Roy Langford - Article No.25 (07/10/2013)

Being crowned the official Tipton Harriers Sprint Champion for the second year running at the Club's Annual General Meeting on 5th May 1961, was a great milestone in my athletic career, and that trophy the Showell Cup I received now takes pride of place amongst my gran's most treasured possessions inside a showpiece glass cabinet in the front living room of No 5 Fairfield Road, Dudley.

When I last wrote about my performance at RAF Cosford's indoor meeting, running for the Midlands my health was far from ideal with a nasty cough and cold, but now with the winter blues and burdens cast off my shoulders, and with some warm sunshine at this time of the year, it heralded the onset of Spring with the trees and flowers all coming alive again, and with the distinct smell of new mown grass wafting under my nostrils, was a real fillip, as I get back into something like sprinting form again, sharing my training sessions with my mates John Brimble, Andy Fereday and young Dave Fereday and glad those long dark winter evenings running on the roads, were a thing of the past, now preferring the soft cultivated turf of the Vono Sports Group to ease out my training session with our sights set on the opening up of a new track season with the first local meeting getting underway on 22 May 1961 at Halesowen's Manor Abbey Sports Ground for the annual Whit Monday meeting. With John, Andy and myself the only male athletes from Tipton Harriers sending off any entry forms for the open handicap events at this meeting. But before I go into that meeting in more detail our last main hard training session together before that meeting took place on Thursday 18th May down the Vono under the watchful eyes of Stuart Williams our new club coach, who just recently started assisting John and Andy in some training sessions with myself tagging along to see if I could benefit from this training skills, and this evening he had mapped out our set training session which was 10 x 100 yards at near full speed, with just 10 minutes recovery time between each race, after we focussed our attention on some starting practice with Stuart at hand again, to give me a few technical tips on starting which was greatly appreciated.

Halesowen's Athletic and Cycling Club Annual Whit Monday Sports Meeting, Manor Abbey Sports Ground - 22nd May 1961 at 1.45 pm

This was my first visit to this Whit Monday Athletic meeting presided over by Halesowen Athletic Club, and the reason I attended this meeting was because I thought it would help sharpen up my sprinting form for the Worcestershire County Championships, which were only a couple of weeks away on Saturday 3rd June.

So on this overcast dull day, it had been our joint undertaking for the three of us (John, Andy and myself) to meet at Fisher Street Bus Station at approximately 12.30 pm to give us plenty of time for our journey to Halesowen and then that long walk down Manor Lane, arriving at the entrance to Manor Abbey Stadium we were greeted by the keen programme sellers, with each of us forking out 1/- for this booklet, we then took time out to see what time our races were booked for, we had just over an hour to prepare for our races, which started at 2.20 pm, with all three of us contesting the first event the Men's 100 yards Open Flat Handicap of which there were 3 heats.

Andy was drawn to run in Heat No 1 with this handicap start mark being 8 yards, which brought a smile to this face, no such some from John Brimble, fate had dealt him a bad draw in Heat No 3, he was pitched against myself and another top notch sprinter named J A Jarvis (Birmingham University) it didn't look promising for John with only two from each heat going through to the final, so a rather downcast John who trailed after me and Andy as we headed for the changing room, on the way collecting our all important vest numbers, mine was No 14.

The one certain fact about today's meeting the athletes were absolutely overwhelmed by the cyclists attending this meeting, the star event for them along with a host of cycling races was the British Cycling Federation National Junior Sprint Championship for 1961, nearly 100 cyclists contested this amazing event during the afternoon's proceeding, sorry I don't know who won the event, only that the winner was presented with a victor's Yellow Jersey and a silver gilt medal from the life president of Halesowen Athletic and Cycling Club, Mr Ron Smith (perhaps an eagle eyed Bugle reader will let us know who won this prestigious event).

Our 100 yards Handicap Heats

Going down into that hollowed out track at Halesowen still filled me with awe, with its lush carpet of green grass, looking in amazing condition for today's meeting, and with the usual hive of non stop activity going on by track officials, and the steep banked tarmac cycling track in constant use by the abundance of track cyclists warming up for impending races. But for me, John and Andy we had to try and blank out those distractions and think of our warm up session, as a glorified training session except for one small fact, there were a few thousand people in attendance to witness, ours and the rest of the competing athletes' private moments of preparing for our race.

There were 15 athletes contesting this opening Men's 100 yards Open Flat Handicap race, with 5 competitors in each hear, and the starter of today's races was Mr Stan Smith of Halesowen athletic club.

Ginger haired Andy was the first of our trio to come under starter's orders; off his handicap mark of 8 yards, he ran an excellent race to finish a close up second to A Billings (Portsmouth AC) his handicap mark a whopping 11 yards, winner time 10.1 seconds. Heat No 2 was won by O N Haitham (Lozell's Harriers) mark 5½ yards, with Michael Stowe (Birchfield) mark 6½ yards in second place time 9.9 seconds.

Heat No 3 brought together John and myself, I felt in good form, but wasn't good enough to beat top Birmingham University sprinter J A Jarvis off my handicap mark of 7 yards, and lost by inches, with my pal John Brimble a couple of yards back in fourth place and out of the final, winning time 10 seconds, great for me to be in another final.

