Ray's Ramblings - No.01 (20/12/2014)

Background

I was born in April 1945 the youngest of 4 children, at 8 Dudley Road West, just a few months before Second World War was finally over. The house was two bed roomed and was in a block of 10 Victorian terraced houses, the Seven Stars pub and a butcher’s shop. The row of houses was situated at the "V" junction with Tipton Road which led directly to the Tipton Harriers Headquarters, about a mile away. The clubhouse in those days was a wooden hut, painted green, which had been presented to the club in 1936 by Mr. H Palethorpe, owner of Palethorpes the local company that was famous for producing sausages.

As our back yard looked out over Tipton Road we often used to see a group of the Harriers running past, probably on their way into Oldbury. The Harrier’s Headquarters were unknown to me at that time, as in those days we had no transport and didn’t venture out of our close-knit community very often, although we did know of the great Jack Holden who was famous throughout the Black Country.

My First Race

My first organised race was when I was aged 8, on Coronation Day, June 2nd 1953. Our local Coronation Committee, which was probably made up of members of Tipton Road Methodist Chapel that was directly opposite our house, organised on some races for the local boys and girls in the field next to the Chapel.

If I remember correctly there were only sprint races and my oldest sister, who was about 16 or 17 then, won her race and received a powder compact. However I was an "also ran" in my race, but along with all the other children, received a commemorative Coronation cup, saucer and plate.

School & Sport

At age eleven I attended Tividale Comprehensive School, which was a new school and one of the first comprehensives in the country.

Each year at school had six classes, I think they were lettered X, S, T, R, Q and K although I have read conflicting memories in the Black Country Bugle. I never did find out the significance of the lettering. 

Pupils at the school were also divided into four separate "houses", Cockroft (yellow), Livingstone (blue), Whittle (green) and Scott (red). These "houses" were named after famous people. Sir John Cockroft received the Nobel Prize for physics, Dr. David Livingstone was an explorer in Africa, Sir Frank Whittle invented the jet engine and Captain R. F. Scott explored Antarctica.

Although we were introduced to a variety of sports such as basketball and rugby union I can only recall there being inter-house competitions at football, track athletics (held, I recall, on a small grass track, with 5 laps to the mile) and cross-country.

I played scrum half for the school at rugby on only two occasions, against Sir Gilbert Claughton School, Dudley, and we were hammered both times!

I had played football for the junior school and played for Whittle House but wasn’t good enough to get into the senior school team as we had some really good players; several of my classmates went on to play semi-professionally. Roger Jones and Roger Tidman played for Tividale whilst my best friend at school, Eddie Lowe, played for Bilston Town and had trials at Oxford United, he went on to get his F.A. coaches badges.

In my first Inter House Cross Country race, which was run during the Spring term, I finished in 6th place and Whittle House won the team race. After this race I was encouraged by our P.E. teacher Mr. Foster to train during games lessons. I was then selected to run for the school in the Warley Schools race held at Bristnall Hall High School in Oldbury where I finished second.

In my final year at school, 1961, I went on to win the Inter House Cross Country race and also won the one mile in the track championships with a time of 5 minutes 15 seconds, which I was told was a school record.

I can only assume that Allan Rushmer (later to become another famous member of the Harriers), who was a year above me at school, never ran in the schools races as he would surely have run faster than that.

Another lad, Dave Jones, who also joined the club went on to beat my 1 mile time the following year with a time of 5 minutes 05 seconds. More of Allan & Dave later.

Joining The Harriers

After my successes in the school races I was approached by Roy Masters, who asked if I was interested in joining Tipton Harriers. Roy had won the schools sprint races and had already been asked by the Harriers secretary Jim Bedford if he would like to join the club. Jim’s two sons Derek and Malcolm attended the same school and both ran for the club very briefly. Jim lived just over the road from school and had come to watch his son Malcolm compete in the sprints.

By this time I was living in City Road on a new council housing estate that had been built, directly opposite Dudley Golf Course. Our old house had been condemned and along with all of our neighbours had been re-housed by the council.

The following Tuesday evening, along with Roy, I walked the 2 miles or so down to the Harriers headquarters, which was a quite large wooden hut situated on the corner of Sedgley Road East and Victoria Road.

Jim Bedford gave us a membership form each and introduced us to Bill Stokes, the young athlete’s coach, who gave us the information we needed regarding training nights and what time we met.

We were elected as club members at the monthly committee meeting on 20/09/61. Ken Rock, who came from Quarry Bank, was elected at the same meeting. Ken went on to run for the club for many years.

Contemporaries

Shortly after, several other boys from Tividale School joined the club, they included Dave Jones, Dennis Ball, Gerald Ball and Ian Lloyd.

Mick Orton, who lived just around the corner from the club, joined at roughly the same time. Mick developed into a fantastic long distance runner as a senior, winning the famous Comrades Marathon in South Africa and was also one of a select few club members to win a Birmingham League 1st division cross-country race.

Dave Jones became a top young athlete, winning the Staffordshire Youth's cross country title and finishing 16th (1964, Leicester) and 19th (1965, London) in the National Cross Country Championships, he also finished 7th in an Inter-Counties Cross Country Championships (1965, Leicester). I think that Dave always regretted that he never ran as a senior athlete.

Alan Richards, who played a major part in the clubs successes in the late 60’s and throughout the 70’s, Keith Goode and Graham Fellows were already at the club when we joined so we now had a useful young athlete’s squad.

Training

We trained from the club on Tuesday and Thursday evenings from around 6.30pm and Sunday mornings at about 10.00am, under the guidance of Bill Stokes, who had joined the club in 1945 and had more or less come to the end of his racing days.

We had two main training courses, the 3 miles “Hospital” run, which went up to Burnt Tree Island, on to Dudley Bus Garage, which was at the bottom Castle Hill then right down past the Guest Hospital, over the New Road and back into Sedgley Road East to the clubhouse. The more regular 4 miles “Priory” run carried on up Castle Hill, down past the Technical College into Priory Road to the King Arthur pub, and back to the club. We would have designated “efforts” around the course; the first one was always up Castle Hill and the last along Sedgley Road East, finishing at the Black Horse pub.

My First Race For The Club

My first race for the club was a youth’s road race at Hereford where the seniors were also running a 4 x 2½ miles relay race. We travelled by coach and I remember that, while stopping for a comfort break, it was discovered that the wheel-nuts on one of the front wheel hadn’t been tightened. The driver didn’t seem to know what to do but Ron Bentley soon found the wheel-brace and tightened up all of the nuts and we were back on our way.

As far as the race went the only thing I can remember is that I finished in 21st place and that I was sick when I finished!