The Club Newsletter Archive (A Pack Of Whippets)


Here we present, what we hope, will become a full archive of all the various club magazines and newsletters that the club has produced over their history. It was not until the club was nearly 30 years old that we can trace copies of a regular attempt at a newsletter.


The first club newsletter we have dates from the late 1930's. The editors were firstly "T Kelly" & "H A Carless" and then "T Kelly" combined with "H M Hughes".

We have examples of these from 1938 which were then called the "Gazette". It ran to at least seventeen editions. We are grateful to Brian Boyce for these examples.

Year Volume Number Date/Reference Cover Contents Link Notes
1938 N/A 1       Missing - Copy Needed
1938 N/A 2 February   PDF  
1938 N/A 3       Missing - Copy Needed 
1938 N/A 4       Missing - Copy Needed 
1938 N/A 5       Missing - Copy Needed 
1938 N/A 6 June   PDF  
1938 N/A 7       Missing - Copy Needed 
1938 N/A 8       Missing - Copy Needed 
1938 N/A 9 September   PDF  
1938 N/A 10 October   PDF  
1938 N/A 11 November   PDF   
1938 N/A 12       Missing - Copy Needed 
1939 N/A 13       Missing - Copy Needed
1939 N/A 14       Missing - Copy Needed
1939 N/A 15       Missing - Copy Needed
1939 N/A 16       Missing - Copy Needed
1939 N/A 17 May   PDF  


Efforts were made again in 1965 when another regular club newsletter appeared. From this point onwards it was named "The Whippet". The name, "The Whippet", coming from the dog that has been the emblem on club badge since formation in 1910.The first editor was Alan Whittle who then, in September 1967, handed over to Dave Denton.

Year Volume Number Date/Reference Cover Contents Link Notes
1965 N/A 1 January 1965 Typed PDF  
1965 N/A 2 February 1965  Typed PDF  
1965 N/A 3 March 1965  Typed PDF  
1965 N/A 4 April 1965 Typed PDF  
1965 N/A 5 May 1965 Typed PDF  
1965 N/A 6 June 1965 Typed PDF  
1965 N/A 7 July 1965 Typed PDF  
1965 N/A 8 August 1965 Typed PDF  
1965 N/A 9 September 1965 Typed PDF  
1965 N/A 10 October 1965 Typed PDF  
1965 N/A 11 November 1965 Typed PDF  
1965 N/A 12 December 1965 Typed PDF  
1966 N/A 13 January 1966 Typed PDF  
1966 N/A 14 February 1966 Typed PDF  
1966 N/A 15 February 1966 Typed PDF  
1966 N/A 16       Missing - Copy Needed
1966 N/A  17 April 1966 Typed PDF  
1966 N/A  18 May & June 1966 Typed PDF  
1966 N/A  19 July & August 1966  Typed PDF  
1966 N/A  20 September & October 1966 Typed PDF Cover carries January 1967
1967 N/A  21 April 1967 Typed PDF  
1967 N/A  22 September 1967 Typed PDF  
1967 N/A  23 October 1967  Typed PDF  
1967 N/A  24 December 1967 Typed PDF  
1968 N/A  25       Missing - Copy Needed
1968 N/A  26 April 1968 Typed PDF  
1968 N/A  27 May 1968 Typed PDF  
1968 N/A  28 June & July 1968  Typed PDF  


We  have a small number of "Whippet" newsletters that were produced under the editorship of Doug Fownes.

Year Volume Number Date/Reference Cover Contents Link Notes
1973 N/A N/A November   PDF  
1973 N/A N/A Christmas   PDF  
1974 N/A N/A February   PDF  


The early 1980's saw the editorial talents of Pete "Geno" Griffiths & Andy Holden come to the fore. Both Pete & Andy had been Editor of the University of Birmingham's student newspaper ("Redbrick") during their university days.

Year Volume Number Date/Reference Cover Contents Link Notes
1982 N/A N/A October   PDF  
1983 3 No. 1     PDF  
1983 3 No. 2     PDF  
1983 3 No.3     PDF  
1983 3 No. 4     PDF  
1983 3 No. 5 September-October   PDF  
1983 3 No. 6 November   PDF  
1983 3 No. 7 December   PDF  
1984 4 No. 1 February   PDF  
1984 4 No. 2 April   PDF  
1984 4 No. 3 May   PDF  
1984 4 No. 4 July   PDF  
1984 4 No. 5 October   PDF  
1984 4 No. 6 November   PDF  
1984 4 No. 7 December   PDF  
1985 5 No. 1     PDF  
1985 5 No. 2       Missing - Copy Needed
1985 5 No. 3 May   PDF  
1985 5 No. 4 July-August   PDF  
1985 5 No. 5     PDF  
1985 5 No. 6 Christmas   PDF  
1986 6 No. 1       Missing - Copy Needed
1986 6 No. 2 May   PDF  
1986 6 No. 3 July   PDF  
1986 6 No. 4       Missing - Copy Needed
1986 6 No. 5 November   PDF  
1986 6 No. 6 Christmas   PDF  
1986 7 No. 1     PDF  
1987     September-October   PDF Newsletter


After another break the early 1990's saw the production and inspiration for "The Whippet" head to Smethwick with Bryan & Pat Clifton shouldering the bulk of the work. An early attempt at providing a website was made in 1999. This was called "The Web Whippet".

Year Volume Number Date/Reference Cover Contents Link Notes
1992     January   PDF  
1992     March   PDF  
1992     April   PDF  
1992     August   PDF  
1993     August/September   PDF  
1993     October   PDF  
1993     November/December   PDF  
1994     January   PDF  
1994     February/March   PDF  
1994     April/May   PDF  
1994     Autumn   PDF  
1994     Winter   PDF  
1995     Winter   PDF  
1995     March   PDF  
1995     Spring-Summer   PDF  
1995     Mid Summer   PDF  
1995     Autumn   PDF  
1995     Christmas   PDF  
1996     February-March   PDF  
1996     May   PDF  
1996     September   PDF  
1996     December   PDF  
1997     March   PDF  
1997     May   PDF  
1997     October   PDF  
1997     Christmas   PDF  
1998     Spring   PDF  
1998     Summer   PDF  
1998     Autumn   PDF  
1999     March   PDF Newsletter 
1999     May   PDF  
1999     Autumn   PDF  


After the sad death of both Bryan & Pat Clifton the editorship & production of "The Whippet" moved again. Bryan Mills, Chris Holloway & laterly Mike Buntin producing various paper editions. By now the use of electronic means to compose, edit and print was well established.

The "web" address was registered in 2001.

At the same time there was also a regular email bulletin produced called the "eWhippet". This was often circulated on a weekly or an event based basis as more of the club and it's supporters by then had email addresses. These have not been reproduced here.

Year Volume Number Date/Reference Cover Contents Link Notes
2000     January   PDF  
2000     Spring   PDF  
2000     Summer   PDF  
2000     Autumn   PDF  
2001     Winter   PDF  
2001     April   PDF  
2001     Summer   PDF  
2002     January   PDF  
2002     Spring   PDF  
2002     Autumn   PDF  

2002 Onwards

Since the end of 2002 there has been no regular production of a printed club newsletter/magazine. As the internet took off and more people had access to computers so the club's website was developed for carrying news of club activities and our performances. A growing range of historical material has also been added.

There was an early version of a website from 1999. Major updates have since happened several times, the most notable update in 2007 when it became possible to give access to content editors who could add information without requiring technical knowledge of website coding. It was not until 2007 that regular provision of information was carried using this media. In April 2014 we again upgraded the website.

Bryan Mills continues to develop and technically maintain this public aspect of the club's communication.

Prior to the time of our centenary in 2010 Tom Holden established a Tipton Harriers "facebook" group. David Payne was behind the establishment of the Tipton "Twitter" account in November 2013.

In 2014 we now have many different "social media" platforms that carry information and records on the Harriers activities - e.g. "Facebook", "Twitter" and "flickr". A far cry from monthly paperbased newsletters.

Wrinklies Review

In addition to The Gazette & The Whippet certain groups within the club drew up and published their own newsletters. One such example was "The Wrinklies Review" which appeared during the 1990's and covered the Veterans/Masters aspects of the club. Doug Fownes was involved with the editing.

The following are the ones we have in the collection. If you have any others that are not listed below please get in touch.

Year Volume Number Date/Reference Cover Contents Link Notes
1994     January   PDF  
1994     February   PDF  
1994     May   PDF  
1994     September   PDF  
1994     October   PDF  
1994     December   PDF  
1995     January   PDF  
1995     February   PDF  
1995     April   PDF  
1995     July   PDF  
1995     August   PDF  
1995     September   PDF  


If you have a copy of any of the editions of the "Whippet", "Gazette" or "Wrinklies Review" that we are missing then please get in touch via email via This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Ideally we would like a digital copy of all the pages taken on a high resoloution scanner but, if not, get in touch and we will let you know where to send us a paper copy.

Club History & Memorablia

If you or your family have any material relating to Tipton Harriers we would love to hear from you.

It may be a just a simple photograph or newpaper cutting or it may be a complete collection.

We are always on the look out for copies of such items to add into the club's archives for future generations.

Every snippet adds to the club archive. Please get in touch via This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

A Brief History Of Tipton Harriers (Centenary Meal Booklet 2010)

A booklet was written and produced by Keith Atkins for the Club's Centenary Meal held on 26th March 2011 at the Copthorne Hotel, Merry Hill. The funding for the production was generously provided by our long standing sponsors the Tipton & Coseley Building Society.

This booklet was written specifically for the meal by Keith as a brief summary of the club and its progress over the first one hundred years of our existence. It is not meant as a full history of the club as this is still being worked on. Keith was however able to draw from the significant research work that has already been undertaken by the project team (Keith along with Chris Holloway & Pete "Geno" Griffiths). This project has received a large amount of material and input from members old and new but any new information would still be of interest.

Everyone who attended the meal received a free copy. For those of you unable to attend we reproduce the contents for your interest here.

Centenary Meal Booklet

The Story of Tipton Harriers (Running Review Article 1984)

Tipton Harriers were created in September 1910, when the members of the Tipton branch of Birchfield Harriers resolved to end their connection and become independent. Soon, over 40 members were meeting and training regularly from a former painters' workshop and store in a loft behind a shop and houses in Waterloo Street. These primitive facilities, sparsely furnished, using two 18 feet square, 8 inches deep beer cooling vats as baths with water heated in an old copper washing boiler, remained the club H.Q. until 1936. Much of this happened despite serious bomb damage during the Zeppelin raids in 1 916 and the obstruction of the non-improving landlady.

In competition the green and white hopped vests with the whippet emblem surmounting the slogan "Swift and Eager", soon became a force to be reckoned with in cross-country competition. This despite the demands of the armed forces and munitions work during World War 1, and the ravages caused by the economic depressions of the 1920's and early 1930's when at times up to 80% of the members were unemployed. After the war membership grew and club branches were founded at Wolverhampton, Dudley, Wednesbury and Cradley Heath until this practice was banned by the M.C.A.A.A. in 1924.

The first major team successes, winning the Midlands 'junior' and Staffordshire Championships arrived in the 1925-26 season where they were also runners-up in the Midland Senior Championship. This marked the beginning of the first golden age for the club, which was dominated by two outstanding individuals, the athlete Jack Holden, and the club president 'Innie' Palethorpe. Together they transformed the image and the reputation of the club.

The First Golden Age

Holden's incredible career, lasting 26 years (1925-51) is legendary and unique in British athletic history. In international competition from 1929 to 1950 in events ranging from middle distances on the track, through cross-country to the marathon in his later years, he held world records and won at least 75 major championships from County to Empire and European levels. Only an Olympic medal eluded him. Among his most distinguished achievements were, Midland 6 mile champion eight times (1932-46). A.A.A. 6 mile champion three times (1933-35). Inter-Counties champion four times. English cross-country Champion three times (1938,39 & 46). Midland cross-country champion eight times (1932-40). International cross-country champion four times (1933-5 & 46), the only individual ever to achieve three consecutive wins. He was also runner-up twice and made four other appearances in the first ten.

He narrowly missed Olympic selection in 1932 and 1936, what would the record have been had the six non-championship World War II years not intervened? In 1946 he turned to marathon running and added further lustre to this tremendous career. Midland Champion (1946-49), A.A.A. Champion (1947-50), British and English native records at 25 miles and a world 30 mile track record. Tragic failure when favourite in the 1948 Olympics and finally the perfect finale in 1950 at the age of 43, the Empire and Commonwealth title in New Zealand and the European title in Brussels. He would retire only when a British runner emerged who could beat him. In 1951 Jim Peters did so.

The statistics reveal only a little of the essential qualities which made him so great a champion - dour, single-minded, outwardly unemotional, an enormous pride in his achievements, a self-confidence and stubborn refusal to accept defeat. Training methods far in advance of his time in distance and quality, meticulous preparation particularly his remarkable ability to judge and gauge his form to perfection. Readers will not be surprised to learn that in his late seventies he retains his athletic physique and interest in fitness. Inspired by his example several of his club-mates also achieved international selection - Tommy Kay and Jack Corfield most notably, and the teams too enjoyed great success. Staffordshire champions 15 times (1926-1949), runners-up in the Midland 13 times in 16 years and finally winning in 1949. They were 3rd in the National in 1928, 1930 and 1946.

Road relay racing had also captured the interest of the club since about 1928, the annual highlights being the Manchester to Blackpool and London to Brighton races (both 10 stages in those days). These were great social as well as athletic occasions until their demise in the 1960's. In both of these events the club finished 2nd in 1932. Palethorpe, the sausage/meat pie tycoon, took the club to his heart when he became president in 1929, and became its greatest single benefactor. His munificence ranged from hampers of pies for the team at major events, through 'surprise' cheques wiping out any debt which might arise. Hospitality at dinners and 'smoking concerts', gifts to Holden following his greatest successes, to his greatest contribution - the provision of a new headquarters building and training facilities on his factory site in Sedgley Road East in 1936. The H.Q. building, and particularly its bathing facilities, were "much used, envied and admired" by home and visiting sportsmen Across the road the sports field, maintained throughout in bowling green condition by grounds man Holden, provided blissful underfoot conditions for the increasing numbers who were preparing for 'flatracing' as track running was then often termed.

The Decline . . .

Despite the successes of the Holden / Palethorpe era and the immediate post-war period, the Second World War had a long term disastrous effect on the club. Its athletes had aged and few young men had emerged to replace them. By the mid 1950's the club had reached the nadir of its fortunes. Ken Rickhuss, Bert Harbach and Geoff Eales maintained the reputation in middle-distances, filling three of the first four places in the 1957 Midland one mile championship, but Captain Ken suffered the humiliation of knocking on doors and begging reluctant and unfit athletes to turn out for major championships. However it was Rickhuss and Harbach who inspired the beginning of the revival which ultimately led to the success of recent years. Pursuing objectives laid down by the club's new president, George Price, at an emergency meeting in 955, they worked to build up membership, to nurture and develop talent at all levels of ability, to promote a new club spirit and "to see the name of Tipton more prominent". Between 1955 and 1958 a strong youths section was built up, the nucleus from one school. Three of whom (Geoff Wood, Doug Fownes and Jim Wright) were to become cross-country Internationals. In 1961 their potential was fully revealed in winning the National Junior Championship on the club's favourite course, Parliament Hill Fields. When the club finished 4th in the Manchester to Blackpool Relay in May 1961, six of the team were juniors and its average age only 22. The foundations had been laid and significantly those athletes remain at the core of Tipton's present day strong Vets squad.

And Rise . . .

Friendly competitive 'needle', regular group training sessions, social events and regular travelling to seek top competition developed a unique spirit, camaraderie and improved standards. In the autumn of 1965 the club finished first or second in seven relays and road races in Leicester, St. Albans, Hornchurch, Luton, Cambridge, Brighton and Liverpool in as many weeks. Home-bred talent such as Tony Burkitt, Alan Richards, Mick Orton, Brian Cole, and later Keith Rollason (National junior cross-country Champion 1970) was reinforced by "imports" who became the team stalwarts of these years Alan Whittle, Ron Franklin, Dave Denton, Melvyn Evans and later Keith Boyden among others. All that was lacking for the major titles to come within grasp was one big star. In 1965 this crucial signing occurred when Allan Rushmer, then on the threshold of his International career, joined the club.

Although one of Britain's leading 3 mile/ 5000m runners for the next six years, Allan was, and still is, a fine clubman, ready to run in all major fixtures without jeopardising his own personal career on track or country. In 1966 he finished 3rd in the Commonwealth Games behind Kip Keino and Ron Clarke, his time of 13m 08.6secs represented a U.K. record. He also finished 4th in the European 10,000m during the same year. In 1967 he ran a mile in 3m. 58.7secs and set an English native and A.A.A. National 3 mile record of 13m. 09.2secs. 1970 - 4th in Commonwealth 5000m behind Stewart, McCafferty and Keino in 13m. 29secs, then among the six fastest of all time. In 1978 he gained Olympic selection at 5000m but became a victim of Mexico's altitude. Over the Country he represented England on numerous occasions, his best placing in the International Championship being 7th in 1968. Probably his greatest season over the country was 1972, 1st in the Midland, 3rd in the National through gruelling Sutton Park blizzard conditions (organised by Tipton Harriers!) and 15th in the international despite illness and virtually running through the field. And who in Tipton will ever forget his incredible his 'come-back' run into 14th position in the 1981 National at Parliament Hill.

When the major team success came it was overwhelming in its scale. At Parliament Hill Fields in March 1969 the team of Jim Wright (11th), Allan Rushmer (14th), Alan Richards (19th), Doug Fownes (33rd), Keith Boyden (45th), Bill McKin (53rd) scored only 175 points, 256 ahead of the nearest rival and the largest winning margin in the history of the competition. Mick Orton (61st) and Alan Hodges (62nd) could not make the count! Tipton had arrived in the big time and were to stay there. Sharing in the victory ceremony on that occasion as Junior Champion was a young Birmingham University athlete who was soon to make a major contribution to Tipton's sustained story of success - Andy Holden.

When Andy joined the club after leaving University he was just the man needed. Already an International in Steeplechase and cross-country, he loved racing and would run in anything. He has been seen competing for the club in events ranging from 100m hurdle to 30 miles on the road! His quiet, yet magnetic personality has attracted many of his contemporaries to the club and won the admiration and respect of young athletes, and his selfless commitment to all aspects of the sport is recognised and respected by all. His unmistakable figure, the short buttering stride, the red hair, the head on one side, the shoulders tensed in effort has been an essential feature of virtually every major Tipton victory since 1973. Again the most indelible image of him was in the 1981 National at Parliament Hill following a fall, covered in mud from head to foot, like a Black and White Minstrel surging back through the field into a magnificent 11th place and selection for the England team.

Other stars have contributed to these successes. Some of them, like brilliant meteors, have appeared briefly or intermittently and then passed on, some never to reappear. Significant among these have been Jim Harvey, Paul Venmore, Ian Stewart, John Davies, John Wild and perhaps most brilliantly, the enigmatic Mike Kearns. In the Ovett class in ability he has produced world class performances from 1500m, 3m. 36.8secs, a British record set in 1977 to the marathon 2hrs. 13mins. 51secs set in 1982. Kearns however was not been able to sustain fitness and motivation for long periods. Yet the foundation of success has remained, thanks to the perennial Brian Cole, Doug Fownes and Jim Wright, the gifted Tony Milovsorov, Steve Emson, Peter Griffiths, Bob Westwood, Eddie Wedderburn, all Internationals. Bob Cytiau, John O'Meara, Mark Pountney, John Eariston, Charles Perkins and Ronald Bentley Jr.

In the 15-year plateau of achievement certain peaks stand out in the landscape. 1972 was a year of celebration following three outstanding successes. The National cross-country Championship regained against every kind of adversity in Sutton Park, the National 12 stage relay won the first time against the predictions of all the pundits, and the remarkable victory of the ultra-long distance men. Mick Orton (the outstanding individual winner), Bill Carr. John Malpass, Tony Burkitt, Ron and Gordon Bentley who competed succesfully in the gruelling 54 mile Comrades' Marathon from Durban to Pietermaritzburg in S. Africa. This was the culmination of years of dedication by these iron men via numerous victories in the London to Brighton, Exeter to Plymouth and Two Bridges races. In November 1973 Ron Bentley achieved immortality and a place in the Guinness Book of Records by covering 161 miles 545 yards in a 24 hour track race, a National, British Native, U.K. Allcomers, European and World best performance.

Clean Sweep 1977-78

At last in the winter season 1977-78 the clean sweep of all three National titles was achieved, as was every age group in the Staffordshire and Midland cross-country championships. This was followed with victory at the National championship at Leeds. The one remaining peak was almost scaled in 1981 when Kearns, Rushmer, Holden, Milovsorov and Emson just failed to win the European Clubs Championship at Varese in Italy, succumbing only to Sporting Club Lisbon, i.e. the Portuguese National Team. With the addition of John Wild their, supremacy as a genuine club team was clearly established by their remarkable win, by a margin of 129 points from Gateshead, in the National Parliament Hill Fields. In the meantime in 1970 the club had moved to its new and present H.Q. at Gospel Oak. Created from a refuse tip by years of self-help and fund raising, loans and grants from the Local Authority and Government Departments. It was built in union with other local clubs, a 19 acre sports complex had been created including a cinder running track and training and social facilities superior to any in the club's previous history. Unlike many top clubs, until recently Tipton have enjoyed little help from local authorities in the provision of facilities. Today, with more support from these sources and invaluable sponsorship from the Tipton and Coseley Building Society, the club can, now look forward to a steady improvement and expansion of these facilities.

Originally written by Geoff Wood & Doug Fownes for 'Running Review' March 1984

Year Of Celebration (1971-72)

We, that is Doug Fownes, Alan Richards and myself, were asked by senior officials of the club after a special meeting, to produce a booklet depicting the magnificent successes of our club during the 1971-2 Cross Country and Road Season.

We have naturally concentrated our efforts on the Comrades Marathon, National Cross Country and National Road Relay victories, each of which were excellent achievements in their own right. To have won all three in the same season is a unique honour and one which I feel sure will never be equalled by another club. I realise never is a very long time, but I do not foresee any other club being able to foster team effort and spirit to the extent that we have over the past few years. Despite the heroic individual contributions of Mick Orton for example who was a prominent member in all three achievements, our successes have been the fruit of a tremendous all conquering wave of club spirit. This abstract element pervades the club and includes not only athletes but also officials, supporters and of late our friends at T.S.U.T who we not only influenced by the club spirit but are also now part of it and help to foster it.

The Comrades Venture was a magnificent exercise of "where there's a will, there's a way". Initially I think, only the ultra distance men themselves believed that the money for the fares could be raised and with the help of T.S.U.T and the support of their own club mates at the various functions and fund raising activities a figure in excess of £1,200 was collected. Most of these early functions were organised by the ultra distance men themselves. This however was only part of the battle.

Not many assessors felt that our men could defeat the might of South Africa in their own championships in what pundits believe is the toughest road race in the sport of Ultra distance running.

To a man our team trained harder than ever before and proved worthy ambassadors of Tipton Harriers and indeed of all the other clubs and organisation that gave their support.

We have naturally included specific articles on the three major victories. In addition we have resurrected items from old editors of "The Whippet" that we feel are topical in this booklet. We hope that Tony Phillip's article proves to be prophetic and that in a few years we shall be producing a booklet to commemorate a year of great track success.

Before permitting you to attach the real meat we must mention that during this spectacular year Jack Timmins decided to vacate the position of Chairman of the Club after a lifetime of service both as an athlete and official. Naturally Jack will still be seen regularly in the club and at race meetings, but his authority at committee meetings will be sadly missed as at least one of our contributors will testify.

I'm similar vein, this will be Jim Bedford's last year of office as club secretary after 21 years in which he has held the reins through thick and thin. It must be very gratifying for these two excellent club servants to be able to bow out when the club is on the crest of the wave.

We hope that you will enjoy reading this legacy of athletic literature and we would urge all road and country men and indeed all club members to extend the scope of our team spirit to embrace our track activities in the future and therefore bring to reality in the not too distant future the dream of Tony Phillips.


Archive Film Footage (24/02/2012)

Our President, Ron Bentley, now has available a set of 4 DVD's that contain various short film clips from athletic events in the 1950's, 60's & 70's that Tipton Harriers participated in. The events range from our own Boxing Day Handicaps, Manchester To Blackpool Road Relays, The National XC through to Midland & National 12 Stage Road Relays and other such events. The clips have been collected from the likes of Tony Phillips, Roy Langford & Mick Orton. They may also be of interest to other clubs, such as Coventry Godiva Harriers, who were also competing against Tipton in these races.

Read more ...

Tipton Harriers and the 1972 Comrades Marathon

Comrades Marathon

Part One

Home Dominance
The South African Connection
Laying Down The Gauntlet
Caution & Confirmation

Part Two

Background To The Comrades Marathon
Funding The Trip
Black Country Pride
The Training
Other Preparation (Of A Musical Kind)

Part Three

The Characters
Getting There
Arrival & Acclimatisation
A Further Challenge - The Paw Paws
The Diet

Part Four

The Field & Facilities
Race Expectations
The Day Before
The Route - Course Map & Profile

Part Five

The Great Day Dawns
How The Race Unfolded
The Team Result
The Call Home

Part Six



Saturday 3rd June 1972 was a significant day in the history of Tipton Harriers and the world of Ultra Distance running globally.

It was on this day in South Africa that the 47th running of the Comrades Marathon, organised by the Collegians Harriers – “For Amateurs By Amateurs” - took place and a piece of Tipton history was to be forged.


It was Mick Powell and George Johnson who started Tipton’s experimentation in the world of ultra distance running. Mick & George went down to the Road Runners Club’s London To Brighton race in 1962 and from those two performances a formidable record developed.

They were joined through that decade by the likes of Tony Fern, Ron & Gordon Bentley, Bill Carr, Tony Burkitt, John Malpass along with others such as Ron Copson & Ray Williams.

Through the 1960’s Tipton had become the leading Ultra Distance team in the United Kingdom. They had notched up race victories around the country in races such as “The Exeter To Plymouth”, “The London To Brighton”, “The Isle Of Man 40”, “The Woodford To Southend” and many others.


South Africa and the UK had long had close connections when it came to ultra distance running and achievements. Arthur Newton, originally from Weston Super Mare had left the UK and settled in Natal, had come across and run the "London To Brighton" and set records at various distances including, at the age of 51, in January 1934 the 100 Mile "Bath Road" from The Bear Inn at Box, a village near Bath, along the main route (now the A4) to the finish at Hyde Park Corner in London.

South Africans often competed as individuals in the long distance events in the UK such as The Road Runners Club's London To Brighton Race and Scotland's Two Bridges Road Race. These were just two of the races in the UK's ultra distance calendar in the 60's & 70's.

The Road Runners Club had been at the vanguard of the ultra distance culture and were widely respected around the world enjoying an international membership.

Indeed Tipton, in the shape of Jack Holden, had already enjoyed connections with South African & The Comrades Marathon. Hardy Ballington, a one time winner of the Comrades Marathon had taken the trouble to send Jack some food parcels during the post war period in his build up to the London Olympics in 1948.


As has already been said South Africans often competed in the UK ultra distance challenges. They had witnessed the performances and success of Tipton Harriers as well as the sociable nature of the men from the Black Country. Their ability to combine hard competition and hard recreation afterwards endeared them to many overseas visitors.

Stories of the performances of Tipton’s squad had also circulated around the world in the paragraphs of the Road Runners Club’s magazine.

