Roy Langford - Article No.18 (11/03/2013)

Halesowen Athletic and Cycling Club (Eleventh) Annual Sports Day, Manor Abbey Sports Ground, Halesowen - Tuesday 2nd August 1960 at 2.15 pm

After a physically and mentally draining but intriguing action packed day of athletics at Aldersley Stadium in yesterday's 'Express and Star' trophy meeting, I found it hard to get to sleep on that evening, because of my restless mind was re-running those races over and over again. This I might add was the usual pattern for myself after being on an adrenalin high for nearly four hours during these demanding tension packed athletic meetings, and was more than glad to get out of bed on that August 2nd Tuesday morning and clear my head with other thoughts, like why couldn't I be like a normal person on my two weeks holiday break from work and be relaxing on a sandy beach by the seaside soaking up the sunshine and breathing in the fresh sea air. But in my heart I knew that wasn't for me with my high competitive spirit which wouldn't let me get away from athletics, and even now with my legs still aching from yesterday's exertions I was again looking forward with relish at competing at Manor Abbey Stadium, Halesowen in this afternoon's inter-club meeting.

So after a light early lunch, I left home with my sports holdall dangling over my shoulder and proceeded on my 10 minute walk to Fishers Street bus station in Dudley and took my turn in the queue for the Halesowen bus. I didn't have much of a wait because special buses were put on to cover the extra passengers travelling to Manor Abbey Stadium today, the bus then proceeded on its slow stop by stop journey to Halesowen and it seemed from the general conservations by the bus passengers around me that most of them were indeed heading for the sports meeting and looking forward to a great afternoon's sport. Soon my journey came to an end at the top of Manor Lane with the mass exodus of nearly all the bus passengers the long narrow lane took the steady procession of people on the 15 minute walk towards the tranquil setting of Manor Abbey Stadium. A long steep driveway at the end of Manor Lane led you up to the gated entrance to the sports ground and the programme sellers were out in force, stopping each and every one entering to buy a programme. I dug deep inside my trouser pockets and dished out my one shilling with somewhat eagerness, just wanting to see what fate had in store for me this afternoon.

I then opened up my programme before going one step further; this was because for some unknown reason to me I had to purchase a programme before I knew what event I was participating in at these special inter-club contests. After meticulously through its fixture list and I was somehow relieved to find I was only entered in one individual event, the Men's 100 yards Flat Scratch Race and I was up against a talented wealth of sprinters and that gave me something to dwell about as I headed for the unique changing rooms and club headquarters complex which resembled aircraft hangers. There I reported to the competitors steward Mr J Price and collected my vest No.5.

The 'Sir Harry Vincent Memorial Trophy'

I think I've somehow sprinted ahead of my story because I haven't mentioned what today's meeting was all about. Well it was an inter-club meeting for the 'Sir Harry Vincent Memorial Trophy' which the winning club hold for 12 months, the trophy was presented to the Halesowen club by Mr Eric Vincent one of the sponsors of this meeting, who most Halesowen people will know owns the famous 'Blub Bird' toffee factory in Hunnington about a mile from the sports stadium. My knowledge of 'Sir Harry Vincent' is rather scant and would welcome any help from Bugle readers to know more about this former local employer and any photograph of him and his family dealings with the Halesowen club, because over the past few years I've become rather intrigued about this person.

When the 'Sir Harry Vincent' memorial trophy was first competed for in 1955 it was hoped that in the foreseeable future that an athletic programme of international class would be built around it, but in those intervening 5 years nothing had gone forward with those planning undertakings – so they would have to make do with such honest to goodness teams competing at today's meeting which are: North Staffs & Stone Harriers, Tipton Harriers, Oldbury A.C., Stourbridge &* Wordsley District Harriers, Dudley A.C., Halesowen A.C. , Wolverhampton Harriers, Small Heath Harriers, Birchfield Harriers and the holders of the trophy Nottingham A.C. This was a record number of teams entered for this trophy meeting.

International Nick Whitehead (Birchfield) lines up for Men's 100 yards Heats

Soon after I collected my vest number, I just couldn't wait to have a peak at that wonderful athletic track before I got into my running gear. It was indeed a great sight, and like I said on my first visit of this track, when I expressed my opinion that it looked like a Roman Gladiatorial Arena resting in a hollow, but with its up to day steep banked tramaced cycling and lush greed turf of the six lane athletic track in those distant Roman times rivers of blood would sometimes flow in those arenas and who was to say the odd drop of blood wouldn't be spilled on the cycling and athletic track today.

The Tipton Harriers club representatives were again those two stalwarts Jim Bedford and Len Myerscough, what would this club do without them I shudder to think, they both wished me the best of luck as I prepared to warm up for the opening event of the afternoon's athletics the Men's 100 yards Flat Scratch Race and what a line up there was for the three heats of this opening event and the first tow from each heat went into the final.

My 20 minutes warm up went well and felt in confident mood even though it was a class field, seven of us line up for this race and my two main rivals were Jack Cole (Halesowen) and Dave England (Small Heath Harriers) two great sprinters. My hands were shaking as I set up my starting blocks under the watchful eyes of the track stewards; the starter for the meeting was another Halesowen legend Mr Stan Smith.

