Roy Langford - Article No.19 (08/04/2013)

The 'Kempston Horticultural and Athletic Show', Addison Howard Park, Kempston, Bedfordshire - Saturday 13th August 1960 at 2.15 pm

From my own perspective with the 1960 track season drawing to an end, there had been a glowing light of hope and optimism at the end of a distant dark tunnel as far as my athletic career was going. I had done myself justice in most of my races and covered new ground (i.e. Worcestershire Championships) and beaten some very good athletes along the way, rated high in Midland athletic circles and today as I stood outside Tipton Harriers headquarters in Sedgley Road East, Tipton I had one more last throw of the dice before my track season finished with a meeting at Kempston in Bedfordshire. This meeting took place on Saturday 13th August 1960 and this would be my second venture to the popular Kempston Show. I was amongst a coach load of enthusiastic Harriers and friends who made the early morning start on the long journey to Addison Howard Park, Bedford.

This meeting last year had been a revelation to me, not only because I won the 220 yards Flat Open Handicap event against very tough opposition but because of the grand scale of show grounds covered and now as the coach entered the tree lined entrance to the show, my mouth once again gaped open in wonder at the trouble the organisers had gone to and match last year's brilliant show. It was nice to get off the coach and stretch our legs from the cramped sitting positions and take a look around the show and witness the opening up of the show to the public at 11 am by the President of the Show his Grace the Duke of Bedford and all the town dignitaries all trying to get in on the act. But it was the contestants in the various show classes of floral and vegetable arrangements that were the real stars of the horticultural show and like last year the athletic meeting run in conjunction with the show was the icing of the cake. Well I thought so anyway, and looking back it seems inconceivable that 12 months had rolled by again. Getting to the venue early gave our coach party a chance to soak up the atmosphere of the meeting with two hours to go before the meeting started in earnest at 2.15 pm.

Well over 250 men and women athletes and cyclists took part on this day leaving the changing room marquees bursting at the seams which defies belief but somehow we managed. My two chosen events for the meeting were the 100 yards and 220 yards Open Handicap races and they had all the right ingredients of being well contested races with over 30 athletic clubs from all over the country taking part at this meeting. My sprinting partners for this meeting were John Brimble who had one of his rare Saturday's off from work. John was competing in just one event the youth 100 yards Flat Scratch race and my two other companions for the afternoon's spring races were the two beautiful vibrant sisters Joy and Glynnis Gray who had ditched their boyfriends for the day to compete with me at this meeting. They were both competing in the Ladies 100 yards and 220 yards Open Handicap races and would duly be my constant companions for the afternoon and share in my warming up procedures which went almost hand in hand with our chosen events and give one another great moral support in our highs and lows during the afternoon meeting.

Meeting Gets Underway

My warming up session went well and it felt great to fee my spiked running shoes dig into this well manicured grass track and as usual the Men's 100 yards Open Handicap race opened up the start of the athletic programme at 2.15 pm. I was contesting Heat No 2 of 6 heats with only the winner sure of a place into the final with one fastest loser from the heats mating up a 7 man final. So I have to be on my best form when the starter Mr W Panter called us onto our handicap marks (mine was 7¼ yards) but before lining up I made sure my vest number 37 was securely pinned to my vest. I was like a coiled spring as I settled into my starting blocks and was up against 4 other talented athletes. When the pistol fired I was away like a pistol shot and sprinted to a 2 yard victory from D Stamford (Polytechnic Harriers) in 10.1 seconds. I had booked myself a place into the final.

Ladies 100 yards Open Handicap Heats

With my opening race victory it gave Joy, Glynnis and John a target to aim for and I hoped some of my luck would rub off me onto their shoulders.

Joy was the first of the sisters to take up her position on the starting line of heat one of three heats of the Ladies 100 yards Open Handicap race, Joy knew she had to finish in the first two to go forward into the final. She finished third, but it was mixed fortunes for the sisters because it was a cock-a-hoop Glynnis who came second in her race in heat 3 who took here place in the final.

John Brimble in heat no 1 of two heats of the 100 yards Youth Scratch race also made it to the final with a great determined third place position winner of his race R Seaton (Northampton and County) time 10.8 seconds.