The Two Bridges race, though a recent addition to the ultra calendar at that time, had proved a happy hunting ground for Tipton.

Two Bridges Race

 Name 1968 1969 1970 1971
 Gordon Bentley  12th (4:25:15)  14th (4:09:31)  9th (3:59:20  12th (3:58:08)
 Ron Bentley  4th (3:58:53)  6th (3:51:15)  3rd (3:42:15)  15th (3:59:09)
 John Malpass    13th (4:07:23)  5th (3:45:18)  5th (3:40:27)
 George Johnson    7th (3:53:13)  8th (3:54:43)  11th (3:55:17)
 Tony Fern  11th (4:25:15)  17th (4:19:59)    
 Bill Carr    9th (4:00:04)    3rd (3:37:16)
 Mick Orton        13th (3:58:27
 Tony Burkitt        6th (3:42:06)
 Ray Williams      17th (4:22:23)  
 Ron Copson      24th (4:46:45)  
 Team 1st 1st 1st 1st

It was after the 4th Two Bridges Race in Scotland in the August of 1971 that a challenge was made and the adventure started. It was at this event, on 24th August 1971, that Charlie Chase laid down the infamous gauntlet on the table where the Tipton lads were sat having a quiet drink after the race. This was to be a challenge forged out of friendship.

Charlie Chase was a member of the Germiston Callies club from Johannesburg and had taken part in the Two Bridges Race that day, placing 17th in a time of 4:06:23. He visited the UK on a frequent basis combining business and his love of running.

His club, Germiston Callies, had a tradition in contesting the famous Comrades Marathon. In the past, they had provided two of the individual winners of this famous event in the form of the Wally Hayward (1930, 50, 51, 53 & 54) and Jackie Mekler (1958, 60, 63, 64 & 68).

His challenge to the Tipton lads was to travel to South Africa in 1972 and take on what was then believed to be the hardest ultra distance race in the world, The Comrades Marathon, against South African teams who had been dominant in their event.

As was said by one of the lads at the time "We had always heard about the Comrades. There was a romantic tinge to it – all those names like Inchanga and Drummond." 


The Tipton lads, full of the win at the 1971 Two Bridges, as well as beer and bonhomie, wanted to rise to the challenge there and then.

Ron Bentley was more cautious and suggested that they wait at see how they fared in the London To Brighton in September of that year (1971).

The 26th September 1971 came and Tipton again won the RRC “London To Brighton” team award, The Len Hurst Belt, for the second year in a row. It was also their fourth win overall. The team race was based on “three to score” and excluded “ineligible” runners.

Here is a record of the performances recorded by members of Tipton Harriers in the famous RRC race in the lead up to the Comrades adventure.

London to Brighton (1962-1971)

George Johnson
17th (6:50:25)
12th (6:29:55)
18th (6:32:15)
20th (6:19:50)
5th (5:59:25)
27th (6:56:36)
7th (5:58:57)
2nd (5:55:08)
21st (6:25:10)
Gordon Bentley
8th (6:16:28)
14th (6:10:01)
12th (6:24:54)
12th (6:15:29)
8th (6:02:33)
Tony Fern
11th (6:26:20)
7th (6:16:16)
11th (6:06:39)
10th (6:20:40)
John Malpass
22nd (6:36:46)
16th (6:25:20)
3rd (5:55:30)
3rd (5:35:09)
Ron Bentley
23rd (7:07:22)
23rd (6:28:32)
5th (6:02:39)
Bill Carr
20th (6:34:42)
25th (7:31:05)
7th (5:48:15)
Tony Burkitt
4th (6:01:59)
6th (5:44:56)
Mick Powell
17th (6:50:25)
Ron Copson
38th (7:33:17)
Total Finishers

(NB - When, in 1970, Tipton finished four in the first five it took a further twenty five years for another club to come close to this level of domination when, in 1995, Gengold Harriers from South Africa finished five in the first six)

South Africa provided twelve contestants of which four had finished in the leading places at the Comrades Marathon. Their presence helped seal the challenge further as Dave Levick from South Africa won the race for Witwatersrand University in a new course record.

Witwatersrand University athletes, entered as individuals to comply with international rulings relating to apartheid , placed 1st, 2nd & 4th but were unable to compete as a team.

That sealed it - it was a case of seize the moment. And so began a very busy time and many things to address.



The Comrades Marathon was first staged on 24th May, Empire Day, in 1921.

The idea for the event came from Vic Clapham who was born in London on 16 November 1886. Vic emigrated as a youngster to South Africa, with his parents.

At the outbreak of the South African War in 1899 he enlisted as an ambulance man in the Cradock Town Guard at the age of 13. He later moved to Natal and worked as an engine driver with the South African Railways.

With the outbreak of the Great War 1914-1918, he again signed up with the 8th South African Infantry, and fought and marched over some 1700 miles of the eastern savannahs of Africa during the conflict.

These combined experiences of pain, agony, hardship and death that he witnessed during those awful days left an indelible impression on the young soldier. What stood out strongly was the friendship and collective experience engendered among the men in these conditions.

When peace was finally declared in 1918, Clapham felt that all those who had fallen in this catastrophic war should be remembered and honoured in a unique way.

His idea was to inspire an individuals’ will by stretching their physical & mental abilities to the limit.

He recalled the tremendous heat and thirst he experienced whilst at war. He came up with the idea of a long distance race and approached the athletic authorities of the day to sound their views. His idea was based on something he had read in a newspaper about an event in England.

There was at this time a "Stock Exchange Walk" between London & Brighton. This was about 50 odd miles. The distance between his home town of Pietermaritzburg and Durban was about 54 miles and so the idea crystalised. Durban lies on the central south east coast of South Africa with Pietermaritzburg inland.

His campaigning eventually led him to the doors of the “League of Comrades of the Great War”. These were a body of ex-servicemen who had formed an association to foster the interests of their living companions who had survived the Great War. It some ways it mirrors the Royal British legion formed in 1921 in the UK.

Clapham asked for permission to stage the event under the name of the Comrades Marathon and for it to become a living memorial to the spirit of the soldiers of the Great War. He was laughed at and turned down. It took stamina to get the event off the ground with him applying again in 1919 and 1920 to no avail. Finally he was successful in 1921 with a refundable grant of 2 Rand (about £1) for expenses! 48 entered, 34 started and 16 finished. An endurance event had begun that still captures the hearts and minds of people today.

He was a tireless campaigner and worked hard to establish the event. In many ways it was the forerunner of the mass participation events now enjoyed the world over including our own London Marathon. It captured the imagination of the South African people and eventually the rest of the world.

There was an added challenge to participants - that of a 12 hour “cut off” at the finish. There were also various ‘cut off’ times applied along the course for logistical reasons. Different “cut off” times continue to exist to this day.

The race continues today held annually in June. The race, in modern times, alternates in direction every year and has a slightly different course depending on the direction being run.

Both the “Up” route from Durban (1935m/6349ft ascent and a 1295m/4249ft descent) and the “Down” route from Pietermaritzburg (1295m/4249ft of ascent and 1935m/6349ft descent) provide formidable but different challenges to a runner’s legs. In 1972 the route was to be “Up” from Durban to Pietermaritzburg.

The Comrades Marathon was at that time regarded as the unofficial world championships for ultra distance running. No wonder Tipton wanted to take part.


Up until 1931 there was no team trophy and the race was already 10 years old. Vic Clapham commandeered an old World War One relic, a discarded steel helmet, found by his sons.

(In 1998, Dave Bagshaw met Vic Clapham's son at the finish of the race in Pietermaritzburg. He was told how he and his brother had found the helmet that forms the centre of the Gunga Din shield in the Unsimduzi River. They used to play with it in the garden skimming it across the lawn like a frisbee in the years before it was chromed and became a prized team trophy.)

Vic had this symbolic Great War memento chromed and mounted on a circular piece of wood. This team trophy was named the "Memorable Order of the Tin Hats (MOTH) Team Trophy".

Gungadin Trophy


This trophy was presented to the Comrades Marathon by the "Gunga Din Shellhole" the successor organisation to the "League of Comrades of the Great War" of which Clapham was a member. The trophy became known simply as the "Gunga Din". (Gunga Din was the name of the hero in a poem of 1892 by Rudyard Kipling.

In 1931 the first recipient of this coveted prize, appropriately was the Maritzburg United Athletics 'A' Team. Since 1960 the team award had been won as follows.

Comrades Marathon Team Results

 Year  1st Gunga Din  Points  2nd Arthur Newton  Points
 1960  Germiston Callies  22  Durban Athletic Club  24
 1961  Durban Athletic Club  14  Germiston Callies  43
 1962  Durban Athletic Club  47  Savages Athletic Club  51
 1963  Savages Athletic Club  30  Germiston Calloes  44
 1964  Durban Athletic Club  27  Germiston Callies  29
 1965  Savages Athletic Club  22  Germiston Callies  34
 1966  Savages Athletic Club  22  Germiston Callies  33
 1967  Savages Athletic Club  40  Collegians Harriers  48
 1968  Savages Athletic Club  33  Germiston Callies  34
 1969  Savages Athleric Club  23  Germiston Callies  33
 1970  Savages Athletic Club  24  Collegians Harriers  30
 1971  Savages Athletic Club  24  Wits Athletic Club  68
 1972  ?  ?  ?  ?

Who would it be in 1972? Tipton wanted it to be them.


How much would it cost? Ron Copson admitted in 1975 that the only thing which seemed to give cause for alarm at the time was raising the money, but raise it they did by every known means, and a few others as well.

Their target was £1400 to cover the air fares for the seven members of the team (at this stage Mick Orton was yet to figure in the plans). Their accommodation & hospitality costs were to be generously met by various people from the local athletic clubs and athletic organisations in South Africa.

The trip was to be for three weeks and being treated as a ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunity for all concerned.

Through the winter Ron & Gordon Bentley together with George Johnson staged between 10 and 12 dances around various venues in the Black Country to raise funds. The entertainment at these functions was often arranged by talented local pianist Colin Beadsmore. The profits from these events went to the fund.

Tony Burkitt recalls one singer/comedian called Lee Wilson who was a relative of one of the members of another club in the Tipton Sports Union (TSU). Tony recalls Lee appeared on the TV talent show of the time called “New Faces” and gave his services free for the cause.

In February 1972 the following letter appeared in the Road Runners Club Magazine from George Johnson appealing for funds.

Dear Sec,

As you know, in recent years Tipton Harriers have been building up a very strong Ultra long-distance road running team, and in the last four years have been particularly successful in this type of event.

Every year we compete in the Exeter to Plymouth 44m, the Isle of Man 40m, Woodford to Southend 36m, Dunfermline to Rosyth 36m, Liverpool to Blackpool 48m (now ceased) and the world-famous London to Brighton 53m.

The past four years we have been unbeaten in these events, and on three occasions have provided the individual winner as well, each one also breaking the course record for the event.

After our victory in this year’s London to Brighton which was our second in succession, and our fourth in all, we were asked by the visiting members of Savages AC of Durban, and Witwatersrand University if we could possibly send a team to compete in the famous “Comrades Marathon,” a distance of 57 miles from Pietermaritzburg to Durban, which this year attracted an entry of no less than 1200 athletes.

They have guaranteed to provide us with full accommodation, food, transport, if we could raise the money to cover our fares, and have started a fund in South Africa to achieve this end.

This means starting a fund to raise something in the region of £1500 by means of dances, raffles, donations, etc. We have been given a good start of over £200 with donations from four local businessmen connected with Tipton Sports Union of which we are a member, and on hearing of our plans, the Sports Union have assured us that they will will start a fund to raise half of the total if we can raise the balance ourselves.

In order to do this, apart from dances, except, we are writing to as many athletic clubs is possible to ask if their members would be willing to have a collection and help us achieve this target.

We realise that athletes are faced with a lot of expense to enjoy their sport, but any donation, however small, will be gratefully received and acknowledge and will make our task a little easier.

Yours sincerely,

G G Johnson, Secretary, Comrades Marathon Subcommittee.

PS I have enclosed a brief record of our achievements to show you that if we are fortunate enough to go we shall be able to make a determined effort to bring the Gunga Din trophy to England for the first time ever.

Donations should be sent to R Bentley, Treasurer, 5 Carlton Crescent, Woodsetton, Sedgley, Dudley, Worcestershire.

At one stage Ansell’s Brewery offered to kit the team out with tracksuits provided they had a logo for a local brew called “Ansell’s Ale” but this was not to be as the Amateur Athletic Association forbade any such sponsorship.

Ron Bentley was able to obtain discounted air tickets for the trip but only with a bit of subterfuge as they had to state that they were staying in hotels when in South Africa.

The trip really brought the various clubs of the Tipton Sports Union (TSU) together as all component clubs partook in the events and functions to help raise funds. They were riding on the crest of goodwill after the opening of the facilities at Gospel Oak in 1971. There was a container on the bar at the Social Club known as the “coffin” into which spare change was happily put to help the cause.

The late Gordon Bentley organised an infamous “men only” at a venue in Bilston where the Police got wind of it. The crowd and ‘entertainers’ were only warned by the timely sounding of the fire alarm!

Ron Copson recalled two other striptease evenings at the Robin Hood near Quarry Bank. At that time there was a small theatre on the site. Ron reckons he could have sold 7000 tickets through work alone!

Tipton Harriers had planned for a team of seven, financed by club funding. It was not until the spring of 1972 that Mick Orton decided to come along and pay his own fare so he could look after his club mates.

Ron Bentley, the Tipton captain, told Mick that he would be foolish to attend the Comrades as a spectator – he couldn't miss such a great race experience. And so Mick decided to “at least start the Comrades ‘cause I might never have the chance to go again”. The team was now eight.

As the date for departure got closer a final function organised by Alan Richards, was held on 20th May 1972 at the Queen Mary Ballroom in the grounds of Dudley Zoo. There is an unsubstantiated story concerning an encounter between Ron Bentley and a killer whale!

Tipton Harriers

One final act of kindness before they left came from Bert Ward of Ward’s Poultry fame who slipped Ron Bentley, the Captain, £150 as “pocket money” for the lads for the trip. It is a measure of the hospitality that they received that Ron came back with £73!


It was clear that the trip and challenge had captured the interest of the club, the area and the wider Black Country community. The following was written by Harry Harrison, the legendary Black Country Poet.

Off The Cuff Black Country Stuff, Harry Harrison

(The News, Thursday, 11th May 1972)

They’ope ter win the ‘Gunga Din’

Worro Aer’kid.

Yoh know where the best ultra-distance runnin team in this country doh yer, Aynuk? No tew ways abaht it, ode pal, Tipun ‘Arriers marathon men can run ferther thun sum uv the new motors!

Ah ‘ad a chat th’uther nite ter the eight runners oom flyin out ter South Africa Whit Satdy ter run in the werld fermus “Comrades rerce” on Jewne 3. Well abuv a thousand runners ull be steppin it out frum Durban ter Pietermaritzburg, which is 57 miles. Yo’ve ony gorra think abaht it un yoh start swetin un get the cramp or surmut, doh yer?

These runners train morning, newn un nite dew anythin betwin 100 un 200 miles evry wik apiece ter keep fit. Wi’ tew “Bentleys” un a “Carr” in the team yo’de think they’de run on petrol instid uv glucose un orange jewce, wud’n’t yer?

Team manager Bill Carr frum Ocker Bonk Tipun is producshun maniger ut Vowells, Cherch Lern, Bramwich. They’ve got abuv 100 runnin members altagether in Tipun ‘Arriers un Bill is maniger uv the lot, not just the ultra-distance team.

“If anybody goz off the fewd, they’le get their appetite back if they run “100 mile” ‘e sed.

The tew Bentley Bruthers um tew rite lads if yoh get torkin tew um, aer’kid..Yo’me outa breth lissnin abaht sum uv their performances.

Team captin Ron Bentley wun 100 mile rerce last October in just under 12 ‘ours 38 minits, which is the therd fastist time in the werld! Gordon Bentley finished therd in that one. Yoh cor ‘ardly believe anybody cud run 100 mile wi’out stopping fer one thing or anuther, con yer? It’s theer tho’, Aynuk, they keep runnin un they’me fed outa plastic bottle feeders ter keep um gooin’. It’s marvluss, really.

Ron Bentley jined Tipun ‘Arriers 20 ‘ears agoo un ‘e ‘elps ter run a steel stock’olders in Portway Road Oldbrey. Yo’de want a perper uz big uz ‘The New York ‘Erald Tribune’ to put down all the rerces this team uv run in, un ah bay jokin’, neither.

Gordon Bentley wuz Staffordsheer yewth champion ut arf-mile, the mile un cross country, un e’ze run in two 100 mile rerces un finished booth times! The Bentley Bruthers ope ter break the werld record uv 159 miles fer 24 ‘ours non-stop runnin in 1973 aer’kid! Anybody dewin a runnin commentary on that ull av a soore throat ah’le bet our Aynuk.

John Malpass is anuther well known runnin nerm, ay it ode pal. E jined Tipun in 1961 frum Bramwich ‘Arriers. In 1971 John wuz ranked the top United Kingdom ultra distance runner un ‘e cum fust in the Exeter ter Plymouth un the Ilse uv Man rerces!

Tew South Africans pushed ‘im in ter therd plerce last ‘ear in the London ter Brighton rerce, but ‘e recorded the therd fastist time ever by an Englishman.

Wiltshire born George Johnson uz run in the 53 miles London ter Brighton rerce nine times un finished the course evry time...that’s gooin’ a bit, ay it? George, ooh wun the Wiltshire Marathon three times, uz run in 58 rerces between 26 miles un 53 miles.

Midlunds Marathon Champion in 1966 un 1967, Tony Burkitt wuz mile champion uv Midlunds Grammer Schewls in 1957. E’ze bin in gud form in the big rerces the serm uz Ron Copson, ooz run in evry ultra distance rerce except the Isle uv Man.

“This team is great un shud put up a gud show in the ‘Gunga Din’ trophy rerce in South Africa,” Ron tode me. Progress chaser Mick Orton, ooh lives opposite th’Arrier pub, Tipun, is payin ‘is own fare (£145 air tickit) ter run the course frum sea level up ter 5,000 feet!

The South African runner nerm Charlie Chase invited the team ter goo un ah know wotever ‘appens, the lads un Tipun ‘Arriers in their green un white ull be a credit ter the Black Country. Lets wish un all the very best. Cheerio, Eli


Taking up the challenge at the Two Bridges Race was the easy part.  The hard work began through the latter part of 1971 and into 1972. Against the normal winter season backdrop of cross country league races, area and national cross country races hard graft was being done.

Remembering that all were in full time employment, some with young families, some with physically demanding jobs it is hard to imagine how they fitted in the mileage necessary to ‘get fit’ for the Comrades.

During the week most did their own thing, slowly cranking up the weekly mileage, often in excess of 150 miles. Two or even three sessions a day were often the norm. The strength of the Tipton club helped here as various members like Alan Richards, Andy Holden joined the team in their training. It was not just Tipton who joined in this journey. The likes of Colin Hunt, Colin Kemball of Wolverhampton, Len York and Dave Hope from the Worcester club also played their small part in the preparations. Some club nights afforded the lads the welcome lift of training in a large group. They often met at the Accles & Pollock Sports Ground in Oldbury.

But it was the weekends that provided the best opportunity for getting the longer runs in and throughout that period from September 1971 through to the spring of 72 many back to back runs were done on a Saturday & Sunday. They would think nothing of logging four to five hour excursions on each day. The pace was measured and provided a sociable atmosphere as well to relieve the tedium and pain of such efforts.

On these long runs through the Staffordshire, Shropshire & Worcestershire countryside they often took money for food & drink to recharge their batteries part way round. Big loops were drawn up from the club heading out through Dudley, Kingswinford & Wolverhampton. On odd occasions they would run into Birmingham & back on the canals.

Mileages for some had already been high.  Ron & Gordon Bentley had been used to the higher numbers whilst training for the 100 mile race in 1971. For these two it was not uncommon for them to see off 150-160 miles a week.

Ron Copson recalled "Training was increased to an almost, new and unknown level even by our standards, so that we all got very fit, and could not wait to get there". For Ron it was a "three times a day" schedule. Living in Halesowen he used to run to work in Lye, then train at lunchtime, followed by the run home. At weekends he would venture out into the countryside. He would run to Alveley alone, meet John Malpass, the pair would then run back to Ron's whereupon John would run back home. This amounted to around 130 miles a week. As his family remarked during this phase when he came through the door "do you live here?" His weight during this time was a stable 10st 3lbs.

Tony Burkitt also recalled that he trained regularly with John Malpass as they both lived in Alveley. They would meet every morning at 5.30am and run anything from 15 to 20 miles in around one and a half to two hours, which was very hard running for a training run. Tony added that that was enough for him though he did try to manage a steady run of 30/45 minutes at night. Tony was able to confirm that John ran again at lunchtime and managed another long run in the evening.

John Malpass often remarked that the Comrades team were involved with training for 10-12 hours of every day in the period leading up to the trip.

Tony Burkitt estimates that at that time John was clocking up at least 200 miles a week. Tony also said that John was like a machine, switching his engine on at the start of each run, running hard for as long as he had to, then switched the engine off. A fitting tribute to someone he felt was “so focused on making himself the best runner it was possible for him to be”.

Josie Burkitt, Tony’s wife, also recalls with wry humour that she would say to their two daughters “Girls, this is your dad!” when he would arrive through the door after yet another run.

Mick Orton provided an insight into his training prior to his victory in 1972.. His monthly mileages, running up to 3 times a day up to within 2 days of an event and his associated racing were as follows


Mick Orton's Training Log for 1972

 Month  Mileage  Races  Notes
 January  425  3  
 February  304  2  
 March  331  1  
 April  349  5  Road Relays
 May  498  None  

Due to illness, he had had two separate weeks with very little training in March and April. He only did 10 runs over 20 miles at approximately 9½ miles per hour pace and 2 over 30 miles (32 and 33 miles in approximately 4 hours).

Mick also stated that his most serious training was for the cross-country season starting the beginning of December and culminating with the National Championships at the beginning of March.

His cross-country training was as follows – 6 weeks steady running, with runs of up to 3½ to 4 hours on Sundays giving a total of between 120 miles to 130 miles weekly. Thereafter he cut down on his mileage but introduced 2 to 3 interval sessions per week, i.e. 11 to 12 miles on the road, first 3 miles steady, then a number of faster efforts and ease off over the last 2 to 3 miles. For the rest of the week he ran as he felt.

His best times at that juncture, for the standard longer road race distances were 50m 21s for 10 miles and 1hr 51m 34s for 20 miles.

Mick also admitted he had a leaning towards yoga – doing a few exercises daily especially before a big race. This physical awareness was to help him out in the latter stage of the race.

He described his diet as normal, though not containing too much fatty food. He said that supplements of wheat germ, vitamin and iron pills were taken every day noting that this was under his doctor’s supervision. He weighed 150lbs (10st 10lbs/68Kg’s).

In South Africa Dave Bagshaw was also training hard though not without some disruptions. He gave an insight to the author in August 2012 as to his build up.

Dave Bagshaw's Training Log for 1972

 Month  Mileage  Races  Notes
 January  141  2  One x 20 mile race & one 3 mile relay stage
 February  222    
 March  226  
 April  449  2  One marathon, one 33 mile race
 May  501    


As well as banging in the miles the lads had been planning to entertain their hosts. Two of the team had looked at the course and showing some artistic enterprise come up with a song that they planned to sing.

Tipton Is The Team

(To The Tune Of “Wearing Of The Green”)

 Green is our colour
 Tipton is our scene
 We are the greatest
 Long distance running team
 We are the runners of Tipton
 The greatest in the land
 And when we run we mean we run
 We really shrink the land

 Our vests are hoops of green and white
 You'll see them to the fore
 And if you ever catch up with one
 You'll have to run some more
 Green is our colour
 Tipton is our scene
 We are the greatest
 Long distance running team
 Our motto is to run to win
 Of that there is no doubt
 And if you see us struggling
 You'll never see us drop out

 Yes my lads we’re hard but fair
 Whenever we run the race
 To be beaten by a Tipton boy
 Is certainly no disgrace
 Green is our colour
 Tipton is our scene
 We are the greatest
 Long distance running team
 Now we’re here to tackle Botha’s
 Polly Shortts as well
 Drummond's tough or so we're told
 But we're here to run like hell

 Now you've good teams so we've read
 We only know a few
 Of Ladysmith and Wits we've heard
 Of Callies and Savages too
 Green is our colour
 Tipton is our scene
 We are the greatest
 Long distance running team
 We've heard your runners of the past
 Great names to think on
 Like Jackie Hardy and Wally
 And of course the great Newton

 The course is tough of this we are told
 And when Maritzburg’s near
 Having run through the Valley of a Thousand Hills
 We’ll all shout "Where's that beer"
 Green is our colour
 Tipton is our scene
 We are the greatest
 Long distance running team
 (Solo) Ron Bentley
 I'm big Ron Bentley
 Captain of this team
 I'm proud of my bunch of lads
 The best the world has seen
 (Solo) Gordon Bentley
 My name is Gordon Bentley
 Unlike my brother Ron
 I’ve raced a hundred on the track
 And I'm going like a bomb
 (Solo) George Johnson
 I'm quiet George Johnson
 I don't say much at all
 But when it comes to running
 I'm the shrewdest of them all
 (Solo) Tony Burkitt
 I'm Tony Burkitt
 The smallest runner on view
 My head may roll from side to side
 But don't let that fool you
 (Solo) Bill Carr
 My first name is Billy
 My second name is car
 The distance doesn't worry me
 I'd trained to run that far
 (Solo) John Malpass
 I'm Johnny Malpass
 The long and lanky one
 I've run two hundred miles a week
 And so I fear no one
 (Solo) Ron Copson
 I'm the other Rony
 Copson is the name
 I'm not the fastest of the boys
 But I love this running game
 (Solo) Mick Orton
 My name is Mickey Orton
 The youngest in the team
 I'm just learning this tough game
 With the best team you have seen
 Green is our colour
 Tipton is our scene
 We are the greatest
 Long distance running team
 Now would like to thank you all
 The listening to our song
 But never mind you good folks
 You won't have us for long

 Were only here for a short while
 Our stay is far too short
 But each and every one of us
 Will be a jolly good sport
 Chorus (Repeat Twice)
 Green is our colour
 Tipton is our scene
 We are the greatest
 Long distance running team



Who were the men taking on this magnificent challenge and what did they do?

George Johnson, originally from Devizes, had stayed in the area after a stint in the RAF at Cosford after getting married. In 1960 George was captivated by the performance of Abebe Bikila over the marathon distance in the Olympic Games. He wrote to Jim Bedford, then Secretary of the Harriers, to ask if he could join. It was the start of a long career in which he helped lay the foundations for the success that came Tipton’s way. At the time of the Comrades George was 35 years old and working in the scrap metal trade. He ran in 84 events at or over the marathon distance and completed no less than 84 - a remarkable record.

John Malpass was originally a member of West Bromwich Harriers joining Tipton in the early 1960’s. John ran over many surfaces – road, cross country, track & fell. He had always been up for adventure and first ran the Ben Nevis Fell Race in 1960. Our first records of John running anything over 10 miles was at the Pembroke 20 in 1963 where he recorded a modest 2hr 12m 44s for 62nd place. John was a “solid” clubman always turning out in the road relays and league races. It took until 1968 to get another record of John competing in a long distance race when he competed in the London To Brighton. It was probably in 1969 that John made his breakthrough and found his niche when he finished 2nd in the Liverpool To Blackpool 48 ½ Mile Road Race. In May 1970 he was 2nd to Ron Bentley in the Exeter To Plymouth “44”. Two weeks later he was 3rd in the Isle of Man 40. In September he was 3rd behind George Johnson in the London To Brighton. In 1971 amongst many performances he won both the Exeter To Plymouth race and the Isle Of Man 40. As an aside he managed 12th in the Polytechnic Marathon. This is just a snapshot of John’s amazing career before the Comrades. John, aged 32, was living in Alveley in Worcestershire at the time and was a draughtsman by trade. Going into the 1972 Comrades many felt him to be the top ultra distance runner around.