(A passing thought just crossed my mind to think how quick 10 seconds passes by, so they this experiment by putting something inside the microwave for 10 seconds (i.e. warm up a cup of cold tea) and you can hardly move away a few steps before it rings out to signify it's done, this gives you a quite remarkable insight to how fast we are running that 100 yards race).

100 yards Open Flat Handicap Final

The final was at 2.45 pm, with a disappointing John Brimble watching from track side as we took up our set handicap marks on the starting line with those nervous pangs inside me wishing the race was over and don with, but again that's all part and parcel of being an athlete with the pressure such races put you under.

I shook hands with Andy wishing him the best of luck before settling down on our respective handicap marks, within a split second the starter's pistol was fired and we were heading down the track, with the brilliant power house sprinter J A Jarvis and N O Haitham getting away to a flying start, which to be honest caught me knapping and try as I may stood no change of catching them, as they blazed across the winning line a yard in front of me, I finished up in a disappointing third place, with Andy some yards back just holding on to 5th place, winning time 9.9 seconds.

The prize voucher value fore J A Jarvis winning this race was £7, my third place was worth a £1 prize voucher.

300 yards Open Flat Handicap Heats

Within 20 minutes of running in the final of the 100 yards, John, Andy and myself were warming up once again to tackle our next race the very competitive 300 yards Open Flat Handicap with 19 athletes contesting this 3 heat race and only the first two once again going into the final, this was my favourite distance and really fancied my chances to win this race. But I was up against some good opposition which included some top Midland club sprinters over this unusual 300 yards extended distance, and looking at the heat races, it seemed John had the hardest task of reaching the final. But never give up John ran a brilliant race off his handicap mark of 26 yards in Heat No 1, he finished second to J A Jarvis (Birmingham University) off 21 yards winning time 30.1 seconds, a smiling jubilant John Brimble was in the final in approximately 20 minutes time.

I contested Heat No 2 and up against 5 other very good club athletes, and was absolutely flying in my warm up sessions with Andy and John, and even though I was the back marker in my race off 21 yards, and giving my opponents a 3 to 9 yard start, I felt in confident mood to book my place into the final. But somehow when you least expect it, the long arm of fate was about to slap me down once again for being to cocky and underestimating the determination my rivals would go to, to stop me winning this race.

But all was calm as I watched my rivals take up their positions in front of me on their respective handicap marks (no starting blocks used) with A Billings (Portsmouth AC) way out in front of me off his handicap mark of 30 yards, the starter Mr Stan Smith then watches our every move as he regimentally calls get set, in one decisive movement he fires his pistol sending us tearing off around the track, with the magnificent crowd cheering our every stride, and it soon becomes apparent that I'm in for a tough race, because I was finding these opening races of the new track season hard work, it seemed my opponents had also put in a hard winter's training, it took me over 200 yards to pass 3 of my rivals leaving only Michael Stowe (Birchfield) and Roy Skinner (Sparkhill Harriers) between me and victory, but they weren't giving up easily, as I approached 250 yards mark I made my move to overtake them, but they moved out running as a team blocking my path on the outside land (in handicap races you are allowed freedom to run in any lane in track distances from 220 yards upwards) now panic bells were ringing out as the winning line gets closer and closer, with one last determined burst of speed I go for broke as a gap on the inside lane opens up, but as I went to run through the gap to pass Roy Skinner he moves over blocking my run, forcing me off the track for 4 or 5 strides, before I cut back in, to force my way past him to finish up in second place behind Michael Stowe (Birchfield) before the winning time was announced which was 30.6 seconds, I had a few heated words with both runners about their bad sportsmanship and thought the track officials would penalise them but low and behold it was me, who was disqualified for stepping off the track, I adamantly appealed against this verdict but to no avail, you could call this incident cheating, but that's too strong a word, I like to call it gamesmanship, these sort of tactics are something we have come to expect in modern day athletics.

Heat No 3. My disqualification had Andy all fired up for this race, and ran a brilliant race off his handicap mark of 26 years to defeat O N Haitham (Lozells Harriers) the back marker in this race off 17 yards, winning time 30.3 seconds, but one sad fact was my disqualification had stopped Andy, John and myself competing in our first ever open competitive race final against one another and this scenario would never present itself again in the rest of our athletic careers running for Tipton Harriers.

The Final of the 300 yards Handicap Race

Being left out of this 300 yards final was like having my heart torn out, because it meant so much to me, but this didn't stop me from wishing my Tipton mates all the best for this race, and at today's bumper meeting there must have been well over two thousand people transfixed by the drama of the afternoon's athletics and cycling events and at 3.30 pm on this afternoon my attention was solely focussed on the race that mattered the 300 yards Open Handicap Final, and it turned out to be a real humdinger and it was brilliant Birmingham University sprinter J A Jarvis who took the honours winning by about 3 yards from Michael Stowe (Birchfield) with a gallant Andy Fereday a close up third, poor John trailed in last, winning time 30 seconds dead.

My £1 prize voucher for finishing 3rd in the 100 yards handicap race won me a pair of gold plated cufflinks and tie pin, which were encased inside a shall shaped velvet lined red box.

I left the Halesowen sports ground that day a much wiser man and learnt one valuable lesson, you can never take anything for granted and you can never plan for the unexpected.