Roy Langford - Article No.13 (08/10/2012)

With my excursions to Cosford and the Sunday morning runs at Aldersley Stadium just a fond memory and the opening of a new athletic season only a few weeks away at the end of May I felt in great heart and relishing my training sessions down the Vono Sports Ground with my Tipton mates John Brimble and Andy Fereday.

Sunday morning was now our main training session day now we had given up those long road runs. Which to give an example of one such training routine would be 4 laps warming up, 15 minutes of exercises, then 8 x 220 yards sprint at ¾ pace with one lap recovery time between each race and some starting practice thrown in for good measure.

It was on one such spring mornings in early May that our training routine was brought to an abrupt halt, when our club Honorary Secretary Jim Bedford paid me a surprise visit to present me with the 'Tipton Harriers Sprint Champion' club plaque for 1959. This was my first recognition of being club sprint champion since joining the Harries in 1955 it was a very proud moment for me.

Worcestershire County Championships, Abbey Stadium, Redditch - Saturday 28th May 1960

This was my first entry into the County Championship. I took this step forward because of my growing confidence over the past 12 months and thought it worth a go and as the old saying goes 'nothing ventured nothing gained' and this meeting would be a real pointer to see if my winter's training had paid off.

My Midland Red bus excursions that day eventually saw my journey take me to Abbey Stadium, Redditch, on the way passing through unspoilt countryside of Worcestershire. The stadium was situated about ¾ mile away on the outskirts of the town centre and was the headquarters of Redditch Sports Club who were promoting the day's athletic meeting by kind permission of Redditch Town Council.

I was greeted at the gated entrance to the club house by some young members of the Redditch boy scouts movement who were on duty selling the Championship programmes for the price of sixpence. Mu casual flick through its pages stopped at my first listed event the Men's 100 yard Championship Final at 3 pm, I had 1½ hours before my event so my next port of call was to report my arrival to the competitors stewards and collect my vest number No 20. The club house and a marquee doubled as joint changing room amenities for over 140 men and women athletes who were taking part in the afternoon's proceedings. The large crowd took advantage of the raised banking lining one side of the six land grass track, this was an ideal spot from which to view the day's athletics and take in the warm sunshine while soaking up the atmosphere dressed in their summer attire. To match this setting on the outer boundary of the other side of the sports ground was the River Arrow which flowed through its tree lined embankments giving it a backdrop of tranquillity – what a great setting for an afternoon's athletics.

I had set myself a mammoth task at these championships by competing in four events the 100 yards, 220 yards, 440 yards and for a bit of fun again the javelin. So a busy afternoon's competition was spread before me. Three other Tipton Harriers had entered these championships with Brian Boyce and Bob Bratt contesting the opening track event at 2.45 pm the two heats of the Men's 880 yards.

Men's 880 yards Heats and Final

Tipton's Brian Boyce ran a great race in heat one to finish a close up second to last year's champion M Butler (Halesowen) and our other Tipton representative Bob Bratt went one better to win heat two from B Pound (Halesowen) in 2 minutes 4 seconds.

The 880 yards final an hour later was won in great style by Halesowen's B Pound with the gallant Bob Bratt in second place; third T Phillpotts (Oldbury AC) Brian Boyce was 5th. Winning time 2 minutes 6.9 seconds.

My 100 yards Debut Race at Championships

My debut race at these championships was at 3 pm in the final of the Men's 100 yards sprint race.

With my nerves dangling on a knife edge, I was joined in my warm up session by my other Tipton mate at this meeting Bert Harbach. He was the reigning 3 miles Worcestershire Champion, he helped me prepare for my event with a few sprint practice runs. Bert was noted for his devastating sprint finishes in his middle distance racing events.

This session help me calm down my nerves before my race. My main rival for the 100 yards title was Dave Pugh (Halesowen) his method of calming his nerves down was by smoking one of his home rolled up cigarettes until the starter on the day Mr Stan Smith calls us to the starting line. It's just one more drag on his cigarette before Dave's ready to join us on the starting line. We get set into our starting blocks and for a brief few seconds silence descends over the stadium before Mr Smith fires his pistol then six fit young athletes blast away on the race for the Sprint Title of Worcestershire with the cheering response from the crowd we pick up our sprinting pace and head down the track. The race progressed till only three of use were matching stride for stride, soon John Robinson (Small Heath) turn to falter, leaving Dave and myself to fight it out to the finish with the wining line within almost touching distance I had one quick glance over my right shoulder and with utter dismay say Dave just chest the winning line tape ahead of me. I was devastated at losing but I had lost to a great athlete but before the result was made officially over the loudspeakers Dave had again delved into his sports holdall and lit up another cigarette to relive the tension. In due course Dave Pugh was declared the Worcestershire Sprint Champion of this Blue Ribbon event his time 10.1 seconds with me clocking 10.2 seconds my old mate and rival John Robinson (Small Heath) was in third place.