John was hoping that his wife Gloria would be able to listen into the race as a family friend was a “Radio Ham” and would be trying to tune in to the frequency of the local station that would be covering the race. In an article in a local paper in South Africa he was quoted as saying “I am a firm believer in the right frame of mind. There are a lot of fellows that are the same over short distance, but it is the chap who is more stubborn over the marathon distance that wins through” going on to say “I can truthfully say that I don’t suffer from pre-race nerves. I have only one thought in mind and that is beating the man in front of me.”

Another Alveley resident at that time was Tony Burkitt, then aged 30. Tony joined the Harriers in 1958 just after winning the NW Midlands Grammer Schools One Mile Championship for Bilston Grammar School at Aldersley Stadium, Wolverhampton.

Jim Bedford, the Tipton Harriers Club Secretary at that time, kindly arranged to pick Tony up and take him to the club to meet everyone. Tony ran in Junior & Senior teams over all surfaces but it was in 1964 that he went to watch the Midland Marathon Championship at Leamington. He was impressed and thought “I’d like to do that”. He increased his training mileage and ran the following year finishing 5th in 2h 40m 49s. This made him even more determined and he went on to win in 1966 (2h 27m 40s) & 1967 (2h 22m 59s). But it was in 1969 when Tony went down to support John Malpass, George Johnson, Gordon Bentley and Ron Copson with drinks and sponges in the London To Brighton race. He could not believe the “strength and determination” shown by these lads. He was hooked and promised to join them the following year. Ron Copson knowingly advised Tony by saying “Tone, you’ll know you’re tired when it becomes a major decision whether or not you’re able to step up a gutter”.

Tony was born in Walsall who lived in Wednesbury as a young man until his marriage, then moving on to Quarry Bank. He started out as a “progress chaser” in Wolverhampton moving into the “fruit and veg “ trade as a salesman in Great Bridge also owning a grocery shop in Walsall.

Ron Copson was another friend of John Malpass who worked in Lye as a buyer at Bronx Ltd. Ron was 40 at the time of the race. Ron lived in Halesowen and used to have a seven mile run to the club just to train. Ron joined the Harriers around 1965 after some badgering by Pete Boxley, another Tipton legend, who used to work with Ron. Ron tells the tale of how he came to take up ultra distance. It came about after Malpass asked Ron to come along to the next race he and Tony Fern were to run in, what he did not tell Ron was just how far that race was. It turned out to be the 1969 “Liverpool To Blackpool” Race, some 44+ miles! As it turned out he finished 17th and Tipton were third team. Some baptism that was.

It was through Ron that Harry Taylor, the then Editor of the Black Country Bugle, gave good exposure of the trip and the eventual result.

Gordon Bentley and George Johnson were working together trying to establish a business on a bit of land in Oldbury. Gordon was then around 33 years of age. Ron Bentley, Gordon's elder brother, worked next door. Gordon & George lived close together near Lanesfield, and used to run from there to and from Oldbury - a great grounding. Lanesfield was at that time a centre for ultra distance as Tony Fern lived round the corner.

Bill Carr joined the Harriers in 1960. Under the insistence of his brother in law Ken Rickhuss, a stalwart of the club at that time. He ran mainly road and cross country races and in around 1967 moved up to running the ultra distance ones. To get fit for such events he ran to and from work and often also forgoing lunch to get in more training. At the time of the Comrades he was 30 years old and the Production Manager at Vowles Foundries in West Bromwich. He was also Team Manager for both Tipton Harriers and Staffordshire County Amateur Athletic Association.

Mick Orton was the youngest of the party at the age of 23. He had been a runner since joining Tipton Harriers at the age of 12. He had gone through the ranks training seriously in the 9 to 10 years before the race. He lived in Tipton at the time in Glebefields Road. He worked as a “progress chaser” for local firm Wilmot Breeden Ltd at their “Truflo” factory in Dudley Port.

Finally there was the legend that is Ron Bentley. Ron joined the Harriers in the early 1950’s after returning from National Service and being inspired by watching Jack Holden in one of the Sedgley 15 Mile Road Races. Ron was a supreme all round sportsman. He had boxed, and competed at gymnastics and hockey. Ron competed at every aspect of athletics – road running, cross country, track & field. He first tried the marathon around the age of 27. It was the Midland Championships and he finished 3rd.

In 1964 he was approached by Tony Fern & George Johnson to join them in the London To Brighton Race and that really kick started his ultra distance career. He is an inspirational man and can motivate and encourage people. This he did and, combined with his love of adventure and a challenge, he took many members of the Harriers to races the length and breadth of the country. He worked in the scrap metal & salvage trade. He described himself as ‘feeling like a gladiator’ when he stripped off his togs and got his club vest and shorts on ready to race. He was the man to lead Tipton in the Comrades challenge.


The trip started at 10 o'clock on Saturday morning, 27 May 1972, appropriately with a pint of ale at the Social Club at the Tipton Sports Centre on Gospel Oak Rd. It was a wet and windy morning. After all the goodbyes three cars took the party of 8 gladiators to Heathrow.

As they were checking in, unbeknownst to them a coach load of supporters arrived, complete with banners, bells and streamers; to wish them "bon voyage." One nice anecdote came from Tony Burkitt. It concerned his Mum & Dad who had not known about this in advance. The coach called to pick them up. His Mum had popped out to the corner shop at the time to get some bread, still wearing her slippers. Off they went on the coach to Heathrow - his Dad, Mum, the loaf & slippers! A number of members from the Road Runners Club were also at the airport, what a send off!

After taking their seats in on a new type of plane, a jumbo jet, which they all agreed was a gorgeous plane inside, they took off at 6:35 PM. There was an hour stop at Las Palmas, on the Canary Islands to refuel. Already they found it lot warmer than back in England.

On they went landing in Johannesburg after 15 hours flying. They donned sunglasses and took a few photographs before catching the internal flight to Durban. At this time Durban did not have a runway that could accommodate large long haul planes hence the need for another leg.

In Durban, they were met by members of the Savages Athletic Club.



They were warmly greeted by members of the local Durban based Savages Athletic Club. The party were introduced to their various hosts and split into groups.

After these formalities each group went with their hosts to their own private digs in the Durban suburbs.

Bill Carr, Ron & Gordon Bentley stayed with Gerry Treloar the Chairman of the Savages club. Mick was on his own with Bart de Jager.

Ron Copson & George Johnson were paired together and stayed with Graham & Wendy Ford. George was a Lawyer and member of the Savages Club. John Malpass & Tony Burkitt were billeted with another specialist – this time a brain surgeon, (Tony recalled the name as "Curtis", Dave Bagshaw however suggests this may have been Doc Curwen who was an anaesthetist).

Tony recalls just how kind and accommodating they were. Early morning training runs were slotted into their own family routine. They were taken by car wherever and whenever they needed to go.

A hectic time was had during the week prior to the race, with a little light training. It was a bit of a culture shock. The South Africans trained very early in the morning. Amongst those that met for those early morning runs, often at 5.30am included the amazing 71 year old Ian Jardine. Ian was near blind but had competed in at least 14 Comrades and was an incredible character. He used to compete with another runner who "guided" him, often this was Gerry Treloar.

As part of their preparations they explored parts of the course both on foot and in the minibus made available to ferry them around.

Their hosts took them to see parts of the course. They ventured out to for one morning run at Cowies Hill that featured early on in the race.

A notable venue for runners in Durban at this time was Hoy Park and Tipton made use of this for some of the morning training runs prior to the race. Breakfast was often hosted by Savages member Malcolm Hean at his house.

On arrival they had to get used to the heat and different environment. The weather was hot until two days before the race, when it clouded over much to their liking. Another thing Ron Bentley recalled was the rapid change from night to day.

There is only a very short twilight and on one occasion they came unstuck as they had gone out for a training run and lost track of the time and distance covered. The soon found themselves floundering around in the dark trying to trace Ron Copson who had become detached from the group.

The build up must have quite an experience with all the press calls and radio interviews the lads undertook in addition to the functions and socials laid on by their hosts.


On arrival in South Africa the lads were faced with another, good natured challenge, from a group calling themselves the “Paw-Paws”. The reward for meeting the challenge was to be “beers all round” for the winners.

The “Paw-Paws”, a group of five Comrades runners who trained together, issued a strong formal challenge to the Tipton team. They presented an inscribed scroll (see below) to the eight Englishman over tea and cakes after a quick run to Drummond and back from Hillcrest in the week leading up to the race.


The challenge was the brainwave of local Comrades hero Dave Bagshaw (who had won in 1971 thus bagging a hat trick of victories) would be won by the team with the first four runner’s home. The losers have to buy a beer apiece for the winners.

The confident Paw-Paws also challenged a group of Durban North men who train at Greyville and called themselves the Greyville Grubbers.

The challenges were made all in good fun, but were quite serious, according to Dave. They added a light touch to the heavy going and tension of the final week before the big race.


The eight tough, long-haired, pale faced Tipton entrants had caused a stir in the week leading up to the race when their eating habits became known. Tipton were experimenting with what is now referred to as the Saltin Diet

They were in the throes of the “depletion” diet, regarded as novel at the time. They had completed their last long runs before departure to exhaust muscle oxygen stores. Then for the next three days they ate a high-protein diet leaving out carbohydrates.

This state of starvation, it was said, would allow muscles to take up and store heightened amounts of glycogen. This would allow the runner to prolong his optimum running speed for a longer period.

So in the final days immediately preceding the big race they switched to cakes and sweets, soft drinks and plenty of beer! This added to the mysticism and aura surrounding the lads from England.



The race had drawn an entry of 1448 which easily bettered the previous record – that of 1239 in the 1971 race.

As John Cameron-Dow wrote in his recent book on the race:

In 1972, South Africa appeared to be heading towards serious internal conflict. The nationalist government continued to implement its policies of racial segregation amid signs of increasing black resistance. In 1969, Steve Biko had established the South African students organisation. In 1972, a black People's Convention was founded. Strikes were held in protest against low wages at a time of escalating inflation. Biko's Black consciousness movement was growing in strength.

 White recognition of the inequity and un-sustainability of apartheid was limited. While many found the policy abhorrent, government control of the media and of education had been affected in brainwashing the public.

 The country's racist laws were in direct conflict with the ethos of the Comrades Marathon. Yet the race was, like other entities, subject to the laws of the land. Legislation barred the majority of the population from taking part. Comrade’s organisers, facing a dilemma not of their own making, opted for a compromise. They decided to turn a deaf ear to the problem and quietly encourage athletes of colour to participate unofficially.”

There were at least 22 unofficial entrants also lined up. More than half were classified in reports as “nonwhites “ –  5 Africans, 4 Indians and 2 coloureds -  the terminology a symptom of the troubled times. There were at least two ‘unofficial’ female contestants. These were the times where women were severely limited on the distances they could officially compete over. The Comrades name never being more appropriate.

Even in those days the race attracted celebrities. Two former Springbok rugby players (Walton & Oxley) taking up the challenge.

More than 1000 runners were expected to finish and qualify for medals – an indication of the progress made since 1935. Entries and finishing numbers for the Comrades Marathon since 1967 were as follows:-

 Year  Up/Down Entries  Finishers  Winning Time  Winner
 1967  Down  600  415  5:54:10  J D "Manie Kuhn
 1968  Up  659  435  6:01:11  Jackie Mekler
 1969  Down  795  586  5:45:35  Dave Bagshaw
 1970  Up  865  636  5:51:27  Dave Bagshaw
 1971  Down  1239  925  5:47:06  Dave Bagshaw
 1972  Up  1448      

Natal, home of the great race, as usual had by far the biggest number of entries from any of the South African provinces. It had more than half of the 1448 entrants – 594 from Durban and districts and 164 from Pietermaritzburg and its districts.

The arrival of Tipton Harriers team from England brought an international flavour to the 47th Comrades Marathon. But Britain was not the only "foreign" country represented in the race.

Six countries including South Africa had entrants. The eight Tipton men formed the biggest foreign contingent, followed by Rhodesia with five. Botswana and Swaziland each had two and Zambia one.

It is hard to imagine now but back then the use of computers in anything but big business and academic environments was big news.

The computer age had finally caught up with the Comrades. Consigned to the past was the tedious task associated with the administrative side of this great event. To handle the record entry the race administration used computers for the first time to aid entry management and results production.

For the first time in the race history they put out distance markers, in 5Km intervals, for the last 25Km. This is a far cry from the standards of race organisation we enjoy in major events with every mile or kilometre clearly marked.

Improvements were also in place for the finish area in the form of seating. In the past, the spectators had crowded at the fence of the finishing enclosure and only a few had a good view of the runners as they reached the line.

The huge crowd that were expected to flock to the Collegians Ground in Pietermaritzburg for the finish were for the first time be able to watch the final lap of the race from tiered grandstands.


"We’re extremely fit and confident and we're going to win the Gunga Din Trophy on Saturday." That was the prediction of Ron Bentley, the Captain of the Tipton Harriers team from England, who arrived in Durban on Sunday 21st May to compete.

The local press featured the visitors on a grand scale in the days leading up to the race. “On the evidence of both the records and the dedicated manner in which the eight-man Tipton team set about their two training runs yesterday, it looks as though Savages’ seven year reign as team champions and winners of the Gunga Din Trophy could be at an end.”

The press reckoned that the member of the squad most likely to cause concern to front runners of the calibre of Dave Bagshaw, Dave Box and company, was John Malpass.

They described him as “Pale and wiry, Malpass moved with the easy rhythm of the accomplished ultra long distance runner”.

Malpass, who had in the preceding months had won the Exeter to Plymouth race in 4hr 42m; the Isle of Man event in 3hr 56m 08s and was also third in the London to Brighton during 1971, felt the Comrades could be one of the toughest courses of all. "We had a look at a section of the course and it seems more hilly than the ones we used to back home," he said. "Without a doubt it will be a tougher run than the London to Brighton which is about the same distance."

Malpass had no doubts about finishing – he had averaged 320km/200 miles a week for some months during training.

Ron Bentley held the Exeter to Plymouth course record with a time of 4hr 41m 23s clocked in 1970 and in 1971 he won the British 100 mile event in 12hr 37m 55s beating John Tarrant (12hr 51m 38s). Ron's brother, Gordon, was third in that event in 13hr 14m 17s.

As an aside it was on this trip that Gordon & Ron Bentley were elected and inducted as honorary members of the Centurion Runners Club. This was South African club originally formed in 1933 in Cape Town, revived in 1968 by Tony Tripp (Savages Athletic Club) in Durban. It was only open to people who had run in and completed a 100 miles race.

George Johnson, had competed in nine London to Brighton runs since 1962 and was creditable 2nd in 1970. The remaining members of the team, Ron Copson, Mick Orton, Bill Carr and Tony Burkitt, had all turned in creditable runs in the past in various long distance races around the UK.

But the locals had their own expectations and views.  In 1922 Arthur Newton was an unknown quantity when he entered & ran the first 'Up' version of the race. Would another “unknown” cause an upset?

Dave Bagshaw was rated locally as a “racing certainty” for the 1972 race. With three wins in a row, the 1969 and 1970 runs being in record time, fair-haired 28-year-old Bagshaw was the hot favourite. He was also aiming to match Newton's four wins in a row.

Experts were saying 'It would take a very good runner indeed to topple Bagshaw from his throne'  and that he had an 'immense psychological advantage' over his rivals. Ironically Bagshaw was also an “expat” like Newton.  Another who had been widely expected to challenge in 1972 was Dave Levick who had won the London To Brighton in record time in the previous year. Sadly for the race Levick had to withdraw on medical grounds with a foot injury.

Despite the absence of Levick the South African ultra distance cognoscenti were still licking their lips in anticipation of the race. With Dave Box in the field all of Bagshaw's rivals were to be there including Don Hartley, who had won the recent Cape Town Two Oceans Ultra-Distance Race and Trevor Parry, the Witswatersrand University runner who ran second behind Levick at the 1971 London to Brighton race.

In not dismissing the English challenge it was expected that if there was to be a surprise it would come from the squad of eight from Tipton.  They felt that, of the eight entrants from the Black Country, it might be John Malpass (who had placed third to Levick and Parry in the 71 Brighton) or the experienced veteran Ron Bentley who had run prodigious distances in training would spring a surprise but only 'if they did not burn out under the South African sun'. In the write up of the 1972 race after the event it was observed that some of the Tipton entrants were ‘burly by marathon standards’.

What of the chances of these brave men? Jackie Meckler had pointed out in 1962 that British visitors were often underrated because of South Africa's long string of successes in the London to Brighton race and because it was felt that the South African hills and heat would defeat the visitors.

The logic applied, however, was the fact that the English runners would carry out the bulk of their training for the race in the cold and wet of an English winter and spring whilst the local runners adapted themselves in the stifling summer heat. When you then consider the timing of the Brighton, held in September, the same logic had merit for the South Africans visiting the UK having trained in their winter.

Whatever the merits of the diet, training, experience etc. the team had trained long and hard and were now ready for the race of their lives.


There was no pre-race pasta party but a gathering of runners and friends, at the DLI Hall in the Greyville area of Durban, on the eve of the race for a barbeque. This famous Durban landmark, opened in 1904 provided the surprisingly small number of attendees with a chance to renew old friendships and talk about the up and coming race. The Tipton visitors were introduced almost absentmindedly.


The following two diagrams show the course and profile of the race. They are taken from the 1986 book, “The Comrades Story” by Morris Alexander, which chronicles the history of the race.


The profile clearly shows the “rollercoaster” challenge that faced the eight men from the Black Country heading inland from costal Durban (located on the right hand side of the profile).


The Comrades Marathon route is often described by the 'Big Five' hills. The names of which carried a reverence when conversations took place in the years before the trip amongst the ultra distance fraternity. Names that were also immortalised in the song they had written and were to sing to various groups on their travels.



The runners assembled and the race started at just after 6.00am outside Durban Town Hall. On the day the Tipton lads wore their club vests and race numbers with pride. For completeness they are listed here:-

No Name
 300  John Malpass
 301  Gordon Bentley
 302  Ron Bentley Snr
 304  Bill Carr
 305  Ron Copson
 306  George Johnson
 Mick Orton
 308  Tony Burkitt

Why no number 303? Well this had already been awarded in perpetuity to Dave Bagshaw after winning three times and earning what the race calls an “evergreen” number.

Prominent on the front line were the eight Tipton warriors. Ron Bentley had advised the lads to hold hands in a line to avoid the pressure from the large field assembled behind and losing the advantage of a clear run.

There seems to be some confusion as to just what the weather conditions were like at the start. A local newspaper reporting  on the race described it as “cold” but the more formal account given by the respected Comrades historian Alexander Morris tell us that “the sky was starry and the weather mild”.

The noise levels  in the street with a dense crowd of both runners and spectators was such that the starters final instructions were lost in the chimes of the Post Office clock. It was reported that “The record field started a few minutes late in cold and chaotic conditions”.

And so it was that at two minutes past six that Reg Kitchen, respected officer of the Natal Athletic Association sent the runners on their way.  As the huge field made their way around the first corner a “despairing Max Trimborn” followed them, on the loudhailer, with his traditional “cock crow” echoing amongst the buildings.


The large field were off to the relief of the Tipton adventurers. Up front Dave Bagshaw, the experienced Savages man on home turf, for a while, was tracked by fast starter Gordon Baker who hailed from the other end of the course, Pietermaritzburg.

It was these two who set the early rhythm of the race down the Berea Rd and over the early undulations of Mayville & Black Hill. The Savages were making their mark.

By now spectators and supporters were beginning to appear and across barriers of the flyovers that straddled the course in Westville there were noisy and encouraging crowds.

At Huntleys Hill, after around 41 minutes, Dave Bagshaw was looking masterful and in control but with Baker on his heels. Already the race had fragmented.  Leading the Tipton challenge at this stage was Tony Burkitt, the excitement perhaps getting the better of him. Along the line of runners then came first Orton and a little later Ron Bentley.

As Mick recalled “I started with Ron Bentley steady, as I'd never run the distance before. Every hill we came to I was dropping him, so after we done about 8 miles he said for me to carry on!” he went on to say “the story going round in South Africa was that Tipton had given me the job of blowing up Bagshaw so that the other Tipton runners could come through.” this was never the case.

For most of these leading runners the competition was not just for the coveted gold medals to be awarded to the first 10 home for the first time in the history of the race but against their fellow men and the course.

The field snaked its way behind down the line of the “old road”. Everyone was concentrating on their own personal athletic ambition.

Expecting hot weather most of the field wore a wide assortment of headgear in anticipation of the hot sun that was to come. The headgear was as varied as the characters running – it made for a motley looking bunch.

At Cowies Hill Dave Bagshaw had 8 seconds worth of clear road between him and Baker. Next came Derek Van Eeden from Witswatersrand University some 42 seconds behind the leader and 35 behind the second man. Box was next and Burkitt still leading the Tipton & English challenge. Everyone of the leading group were described as ‘running strongly’.

Next on route came the Pinetown Valley, headquarters of the informal Pinetown Paw-Paws whose beery challenge to Tipton formed another slant to the race.

The bottom of Fields Hill was reached just under an hour and a half after the start. Bagshaw toeing the beginning of the long winding climb first. By now Baker was over a minute down. There had been a change in the leading Tipton man. No longer was it the impetuous Burkitt as he had been replaced by the relative rookie Mick Orton tracked by Van Eeden, both around two minutes behind the leader.

Burkitt was not far away as too were Ron Bentley, and a short while later Malpass & Carr. At the top of Fields Hill at the official checkpoint the leader was credited with 1hr 35m.

Check Point 1 – Fields Hill (24.4 Km/15.16 Miles)

 Pos  Name  Time  Margin  Club
 1  D Bagshaw  1:35    Savages
 2  D Baker  1:36  +1m  
 3  M Orton  1:36  +1m  Tipton Harriers
   F J Van Eeden  1:37  +2m  Witswatersrand University
   D G Morrison  1:37  +2m  G C H
   T Burkitt  1:38  +3m  Tipton Harriers
   D Box  1:38  +3m  Savages
   T Parry  1:38  +3m  Witswatersrand University
   L W Jenkins  1:39  +4m  G C H
   R Bentley  1:39  +4m  Tipton Harriers
   J Malpas  1:39  +4m  Tipton Harriers
   W Carr  1:39  +4m  Tipton Harriers
   A N Black  1:40  +5m  UCT
   R H Davey  1:40  +5m  Savages
   D C Hartley  1:40  +5m  Celt H
Selected Others
   C H Crawley  1:45  +10m  Savages
   G Johnson  1:45  +10m  Tipton Harriers
   G Bentley  1:45  +10m  Tipton Harriers
   R Copson  2:01  +26m  Tipton Harriers

Whilst the long climb had shuffled the order of the race it was clear to see that Tipton meant business in the team race.

Both the race and the temperature of the day were warming up as it approached 8.00am. Tipton had four scorers through within four minutes of the lead. Indeed with Gordon Bentley and George Johnson passing this point in 1hr 45m, 10 minutes behind the leaders but alongside the fourth of the Savages men it was clear that something special was in the offing.

A measure of the difference in abilities and personal challenges that were on display was that at this early stage of the race there was already an hour and a quarter between the first and last athletes through.

Obviously making an impression on the South Africans Mick Orton was already described as ‘rugged’ and in a further tribute described him as running ‘powerfully in the Hardy Ballington and Hayward fashion’. The latter two were former winners of the race and both legends.

At Gilletts, Orton moved in front of Baker into second spot. Mick had turned 24 in the few weeks leading up to the race and his maturity in this competition belied his young years and inexperience.

The race was snaking at this point taking in parts of older courses. Orton was on the leader’s scent up and over Hillcrest & Botha’s Hill. At this point before they dropped down into mist in the Drummond Valley the runners were faced a magical cloud inversion.  Mick was later to describe this as “like entering a different world”.  Surreal it may have felt but Orton’s application was very real as he chased the leader down. It was on the descent that Mick drew level with the three times winner Bagshaw.

During the race the Tipton runners were “supported” by friends of South African runners taking part as well as members of the University at Pietermaritzburg. Drinks were many and varied from plain water through to fruit juices. Little food was taken on board.

Tony Burkitt recalls the fondly the young man who “supported” him who appeared everywhere with his bucket of cold water in one hand and drinks in the other. Tony said that “he covered that many miles, he was probably fit enough to run himself the following year”.

The half way mark beckoned at Drummond. The shape and speed of the race was changing. Record times were being posted.

Check Point 2 – Drummond (45.2 Km/28.0 Miles)

 Pos  Name  Time  Margin  Club
 1  D Bagshaw  2:50    Savages
 1  M Orton  2:50    Tipton Harriers
 3  G Baker  2:54  +4m  C H
 4  D G Morrison  2:57  +7m  G C H
 5  F J Van Eeden  2:58  +8m  Witswatersrand University
 5  D Box  2:58  +8m  Savages
 5  L W Jenkins  2:58  +8m  C H
   T Burkitt  2:59  +9m  Tipton Harriers
   J Malpass  2:59  +9m  Tipton Harriers
   W Carr  2:59  +9m  Tipton Harriers
   Ron Bentley  3:00  +10m  Tipton Harriers
   R H Davey  3:01  +10m  Tipton Harriers
   D C Hartley  3:01  +11m  Tipton Harriers
   A N Black  3:06  +16m  U C T
   T Parry  3:13  +23m  Witswatersrand University
   C H Crawley  3:12  +23m  Savages
   G Bentley  3:16  +26m  Tipton Harriers
   G Johnson  3:18  +28  Tipton Harriers
   R Copson  4:01  +78  Tipton Harriers

Orton & Bagshaw had gone through half way an incredible 6 minutes ahead of the previous record time set by Jackie Mekler over 10 years before (1962). The third man through also was ahead of the old record.

Tipton were already asserting themselves in the team race with five ahead of the second Savages scorer.

What was going to give? Was Orton, the raw rookie from England, going to blow up? On to the climb of Inchanga, the mist was still engulfing the road and creating spectres.

The third phase of the race normally saw Bagshaw run away from the field as he had done in his previous three outings.

This was not going to be repeated, as from Drummond, Mick ate up the next two climbs and disappeared into the mist to the top of Inchanga.

It was not only the absence of mist atop Inchanga that welcomed Orton as it was accompanied by a loneliness – that of race leader.

Metronomic was his pace as he ate up Radnor, Harrison Flats and Cato Ridge. His pace to the end of the third quarter of the race was hovering around 10 miles an hour – outstanding.

Admiration from the onlookers grew and doubts dropped away as Mick began to convince them that, even with such limited ultra distance racing pedigree, he could run away from the three times winner, Bagshaw.

Bagshaw was by now having physical troubles as well as shouldering the mental trauma of seeing Mick run away from him. He was forced to a walk on a number of occasions. The third quarter was having an effect further down the field.

Mistaken identities due to a lack of programmes along the course meant that the crowd were unable to recognise just who these men in green & white vests were. The organisers had badly estimated how many programs to print and the supply ran out during the early part of the morning .

Confusion was further caused by the fact that the green and white hooped vest was identical to those of the Cape Town Celtic Harriers.