The meeting got underway just after 2.15 pm with the opening heats of the Men's 100 yards Flat Scratch Races and I was contesting heat number one, and without further ado Mr Smith called us up to get under starters orders, a little nervous glance at my fellow rivals before settling into my blocks, no false starts as we blast away and go flying down the 100 yard track in the blink of a couple of eyelids the race is over with victory going to Dave England (Small Heath) with a more than delighted yours truly in second place half a yard down but with a disappointing winning slow time of 10.8 seconds but I'm happy , I'm in the final.

Heat number tow was won by international sprint star Nick Whitehead in 10.5 seconds and heat number three by Ken Merchant (Birchfield) in 10.7 seconds, what a line up for the final in half an hours time.

The Men's 100 yards Flat Scratch Race

Six runners had made it to this final and I felt somewhat privileged to be in that line up and here I was up against one international runner and two top class sprinters in the form of Dave England (Small Heath) and Ken Merchant (Birchfield Harriers) who had the great distinction of being the first coloured athlete to don the stag bearing vest of Birchfield Harriers. With our warming up session over we six 100 yards finalists assembled at the starting line and after a few practice starts from our set blocks, the starter Mr Smith calls us to get set on our marks, my mind almost goes numb with tension as we settle down into our blocks. The all nerves are forgotten with the echoing pistol sound ringing in my ears, we all explode from our starting blocks, six fit young athletes all set off striving to be first across the winning line, but our fate was sealed from the off with only one outcome the class of Nick Whitehead  (Birchfield) shone through gaining him victory by a couple of yards in 10.2 seconds, with Dave England just taking second place from myself by half a yard and I had relegated Ken Merchant to fourth place, needless to say I was over the moon with my performance.

(Just out of interest four weeks after this event Nick Whitefield won an Olympic bronze medal at the Rome Olympics along with Peter Radford, David Jones and David Segal in the 4 X 100 metres relay race)

Open 16 Miles Team and Individual Road Race

With my running over for the afternoon I could soak up the atmosphere inside the stadium and enjoy the rest of the afternoon's sport. One event which always caught my eye was the 16 miles 1,080 yards road race, not that I ever saw much of it, because after two laps around the track they left the stadium and that was the last we would see of them for almost 1½ hours, a two lap course would take them to the borders of Quinton, Blackheath Old Hill, Cradley and Halesowen. The winning team to hold the 'County Express Trophy' for one year, last year's winners Wolverhampton Harriers and individual winner for the last two years was the great Colin Kemble (Wolverhampton). Colin was hoping this race would make it a hat trick of wins for him. But he found A.P. Keily (Derby & County A.C.) and John Tarrant (1st Btn Hereford T.A) just too good for him on this day and finished in third place. Winning time in a new course record time of 1 hour 23 min 32.7 seconds. Wolverhampton Harriers won the team prize to make it a hat trick of wins.

Worth also a mention on that day were the only two Tipton Harriers in the race, Bob Bratt who finished in 7th place my mate Brian Boyce who I ran against in those sprint trials on my first day of joining Tipton Harriers in 1955 and here he was nearly 6 years later showing his great versatility running 16 miles to finish up in 14th place out of a field of 38 runners and Brian was still at this period in his running career still entering in open sprint handicap races from 100 yards to 440 yards.

Men's 880 yards Final

Another top notch race to capture the attention of the crowd was the Men's 880 yards Final with two Nottinghamshire athletic club dominating the large field from start to finish and only a brilliant sprint finish in the home straight saw Ron Tutin (Notts A.C.) defeat his team mate C Walker by about 2 yards with Colin Simpson (Small Heath Harriers) in close third place, winning time 1 min 59.7 seconds.

Two Olympic Athletes in Great 440 yards Race

The 440 yards Flat Scratch Race was won in great style by John Salisbury (Birchfield) in a very good time for this slow Halesowen grass track with 50.5 seconds, runner up was another great Birchfield runner Mike Farrell with my mate and great rival Dave Pugh (Halesowen) in third place.

Ps John Salisbury won an Olympic bronze medal in the Melbourne Games in Australia in 1956 in the 4 X 400 metres relay race, and Mike Farrall finished 5th in the final of the 800 metres at the same 1956 Olympic Games.

A superb Athletic Meeting

This meeting for me had really been a star studded day of athletics at this Halesowen meeting, the crowd had really had their money's worth and they had cheered and shouted at every step the athletes took on this superb afternoon of athletics and cycling. Early on in my story I mentioned that the Halesowen club wanted this meeting for the 'Sir Harry Vincent Memorial Trophy' to be of international standards, well today like no other meeting over the past 5 years they had surprisingly come close to fulfilling that dream, and I was very proud to have been part of this top quality meeting and rubbed shoulders with some, now legends of British Athletics, and with just a passing update Birchfield Harriers won the 'Sir Harry Vincent Memorial Trophy' for 1960.