Roy Langford - Article No.17 (11/02/2013)

The 4th Inter-Club 'Express and Star' \Trophy Meeting at Aldersley Stadium, Wolverhampton

August Bank Holiday Monday 1st August 1960 start at 2.30 pm

On a typical bustling Bank Holiday August Monday my sights were set on this athletic meeting at Aldersley Stadium, it had only been seven days ago since I last raced here for Tipton Harriers and my head was still in the clouds after our resounding track league success when we won the Stourbridge & Wordsley District Track League Championship but today was a different kettle of fish. This one off contest for the 'Express and Star Trophy' was an inter-club event with five teams from a wide spectrum of the Midlands with some top class athletes representing clubs such as: North Staffs & Stone Harriers, Tipton Harriers, Warrington A.C., Wolverhampton Harriers and Birchfield Harriers.

I was greeted by a fine sunny day as I strode towards the entrance to the stadium with the clouds racing across the sky and with it a slight breeze that always seemed to sweep around the stadium (and I might add little sign of freak rain storm which would hold up the meeting for a short time later on in the afternoon, more about that later on).

My first port of call was to collect my programme, then to report my presence to the competitors steward Mr Hudson, who issued me with my vest No 9, and then I took the courage to open up my programme to see what hand fate had dealt me. With some trepidation my finders flicked through the pages to reveal I was entered for three events the 100 yards, 220 yards and javelin. The javelin wasn't my priority list this afternoon, but I would still give it a go, my main target was to perform well in the sprint events and also try and conserve some of my energies for the Bank Holiday Tuesday meeting at Halesowen tomorrow afternoon.

Poor Turn out by my Tipton Harrier Colleagues

On entering the locker room at Aldersley Stadium I was met by a warm smile and handshake from our team manager Len Myerscough, then looking around the dressing room I said to him 'where's the rest of the Tipton squad' only about a dozen or so had turned up for this prestigious meeting, it was rather a discredit to the sponsors of the meeting the 'Express and Star' two noticeable absentees were my mates John Brimble and Andy Fereday. Len looked somewhat embarrassed to be asked the question, and like myself felt really let down by the lack of team spirit with us today. My reaction was to just blot out any team responsibility from my mind and set about warming up for my 100 yards race on my own.

My great 100 yards heat win

My preparation for my opening event at 2.30 pm in heat one of the Men's 100 yards race went well, but I needed to run out of my socks to beat one of my opponents Hugh (Birchfield Harriers) in this race, because eh had been a member of the Birchfield Harriers team, which won the A.A.A. 4 x 110 yards relay championship at the White City, London, two weeks ago on the 16th July along with fellow team mates Peter Radford, John Morbey and Ken Merchant. But I went into this race with controlled aggressiveness so when the pistol packing starter Mr Sid Hodson brought the five of us under starter's orders I was well prepared for the task ahead of me. When the pistol fired I was off like a greyhound from its stalls and felt relaxed and at ease as my spikes dug into the cinder track and sped down the track, I was never headed during this 100 yards dash. I won by two yards from Hugh and clocked 10.2 seconds in third place G Cowley (Wolverhamption Harriers) we would all compete in the final in half an hour's time.

The incident packed Men's 100 yards Final

I had taken Hugh Sumner by surprise with my sprinting ability in the heats, so I knew there would be no repeat performance of that in the final and along with the other heat winner Vic Whitehouse his team mate from Birchfield I was in for a classic 100 yards race, which anyone of the three of us could win.

At 3.15 pm I assembled at the starting line along with 5 other finalists n this Men's 100 yards race little knowing what fate had in store for us. The starter 55 year old Sid Hodson called us to take up our respective positions on the starting line, an eerie silence descends over the stadium as he calls out 'get set' then bang! we are away like lightening from our blocks with the three main contenders for this race Hugh, Vic and myself running at break neck speed down the track in front of a full grandstand of cheering spectators. As we approach ¾ distance (75 yards) all hell is let loose as a recall gun goes off, my initial reaction was to pull up like my fellow athletes and a contemporary report in the newspapers at the time said, we all automatically pulled up but this wasn't true because to me it was inconceivable to believe Mr Hodson would let us run this distance before he recalled us for a false start, so my competitive brain told me to continue running on alone to the finishing line tape and only then look back to see total confusion from my fellow athletes, all looking at one another in disbelief. The crown in the grandstand was shocked into silence for a few moments, and then angry murmurs echoed around the stadium about the starter being rather late with his false start report.

This moment in time was one to savour in the history of Aldersley Stadium and my athletic career, the full explanation of what happened was relayed over the loudspeakers that Mr Hodson was reloading his pistol after setting us off on our 100 yards race when he accidently stumbled over a clump of grass and somehow the weapon went off causing the public mayhem that followed. The embarrassed Mr Hodson called us back to the starting line and apologised to us all, but my now we could see the funny side of the whole episode and we all wanted to re-run the race again straight away but the track officials over-ruled us and thought it unfair, so they gave us half an hour to gather our composure again. Looking back it was like reading a story in a novel it seems so far fetched but it's a true story.