Time Out

With our final 100 yard race being about an hour away, our little gang took some time out to wander around the show grounds but still every mindful and watchful of the time of our forthcoming races and also on our rounds meeting up with some of our road runners who were due off on their epic 10 miles road race at 4 pm with our travelling club officials Len Myerscough and Jim Bedford drafted in to act as road race stewards never a dull or moments rest for these dynamic duo.

Those 100 yards Finals

No matter how many times I've lined up in races that nervous tension which builds up before each race never goes away and today was no exception. Even Joy and Glynnis on the side lines cheering and shouting for me, you go into your own little shell to block out all distractions around you, but today when lining up for may 100 yards final handicap race, I was faced on the starting line by an athlete named Roger Slaughter an apt name for this 6ft 4 inch giant of an athlete who towered over his opponents. To me is was like that bible story about David facing Goliath, and to top all that he had nearly a two yard handicap mark race advantage over me, there's an old saying about the bigger they are the harder they fall we would soon see if that was the case, as the starter settled us won on our respective handicap marks. My mind then focussed on the race ahead of me with a split second we blasted off down the 100 yards straight I was up with the leaders as the crowd cheered us on every step of the way but after a great tussle I just failed to catch the local land Roger Slaughter (Bedford & County A.C.) who's long giant strides won him the race by inches from D G Tomlin (Skefca A.C.) with myself close on their heels in third place but for the handicap system in progress I could well have won this race, winning time 9.9 seconds, my prize token for this race was £1.

My fellow Tipton Harriers who had reached their finals were both out of luck – Glynnis Gray could only finish 5th in her 100 yards handicap race and John Brimble also fell by the wayside in his 100 yards scratch race final he finished 4th and his running was over for the afternoon. Glynnis and Joy like myself were out for revenge in our 220 yards Open Handicap races later on in the afternoon.

10 Mile Road Race

Another event to capture the interest of the vast crowd (not that they witnessed much of it) was the 'Kempston 10 Mile Handicap and Team event road race, which got underway at 4 pm, with 45 athletes going for the individual prize for this race of £7 worth of prize vouchers, with the rest of the field of 70 runners entered in the team events of which 11 teams did battle for the glory of winning the 'Kempston Perpetual Challenge Cup' and the medals that go with it if your team finished in the first three.

Tipton had two teams 'A' and 'B' entered like last year.

After one lap of the track they on mass sped out of the park grounds onto the roads of Bedfordshire, reports of their mile by mile progress was relayed back to the track by the Bedfordshire Civil Defence Corps Signals Section and it was never good news about my Tipton colleagues, the leading runners were running at just over 5½ minutes per mile pace and expected back at the sports ground before 5 pm and low and behold would you believe it, it was the blacked vested Birchfield Harrier Ian Brotherton who entered the sports ground first, looking as fresh as a daisy, closely followed by J Thorpe of St Albans City A.C. and in third place another Birchfield Harrier stalwart Bernard Browning way back in 15th place was Tipton's Welsh International wizard Ron Franklin in tow with our club captain Ken Rickhuss 17th and John Seven 19th place, with my mate Brian Boyce in 29th position making up the 'A' team placing. Making up the 'B' team were Tony Fern 26th, Roy Poultney 40th, Joe Gripton 41st and Peter Boxley 43rd. All great performances but not good enough for a top three placing and the medals which go with it, a lot of hard slogging with blistered feet and aching limbs with nothing to show for their endeavours but the pride and knowledge of finishing this gruelling 10 mile course.

Ladies 220 Yards Heats and Final

While the 10 mile road race was unravelling itself around the Bedfordshire countryside, I was involved in my own little drama doing my utmost to boost some confidence back into my two companions Glynnis and Joy Gary as we prepared for our next escapade the 220 yards Open Handicap races.

The Ladies 220 yards was the first to get under the starting orders of Mr W A Panter with Glynnis very nervously taking up her place on her handicap mark of 20 yards in heat number one of three heats, the rules still applied she needed to finish in the first two but fate wasn't smiling down on Glynnis today, she failed to produce any sort of real form to finish 5th which waved goodbye to her running afternoon. This failure by her sister made Joy even more determined to do well in her handicap mark of 19 yards around the furlong race to a brilliant victory beating P Westlay (Coventry Godiva Harriers) by one yard in 25.9 seconds and into the final. Half an hour later Joy somehow failed to reproduce this form and sadly finished 4th in the final beating by J Tagg (Norwich & Norfolk A.C.) in 24 seconds off her handicap mark of 20 yards.

