LARKHALL YMCA HARRIERS

Club History

 The YMCA was first located in the town in the rooms above where Semi Chem is located in Union Street today, having been established there in 1897. In the early 1900s the organization moved to Caledonian Road after buying the land between King Street and the Police Station boundary wall from the Caledonian Railway Company. Shortly after the Great War the YMCA sold the building which it had built on this land to two local businessmen who were also YMCA members; they in turn sold it to the Royal Mail who used it as Larkhall's main post office until the late 1970's. The YMCA moved into barracks that were purchased cheaply from the Army and then erected on the current site. By the 1960s these buildings were in a very poor condition, therefore the YMCA embarked on the fund raising and construction project that produced the modern building, which was completed in 1967. Today this building is starting to show its age, and the present membership has recently embarked on a maintenance and repair programme with the aim of prolonging its useful lifespan.


The YMCA Harriers' Club came into being as follows. Firstly there was a rambling group that was very active in the town in the 1920s, and this was to prove a useful recruiting ground for the Harriers; indeed R. Campbell believes that the club directly evolved from the rambling group. Secondly, by 1930 the YMCA had an indoor athletic section, and that summer the Lanarkshire Association of YMCAs held its Sports Day at Larkhall. Thirdly informal committee meetings and AGMs were being held from 1930; we know this because they are referred to in the formal minutes book which dates from April 1933. The stage was set for someone to harness this disparate athletic type activity, and this someone was John C. Scott, an official at Hamilton Harriers. Under his guiding influence, which was remembered by club members more than twenty years later, Larkhall YMCA Harriers formally came into being in September 1931. The first pack run was held the following month, and the first written records for the club that still survive are dated November 1931. Interestingly, in the Hamilton Advertiser article that heralds the start of the club, (dated October 1931) the correspondent recalls the previous Harriers Club which existed in the town before the Great War. Although it had no connection to the newly formed YMCA club, its members did perform with distinction during the Edwardian era - especially in 1903 when the club won the Midland Districts Men's Cross Country Championship team title and "reigned supreme in the west". Irrespective of the exact nature of its formation in 1930, over the ensuing 75 years the Harriers' Club has offered a healthy outlet for successive generations of youngsters from Larkhall and the surrounding area. The club has been particularly effective in promoting the social and physical ethos of the YMCA. Moreover its members have, over the years, become increasingly involved in maintaining the YMCA's presence in the town, to the extent that today the club and the YMCA are virtually synonymous in peoples' minds. Club members have performed with distinction at district, inter - district, Scottish, British and International level at various times in the club's history, with these performances in turn being rewarded by selection for inter district squads, Scottish Schools squads, Scottish YMCA squads, Scottish squads, and British squads. Membership peaked in the 1980s with approximately 80 people on the books. Presently that number stands at 45.

Within a few years if its foundation the club had established races and training routines that would be clearly recognisable to today's members. For example, by 1932 the club was staging a Xmas Novelty road race not only using the handicap and prize giving format still employed to this day, but also running it over much the same course. Moreover by the summer of 1933 track scratch and handicap championships were being staged, again establishing a tradition that continues in the club today. Indeed that year they used an interesting programme, whereby one week they would hold a scratch competition for a given distance, and the next hold its handicap equivalent. This format meant that the combined competitions ran on for the best part of three months - and this method was experimented with again in the 1980's for the scratch championships. Latterly however it was felt that a good deal of the excitement and passion that can be aroused by holding the track championships in a short space of time was lost when employing this format, therefore we changed back to the normal practice of holding them during a 2/3 week window in late August/early September. Pack runs were traditionally held on Saturday afternoons; a common practice for Harriers Clubs throughout Scotland, and these runs often involved invitations to and from other local clubs such as Hamilton Harriers and Motherwell Harriers. Going hand in hand with these sessions was the Opening Run, held over a mixture of roads and cross country, and which was usually held in September. Both of these traditions survived in our club until the 1980's thanks largely to the efforts of A.B. Perrie, J. Mowbray, and R. Campbell. For many years this trio were virtually a Saturday afternoon institution in the town, when they could be seen pounding the streets and local countryside roads and lanes. Alex died in 1999, but John and Richard are very much alive and kicking, although their road running has now been replaced by regular walking. Finally, the practice of training on a Tuesday and Thursday evenings was also first established in the decade leading up to the start of the Second World War.

