Roy Langford - Article No.14 (05/11/2012)

The Forty-Ninth Annual Amateur Cycling and Athletic Festival of Birmingham City Transport Social, Athletic and Thrift Society, Transport Stadium, Wheelers Lane, Kings Heath - Sunday 26th June 1960 at 3 pm

This was my first visit to the Birmingham City Transport Stadium situated in the suburbs of Kings Heath, Birmingham. What a varied amount of changes this Festival of Sport must have witnessed in its 49 years history and was without doubt one of the oldest athletic meetings still in existence up t 1960 when I competed there. But to a newcomer like me it was a new experience.

I had sent off my entry form with my handicap race details off for this meeting a month or so ago with it a postal order for 2/- to pay for my entrance fee to compete in two events the 100 yards and 220 yards Open Flat Handicap races and just two weeks ago I received in advance of the meeting a free competitors programme which was conformation I had been entered for those events and which gave me free admission to the Sports Festival on Sunday 26th June 1960. This advanced programme also gave each athlete concerned the chance to way up the opposition and your handicap mark to see if it was worth while making the journey to that particular meeting.

I must admit I had my own doubts about taking part at this meeting when I first received my programme and saw the strong opposition I was against but by a twist of fate I had a change of heart because on Wednesday evening of that week on 22nd June 1960 I competed in the annual 'Gordon Proctor Memorial Shield' inter-club meeting at Newton Road Playing fields, West Bromwich against Sparkhill, Stourbridge, Dudley and host club West Bromwich Harriers. The outcome was I pulled off another great sprint double win in the 100 yards in 10.3 seconds and the 220 yards in 23.2 seconds respectively and with the rest of the Tipton team putting in some outstanding performances we again won the 'Gordon Procter Shield' this meeting gave my confidence a big boost and this is why I decided to compete at this meeting to defy all the handicap odds stacked against me and perhaps I once again surprise myself and do well.

More than 350 men and women athletes and cyclists had assembled to take part at this meeting. Representing more than 30 Midland athletic clubs and 25 cycling clubs, this was always a good foundation for any successful meeting and to get all those athletes onto the starting lines on a Sunday afternoon venue was indeed a great testament to the all round popularity of this Festival of Sport and to why it had survived all the great upheavals the country had witnessed in those 49 years.

After getting myself acquainted with the lay out of this well maintained 6 lane grass track I went through my usual ritual and reported my presence to the competitors' stewards and collected my vest number No 101 then off to get into my running kit. One very large marquee at track side was our only inadequate changing room accommodation which was almost bursting at the seams but cramped conditions weren't always the main problem. The worry was would our possessions still be intact on our return because the odd opportunist sneak thief that roamed these sports meetings had ideal conditions by whit to venture into our mostly unattended changing room tents and pilfer any likely valuable articles left behind in our trouser or jacket pockets but the trusting athlete concerned. But putting what might happen and what might not happen behind me I threaded my way down to track side and set about finding my other Tipton Harrier friends competing at this meeting. By the nature of the vast number of athletes present it took me some time before the familiar features of Joy and Glynnis Gray came into view with a smile that almost said 'it's nice to see you here' they were already dressed in their track suits ready for action and in the company of their father Mr W L Gray one of the Vice Presidents of Tipton Harriers and also Police Superintendent of the West Bromwich Police Force. Joy was also accompanied by her boyfriend and Tipton Harrier Raymond Chambers. This small group were the sole representatives of the Tipton Harriers club at this venue.

Joy and Glynnis were both contesting the opening event at 3 pm the Ladies 100 yards Handicap Race of which there were 7 heats. The time was now 2.30 pm so I broke off the chit chat and set about some serious warm up sessions with Joy and Glynnis because my first event was after their races. So it was a joint preparation session for all three of us.

Meeting gets underway at 3 pm

Two very nervous young ladies stood by me at trackside while they reeled off those first 5 heats of the Ladies 100 yards handicap races and knowing full well that second place would be no good in this event because only one heat winner went into the final. It was now time for Glynnis to face her demons as she stepped forward to come under the starting orders of Mr G McKeown but from the off set she raced without conviction and finished in a disappointing 4th place, winner M Easson (Birchfield Harriers) off handicap mark 12 yards, clocked 10.7 seconds.

Heat no 7 was Joy's race, off her handicap mark of 9½ yards she ran one of the best races of her life to beat some great runners which included international star Carole Quinton (Birchfield Harriers off 5½ yards) Joy's winning time 10.9 seconds.

Carole Quinton was the top British Sprinter over 80 metres hurdles during the 1960 season and went on to win a silver medal at the Rome Olympics at this event and this was the highest placing by a British athlete, man or women in any track or field event in Rome.

