Roy Langford - Article No.2 (07/11/2011)

Halesown Athletic and Cycling Club, (Sixth) Annual Sports Day, Manor Abbey Sports Ground, Halesowen - Saturday 6 August 1955

This sixth annual August Sports Meeting was to become something rather special in the history of Halesowen A&C Club, because it was to be the ‘First Introduction’ of the ‘Sir Harry Vincent Memorial Cup’ an Inter-Club event with the winners holding the cup for 12 months.

The cup was presented to the club by Mr Eric Vincent one of the sponsors of this meeting who owns the ‘Blue Bird’ toffee factory in Hunnington about a mile from the sports stadium.  It was hoped in the foreseeable future that an athletic programme of international class would be built around it, but for his particular day would have to make do with such teams as: Coventry Godiva Harriers, Wolverhampton Harriers, Birchfield, Small Heath and Tipton Harriers.

Prize money values for this grand meeting was 1st place £2, second £1, 3rd 10/-.

Roy Langford (Tipton Harrier) 1955 to 1964

Memories what would we do without them, sometimes they are a bit frayed around the edges, but its comforting to look back at past events in one’s life and reflect, and this is where I’m going back to my first athletic meeting at Halesowen’s Sports Ground and when life to me seemed less hectic.

Destination Manor Abbey Sports Ground

My recollection of that day on Saturday 6th August 1955 was of walking to Dudley carrying my sports holdall which was extremely heavy, due to the fact that inside was my first set of metal starting blocks.  I had purchased the previous week from Jimmy Mullens shop in Wolverhampton and something I was already regretting with the weight of them.

When Jim Bedford our club official gave me the news that I was representing the club at Halesowen on Saturday I never thought to ask him the location of the sports ground.  So when I arrived at Fisher Street bus station and found the bus shelter for Halesowen, my first step on the platform of the bus was to ask the ticket collector, if the destination of the bus went anywhere near Manor Abbey Stadium, he said ‘yes’ but the nearest drop off point was at the top of Manor Lane, and about a 20 minute walk to Manor Abbey Stadium.

As the bus proceeded on its slow journey to Halesowen it seemed from the general conservations by the people around me that most of them were heading for the sports meeting and looking forward to a great afternoon’s entertainment.

Soon my Journey came to an end at Manor Lane with the mass exodus of bus passengers, greeting us on the grass verge was a large poster advertising the sports meeting with an arrow pointing down the lane in the direction we should follow to Manor Abbey.  The lane was very narrow with only enough room for two cars to pass one another, now I knew why the land wasn’t conducive for the use of heavy vehicle traffic and no bus route to the stadium.

This tranquil country setting with fields and hedgerows on either side of the road, took the steady procession of people of all ages, interlaced with many cyclists and cars carrying bicycles on there roof racks and some strapped on the back of the car boots all going in one forward direction towards Manor Abbey.

My sports holdall was getting heavier by the minute and very glad when I saw the turn off for the sports complex.

Along a steep driveway led you up to the gated entrance to the sports ground, and in a flash the programme sellers were upon me and the rest of the crown entering the stadium.  I didn’t have to pay an entrance fee because I was a competitor.

I opened up my programme before going a step further because I wanted to see my name printed in a sports programme for the first time, and to my dismay they had entered my name as J Langford instead of R Langford.

With that disappointment over I then stepped forward before me in an hollow stood the stadium an awesome sight like a Roman gladiatorial arena with its steep banked tarmac cycling track and the lush green turf of the six lane running track, also the elevated seating accommodation which surrounded the whole stadium, and there were already hundreds of spectators staking claim to their seats all around the ground.  Also quite a few marquees and tents were also in place on the grass embankments for the use of either athletes or cyclists.

On the boundary of the Stadium was a farm dwelling with two large barns, and close by it the ruins of the Old Manor Abbey from which the sports ground got its name.