Out with the club, members attended the big athletics events of the time. These included the Novice Cross Country Championships, held generally in November each year, the YMCA Cross Country Championships, held the following month, the Midland District CC Championships usually held in January or February each year, and the National Cross Country Championships which were usually staged in February or March. Again, following a pattern which lasts to the present day, the club's support for these events was sporadic; occasionally a full team would turn out, but more often than not entries were done on a talented individual basis. Although there were track events held throughout central Scotland each summer, the club's main focus was on the winter programme that ran from September through to March each year. The club first took part in the Scottish YMCA CC Championships in December 1932 at Thornliebank. This was the eleventh annual staging of this event and J.B. Peat from Larkhall was fifteenth in the individual race, with the team finishing eighth overall. At the 1936 championships S.C. Gebbie from Larkhall finished tenth, recording the first top ten finish by a club athlete at a major race out with the club, whilst the club were runners up for the team title. These championships were held at Larkhall for the first time the following year on December 18, when the club took full advantage of home ground status by winning the team event for the first time in its short history - the counting team members were J. Gebbie (3), J. McMillan (4), W. Perrie(5), and T. Wedlock(6). In the late 1930s Tom was one of our premier performers, carrying on his fine form in this event through to the BUSF Cross Country Championships held at Liverpool in February 1938, where he finished in ninth place whilst representing Glasgow University Hares and Hounds.

The period 1939 - 45 was a tough one for the club, where the major aim of those members who survive, the call up for the war effort was simply keeping the club in being. From 1939 to 1942 most club and inter club competition was suspended in deference to the titanic events that were unfolding on the world stage. However from September 1942 onwards there was a steady return to something akin to the race programme that had first been established back in the 1930s. Inter club pack runs and competition, plus events involving the armed forces became increasingly commonplace in the latter war years, and this almost certainly reflects the growing belief in the nation at large that, although it was a long and costly struggle, we would be ultimately victorious. From 1945 to 1950 the club not only slowly recovered much of the character and content that was a feature of the pre war years, but also looked to broaden its appeal. The club's correspondent Fleetfoot (Jimmy MacFarlane) made a welcome return to the sports pages of the Hamilton Advertiser, although his articles weren't as prolific as those which appeared from 1931 to 1939. The Ballot Team Races, that were held twice a year, usually in March and December, used the Fairholm Trail for the first time in 1944. August 1949 saw the founding of the first Ladies Section following the receipt of an application for membership from a Miss R. Callen from Lesmahagow. This section had died out by 1952, however it was resurrected in various forms in the 1960s and 1970s, and it was an issue which challenged successive generations of male harriers until it was finally resolved in the mid 1980s, when the decision was taken to make the club a fully mixed one. Finally 1948 saw the arrival in the club of David Keir Gracie who, within four short years, was to transform the profile of the club in the Scottish athletics community

Davie, the club's most distinguished member (born January 1927), represented Britain in the 400m hurdles at the 1952 Olympics held in Helsinki. He just missed out on making the final when he finished fourth in his semi final, being given the same time as the man who finished third. Only 6 athletes progressed to the final, and indeed his fourth place time was better than that of the second place athlete in the other semi final. Shortly after the Olympics, he equalled the twenty year old UK 400m hurdles record of 52.3 seconds. His time stood as the Scottish record for 18 years, and even today - more than 50 years after it was set - it still stands at number 16 in the Scottish all time rankings. In 1953 he won the World University Games 400m Hurdles title in Dortmund, Germany. Straddling his great years of '52 and '53, he was four times SAAA Champion from 1951 to 1954, and in the same period he was also a four times AAA finalist. He came closest to winning the latter event when he finished third in 1954, only 0.3 of a second behind the winner Harry Kane. However this performance was not considered good enough by the SAAAs to merit selection for that year's Empire Games which were held in Vancouver, Canada - a decision which was noted with regret in the President's Report at the 1955 Club AGM. To this day both his 400m flat and 400m hurdles times are club records; the former has been threatened on a few occasions over the years, but the latter has remained out of sight.