Our lads were thus denied many an encouraging cheer through lack of recognition. There is one amusing anecdote from the course as when a "knowing" spectator called out "come on, England" as a green and white hooped vest went by, he was taken aback when his call earned a retort in the local language of 'Ek is nie 'n Engelsman nie'. To which the surprised onlooker replied, 'Heavens, they've learnt Afrikaans already, too'.

As Orton strode on past Cato Ridge and Camperdown  vast crowds again looked down on the lone runner from their vantage points on flyovers criss-crossing the course. It was estimated that there were 250,000 lining the course that day. Further history was to be made at the end of the third quarter of the race at the Camperdown checkpoint – the first “sub 4”.

Check Point 3 – Camperdown (63.7 Km/39.5 Miles)

Pos  Name  Time  Margin  Club
 M Orton
 Tipton Harriers
 D Bagshaw
 G Baker
 D Box
 L W Jenkins
 F J Van Eeden
 Witswatersrand University
 J Malpass
 Tipton Harriers
 W Carr
 Tipton Harriers
 T Burkitt
 Tipton Harriers
 D G Morrison
 G C.H.
 D C Hartley
 Celt H
 Ron Bentley
 Tipton Harriers
 W H Brown
 R H Davey
Selected Others
 C H Crawley
 A N Black
 G Bentley
 Tipton Harriers
 T Parry
 Witswatersrand University
 G Johnson
 Tipton Harriers
 R Copson
 + 2hr 01m
 Tipton Harriers

The latter half of the race was to see little change of position.  As in all races of this nature the positions are normally determined in the first 30 miles.  The remaining 25 miles was a test of courage and willpower, of fitness and strength to overcome the cumulative fatigue. This was an area where the Tipton team had immense strength and experience.

Temperatures were rising as the race hit the final gruelling quarter. This had two long leg sapping drags up Ashburton & Polly Shortts. At what was known as the “Richmond Turn Off” Mick was 2m 48s ahead of the defending champion. Still questions were being asked amongst the on lookers – could Orton maintain his lead? Even back then the course was inundated with traffic as spectators, officials and people trying to get ahead of their own runners to provide some welcome drink & sustenance.

Mick described that he “felt the tremendous pull coming up Polly Shortts”. He did not falter and crested the great climb at 11.20am some 5 hours 20 minutes after the dawn start in Durban. By now Mick was looking dominant having built up a 4½ minute lead over brave Dave Bagshaw in second (around 11.25am) who had been reduced twice to a standstill on this infamous hill with Box now in third (at 11.33am) having overtaken Baker on the climb.


Mick Orton - Out alone on Polly Shortts

The top provided the welcome site of Pietermarizburg in the distance and the knowledge that there remained just five more miles of this epic experience. The drama was not yet over.

As Tipton Harrier Doug Fownes wrote after the event:-

“Mick suddenly felt tired.  Those behind felt even worse.  Then disaster struck.  Reaching the top of the hill and with only 4 miles to go Mick was struck by cramp. Forced to stop he amazed the onlookers by performing a series of exercises to stretch the offending muscle.  After two or three attempts he managed to start jogging and before long he had stretched into the long relentless stride of before. “

Doug recorded after talking with Mick:-

“Reaching the outskirts of Pietermaritzburg he started running through enthusiastic crowds of spectators.  Seeing a Union Jack fluttering at the side of the road he made a grab for it only to see it slide of out of reach.  The owner of the flag realising Mick’s intention asked a Press Car to follow the leader and an astonished Mick was presented with the Union Jack from the passing car.” Mickrecalled the incident “A woman shouted out to me near the finish; "come on our kid! I'm from Wednesbury!" She gave me a union Jack!

There were upward of 10,000 spectators at the finish area all awaiting the new hero and a new course record. They had been kept informed of the progress and performance of the man from England via live radio commentary.

As he entered the Collegians Ground in Pietermaritzburg he enjoyed the final circuit of the track. The newly acquired Union Jack waving high above his head the young Tipton challenger had taken on and won the greatest ultra distance race in the world at his first attempt.



Mick Orton – The Comrades Victor

His finishing time was an outstanding course record of 5hr 48m 57s. He defeated the three times winner and race favourite Dave Bagshaw by 4m 57s. He joined the illustrious pantheon of four runners who had won at their first attempt and setting a course record thus becoming the fifth such athlete. Mick was not unique in some ways as he was the third English runner to win the Comrades since 1962, when John Smith won, and Bernard Gomersall of Leeds in 1965.

In winning, no one was more surprised than Orton himself. 'I'm flabbergasted', he said. 'My attitude at the start was that I would be content to just finish the course. My longest race previously was 36 miles and I came 13th.'

The race was won for Orton – and lost by Bagshaw – at Drummond, the halfway mark. And looking as if he had just run the 100m Orton said afterwards that he was surprised at his victory. "Pinch me. I must be dreaming".

Bagshaw struck a number of bad patches in the second half of the race and was clearly in distress in the final stages before home. He said afterwards that although he was disappointed in not winning four in a row, Orton was "too good for me".  Bagshaw, who was not a natural front runner, later admitted to Gerry Treloar in “Ultra Runners All” by G F Marais that he had made a tactical error in 1972 by running abreast with Orton instead of breathing into his neck and then moving past him.

Orton’s performance on the sun baked roads of South Africa was one of glorious determination, dedication and doggedness.

The Finish (90.4 Km/56.1 Miles)

 M Orton
 Tipton Harriers
 D Bagshaw
 +4m 57s
 D Box
 +11m 07s
 F J Van Eeden
 +13m 45s
 Witswatersrand University
 G Baker
 +14m 09s
 J Malpass
 +17m 05s
 Tipton Harriers
 W Carr
 +18m 49s
 Tipton Harriers
 L W Jenkins
 +24m 46s
 W H Brown
 +25m 52s
 D C Hartley
 +26m 08s
 Celt H
Other Selected
 T Burkitt
 +28m 20s
 Tipton Harriers
 R H Davey
 +32m 35s
 Ron Bentley
 +35m 17s
 Tipton Harriers
 C H Crawley
 +42m 06s
 G Bentley
 +50m 39s
 Tipton Harriers
 T Parry
 +57m 57s
 Witswatersrand University
 G Johnson
 +1hr 07m 51s
 Tipton Harriers
 R Copson
 +3hr 21m 10s
 Tipton Harriers

But what of the team race and the other magnificent seven?

Bill Carr and John Malpass had run together for a time until with just a few miles left Bill eased for a drink, John opened a gap, and Bill never quite gained contention and they finished 6th and 7th in 6hrs, 6mins, 2secs and 6hrs, 7mins, 46secs. It was three “home” for Tipton and two for the Savages.

Tony Burkitt running alone in 10th place during the last quarter and a gold medal seeming safe within his grasp, was told with about 6 miles left to run of a “green and white” hooped vest catching him very fast.  “Bentley’s coming” was the only thought that filled Tony’s mind and forced his legs to increase the pace.

Still the green and white vest drew nearer and eventually with Tony almost totally exhausted and with only a few miles left, Hartley of Cape Town Celtic (another green and white club) passed Tony and went away.  Thus Tony missed a gold medal by one place and finished 11th in 6hrs 17mins 17secs.

Tony’s run in 11th clinched the coveted team prize by beating Savages 3rd & 4th counters. Team Captain Ron Bentley was still out on the course, some seven or so minutes down on Tony, but a couple of places ahead of the 4th Savages man but had overheard radio reports being discussed in the crowds that Mick had won. He knew then the team title was won. A very happy and emotional man made his way to finish 13th.

And so the famous epic race was over. This was a fairytale victory for the young 24 year old novice from the Black Country.  The following, in Mick’s own words is an account of the race itself:

"The Comrades, for me, was one of those races where everything just slotted into place. I knew I would be running within myself for the first 30 miles, but was very apprehensive of the second half. My plan was to run with Ron Bentley, who has been a terrific inspiration to me. After about 7 miles I left Ron as I seemed to be dropping him on the hills. At this stage I was lying about 8th and thereafter every time I caught another chap I seem to pass him with no conscious effort. I eventually caught Dave Bagshaw at about 23 miles but only started pulling away after 30 miles. It was only after the race that I heard we'd broken the record to Drummond. With 40 miles behind me my legs started to feel tired and when 10 miles from home promised myself a walk up the notorious Polly Shortts. When I eventually did reach Polly’s I said to myself – 'You can't possibly walk whilst leading in the Comrades' so somehow managed to press on and keep going. An attack of cramp just over the brow of the hill had me really worried, but fortunately didn't persist and I had a good run in. The crowd over the last 2 miles were fabulous and kept me going.

In conclusion then I would like to say, this was my most exciting race of my life – I will certainly try to be back next year, and want to thank those concerned for their hospitality and for organising "the best race in the world".

Mick also said after his shock victory: "I had really intended to act as a “second” to the other Tipton lads but they persuaded me to enter. I'm normally a cross-country man who runs distances of between 10 and 15 km. I found the warm, sunny conditions pleasant and relaxing and a happy contrast to the wind and rain I am used to back home. I ran normally and it was utterly fantastic to find I was the winner. I want to run again next year."

The first ten finishers were all chasing a gold medal. Silver ones were on offer to all performance less than 7hr 30m. Eighty four managed this. The remainder pocketed bronze.

The following table shows how our entrants performed across the four quarters and checkpoints. The split times are followed by the cumulative pace up to that point in the race and were taken from the official race results booklet circulated after the event.

Checkpoint Splits

Check 1
Top Of Fields Hill
Check 2
Check 3
 M Orton
1hr 36m
2hr 50m
3hr 59m
5hr 48m 57s
 J Malpass
1hr 39m
2hr 59m
4hr 14m
6hr 06m 02s
 W Carr
1hr 39m
2hr 59m
4hr 14m
6hr 07m 46s
 T Burkitt
1hr 38m
2hr 59m
4hr 16m
6hr 17m 17s
 R Bentley
1hr 39m
3hr 00m
4hr 20m
6hr 24m 14s
 G Bentley
1Hr 45m
3hr 16m
4hr 41m
6hr 39m 36s
 G Johnson
1hr 45M
3hr 18m
4hr 50m
6hr 56m 48s
 R Copson
2hr 01m
4hr 01m
6hr 00m
9hr 10m 07s


The race proved a triumph for the Tipton Harriers team from Staffordshire. Apart from Orton's victory, they became the first overseas club to win the famous “Gunga Din” Trophy which is awarded to the first team with the lowest "total" calculated from the sum of each of the finishing positions of their first four athlete's home in the race. In winning this Trophy, Tipton broke the stranglehold of the Durban based Savages Club, who previously had won it each year since 1965.

1972 Team Result

Tipton Harriers
 M J Orton
 D Bagshaw
 J G Malpass
 D G Box
 W H Carr
 R H Davey
 A H Burkitt
 C H Crawley

This was a blow to South African sporting pride. As if the loss of the “Gunga Din” wasn't enough, the Springboks rugby union team lost 18–9 in the international tour match against England at Ellis Park Stadium, Johannesburg, that same afternoon. A great sporting day for the English all round!

Dave Bagshaw also tells the tale of a South African punter who visited his bookmaker and accepted odds on a "double" of Dave Bagshaw for the Comrades Marathon and a win for a horse called Mazarin, the favourite for the Durban July Handicap over a few furlongs at Greyville racecourse.  He lost his money on both counts as Mazarin was way down the field in July


Tipton Harriers with Trophy


Left To Right :- George Johnson, Ron Bentley, Ron Copson, Mick Orton, Gordon Bentley, Bill Carr, John Malpass & Tony Burkitt.


News of the event was phoned home to an eager, expectant Tipton Sports Union club-house.  Newspaper reports from the time indicate that John Malpass acted as the “messenger” by ringing Bert Ward from South Africa. The atmosphere was electric.  As the result was read out there was first silence, then gasps of amazement, then jubilation amid tears of joy from the ladies.  The news spread, Tipton Harriers all over the country phoned in to hear the news and it was the same sequence, silence, gasps of amazement and jubilation.



The prize presentation took place after the race. Bill Cochrane was guest of honour and presented the prizes. Bill had won the race in 1935 from Hardy Ballington, who helped the famous Tipton runner with Jack Holden by sending him food parcels after the Second World War when rationing was limiting availability. Hardy also won the Comrades race three times (34, 36 & 38).

Mick won a very grand clock for his victory. A worthy winner who as well as winning the overall title also won the Hardy Ballington Trophy for first Novice home, first awarded back in 1938.

When Dave Bagshaw received his prize, a watch, he asked for the microphone to say a few words. He recalls saying "Today, I had a novel experience; I came second in the Comrades.  Since I finished, a number of people have said 'hard luck Dave'.  I would like to make it clear to everyone here that it was not my hard luck or Mick's good luck that led to his victory.  He was simply the best runner on the road."

The team could not take the “Gunga Din” trophy away with them but, as Bill Carr recalls, they were presented with small plaques to commemorate their win.


Mick Orton & his prize

At the presentation the lads sang the song, as written by John Malpass & Tony Burkitt, to a crowd of 10,000. This song was sung in South Africa about a dozen times throughout the three week journey.

The Comrades Marathon, all the Tipton runners agreed, was something they would remember all their lives. They had been overwhelmed by the friendship and hospitality showered upon them. They remarked on the support given along the length of the course as in England 'interest in a race was over the minute the first three were in'.


In the two weeks that followed the race the visitors were welcomed around the country. Functions and trips were many and various. They were feted at functions held by firms such as McCarthy Chrysler. The generosity of the hosts was humbling.

After a few days back in Durban the lads flew to Johannesburg for some time with the runners from Witswatersrand University.  Ron, Gordon & Bill stayed with Dave Levick. Tony stayed with a lovely Jewish family, whose son was studying medicine at the University. Tony remarked that “if I’d had any health problems at either of the two places I stayed, medical help was on hand!”

It was from this base that they went out on safari under the direction of Fred Morrison a highly respected figure in Germiston Callies athletics. The trip was not just exciting for the animals and wildlife they witnessed but also that one of the cars had no brakes!

Ron Copson recalls that on one of the days they went to the University where a few of them underwent some physical testing on a treadmill. Allegedly John Malpass attained a higher score than Dave Bedford who had undergone the same set of tests.

Ron suffered an unfortunate and unexplained episode on the trip back home. He had taken a camera with him on the trip and taken a number of photographs. He had finished a few films and had taken the opportunity to get them developed. Somewhere on route they disappeared – film & prints. It remains a mystery to this day.


The race results booklet published and distributed to all finishers carried these notes on the event including recording “the great impression the Tipton Team made, both socially and on the road”.

They also concluded that more loudspeakers would be needed at the Start to overcome the noise level created by the thousands of persons present. Also a sign of increased popularity and participation caused them to consider better arrangements and crowd control at the finish for the future.

They observed that the course provided fewer traffic problems, except for the isolated spots like Fields Hill.  They also concluded that the warm day took its toll on a number of fancied runners.


There was another touching moment before departure in Johannesburg when who should turn up but five of the Savages Athletics Club. The lads had thought they had seen the last of them when they boarded the plane in Durban to fly to Johannesburg. This was not the case. The five Savages had jumped in a car and driven 400+ miles to say one final farewell to the English visitors.

No wonder they felt they had been treated like film stars throughout their trip.

The journey home from overnight from Johannesburg on 11th June was uneventful until they landed at Heathrow. They went to get off the plane but were held back. Tired after the long flight they were at a loss to understand what was going on. To their relief and surprise they were finally let off the plane and onto a red carpet. What a way to come home.

But more was to follow as a coach full of family & friends had again headed south from the Black Country to greet the heroes.

On the Monday morning at 3 AM, the coach had left the Gospel Oak Sports Stadium to meet the athlete’s aeroplane at Heathrow, which was expected to arrive at 7:40 AM.

The supporters and team then headed back to the Sports Stadium, where a celebration and buffet was arranged for later in the day. In the evening the Mayor of West Bromwich, Cllr W Manifold, met the party at another reception.


The return

The full reality did not sink in with those at home until the 8 heroes returned to Tipton.  After being hero-worshipped in South Africa where they were front page news and celebrities for their remaining week there, they took the Tipton welcome in their stride.

It was only when they told first hand of their epic struggle, of the torturous 54 miles from Durban to Pietermaritzburg, and showed the magnificent press photographs of the race did the rest of their friends and family begin to realise the significance of their achievements.

There then followed more celebrations both on an individual level and the group. Returning to work proved emotional for some.

What was notable was the lack of coverage and recognition in the local and national press. So much so that it prompted the great Black Country Bugle, a monthly production at that time, to carry the following  on their front page under the headline “Tipton Harriers Long-Distance Men Conquer The World”.

“Wakey wakey you slumbering Black Country sports editors! The greatest event in the history of the Black Country sports has just taken place and you tuck it away in the catacombs of your chloroformed columns. Tipton Harriers Ultra long-distance team win the Comrades marathon in South Africa and you grudgingly dole out a few pathetic paragraphs of faint praise or one crummy picture with an even crummier caption!

The Bugle is proud and honoured to carry this great story on its front page and sound a clarion call for the Tipton heroes who travelled thousands of miles to bring great honour to their native bakers and make Durban resound to the cry, "Tipton" "Tipton" "Tipton!"

The South African press had no reservations about the importance of the occasion. Banner headlines across the front pages of all the leading dailies, proclaim the mighty victory of the Tipton lads. The red carpet was laid wherever they appeared and hospitality was heaped upon them!”

They went even further :-

“Men have been knighted for less, but what happens when he and his teammates return to the land privileged to own them as sons. Where were the banner headlines, the fanfare of trumpets? What kind of sleeping sickness attacked the recumbent reporters of our local press who greeted them with accolade of near silence, a few paltry platitudes of pathetic prose – a pittance when they should have been a banquet to end all banquets!

We take nothing away from the great reception, the lads received from the Tipton clubmates, some of whom travelled  to London to meet their plane. They knew the full story – how hard the lads worked to raise money for the trip and how Mick Orton paid his own travelling expenses when he was not included in the seven strong squad.”


There were three types of medal on offer - Gold, Silver & Bronze. Gold were for the first 10 men home, Silver for those who completed the course in under 7hr 30ms and bronze for those completing before the cut off of 11hrs.

goldmedal silvermedal bronzemedal

The medals could not be given out on the day as each would be engraved and were normally sent on at a future date. Indeed it was not until January 1973 that the Tipton lads got their hands on their medals.

It was agreed at the time that they should be brought back to England by 53 year old South African veteran athlete Tom Gore, who had competed in no fewer than 16 consecutive Comrades events.

Tom was on a visit to the UK and came to Tipton to the Gospel Oak Stadium and presented them with their medals. As it happened his visit coincided with a Veteran’s 10,000m race which was being promoted at the club’s headquarters. Tom ran in this with great enthusiasm, achieving a fine time. For his effort he was presented with a plaque by Tipton's captain, Ron Bentley with whom he stayed.

This proved to be a historic occasion and Tipton's South African visitor was made very welcome, as befitted one who has given so much to the sport.

WHERE ARE THEY NOW (September 2012)

Ron Bentley (81) is in Lower Gornal, Dudley, and currently President of Tipton Harriers. George Johnson (75) lives in Woodsetton, Ron Copson (80) is in Halesowen. Tony Burkitt (70) lives up on the North Wales coast at Colwyn Bay. Mick Orton (64) is in Bilston. Bill Carr (70) is now living in Bewdley, Worcestershire.

Sadly John Malpass died at the young age of 47 in 1987. Gordon Bentley also passed away in 2004.

=====THE END=====


In 1972 Tipton won both team titles at the 'Brighton' & ‘Comrades', only four clubs have achieved this double in the same year. Tipton are the only British Club to have done so.

Mick Orton’s performance in 1972 prompted the club to raise funds and to send him back to South Africa a year later to defend his title.

In the spring of 1973 Dave Bagshaw, who was now back living in the UK, was a guest at an event to help fund Mick's trip to run the 'down' Comrades and experienced again the club sprit that had helped Tipton to success the year before.  Dave told the author in 2012 that he still has Mick's vest from the 1972 race in his "running" drawer.

With Dave Bagshaw out of the race, it was wide open again.  Dave Levick was a real favourite, as was Alistair Wood, a brilliant, smooth striding Scot.  He had all the credentials, for this 40-year-old had previously beaten Orton in the 1972 London to Brighton. He was taking ultra distance running to another level by being the first person anywhere to average over 10 miles per hour over such a distance.

The 1973 “Down” run drew a huge field of 1621 nearly twice the size of the 1970 “Up” run.  A classic race was on the cards.

From the very start, Orton gave notice of his intentions.  By the time the lead bunch ran down Polly Shortts, Wood went into the bushes, and Orton moved ahead.

By the time Orton reached Drummond, he was ahead of the rest of the pack by a full eight minutes, he was intent on burning off the opposition, and he was looking strong.

Dave Levick was biding his time and now started to perk up and he moved up the field using his own wise pacing judgement.

By the time the race leaders reached Botha’s Hill Orton was a full 10 minutes ahead of his next rivals.  The real interest was here and a titanic struggle was taking place.

Levick was beginning to make his move, and by the time he reached Botha’s Hill, he overtook the Pietermaritzburg salesman, Gordon Baker, and moved into second place.

But the hard downhill running proved too much for the Capetonian, and Baker came back at him by the time they reached Gillits.

Up front, Orton was running well, his powerful legs pumping, he looked a sure winner.  At Kloof there were more changes taking place behind the strident Orton.  Chris Hoogsteden made a move and much to the surprise of Baker, moved into second position.

At the bottom of Fields Hill, it was Orton, Hoogseteden seven minutes back, with Baker close by, then Levick two minutes adrift of them.  Then the cracks began to show.  Perhaps it was poor timing, going out too fast, but at the base of Cowies Hill Orton began to falter.  Van Hoogstenden and Baker closed, Levick hung back.

Hoogsteden made his challenge on the tiring Orton, and now on the outskirts of Durban the race took on a different complexion.  Soon it was the turn of Hoogsteden to falter, and Baker was soon in the lead.  Still Levick hung back and bided his time.

Gordon Baker, running his best ever Comrades soon caught the crestfallen Orton, and on Maryville Hill found himself in the lead and his life’s ambition right within his grasp, only five kilometres to go, and he was in the lead.

Fate at times can be cruel, for victory on that day would be snatched from Baker.  Levick struck and with a ferocious turn of speed, and a steely eye, Levick closed in on an incredulous Baker.

Levick, now running the race of his life hauled in on Baker, and to a huge, cheering crowd outside the stadium ran at an unbelievable speed to the finish line.  Levick’s time was 5hr 39m 09s.  This 23-year-old engineering student from Cape Town had set a new “Down” record. Mick battled on to finish 5th in 5hr 48m 09s.

Mick recalled later recalled “I went back in 1973, after getting married on the Saturday, I departed the following Wednesday on what was planned as a three-month trip, the course was run the opposite way round and I lead at one stage by 10 min. I had done the depletion diet popular with marathon runners at the time my legs just went dead! I struggled home in fifth place. I returned to my wife after only a month away, the local press still carried a story entitled, "The Loneliness Of The Long-Distance Runner's Wife!"

In 1973 Ron Bentley set a World Record for 24 Hours setting a remarkable mark of 161 miles 545 yards on 3rd November 1973 at Walton On Thames.

Ron Bentley went back to South Africa in 1975 and ran the race finishing 33rd in 6h 39m. Bill Carr revisited the race in 1989 (9h 13m 02s) and 1990 (7hr 15m 59s). This makes Bill unique amongst Tipton members in that he has a full set of medals - gold, silver and bronze - from the race.

Other Tipton runners have also ventured to the race including Ken Rock in 1973 (6hr 56m) and more recently in 2004 Seb Shepley (7h 28m 25s).

In 1983, there was a reunion in Johannesburg of all living winners of the Comrades (only one absentee due to bereavement).  The Tipton pennant that Mick Orton gave out still hangs in a room at Dave Bagshaw's home in Yorkshire as a reminder of the challenges of this special race, the comradeship of fellow runners and so many shared experiences.

Vernon Jones from Durban used to write to Jack Holden after he moved away from Tipton.  Jack once said to Ron Bentley “He knows more about Tipton than me and he lives in Africa”.

Vernon was one of the runners who used to meet up at Malcolm Hean’s house of a morning in appropriately, Holden Avenue, Durban, which was the venue of Holden Harriers, a hilarious group of runners that include Nick Raubenheimer, ‘Doc’ Curwen & Gerry Treloar.

A number of the team were reunited on 10th October 2010 at a gathering held at the Tipton Sports Academy to celebrate 100 years of Tipton Harriers and again at a Centenary Meal held 26th March 2011 at the Copthorne Hotel in Dudley.

Tony Burkitt after attending the reunion was so inspired that he donned his running shoes again and subsequently ran the Chester Marathon in 2011 at the age of 70 in a time of 5hr 34m – prompting him to then burn his trainers muttering “never again”. Apparently this was the fourth time since 1978 when he stopped running that this ceremony had happened.


The “Men of The Comrades” - Ron Bentley, Bill Carr, Ron Copson, the late Gordon Bentley, Mick Orton, the late John Malpass, Tony Burkitt & George Johnson.

Thanks to :–

  • Ron Bentley
  • Dave Bagshaw
  • Ian Champion & Andy Milroy of the Road Runners Club
  • Dave Lees of the Savages Club in South Africa
  • Sian Theron of the Comrades Marathon staff
  • The material of Comrades authors and Alexander Morris, Tom Cottrell & John Cameron-Dow
  • Guillaume Marais author of “Ultra Runners All”
  • The Black Country Bugle, the late Harry Harrison
  • South African Newspapers  - Various Cuttings
  • Personal archives of many members of Tipton Harriers
  • Tipton Harriers scribe and former Club Captain Doug Fownes
  • Tipton Harriers website manager Bryan Mills

This article was written by Chris Holloway of Tipton Harriers in the summer of 2012.

The Comrades Marathon (1972 Race Report)

Long before the close of entries for the 1972 race, there was speculation over the "up" winner. No one dared look further than Bagshaw and Levick. Sadly Levick withdrew, and this changed the complexion of the race. Then the entries of the Tipton Harriers from the UK arrived, and these tough, longhaired, pale-faced men came into the reckoning and brought a truly international feel to the race.

They brought with them a hither-to-unknown diet, the depletion diet.

After a long training run to exhaust muscle oxygen stores they went to a high protein diet of meat and eggs for two days and took in no carbohydrates. Then starved of carbohydrates, their muscles would take up and store supernormal amounts of glycogen if a high carbohydrate diet was then followed. This, they reckoned would allow a runner to maintain his best running speed for a longer period.

Tipton Harriers brought a team of seven, financed by club funding, and Mick Orton who had paid his own fare so that he could look after his clubmates. Ron Bently, Tipton captain told Mick that if he was travelling to Durban he had to race, he couldn't miss such a great experience.

Bagshaw was determined to run himself into the history books and he took an early lead. By the time Fields Hill was reached, it was Bagshaw, closely followed by his now familiar shadow, Baker and then the Englishman, Mick Orton. Orton soon took Baker, and running powerfully in the Ballington and Hayward mould, gave chase. At Botha's Hill the dogged Orton caught the flying Bagshaw and drew level.

Shoulder to shoulder they ran to the halfway mark. Would this Englishman burn up in the African sun? The second half of the race would provide that answer. The cruel pull out of Drummond, and the Inchanga bank left the defending champion in distress, and Orton now running with an ease that belied his muscular frame, simply ate up the kilometers.

