘standard’ events alone - 196 in the Men’s Lists and 129 in the Women. There are significantly large numbers in the younger female age-groups - 38 Under-17 and 51 Under-15 - which reflect the strong growth of those areas, though preconceptions that the middle distances would dominate are not borne out; the Throws were an equally big ‘growth area.’ The youth of the Women’s teams of the time is part of the reason that the Under-20 Lists are the smallest area of growth, but the lack of separate competition for Under-20s has meant that these Lists did not begin to be compiled until late, and may have more omissions than most. The Under-20 and Under-17 Male track events were the biggest area of growth on that side of the Club; again, the presence of a few individuals of the right age is significant. The surviving performances certainly indicate that on the track this was a strong period of development.
The Club was also about to change its ‘image’ in another manner when, just after the end of the season, the decision was taken to adopt new colours. Debate on the matter had been going on since the ‘double-baton’ relay incident in the 1977 Yorkshires; but the problem was clearly going to be selecting a design that would be acceptable to the majority of members. There was no argument about the colours of the vest; blue and amber has been a traditional combination for Leeds sporting teams since the late 19th century, having been used by Leeds Rugby League Club throughout its history and by Leeds United F.C. from its formation in 1920 until the adoption of white under Don Revie in the 1960s. The question was how to combine the colours, and needless to say there were almost as many preferences on this matter as the Club had members. It was clearly going to require somebody with taste and fashion sense to sort it out; which makes it all the more remarkable that the design eventually adopted came from the member who is generally reputed to possess the most notoriously bad sartorial taste in the Club’s history - John Lunn!
John can’t remember whether he was given the task by the Committee (the Minutes don’t mention it) or merely, as is all too often his wont, took it upon himself; but sometime in the summer of 1978 he sat down and drew out about twenty possible (but in some cases highly improbable) vests in combinations of blue and amber, and passed them round members for comment. Two preferences immediately began to stand out, with a marked division of gender. One design suggested was the wholesale adoption of the Leeds R.L.F.C.’s ‘cotised hoop’ (for those unfamiliar with heraldic terms, that means that in a two-coloured design a broad band of the ‘contrast’ colour is separated from two narrower bands by narrow bands of the ‘base’ colour.) The younger lads strongly favoured this option; but there was an equally strong preference among the girls for retaining a diagonal design, as some of the (to put it politely) more substantially-built members considered that any design involving hoops would emphasise their girth.
John had has own agenda on the subject as well; since both the existing Men’s and Women’s vests resembled those of two other clubs, he intended the new one to be completely distinctive. Considering the above results, he came up with the idea of turning the Leeds Rugby design through 45 degrees and eliminating the lower narrow band. He described the resulting design as “royal blue with two asymmetrical amber diagonals,” which remains the ‘official’ description registered with the athletic authorities; the proportions of the stripes originally being one inch and three inches. When he first described his idea to members, some of them found it a bit difficult to visualise; so he created a ‘prototype’ by persuading his mother (who was good at that sort of thing) to take an old red vest he’d ‘acquired’ at Oxford many years previously and sew on to it white strips of the correct proportions cut from an old blanket. Some members of the Committee weren’t convinced at first - the design would be complicated to manufacture, and therefore comparatively expensive. However, as nobody could think of anything better, it was adopted; and the cost of the first examples (£2.75) wasn’t in fact a lot greater than replacements of the old designs would have been. One aim was achieved; although one or two clubs (Mansfield and Macclesfield, for instance) have adopted ‘contrast diagonal’ designs since, nobody else has copied it. Leeds City retains its distinctive and unique look!