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Friday, August 10, 2007

Race issues

By Ken Ashton
It’s a small world, as we like to say when we are stuck for an intro.
Graeme Huston, editor in chief of a group of newspapers in South Yorkshire, emailed to say he’d spotted our rants and picked up – well-spotted! – the fact that Skidmore and I had once graced (should that be dis-graced?) the fair town of Doncaster and requested from each of us some memories.
Mine were sporting and Skidmore and I could be read reliving the good old days in the Doncaster Free Press last weekend (August 3).
Inspired by that, I delved again with this gem, which has links to sport and newspapers, with a toast to an old editor and Peter Keeling, who splashed my success in the Manchester Evening News and caused me some embarrassment…
The night Dad and I were arrested had all the elements of pure farce. We go back to the 1950s, when I was running like the wind as an amateur athlete in Lancashire and a budding journalist. Dad, who had been a marathon man in his own young days, was my trainer, bag man, adviser and masseur.
In those golden days of real amateurism, there were athletics meetings all over the country, organised by businesses, councils, even the police. One of the biggest on the running calendar was Manchester City Police Sports, staged at the old White City stadium.
In that glorious summer, I had been winning everything I entered and, as a result, was down for the 100 and 220 yards – long before metres – in this prestigious event. But on this occasion, there was a snag. This was a Wednesday evening meeting and I was working as sports editor on the Manchester City News and the event clashed with press night.
I did the unforgivable. I left my running gear in a left luggage locker at Manchester’s Piccadilly station, complained of stomach ache around mid-afternoon, was allowed to go early, grabbed a sandwich and met Dad at the White City gates.
Four hours later, I had won both events and was on the way home from Manchester to St Helens by train. We didn’t own a car. Dad, a carpenter by trade, had his bag of tools, I had my bag of running gear and a guilty conscience to go with the euphoria of winning.
One prize was a tea-trolley, the other a canteen of cutlery. I also had prizes team-mates had won and wished to exchange, as they were ‘doubles’. I’d volunteered to take them back to the prize secretary the following day. So I was loaded with goods…
We left the last train at St Helens Shaw Street station and started the thee-mile walk home. Now the way home was via a road known as Croppers Hill – and it was steep. As I puffed and dragged aching legs up the hill, Dad’s tool bag on the bottom shelf of the tea-trolley with a watch and clock – my friends’ prizes - and my running kit on the top, a policeman the size of a Welsh prop forward stepped out of an alleyway.
‘’Ello, ’ello, ’ello. What’s all this then?’ I let go of the trolley, which ran down the hill, scattering Dad’s tools, goodies and cutlery in its wake. We were on hands and knees picking up cutlery and sorting out hammers, chisels and saws by streetlight, the policeman standing hands on hips and handcuffs at the ready. Dad was spluttering explanations and I was trembling with fright.
And, of course, when the bobby asked where we had got the cutlery and what we were doing with tools, my explanation that I’d won them – and at a police force sports event – was met with raucous laughter. We had a laughing policeman.
They also laughed at the cop shop, before phoning Manchester police to confirm the story. We got home around 2.30am and were back on the Manchester train the following morning at 8.0am.
I shuffled into work, was greeted with sympathy because I still didn’t look well and, red-faced, said I felt somewhat better. I did…until the Manchester Evening News hit the office around mid-day.
There, on the back page, was a photograph of yours truly winning the 100 yards in style. Complete with glowing write-up from my friend Peter Keeling. Ernie McCormack’s voice boomed my name… He let me off with a caution and I never missed another press night.
A week later and we are at our local track for St Helens Police Sports and I’m down to run the 100 and 220. The 100 was a runaway for my old mate Sammy Clemson, but the 220 was a doddle for me. I may have started as back marker, but I scuttled through the heats and semi-final and nicked the final by a stride at the tape.
I strolled up later to collect first prize, a luxurious rose-coloured eiderdown, something my mother had had her eye on as she inspected the prizes. The burly guy handing it over gave me one of those looks, as recognition dawned. ‘Go straight home with that,’ he grinned.
This prize steward was the copper who’d stepped out of the alley on that tea-trolley night.
Joe Humpreys, Mirror rugby league writer, was at that meeting. A week later, the Mirror offered me a sports subbing job… I hit Withy Grove running.