Roy Langford - Article No.6 (05/03/2012)

Here I am again in Dudley bus station in Fisher Street taking my turn in the bus queue waiting for the arrival of the bus to Halesowen to participate in the August Bank Holiday Tuesday athletic and cycling meeting on the 6th August 1957. With the reality that two years had flown past since my last visit to Manor Abbey Sports Ground but my athletic prowess this year would be fraught with doubt because of my misadventures over the past few days. It all started to go wrong when I volunteered for football team training and this is how it all came about.

Ps thank goodness for an old diary so I can recall this story.

'The last week in July an first week in August have always been traditionally regarded as the break down period when Midland Firms closed down for the summer holidays and 1957 was no exception to this rule. With some free time on my hands and the new 1957/59 football season only weeks away, a memo was posted up on the works notice boards at Ewarts and Vono, just a week prior to breaking up from work on Friday 26th July by the Vono Sports Football Section Secretary, who I believe at the time was Joe Rowley (an ex-police officer on Dudley Police Force) asking if any football training over that period under the guidance of Fred Jones and Freddie Whittall who had many years of footballing experience and both were former Vono Team players of long standing. They were now assigned to help coach the football team squad, allied with the help of Billy Gripton the former West Bromwich Albion and Luton Town centre half, who was still a great player even in the twilight of his footballing days, was regarded as a great asset to the Vona football team squad, playing for them on a regular basis. We had some enthusiastic lads in our team who like me were soccer crazy and took up the challenge without any trouble. Those football training sessions took part on the lush green turf in the tranquil settings of the Old Vono Sports Ground nestled close to the proximity of one of Tipton's many canals, and the names of just a few mates I recall taking part in these practise matches and road runs are – Harry Jewkes, Fred Morris, Bill Probert, Tony Palmer, Dave Willis, Terry Slater, Ken Parkes, Ken Bromley, Reg Clarke, Alan Jones and Eugene Bishton.

My Tipton Harrier mates, in particular Bert Harbach and Ken Rickhuss thought I was mad playing football with the athletic season still in progress and the real threat of leg injuries which is part and parcel the nature of the game. But football was my favourite sport at that time in my like, but I should have known better because after 3 months lay off from football and kicking a heavy dubbing coated leather case ball about and those road runs in between it had helped to tip my finely balanced running system over the edge, leaving my legs aching, stiff and sore. I knew the pain and stiffness would wear off in a few days but I was running at Halesowen this afternoon.'

With those reflections of the last ten days off my chest, I'm now back waiting for the Halesowen bus. Which duly arrive and my aching body mounts the platform of the bus and on sitting down with my sports holdall on my lap I contemplate that I was afar from confident young man who travelled to Manor Abby that day. This was much in contrast to my happy travelling compatriots all in the holiday mood spirit looking forward to a marvellous afternoon's sport. I should have been depressed at the state I was in, but had to be positive and shake myself out of nay negative thinking otherwise there was no point in running at this meeting just to make a fool of myself. Anyway in the next hour or so all these questions will be answered.

Soon my journey came to an end at Manor Lane our getting off point. I again joined the mass migration of people down the country lane, and the 25 minute walk which lay ahead of me putting on a brave face as each step painfully get me nearer the stadium. But to some degree my walk was made more tolerable by getting in conversation with some of my fellow athletes which helped distract my mind away from my sore legs and luckily for me I didn't have the burden of those heavy starting blocks of two years ago. They had been replaced with light alloy ones and with the conversation flowing in no time at all we approached the steep driveway that led to the gated entrance to the sports stadium.

My complimentary ticket gained me free access to the sports ground and then paid sixpence for my programme. Putting down my sports holdall, I then reluctantly flicked through the pages to find my name and event I was running in. A sigh of relief was uttered from me to find I was only entered for one event the 100 yards Flat Scratch Race which would be over and done with soon after 2 pm because it was the opening first event and I was in heat one of 3 heats. Our other club representative in this race was Brian Boyce. With my mind put at ease I made my way to the changing room huts which I notices had the appearance of aircraft hangers with those distinct shaped roof tops.

