Roy Langford - Article No.11 (06/08/2012)

With the 1959 track season done and dusted with my thoughts were on a fresh challenge, to focus my footballing skills with Vono Sports Football Club and hope once again I could justify my selection to play and live up to the high standards required to play again for either 1st or 2nd team elevens in this great Birmingham Works League side.

I was again very fit from my athletic season, but of course not football match fit, but on lacing up my dubbing coated leather soccer boots I soon fitted in with the football training routine with the sound backing of my footballing mates Ken Parkes, Tony Palmer, Ken Bromley, Billy Gripton, Alan Millington, Reg Clarke, Johnny Hartland, Dave Willis, Bill Probert, John Lovesey, Fred Morris and Harry Jewkes all great Vono players.

But little did I know with the new season 1959/60 in full swing that this would be my last full season wearing the Vono footballing kit. In my five seasons playing for the Vono I had never once given the thought of a serious leg injury putting me out of action for a few weeks or even months that is until a few weeks into the football season and I was picked to play for the first team against Birmingham City Police in Division One of the works league. The match was well into the first half and my speed down the right wing was really causing problems for their defence, so they put one particular player on me to close mark me and he made it quite obvious my speed would no longer be a problem to him. This defender really marked my name down on his wanted list poster that afternoon with him repeatedly chopping my legs from under me. This made me think of those words of wisdom from Ken Rickhuss and Bert Harbach my Tipton Harrier mates, when they told me 'I must be mad playing football with the crippling injuries that sometimes go with it'.

There were no hard feelings from me after the match and I still remember that police officer's words as we shook hands after the match he said 'Sorry mate to do that to you, but you were just to fast for me, I had to slow you down somehow', and in a nutshell that sums up the great rivalry and friendship of those times but that handshake didn't stop me from limping around with my aching legs for some days after that match and in some ways this match was only the tip of the iceberg. Many more teams were sorting me out for special treatment and with this in mind I subconsciously knew my playing days that season were numbered.

In any case I was spending more time training with my Tipton Harrier mates: Bill Carr, Eric Silk and John Brimble who thought I could achieve a greater degree of success at athletics and in any case running was kinder on the legs than having some full backs studded boots rattling into my shin bones.

By a twist of fate my decision to finish with football at the end of the season was an easy one.

While on one of our road running sessions John Brimble came up with the idea of taking out winder training sessions one step forward by competing at the RAF Cosford winter indoor meeting. John had seen this indoor meeting advertised in the 'Athletic Weekly' magazine for Tuesday 3rd February 1960. John was in fact searching for a new challenge from the boredom of winter training. I had my football matches every Saturday which were my goal for keeping fit, but I said 'I was willing to give this new venture a try'.

John duly sent off our joint entry forms for this meeting to the Midland AAA honorary secretary Bill Marlow who lived at Rowley Regis, Oakham who helped organise these meetings, by return post Mr Marlow confirmed our entry and transport details to get to Cosford.

With just two weeks to prepare for this meting it dawned on us we would be the first Tipton Harriers sprinters to step into this uncharted domain and with our personal egos at stake we stepped up our training schedule to convert more spring sessions into our 5 mile road runs. That fortnight's wait since booking our places to compete at Cosford passed with some due anguish. John was worried that we hadn't prepared enough to do ourselves justice but for one I was more philosophical about it and said 'it wasn't a life and death situation just a race around a track it was a gamble and let's just go out and enjoy the experience'. So it was two determined young athletes who made the trolleybus journey to Wolverhampton, our meeting point at 6 pm was on the corner of Temple Street just on the borders of the town centre off Snow Hill.

A group of about 30 athletes were already taking up their places to board a specially laid on coach which would transport us on the 8 miles or so journey through the twisting countryside roads of Shropshire to where the Royal Air Force base at Cosford was situated.

Our coach was expected and guided straight on to the base by Military Police and then escorted from the coach by RAF personnel to a large steel and brick building which on entering turned out to be a massive gymnasium measuring from my estimates about 100 yards long by 50 yards wide the venue of this evening's athletic meeting.

A five lane oval athletic track was marked out in the centre of the gym which one lap of the track covering about 160 yards and there where already many athletes taking advantage of getting some practice runs in around this tight laned track. John and I were entered for the 330 yard races at this meeting which meant running two laps and 8 bends of the track it would be an interesting race.

Before trotting off to get into our running gear we checked in with the track stewards to collect our vest numbers and what time our races were scheduled for. Looking down the programme of events we found our races were the last events of the evening which meant nearly a two hour wait after the meeting started at 7 pm. There was now no real rush to get changed but we decided we might as well just enjoy the evening events and hope the long wait for our individual races was worth waiting for.