 Davie's achievements, although comfortably the greatest in the club's history, aren't the only ones of merit recorded in the 1950's. For most of that decade Thomas Dempster Reid set new standards in many of the club's road and cross country races. In February 1951 "Dem" was part of the team that won the Scottish YMCA Cross Country Senior Men's Team title for only the second time in the club's history - a performance that earned both him and D. Brown places in the Scottish team for that year's British YMCA CC Championships. Four years later, in March 1955, “Dem” and John Stevenson formed part of the Scottish YMCA team that won the British title in Manchester, with "Dem" finishing in a magnificent second place and John a highly creditable fourteenth. Indeed the latter was also a top class athlete who, in the season 1951/52, became the first club athlete to make a big impact at Youth level. That winter he won the Youth titles at the Lanarkshire, Midland District and Scottish YMCA Cross Country Championships. Strongly fancied to complete a clean sweep by lifting the national cross country title being contested at Hamilton Race Course that year, he was stricken by a cold in the week prior to the race which restricted him to finishing fourteenth. That was a cruel blow for John, and the club had to wait for more than twenty years before a member at last won an open cross country title at national level. Unfortunately the club record books for those years are long since lost, therefore the impact that TD Reid and J. Stevenson made in the 1950s has largely been forgotten until now. "Dem" died a few years ago, but John is still alive - although his eyesight is now failing - and stays down in Ayrshire. Hopefully this account will go some way to recognising the importance of their performances in the club's history.


Jimmy MacFarlane (aka Fleetfoot), one of the club's longest serving members, died in 1956. His participation in and service to the club in many different capacities stretched back more than 20 years, therefore his contemporaries decided to set up a road race in his memory and purchase a memorial trophy that would be presented annually to the winner. The race was first held in April 1957 with G Leggate being the - surprise - inaugural winner. The race is still being held today each year over the same Canderside Toll course, with the winner's name and time being inscribed on the magnificent trophy. Back in 1957 the trophy cost nearly £30.00, which was a lot of money at the time, and the quality of it makes it undoubtedly the premier trophy to win in club competition to this day. By 1960 three out of the four road races that today make up the club's Road Race Championship were firmly established in the calendar. These were (a) the Xmas Novelty, (b) the Fairholm Ballot, and (c) the MacFarlane. Indeed, as mentioned earlier the Ballot Team Race was staged twice a year, and at some point in the 1 960s the December version of these races was moved to October, employing what came to be known as the Turnip course. The format for the Turnip Road Race (whose name emanates from the occasion when A.B. Perrie completed his leg of the relay carrying some turnips which had fallen of the back of a farmer's trailer!) consists of a three man relay over a 3.25 mile circuit that starts and finishes just over the Millheugh bridge on the back road to Stonehouse.

The successes of club members throughout the 1950s were largely down to the work of Tom Smillie, whose enthusiasm; knowledge and experience were key factors in the period 1943 - 56. Indeed, as has often been the case before and after Tom's era, the key individuals who have kept the club going throughout it's history frequently multiskilled - doing so long before the term was coined by management theorists! Tom emigrated to Australia in early 1957, with his long and fruitful association with the club being duly recognised at a farewell dinner dance held at the Grange Hotel in Hamilton. During the 1960s and 1970s club training became even more organized and structured - this revolution being largely the work of A.B. Perrie, who read widely and attended many coaching courses over this period. He studied the writings of the great coaches of the time (e.g. Lydiard, Cerruty) and adopted many of their principles into his training routines for the club athletes. Although the records for this period are also lost, we know that the standard in track performances in events from 800 metres upwards, as well as the road and cross country performances in general, rose to such an extent that for the first time ever club athletes on a regular basis competed at or near to Scottish "open" class in middle and long distance races. In 1960 W Morrison won the Scottish AAA half mile title (to this day he and D.K. Gracie remain the only club athletes to have won a SAAA Senior individual title) and the following year he won a Scottish track vest. At the 1963 national cross country championships B. McRoberts finished in thirtieth place in the senior race and this was probably the best ever finish by a club athlete up to that time in this event. Indeed during the 1960s we had six athletes running under two minutes for the 880 yards in the club at the same time. The fastest of these runners was D. McBain who, nearly forty years ago, was running close to 1m.50s on cinder tracks. At the other end of the spectrum was the great performance of the Under 20s Men's team when winning the open national cross country title at Ayr Race Course in February 1970. The team that day consisted of William and lan Bums, Jim Sorbie, Douglas McBain, Jim Gilfillan, Charles Morrow, Keith Whitefield and Andrew Sandilands. W. Burns' individual performance at Ayr also earned him a place in the Scottish team that competed in the annual International Cross Country Championships held the following month in France. This remains the greatest team performance in the club's history.

