Roy Langford - Article No.5 (06/02/2012)

Dupont Group Sports Day, Revo Sports Ground, Tividale - Saturday July 6th 1957

This meeting took place on the famous Revo Sports Ground, Tividale. Why famous you may ask, well Revo Electric were one of the foremost manufacturers of street lighting in the country and many other electrical appliances, but it was the early development of floodlights which became a new innovation for football grounds and Revo played their part and became on of the first football ground in the country to install floodlights in the early 1950s.

Dupont Group Sports Day would be the only sports day of its kind ever held in conjunction with other group members such as – Revo Electric, Ewarts Ltd, Vowles Brothers, Vono and London Works – some very well known works committee members in charge that day were – Jack Dalloway (Revo), George Woodhall (Ewarts) and George Price, Norman Page, George Osell (all Vono). Jack Dalloway was Clerk of the Course for this meeting with those two great Tipton Harriers stalwarts Jim Bedford and Len Myerscough in demand again as umpire marksman.

Local athletic clubs taking part were – Oldbury, Tipton, Halesowen, Bilston, Birchfield, Sparkhill, Stafford, Wolverhampton, Small Heath etc etc in all 16 athletic teams took part in this meeting.

Pride at Stake

Two young dedicated athletes who worked in the pipe department at Ewarts Ltd had been looking forward to this meeting for weeks and under some pressure to perform well, because they ran for two famous local athletic clubs. So with this in mind and our pride at stake we had put in the necessary hard training sessions as not to make fools of ourselves in front of our families, friends and workmates who were attending the meting that afternoon. The two young athletes in question were Marlene Taylor (Dudley Harriers) and Roy Langford (Tipton Harriers). It turned out to be a day that neither of us would forget.

A Carnival Atmosphere

My journey to the Revo Sports Ground from home didn't take me long with the aid of the West Bromwich No 74 bus to Tividale. The short walk then up Walford Street gained me entrance to the sports ground, where the sound of music from the Revo Brass Band filled the air and gave it a carnival type atmosphere. The bank were in a practise session under its musical director Mr Harry Heyes and getting themselves in tune for a performance on the afternoon's programme.

The stewards opened up the sports ground to the public at 1.30 pm. It was now 1.45 pm and I was struck by the vast amount of people in there summer finery milling around the many side shows on display.

I was there of course for the athletic meeting which started at 2.30 pm.

But if you didn't fancy watching athletics there were plenty of other distractions going on inside the sports ground. For instance a Baby Show at 3 pm to be judged by one doctor and two nurses, that would have been a very difficult task to perform and I wouldn't have liked to have been in their shoes that day with every mother thinking their baby was the most beautiful and bonniest on show.

Also at 3 pm a Tennis and Bowls competition was due to start which meant a long afternoon's work for the club officials in charge of these events.

Another event which drew my attention was the Dog Show, and this was very much in evidence with the amount of dogs present with their proud owners.

The Dog Show of which there were 10 different categories to enter but it was the last event which caught my eye in the programme quote 'Any variety Dog or Bitch with the waggiest tail' the mind boggles at that event.

One particular dog owner caught my eye; he was a grey haired gentleman, with the very recognisable face. It was none other than the Tipton Harrier legend Jack Holden still looking marvellous, fit and trip and now 50 years old. He was in the process of taking one of his favourite breed of dogs, the Staffordshire Bull Terrier for a constitutional walk around the sports ground. But Jack being so popular didn't seem to make much headway before being in conversation with someone else, or signing autograph books.

It makes me now wonder whether Jack would have entered his dog in the Dog Show contest, knowing Jack's competitive spirit, I wouldn't have put it past him.

This was the first time I had seen Jack Holden in the flesh, so to speak, since joining the club. My only other encounter with Jack was at Vicar Street Methodist Church in 1950 when Jack had been invited to read the lesson at a special sportsman's service organised by Bert Bissell another Black Country legend.

This service was held some weeks after Jack's epic run in the Empire and Commonwealth Games in New Zealand when he completed the last 9 miles of the marathon in his bare feet after his running shoes had split.

On that special day for me Jack Holden signed a coloured photograph for me, which at that time seemed very insignificant, who would have thought that 54 years later on what interest it would conjure up.

My Gran's Surprise Visit

With my preview over of the day's proceeding it was time for me to head towards the Sports Pavilion and get into my running gear and out onto the track. There I was joined in my limbering up exercises by Brian Boyce and Stuart Williams both (Tipton Harriers) and my friend from work Marlene Taylor.

After a couple of laps warming up and a few sprint practise runs my attention was drawn towards the watching crowd and I could hardly believe it when I say my gran (Susan Woodall) waving to me with her two of her best friends Jack and Ida Wright and the smiling faces of my Auntie Ivy and Uncle George Broome, who I suppose were the instigators of this surprise visit. There must have been some arm twisting or very persuasive talk to get her away from home to watch me run. When I left her at home at 1.15 pm I had no idea my gran would be attending this meeting and it really was a special day because it was the only time my gran saw me run.