Final of Ladies 100 yards Handicap Race

Sorry to report that Joy couldn't re-produce her best form in the final and finish 4th but another young up and coming prodigy of British Athletics was to show her class her name Daphne Arden (Birchfield Harriers off her handicap of 9½ yards) she blazed down the 100 yards track to a great win from A Stevens (Coventry Godiva Harriers) an M Easson (Birchfield) winning time 10.4 seconds.

Men's 100 yards Handicap Heats and Final

It's sometimes a bit comforting to stand at track side and watch your friends go through the stress barrier like Joy and Glynnis did in their races and be in your own cosy little world for a short while before stepping onto centre stage and pitch myself against some very fine Midland Athletes. I was in Heat 2 of 7 heats of the Men's Handicap race and again only the winner progressed to the final. Called to our marks my 5 opponents all get set on their various handicap marks I was 7½ yards giving all but one runner a few yards start and today I was in great form when the pistol fired I was away like a bat out of hell and sprinted to a great win in 10 seconds dead.

The final was half and hour later which hardly gave us time to get our breath back but I was in great spirits because I had Joy and Glynnis rooting for me again. The seven finalists had all beaten some very talented sprinters to get into the final. I didn't feel any nerves as Mr McKeown brought us under starters orders. This race today wasn't for any slouchier with myself and J Jarvis (Birmingham University) giving the rest of the handicap runners a 2 yard start and would need all the help of my starting blocks to get me away to a fast start. All this went to plan as I sped away from my blocks but try as I may my gutsy performance wasn't good enough to make up the lost ground and in a three way blanket finish I just failed by a couple of feet to catch D Hawkeswood (Lozell Harriers) and J A Jarvis (Birmingham University) time 9.9 seconds. My prize for finishing third was a pair of cuff links with a tie pin in the shape of a jockey's whip the prize value of these was 21/- shillings.

Men's 220 yards Handicap Heats

Moving forward with my story many more handicap races, cycling events and works sports were squeezed into the gaps before my next race at 5 pm the opening heats of the Men's 220 yards handicap races. 50 top Midland club athletes contested 7 heats of this event with again only the winner of each race going into the final which meant another hard task ahead of me. Joy and Glynnis Gray had also taken part in the Ladies 220 yards handicap races prior to my event but found the competition to hot for them. So I was left to myself to uphold the proud tradition of Tipton Harriers in this Men's 220 yards race and it's really uncanny how some races stick fast in your memory banks to be reawakened. Well this particular race was one in question and I have more reason to remember this incident because I won the race.

In heat one of this event I was against one of my sprinting rivals Terry Gibson (Birchfield Harriers) and there was always some good friendly banter between the tow of us and this race was to be on exception. We were the two back markers in this handicap race off 13 yards and 15 yards respectfully and faced a hard task ahead of us giving many yards away to the front leading handicap runners. But when Mr G McKeowen sent us on our way we blazed past those other 6 runners with somewhat ease and raced side by side around the last bend and for one flickering moment we both subconsciously turned our heads and looked at one another and smiled and my jokingly reaction was to shout to him and say 'come on Terry can't you run any faster than that?' Whereon we turned way and both went flat out for the winning line and somehow I won the race by a couple of feet and a congratulary good natured handshake from Terry on winning the race all through the rest of may running career nothing like this episode ever happened again and this incident hadn't gone unnoticed because one of my uncles Cyril Bates from Cooksey Road, Small Heath, Birmingham (he was my Gran's sister's son and worked in the accounts department at Birmingham City Transport Offices which was a good reason for supporting this meeting) was one of the spectators sitting close by where the incident took place and called me over to him after the race and wanted to know what I had said to Terry Gibson. We both had a good laugh about it, he just couldn't believe what his eyes had witnessed in such a competitive race with so many people watching the event but like I said 'I have every reason to recall this race because I won in 22.5 seconds.

The 220 yards Handicap Final

The final of the 220 years handicap race was at 6 pm and what a classic race it turned out to be with J A Jarvis (Birmingham University) and myself the back markers. From the fun it was a case of playing catch up with the rest of the field and through the hustle and bustle of the leading runners we threaded our way past them until Jarvis and myself found clear track ahead of us to sprint out those remaining few yards to the winning line. I for one moment sensed victory but it was dashed by the sprinting power of J A Jarvis who was just too good for me and I lost by about one yard. But I was justly very proud of my day's performances the winning time was a superb 21.3 seconds which I clocking 21.4 seconds in third place was M G Jackson (Wolverhampton Harriers). For my gallant second place I was rewarded with a prize of a horse shoe shaped barometer to the value of 33/- shillings.

This afternoon had indeed been a day to savour my self doubts about competing had been unfounded I had learnt it pays to take a chance what fate deals you and with this in mind another interesting day of athletics had again passed into history. As I bid farewell to my Tipton Harrier friends at this meeting and last but not least a fond farewell to my Uncle Cyril from Small Heath on one of our very race chance meetings I left the sports ground with a feeling of satisfaction on a job well don. But now I faced the long wait in the bus queue for home and as ever feeling very tired and hungry.