By the early 1970s Jimmy McCluckie had emerged as the club's premier performer over roads and cross country and he was probably the first, and so far the only, man to hold the records for all four of our road races at the same time. Jimmy ran at the very top level as a Youth and Junior, although he didn't win a full Scottish vest - but it should be remembered the competition on the Scottish scene was exceptional at this time. Due to the loss of the relevant record books, the only concrete evidence of the calibre of his running that remains are his winning times inscribed on the MacFarlane Trophy. In 1973 Jim Egan (born 1960) started coming about the club and from the very beginning it was obvious that he was an exceptional talent. Indeed I was one of the many club members over the next thirteen years to feel the heat generated in the wake of his many great performances both within and out with the club! In the period 1982 - 85 he set club records on the track and road that stand to this day, including marvellous times for the Xmas Novelty and MacFarlane Trophy Road Races: indeed it was only an exceptional performance by D. Leitch in the Turnip Relay Road Race that prevents Jim from holding all of road race records. Oddly enough his greatest performances came exactly 10 years apart: in February 1974 he won the Under 13 Boys National Cross Country title at Coatbridge, (he remains the only club member to win an "open" national cross country title) and in February 1984 he finished fifth in the Scottish Senior Men's Cross Country Championship at Irvine. This phenomenal performance, achieved in a race of both great quality and quantity, is not only the best ever placing by a club athlete in this event at these championships, but also gained him selection for the Scottish team that ran in the World Cross Country Championships the following month in New York, where he performed creditably in a very high calibre race. Without doubt Jim is the second greatest athlete in the club's history, with only the performances of Davie Gracie some thirty years earlier keeping him out of the number one spot.

Over the last twenty five years the solid coaching foundation laid down by T. Smillie and A.B. Perrie was built upon mainly through the work of DJ Nugent (1980s), W.J.G. Mowbray (1980 - present day), and T. McTaggart (early 1990s to present day) Interestingly enough A.B. Perrie had a coaching comeback in the 1990s, when he trained a small but very successful group of sprinters/jumpers right up to national and international standards at U/17, U/20 and Masters level. Indeed one of the features of the modem day club is that we have significantly improved the performance levels on the sprinting/jumping side of the sport to a standard that only D.K. Gracie bettered in the first fifty years of the club's existence. Indeed one of the few times that his 400m record was threatened occurred during the final of the Men's U/20 national indoor league, held in February 1998 at the Kelvin Hall. That day the team consisting of Barry McTaggart, Derek Kidd, Peter Chui and Brian Smart won the U/20 team title, with Barry recording 49.76 seconds for the 400m after already racing hard over 60m and 200m. This team achievement probably is the second greatest one in the club's history, in terms of performance at an open competition. The following achievements, although far from being exhaustive, do nevertheless give a very good idea of how the club has prospered over the last 20 years. In 1988 Steven Shanks was a bronze medal winner in the 100m, and a silver medal winner in the 200m at the Scottish U/20 Men's Track Championships. That same year he won an international vest for a match against Northern Ireland, winning his 200m race and being part of the winning 4x100m relay team. Steven not only was a winner at district, inter district and national level, both indoors and out, but also set club records at 60m,100m, and 200m which are still standing to this day. K. Woods, although primarily an 800m runner, won the national indoor U/20 Men's 400m title in 1991, and was part of the 4x200m team that finished second in the senior indoor relay championships in February 1991. The other members of the silver medal winning quartet were D. Gilmour, S. Shanks, and S. Ferguson. A. Sandilands was a medallist at both 3km and 5km at district, inter district and Scottish schools level. He also won international vests for the Scottish schools for track and cross country. Finally B. McTaggart had an excellent career at U/17 and U/20 level, being a quadruple gold medallist at district level (all won on the same day), a double gold medallist at West district level, a bronze medallist at U/20 National level, a silver medallist at the indoor Scottish schools and a double silver medallist at the schools' outdoor track championships in 1996. This last performance won him a schools international vest for the meeting in Wales that year, where he performed outstandingly in the triple jump to win the silver medal by soaring out to 13.14m - a club record at the time. Uniquely, in 1996 Barry ranked in the top ten in Scotland at U/17 level in no less than seven events - 60m, 100m, 200m, 400m, LJ, TJ, and HJ.