The Athletic Meeting gets underway

The Dupont Group Sports meeting duly got underway at 2.30 pm when the renowned official starter Mr R Downes fired his pistol and the 6 runners sped away in heat one of five heats in the Men's 100 yards Open Flat Handicap race. Athletes from 16 different athletic clubs took part in this opening event in the programme. There were also Open Handicap races at 220 yards, 880 yards and one mile during the afternoon's proceedings and were all keenly contested, but with lack of foresight on my part I didn't keep any details of the day's events so I can't give you any details of the names who won these races.

I didn't take part in the opening event so I didn't allow my attention to dwell on those races because my event was immediately after the last heat of that event. I usually like watching other athletes run, but on this particular day with family and friends watching my mind was only focused on my own race. The Works 100 yards Men's Closed Flat Sprint Race Championship, so I just jogged around the track and kept myself warmed up. So when I was called to the starting line with 5 other runners in heat one of two heats, I was already feeling the tension building up inside me, but as I set up my starting block, I realised it was my turn to have a big physiological advantage over my opponents because none had starting blocks and for a few moments felt guilty with the unfair advantage, but this soon passed at the starter called us for our marks (Starting Line) and to get set and within a split second the pistol fired and my feet pressed into the blocks and away I streaked from the field and won slowing down by 8 yards in 10.6 seconds.

I was now able to relax for the nest hour before my final was run.

The next race up was the Works 100 yards Ladies Closed Sprint Championship heats in which Marlene Taylor was a leading contender and with out much fuss Marlene very easily won her heat race, and we were both looking forward to our respective finals.

My Mate Bill Probert

While waiting for the finals of our respective races Marlene and me could have a chat to family and friends and enjoy the rest of the sporting activities and side shows taking place. Time soon passed and event No 13 in the programme loomed up, the works 880 yards Men's Closed Flat Race but number 13 wasn't going to be unlucky for Bill Probert (Vono) who was entered in this race and run as a final with 14 other runners. Bill had been a friend of mine since our teenage years; he had been blinded in his left eye, when a young lad, but this never became an issue with him in anything he tackled. He had guts and determination in abundance, at the time of this sports meeting we were both established members of the Vono Sports football team who played in the Birmingham and District Works League. Bill's guts and determination would play a large part in this works half mile race, with all 14 runners crouched at the starting line and like frisky horses waiting for the tap to go up the starter fired his pistol. Bill short off like a bullet as though he was running a spring race, and of course no one else responded to this mad pace, it seemed Bill had made up his mind that this was the only way to run the race and kill off the opposition. At the halfway mark Bill was still over 50 yards in front of everyone else. I though he can't keep up this pace, but it was those guts and determination he showed on the football field which kept him going. In the last 60 yards his legs must have felt like jelly because he was running like a drunken man with his arms floundering and mouth open gasping for breath but Bill held on and collapsed over the winning line in an almost unconscious state. It took Bill ages to get his breath back and for me to ask the question 'Why he ran the race he did' he said ' There was a Tipton Harrier in the race and I wasn't going to let him beat me' and that answer sums up my mate Bill to a treat.

Sprint Double for Ewarts Ltd

After the buzz on excitement had abated from Bill's race it was now my turn to face my challenge in the Works 100 yards Spring Championship Final. As the loudspeaker boomed out for the 6 finalists to assemble at the starting line we were all rather edgy and wanting the race over and done with. I had taken a gallant step by not using my starting blocks because for some reason I wanted to be on equal terms with my fellow competitors, a foolish and brave notion, I was now regretting as the started called us to our marks, and get set, I felt uncomfortable not having the stability of the blocks under my feet but when the starter fired his pistol I got away to a clean break and was soon out in front. It all felt easy as my stride lengthened and went away from the field to win easily by 5 yards in 10.3 seconds.

With my own personal goal achieved it was now Marlene's turn to face her moment of truth. Her race was next on the agenda and with out any outward signs of nerves she lined up for the final of the Ladies 100 yards Sprint Championship when the pistol fired she showed her rivals a clean pair of heels as she blazed down the track to glory and victory.

My prize for winning the Works 100 yards Final was a Vono made multi-purpose come fire screen, card table and coffee table.

But the biggest prize and surprise of all for Bill, Marlene and I was the honour of being drawn by the famous caricature artist Norman Edwards who worked for the Birmingham Evening Mail newspaper. It took him only moments to capture our profile likeness down on paper which then appeared in that local paper a few days later and for all three of us it is still one of our most prized possessions.

This meeting had been another great sporting moment in my athletic career, I have tried to recapture.