Better conditions could not have been desired than those which favoured the National Cross-Country Championship at Hereford on Saturday. The spectacle of 244 men, clad in variegated and brightly-coloured costumes as they were sent on their ten and three-quarter miles jaunt was a delightful one. Only one team was absent - the Hereford club - so just 20 teams and 33 individuals made up the imposing array. The chosen route, part of which was the racecourse, was fast, but not the real or ideal cross-country one. It was practically all grass land, with very little rough and no obstacles. It was a course that suited the light and fast runner rather than the powerful one. The weather was charming. There was no wind, a clear atmosphere, and sunshine - just the day when men should he at their best.
After the runners had covered the first mile on an inner course they went out five times on a longer circuit to make up a distance of 10 miles 1,040 yards. When they appeared J. E. Webster, Birchfield H. E. Harper, Hallamshire H., Corpl. Cotterell, Royal Corps of Signals, H. Eckersley, Earlestown V.A.C., and D. J. P. Richards, Newport H., were leading, and the weeding-out process had started. At about three miles or so (17min. 51 sec.) there were few changes, the leaders being the same, but J. Thomas, Newport H., had come along and had brought A. T. Price, Humber H., with him.
As the men passed the judge's position at about five miles, Webster, Harper, Cotterell, and Price ran abreast, and about a hundred yards behind came the two Newport challengers, D. J. P. Richards and E.R. Leyshon. At short intervals came others, Eckersley and W. Nelson being prominent and at longer distances the stragglers - and there were quite a lot.
The three-quarter way mark was reached in 39min. 46sec. with Cotterell, Webster and Harper together, and the two Newport men losing ground. There was a stern fight taking place between them, and no sign of anyone giving in. Price had lost a little ground. S. G. E. Allnut followed, running strong and well, and he was chased by Eckersley, F. C. Saunders, Wycombe Harriers, A. Wesson, of Tipton, H. Bowler, Hallamshire, C. E. Blewitt, Birchfield and then W. Nelson. Salford Harriers.
As they left the course for the final circuit, Harper and Cotterell led Webster by ten yards, with Allnutt next, and then Richards, both having gained a lot of ground in last two miles but there were no changes in the next dozen placings from the previous round. The time was 50min. 34secs.
There were many weary travellers by this time but very small was the number that had retired. Those who had done so must have found the ordeal too much for them, and probably because the course was fast, and they had, and rightly so, tried to go the pace in the early stages with the leaders.
It was difficult to trace the position so far as team honours concerned. The field of runners seemed more scattered than I care to recall for quite a long period, and then the sixth man came into view. All seemed well for the club.
Newport had men nicely placed, but it was their tail that was wagging. Hallamshire, the hope of the North, were not visible so far as team honours were concerned, and with no other Northern club with any similar pretension to the divisional champions, that part of the country was hopelessly out of it.
There was great excitement when the leaders entered the quarter-mile straight for the winning post. Just as they did so they actually lapped several competitors and so must have beaten them by two miles.
Cotterell had taken a 'feeler' against Harper, and led by five or six yards. As the pair raced on and got within 200 yards from home, it was clearly to be observed that Harper was a beaten man. He had evidently taken every ounce out of himself, and Cotterell did not appear to have done so, for my opinion is that if Harper had found what would have been a valuable sprint. Cotterell could have responded, although he must have had quite enough, and showed it.
However, the pair put up a great race - one of the best I have seen for many years. It was full of interest, and exciting all the time.
Apart from the first two men, the half-dozen who followed them are all worthy of special mention, Webster's qualities are well known, but Allnutt, Richards, the Midland champion, and Eckersley, are comparatively new-comers. Considerable improvement can be looked for from them in the near future.
With the successes there were of course failures. W. N. Neilson, the East Lancashire champion, did not distinguish himself. He retired fairly early through sickness. J. E. Williams, of Hallamshire, who ran so well in the Northern, also retired. Still, out of the 244 starters, it is gratifying to state that 192 completed the full course, and only one club St. Gregory A.C. - failed to finish full team.
There was one regrettable incident which ended happily after It had been reported to and considered by those primarily concerned. When Harper and Cotterell had about half a mile to go and had a slight obstacle to overcome Cotterell unfortunately stepped on Harper's heel, causing him to fall. Cotterell stopped and picked Harper up from the ground, and both went on their way.
Shocks of that kind upset anyone, and so it is fair to assume Harper suffered. An objection was suggested, but it was Harper who asked for it not to be lodged.
In many ways it was eventful day. In first place it provided some excellent racing from what might be termed our known men, and it presented an opportunity of viewing the younger end who are rapidly coming along and will not be long before they show vast improvement.
In Allnutt, Richards, and Price we have good material. Price is young, and, I believe, full of enthusiasm for the sport. Richards is the Varsity man, and consequently much may not seen of him, or for so long a time as the others.
Birchfield showed their power once more. Their team included several new names, and is was gratifying to see some of the old ones. Blewitt ran well and with great judgment; so also did Webster.
Newport ran a great team race for a club that has never reached so high a place before, but for packing I ask everyone to look at the appended table placings of the Surrey A.C. In a way it is one of the best examples I have come across in first-class running where a team could consolidate as the Surrey members did.
The arrangements were all that could desired. The public had splendid opportunity for witnessing the racing, but why the officials decided to depart from the old-time custom of tabulating the team placings, giving out runners times. etc., on the ground I cannot say. The Press had to travel into the city, to the Town Hall, after the event was over, to await the arrival - in batches - of the returns.
Incidentally, the appointed officials were not all called upon to perform their duties; those were undertaken by someone else, and to the annoyance of some old stalwarts. Why Mr. G. M. Todd, of Newcastle-on-Tyne, an appointed timekeeper, who had left his home on Friday afternoon and would not get back until Sunday morning, should not have had his time-sheets admitted requires some explanation.