During this same period our best female athletes have also recorded some great performances at inter district, national and schools international level. For example in 1993 Laura Fitzpatrick became the first female athlete to win a medal at the West District Track Championships, either indoors or out, since the start of the modem ladies section in 1983, when she won the silver medal at that years outdoor event in the U/13 Girls' 200m. In February 1995 Jill Shearer won the U/13 Girls' 800 m indoors title at both the West District and National Championships. More recently the achievements of Christina Whitelaw at under 15, under 17 and under 20 levels have been particularly noteworthy, as she has been an athlete who, at her best, has competed well against her contemporaries on the road, cross country and track on the national stage. To date she is our only female athlete to medal at the Scottish Secondary Schools' track championships, and the only one to win a schools' international vest - the latter being achieved in July 2003. Indeed she has been one of the few female athletes to perform consistently at a top level since the strong performances of the small group of female runners in the 1960s that included in its ranks Nancy McGill, Sandra Barclay, Sandra Dunn and Linda Hamilton. Much of the credit for the success of this group was down to the work of D Gebbie, who was a member from the early 1950s through to the early 1970s. In recent years three young female athletes have been selected to run in the Scottish team in the London mini marathon, an event held in conjunction with the London Marathon - namely C. Whitelaw, J. Frame, and S. Archibald. Jodie and Christina have also represented the West of Scotland in the SCCU Inter District Cross Country Races. Another female performance of note in "open" competition was that of the young athletes who finished fourth in the National Cross Country Relay Championships held at Cumbernauld in October 2001, (the team members were Harriet Hill, Christina Whitelaw, and Lesley Haig). Meanwhile, not to be outdone, an under 13 Boy's Team won the bronze medals at the National Road Relay Championships held at Rouken Glen, Eastwood, in September 2003. Myles Hollinshead recorded the second fastest lap overall that day and he was strongly backed up by Gary Mooney and David Kane. This was only the fourth time in the club's history that a team had won medals at an open national championship.

An increasingly prominent trend from the late 1980s onwards has been the emergence of a small but very successful band of veteran athletes - both male and female. To date Christine Love has been the most outstanding performer on the female side, winning medals at both Scottish and British level and, in 1993, being part of the Scottish Vets Squad that competed against the North of England Vets Select Squad at Jarrow. So far on the male side John Shearer has been the club's most distinguished athlete on the Masters' circuit, medalling both at Scottish and British level (indeed he won the British Vets' Indoor 400m title in February 2003), as well as being selected for the Scottish Vets' squad that competed against the North of England Squad in 1998. In June 2001 John won the £1000 first prize in the 110m open handicap sprint at the Beltane Sports held annually in Peebles, one of the most prestigious events of its kind on the Highland Games circuit, at the ripe old age of 44! Other athletes to medal at Master's championships include Fiona Mowbray in the 1990s (at both 400m and 800m) and, over the last five years, Craig Douglas (at 400m). The foregoing gives a flavour of how club members have competed with great success over the years at inter district, national and international level. There are probably some gaps in this history, and there is undoubtedly a huge void in terms of how members over the years performed at club and local level. However, despite all the great performances that club members have achieved over the last 75 years, the greatest legacy that has been bestowed collectively by something close to a 1000 people in that time is the camaraderie and friendships which were forged from a collective interest in athletics performance. There is no doubt that the bonds so forged far outweighed the bad feelings occasionally generated in the club; and in terms of local history and culture, that has been the club's greatest achievement