Getting ready for my first race at Halesowen

In the left corner of the sports ground was Halesowen’s Club Headquarters and changing room complex for club members and competitors, and that’s where I made my way to with the time approaching 1.30 pm.  I changed into my running kit, then reported to the track steward Mr J Price to collect my track vest number which was 138.

My first event was in heat one of the men’s 100 yards Scratch Race at 2.10 pm.

I was joined in my warm up session for this race by Ken Rickhuss one of the leading athletes at Tipton Harriers, for some moral support as I hadn’t got to know many club members with this being only my second outing for the Harriers, Ken was a versatile runner over distances from 880 years to 2 miles on the track and a great cross country runner for Staffordshire.

I think I might have over done the warming up session with Ken, because when my race came around at 2.10 pm I had lost some of the spring in my leap, and even with the help of starting blocks for the first time, I could only finish 4th in my heat, race won by John Robinson (Small Heath Harriers) who went on to win the final in 10.6 seconds.  John Robinson was a very good technical sprint coach at Small Heath Harriers.

Throwing the Javelin

Before running my second race in the 220 yards heats at 3 pm, for a bit of fun I decided to enter for the javelin to pass the time away, because our club representative Brendon Twanley hadn’t turned up for this event, and I knew I would at least finish in third place because only three of us reported to the Stewards for this event.  We only had three throws, my best throw was over 130 feet but I over stepped the line and was disqualified for that throw.  My best legal throw was 110 feet 2 inches.  Winner was R Platt (Wolverhampton Harriers) with 136 feet 6 inches his prize was a £1 prize voucher.

Ken Rickhuss wins 880 yards race

My track warm up session with Ken must have been of some value to him, even if it wasn’t in my case, for Ken had a great two lap victory in the half mile event, being lead all the way round the track by D Jones and F Turner (Wolverhampton Harriers) the two lads pushed the pace along and raced as a team in alternating the lead between themselves, but in the home straight Ken had enough strength in his legs to out sprint them to the winning line, in a good time for a grass track of 1 minute 56 seconds.

My failure in my 220 yards race

My next race at 3.05 pm was in heat 2 of the 220 yards sprint race.  I warmed up on my own because Ken Rickhuss was still getting his breath back after winning his race.  My legs now felt ok again and I expected to run well over my favourite distance.  I used my starting blocks again, and got off to a good start, but again I just wasn’t quick enough and was beaten by a couple of yards by seasoned campaigners John Robinson and Peter Graham (Wolverhampton) and came n third – time 24 seconds.

The final of the 220 yards at 3.30 pm was won in convincing style by the great Wolverhampton Sprinter John Hodson, runner up was J Manton (Godiva H) with John Robinson in third place – time 23.2 seconds.

880 yards Junior Inter-Club Race

Tipton Harriers could be justly proud of their young half mile runner, R Williams in this race with a field of 13 runners, he let the rest of the field do all the donkey work and lead the race, only to pounce on the leading runners in the last 30 yards to win a great race from M Catton and C Preece (Wolverhampton H) time 2 minutes 2.4 seconds.

Classic 440 yards sprint final

The 440 yards final was won by Ron Taylor (Halesowen AC) a brilliant easy relaxed runner who seemed to glide over the running track and make the gruelling 440 yards race look so easy to run, his winning time was 52 seconds, runner-up was I Ransom (Wolverhampton H) and F Hicks (Birchfield) third.

Prize value for winner race was 30/-

This brilliant day’s sport finished at 5.30 pm but I couldn’t close the pages on this story without paying tribute to the brave racing cyclists who performed for our entertainment that afternoon.  I was fascinated by the cycling events with the great risks that they took when racing so close together when going flat out around the steep embankment.  I had likened the Stadium as a Roman gladiatorial arena, and the cyclists were a sort of gladiator with their protective head and elbow gear on, but they lived to tell the tale and race again after they split their blood on the track from the many pile ups they had during the afternoon’s meeting.

The 'Sir Harry Vincent Memorial Cup' was won by Wolverhampton Harriers.