Roy Langford - Article No.10 (09/07/2012)

My last races of the season were at Aldersley Stadium, Wolverhampton in the Stourbridge and Wordsley District Track League with Tipton, Bilston, Halesowen, Smethwick, Wolverhampton and Stourbridge and Wordsley Harriers forming the nucleus of the track league. Each in turn hosting one track league meeting during the summer months on Tuesday evenings with the grand finale this year taking place at Aldersley Stadium home of Wolverhampton Harriers and it was to this meeting I was heading for on 18th August 1959 with the meeting due to commence at 6.45 pm.

On my trolley bus journey at Wolverhampton I had the company of two young Tipton Harrier sprinters one was Johnny Brimble who had joined the Harriers a year ago and already starting to shine in track league races. John was no stranger to the Harriers set up; his grandfather was Jack Baker our club trainer and founder member, so John was a regular visitor to the Sedgley Road, clubhouse long before he joined the club. The other young lad in his first season with Tipton Harriers was Andrew Fereday, who was completing his final year at Dudley Grammar School. He had bridged the gap between school and club athletics and like John had shown great potential in the youth sprint events at the track league meetings.

Our No 58 trolleybus duly arrived at Wolverhampton bus terminal from where we mounted another bus to Claregate, which took us within a hop step and jump of the stadium.

Putting my sports holdall over my shoulder we proceeded to enter the proud domain of Wolverhampton Harriers it was then my usual feeling of nerves started to churn up inside my stomach as we made a beeline for the changing rooms which was again a hive of activity. We all exchanged friendly greetings to our fellow athletes, then without further ado got changed into our running gear. It was at this point I went into a sort of day dream thinking about my past form over the season which had been so topsy-turvy to say the least but this evening meeting being my swan song! 'So to speak of 1959' I was praying I could finish off my track season on a winning note. Not an easy task in this very competitive track league with some very talented junior athletes taking up the gauntlet and competing in senior as well as junior races for their respective clubs, with the coolness and confidence of youth and winning races at both these levels.

Match gets underway

With the time now approaching 6.45 pm we finished our warm up session, because the opening events of the 100 yards races were being called to the starting line by Mr Sid Hodson the starting and a leading official at Wolverhampton Harriers.

I was in the (A) race of the Men's 100 yards race and for one of those rare times felt at ease. As Sid called us to our marks as we settled down in our starting blocks a silence descended over silence, as my five opponents and myself surge away from our blocks our spiked shoes digging into the cinder track with all of us straining nearly every muscle tissue in our bodies we headed down the track with the pace ever increasing, till only three runners had a chance of victory Dave Pugh (Halesowen) John Purslow (Bilston) and myself lead the field and with one last gallant effort approaching the last few yards, I found another extra turn of speed my rivals couldn't match. The feeling of jubilation engulfed me as I crossed the winning line in first place, I won by about one yard in 10.6 seconds, not a particular fast time because we were running into a head wind, this win was oh! So great because I had taken the scalps of two brilliant young sprinters and with a grin wider than a Cheshire cat I took the congratulations of my fellow team mates.

John's Pride at Stake

Still up in the clouds from my 100 yards victory I then joined my fellow Tipton mates at track side to cheer on Andrew and John in their respective 100 yards races but before the youth races got underway a well meaning bit of rivalry was thrown into the boiling pot, when Andrew Fereday took over as No 1 youth sprinter for Tipton Harriers from John Brimble and competed in the (A) string race. Andrew finished up a close second to the great youth sprinter Alan Bradbury (Bilston Town AC). With the anger boiling up in John at losing his No 1 tap and his pride at stake, he was all fired up for this (B) string 100 yards race and out to prove the selectors wrong. But no happy ending he finished second in a much slower race beaten by Nigel Roberts (Bilston) but this meeting was about team performances and between them had collected 7 points.

Great Half Mile Race

Filling in time between races and trying to keep my nervous energies in check is always a major factor, but this evening I put my own race to the back of my mind while enjoying the tactical battles on the track and again none more so was the Men's 880 yards race. It was one to savour with 12 runners contesting the race. At the off it was Ross Evelegh (Tipton) who went into a commanding lead with a first lap time of 62.6 seconds, leading from team mate Ken Rickhuss and Jim Prince (Wolverhampton). These positions remained the same down the back straight, but with 200 yards to go there was a terrific spring by six runners and with Ross Evelegh tiring, Ken Rickhuss took the lead, chased by Prince and Peter Nash (Wolverhampton) with the rest of the field hot on their heels. With 25 yard to go the race was still wide open, but Jim Prince just got the verdict from Ken Rickhuss with Peter Nash edging Tommy Moore (Bilston) into 4th place. Winning time was an excellent 1 min 58.6 seconds.

The One and Two Mile Races

Another two outstanding races which kept the crowd on the edge of their seats, were the One Mile and Two Mile races spread over one hour apart. They set the atmosphere at Aldersley alight with two great club athletes to the forefront of these races.

In both events Bilston's star runner Wilf Aston did all the pace setting leading the field in both races, and on each occasion was piped at the winning post by the sprint finish of superman Bert Harbach (Tipton Harriers) these two athletes had battled it out all track league season with honours even and had been an inspiration to their respective teams.

My Great 220 yards Run

After many more outstanding races it was time to put myself under the microscope and see what I was made of. Joining my fellow athletes down on the warm up procedures and felt ready to run the race of my life.

Soon the booming voice echoed out again over the loudspeaker calling the 220 yards Men's (A) string sprinters to assemble at the starting line six fit young athletes answered the call and stepped forward to take their placed on the staggered positions on the 220 yards starting lines.

The starter Sid Hodson called us to get down on our starting blocks with the burden of our respective team mates hopes on our shoulder my feet firmly settled into my starting blocks. Again the customary hush descended over the stadium as you felt all the eyes of the crown focussing on six crouching runners. The silence was broken yet again by the starter's pistol all thought of nerves were forgotten as we all surge forward from our blocks. All at one stage matching stride for stride around the curved furlong cinder track with the cheers from the crowd vibrating in our ears our pace increased until entering the home straight John Purslow (Bilston) and myself led the field with Barry Griffiths (Halesowen) in third place some yards behind us with no chance of winning. Our feet hardly seemed to touch the cinder track as John and I sprinted towards the winning line, with neither of us wanting to lose the race only the thickness of a running vest must have separated our bodies as we flashed across the winning line with both of us thinking we might have won the race.

After some deliberation the track judges gave the race to John. I was devastated at not being given the verdict but not for long my face lit up when the track announcer called out our times we had both broken our personal best times with a great 220 yards time of 22.6 seconds.

With this evening track performance I felt in my heart I had served a good 4 years apprenticeship with Tipton Harriers and this somehow would be a turning point in my athletic career giving me a fresh hope and determination to succeed and train harder for next season's athletic meetings.

Bilston Town AC win Track League Championship

With the light starting to fade over the stadium a brilliant evening athletics came to a close. Over the 5 match series Bilston had amassed 277 points to runners up Tipton Harriers 253 pints so Bilston were duly crowned 'The Stourbridge and Wordsley District Track League Champions'.

Special awards were donated and presented by Stan Smith of Halesowen the former marathon runner who had represented England at the British Empire Games in Canada in 1930. Those recipients for their excellent performances in this year's series were:

Senior Bert Harbach (Tipton) and Wilf Aston (Bilston)

Junior Doug Fownes (Tipton)

Youths Geoff Reynolds (Wolverhampton)

I again hope my memories have stirred up a bit of nostalgic interest for readers.