Wales at the British Schools’ Track and field International in 1970
13/07/2020 00:00, In Blog /
Welsh Team Photo - Credit to Adrian Thomas.
We at the British Schools international track & field international match held in Dublin on the evening of Monday, July 13th, 1970. - 50 years ago today. - written by Pete Morris.
Fifty years ago, in 1970, the British Schools’ track and field international match was held in Dublin for the first time. This report looks back to that event and tries to highlight some of the very unusual arrangements that had to be made.
Athletics followers, who are familiar with the way in which this event has been organised for the last forty years, are going to find some of the details very strange.
We normally think of this as an event for under 17 pupils in years 10 and 11, with an option for including talented pupils from the under 15 section.
We expect it to be held in July and a fortnight after the Welsh Schools’ national championships, so that there is ample time for the team to be selected, recover and prepare.
The winners of individual middle events are usually selected automatically and the selectors then have discretion to look at other results (and Power of 10 rankings in recent years) to finalise the team.
Welsh Schools will endeavour to field two pupils in each individual event, which means that the team size can be up to 70.
Travel to a venue in England or Scotland will be by road, and, to Ireland, it will be by ferry and road.
Pupils selected will be provided with international kit.
That’s ‘the usual pattern’ but so much of that did NOT apply in 1970.
The Competing Teams and The Age Group – Not the Middles!
Welsh Schools first started providing international schools competition in 1959, with a match against Scottish Schools at Colwyn Bay.
In 1960, the fixture was repeated against Scotland, in Edinburgh.
When the competition returned to Wales in 1961 – as part of the Welsh Games at Maindy Stadium in Cardiff – England joined to make a triangular fixture and it stayed in that format of three countries, with the venue rotating, in 1962 (Houghton le Spring, England) and 1963 (Edinburgh, Scotland).
Northern Ireland joined in 1964 – again held at Maindy and as part of the Welsh Games – and teams representing those four countries contested the 1965 (Brighton), 1966 (Belfast) and 1967 (Glasgow) events.
In 1966, the British Schools International Athletic Board was formed, a name which was retained until April 1st, 1989, in Cardiff, when, at the prompting of Irish Schools, the name was changed to ‘Schools International Athletic Board’ (SIAB). However, even though it pre-dates the formation of BSIAB/SIAB, the 1961 international is regarded as the first international.
In 1968, at Connah’s Quay in north Wales, an All-Ireland team replaced Northern Ireland and the four-country format (that we are used to) had been established. That means that Wales is now ‘the minnow’ country in the competition, with only a fraction of the secondary schools and colleges in England and fewer numbers than in Ireland and Scotland!
Throughout that 1959 to 1968 period and on until 1973, the competition was for athletes under 19 – effectively a sixth form age group but with the ability to included younger athletes of exceptional talent.
So, in 1970 the match was at senior level, not at under 17 – and with a pretty full complement of events for boys but with only ten individual events for girls.
The Venue and the Date – Not a Saturday, Not an Afternoon!
On rota, it was agreed that the fixture would be held in Dublin – outside the United Kingdom for the first time.
The track at Santry was referred to then as the ‘John F Kennedy’ Stadium, presumably in memory of the President of the United States, who was assassinated in November 1963.
Today, it is referred to as the Morton Stadium and is an eight lane, synthetic track.
In 1970, it was a cinder track and it must have had eight lanes because there are times provided in the results (available as an attachment to download) for all eight athletes in sprint races.
The huge surprise is the date and the timing! The event was held on the evening of Monday, July 13th – just two days after the Welsh Schools’ national championships in Colwyn Bay.
It would be really interesting to look through the paperwork of the time to find out exactly what negotiations had taken place over the 1970 date. In 1968, the Connah’s Quay match had been held on Saturday, July 20th while England hosted in Cheshire on Saturday, July 19th, 1969. Sadly, the paperwork does not seem to exist – understandable after fifty years – so we are just left scratching our heads in wonder.
The arrangements for the selection and travel of the Welsh Schools team
With the main selection ‘event’ – the national championships – being staged at Colwyn Bay on Saturday, July 11th and the international being held two days later, officers of the association faced a huge range of challenges.
