The National Cross-Country Championship at Haydock Park on Saturday was decided in a snow-storm. Not since the inauguration of the event have such vile conditions been experienced. Yet, though the weather was so severe, there were no serious cases of collapse. Mr Joe. Knight (the president) was anxious that the proceedings should not be marred by anything an unpleasant character, and look the precaution of addressing the 163 competitors on the wisdom of guarding against cold and cramp. It is worthy of note that Mr Knight's advice was followed out with advantageous results. There was only a moderate attendance, and financially event cannot classed as a success. Another drawback was the absence of the metropolitan clubs in consequence of the secession the Southern Association.
An outstanding feature was the brilliant success achieved by the Birchfield H. They quite turned the table's on Hallamshire, who were first team home at Newbury last year by a margin of 12 points, and now had to be content with second place, the Midlands champions' marginal victory over them being no fewer than 52 points. The men responsible for this good work were the National and International champion of 1908. A J Robertson who finished second, E Green, E Massey, E V Loney, and the veteran W H Day. On behalf of the North Staffordshire H., Loney was twenty-ninth twelve months ago. Green then also finished seventeenth, but on Saturday both these men showed wonderful improvement by being placed seventh and fourth respectively. A similar remark applies to Massey, who, from forty-seventh position, put in some sterling running which lauded him home fifth. Day proved himself to be as versatile as ever, and did exceedingly well by finishing sixteenth. Pallett, the sixth man counting in the team, was twenty-seven. Altogether, Birchfield, who have registered nine National triumphs since 1887, including a tie, put up a very fine performance, Hallamshire lost the race because they met rather better class.
As in the Northern at Doncaster, Jim Murphy, suited the heavy going, ran prominently throughout. His excellent stamina carried him through, and the popular Irishman secured individual honours after a very hard struggle with the Birchfielder, Robertson. In 1908 Birtles finished eighth, Aldous eighteenth, and Cottrill twenty-fourth. Now their respective positions were twenty-third, seventeenth, and twenty-first. Thus the first-named runner was accountable for comparative loss of 15 points. Luckily for Hallamshire, the Havenhand objection was overruled. Along with A Turner, he ran very well. Indeed, Hallamshire's first six men, with one exception, were seen to fairly good advantage. Their defeat was not exactly due to bad packing;, they were excelled by a team who had a better quality of runners, and whose consistency all through stood them in good stead. This was proved by the fact that last year Hallamshire's winning total was 146, while on the present occasion, with 113 points, they could only manage to reach second place.
Thanks to the efforts of C. J. Straw, Sam Welding, J. W. Whittle, and the two Baileys, the Sutton Harriers were placed third. With but an 8 points worse return, the City and Suburban H. finished fourth. A couple the Dublin organisation's best men were P. McGuiness and J. J. McNamara, who finished, respectively, ninth and eighteenth. Small Heath and Derby and County H. came next in the order of merit, while Broughton finished just in front of Wibsey Park. Salford, who have had shocking bad luck this season, were never seen to such poor advantage. The Turkey Reds, who suffered by the absence of W. Grantham, P. Flint, and A. Sucksmith, tied with the Northern Junior champions, the Warrington A. C. H. for tenth position.
Neither the Sefton H. nor the Cheshire Tally-Ho H. and H. sent teams, and thus the former club's defection prevented W. T. Clarke, the ex-Northern champion, turning out. In any case, it was questionable whether the Seftonian would have competed, as he is only just recovering from blood poisoning. Bradford A.C.H somewhat sullied their reputation as cross-country runners by giving up practically in a body after covering a lap. This was due to the action of Smith, who grumbled at the bony condition of the plough. It was a great pity that he should have taken this view of the situation, as the remainder of the team were doing fairly well, and would, doubtless, have had something to do with the finish. As it was, however, Smith advised his fellow club mates to give up, a course of procedure which was freely commented upon by some of the chief officials, who considered it not quite sportsmanlike to have done such a thing.