Umlaas Road, and Mick Orton, the reserve member from Tipton was three minutes clear of an ailing Bagshaw, all that was required now was to keep going and he could win this Natal epic.

At the speed he was running, the record could be in danger. And run Mick Orton did! When he ran the final circuit, waving a Union Jack he crossed the line in a record breaking 5 hrs 48 mins and 57 secs. In so doing, Orton emulated the great Dave Bagshaw's feat of winning, against fierce competition, in record time at his first attempt.

The day ended with the Gunga-Din trophy for the first team, going to the Tipton Harriers, this thanks not only to Orton's fine run but John Malplass ran home in 6th place and Carr in 7th. This was a blow to South African sporting pride, but on that day, as if this was not enough, at Ellis Park the Springboks were engaged in a rugby match against England and they lost 18-9. Truly a great sporting day for the English, and to the chants of England, England, old timers may well have on that day mistaken Marathon day for Empire Day.

Sadly, a few months later, one of the finest ultra distance runners South Africa has ever seen, Dave Bagshaw emigrated back to his native Yorkshire.

Mick Orton's performance in 1972 prompted the club to raise funds and to send him back to South Africa. With Bagshaw out of the race, it was wide open again. Dave Levick was a favorite, as was Alistair Wood, a brilliant, smooth striding Scot. He had all the credentials, for this 40-year-old had handsomely beaten Orton in the '72 London to Brighton and was the first person anywhere to average over 10 miles per hour over such a distance.

The 1973 down run, even without Bagshaw was full of interest and drew a huge field. By the time entries closed, the number was fairly twice the size of the 1970 "up" run. A classic race was on the cards.

From the very start, Orton gave notice of his intentions. By the time the lead bunch ran down Polly Shorts, Wood went into the bushes, and Orton moved ahead.

By the time Orton reached Drummond, he was ahead of the rest of the pack by a full eight minutes, he was intent on burning off the opposition, and he was looking strong. Meantime, further back, Wood had made a few "pit stops" and just before the steep descent to Drummond, was forced to retire with a leg injury.

Dave Levick was biding his time and now started to perk up and he moved up the field using his own wise pacing judgement.

By the time the race leaders reached Botha's Hill Orton was a full 10 minutes ahead of his next rivals. The real interest was here and a titanic struggle was taking place. Levick was beginning to make his move, and by the time he reached Botha's Hill, he overtook the Maritzburg salesman, Gordon Baker, and moved into second place. But the hard down hill running proved too much for the Capetonian, and Baker came back at him by the time they reached Gillits.

Up front, Orton was running well, his powerful legs pumping, he looked a sure winner. At Kloof there were more changes taking place behind the strident Orton. Chris Hoogsteden made a move and much to the surprise of Baker, moved into second position.

At the bottom of Fields Hill, it was Orton, Hoogseteden seven minutes back, with Baker close by, then Levick two minutes adrift of them. Then the cracks began to show. Perhaps it was poor timing, going out too fast, but at the base of Cowies Hill Orton began to falter. Van Hoogstenden and Baker closed, Levick hung back.

Hoogsteden made his challenge on the tiring Orton, and now on the outskirts of Durban the race took on a different complexion. Soon it was the turn of Hoogsteden to falter, and Baker was soon in the lead. Still Levick hung back and bided his time.

Gordon Baker, running his best ever Comrades soon caught the crestfallen Orton, and on Maryville Hill found himself in the lead and his life's ambition right within his grasp, only five kilometers to go, and he was in the lead.

Fate at times can be cruel, for victory on that day would be snatched from Baker. Levick struck and with a ferocious turn of speed, and a steely eye, Levick closed in on an incredulous Baker. Levick, now running the race of his life hauled in on Baker, and to a huge, cheering crowd outside the stadium ran at an unbelievable speed to the finish line. Levick's time was 05:39:09. This 23-year-old engineering student from Cape Town set a new record.

To take nothing away from Gordon Baker, he had a fine run and he finished in 5:42:53. This too was good enough to beat Dave Bagshaw's record. After the race a gallant Baker said, "Orton was looking in poor shape as I went past him. I thought I had the race sewn up, as I was feeling pretty good at that stage. When Levick went past me I had no answer. It would have made no difference if I knew he was coming."

(This article is an extract, reproduced with permission, from the Comrades History here.)

Doug Fownes' Stories (1957-1987)

I recently read a book called 'Born to Run ' by Christopher McDougal, that expressed many of the tenets I feel about running. Two sentiments especially epitomized, I believe, the nature of the club, in the years that I ran between 1957 and the late 80's. -----

(1) The importance of racing against people is not to beat them but to be WITH THEM.

(2) That running should not be about prizes or making money, it should be FUN.

I hope that the following personal reminiscences will show that it was exactly like that.

I may have invoked poetic licence for some of the tales but they are all based on true events.

Doug. Fownes September 2009


I first met Ron Bentley (Snr) on the day I ran my first race for the club, in April 1957.I had been signed up as a member only 2 weeks before by John Peniket at Wednesbury Boys' High School ( I found out many years later, specifically for the race ).Not knowing Tipton very well in those days, having only been to the club H.Q. in Sedgley Road once, I arranged to cycle from my home near Walsall to Geoff. Wood's house and then to Tipton, where we would be driven to Oldbury for the annual Youths' road relay.

We were met by a stocky fellow who pushed us into an old black car, and drove frantically to Oldbury quite often on the wrong side of the road as he turned round to talk to us in the back of the car. To say that I didn't understand a word he said is an understatement, he spoke so quickly and in an accent I didn't recognize (despite living only 10 miles (16km) away) I thought he was a foreigner.

The adrenaline rush I had from the short journey must have worked because I ran O.K. and we won the race. The stocky fellow was very excited about this, and the journey back to the club was even scarier.

Over the next few decades, of course, I got to know Ron very well, learned his language, and found out that anything to do with Tipton Harriers, and especially winning, made him very excited indeed.

Much excitement ensued, of course, in 1969, at the National Cross Country Championships. My enduring memory of the race was after about a mile at the top of Hampstead Hill running in about 40-50th position, surrounded, it seemed, by green & white vests. Suddenly a voice boomed out " That's it Billy, we've won it : CALL IT OFF - CALL IT OFF '. We still had 8 miles (13km) to run but Ron was pretty confident. His confidence was justified, we won the National for the first time, and by a record points margin. – WHAT A DAY.

Later, at the presentation, a young man who ran for Birmingham University went up to collect his winner's medal for the Junior Championship. He was dressed outlandishly as all students were in the 60's, and with red bushy hair.

A loud voice was heard to declare ' Look at the state of him Billy, we wouldn't have anybody like that in our club'.

Five years later Andy Holden joined the club, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Andy, of course, was a fine runner. An Olympian, Great Britain steeplechaser, cross country international, with amazing versatility (From track to marathons) but his prowess with a glass of beer preceded his joining the club. His favourite party trick was drinking a pint whilst standing on his head, (Something that had to be seen to be believed). There was also a report in the 'Athletics Weekly' that during an Easter Festival of running on the Isle of Man he ran four races in four days, won three of them, and consumed 78 pints of beer. Andy, to my knowledge, never denied or confirmed the report, but his family was not amused.

The social scene at the club in those days was a very important part of the success that was achieved athletically. It was already an established ritual when I became a member that a formal Dinner Dance was held annually.

As the years went by, however, the format changed somewhat to more informal 'do's ', and one in particular called on Andy's special relationship with a pint glass.

The occasion was an evening wining and dining at the Queen Mary Ballroom in Dudley Zoo. There was a cabaret (a topless Hawaiian wedding impressed Tommy Brooks, I remember) and Ron Bentley tried to become a candidate for a hypnotist. This didn't come to pass as the guy spotted Ron as someone beyond putting to sleep!

The evening ended, however, with entertainment provided by Tipton Harriers. A beer drinking contest (what else?) between the club and Birmingham University students past & present.

The two teams lined up facing each other, and then each had to drink a pint of beer, put the glass on their head when they had finished, and then the next in line could start their pint.

The club team was going well and with only one drinker left we were easily winning. The club's last drinker was Jim Harvey, the last leg hero of the National 12 stage relay of 1972.

The Universities last drinker was, of course Andy Holden. Jim was three quarters of the way down his glass when Andy started and 2.3 seconds later Andy had won. ( I am not sure who timed the event, most people were reasonably intoxicated by then, but we did have some Grade 1 A.A.A. timekeepers in the room at the time.

The 'posh" do's at the club in the early days involved ballroom dancing. As some of the younger members didn't know a foxtrot from a " turkey trot', we decided to take dance lessons. For many weeks we turned up at the Conservative Club in Dudley (after training) and after much stumbling and grumbling we thought ourselves fairly competent dancers. (better than 'Stricltly" we were). Sadly, at the function following our lessons, and at all that followed, our racing instinct took over and the quickstep turned into a race round the ballroom. Needless to say the experts, Ron Bentley, Ken Rickhuss, Joe Gripton, and their partners soundly beat us.

In 1972 we held many functions, dances, concerts, suppers etc. to raise money for the ultra runners to go to South Africa to run the Comrades Marathon. They also trained very hard, and to help them in their preparation the rest of us used to run out to meet them on our Sunday morning run to give them moral support. They used to run for about 4-5 hours (having a bacon & egg breakfast at Kinver on the way) and knowing their approximate route we would meet up with them on their way back to the club. This tended to alleviate the boredom and arguments they had just talking to each other for so long. One warm Sunday morning we had arranged to join up with them at the pub at Greensforge, at the end of the "Mile Flat' near Wall Heath.

There was no sign of them--- and then we were aware of shouting and splashing from the back of the pub, and there they were swimming in the canal ! ' Oh,thereyouare " shouted Ron B. ' Wethoughtyou'dgotlost " They climbed out of the canal and ran back to the club with us as if it was the normal thing to do on a Sunday run. ( Was this the start of Triathlons ?)

The Sunday morning runs were legendary at the club. Tom Brooks told us that we should walk for about 2 hours like they did in his day, but the masochists of the modern era (1950's & 60's) were more inclined to start the week with a good long run to make inroads into the weekly mileage.

As Youths it was fairly gentle, 4 miles or so (6 km) round the Priory, but as Juniors it suddenly became much more serious, and painful. The ritual in the early 60's was to go 'Over the top." This was a run of 7 or 8 miles (11km) from the club, along the canals to City Rd. bridge, over the Birmingham New Road, up Bury Hill Park to the highest point on the Rowley Hills, Turners Hill (about 750 ft (230m) above sea level). We then crossed the golf course and climbed "The Titanic " a hill of epic proportions and suffering, At the top we scrambled down a precipice then retraced our steps back to the club, not forgetting the sprint to the club to commandeer the clean water in the bath. (Incidentally, this course was used for a Birmingham League race, organized by the club probably in 1960, crossing the New Road on the footbridge at Tividale. It was the only time I ever saw the big bath in use)

After a few years of the 'Titanic' some bright spark at the club said that he had read a book on coaching. (a dangerous thing to do even in those days) In it, he explained, was the dogma that the long run of the week should always be twice as far as the race for which you were training." If we are training for the National Cross Country championships over 9 miles through mud, we should be running 20 miles (32km) every Sunday" he explained. Thus was born the crazy Sunday runs that followed for many years. (I personally doubted the logic of the book, because I didn't know any marathon runners who ran 52 miles (83km) on Sunday)

We tried to be sensible about this change to our schedule, trying to increase the length of the runs gradually. It came to pass then that a course was mapped out through Dudley, onto the canals near Netherton reservoir and then winding our way back to the entrance to Netherton tunnel near to where the 'Dry Dock" pub is. One particular run round this course took place on a bleak winters day, snow and sleet in the air, and a bitter wind At Netherton tunnel the course climbed steeply up over the Rowley Hills (where else?) and rejoined the old Sunday

run. A few of the group said that they couldn't face the climb in the inclement weather, and decided to run through the tunnel, about one and a half miles, which re-appeared near to the club H.Q. I gave one look at the pinprick of light that was the other end of the tunnel and decided with the remainder of the group to risk the hard run over the top.

Hard it certainly was, but we reached the club safely, soaked in the bath for a while, and then took off to the Black Horse pub just up the road from the club as was the norm in those days.

Time passed without any sign of the other group, and eventually we left the pub to get home for our Sunday lunch, thinking that they had done the same. The full horror story unveiled on the Tuesday club night. It was dark in the tunnel at the best of times and made worse by the failing light it took over 3 hours for them to negotiate the mile and a half and then suffering from hypothermia stumbled to the club, which luckily had been left open. As far as I know no-one ever tried the 'short cut' again.

During the next 20 years or so the personnel present on Sunday mornings changed as new people arrived at the club. The courses also changed depending on the whim of the club captain or sometimes for sensible reasons like where the cross country championships were to be held that season. Fast National courses were prepared for with road or canal runs, muddy and hilly courses called for a slog over Baggeridge and Penn Common. One thing the Sunday runs had in common was that generally they were hard but great fun.

To relieve the boredom of running round the gloomy streets and canals of the Black Country we tended, on Sundays, to find some countryside. Hence our tendency to head out towards the greenery beyond Sedgley. The problem with running in that direction is that Sedgley is on a hill and we had to run over it on our return to the club. The hill from Baggeridge to Sedgley is also very steep and very long.

One Sunday morning we had really pushed the boat out, running about 23 miles (37km) through Wolverhampton on the canals, along the old railway to Himley, and through Baggeridge Park. The climb up to Sedgley was ahead, the only barrier to a pint or two in the club bar. We climbed through Gospel End, and a trotting pony and trap passed us. Mike Kearns picked up the pace and caught the pony. We followed. The driver of the trap whipped the pony, which raised its pace. Mike raised his pace. We followed. The whip fell again and once again the pony responded. Mike raised his pace. We couldn't. Looking up we watched as this continued until the bend at Lloyds Bank (the road, not the finance house) and into Gospel End Street where Mike and the pony disappeared from view. We staggered to the bend, looked up, and there 50 yards (50m) ahead refusing (or unable) to move was the pony, looking in deep distress. 50 yards further, at the top of the hill, was a cool looking Mike Kearns jogging on the spot, waiting for us.

During the summer, running 20 miles (32km) or so was a thirsty business. To that end the ultra runners had mapped out all the water taps in the vicinity of Himley, Penn, and all points west (that was what they were allegedly looking for at the pub where they were swimming). In the days before water bottles it was a boon to be able to get a drink at various places on the run.

There were taps in the churchyard at Penn, and at the pub on Penn Common (owned for a time by the brothers Hinks, who ran for the club). The most welcome, however, of all the water stops was the one at the top of the hill in Sedgley, where Mike Kearns raced the horse.

One really hot Sunday morning the group reached the top of the hill in various stages of distress. The heat had really taken its toll. We tottered into the cemetery, splashed water over ourselves, and took a very much-needed drink. We stood for a while waiting for everyone to refresh themselves and then made our way to the gate to continue our run. As we reached the road a group of ladies were approaching with flowers obviously going to the cemetery.

They looked up to see a group of cadaverous creatures with gaunt faces and staring eyes coming from the graves, and stood rooted to the spot, squealing.. "Nightmare on Gospel End Street" had just materialized.

The canals provided us with a reasonably pleasant way of beginning or ending our Sunday runs .As Bert Harbach used to say "It keeps you off the 'Oss Road' dow it". It could also be a disaster zone.

On one particular Sunday we set off along the Bradley loop on our way to explore the paths, farmyards, and irate golfers of Penn Common. Keith Rollason led us at a smart pace, much to the chagrin of the few who imbibed a little too much the night before. Grumbling quickly turned to merriment, however, as Keith ran through what looked like a new nicely laid part of the towpath and disappeared up to his knees into mud that had been dredged from the bottom of the canal. He sat on the edge of the canal and tried to wash it off, but, of course, mud from the bottom of the canal is waterproof. It also had a very pungent smell as it had lain there for probably 100 years, gathering up all the detritus of the factories that bordered that part of the canal. The rest of us skirted the offending quagmire and continued our run, Keith now at the back so that we were ahead of the smell. The mud dried out as we continued onto Penn Common (it must have been like running in plaster casts, but Keith carried on unperturbed). Keith had another good asset when we were running across the common. As in previous times the cattle on the farm scattered as we approached, (probably sensing his occupation, as he was a slaughter-man at Devis's butchers in Great Bridge) leaving us in peace to run through the fields.

It took Keith ages to scrape the mud from his legs, we wouldn't let him into the showers while we were there because of the smell when the mud cracked. We were certainly through a few drinks before he appeared in the clubhouse.

"I've found a new course" Brian Cole told us one Thursday night," We can try it on Sunday morning, if you like".

Always looking for a new challenge and a change of scenery, we arranged to meet Brian near his home and try out this new adventure. The group duly gathered at the club on the following Sunday, and we set off to meet Brian at the appointed place. He was wearing tracksuit bottoms. " Strange " we thought, " for a pleasantly warm day, perhaps his legs are sore"

The course was, indeed, extremely picturesque, winding along canal towpaths out in the countryside beyond Wombourne. The course then took a turn for the worst; the towpath became a huge nettle bed, which went on for a mile, or more. Our legs were stung from top to bottom. It took days to get rid of the stings; Keith Atkins' legs were bright red for a week (he said). We had found the reason for Brian's tracksuit bottoms, and it was our legs that were sore, not his.

Stings and Brian Cole appear to go hand in hand, as this tale will show.

We were with a group from the club one Thursday summers evening, running the canal course from the club that we normally followed if we were too idle to think of anywhere else to go.

It followed the Walsall Canal from Moxley to Albion Road Bridge in Greets Green, and then to Bloomfield Road in Tipton, either by the Telford canal (9 miles/14km) or the Brindley loop round Owen Street for the 10 miles (16km).

It was a gentle run, for a change. We had just passed Albion Road Bridge when Brian suddenly squawked and stopped.

"I think I've sthwallowed a bee" he said " ithts sthtung me"

I peered into his mouth and there on his tongue, growing by the second, was a bee sting.

" It'th enormouth" he spluttered.

I checked again. It was, indeed, a fair size lump.

"No, it's O.K." it's only a little pimple" I reassured him.

We carried on running, I, desperately looking for a piece of tube in case he stopped breathing, thinking of where the telephone boxes were (no mobiles in those days). He fortunately seemed to running comfortably, so we continued round the course to the club.

On arriving he dashed into the changing rooms, found the mirror, and inspected his tongue.

"Oh, I thought it was worse than that" he said, surprised.

I checked his tongue, and sure enough it had become a little pimple.

I don't think I ever told him how serious it might have been --- Until now.

The same 10 miles (16km) course was to be the scenario for another happening, also involving Brian Cole. (And a sting in the tail). This took place on a Tuesday evening run with the group from the club. Steve Emson had just returned from South Africa where he had spent some time at altitude. Of course the effects of altitude training were not as widely known then, so when Steve pushed the pace early in the run we thought it was going to be a regular Tuesday night burn-up. When after about three miles, or so, Steve, Brian, and myself had opened up a gap on the remainder of the group it suddenly became obvious that it was going to be a special training run. It proved to be so, because at 8 miles (13km) I was unable to hang on and watched helplessly as the other two pulled away. Steve carried on at the same pace and dropped Brian up the hill to Allen's, and virtually sprinted the last mile (1600m) to the club. I believe I ran just over 51 minutes, I'm sure Steve knew to a tenth of a second how fast he ran (A later story will explain) but I couldn't face asking him.

' It's like running at altitude' Bert Harbach used to say. He was speaking about a stretch of the canal that passed through Great Bridge on the course featured in the previous two stories. This part of the canal ran alongside Robinson's chemical works, and the air was completely unbreathable. Bob Cytlau hated it with a passion, and with eyes watering, he would say unspeakable things in his Gloucestershire brogue about the places where we took him on training runs from the club.

How bad it was became obvious to us one club night when we had Jonathan Such running with us. He was an industrial chemist (he emigrated to South Africa in later years) who identified by name, the many chemicals discharged from the factory, and every one of them was toxic!

'That's why the people living round here have different lungs to us' Bert claimed.

The canal towpaths have always been a training ground for the club, probably going back to the early years. They changed considerably in the years that I ran, with many of the branches being closed, and in later years, those that were left were improved beyond recognition.

From spring to autumn they made a welcome change to running on the roads, the surface was more congenial to bones and tendons, and of course, you had to learn how to run in a tightly packed group. Tactical awareness was quite often learned the hard way.

Picture the scene. The Tuesday nights gang on the canals. Everyone jockeying for position to run the last effort to Conygree Road bridge. On this particular occasion the situation was made worse by the repairs to City Road bridge in Tividale. To negotiate the scaffolding one had to swing out over the water, dodge a pole, and regain access to the towpath.

The leader of the group reached the bridge.

'Mind the pole' he shouted

'Mind the pole' shouted the second runner. This was repeated as each runner arrived at the obstacle.

'Mind the po------' SPLASH.

We turned to see a fountain of water erupting from the canal, and emerging from it a very sorry looking Tony Burkitt. Someone lent him a tee shirt and we continued to the club. One good thing that came out of the incident was that we never did the last effort to the club. (It's difficult to run fast and laugh at the same time)

Tony was banned from entering the bath until we had all finished; the water in the canals at that time was fairly repugnant.

The baths at the clubhouse in Sedgley Road were a wonderful facility. To soak in them after a hard training run was so therapeutic. (No wonder there were so few injuries at the time) There were two baths, sunk into the floor. The large one was about 15 or 16ft (5m) long by 7 or 8ft(2.5m) wide (I only saw it used once as it took too much water to fill on training days) and the small one was about 7 or 8ft(2.5m) square, and both about 4ft deep (1.2m).

One Tuesday night it was decided that an attempt would be made to break the club record for the number of people in the small bath. The rule was that everyone must be sitting on the bottom of the bath, and that the bath would be filled as usual. The attempt was made that particular night because there had been a good turnout for training, and there were a fair number of Youths present who would take up less room.

People climbed into the bath, gently lowered themselves into the water, and squeezed up to the person alongside to make as much room as possible for those yet to enter. This went on until there were 26 people sitting in the bath.

' One more to get the record' shouted Bert Harbach.

As it happened there was one person left. Roy Masters (always known as Ginger), a Youth at the time, was encouraged to climb in. There didn't seem to be enough room but Ginger was quite small and found a gap.

'Sit on the bottom' came the shout 'Everyone must sit on the bottom of the bath for ten seconds for the record'

Ginger sat on the bottom, but, of course, we had forgotten Archimedes principle and Ginger disappeared under the water, and was held there until the 10 seconds was counted.

Twenty-seven in the bath, what a record!

On reflection, though, I don't think there really was a record to be broken. It was just one of those crazy things that happened from time to time at the club.

Crazy things happening at the club after training? Without a doubt they did. There was the night when a group who had just returned from a run was enjoying the remedial warm water of the bath, and were greeted by Keith Rollason, who had just returned from work.

' Hello lads, I've brought you a present' he said, and threw a cow's eye into the bath.

It bobbed up and down a bit, looking at them, until they realized what it was.

The speed with which they evacuated the bath would have made Usain Bolt jealous. (If he had been around then, of course)

Keith worked strange hours at Devis' Butchers, occasionally making use of the club outside normal training times. He sometimes used the club on Mondays, which was taboo because it was ladies' night.

He sneaked in one Monday, went for a run, and decided to have a quick bath because he had plenty of time before the ladies were due to turn up.

Luxuriating in the warm water the time passed by. He heard the door in the main clubroom open and bump shut. He heard voices, female voices. He had left his towel in the main room. The water suddenly felt a lot colder as he desperately tried to work out a plan of action. Getting out of the bath and creeping to the door to check on his options he heard the voices coming towards him. The door opened and there was Tommy Brooks speaking in squeaky voices, holding a conversation with himself.

Tommy was the caretaker at the club at the time, and he had seen Keith go in and decided, as was his way, to have some fun.

I believe Keith used the club only at the proper time from then on.

Alan Whittle was always a gold mine of eccentricity. Although I raced against him when I was at school, he representing West Bromwich Grammar School, my first real memory of him was at the Staffs. Track championships at Aldersley Stadium in the Junior 880 yards (800m). Coming off the last bend just in front of Gordon Bentley, who was about to pass him, Alan gradually moved out from the first lane to the outside lane in an attempt to prevent Gordon from passing him. I cannot recall who actually won the race, but I do remember the calls of 'Disqualify him' booming out from Gordan's irate brother Ron.

Alan joined the club in 1960 from West Bromwich Harriers, and was a fine road and cross- country runner, always on the look out for a rule to bend. (He was famously spotted on film cutting the course in the National C.C. at Sheffield)

His outlandish dress sense of running kit was also a club talking point. He ran the county cross-country championships in odd shoes (One red, one blue) He went out training one rainy night dressed in a black plastic bin liner with arm and head holes cut out.

His favourite trick in the winter was to wrap his kit round the chimney of the stove in the office at the clubhouse. The smell was overpowering; in fact it was absolutely obnoxious.

The office was the domain of the then club secretary, Jim Bedford. We had always used the office for changing during the winter because the big room was too cold as it took a lot of heating. Jim decreed that the office would be out of bounds for changing, much to the chagrin of the runners, and especially to Alan, as he had to run in damp kit.

Shortly after this decree we arrived at the club to find that Jim Bedford's desk and chair had been placed in the bath, and no one could, or would, devise a way of removing it!

Jim was absolutely furious, but over the next few weeks the embargo was gradually lifted.

The culprits were never revealed, and the contents of this story should not be taken as any indication as to who may have been involved.

At about the same time that Alan Whittle joined the club another great character appeared. Ron Franklin came to work in the West Midlands from Newport in South Wales. Already a Welsh cross-country International (he also ran the Marathon in the 1958 Commonwealth Games) he brought a touch of class to the club.

He also brought other important doctrines to the club that was to be the mainstay of the success the club enjoyed in the ensuing years. He was the first person I had known who trained twice a day. He ran what we all thought to be crazy amounts of miles a week, and he was the first person to explain to us the connections of good diet to athletic achievement.

Many of these ideals stayed with us to the present day, they certainly transformed the nature of the training in the club to everyone's benefit.

I particularly remember one club night when he arrived too late to go with the group; he went off alone and got back after we had changed. He had the bath all to himself and took his evening meal of wheat-germ bread, tomatoes, fruit, and juice into the bath and ate it whilst having a soak.

When we went to the Manchester to Blackpool relay he was very reluctant to tuck into the bacon and eggs etc. that were provided at the hotel. His breakfast consisted of bran, wheat germ, and other strange looking concoctions that he smuggled into the dining room, and berated the rest of us for our dreadful addiction to a fry up.

Cars were very few and far between at the club in those days, only the rich and 'posh' had them (people like Ron Bentley, Ken Rickhuss and Joe Gripton). Most of us traveled to the club by bike or motor bike (Bert Harbach and Geoff Carless).

Ron Franklin had a car, but his was very special. It was a three-wheeled black Messerschmitt bubble car that resembled the cockpit of the airplane of the same name, but obviously without the wings and tail. It was also very small, made only for one person, and he parked it in the cycle shed at the side of the club. It was also very temperamental and noisy, and was the cause of much merriment.

Ron left the club when his job took him to London (he worked for the Gas Board) in 1964.His contribution to the club in that short time was immense. It was strange that when we met in subsequent years he had developed a strong Southern accent, as he had a wonderful Welsh lilt when he arrived at the club. We found out that, in fact, he was a Londoner by birth, and had been evacuated to South Wales during the war.

Ron, now in his 80's, still runs and his name crops up regularly in the Vet's magazines.

Transport, in its various guises, was an important issue in the early 60's, how would we get to races, and in what state of mind?

