Roy Langford - Article No.22 (08/07/2013)

After my intrepid athletic performance at the last two indoor athletic meetings at RAF Cosford on 1st and 29th November 1960, I should have been really looking forward to my Christmas festive holiday break from my place of employment at Ewarts Ltd, Burnt Tree Works, Dudley and this allied with a rest from my manic training sessions I was feeling on top of the world but somehow the hand of fate is always waiting around the corner to throw a spanner in the works. The depressing news was a statement from the Ewarts management in an act worthy of the Charles Dicken's character Ebenezer Scrooge was to tell its workforce just two days before breaking up from work to enter into the Yuletide spirit of Christmas by announcing there would be over 40 redundancies in the New Year spread across its workforce because of the current recession in the motor car trade. Ewarts fortunes revolved mostly around the motor car parts accessories business of which they were a main supplier to nearly all the car industry. This bombshell news was a real Christmas cracker bonus to mull over during that holiday period.

Getting back into training again

Still with the uncertainty of redundancy hanging large over my head during Christmas I tried my hardest to put aside my undue worries and set about my first real training session which took place on New Years Day Sunday 1st January 1961, this was the first chance I'd had of meeting up with my running mates for nearly two weeks my aim was to get back into some serious training for the forthcoming indoor athletic meeting at RAF Cosford on 17th January and today our easing back into training was limited to a 6 mile walk, run and jog race in the bleak mid winter settings of Tipton's Victoria Park. This gave us a change to blow away the cobwebs after our Christmas festivities, but we did indulge ourselves in some sprint practice races, but this was for the sole purpose of being captured for posterity on 8 mm colour film with John Brimble's movie camera it would be rather intriguing to see that film again after all these years.

Back to Work Again

Started back to work on 3rd January 1961, only to be greeted on my walk to work by the first snow fall of the New Year, and inside work there was an even chillier atmosphere brewing with all the chit-chat focussed about the impending redundancy notices which had an unsettling effect over the whole structure of the Ewarts workforce.

To get away from the doldrums of these such problems after work, I went for a training session down the Vono Sports Ground with one of my footballing work mates Johnny Hartland a young keen member of the Vono football team. We went on a 6 mile or so road run with my Tipton long distance running mates Bill Carr and Eric Silk and praise to them again for this included those usual madcap sprint races thrown in to boost up our already over taxed heart rate and all praise again to my young perplexed mate John Hartland who wasn't used to putting so much effort into a training session but fair do's he showed real guts and determination by completing the hard gruelling work out but this I'm sorry to report was John's one and only training session with us. I think he somehow preferred a more casual approach to keeping fit, but I stuck by my guns with my usual hard road runs with my Tipton mates with the full knowledge that there is a certain sort of insanity about being a dedicated athlete with the great obsession the power of running has over you by not wanting you to miss any training sessions no matter what state of your well being and my point in case was that I went of a full Thursday evening training session on 12th January feeling unwell with the onset of a nasty cough and cold coming on, putting my health at risk prior to running at Cosford next Tuesday evening on 17th January but as I said 'all sense of sensibility is lost in your strife for true fitness which I'm sure rings a bell with most athletes with the hypnotic effect running has over you' .

Unlucky for some – Friday 13th January

Next day I went to work with my cough and cold feeling much worse and rather regretted my foolish decision to participate in last night's training session, but within a few hours of being at work my cold symptoms would be the least of my troubles, because the Ewarts Works management with a cruel sense of timing had decided to announce the list of those names made up for redundancy on the afternoon of Unlucky Friday the Thirteenth of January.

I luckily escaped the chop but my best mate at the time Ronnie Darlow and Bill (The Bookie) Higginson were two of the main people out of over 40 people. I remember losing their jobs, Bill was a bookies runner a real large than life character who was kept busy during some parts of his working day collecting in and paying out horse racing bets, the presence of this friendly and likeable bloke would be sadly missed by all the horse racing pundits at Ewarts.

A Moments Thought

What's life at work got to do with being an athlete a person not in tune with athletics reading this story might ponder over the question, well all circumstances in life play a small part in one's well being because any form of undue stress has a knock on effect on your physical health in general plus your mental state of mind which has everything to do with how you perform on the athletics track.

Sunday 15th January

My niggling cough and flu like symptoms seemed to reach its peak by Sunday and all thoughts of getting in one more training session before Tuesday's Cosford meeting was out of the question.