Of the individual running, the great surprise was the sudden return form of A. J. Robertson. It had been rumoured that he had only just gone into training. Be that as it may, the international champion ran in splendid fashion. He made a great effort in the concluding circuit of the course, and in negotiating the plough passed Murphy like a shot, and gained a lead of 5 yards. Luckily the Irishman was not spent out, and 200 yards from home the pair were seen struggling along together, shoulder to shoulder. Murphy then sprinted, and Robertson not being able to respond the Hallamshire man rushed on to win cleverly by about 25 yards. The Midland champion, W. Coales, about 90 yards in the rear, was third. Had the conditions been normal, it is quite on the cards that either Robertson or Coales would have won. Still, nobody will begrudge Murphy his victory. The Irishman has been a consistent runner for years, and thoroughly deserves the medals he has won so meritoriously.
Among the jottings of interest it is peculiar to relate that McGuinness, the first man home on behalf of the City and Suburban H., was considered to be their worst runner. Surely such an expression almost amounts to what is termed Irishism, having regard to the fact that the competitor named was actually the Irish club's best count.
Birchfield were prominent for their all-round stamina, as, on their behalf, Ashby was the only man not to finish. He, unfortunately, sprained his ankle. Loney, who finished seventh, is to be complimented upon his pluck and determination, for he covered the last mile and a half with the loss of a pump.
Although the competitors had to face an easterly wind, with snow beating in their faces, the race was thoroughly well contested, conclusive proof being afforded by the fact that exactly 100 men finished, which, roughly, represents 60 per cent, of the whole field of runners.
One of the worst obstacles experienced was a part of the plough, the contestants having to run along the furrows. Had they been transverse, the going would not have been so difficult. The arrangements made for the convenience of the officials and Press by Mr Sandon the secretary of the Haydock Park Racecourse Company, were exceedingly satisfactory, and much appreciated by the National Union Committee.
The race was started about a quarter of an hour late. The first lap was 2 miles 1,150 yards (including 360 yards from the starting point to the grand stand), and the remaining three laps each 2 miles 790 yards. When the men had covered about 400 yards, passing the lower stand, Bennion (Crewe) was leading from H Perkin (Salford H.), Murphy (Hallamshire), while close up in a bunch came Smith (Bradford), W Scott (Broughton). Holbrook (Warrington), Edwards (Small Heath), Owen (Broughton), McHale (Wibsey Park), Aspinall (Crewe), and Baldwin (Derby). The last man was Wood (Manchester H.). On leaving the racecourse, and in negotiating the plough, runners stumbled and fell. The falling snow, driven by an easterly wind, made matters very unpleasant, and as the race advanced the field soon became spread-eagled, until a long tail was the result. When the initial lap had been accomplished, Coales (Thrapston H.) (16 min. 6 sec.), was a few yards in front of A J Robertson (Birchfield) and J Murphy (Hallamshire) while at intervals came Warburton (Bury A.C.), E Massey (Birchfield H.), Baldwin (Derby and County H.), F Lord (Wibsey), G W Calcroft (Bradford A.C.), E V Loney (Birchfield), E Green (Birchfield), H S Perkins (Salford), E Barnes (Derby and County), T Downing (City and Suburban), A F Pateshall (Small Heath), S Welding (Sutton), and C J Straw (Sutton). An extraordinary sensation was created when it was announced that the Bradford A.C.H. had all given up. The second lap traversed represented a little over the half-distance (to be correct 5 miles 180 yards). Here J Murphy, who had stolen a march on the field, had moved into first place his time for the distance being 31 min. 35 sec. Not far in the rear came last year's champion, A J Robertson (Birchfield H.), while E Massey, of the latter club was placed third. Close up came H D Baldwin (Derby and County) and Coales (Thrapston), who was running in grand style, while at the head of the rest were Warburton (Bury A.C.),F Lord (Wibsey Park), E Green (Birchfield), E V Loney (Birchfield), and A F Pateshall (Small Heath).