Quite often we would cycle to local races, I regularly cycled to Halesowen from Walsall to run in the West Midland track league, but the few cars that were available were always very welcome.

By modern standards there will appear to be a flouting of the rules of the road in the tales that will unfold. It is to be remembered, however, that there were no draconian drink-drive laws, seat belt rules, MOT's, or speed limits on the few motorways that existed, for the majority of the time that is covered by these stories.

The Melton Mowbray relay was a memorable race. We started going there in 1962 and continued to run there for many years in the Midland 6-stage relay and from 1976 in the Livingstone Relay. We changed at the Holwell steel works at Asfordby Hill, the course was very hilly, and the hottest water known to mankind fed the showers. Also in the part of the course that ran through Asfordby Hill village there grew elderberries with which Keith Atkins produced a very potent wine (as my son will testify).

I remember one journey to Melton in the early 60's very well. John Malpass had a very old Ford that had seen better days, but to get runners to races was the prime objective regardless of the antiquity of the transport. We set off in good time to get to the race early, and as we drove along a thumping sound seemed to be coming from the rear of the car. I pointed this out to John who claimed that it always did that, and there was nothing amiss. The noise appeared to get worse so we stopped and inspected the rear of the car. No problem could be spotted and we continued our journey and arrived at Asfordby with plenty of time to prepare for the race.

I mentioned the noise to Ron Bentley, who was a genius with things that moved, and he promptly removed the near side rear wheel of John's car to reveal a huge bubble of inner tube that had broken through the tyre wall. It was this that made the thump as it rubbed against the body of the car. It was decided to put the spare wheel on in place of the damaged tyre and after much effort the 'new' wheel was extricated from the boot. There was not one sign of a groove on the tyre; it was as smooth as an egg. It was, however, a better proposition to the one that had taken us to Melton, so it was duly fitted.

We finished 4th in the race (a good result at that time) and very satisfied with our performance we made our way home.

The bumping noise had stopped, although I was still apprehensive about the lack of tread on the tyre, but we made good time. The route to and from Melton was a devious business through Loughborough and Tamworth (no motorways then, although as I use it to get from the Midlands to Lincolnshire, where I now live, I know that it is still a devious route). Approaching Sutton there is a long straight stretch down a hill and then up the other side. John seemed intent on showing us how fast the Ford could really go and we sped down the hill at breakneck speed. (It was probably only about 45 mph (70km/h) but it seemed fast at the time). At the bottom of the hill there was a bus stop, with a bus stopped at it. John applied the brakes, nothing happened. John stamped on the brakes, nothing happened. The bus got nearer and nearer, the brakes started to bite, but surely we were going to hit it. Then just as we were feet away from disaster the bus pulled away from the bus stop and we were saved.

' Great car this, isn't it?' said John.

In 1960 we went to the inaugural running of the Blackpool relay, and surprised the Blackpool team, who were expected to win, and ourselves, by finishing first. The trophy was an enormous gold cup worth many thousands of pounds (it resided in a bank vault during its stay in Tipton) and the team members won gold medals.

Surprisingly the journey to and from Blackpool was almost as exciting as the race. Len Myerscough in his brand new Vauxhall Cresta (Bright pink and all chrome and fins) picked me up in Darlaston.

The first surprise was that Gordon Bentley was in the other car, as he wasn't in the original team. 'It's six to run, not five' Ron explained.

What followed on the journey was a constant diatribe between Bert Harbach and Len concerning the coldness of the car. Len assured everyone that it took the heater a little time to warm up, but by the time we got to the café at Knutsford in Cheshire it was apparent that it was not going to get any warmer. (We found out some time later that the car didn't actually have a heater, it just blew cold air)

After the race, and extremely pleased with our success we set off for home. The journey started off badly. Thick fog had descended and it appeared that the way back was to be fraught with a degree of danger.

Len, who was not the best of navigators, decided to follow the car containing Ron, Gordon and Ken Rickhuss. Creeping slowly across the Lancashire countryside we could just make out the rear lights of Ken's car. It suddenly turned left, and we followed, only to surprise the owner of the car in front who had pulled onto the drive of his house.

After a thirteen-point turn Len managed to get the car pointing in the right direction and by some miracle came up behind Ken's car.

We followed for some miles and then Ken turned sharp left into a drive. 'Here we go again' I thought. No. Ron had spotted a pub, and decided that a drink would calm the nerves. It seemed a pretty good idea to us all so we filed into what was a very classy establishment to us rough Black Country folk.

When we emerged from the pub some time later the fog had disappeared and the remainder of the journey passed peacefully. (I think so; most of us were asleep for much of it)

The following year we felt obliged to defend our title, and find a way of returning the trophy, so we journeyed once again to the seaside.

Because of a shortage of transport it was decided to hire a mini-bus. Bill Stokes, the assistant team manager, had a friend who knew a friend that could obtain this luxurious means of transporting the team to the race as long as Bill drove.

We duly met at the club very early in the morning (it took many hours to get to Blackpool then) loaded the cup, and arranged ourselves on the bench seats.

Jim Bedford, the club secretary, came wandering past the club.

'Hello, Jim, what are you doing here at this time in the morning?' we asked

'Hilda (his wife) has sent me out for a loaf of bread. Where are you going?' he replied

'Blackpool, to run the relay'

'I'll come with you' he said and climbed into the mini-bus.

The bus trundled away and we set off on the long journey. Weaving our way through the traffic in Stafford town centre Bob Bratt decided a call of nature was required, so the bus was parked in a convenient place and all of us but one (to guard the cup) took advantage of the opportunity.

Hurrying back to the bus as time was of the essence, everyone scrambled in and re-took their places. We pulled away and then there was a bang as the back doors of the bus flew open. Bill stopped the bus and we peered out of the back to see Jim sitting in the middle of Stafford High Street, unharmed, as befits the very good cross-country runner he was in his younger days, with a bemused look on his face.

The rest of the way was relatively incident free and we arrived in good time for the race.

Our heroics of the previous year were not to be repeated and we reluctantly returned the trophy, finishing third behind Blackpool A.C.

We arrived back at the club some ten hours after we had left and made our way home.

Jim Bedford never said anything about his wife's reaction to the ten hour wait for the loaf, I don't think he had brought it anyway, before he left on the bus for a day trip to Blackpool.

The means of transport was not the only consideration to be appraised when we went to races: especially if that race was the Wycombe road race.

High Wycombe being the centre of the furniture industry, unsurprisingly the race was known as the 'Furniture 5 ' (8km) and naturally the prizes were items of furniture ranging from wardrobes to coffee tables, with blankets, cushions, and bed sheets thrown in for good measure.

It was usual for the club to have a strong presence at the race, and the year to which this story refers was no exception. Allan Rushmer had high hopes of an individual placing, and with Brian Cole, Jim Wright, and myself also running, a team prize seemed to be reasonably secured.

It panned out better than we could have hoped for, with Allan winning the individual race and the team also gaining first prize.

My mind drifted, however, to the previous year when I had seen Dick Taylor and his brother Juan of Coventry Godiva Harriers struggling to fix their prizes (one of which was a wardrobe) to the top of a car.

We would have to be careful, I thought, with our choice of prizes so that they would fit into the few small vehicles in which we had traveled.

Care disappeared when we saw the array of prizes at the presentation and we came out to the car park with the prospect of taking home a rocking chair, two armchairs, and various other bits and pieces that we had won.

The various bits and pieces were stashed in the boot of one car. My daughter was squashed into Keith Atkin's car with her brother to open some space in my car, which left only three chairs to worry about.

My chair, fortunately, came to pieces, and after some deft work with a screwdriver was reduced to a bundle of wood and cushions.

Only two chairs were left to worry about.

My car was an Austin Maxi, ugly and cumbersome, but it was the first car to have 5 doors and a set of fold down seats. With the seats down we managed to get Brian Cole's chair into the back, but Brian and his wife Caroline who had traveled to the race with us had nowhere to sit. The problem was solved by wedging them into the extended boot of the car almost lying down inside the frame of the chair on the cushions from my chair.

Only one chair to worry about, the rocking chair.

Allan Rushmer, the proud owner of this prize, had gone to the race with Bert Harbach, with Jim Wright as navigator. Bert had a small Ford, too small for three and a chair, we thought, but after much pushing and twisting the chair gave up its struggle and nestled neatly into the car. Jim, however, was wedged in the back seat, Allan in the front passenger seat had a chair leg over his shoulder, and Bert had to change gear and apply the handbrake by pushing his arm through the frame of the chair.

We set off on our way home. There was a short stretch of motorway just outside Wycombe, (later to become the M40) and as the opportunities to drive on one were very rare that was the route we used to get to Oxford.

After a mile (1600m), however, Bert pulled onto the hard shoulder, stopped and ran to the passenger door. Fearing a grave situation I also pulled off the carriageway and stopped behind them.

Frantic activity was taking place by the open door of Bert's car. Bert was pulling Allan out with great difficulty, and then the pair of them turned and was struggling with Jim's arms and legs that were reluctant to emerge from the rocking chair.

We went over to help and as we arrived at the car, scared at what we would find Jim finally was extricated and thankfully walked around, although with great difficulty.

'What's happened' we asked.

'Oh, it's OK, Jim's just got a bit of cramp, that's all'.

Jim's face expressed that it was a bit more than a bit of cramp, but I suppose sharing a back seat with the rocking mechanism of a rocking chair is not an ideal way to travel 80 miles or so.

The rest of the journey passed uneventfully, we stopped at our usual place in Banbury, (The subject of other stories) and arrived home safely.

Another race that involved a little bit of lateral thinking was the Ridgeway Relay from Swindon to Reading in which we competed on five occasions between 1970-1978. It was a logistical nightmare. Not so much the transport of prizes (The trophy was a strange block of metal with three pointy bits sticking out of the top) but in the organization of the teams and their deliverance and removal from the changeovers.

There were ten stages (8 in later years) and apart from the first and last stages it was a cross-country course that followed the route of an old track called the Ridgway that crossed the Lambourn Downs in Wiltshire.

The problem was that the team selection did not depend so much on matching runners to the stages (Although we tried hard to put the best runners on the long stages) but on the availability of cars and drivers for each leg. While the race was making its way across country the cars had to hurry back on farm tracks and narrow lanes to the B4517 or A417 at the end of each stage with the runners that had finished. In the meantime other cars were delivering the next set of runners to the changeover one or two stages ahead.

The problem was magnified if there were two teams, which we often had. To make it more complicated two of the stages (one in the 8-stage version) were run by Youths, who, of course couldn't drive and ran short stages that gave us less time to juggle runners and drivers.

In practice it worked very well. We never failed to get runners to their appointed place (although it was a near thing on a few occasions) and as far as I am aware there are no runners still stranded on the Downs.

The club was reasonably successful at the race despite strong opposition from the likes of Portsmouth, Bristol and Aldershot, winning the race on two occasions (1970 & 1978) and placed second in 1977.

My personal recollections of the race was the feeling of abandonment at the start of a stage and seeing no-one at all for about five miles (8km). This was especially true of the third stage, which started by the Uffington White Horse and seemed to wander aimlessly for miles through rugged, desolate moorland.

In 1976 I ran the last leg, which started on the country but had about two miles (3km) of road to the finish. With about a mile (1600m) to go a car passed me. 'That car's like mine' I thought.

I spotted the number- plate. 'That car IS mine'

Panic set in; someone had stolen my car.

Realization came through to my race weary brain. Steve Walton was driving my car to the finish while I was running. No wonder the people in the car (My wife and children) were waving.

What do the Ridgeway Relay and the Birmingham C.C. League have in common? Apart from being cross-country races, that is.

Neither of them have a trophy that can be filled with beer.

The tradition of filling a cup shaped trophy with beer (plus other potent alcoholic stuff) started the day after the 1969 National C.C. Championships. The new clubhouse at Sedgley Road belonging to Tipton Sports & Social club had just opened following the demolition of our old headquarters and it provided us with a congenial atmosphere in which to celebrate.

In subsequent years the practice continued at Gospel Oak at first in the bar converted from the squash court, and then from the clubhouse erected in the car park. Sunday mornings after a championship win were fairly merry affairs, but having thought about it, most gatherings of the club members tended to be very happy occasions.

There always seemed to be a pub on the way home from races. They were pubs that we used frequently depending on the direction from which we were returning.

From the East we would stop at The Four Counties, a pub on the A453 at a village called No Man's Heath. (It was at the border of Staffordshire, Warwickshire, Derbyshire and Leicestershire). It was quite an up market place found, I believe by Ken Rickhuss, the then club captain, during his business trips around the country.

Coming from the North we stopped at Penkridge, on the A449 just south of Stafford. The attraction there was the landlord's two pretty daughters who had taken the eye of a club member.

Journeys from races in the South were generally broken by a visit to the 'Inn Within' in Banbury. This was a quaint place where the bar had another pub inside. It was a great favourite of my children as it had a covered terrace at the rear of the pub where they could sit. (A rare facility in the 70's) Memorably, on one of our visits Ron Bentley intervened in a confrontation and removed an undesirable from the premises. Ron's wife, Eva, was not best pleased.

As the motoring laws were changed over the years this practice of stopping on the way home was abandoned and we tended to gather closer to home.

Pubs always played a big part of the club's social side. Over the years Saturday night gatherings were enjoyed at many places, often a room would be taken over by Tipton Harriers all eager to expound on what went right (or wrong) that afternoon if we had been involved in a race.

One pub where that happened for many years was the Park Inn at Woodsetton. It became a magnet not only for Tipton runners but also for members of other clubs and especially for Birmingham University students, many of the latter becoming Tipton Harriers in the fullness of time.

When the club constitution was amended, probably in 1978, the position I held as assistant club secretary was abolished, and each section of the club had a secretary reporting back to Tom Talbot who had taken over from Jim Bedford as general secretary.

I now had the heady title of Cross-Country & Road Running Secretary, and the Park Inn became the unofficial office from which the business of that section was carried out.

Although I still attended the club committee meetings every month, the Park Inn was the place where a majority of the winter runners gathered every week and it made the logistics of organizing the section far easier.

It became the place where all the race entries were finalized (The National Cross-Country & Road Relays forms included) and the team selection committee sat in comfortable surroundings to deliberate on their judgments as to who and how the teams would be run.

It was here that the 'Little Blue Book' containing the relay results of many years was pored over, ostensibly to judge the form of team members, but also to see who had the ' bragging rights' over their clubmates that particular day. (Note; - Hopefully the relays recorded in the 'Little Blue Book' will be made available in the Centenary publications)

'Bragging rights' sprang to mind when I was asked in the Centenary Questionnaire who my main rivals were – (a) In the club and (b) From other clubs.

As I had raced against so many people, club members and others, it was a difficult task to name them all.

Therefore my answers were: -

(a) Anyone who ran in a green and white vest and

(b) Anyone who didn't run in a green and white vest.

Why do we run in green and white hoops? I hope the research into the clubs history comes up with the answer.

Over the years there has been very few clubs who run in our colours. In the 70's many changed to white with green trim because hoops were becoming very difficult to obtain.

The club was on the verge of following suit but the advances in textile technology due mainly through Ron Hill's company's expertise saved our tradition.

To my knowledge the only other club now who wear green and white hoops are Woodford Green, and this worked to Pete Boxley's advantage many years ago.

Pete used to run marathons and trained from time to time with the ultra-distance runners (Ron Bentley & Co.) They decided that as part of their preparation for the 56 miles (90km) of the London to Brighton race they would run the South London 30 (48km) Pete decided to go with them, although it was a bit farther than he had raced before.

Pete told the story of how, with still a fair few miles to go, he began to feel very tired and didn't think that he would be able to carry on to the finish.

Just then a bus passed him and stopped a few yards ahead. He jumped onto the platform at the rear of the bus (no doors on buses then) hung onto the pole and by a certain amount of good fortune was transported to a point fairly close to the finish.

In the changing rooms later, feeling very annoyed with himself for not finishing the race; Pete was sitting next to a Southern character that was muttering to himself and anyone who cared to listen.

' It was a disgrace, with a few miles to go I was catching a Woodford Green chap and you'll never know what he did, he got onto a bus.' he moaned.

' Never' said Pete, pushing his vest to the bottom of his bag, 'you can't believe the things that some folk get up to.'

Unusually the club had a mention in the News of the World's report of the London to Brighton relay in 1962.It recorded that Tipton Harriers and Woodford Green were so fascinated by each other's colours that they ran the whole length of the race, all 56 miles (90km), side by side. It was perfectly true, unlike many newspaper articles, but sadly for us they were 9th and we were 10th.

I ran in the London to Brighton relay on only three occasions, 1961, 1962 and 1964. It was a very prestigious race, basically the National road relay championships, and the clubs qualified by finishing in the first six in the area race, which in our case was the Manchester to Blackpool relay. Other clubs were invited to make up the 20 teams allowed to run.

It was a daunting experience, I found, to be involved in such an event.

In 1962 I ran stage 8, a tough five and half miles slog (9km). I boarded the coach that was taking me to the changeover and was greeted by baleful looks from those already sitting there. I was sure they were thinking ' who is this young character we don't know, and why is he running a long stage?'

It got worse. Onto the bus climbed Martin Hyman, British international, stage record holder, and one of the leading middle distance runners in the world.

He looked around the bus as if seeking any stiff opposition. We gazed back in awe.

Amazingly, he then proceeded to give us a detailed description of the stage, where the hills were and a few landmarks so that we could judge how far we had run.

What a wonderful person he was to give us novices such useful advice, and to allay our nerves because I realized that the baleful looks were, in fact, apprehension of the unknown.

Although we only ran three London to Brighton relays during my career they became steeped in the club's memory because of a quirk of fate.

Tony Phillips joined the club in the late 50's and shortly afterwards became the proud owner of a cine camera. One of the first shots that he ever recorded was one of Ron Bentley, wearing a long black coat, crossing Westminster Bridge just before the start of a London to Brighton relay.

This film, together with many others taken over the years, was shown annually after the club's A.G.M. to great acclaim and amusement. They certainly spiced up what had previously been a tedious affair over the years, and as the number of films increased every year, and we insisted that all of them be shown, drinking time was prolonged year by year.

Of course, the films were not devoted to the races we ran. A number of them involved clips of holidays in France which were the highlight of the year for a nefarious gang from the club which included Bert Harbach, Ray Thorpe, Eric Silk, and Roy Poultney to name but a few.

Tony Phillips was invited to join them, I am sure, because he had a nice new car, and a cine camera to record the mayhem.

As Tony was a learned college professor and a bit posh (he was known as Prince Phillip for many years) he always tried to take educational shots with his camera. His views of scenery and signposts were the talk of the club. The clips we liked best, though, at the A.G.M. were the ones taken when Bert stole the camera when Tony wasn't looking and Tony himself was the subject.

SCENE ONE: - A campsite on the French coast. Sand dunes mask the horizon.

Alongside a small tent a man in vest and pyjama bottoms kneels in front of a mirror about to shave.

The camera closes in on the kneeling man.

The kneeling man hears the whirring of the camera, turns, and sees Bert with the camera.

Tony says something to Bert and the film ends.

Before he brought the films to the club that year Tony showed them to his mother. When she saw that clip (no soundtrack, of course) and lip-read what Tony had said to Bert she exclaimed in a firm motherly voice 'ANTHONY'

Well that was Tony's version.

SCENE TWO: - The main street of a small French town not far from the dunes and a campsite.

Around the corner at the bottom of the street appears, one by one, a gaggle of scruffy, uncouth characters. Dressed in tatty tee shirts and shorts, with old trainers on their feet, they took on the appearance of ne'er do wells and vagabonds.

The camera remained focussed on the corner.

Following these ruffians at a discreet distance another person appeared. The camera is focussed on the man's face and then pans down.

He is immaculately dressed in collar and tie, with a splendid grey sports jacket.

The camera pans down. Below the jacket the dapper Englishman (he has to be, dressed like that) was wearing a pair of old green and white shorts, long white socks and a pair of running shoes.

Tony Phillips had taken France by storm.

Another strange fact that was reported from these trips was Tony's attraction to biting insects.

He insisted on taking a camp bed, despite the amount of room it occupied in the car, so that he was raised from the floor at night.

The rest of the rabble slept where they could, on the floor, sand, grass, anywhere that was faintly dry.

Remarkably, when they woke up next morning they were unscathed but Tony was covered in red lumps every day. The rabble claimed that it was his sensitive ' Blue blood' pedigree that was to blame but Tony always claimed that the insects were frightened of catching diseases from his holiday companions.

I only ventured abroad on two occasions with the club, both times to the European Clubs cross country championships. These were held in Arlon, a small town in Belgium in the Ardennes close to Luxembourg.

It was the coldest place I had ever been to; running was almost impossible.

The first time was in December 1969 after we had won the National earlier that year.

It was the first time I had been in an airplane and for me it was a great adventure. We flew to Brussels in a swish airliner (for those times) and then went on to Luxembourg.

We were taken aback when we were taken from the departure lounge at Brussels Airport down some steps and across the tarmac to a small plane that was parked away from prying eyes, it seemed.

Being invited to board this museum piece we climbed a few steps into the cabin. I sat next to Bill Carr and looking out of the window we were shocked to see a huge propeller spinning alongside us. We asked one of the cabin crew (stewardesses in 1969) what sort of plane it was.

'A Focke-Friendship' she replied.

' I think they had those in the war' I whispered to Bill.

'Doug, I think we are on borrowed time here' were Bill's comforting words.

Of course the flight was wonderful, as we circled Luxembourg ready to land we could see the lights of an office block that had been arranged to make a giant Christmas tree, a truly magical sight.

We were taken by cars to Arlon where we met up with the other members of the club who had traveled by car. (Only the team and manager were on expenses). In the hotel I practiced my command of the French language by conversing with the two year old son of the owner (his French was slightly better than mine) and went off to bed early (ish) as we had a race to run the following day.

Sadly our team, weakened by injury, finished a disappointing fourth although in the circumstances we felt that it was a good result.

We celebrated anyway, as was our tradition, first at the official banquet laid on by the organizers (Alan Whittle used his command of French to keep the wine flowing. – 'Plus vin ici, Monsieur le President'), and later at a club quaintly named ' Les Caves'.

Sadly the night ended a bit earlier than we intended as we were evicted following a fine display of bullfighting from Alan and John Malpass.

We then spent some time trying to find two of our younger members who were looking for the toilets. They took some re-assuring that the gents and ladies were one and the same place.

The next morning the team and officials were whisked to the wooden hut that was Luxembourg airport in 1969, whilst the rest of the club members climbed wearily into the cars for the long journey home.

Their departure, however, was delayed by the fact that the engine of Steve Walton's Hillman Imp had frozen solid after two days of standing in the bitter cold. English anti-freeze was not made for Arctic type weather. After the application of some carefully poured hot water the engine turned, and with some rally type driving just made the ferry back to Dover.

Steve's car soldiered on for a few more years but it was never the same again.

My second journey to Arlon was probably in 1979. We traveled by coach and ferry and we stayed at Luxembourg. The hotel was like something out of a Pink Panther movie with an old woman concierge sitting knitting in the foyer by the barred gates of the lift. She would have been at home, we thought, watching the guillotine falling In the French revolution.

It was still as cold as I remembered it from my first visit. The course was different and the organizers had bulldozed the snow from the 1000 metre lap to leave a surface of rock hard tufts of grass. What strange customs these Europeans have.

I ran in the open race, as I had not made the championship team. My endearing memory of the race was of the end of each lap (and there seemed to be more than there should have been) when we passed the refreshment tent and the smell of mulled wine was overpowering.

Needless to say, immediately after the race we joined our traveling supporters (they were not called WAGS then) in the tent and soothed our frozen, aching lungs with the said wine.

Paul Venmore, I believe, won the race and I made the first ten, so prizes were in the offing.

I won an encyclopedia (Petit Larousse en couleurs) which, as you have guessed, was all in French. Amazingly it is still used. It was very useful recently helping my granddaughter with her homework.

The star of the championship race for us was Bob Westwood who showed his true class by finishing 13th in a star studded field. The team again was depleted by injury and finished a disappointing 6th, no mean feat really when the other teams were basically their national squads. The English club system, it appeared, was a far cry from the continental view.

On the morning of the race we met Bob, who had slept for almost the whole journey to Luxembourg, walking with his dad round the city centre. They were peering into a shop window shaking their heads. 'Hey, lads my dad' s just worked out how much that bike in the window is in English money. It costs a thousand pounds!'

Bob and his dad continued their stroll shaking their heads in disbelief.

Bob was also to us the star at the presentation. The Porto team (Portugal, really) went up to collect their awards dressed immaculately in grey suits with green and white ties. Bob followed shortly afterwards wearing a black duffel coat and bobble hat. We Brits know how to dress in cold weather.

In the hotel the youngsters in our party had invented a new game. It was called ' Unsettle an old bat' They lay on the floor of the lift, pressed the button for the ground floor, and waited until it stopped alongside the knitting old lady. She would look up to see who emerged through the gate but no one was there. The lads, without being seen, would then press the button for the second floor and the lift would mysteriously rise out of sight.

This happened a few times until Mary Talbot spotted them and laid down the law, as she was wont to do, and we escaped being evicted from our lodgings.

Up early on the morning of our departure we filed into the dining room to find a wonderful continental breakfast spread out on the tables. We tucked in hurriedly as we were short of time to get to the ferry, and rushed out to the coach. I couldn't help noticing, though, as we left that we seemed to have devoured a great quantity of food in a very short space of time.

The answer revealed itself a short way into our journey. Pete Griffiths had swept the tables clean as he exited the dining room and had a great feast for the journey.

University is a great educator for the important things of life.

The trip was a great success, not athletically perhaps, but the friendship of the members who made the trip, both young and old, was a joy to behold.

Unfortunately one outcome of the trip was a great sadness to those who went. The coach driver had fallen foul of some continental regulations, which led to legal proceedings being taken against him.

When I joined the club in 1957 there were only about 15 active athletes, we struggled to get 12 runners for the Manchester to Blackpool relay, and basically everyone in the club could sit on the general committee. Transport was rarely a problem. Coach travel was restricted to the big races like the National C.C or the Manchester to Blackpool when the faithful band of supporters who came to watch increased our numbers.

By the late 70's / early 80's the membership of the club had increased considerably. The numbers in the club were such that for a lot of the races coaches or buses had to be hired.

Jim Dudley, whose daughter ran for the club, was a bus driver with West Midlands Transport. Through his good offices the club could hire buses at a very competitive rate and he would drive the bus to the races. This arrangement was a very attractive proposition for the club treasurer. However, as the buses were double-deckers, which normally plied their trade on the 245 Wednesbury to Dudley route, trips to places like Luton (for the National C.C) were not so attractive as far as comfort for the passengers was involved.

One trip in particular was truly memorable. This involved a journey to Colchester where the Ladies National Cross-Country championships were being held.

It took ages to get there. We seemed to crawl down the motorway at about 45-mph (70 km/hr) and when we crossed into Essex a ragged cheer was raised. It is a big county, though, and it was another bum numbing hour before we arrived at our destination.

The girls were dropped off at the university and the rest of us were taken to Colchester bus station where, thanks to a reciprocal arrangement between bus companies, a top up of essentials and a good wash were provided. (For the bus, not us)

Two things stand out in my recollection of the day.

Firstly, when a crowd of girls led by Sandra Bentley marched into the gent's toilet justifiably claiming in a loud voice

'The ladies is so crowded the race will be over before we get in, can we use yours?'

The men present, mainly runners, and having been in the same situation themselves, happily agreed to her protestations and the toilet became a unisex establishment.