Men's 220 Yards Open Handicap Heats and Final

As I took up my position on the bend of the 220 yards track on my handicap mark of 14 yards, I knew I was in for a tough race with 3 of my five opponents having a five yard handicap placing in front of me. This was heat no 4 of 6 heats and again the rules were only the winner of each heat and fastest loser went into the final, I had been looking forward to this race all afternoon which I knew was my best event, being the winner of this race last year, helped boost my confidence and with Joy and Glynnis cheering me on from track site what more motivation could I ask for.

With Mr Panter the starter calling us to take our positions on the starting line, it was one last check by the track stewards to see if our splayed fingers were behind our handicap marks with the all clear, it over to the starter, one ear deafening bank from the starter pistol sends us off tearing around the bend of the track, I soon made good headway on the three leading runners and with some what ease after 200 yards I coast to victory by 3 yards from M Stonecliffe (Coleridge A.C.) in 22 seconds and I still had plenty of energy in reserve for the final in 40 minutes time.

220 Yards Final

With the clock slowly ticking down to my 220 yards final it gave me some reflective time to realise how fortunate I was to perform at these top class well organised and attended meetings and for myself to reach another final and know I had more than a passing outside chance of winning the race, but it also takes real nerves and determination to undergo such pressure which I was about to face now as I took up my position on the starting line with my 6 opponents and yet again do battle with the talented giant athlete Roger Slaughter (Bedford & County A.C.) it was David versus Goliath scenario act two all over again and as fate would decree the two fastest qualifiers for the final. A nod of the head and a wry smile to one another said it all with the acknowledgement and respect of our sprinting abilities, the track stewards were very meticulous in checking off our correct handicap placings, and today I had to perform to my brilliant best to overcome this line up, because the handicapping system gave all but one of these finalists a 5 yard start over which, which included Roger off 19 yards to my 14 yards this is why these unique races were so unpredictable and exciting for the watching crown and for the athletes to take part in.

The crowd suddenly goes silent as the starter calls get set onto our marks (no starting clocks used in sprint races over 100 yards) my nerves are held in check before the pistol fires loud and clear into my ear drums, those first few desperate strides away from our handicap marks are so vital for me to make headway and close down the 5 yards lead my opponents held over me, with great hope and aspirations of victory resting on my shoulders on my last race of the outdoor season, I race around the curve of the 220 yards track like a man possessed before me in the home straight 6 athletes all striving to win the race, but each knowing only one of us would take home the spoils of victory and I desperately wanted that athlete to be me. With the crowd shouting and cheering us on, my efforts were reawakened with one last great turn of speed which catapulted me past the tail enders, leaving only the giant form of Roger Slaughter blocking my way to victory and one of the best wins of my athletic career, suddenly the gap closes as Roger falters and I'm running alongside him matching stride for stride in the desperate sprint for the finishing line we cross the line almost together and both sink to our knees in exhaustion all sense of who had won the race was all lost as we both take in big gulps of air into our busting lungs. After a few minutes we are able to take in our surroundings and shake hands on a brilliant race, another few anguished minutes pass before the track judges deliver their verdict it was the local lad Roger they deemed the winner by a couple of inches some how I think a fair result would have been a dead heat, my one consolation was the fantastic time the race had been run in, both clocked 21.1 seconds what an incredulous race to finish off my track season.

With my racing over for the afternoon and with no other Tipton Harrier involved in any more events the curtain came down on a memorable afternoon of athletics my last remaining duty was to collect my £4 worth of prize vouchers and head for the prize tent, which was adjacent to our changing room tents. Glancing around the prize stall my eyes focussed on a small transistor radio bound in a red leather case and with batteries included, this was the prize I chose which luckily slotted into my £4 worth of vouchers and with no other Tipton Harrier up for a prize at the meeting the least I could do was to share my prize with some music to listen to on the long journey home.