Our re-run 100 yards race

Our cock up race had been a good talking point with the crowd and competing athletes during our enforced wait to re-run the race. The time just flew past and here I was again lining up with 5 opponents ready for action again. We all jokingly made some comment to Mr Hodson about not wanting a repeat performance of our last race. The atmosphere in the stadium was electric and we knew the eyes of every spectator in the stadium would be more focussed on our re-run race. The thought now makes the hairs stand up on the back of my neck, but with the frivolities out of the way we get set into our starting blocks, I was flanked on either side of me by the two black vested Birchfield runners Vic Whitehouse or Hugh. A few anguish moments expire before Mr Hodson sent us on our eagerly awaiting race, no hanging around as we all blast off out of our starting blocks and all with one subconscious thought passing through our minds let's not have that recall gun go off again in this race, as we sprinted head first down the track with the three leading contenders for this race, Whitehouse and myself all running in unison as though we were somehow joined at the hips. The responses from the crown in the grandstand was terrific and this spurred us on even more to a classic ding-dong breath taking battle royal down that 100 yards straight, and with only inches separating us we launched ourselves across the finishing line tape in a nerve tingling finish. Who had won the race, for a few seconds all that was beyond me as I gasped for breath, all my senses were telling me it as a very close race and up to the track judges to sort out the placings. It seemed an age before the result was made official over the loudspeakers it was '1st Hugh Sumner, 2nd Vic Whitehouse with yours truly Roy Langford in third place, winning time 10.1 seconds. I couldn't believe I had come third and felt sick at heart but as usual my disappointment was soon forgotten my problem was that I was very competitive and expected to much from myself, but I had given two great athletes from Birchfield a good afternoon's work out and felt proud to have been part of that unusual 100 yards race proceeding.

The Javelin Event

While I was involved in my 100 yards re-run race the javelin event had already got underway and there was a bit of flexibility with the track field referee Mr R J Douglas who allowed me to miss my first two throws of the javelin which left me with just one remaining throw to register a mark, I should have missed out on the event buy my competitive spirit was in force again and just couldn't help myself from competing. My thrown sailed out to only 106 ft 2¾ inches but believe it or not it gained me third place and 3 team points. Not that point mattered the javelin was won by R Shepherd (North Staffs and Stone Harriers) with a great throw of 163ft 2½ inches.

All change for Birchfield Sprinters in 220 yards final

Birchfield had such a wealth of talented sprinters that it was all change for the 220 yards event and to be honest I really didn't need another two fresh athletes to compete against after three leg sapping trying races but that's how things turned out in the form of Dave Bartlett and John Hodson two very talented athletes. But in some ways this race was going to be an anti-climax after the goings on in our 100 yards race and to my profound blessing this race was run as an 8 man final with no heats, which gave me a much needed recuperation time of about 50 minute before we came under starter's orders at 4.40 pm and I stepped onto the track for my ultimate race of the afternoon. Mr Hodson hurried us along to take up our set positions on the curve of the 220 yards track, settling down into my blocks I knew my main opposition would come from the two Birchfield Harriers. A quick check by the track judges to see if our splayed fingers were behind our starting lines then the all clear signal, as the starter's voice booms out 'get set' then the clear sound of the pistols echoing retort rings in our ears as we break from our starting block and all blaze around the curve of the furlong track. We travel nearly 100 yards before the bend unfolds itself to give a clear indication to who is leading the race. It was the two Birchfield lads who had stolen the lead by a good two yards over myself and the rest of the field, my fatigue from already running three races was playing it's part in this race, but with one last determined effort in the home straight from me the gap started to close dramatically till I almost drew level with them, but they say the danger and powered away to outsprint me over those last few remaining yards, and had to concede victory to Dave Bartlett and the runner-up John Hodson by a couple of yards, winning time 23 seconds with myself clocking a creditable time of 23.2 seconds. With this race over I could not get changed out of my running gear and enjoy watching the remainder of the meeting from the comfort of the grandstand and some what thanking my lucky starts that my races were over when a freak rain storm struck the meeting sending officials and athletes running for shelter under the canopy of the grandstand. The deluge of rain transformed the cinder track in front of the grandstand into one glittering sheet of water and held up the meeting for about 15 minutes and it was very fortuitous it was the Men's 3 mile team race which was the next event on the programme and the pounding spikes of over 30 runners in this race over nearly 14½ minutes soon helped drain the puddles away. The individual winner of this race was the great cross country runner Roy Fowler who was used to running in adverse climate conditions and his team North Staffs & Stone Harriers also won the team event.

I could go on writing about this meeting for ever but after soaking up the atmosphere of nearly fifty events during the afternoon's meeting it's time to wind up my story. It's almost needless to report that Birchfield Harriers again proved their overwhelming dominance on the West Midlands club scene when they again won the inter-club 'Express and Star trophy' with 79 points, with runners-up Wolverhampton collecting 67 points Tipton came fourth with 26 points.

It has been a disappointing meeting from a Tipton Harriers club point of view, but from my own point of view, I felt privileged to be part of this great athletic meeting and very much looking forward to running at the August Tuesday Bank Holiday meeting at Manor Abbey, Halesowen tomorrow afternoon.