Cosford Indoor Meeting – 17th January 1961

John Brimble was again the main driving force at booking our places to run at Cosford but only four Tipton Harriers from all the star studded talent the club possessed at that time thought it worth while making that journey which included myself, John Brimble and two young middle distance runners Doug Fownes and Tony Birkett a sad sorry state of affairs from such a famous club. On that Tuesday afternoon, I decided to leave work early and had a works pass out from my affable charge hand Jack Ball, this manoeuvre would allow my grandmother (Susan Woodall) the chance to prepare me a light meal before setting out on my journey to Wolverhampton on the No 58 trolleybus. There I met up with my Tipton colleagues, the coach which had been booked to take us to Cosford was sadly lacking in body numbers this evening and the usual feeling of high spirits at attending one of these meetings was rather subdued on tonight's journey. We arrived at the RAF base at 6.15 pm and was met by Military Policy who guided our coach driver by the headlights of their vehicles to a giant aircraft hanger which skirted the airfield landing strip. Stepping off the coach we entered this vast aircraft hanger with a multitude of lights blazing down from its high rafters and my first reaction was 'Blimey it's a good job the Ministry of Defence is paying the electric bill for this lot and not the athletes'. Then even my troublesome niggling cough seemed to be on hold for a short while as I gaped opened mouthed at the vast scale this new theatre of indoor athletics covered. In the centre of the arena there was marked out on the solid concrete floor a 4 land athletic track with one circuit of the track measuring 250 yards and some but not me the added bonus of no tight bends, so each sprint event from 150 yards to 440 yards could not be run in lands, thus doing away with the pushing and shoving which was part and parcel of this event in the old gymnasium which from my point of view added to the excitement of those races. But the main new feature down one side of the hanger taking pride and place in the history of British Athletics (Now Perhaps Forgotten) a 6 land track had been marked out which would enable the RAF promoters to stage the first full 100 yards indoor event in World Athletic History.

But before trotting off to get into our training gear to try out the track John, Doug, Tony and myself must first of all check in with the track stewards and collect our important vest numbers and check what time our races were scheduled for. The one big shock for John Brimble was that he was competing against me in about one hours time in Race (C) of the men's 440 yards event, this didn't go down very well with John, but I'm quite sure he would be doing his utmost to beat me if our training sessions where anything to go by.

Doug Fownes and Tony Birkett on the other hand were in separate one mile races and were the last two events scheduled for this evening's meeting so for all four of us it was a case of relaxing and soaking up the atmosphere before our race were called. With all the newspaper hype about this meeting it was a sad fact that only about 50 athletes turn up for this prestigious meeting with only one top class male international athlete taking part and that was the incomparable Barry Jackson (Lazell's Harriers) a great ambassador for these Cosford meetings. The absence of top class male athletes was a big let down for the enthusiastic crowd assembled here and my one hope was would it still conjure up the same warm atmosphere of the old gymnasium because there were lingering doubts already manifesting in my mind even before having my warm up session on the track, but this might be because my health is far from ideal to be performing at tonight's meeting.

Daphne Arden's Great 100 yards Race

The meeting got off to a flying start at 7 pm and it was rather befitting that one of Britain's rising young sprint stars should have the honour with her four opponents to be the first in athletic history to run in a 100 yards indoor race, and she didn't let the cheering crowd down as she flew down that 100 yards flat straight to victory and into athletic history as the first person to win an indoor 100 yards race beating two other ground breaking runners A Batson (Redditch A.C.) and K Davies (Small Heath Harriers) into second and third places respectively. Daphne's winning time 11.2 seconds. I look back now and wonder if this time was ever classified as a World Indoor record, but I suppose the underlying question is did the organisers have top grade time keepers in action that evening to me it's just a thought worth pondering over.

With the crowd now restless for more action, the next big race up was the Men's 880 yards race in which Wolverhampton's young brilliant runner Roger Hughes was to take centre stage. He ran a great well judged tactical race to outwit and outsprint the very promising junior athlete Robert Izon's (Lazells Harriers) to the finishing line winning by 4 yards but in the modest time of 2 minutes 1.6 seconds. Another race to wet the appetite of the spectators was the Men's 100 yards spring race in the absence of Peter Radford his mantle was taken over by Dave England the Small Heath sprinter he was in devastating form beating international runner Barry Jackson by one yard in 10.3 seconds, in third place Roger Impett (Birchfield Harriers).