My other memory is of the Junior girl's race, in which my daughter was competing. I went to the start with the team to make sure that they were in the right pen, and waiting for the start I gave them a pep talk on how to start and how to pace themselves. (I think I said slow and slower respectively).

The girls ran quite well considering, but after the race my daughter enlightened me with a startling fact.

In the next pen to where our team started there was a girl standing alone, who apparently listened to my talk.

She went on to win the race.

Should I have become a coach? On reflection, probably not. Athletes with talent will be good regardless of what they are told.

The journey back home (via Cambridge) seemed just as far as the outward route, it certainly took a few runs the following week to work the stiffness from my legs.

If the numbers traveling could be accommodated the club hired a coach. In the early years we used Kendrick's Transport (again a club contact ensured competitive rates) but in later years a company based in Sedgley was the preferred choice. (I will not name the company for reasons that will become clear as you read on) Again the treasurer was agreeable, as they were cheap and cheerful.

The coach that was always made available to us was very ancient and decrepit. We called it 'The African Queen' after the boat in the film of the same name.

This coach was used during the week to ferry the miners to Baggeridge colliery and consequently was covered in coal dust. This meant that fancy, new, or clean kit was never worn for the journey. (Nothing different to most journeys for many of us) It also had many windows that leaked profusely in the rain so the experienced traveler knew exactly where to sit. The diesel fumes, which swept in from beneath the floor through badly fitting inspection covers also governed seating choice. However, after the initial shock and a few trips the 'African Queen' became a dear friend.

During the journeys the driver ran a sweet shop from the front of the coach, which was a great attraction to the younger members. This caused some consternation to the older passengers as the bus swerved during transactions, caused mainly because the steering wheel moved a quarter of a revolution before the wheels responded.

We traveled to many races and track meetings in the 'African Queen' but one was spectacularly memorable.

We went to a track league cup meeting at Sheffield. We believe to this day that it was the farthest the bus had ever traveled in its life. The same was probably true for the driver.

They both decided to make the best of the opportunity and to show us what they could do.

When we chanced upon the M1 motorway north of Derby it was obvious that neither bus nor driver had ventured onto one before.

The slip road onto the motorway was a gentle descent and as we went down to join the motorway a beautiful new coach traveling on the motorway passed us. Our driver was up to the challenge. Foot flat down to the floorboards the 'African Queen' gathered speed, joined the motorway, and moved into the outside lane. The road continued to descend and we passed the other coach to great acclaim from our cheering passengers.

We reached the bottom of the hill. The motorway climbed steeply away in front of us. The driver was still up for the challenge, but sadly the ''African Queen' wasn't.

Shaking uncontrollably, with engine wheezing and producing more fumes than ever, she faltered and slowed down to a crawl. The other coach re-passed us and our driver then had to negotiate the old girl back to the inside lane where, in all honesty, she belonged.

Fortunately there was not too much traffic around and despite a few anxious moments with the uncooperative steering wheel we regained our rightful place and proceeded to Hillsborough Stadium at a stately 30 mph (50km/hr)

. I don't think the experience affected our performances too much, I believe we progressed to the next round of the cup.

Another memorable race to which we went by coach was the Sutton in Ashfield road relay in which we competed on 3 occasions from 1958-60. For the last of these visits, having entered four teams, we required a coach to transport us to north Nottinghamshire.

As was ever the way at the club we had to wait for people to turn up at the H.Q. to board the bus so, consequently, we were late setting off.

Having to pick others up en route it became obvious that we would be pressed for time to get to the start in time for the start.

At this point Bert Harbach and Ron Bentley took charge. They took it in turns to stand directly behind the driver shouting 'STOP LIFTING' as soon as he slowed down. The terrified man obeyed to the best of his ability but it was still going to be a tight call.

Plan 'B' was put into operation, as it was to be numerous times in the future, the first stage runners changed into their running kit on the coach. Thus, Ron, Geoff Carless, a very young Alan Richards, and myself were dumped at the start of the race to warm up as best we could while the rest of the teams went to the changing rooms.

Despite the lack of a warm up I think we all ran quite well, the 'A' team finished 3rd, and the journey home was conducted at a more leisurely pace, which was a great comfort for the driver, who incidentally was never called upon to drive for us again.

As we normally had a band of supporters, coach was also the preferred mode of transport to the Bristol-Weston-Bristol road relay. It was a well-established race when I joined the club but sadly, like many of the long relays, because of the increase in traffic it was deemed too dangerous to continue after 1967.

We always stopped at Tewksbury on the way to the race for a break and a cup of tea on what was then a long journey. (The distance is still the same but the traveling time involved was much longer without motorways).

One year, returning to the coach after our break, Ron and Gordon Bentley spotted that the nuts on the coach wheels were loose, and the driver was suitably harangued into remedying the situation. (I told you the Bentleys were good with things that moved)

Recalling the Bristol to Weston relay reminded me of another question in the Centenary Questionnaire.

What was the worst prize you have ever received?

In 1960 we were 5th in the Bristol to Weston relay and we won a big carton of cigarettes each. The Wills Tobacco Company sponsored the race so I suppose it should not have been a surprise. I do remember, though, that a few individuals did light up on the back seat of the coach on the way home.

Another strange prize came our way at the St. Albans cross country relay where we competed on 8 occasions between 1965 and 1972 winning the event 4 times.

In 1968 we finished 3rd behind Reading and Luton and were duly summoned to receive our prizes. Led by club captain Geoff. Wood we trooped up to the presentation party and were astounded by Geoff's outburst to the Mayor of St.Albans,

'What sort of a prize is this' he stormed ' to give to athletes'.

The rest of us shuffled forward shamefacedly to receive our cigarette lighters.

I really shouldn't have been surprised by Geoff's reaction. We had been at school together and became very good friends. He was a teacher of History, and in the best sense of the phrase ' one of the old school'. Believing that everything should be done properly and with a certain amount of dignity and proprietary it was little wonder that he was outspoken when things appeared wrong.

Many years after the St.Albans incident a Tuesday night training session was in progress.

Steve Emson was the proud owner of one of the new watches that had a stopwatch incorporated. It was the first one that anyone at the club had seen. Steve spent most of his runs looking at the watch and fiddling with the buttons. He would stop it every time we paused to cross the road or wait for the group to reform. Gone were the days when we would run for just over an hour. It would be 62 minutes and 34.2 seconds.

This Tuesday night we ran up to Sedgley from Coseley and then into Dudley, but instead of running up Burton Road into the town it was decided to have an effort along the Broadway and to the top of Castle Hill. It was a grueling route to take, with a switchback along the Broadway and the steep climb at the end, and after a short distance the group started to

spread out. Steve was with the leading pack, consulting his watch as he ran, when we became aware that someone from the chasing group had closed upon us.

'Emson, I don't need a watch to know how fast I'm running ' shouted a very irate Geoff. Wood, who with a loud 'HRRRUMPH' fell back to continue his run with the chasing pack.

During 1970 another teacher joined the cub. Tony Reavley came from London and as was usual with Black Country folk he was regarded as a stranger and was always known as 'The Southerner'. He was an accomplished runner on road and country and often ran in the club's A team (notably in the team that won the Tipton-Bridgnorth-Tipton relay in 1973). In the four years that he ran for the club he gained a reputation for eccentricity that endeared him to all.

After he first appeared we noticed that his normal apparel whether at races, at the club, or in the pub was a scruffy blue tracksuit top. Ron Bentley told Tony that he had a coat that would probably fit him and from the day it was handed over Tony wore it every time he was seen, even to go to school we were told.

The winter of 1973 was extremely cold. During that time Tony lived in a little wooden hut in

the Wyre Forest near to Bewdley. The icicles inside the hut every morning were getting longer

and longer. During his training runs through the woods he spotted a derelict caravan and

to supplement his heating he took wood back to his hut to burn. This saw him through the

worst of the weather but some months later he was surprised to get a visitor. No one had ever

called on him before but the chap wanted to know if he had seen anyone tow a caravan away

as he had lost one that was parked in the forest.

During his stay in the hut he fell foul of the law when a passing policeman spotted him shaving in a telephone box. It was a regular part of Tony's day to take the bulb from the phone box and plug in his electric shaver but he invented some plausible story which the constable swallowed (something about a power cut and an important meeting). The fact was that there was no electricity in the hut.

He was persuaded to forsake the hut and for the short time he remained in the Midlands he lodged with Alan Richards and his brother Cyril at their home near to the club.

Tony had a bit of a food fad. He was a bit like Ron Franklin in that way. (What is it about Londoners?) He would only eat bananas if they were black and, as they looked a bit off to Cyril they would get dumped into the bin. Tony would then spend ages rooting through the garbage sorting out the bananas, pulling them out and eating them.

He was also keen to dabble with ultra distance running and to this end spent many Sunday mornings with Ron Bentley and his merry crew. A terrific description of his escapades with the ultras was published in the commemorative issue of the' Whippet' of 1972, which hopefully will be made available in the centenary publications. It was written in the form of a script for a play, entitled 'Always on a Sunday' and despite Tony's wish for anonymity at the time he should be given due credit for what is a 'must read' insight into the ways of the Tipton Harriers long distance runner.

That the name of Bert Harbach has already appeared regularly in these stories will be no surprise to the people who knew him. He was a fantastic character with an amazing sense of humour and could turn any situation into a moment of fun.

When I joined the club Bert and Ken Rickhuss were the mainstays of the athletics side of the things. Both talented runners, they nurtured the youngsters around them, providing them with the basics of training and tactical awareness that was to make many of us part of the success that the club enjoyed in later years, exactly as Ken and Bert had planned.

Bert was a structural design engineer by trade who, I believe designed part of the stand at the new Aston Villa football ground. He was also responsible for the design of a bridge that spans the canal beneath the M5 motorway in Oldbury. He always claimed that he made the bridge a few inches taller than it should have been so that runners could comfortably pass beneath without the fear of bumping their heads. For obvious reasons it was always known as 'Bert's bridge' and was the start or finish of many efforts along that stretch of canal.

He amazed us all one Sunday morning in the clubhouse. There had been talk of removing the pillars in the function room to make it more 'dance friendly', but Bert said that it wouldn't work.

With a pencil in hand and using a beer mat as paper he worked out the loading moments of the roof and explained that if any pillar was missing the building would collapse. The 'improvements' were never carried out.

Although he was a wonderful runner he was very nervous and unsure of his ability. We were told as soon as we joined the club that we should never cheer him on during a race as this would upset his concentration, and woe betide anyone who passed him if he was designated leader of an effort during training!

However it was always Bert's sense of humour which came to the fore. Early remembrances of him took place at the aftermath of the Manchester to Blackpool relay.

He would march us down the promenade in military fashion, and then when the time was right he would bring us to a halt and get us to stare at a roof across the road while he pointed to it.

A crowd always gathered to see what was happening, and then Bert would get us to slink away and leave a multitude of folk peering up and asking each other what was going on.

On the Sunday following the race, after a run over the dunes and breakfast, we always went to Stanley Park (The venue many years later of Keith Rollason's victory in the Junior National cross-country Championships).

Here Bert would organize the annual battle between the pedal boats with water flying everywhere and no hiding behind the island or you were marooned there.

This was followed by a frantic game of crazy golf and after lunch Bert refereed the football match on the sands. The fact that Bert had very little idea of the rules of the game made it just that little bit better, what he didn't know he improvised in his own special way, very much like the Premiership refs of today!

I wrote earlier of John Malpass' Ford Popular in which we traveled to Melton. A short while after that journey the car was again pressed into service to take a small band of us to Bangor in north Wales. John didn't drive the car because he had to drive a Morris Oxford he had hired to carry the remainder of the team. Pete Boxley was given the unenviable task of piloting the Ford and Bert went with him as navigator because as he said he had been to Abersoch and knew where Wales was.

By good fortune I found myself in the Morris and following behind the Ford noticed that it appeared to producing a lot of smoke. 'It always does that' said John ' There's a pinhole in the exhaust'

'Pinhole' said Ken Rock 'It looks more like a cave to me'

Bert complained about the smoke during our tea stop at Shrewsbury but was persuaded that it would do him no harm but by the time we were passing through Corwen smoke was billowing from every aperture in the car. The car window opened and a white hanky of surrender waved. The car suddenly stopped in the middle of the town and Bert and the rest of the passengers threw themselves out into the fresh air.

Again we persuaded Bert to continue; claiming that it was like altitude training. He ran very well as it turned out, we won quite a few prizes and had a wonderful day.

(A full description of the day appeared in the Whippet shortly after under the title of 'Didn't we have a lovely time the day we went to Bangor' and this was reprinted in 1992- hopefully it will be available for the Centenary publications)

Ken Rock was another splendid character who ran for the club as a youth in the early 60's and as a senior from 1967.In the early 70's he regularly ran in the club's A team notably in the long relays. In 1973 at the Midland 12 stage he ran the 11th stage helping the club to victory, and the same year ran the 8th stage in the National 12 stage recording the 3rd fastest time for his leg with the team finishing a very close 2nd to Birchfield. He continued to race until 1981 until an accident brought an untimely end to his running career.

I always enjoyed taking Ken to races in my car. He would keep my children, who sat in the back seats with him, entertained by regaling them with wonderful stories of his exploits, especially in South Africa. His wonderful 'sing-song' Quarry Bank accent added a lot of magic to the tales, and not only were the kids enthralled: the driver and his wife listened intently also.

'Ah was a-running through the bush minding me own business when ah looked up an ah seen this big elephant on the path. Ah thought to me self ' Kenny yo'wn gorra dew sum a-running now'

Ken was also a great naturalist, what he didn't know about birds, animals, and plants were not worth knowing.

He occasionally took us on Sunday runs round the Million Dollar forest on the outskirts of Wombourne. To most of us the place appeared to be a maze, but Ken knew all the trails through the woods and mysteriously would guide us away from paths claiming the presence of traps. I used to think 'How does he know?'

One winter season we ran a cross-country race at Stourport. After the race we prepared for our customary cool down with a jog round the course and Ken asked us to wait a few seconds while he fetched something from his car. Thinking that he had gone for another pair of shoes we duly obliged, and were mystified when he re-appeared with a sack.

As we went round the lap he stopped from time to time to pick vegetables from the fields alongside the course. 'Didn't you notice these lads?' he commented ' They'll go nice with me pheasant for dinner tomorrow'.

Of course, had the word been coined then, he was a 'freegan'- probably the only one I have ever known.

Over the years the different types of people who have become members have enhanced the club in various ways. Some have brought world class running ability, many have given us tremendous loyalty, and others were always consistent performers. Quite a few possessed all of these qualities and together with the other runners who brought their own particular forte to the mix made the club the success it became.

Keith Boyden brought toughness, ruthlessness and the know-how of winning. He joined the club in 1968 just after his previous club, North Staffs. Harriers had won the National cross-country championship. He lived at Meir on the outskirts of Stoke and worked in the pottery industry, Often before he came to races he had spent a night at the kilns working in tremendous heat.

We always felt that the runners in the north of Staffordshire were a crazy crowd of hard men. Their cross-country courses epitomized their attitude to the sport and motivated by the likes of the legendary Roy Fowler it was little wonder that they had earned that reputation.

Keith, then, introduced the club to this nasty streak. The fact that within a short time of his being cleared to run for the club we won the National cross-country championships for the first time showed that it didn't take long for his presence to take effect.

When I was given the great honour to be club captain it was an instant decision to make Keith my vice-captain. We were like 'good cop, bad cop,' I quietly encouraging the lads and Keith shouting and swearing at them, especially at the start of races. I believe a lot of the team was so scared of him that they ran on pure adrenaline alone.

Keith ran for the club until the late 1970's, more often than not in the first team as befitted someone with his talent, always with passion and a great inspiration to all those around him.

Keith is the central character of a memorable Sunday morning training run. It must have been a season in the early 70's when the National cross-country was to be run on a fast course because the Sunday runs that year involved a 20 miles (32km) jaunt on the roads through Willenhall, Short Heath, Bloxwich and Walsall Wood. The run ended with a run round Walsall ring road and then another climb into Wednesbury before threading our way over the moonscape of smoking ash and furnace debris that was to be the site of the housing estate across Farmers Way in later years.

Keith's dad, Charlie, used to drive them down from Stoke and they always enjoyed a drink and a chat in the clubhouse after the run. Keith, however, always had to be back home at a specific time for Sunday lunch or, as Alan Richards used to say, it was in the dog.

As I have mentioned, getting to the club on time to set off for races was always a struggle for quite a lot of people. The same was true of club training sessions. It appears strange that the 'time of day' seemed irrelevant for a group of participants in a sport that is obsessed by time, but that was very much the case.

The first few Sunday mornings went off quite well. A pleasant run at an amiable pace followed by a beer or two and a chat that left Keith and Charlie ample time to return home for lunch.

The curse of the latecomers then set in. We set off 5 minutes late so to get back in time we ran 5 minutes quicker. Then it became 10 minutes. Then it was 15 minutes.

It culminated to ridiculous proportions when one fateful Sunday morning the 20 miles run became a race.

The group split up early on as Keith and Arthur Bradley took the pace along at a great rate of knots, and by the time we were running round the Walsall ring road the group was spread out over a mile or more. Running up the hill into Wednesbury I was following Allan Rushmer and Mick Orton. We were all running about 25 yards apart and so tired that we were unable to catch each other. Of Keith and Arthur there was no sign.

Allan, Mick and myself ran a minute or two over 2 hours for the 20 miles (32km). When we arrived at the club Keith had had a shower and was heading for the bar to have a drink with his dad, at exactly the same time as he always did. He must have run the 20 in 1 hour 52 minutes or so.

Just to get home in time for his lunch.

I don't remember running the course ever again. As I said, athletes are obsessed by time, and someone was sure to try to run the Walsall Wood 20 faster!

The courses we used for training, both from the old clubhouse in Sedgley Road and from Gospel Oak, generally fell into two categories, hard and absolute hell. I suppose looking back, in actual fact it wasn't the course so much that determined which one it was to be but the pace of the run and the personnel involved.

A few of the courses we used and some of the exploits that evolved have already been the subject of some tales and naturally they have evoked memories of other escapades.

As I have mentioned the canal towpaths have always been an escape from the noise and bustle of the roads during the lighter nights and at the weekend. Occasionally they were also the scenarios of a gentle, pleasant run. (Very occasionally).

One such run happened on a fine Sunday morning in the 1970's. A group of about 20 set off from the club and surprisingly no one was of a mind to push the pace. We had followed the route of Brindley's canal from Bloomfield Road, through Oldbury and Smethwick and were returning to the club on the Walsall canal through Great Bridge. At the time the bridge over the canal at Great Bridge was in a state of collapse and had been fortified by 4 large girders which cleared the towpath by about 4ft 6 inches (1.4m)

As was the custom when we approached the bridge the leaders would shout a warning to remind the group to duck as we went under the bridge. The ritual was repeated on this particular Sunday and everyone got through safely.

With only 2 miles (3km) to run and the prospect of a cold beer strong in our thoughts we were astonished to be hailed by a fellow on a narrow boat moored near the bridge.

'Hey, lads, we can't get the boat under the bridge; it's about an inch too high. If you climb on board it will lower the boat enough to get through.'

As the boat was at the bottom of a long flight of locks it appeared that the guy on the boat had worked out the best plan of action and his prayers were answered when 20 people turned up at the same time. My initial reaction was that he had enlisted a lost cause because none of us weighed more than ten and a half stones. However, we all climbed on board and spread out along the boat and it gradually inched its way through the bridge with much scraping of the roof. Emerging on the other side of the bridge the boat immediately entered a lock so we had to jump clear very quickly. We were then faced with running back under the bridge and in the excitement the warning wasn't given and John Young hit the last girder and went down like a shot deer. He lay dazed on the floor for a few moments, and despite our protests, claimed that he was fit to carry on running back to the club. He, of course, couldn't see the blood that was pouring out of his head and by the time we arrived at the club he was covered in blood from head to foot. Now John was a real tough guy, as one would expect from an ex S.A.S. soldier (surprisingly one of two we had in the club at the time) and was quite happy to have a shower and carry on regardless. However, swayed by our concern, he was persuaded that treatment was necessary and he was driven to hospital. Returning some time later sporting a bandage and about 10 stitches in his wound he insisted on a pint and a chat before going home.

John ran for the club between 1971 and 1977 and the last I heard of him, some years later, was an account of a trip he made to climb in the Andes. He apparently had fallen, broken his leg, and walked for four days to reach civilization to get treatment. No wonder a bump on the head running on the canals round Great Bridge couldn't faze him!

The story of the group who braved the journey through Netherton tunnel reminded me of the only other tunnel on the canal network around Tipton.

Coseley tunnel is at least fairly easy to run through. Alan Richards always believed that the only way to negotiate the quarter of a mile (400m) of darkness was to run as fast as possible. Like many others I was comfortable running at a reasonable speed through the tunnel but some members of the club found it a traumatic experience.

The route through the tunnel was a regular part of our runs, both at weekends and on club nights, as it was a convenient access to the Wolverhamton canal and the Bradley loop.

It was also an opportunity to hone our tactical skills. Running the towpaths with 20 or 30 others helps enormously with ones ability to be in the right place at the right time. It was invaluable for track races, especially the 2 miles (3000 metres) team race in the West Midland track league when up to 40 would compete.

The right place at the right time was a must when we approached Coseley tunnel from the Wolverhamton end of the canal. The last effort was always on the road from Bloomfield Road Bridge, about 400 yards (400m) from the exit of the tunnel, up the hill to the crossroads at Allen's.

The right place, as one entered the tunnel in order to have any chance of having a presence in the burn-up that was to come, was to be close to the leaders. It was even more of an advantage to be in front of the people who were traumatized by the prospect of running through the tunnel and tended to run extremely slowly. Of course, the runners who hated the tunnel and wanted to be in the mix for the effort also desperately tried to get to the front. The elbowing, pushing and gamesmanship that went on approaching the tunnel entrance can only be likened to a rugby scrum carried out at 5-minute mile pace.

As I lived only two miles (3km) from Coseley tunnel it was a route I used quite often when I ran from home. I regularly ran that way if there wasn't a race on Saturday and in later years as a veteran when races were held on Sundays. Very often I would arrange to meet someone from the club, as it is much more pleasant to have company on training runs.

It came to pass, therefore, that I met up with Jeff Taylor on the canals near Owen Street and we set off to run round the Bradley canal via the Coseley tunnel. Jeff, like me, was comfortable running through the tunnel so we were running at a decent pace when we entered into the gloom. Reaching the middle and in complete darkness my foot hit something and I fell like a sack onto the cobbles. A millisecond later Jeff landed on top of me.

' I thought you had vanished ' he said.

' I think I've hit a body' I wheezed, as Jeff's landing had emptied my lungs of air.

Jeff clambered up and went to investigate what had caused our fall. Someone had left a car tyre on the towpath, probably to discourage the kids who rode motor bikes along that stretch of canal.

Jeff threw the tyre into the canal and we cautiously made our way to the light at the far end of the tunnel. Checking our injuries I found that I had taken a fair bit of skin from my knees had bruised my shoulder and elbow, and the force of the impact had pushed my foot through the front of my shoe. Jeff, who of course had had a soft landing, was unscathed. We carried on with our run, much slower than we had planned and reached home with no more incidents.

Our exploits were the source of much amusement at the club during the following week, but later I often thought that our misadventure saved an intended victim from a much more serious outcome.

The experience never discouraged me from running through the tunnel, I continued to run that way at least once a week until I retired to Lincolnshire a few years ago.

As was often the case Bill Carr and the ultra runners were training for a big race. Bill had set his training schedule out and was running three times a day. To help with his final run of the day he enlisted some of us to run with him on various nights to keep him company. On club nights the group running from the club agreed to join him for his final 10 miles (16km) of the day.

We always ran the same course. Through Coseley, up Ivy House Lane, along the New Road, into Dudley via the Priory to Castle Hill, and then back to Great Bridge, Ocker Hill and to the club.

This went on for weeks, every Tuesday and Thursday, and as we were helping Bill the pace was always nice and gentle. One night Alan Richards commented ' I tell you what lads, we are like Zombies running round here like this every week.'

From that day the course was always known as 'The Zombie'

Even in later years when we went out that way and lengthened the course a bit, it was known as the 'Extended Zombie.'

At the time of this break from our normal club runs there had been a horrific kidnap and murder involving a local girl. The police were searching for the suspect who had been nicknamed 'The Black Panther' by the media.

As part of the police investigation every male in the locality was interviewed and in the course of time the police turned up at my house to ascertain my movements on certain specific days.

Most of the days of which they had a particular interest happened to be Wednesday and with the help of my diary I was able to give details of my whereabouts. Many of the dates coincided with club or Staffs meetings but then they threw in a Tuesday evening. I checked the diary and sure enough we had been running round the 'Zombie'. I explained that I was out running with a group from the club.

'Where do you run?' I was asked.

I gave them the rundown of the course we ran, and to my surprise the policeman said

'Oh you are one of that crowd that runs by the freight terminal at the bottom of Castle Hill at

6-45 every Tuesday and Thursday night'.

Being spotted by the police stake out whilst running the 'Zombie' was a cast iron alibi.

In 1957 when I became a member of the club and in the following 15 years, or so, our training runs from the club were round the familiar courses that had probably been used for many years.

The courses also had been given names that instantly identified exactly which route we would take. From the H.Q. in Sedgley Road there was the ''Cardiff' (about 3 miles (5km) via Castle Street Birmingham New Road, 5 Ways, - named apparently because the route was similar to a race the club ran at Cardiff and was used to prepare for the race).

The 'Hospital' was again about 3 miles( 5km) obviously past The Guest Hospital to Dudley and back to the club via Burnt Tree.

The 'Priory' course extended that course to the top of Castle Hill via the New Road and Priory Road. As we got older the courses became longer and extensions to the aforementioned routes through Sedgley and Coseley became standards in their own right.

In the opposite direction we often ran the 'Oldbury' circuit (into Oldbury town centre and then back along the New Road to Burnt Tree). A shorter version ('The Filter Beds' turning left at The Blue Ball pub and returning via Great Bridge) was also a great favourite.

These last two routes when run consecutively was the course that was used for the club 10 miles (16km) handicap.

When we moved to Gospel Oak in 1971 the courses we used for training were basically the same routes that we had used from the old H.Q. with the starting and finishing point moved across about 2 miles. (3km) (Hence the Zombie being a variation of the Priory runs)

I decided when I became club captain to move away occasionally from the traditional courses.

Variety tends to alleviate boredom and it is always good training practice to test oneself over unfamiliar terrain. We started to run out through Wednesbury, Stone Cross and West Bromwich. Also, unlike most of the runners in the club at the time, I was familiar with the roads around Darlaston, Walsall, and Willenhall near to where I had lived so it was in that direction that some of the club night runs would go. It had two advantages, it was fresh horizons and no one could push the pace too much because I was the only person who knew where we were. (I regularly changed the routes to keep that relevant)

I only met Jack Holden on one occasion. Surprisingly it was when I was 7 or 8 years old.

In the late 1940's Jack was in his prime and consequently was invited as the guest of honour at Darlaston carnival. These events were extremely popular in the period just after the war and hundreds of people turned up at the Rubery Owen sports field at Bentley for the occasion.

My father had worked with Jack at the Star Foundry in Bradley and so I was introduced to the 'great man' during the afternoon.

The thing that struck everyone who was there was that Jack had run all the way from Tipton to be present and more amazingly he was going to run all the way back.

Looking back at it now, of course Jack would run there, he would not turn down the opportunity of a good training run and a chance to meet the public all at the same time.