The team needed to be selected during that afternoon. Pupils needed to be informed of selection and then whisked away from Colwyn Bay to Dublin.
To add to the complexity, Welsh Schools had ‘international standards’ and pupils needed to have achieved or bettered that standard in order to be selected.
Thankfully, there was some real ‘forward thinking’ in dealing with this problem:
- Before the ‘nationals, the two main team managers – Mrs Monica Williams and Charlie Hughes – circulated a letter on June 2nd. It was intended for the parents/guardians of all the athletes competing on July 11th.
- The letter outlined the travel details.The team was to be given a meal in Colwyn Bay at 7.30 pm on the Saturday night and was then to be taken by coach to stay the night at Notre Dame College of Education in Liverpool.On the Sunday, the team was to due to fly from Speke airport to Dublin.Accommodation would be provided at Gormanston College in Dublin on the Sunday and Monday nights.The match was to be held on the Monday evening, finishing around 9.30 pm, and followed by an official reception and dinner.On the Tuesday, the pupils from north Wales would return home by boat to Holyhead while the south Walians would fly back to Cardiff’s Rhoose airport.
- It was also stressed in the letter that ‘international standards will have to be met’ AND that, because of the difficult and costly travel arrangements, the team size would be restricted to 30! In 1969, there had been more than 30 boys in the team. Inevitably that decision on the team size meant that there would be events in which there would be no pupils representing Wales.
- Each pupil was to be provided with a red vest. They would be provided with a tracksuit for the event but that was to be returned after the match. Girls were asked to provided their own black shorts while boys were asked to provide their own white shorts – and every member of the team was asked to pay a match fee of two pounds.
- As it was felt that very few parents would make the long journey north to Colwyn Bay to watch their son or daughter competing, the responsibility for informing parents that their child/children would not be home until Tuesday was delegated to their County Schools’ Secretary or team manager.
This letter was an excellent example of national team managers communicating both with athletes and parents (well ahead of the event) and County Schools’ organisers. It meant that anyone who had aspirations of making the selected 30 had to take enough clothes with them (and money) to last until they returned home on Tuesday.
Just how Welsh Schools officers managed to get the names of pupils selected on Saturday afternoon onto plane seat bookings for Sunday and Tuesday is one of the great mysteries of life. Was this yet another example of powers of persuasion of Charlie and Jack O’Connell. How we miss them today!
The Team selected
A team of 29 – 20 boys and 9 girls - was selected and, as anticipated, it did not cover all events. A listing of the pupils selected is included at the bottom of this report, with the details of the international standards. It includes the pupil performances both at Colwyn Bay and at Dublin.
Of the 20 boys, five had competed in the 1969 match at Hartford Manor Site in Cheshire.
They were the Holywell HS (Flint) duo of Stuart Jones (400m) and John Roberts (Javelin), Les Prince (Grove Park GS, Denbigh, 110m Hurdles), Brynmor Williams (Cardigan GS, Cardigan, High Jump) and Adrian Thomas (Cynffig CS, Glamorgan, 100 & relay), who was making his third appearance at the event having competed as a year 11/form 5 pupil at Connah’s Quay in 1968. Michael Lewis (Haverfordwest, Pembroke, 400 metres) also appears in the 1969 list of selected athletes but not in the team manager’s report.
Two girls had competed in earlier years. Janet Beese (St Julian’s HS, Monmouth), who, like Adrian Thomas, was also making her third appearance, competed in the shot and discus while her partner, Frances Pincock (Fishguard, Pembroke) had competed in the shot at Connah’s Quay.
Four athletes from the middle and junior sections were included in the team. Steve Ware (Neath GS, Glamorgan, MB) was selected for the 200 metres and relay while two middle girls – Marva Connikie (Duffryn HS, Newport, 4 x 100) and Margaret Rainbow (Mynddydbach CS, Glamorgan, javelin) - were included plus Susan James (Afon Taf HS, Glamorgan), who had set new junior javelin best performances in 1969 and 1970.