It Was Great In '48 (16/03/2021)

This article was written by the late Brian Boyce for a celebratory document published by the Club in the early 1970's. It looks back at the time he joined the Club back in 1948.

Quite recently I found myself reflecting on what the club was like when I joined it and what attracted me to the club and the sport. I thought that it might be of interest to our younger members if I jotted down a few things that come to mind and possibly raise memories and a touch of nostalgia for our older members.

I was first persuaded to visit the club one wet and windy night in October 1948 by some pals from Dudley Grammar School where I had had a few runs purely to “skive” out of less convenient activities. I came insisting and believing that I would have an occasional run to keep fit and did not want to run in any races. It took about a fortnight to change my mind.

In those days the Club Headquarters were very well preserved, even the fence was intact. Inside was a haven of warmth, with a full pipe and radiator heating system working. This became a casualty of frost in later years. The club was our own then of course and the large room was lined by green canvas seated chairs, the linoleum shone, and the walls were covered with photographs of past teams. Even the piano was in tune in those days.

Training then was limited to Tuesday and Thursday evenings and Saturday afternoons if there was no race. Sunday morning or daily training was unknown, except possibly to Jack Holden who was starting to emulate Zatopek in this training programme which everyone regarded as fantastic.

Everyone arrived more or less together around 7.30 for the sessions at the club which were very communal affairs. As soon as all were changed they would gather round the doorway ready to move off in one or two packs. Occasionally a late-comer would dash in and change frantically while the gang waited and rained a succession of ribald comments on him.

The mileages covered were generally less than we do now, and the most used courses were the 3 mile “Cardiff” course, Ocker Hill or the Priory. As the longer cross country races came on the seniors would venture round Eve Lane (7 miles) and more occasionally round Sedgley (8 miles).

As the war had not been over all that long things like track suits and running shoes were very few and far between and most of us trained in sweater and pumps (plus the other basic kit). Adidas had not yet introduced their first brown road shoe and the gear in cross country shoes were ugly black creations with a strap round the ankle. I remember one could borrow some horrible navy blue garments like battledress blouses from the cupboard and also woollen gloves for cold nights. The substitute for track pants on a cold night was a circulation stimulating rub on the legs with a pair of massage gloves which had fine rubber needles all over the palm.

The increase in personal affluence today strikes one in looking back like this. There were very few cars in the club then and the cycle shed was used by people like Joe Gripton (before he became Treasurer). Less fortunate members like Ken Rickhuss progressed slowly from cycle to motorcycle before getting up to the now accepted standard.

The youths section which I became part of was looked after by an AAA Coach, Sim Whitehouse who built up a team and club spirit among those lads which was never recaptured until Bert Harbach began to mould our present youths section. Incidentally it was about this time that Bert came on the scene with a reputation for running the legs off everyone at Dudley Tech, but the appearance of this frail studious looking lad belied his ability (he had not taken up body-building at this time). Seriously though, I think that it was this tremendous atmosphere of the club that were the main reasons for one being ‘bitten by the big’.

After training, if one had stiffness or injury he could take a massage on the table from the late Jack Baker, the Trainer. This grand old chap was a founder member of the club and besides stoking the boiler, cleaning and polishing and acting as a very astute handicapper, he rubbed many a bottle of his own secret embrocation into tired limbs. He was one of the last of the old time trainers who appeared on team photographs with a towel over one arm like a second to a prize fighter. I always remember his pride in his very close association with Jack Holden, and the way he described some of the exploits of “Johnny” as he called him.

As now, the club had many characters. One whom I now remember only as Jack, which was always selling raffle tickets for club funds for some mystery prize,. which usually turned out to be Pigs Puddin’, Pigs Feet or Tripe from Palethorpes where he worked. There was the late George Law who did fantastic vaults over the table lengthways and could still do so into middle age. Our Tommy Brookes was then a useful road runner who would take an imaginary dog away to the Manchester to Blackpool. Jim Bedford was a near international class cross country man, and there were also others like Tommy Wilkinson who lost an eye in the war, Don Pardoe, Stan Dean (Ed. His son now runs for Warley A.C.) and Irish International, Brendan Twamley. We also had English internationals Jack Corfield, Arthur Cole and junior international, Joe Timmins, who were not above giving advice to younger members.  

I couldn’t finish without mentioning Jack Corfield whom I admired as a fine champion and a true sportsman. One of his two mile efforts on a grass track made him fastest in Europe at one stage in 1949 with a time of 9.00.5. An example of his sportsmanship was when a team which I ran in won the Staffordshire Junior Mile Medley Relay by a good margin. We were very elated at first, only to be informed that we were disqualified for a faulty baton change. We were bitterly disappointed and this must have been noticed by Jack. When we next went to the club, he presented us with four staffs “Gold” medals, identical to the ones we would have won, which he must have collected by winning Staffs Senior Championships.

If you think that we are mad now, what about Brendan Twamley and Sim Whitehouse who, after a fall of snow one Saturday afternoon, leaping from a hot bath, went out and rolled in the snow in the car park.

I feel really ancient writing in this vein but there must be many others who can go back a lot further and perhaps I shall inspire someone to describe things before my time – it should make interesting reading.

In conclusion, to all this I would just add that we still have a great Club Spirit. We have our share of characters, and performances and opportunities have improved immeasurably.