440 Yards Race

My event this evening was the dreaded 440 yards race, but this race is all good training for my best event the 220 yards. My pre-race warm-up session for this quarter mile race was far from ideal with my cough playing havoc with my breathing but on the other side of the fence John Brimble was in great sprinting form and his confidence must have been sky high and deep down inside he must have thought 'I ca beat Roy tonight'.

Race (A) was the first of three 440 yards races to come under starters orders and that honour was bestowed on Olympic athlete Barry Jackson who although not up against the top quality opposition he would win this excellent quarter mile in fine style beating Jack Cole (Halesowen) by a couple of yards in a fast time for this concrete tract of 51.3 seconds.

Race (B) was won by A Matthews (Small Heath Harriers) winning time 55.4 seconds.

With those two great races out of the way it was time for my race (Race C). I now faced my three worthy opponents which of course included my mate John Brimble, he was like a cat on hot bricks with nervous tension and I just thought what the hell am I doing here, feeling so down in the dumps, I should be at home tucked up in bed with a hot water bottle.

But here I was ready to perform to the best of my ability under these trying circumstances. The crowd falls into silence as the starter bids us to get in our starting lanes, no starting blocks used at tonight's meeting and rule is we must adhere to our set land positions for the whole 440 yards race or risk being disqualified. With that extra thought in mind, the starter's pistol is fired and away we surge on this leg sapping race, there's no holding John as he sets off at a cracking pace and heads into a good lead after one lap (250 yards) with myself and D Cutler fighting it out for second place. John had really set the cat amongst the pigeons with this brave effort, but approaching 300 yards his race tactics were blown apart as he struggles to maintain his lead and over the last 100 yards I pass him to take up the lead with D Cutler close on my heels pushing me all the way to the finishing line. I win by about 4 yards with a somewhat gallant but exhausted John tailed off some 12 yards back in third place. It was another win for me but it is only my basic fitness which got me through this evening's meeting, my winning time was 55.6 seconds with John clocking 57 seconds.

While I got my breath back from this race it started a coughing fit which brought me to my knees at trackside. Then all of a sudden I felt a reassuring hand on my shoulder with the words spoken akin to a school master, 'are you alright Langford' turning around and looking up it was top Midland Coach, Bill Marlow, who had uttered these words. A bit taken aback I breathlessly replied 'not really sir, I've had this nasty cough for over a week' and under my breath thought only my stupid pig headiness had brought me along to this meeting tonight. Bill's reply was 'anyway get well soon, and get that cough seen to and get fit for the next meeting in February ok Langford'. I thought that's very strange for Mr Marlow to ask about my health because this was the first time he had spoken to me. I wonder why he made that point about getting fit for the next meeting, the mystery will be solved in my next story.

Tipton's One Mile Hopefuls

The last two events to grace this evening of athletics were the A and B race one mile events. The crowd had witnessed and been entertained with some great races this evening now it was the last throw of the dice for the one milers to show their worth.

The opening mile race was won by my mate from Bilston Town Harriers the always smiling Wilf Aston, his finishing power on the last lap gave him a 5 yard victory over my Tipton colleague Doug Fownes with Michael Whittaker in third place, winning time an excellent 4 minutes 30.8 seconds. The curtain call one mile race was full of action with Bilston's Brian Butler the star of the race. This egotistic flamboyant runner was always worth watching and this evening's race was not exception, producing a fantastic gutsy performance on the last lap to almost snatch victory from out of nowhere from Tom O'Reilly (Small Heath) when be matched O'Reilly stride for stride over the last 200 yards but had to concede victory by an hairs breath, and both given the same time of 4 minutes 44.2 seconds. Our Tipton mate Tony Birkett was pushed right into the shade by those two courageous athletes to finish third.

My Thoughts on Tonight's Meeting

Even with another victory under my belt I was glad to turn my back on this evening's meeting and I also knew from this one race the new venue would have less appeal to me it had somehow lost the comfort zone I had felt inside the old gymnasium for me the magic and soul had been taken out of the Cosford meetings. But again the underlying purpose of these meetings was to make our winter training less tedious and with that thought in mind I would be back supporting these future meetings.