I collected my vest number 65 from the steward outside the club house dressing rooms and then got into my track suit before I headed for the track. My breath was again taken away at the awesome sight of the stadium the cyclists were already taking advantage of getting in some practice on that steeply banked cycling track which circled the ground, and the elevated seating behind that was nearly all taken up by the early arrivals wanting to soak up the atmosphere and get the best view of the day's sports meeting which was the:

Halesowen's Athletic & Cycling Clubs, Eighth Annual Sports Day, Manor Abbey Sports Ground - Tuesday 6th August 1957, 2 pm

It was on Inter-Club Event for the 'Sir Harry Vincent Memorial Trophy'. To be held by the winning club for 12 months. The teams taking part in the 3rd meeting for this trophy were – West Bromwich, Bromsgrove, Halesowen, Lozells, Small Heath, Birchfield, Wolverhampton and Tipton Harriers. Last years winners were Small Heath Harriers

With the meeting soon to get underway I made my way down to the track with some of my fellow club mates, who were out in force today, but it was my mate from day one at Tipton Harriers Brian Boyce my sprint partner in the 100 yards opening event, that jointed me in my tentative jogging session around the grass track. With the sight of the massive crowd taking to their seats, the adrenalin started to pump through my system, and some of the soreness in my limbs abated, but I still lacked the usual spring and power in my legs when I tried some sprint practice runs. So it was in the lap of the gods when the sports announcer called out to take our places on the starting line in heat one of the Men's 100 yard Flat Scratch Race at 2pm. I was up against 5 other good club runners, the starter was Mr S H Smith, there was silence as he uttered the words 'On your marks! Get set' then the pistol shot shattered the silence. I was slow out of my blocks and almost stumbled as my spiked shoes sunk into the lush turf, but I was still no match for Barry Griffiths (of Halesowen) who won the race easily in the slow time of 11.2 seconds. J Sanderson (Lozells) was second with me in third place. I didn't reach the final but it gave me some satisfaction to know I hadn't finished last. My mate Brian finished 4th in his heat, so neither of us contested the final which was won my Halesowen's great sprinter Ron Taylor, second was D Hitchman (Birchfield) with B Seth (Lozells) in third place. Time 10.9 seconds.

So with my 100 yards race over and for all intents and purposes my running was finished for the day I thought I'll just watch the two heats of the 440 yards Men's Race at 2.25 pm. Before I got out of my running kit and put my feet up for a rest our two representatives in the race were Stuart Williams and Peter Griffiths, but there was a big disappointment in store Peter had failed to put in an appearance and it was too late to replace him. So the race went ahead without him which was a disappointment to our team. His heat one was one by Ron Taylor who just coasted round the 440 yards track to win very easily second was M Denny (Birchfield). Heat two was won my A Hooper (Birchfield) in 54.7 seconds; Stuart finished in 3rd place and made it to the final at 2.50 pm.

With those two heats of the 440 yards out of the way I thought this is the time to get out of my running gear and enjoy the rest of the athletics and cycling show. Then fate took a twist, on making my move to leave the track and with just a chance remark to Len Myerscough our club representative about going to get changed and have a shower that Len said 'Hang on Roy you will be needed for the 220 yards race and Mile Medley Relay now Peter hasn't turned up, your not going to let us down are you'. These were really the words I didn't want to hear, but what the hell, as the old saying goes 'In for a penny in for a pound' and after all this was my last athletic meeting of the season. Sore legs or not I decided to give it my best shot; I couldn't let the team down.

With my plans gone haywire to rest and put my feet up I joined Stuart Williams in his warm up session which was nearing completion and he needed some morale support because he wasn't feeling very confident about his forthcoming race in the 440 yards Final against Ron Taylor (Halesowen) and to put it into Stuart's own words 'it will take a ball and chain wrapped around Ron's legs to give me any chance of winning'.

