Birchfield Harriers are truly a wonderful athletic organisation. Only a few weeks ago they suffered dire disaster, or so it seemed when three International members of their cross-country team were suspended sine die for alleged misdemeanor.
Such a blow was regarded as representing an insurmountable obstacle in their efforts to hold on to the National Cross County Championship which the club had already won 21 times since the inception of the race in 1877. Yet on Saturday, at Kettering, where the fiftieth National was decided in Wickstead Park in the presence of 10,000 spectators, Birchfield rose superior to all their handicaps and recorded their twenty-second victory and the tenth in the post war period.
It is true that the famous Midlanders did not pack so closely as in any of their other triumphs since 1920, but they still contrived to finish the requisite team of six runners in the first twenty-five, after individuals had been excluded.
They had several men in the team who were making their first appearances in an event of such importance, but the club spirit seemed to be imbued in them all and never at any time during the race was there much fear that the sequence would be broken.
Salford Harriers, the Northern champions, lost whatever chance they might have possessed - and it looked a fairly reasonable one on paper - by an Injury sustained by the Northern champion. G. W. Bailey.
He certainly turned out along with all the 35 teams entered and 41 individual competitors, but was forced to retire, and could hardly walk back to the dressing room. Yet Salford made their best showing in the race for 30 years, finishing a respectable third behind Birchfield and South London Harriers.
What might have happened but for the injury to Bailey can only be surmised, but it is significant that the actual winner of the race was J. H. Potts, of Saltwell Harriers, who second to Bailey in the Northern at Haydock Park a fortnight previously.
It would be unfair to suggest that the Salfordian would have again finished ahead of Potts had he been quite fit. but one never knows. To Potts, however, must go the credit for a really wonderful performance.
The ten miles course, made up of undulating grass land with a modicum of plough in each of the three laps, and several natural obstacles suited him admirably. It was wonderful judgment, however, which carried him through, for when the runners went out into the country for the last three miles Potts was almost 300 yards behind the leader.
J. W. Winfield, the Midland champion, and J. A. Burns, the ex-Northern champion, had fought for the lead up to the half-distance, when Winfield had opened up what appeared to be a winning advantage of sixty yards. All this time Potts was running in close company with the ex-champion, Ernest Harper, taking little out of himself, but gradually improving his position.
Winfield's time, by the way, at four miles was 23min. 14sec., and Potts was then fourteenth. while even at seven miles, covered by Winfield in 40min. 10sec., the ultimate winner was half a minute behind.
Winfield's position then appeared unassailable, for Burns was weakening very rapidly, and Sutherland, Harper, and Howard appeared incapable of making up the leeway. That deadly last lap, however, possessed no terrors for Potts. Having dropped Harper, he went tearing after Sutherland, and eventually joined issue with Winfield just as the tenth mile was entered upon.
The Derby man fought gamely, but Potts was not to be denied once he gained the lead, and in a strong finish had ten yards to spare. Burns dropped back rapidly in the last lap, and was no nearer than twenty-third, two minutes behind the winner.
Harper ran his usual consistent race, as did the international champion, Evenson, of Salford, but neither could produce that touch of brilliance which has characterised many of their previous efforts.