The strange thing is, though; when the Tuesday night run went round Walsall and Willenhall we were at one point only 300 yards (300m) away from where I met Jack Holden. We also had run all the way from Tipton and back and somehow it didn't seem quite so amazing.

Remembering the training routes that we used from the club brought to mind some of the courses we ran in races. Most people are familiar with the course at Sutton Park that is used for the road relays and it will always have special significance for me for the successes we had there. Tough though it is, it pales into 'not too bad' when compared to some of the courses we ran over the years.

We competed at Ironbridge in two races for quite a few years. The summer race of about 4 miles (7km) along the River Severn was a lovely course, fairly flat, and with a nice finish from the Iron Bridge to the park in the town.

The race held on New Years Day, the Golden Ball Gallop, was a different proposition altogether. It started on the hill above the town out towards Coalbrookdale, a long downhill for the first mile and a half. (2.5km) Then followed a stretch of about a mile along the river through the town and for the last half mile (800m) up a road to the finish at the Golden Ball pub that can only be described as running up a precipice.

My son claimed that one year he was running up the hill to the finish and was passed by a Scotsman in kilt and hob nailed boots who was walking. I don't doubt his story, fancy dress was often the kit of choice for the race, but I sometimes wonder how much he was effected by the sudden change in altitude and perhaps over celebrating the night before.

The day always finished with a pie and a pint in the pub, what a way to start the New Year.

Some of the cross-country courses we ran, however, still give me the shivers when I think about them. No parkland sprints in those days; bottomless mud, ploughed fields, (even in the National, memorably at Luton) and endless hills were the order of the day.

I have already referred to the courses that we ran in the north of Staffordshire as the epitome of the toughness of the characters that emanated from that part of the Midlands.

The course in that area that was used in my early years of running for the club was no exception. The course at Trentham Gardens was basically up and down. A flat start of about 300 yards (300m) followed by an extremely steep climb of one and a half miles (2.5km) through woods, a slide down a scree face into a quarry and a sprint back down a rough path to the end of the lap. Two laps for juniors and three for the seniors, of lung bursting, leg aching slog.

Quite often the situation was exacerbated by the weather. The changing rooms in the winter were colder than the outside. Roy Fowler, who was known by the caretaker of the pavilion, changed in a little office that was warmed by a paraffin heater. How we envied him, but were amazed that the place didn't explode with the fumes of ' wintergreen' that Roy always applied to his legs.

We ran a Birmingham League race at Trentham one season during a period of heavy snowfall. We were told that the course had been changed because of the snow at the top, and the quarry would not be included in the lap. Our hopes of an easier run were soon dashed. They just made the hill longer with another loop and cut steps into the snow so that we could reach a point about 30 feet (9m) below the summit that we always crossed.

The building of the M6 motorway through Staffordshire appeared to be good news for those of us who were becoming weary of the thought of the hill at Trentham. The route of the road was going through the quarry and the course had to be abandoned. (The hill can be seen from the motorway, going north on the right just before junction 15)

Our joy was short lived; our sadistic friends in north Staffordshire had found another course,

'Cow Lane'.

It is difficult to put in words the sheer horror of this new venue. I sometimes feel that my mind has blanked out some of the features of the course to protect my sanity.

I vaguely recall the start being at the Michelin sports ground. We then proceeded through a steel scrap yard that had been churned to a morass by forklift trucks. Beneath the surface of the morass there still remained girders and pieces of metal that played havoc with the spikes in ones shoes. Somehow we were then taken onto a canal towpath, 'That's good' I hear you say ' You are used to that'.

This, however, was a towpath unlike any that we ran in the environs of Tipton. Only a yard or two wide (1-2 m) in places and not very convenient for passing especially as it was just over half a mile from the start. With water on the left and a deep ditch on the right there was nowhere to go except in single file. Occasionally the path widened near the bridges, but they were so low it was impossible to use the space to any advantage. Of course the North Staffs runners, who were used to the terrain, started like sprinters and the rest of the field spent most of the races playing 'catch up'.

One Staffs. Championships I also tried to start fast and found myself running alongside Tony Johnson on the towpath. Tony ran for the club from 1965 to 1972 and was a policeman in the Staffs. Force and being used to the course had also started fast because he had a distinct advantage. He was difficult to pass as he was very tall and had a strange short striding style with arms held very high. Consequently his elbows were level with my head. Fearing that I would be knocked into the canal or the ditch by his flailing elbows I decided that my only opportunity to pass him would be at a bridge. Risking life and limb and clinging onto terra firma only by running on the line of bricks on the edge of the canal I managed to sneak past him whilst he was engaged negotiating his 6ft 7 (2m) frame under the bridge.

I digress. Back to the course. To leave the towpath it was necessary to drop into the ditch and scramble to the start of the track known as the infamous 'Cow Lane'

This was a long hill through cattle churned mud with rocks underneath. There were brambles and what I now know to be blackthorn ripping at your arms and legs.

At the top of this tortuous track was a fence and a stile. I have never been very comfortable with fences and the like, but I like to think that everyone struggled to negotiate this obstacle after such a hard climb.

All the height gained from Cow Lane was lost in a short jarring run downhill through rough grassland and with the end of the lap in sight the course revealed its coup de grace.

We had to wade through the River Trent.

Joyous news was received at the club. Michelin had moved their sports ground. Cow Lane was no more.

We should have known better. The new sports ground was alongside the A500 just a little way from the M6 motorway. At first sight it seemed impossible to construct a cross country course on such a small piece of land but there were some trees on the far side that may be useful to add a bit of interest to the flat playing fields.

The trees were more than a bit of interest; they concealed a cunningly placed hill that was incredibly steep and tortuous.

The start and finish of the lap on the playing fields wasn't exactly easy running. How on earth they played football and rugby on the surface of glutinous mud that made up the field I shall never know.

Having negotiated this quagmire and heading out towards the hill a new obstacle was encountered. A curious steel pipe supported on brickwork crossed the course. The pipe was too close to the ground to crawl under and too high to jump (for me, anyway). The only solution was to ungracefully slide over and hope for a good landing on the other side.

The hill loomed. Picking a way up the path to the top through tree roots and stones was bad enough; coming down the even steeper bank through the same terrain was a liability.

For one Staffs. Championships a rope was looped from tree to tree so that the ladies would have something to hang onto to aid their descent.

At the bottom of the hill where it joined the playing fields there was a deep ditch, more often than not filled with muddy water. We always remarked on it when doing our course reconnaissance and tried to remember the best way to negotiate the hazard. In one race, however, Keith Rollason came down the hill so fast that he had no time to deviate from his headlong charge and ended up in the ditch. Covered from head to foot in brown slime we feared that he might be disqualified for not showing club colours but referee, Ken Walklate, always ready to see the humorous side of the situation deemed that it was o.k. as he remembered Keith in green and white at the start.

This course was used for many years for both races and relays, but I believe new venues, still as tough, have been found at Newcastle Under Lyme, Leek, and Stafford. The runners of north Staffordshire always demand the ultimate test from their courses.

The Staffordshire cross country championships quite often used the courses in the north of the county, but occasionally came south to see what the namby- pamby West Midlanders could come up with. Strangely my first Staffs. Championships in 1958 were run at Worfield in Shropshire.

The club hosted the championships and many other races from Dartmouth school at Great Barr. This was a very tough course which, I believe, was very well received by the Stoke crowd (high praise indeed) as was the course at Dartmouth Park, West Bromwich which was used in later years.

Burton on Trent also hosted the championships, over two different courses, both very flat and boggy. The course used first was mainly farmland, and on our recce came upon a ploughed field with a marker pole at each corner and one in the middle. Not being able to see how we would negotiate all five markers we asked a marshall who also didn't know. Even after running three laps in the race I still didn't know. What I remember vividly, though, was following Tony Johnson (again) on the first lap and approaching a fence saw that a piece of sacking had been placed over the wires. Being too high to jump the obvious way through was to slide under holding the sack. Tony ducked down, but being very tall was a disadvantage and he slipped into a puddle, and held onto the fence to steady himself. Unfortunately he missed the sacking, touched the bare wire and received a shock. It was an electric fence.

Shaken though he was he continued to run and much to our delight finished the race.

Many of the cross-country courses we raced involved fences and gates. As I have indicated I was not very enamoured with them and was overjoyed when they ceased to be a regular feature. Geoff Wood was worse than I was. He hated them with a passion, and was naturally very vocal in his views. One race at Rugby was a fine example. Just after the start and approaching a five-barred gate I was aware of a commotion going on just in front of me. Reaching the gate I was amused to find Geoff straddling the gate unable to get his trailing leg to the other side. Every time he tried another runner would arrive and the gate would swing as it was climbed. In his frustration he was loudly protesting that either gates and fences should be banned or other runners should be more cooperative. Sadly his words were ignored.

As youngsters, as part of our introduction into the world of cross-country, the senior club members told us to follow the great runners like Basil Heatley and Roy Fowler on their recce of the course before the race. I was amazed at the attention to detail that they made. They checked the lie of the land at corners, found the best running line and the better surfaces to follow. They paid particular attention at gates and fences, trying a few approaches before leaving and in particular always climbed gates at the side where the hinges were!

Another hard course because it involved a long and steep hill was the one at Markeaton Park in Derby. It was used from time to time for the Inter Counties championships and in one of those races John Earlston used another useful ploy. Always remember where your supporters are on the course. Trying to look good as you pass a group you know works wonders as it relaxes you and gives them the opportunity to tell your rivals how well you are running.

John, however, used it for a different reason. I was following him up the hill when he suddenly stopped and asked Brian Cole to tie his shoe laces

All the reconnaissance in the world would have made no difference to me at the course we ran in the Midlands championships at Melton Mowbray.

Using the same venue as the relays (scalding hot showers included) the race took place at the Army Veterinary H.Q. Needless to say the fences were similar to those used for horse show jumping. They were enormous, 6 or 7-ft. (2 m) high and constructed with heavy logs. They were insurmountable as far as I was concerned. However being slight of build I was able to slide through the gaps and scramble underneath. On the first lap, though, one zealous official threatened me with disqualification if I continued with this practice. Worrying about he implications I approached the same fence on the second lap having already decided that I knew of no rules regarding the negotiation of obstacles. The official had gone, runners in general are slim characters and had all followed my route through the fence, most of them being more vocal in their objections to his interpretation of cross country regulations.

The mention of the showers at Melton brought to mind some of the changing facilities that we encountered at races and, indeed, at the club.

The showers at the club were a superb facility when we moved to Gospel Oak in 1971.

Sadly over the years financial constraints hindered their upkeep and they deteriorated somewhat. Always looking for humour in adversity I proclaimed to all who would believe me that the green slime on the walls of the showers was the panacea of all ills.

Scraped from the wall and applied to strains, pulled muscles and bruises it would bring almost instant relief. Rolled into balls and swallowed, preferably with Bank's mild, would cure coughs, colds, and numerous other ailments.

I hope no one tried it, certainly if anyone did, it was something they never admitted.

Before Aldersley Stadium became the venue for cross-country races held at Wolverhamton the course that was often used was at Goldthorn Park near what is now Colton Hills school on the edge of Penn Common. It was a tough course, very muddy in places, and with the obligatory gates that was the norm then.

The changing facilities were also very much in keeping with what was the normal practice in the early 60's. St. Lukes Infant school was a typical Victorian building, blue brick classrooms, a hall and a playground. We changed in the hall which had a coke stove in the middle, and naturally in the cold weather over 100 runners would attempt to change as near as possible to this meagre source of warmth.

This was not surprising, as the washing 'facilities' were a few tin baths filled with cold water that were scattered around the playground. If you were unlucky and returned to get changed after the first dozen or so had used the baths there was an inch (2.5 cm) of water lying on top of 1ft (30cm) of mud. There was never a jog round the course to warm down when we ran on that course; a sprint back to the school sufficed.

Many years later the Birmingham League races were often staged at Gloucester. The course was pan flat and consisted of a convoluted route around some football and rugby pitches. To add interest there was then a short section along a road (not good for spikes) and then a stretch through an allotment, before gaining access to the playing field through a hole in the fence.

It was on this course running alongside a rugby pitch that young Ron Bentley was tackled by an enthusiastic player who thought Ron was making a run for the try line. Shrugging him off in typical Bentley fashion Ron continued to run without breaking stride as if it was a regular occurrence in the middle of a race. The rugby player looked on bemused as another 100 or so other runners passed him by, all making a run for the try line.

Sorry, I was carried away with the course when I should be describing changing facilities.

They were terrible. A hut on the edge of the field, freezing cold and damp and in the absence of lights, pitch black. It was claimed that there were showers in there somewhere. They apparently dribbled tepid water, but in the dark we could never find them, or where we had left our clothes for that matter!

For obvious reasons the hut was known as 'The Black Hole'.

In real terms, however, 'The Black Hole' was luxury compared to the changing facilities that we enjoyed for the Cyclists v Harriers cross-country race that was held every year at Walsall Arboretum.

We changed in the bike sheds at Chuckery School with tarpaulins draped over the front to defend our modesty. There were no washing facilities at all but looking on the bright side, as it was fairly close to where I lived, I cycled there and I had somewhere to leave my bike.

It was a fantastic race though. Starting on the playing fields at the back of the Arboretum we crossed a canal (in earlier years through a cattle tunnel) and made our way towards Barr Beacon. To do this we had to cross the very busy Sutton Road (and on the way back) The 7 miles (11km) lap didn't quite reach the Beacon but turned back and passed through Birch Wood and Cuckoo's Nook to regain the canal towpath and back to the park.

I only ran the race on two occasions as the AAA banned it in the early 60's when the Cycling Federation allowed amateur cyclists to compete with the professionals and the body that ran athletics didn't want us tainted by money. (How times have changed) It also ended the wonderful track meetings at Halesowen on Bank Holidays that incorporated both track cycling and athletics.

The outcome of the Cyclists v Harriers always depended on how wet the summer had been.

If it was dry the runners had no chance but a good muddy course always tipped the balance against the cyclists.

The second time I raced it had been a fairly wet summer and the balance of power was evenly matched, I was first runner home in about 7th place.

The race unfolded in dramatic fashion. The runners could start much faster than the cyclists could but as soon as the cyclists got up to speed they poured past us and made their way to the exit from the playing fields. This, however, was a narrow plank bridge, just wide enough for one bike. The cyclists sprinted to reach the bridge first, only three of them crossed the stream on the planks the rest finished up in a heap of arms, legs, and metal in the water.

The runners arrived at the ditch. My one everlasting memory of the carnage was of Alan Whittle using the bikers as stepping-stones to reach the other side and in the process pushing them back into the slime.

The race progressed in a more orderly manner after that, we made ground on the rough and the cyclists whistled by on the roads and paths, many of them oozing blood from the cuts and grazes inflicted by the debacle at the stream.

The cyclists were absolutely crazy. I thought we were mad running some of the courses that we used but they were reckless to the point of madness. Despite that I witnessed one of the most amazing feats of skill in clearing a fence that I ever remember.

Coming down a steep hill through some woods two cyclists called to say that they were about to pass me (They were always very courteous about that, even telling us which side to expect them).

About half way down the hill was a fence. The leading cyclist jumped from his bike then threw the bike over the fence. He then jumped the fence, caught the bike before it fell, leaped into the saddle and was away. The second cyclist tried to do the same but his legs refused to obey and he fell in a heap entwined in the bike on the other side of the fence.

I clambered over the fence in my inimitable scramble and made my way to the finish, and then cycled home still covered in mud.

My final story, like the first, relates to the start of my running career, and also to an ending of a relationship with the Staffordshire County cross-country team in which I ran for many years.

I only ran twice at Arrowe Park in Birkenhead. The first time in 1958 was in the first National Cross-Country Championships I ever ran and the second time 23 years later in the last Inter Counties Cross Country that I ran.

I remember very little of either event, but what happened immediately after the race in 1958 had a big impact on my outlook to running and inspired me to continue in the sport.

The changing facilities were much in keeping with the era, an old school with classrooms hastily cleared to make room for the hundreds of runners that would be taking part.

As there were no washing facilities in the school the local Fire Brigade had provided huge rubber dinghies full of hot water that had been set up in the playground. Around the perimeter of the playground the firemen had fixed tarpaulins to the fence (shades of the Cyclists v Harriers) so that inquisitive young girls wouldn't see anything that they shouldn't.

(Incidentally, it didn't work, they were able to pull the screens to one side and take a peek.)

To say that my first experience of a National Championship was a revelation of unknown proportion would be an incredible understatement. As a 16-year-old, just out of school, it was the most amazing event I had ever witnessed. I had seen many of the great runners of the day compete in the senior event and as I made my way back to the changing rooms the seniors in the club insisted that everyone made use of the washing facilities.

'No mud allowed on the coach' they claimed.

Shortly afterwards, therefore, I was scurrying with a group from the club across the playground with just a towel as a covering listening to the hoots of the girls peeping through the gaps in the tarpaulin.

Dropping the towel with the others and probably flushed red with embarrassment I attempted to climb into the dinghy. Not an easy task as they were about 5-ft. (1.6 m) high. Scrambling up the side as best as I could I looked up and saw a hand appear.

'Hang on lad, I'll give you a pull up' a voice proclaimed.

The hand hauled me up and into the water. I turned to my rescuer to thank him and realised that I was sitting beside Derek Ibbotson.

In 1958 he was the golden boy of British athletics, having broken the world record for the mile (3-57.2) the previous year: and I was sitting next to him.

I think I decided there and then that if one of the greatest runners of the day could help a 16 year old boy and speak to him, then running was the sport to which I wanted to belong.

And so it was!

Flashback Summer 1986 (31/10/2012)

In recently working through some new material handed to us we came across a performance from the 1980's that has often been discussed (but had been lost over the years) by various coaches within the club from that era.

In 1986 the club went to the Midland Counties Women's AAA Championships (we think at Perry Barr possibly on 3rd or 4th May in conjunction with the Midland Combined Events Championship) with a young good quality girls squad and contested one of the last ever MCWAAA 4 x 800m relay events to be staged.

Ray Fletcher was one of the masterminds behind the group at this time along with the likes of Mick Elwell. Both had "taken up the reigns" through their young families getting involved and built on the foundation work laid by the late Brian Pickerill.

The girls won the event in a time of 9m 42.28s after recording 9m 49.76s in the heats. The girls involved were as follows with their split times added.

  • Alison Hubball - 2m 29.61s
  • Helen Rowe - 2m 25.86s
  • Sharon Hobbs - 2m 24.15s
  • Sarah Cutler - 2m 22.66s

The order of clubs in the Junior Ladies final was as follows:-

  1. Tipton Harriers - 9m 42.28s
  2. City Of Stoke A.C. - 9m 46.50s
  3. Coventry Godiva Harriers - 9m 55.00s

One wonders how they would compare with times posted by our squads today. Perhaps there's an idea for an event at the 2013 Tipton Games?

The National 12 Stage AKA Three Hours Fartlek (May 1994)

What is it about the National 12 Stage that makes it such a special day out for the traditional club man or woman ?

This was the question I found myself asking after spending another spring Saturday in the open air at Sutton Park in Birmingham. For three and a half hours I ran round the Park catching the action and taking in the atmosphere.

On Sunday I was knackered as I slogged around an hour & a quarters training run with a group of friends (John Hartigan, Finbar Costigan, Phil Tranter & Mark Hirsh) reflecting on the previous days events.

Why was the overall finishing time so slow ? Is it the decline in distance running standards ? Justin Hobbs ran a real blinder ? You should have seen Rob Denmark !

These are just a few typical comments that I am sure were echoing around many such runs on that Sunday morning after the event.

The 12 stage has become a real athletics institution since it found it's latest home in the Royal suburb of Birmingham in 1974. It's foundations were laid in the famous London to Brighton and the Blackpool to Manchester road relays.

The entry consists of 50 odd teams each with 12 runners all of whom battle hard for their places. Most of them will have qualified through the feeder area championships. Each club will have gone through their own selection heartaches as to who is willing & able to run ?

The event is one of the few opportunities for clubs to draw together the comradeship of training nights into competitive arena. A jury may be have been '12 good men and true' but so is a 12 stage team.

It provides all those who run in it, and those who watch it, with a performance bench mark. You can tell how well a runner is going by the time he runs on the course. A short leg or long leg it matters not which.

Both distances have seen some great athletics performances by athletes that have gone on the major international honours. It provides real challenges & barriers for the club man. Running a sub 14m 30s for a short leg or a sub 25m on the long and you are up with the best.

But there are many other aspects of the race that make it special. The tension starts on arrival with all the team managers trying to confirm that their runners are present. Team managers need to be patient masters of psychology. Kidology also plays a major part in getting runners to perform.

A look at the Team Managers sees many of athletics great's 'Major' Bill Adcocks from Coventry the legendary marathon runner, George Blackburn that enigmatic Irishman from Westbury Harriers. Ron Bentley from Tipton who must have covered a few hundred miles in Sutton Park apart from his other epic road running exploits. From the North we have Stan Long from Gateshead Harriers who has brought many strong teams into the cauldron of the Park.

Team declarations are like a game of bridge with managers finding out whose going on what leg. Tactics and experience comes into play with decisions as to who will run the 6 long legs and who will skip round the 6 short ones.

Where can advantages be gained or pegged back ? Where do you put your weak link to minimise the potential damage. The race rarely unfolds early on with the smaller clubs putting the best hopes on the early legs to shine.

But it is not just the major clubs that make up the characters of this 'management' it is the smaller ones like Massey Ferguson or Bideford A.C. who take just as much pride by matching their stalwarts against the best of Britain.

Rumours abound when the course jungle grapevine tells us that something significant has happened but what & where ? Wait, look at the clock as your weak link has just run a blinder and surprised you by running 14m 10s ! Why ? How ? He has just earned himself a piece of local club folklore - something he & his mates will dine out on through the winter and summer months on training runs.

Team Spirit comes in many shapes, sizes & forms but the 'National 12' shows it off at it's best. Who can fail to be impressed by the crowds down at Keepers Pool with the tight corner where all runners are urged on. Or those who make a pilgrimage up to the Stone to see the runners come back along the pan handle that makes up the long stage. Spectators standing stretching to catch first sight of the runners as they make their way back from Streetly gate. These park roads have seen some magnificent athletic performances.

It is here on these roads that many who attend give the biggest ovation to their heroes. Who can forget the ovations afforded to Brendan Foster, Rob Denmark, Nick Rose, Dave Moorcroft, Jack Bucknor, Steve Jones, Seb Coe or Eammon Martin. This is just one element of the event that makes the event so great. The action is tangible and everyone in the Park can share in it.

It is also the day to polish up your ability to spot the club, now what was that vest - green with black & white hoops ? It must have been London Irish.

It is great to see the hoards of people young and old from clubs like Aldershot, Shaftsbury, Swansea, Boxhill, Leicester, Tipton, Birchfield all cheering their runners on.

This year we started to see banners around the course and chalked encouragement on the roads just like the great cycling tours on the continent. Some may scorn it but in some small way if it helps the lonely runner chasing his dream out on his own let it be.

Martin Rees from Swansea Harriers showed typical club spirit. He has helped raise the Swansea standards over the past few years and made his own contribution to their improved results but this year due to injury he was sidelined. He was still there running round the course shouting his team on and must have felt a little sad not to actually be part of the winning team.

It is also very refreshing. Someone once said that it was athletics in the raw. I have to agree. Who really wants the hype that surrounds the staged track races we now see on TV. There never seems to be the honesty in ethos that there is in road & cross country running.

It is also very much an opportunity for reunion - you may only see them from one year to the next but the friendships are there. I fondly recall the banter between Alf 'Up the Valley' Mignot, Stan Long & Ron Bentley. It is a great gathering ground for great athletes & advisors. I relish being able to give Dave Walsh from Les Croupiers some verbal and receive his in response.

This year did you see John Graham, Seb Coe, Basil Heatley, Bud Baldaro, Alan Storey, Jim Alder & Peter Stewart all enjoying the atmosphere. It can become an 'I Spy' of athletics history !

But there are other smaller things. The officials who, year in year out, badger the runners and spectators to make sure the event goes well.

Graham Heeley the burly Birmingham Policeman who presides over the changeover area & his team. Cliff Franks & his crew on the stopwatch to record everything for future aficionados to mull over. Then there is little Ken Dare who is always out at 'the gate' to ensure that things go smoothly.

There are many other characters. Who remembers the marshall who stands at the bend after the start who directs them down onto the short loop before the climb up through the woods ? He may be officious but without the likes of him the event wouldn't take place. He too is a runner from West Bromwich Harriers and has done his bit in the Midland 12 Stage.

Tipton Harriers may have a tremendous record for performances but there are also two members of that club who make the event tick. Tom & Mary Talbot who patiently stand at the Jamboree Stone and ensure that short & long runners are sent on their correct way. They all take pride the their contribution to what makes the day great.

Rarely does it make the national papers but you will see the hacks from Athletics Weekly, Runners World & The Runner & some of the local rags there gathering their information for a few short column inches.

Pictures of the action are captured for posterity, both at club level to record in the newletters, and by the likes of Mark Shearman for the national & international press. His is not an easy job trying to find the perfect position for the right shot of the right person.

Most of those who watch cover a fair few miles in training. Most of it 'fartlek'. People out walking their dogs must wonder what is going on as stampedes of runners zip through the woods between the hill and the pool to catch the next slice of the action.

Weather conditions may not always be brilliant, but so what, it is always wholesome.

In recent years we have seen some changes, portaloos, a lead motorbike & a grandstand. We now have the infamous fresh doughnut and baked potatoes stands to satisfy the hungry hoards. Where will it all end ?

Well it's over for another 12 months and I'm sure that all the clubs who have tasted a part of this tradition are quietly making plans for their assault on the event next year. I for one will be there - will you ?

Chris Holloway - Tipton Harriers

May 1994

Staffordshire AAA's - The First 50 Years (1924-1974)

Tipton Harriers were a founder member of the Staffordshire AAA's back in 1924.

A brief history was drafted around the time it celebrated its Golden Jubilee (50 Years) in 1974. We have a copy of this document in our archives and have now typed it up for a wider audience to enjoy. It can be found here

How The Club Was Run (1967)

As we head towards this years AGM we came across a document in the Club Archives that lists down just what was expected of officials of the Club back in 1967. See just what roles are still in place today and what they should have been doing back then. How much is relevant to the present day we will leave you to draw your own view.

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Campus Connections (Birmingham University)

There has always been strong historical links between Tipton Harriers & Birmingham Universiity. In reading through various athletic periodicals we came across this feature published in Athletics Monthly in 1981 which featured many runners who are or have been members of Tipton.

The article was written by Keith Nelson.

It is interesting to look back and see just how that connection has continued to this day (Mike Buntin, Mat Lockett, Phil Nicholls, Neil Burton to name but a few more). We all owe a great deal of gratitude to  the athletes who have subsequently joined Tipton and to the highly respected & mercurial coach, and mentor, Bud Baldaro for his massive contribution to University & Club athletics.

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Behind The Tape - What Of The Future? (01/10/2013)

The following is an article taken from a periodical in the 1930's called "The Cyclist & Athlete". It shows what challenges faced athletics in between the wars with new challenges and distractions for people to both participate in and to observe.

Whilst in many ways it is "dated" it is interesting to see how, some 70 years or more on, our sport has developed and the "new" challenges that are still faced.

Perhaps the final paragraph contains some lessons for us all though in outlining a role we can all play.

Behind The Tape - What Of The Future?

(By "Back-Marker")

How are things going in the world of athletics? Will there be a revival very soon, or will the continued lack of public interest mean the ultimate decay and gradual extinction sports meetings as we know them?

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