Men's 440 yards Championship Final

With a whole feast of women's and men's track events taking up the afternoon I had witnessed some good performances but ever on my mind was my next event at 4.20 pm, the Men's 440 yards Worcestershire Championship Final, why I had put myself under pressure to run this quarter mile race today was just a fool hardy decision of mine because I hated the race. My theory was to run a great quarter mile race you had to be a good half mile runner and two athletes out of six contesting this race lined up to those very credentials to a tee with last year's winner defending his title D A Folkes (Worcester Police AC) and the mighty Jack Cole of Halesowen both having the right pedigree for this race with yours truly just making the numbers up for this event and I didn't see the wisdom of setting up my starting blocks for myself in this race because they wouldn't have made the slightest difference to me over the distance. Because my chances of wining were slim to zero, a defeatist attitude I know but that's how I felt as I took my position on the staggered starting line of this 440 yards race. Mr Smith the starter gets us set on our marks, a quietness again descends over the stadium then the echoing sound of the starter pistol runs through the loudspeakers to all corners of the stadium and off we go on this leg sapping race with my fear's coming true as Jack Cole with his 6 foot 2 inches lean frame was in a class of his own. He controlled the race from the gun his long bounding strides just ate up the 440 yards grass track he was just superb last year's champion D Folkes was some 40 yards in arrears when Jack crossed the winning line in a new brilliant championship best time of 49.7 seconds and yes how I managed to finish up in third place but Jack had time to have a cup of team and a biscuit before I finished in 53.9 seconds but I was happy to have won another championship prize.

Men's Senior Javelin

Within minutes of finishing my 440 yards race I was called upon to take part in the Men's Senior Javelin event so much for a fun throw in this event. I was still out of breath and my legs felt like jelly when I proceeded to take my run up and launch my first throw of the javelin. It landed a disappointing 104 ft 7 inches down the tract and this I'm ashamed to report would be my best of three efforts but I still finished up in overall third place behind the winner Ken Jeynes of Malvern AC with another throw not worth writing home about of 146 ft 5 inches.

220 yards Sprint Final

My last race of the afternoon was at 5 pm in the Final of the Men's 220 yards sprint race. I had recovered from my 440 yards race and felt more positive in my attitude towards this event, I was going out to win this race even with the likes of Dave Pugh, D A Folkes and John Robinson in the line up this was by far my best event and a make or break race for me because I wanted the title so badly.

My usual nerves still haunted me as I set up my starting blocks on the staggered curve of the 220 yards track, then with a few tensions filled starting practice sprint runs, I was all set for the race of my life.

The starter Stan Smith called us to get down on our starting blocks with the hopes of glory resting on my shoulders my feet firmly settle into my starting blocks again the customary silence descends over the stadium as you felt all the eyes of the crowd focussing on six crouching runners the silence was broken yet again by the starters pistol echoing to all corners of the stadium again 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 grass track with he incessant cheers from the crowd vibrating in our ear drums. Our pace increased until entering the home straight Dave Pugh and myself lead the field with D Folkes and John Robinson some yards behind us with no chance of winning. With Dave and myself sprinting towards the ever decreasing winning line as our spiked running shoes dug deep into the grass turf we strain every muscle tissue as we both make one last despairing launch at the winning line tape with again only a few feet separating our bodies as we flash over the line. I knew right away I had failed in my gallant attempt to be Worcestershire Sprint Champion and didn't need the track judges to give their verdict my heart wrenching congratulations hand shakes went out to Dave who had pulled off a brilliant sprint double win, his winning time of 22.9 seconds and my own time of 23 seconds beat the championship best time of 23.1 seconds in third place was the Worcestershire policeman D A Folkes.

3 Mile Worcestershire Championship

Tipton's Bert Harbach's long wait all afternoon to defend his 3 mile title was finally over as he set forth with 16 other runners all with great aspirations of taking his title away from him but wily old Bert was having none of it, playing the watching and waiting game for every move to unfold before him and always keeping up with the leading runners. As they reeled off lap after lap doing all the pace making and with only one lap to go Bert's tactics paid off as he unleashed one of his devastating spring finishes again and won easily from Bernard Browning (Birchfield Harriers) and Alan Westwood (Dudley H) to retain his 3 mile crown in a new championship best time of 14 minutes 20.6 seconds.

This momentous day had been another proud moment in my athletic life and to collect four championship prizes was the icing on the cake which turned out to be cut glass goblets with the Worcestershire County Crest emblazoned on the face of the glass. This was the first introduction of these cut glass goblets to the County Championships but for Senior Men and Women only, the youth and junior athletes received championship medals.

It was a very tired and hungry young man who faced that long bus journey back home to Dudley, but proudly still clutching my precious trophies beside me in my sports holdall.