Amongst the 90 athletes who turned up for this Tuesday winter's evening meeting were five of the top class British athletes in the country all with great chances of competing at the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome in August and September this year they were: Peter Radford (Birchfield Harriers) Nick Whitehead (Birchfield) John Salisbury (Birchfield already on Olympic bronze medal winner from the 1956 Melbourne Games in the 4 x 400 metres relay team) also Shropshire's own famous son Robbie Brightwell running for Loughborough College and last but not least Carole Quinton (Birchfield Harriers and two of these athletes would gain Olympic medals at those 1960 Rome games.

Great night of Indoor Athletics

The atmosphere at this indoor meeting was electric. The closeness of the crowd to track side was unbelievable and it was almost a certain fact that the athletes could feel the hot breath of the crowd down the back of their necks as they cheered and shouted on their respective team mates and to get this meeting off to a start at 7 pm was the Men's 660 yards race. Of interest to me and John because the only other Tipton Harrier at this meeting was competing in this event his name Ross Evelegh and always a strong candidate to win any middle distance race from the gun Ross pushed himself almost to the limits by leading the field for over 6½ leg sapping laps, he was then put under pressure by Eales and Beckwith as they closed ranks on his shoulder but full of determination Ross kept them at bay until the final mad 160 yards last lap brilliant sprint finishing power of Eales (Birchfield) saw him gain a two yard win from Beckwith (Hayes AC) with Ross another 3 yards back in a creditable third place. Winning time 1 min 31.8 seconds.

The Highlight of the Indoor Meeting

The highlight of this Cosford indoor meeting was the final of the Men's 60 yards race, Peter Radford, Robbie Brightwell, Nick Whitehead, John Salisbury and W Oliver (Loughborough) all internationals lined up for this race. Radford was a fraction slow from his blocks but his exceptional rate of acceleration helped him gain victory by a yard from Brightwell and Whitehead. Winning time 6.5 seconds.

International Carole Quinton (Birchfield) was an easy winner from K Davis (Small Heath) in the Women's 60 yards dash in 7.3 seconds.

With a feast of brilliant track races spread through that waiting period for our races time had almost caught up with us just one more race before John took up his position on the starting line and that race was the 1st of 3 Men's 330 yards races. In that first race the brilliant Robbie Brightwell won an exciting race from Barry Jackson (Lozells) and Jack Cole (Halesowen) in the excellent time of 39 seconds.

With that nerve tingling race over it was now time for young 17 year old John Brimble to take centre stage on the track with his maiden event in the 330 yards race, a though task was ahead of him, he was the youngest of the five determined athletes who crouched down on the starting line (no starting blocks used in these races) John showed no outward signs of nerves but if he felt anything like me waiting for the next race I just felt sick inside my stomach with nerves.

I wish I could report that John won his race in a blaze of glory but his guts and determination wasn't enough he finished last to the four seasoned indoor athletes race won by the outstanding sprinter John Purslow in 40.2 seconds.

It all seemed surreal as I stood on the starting line for my 330 yards race

It was now my chance to break new ground in my first attempt to run a 330 yards race, it all seemed surreal as I stood on the track wearing my trade mark white tee shirt with my cardboard vest no 82 pinned to it. My moment of destiny was about to unfold in the next 40 seconds or so all nerves were banished to the back of my mind the crowd closed in around the track as we got set on our marks, the five crouching athletes minds are awakened with the sound of the starters pistol echoing in the rafters of the gymnasium I shot away on those two laps of the track like a startled rabbit being chased by four baying greyhounds and lead the chasing pack a merry hop. Defying the laws of centrifugal force trying to sweep me off the track and head first into the crown on those tight curved bends with the crowd every edging nearer the track side and cheering me on. I still kept the pack at bay but with only a matter of yards to go I was suddenly chased down by one of the pack J Brooks (Loughborough College) he beat me by about a yard as my legs almost buckled under me while crossing the finishing line some three yards in arrears was G Acton (Birchfield Harriers). Winning time 41.6 seconds. This race literally had brought me to my hands and knees on the track with exhaustion and while trying to get some oxygen into my burning lungs I felt a hand on my shoulder looking around it none other than Robbie Brightwell who said ' great race' a nice sporting gesture from a great athlete.

With that friendly gesture little did we both know that within 12 months how close I came to breaking his Championship record over 330 yards on this Cosford gymnasium track but that's another story for later on. This should have been the end of my story but for another twist in the tale.

I bought an evening's newspaper that 'Express and Star' the day after this meeting on the sports pages was the account of the evening's athletics at Cosford with my eyes chasing the columns down the newspaper and looking at the result and times I cam across No 82 second in Race No 3 330 yards somehow my vest number had replaced my name I just had to be different from anyone else.

These Cosford Winter meetings would be part of my sporting life for the next three years and wipe out all my interest in playing football. I had been caught in a snare trap by indoor athletics.