Having researched this short history one of the things that struck me the most were the themes that have recurred from generation to generation. Indeed very little of what the present generation of members have experienced over the last twenty years is actually new. Here are a few examples. Firstly our club has always been a small one, with the need to recruit more members being an issue for most of its history. Membership figures prior to the 1960s are hard to calculate. However on at least two occasions in the 1950s numbers of paid up members reached the high thirties and this was of sufficient merit to be mentioned favourably in the minute books. During the 1960s and 1970s membership fluctuated greatly between a low of around 20 and a high around 50. Undoubtedly membership of the club peaked in the 1980s when the committee aimed to try and sign up a 100 members, and actually reached 80 for several years. This peak reflected the great interest nationwide in jogging at the time, which best manifested itself in "marathon mania" (in fact the my only claim to fame in the club is that I was the first member to compete in and finish a marathon, when taking 2 hours 56 minutes to run the London Marathon in March 1981). In the 1990s we regularly had 60 members on the books, although in the last couple of years we have dropped to around 45. Therefore once again recruiting is a topical theme with the first target being to get the membership above fifty in our 75th year. One idea currently being considered is 1 lower our starting age from 9 to 8 years. In the modern era we know that paid up members and competing members are not the same thing. For example we have 45 members at present, half of whom train on a regular basis - defined as training on a Tuesday and Thursday night. In turn half of them train and compete on a regular basis at weekends. Therefore the need to draw new people into the club is a subject which must be regularly addressed. Secondly issues such as buying equipment (the club had only one stopwatch as late as the early 1960s!), dates of club competitions, formats for the track championships, fund raising, serious constitutional fallouts, serious schisms over individuals (thankfully limited to a couple of situations) and the style of club vests have cropped up throughout the club's history. For example, for over twenty years the style and colours of the club vest were debated by successive generations of committees. Finally in 1959 the current club vest was approved, although the manufacturer misread the instructions and supplied us with red vests with two white hoops at chest level, instead of ones with two white stripes running diagonally across the front of them. Rather than incur the costs of replacing them the club accepted them as supplied. The heat that can be generated in an argument over something as seemingly straightforward as club colours re - surfaced in the early 1990s. At this time there was serious talk of our club amalgamating with Stonehouse AAC. The proposal put to our members was that the joint club would retain our name, but we would adopt the Stonehouse colours. After much debate the proposal was rejected and the amalgamation fell through. Thirdly as previously mentioned, the topic of female membership caused problems in the club intermittently for nearly 40 years. It was finally resolved in 1986 when the club became a fully mixed one. Today male and female members train together on a regular basis, compete in mixed club competitions and our committee posts can be filled by either sex - and our club has benefited greatly from doing so.

Finally, it is only right and proper that we acknowledge the benefit that the club has gained from the presence of the YMCA in the town. This organization, through the tireless efforts of successive generations of its members, provided headquarters in the town, which since 1930 have been an invaluable base for the Harriers to work from. Having a secure location for its activities has undoubtedly gone a long way to ensuring that the club has not only survived the troughs but also made the best of the peaks in membership over the years. As stated in the opening paragraph of this history the present YMCA building is now in need of some serious and regular maintenance, and the Harriers club should play a large part in this not only because of the benefits it will accrue in the future, but also because of the debt the club owes to past generations of YMCA and YMCA Harriers members. As long as the benefits of maintaining the present building outweigh the costs then we should aim to keep the YMCA in its current location. I believe the Harriers club has a good chance of celebrating its 100 anniversary, and it would be even better if it does so in unison with the YMCA. It would be ironic if we get a new synthetic track as part of Larkhall Academy's proposed modernization programme, which would be very useful in ensuring the club's survival, but lose the YMCA building due to lack of funds for repairs and improvements. However, how this all works out is a story to be told by someone else when the club history is updated as part of its centenary celebrations!!


ACKNOWLEDGMENTS


John Mowbray and Richard Campbell - our two oldest surviving club members who provided me with a wealth of information, photographs and anecdotes about the club's history. Their first hand accounts date back into the 1940s, and they have second hand knowledge of both the YMCA and YMCA Harriers' history in the town from their respective beginnings in 1897 and 1930.

Hamilton Central Library Reference Staff, who were very patient and helpful as I worked my way through the back copies of the Hamilton Advertiser.

J.W. Keddie's book "Scottish Athletics" provided an interesting general read about the history of athletics in Scotland and was a particularly useful source of information on the achievements of DK Gracie. 

Alex B. Perrie - eventually we fell out, rather spectacularly, but before doing so, in my early years in the club he nurtured and encouraged my interest in athletics - and for that I am truly grateful.

W.J.G. Mowbray,
Club Secretory.