With this in my mind I left Stuart as he lined up for the 440 yards final. The starter fired his pistol and after that it was just a classic case of Ron just toying with the opposition. He was in a class of his own and won the race without any trouble but the winning time of 60.2 seconds for Ron was pathetic but winning was is what the games all about. In second place was M Denny (Birchfield) , A Hooper (Birchfield) third and a distant fourth was Stuart but I think Stuart was saving himself for the last track event of the afternoon the One Mile Medley Relay Race.

The ballyhoo had hardly abated for the 440 yards final, when the runners were called to the starting line for the 3 heats of the Men's 220 yards Flat Scratch Races, my fellow club mate sharing the honours of competing in heat 2 of this race was Derek Stanton he finished in third place, race won by Barry Griffiths (Halesowen).

I contested heat 3 with some trepidation as I lined up on the starting line, with my starting blocks set in place, and trying to look all confident and at ease. Instead of the mental anguish my mind was going through, when not at your physical best. The pistol fired and all this was forgotten as my Tipton mates gave me verbal support from the track side and I somehow got my aching limbs to respond enough over the furlong race and cross the winning line in first place, the time 24.7 seconds was slow but I had won. In second place was B Seth (Lozell Harriers) we both made it to the final.

Before my 220 yards final at 3.45 pm, an 880 yards Flat Scratch Race was on the agenda. Fourteen good class athletes took part in the race around the six lane track and with a lot of bumping and jostling for positions, the outcome was a fine victory for the talented Small Heath Harrier Colin Simpson with G Hanson (Birchfield) 2nd, 3rd was J Cowley (Lozells) time 2 minutes 2.7 seconds.

The 220 yards Flat Scratch Race Final

By the time the 220 yards final came around I was really in no mood for running and from watching the fluent way my five opponents were performing in the warm up session for this race, I know I didn't stand a cat in hell's chance of winning or for that matter of coming in the first three and I still had the Mile Medley Relay Race to run in.

When called to the starting line, and settling down in my starting blocks, I had already made a subconscious decision not to go with the pace, and save myself for the relay race. The pistol fired and I was slowly away, my Tipton mates shouted and cheered for me, trying to motivate me but this was one day of my life when the thought of winning was totally out of the question, as I was left in the slip stream of my five opponents and finished in last place.

The race was won my D Hitchman (Birchfield) second Barry Griffiths (Halesowen) and third B Seth (Lozells) winning time 23.4 seconds.

Birchfield Harriers had been building up a big points lead all afternoon for the 'Sir Harry Vincent Memorial Trophy' which included a great win for Bernard Browning in the 2 mile team race in the excellent time of 9 minutes 14.4 seconds. Birchfield also won the team race, with Tipton Harriers runners up.

Birchfield also won the 1 mile junior team race and again had the individual winner in the form of R Jackson, in the impressive time of 4 min 36.5 seconds. The Tipton team were again runners-up.

The Mile Medley Relay Race

The grand finale of a brilliant afternoon of athletics was the mile medley relay race, but with a somewhat depleted line up, with only Birchfield, Halesowen and Tipton contesting the race, but it still had the makings of an interesting encounter. The Tipton Harriers quartet was Ken Rickhuss 880 yards, Roy Langford and Derek Stanton 220 yards each, with Stuart Williams on the 440 yards anchor leg.

We all put in a sterling performance in this race, even myself with my sore legs, keeping up with our rivals on all the first three legs of the relay race, it was only on the last leg that Birchfield and Halesowen forged ahead and fought it out to the finish with Birchfield winning by inches from Halesowen, with Tipton some 40 yards back in third place. A winning time of 3 min 46.6 seconds.

To round off a great day's athletics the spoils of victory went to Birchfield Harriers, their captain was presented with the, "Sir Harry Vincent Memorial Trophy" by Mr Eric Vincent sponsor of the interclub meeting, Halesown finished runners-up, with Tipton Harriers in third place.

Yours In Sport

Roy Langford