Sunday, 16 July 2017

From out of the shadows...

Jim Peters had understandably claimed the lion's share of the limelight during the early 1950's but the Beagles had quietly taken some action which within a few years led to the formation of a strong all-round track and field team, for the first time ever. The crucial factor was the setting up of a coaching scheme under Ernie Pearson's guidance.

One area to benefit was the sprints where the club achieved considerable success in both individual and relay events during the middle fifties. Jim Spooner, perhaps better known later as Kathy Cook's coach, picked up four county titles - three in his specialty 210 yards - as well as placings in the Southern and Inter-Counties, and also represented the counties. The squad of Spooner, Ron Coleman, Wilf Jackson and Terry-Theobald placed third in the 4 x 110 yards relay in the 1955 AAA's, recordinga4S.2sLconds club record, despite the absence of Joe Wood, a useful competitor.

Recognising their weakness in the field events, in 1953 the club made a conscious effort to improve things. The policy was a great success and the Beagles developed several star jumpers - two of whom went on to win British International vests. Long jumper Ron Coleman put his speed to such good effect that he became one of Britain's leading competitors, placing second in the 1957 AAA Long Jump and gaining international selection in September 1957 in the match in Warsaw against Poland. Despite a career best of 23 feet 71/2 ins (7.20m) the next year - just over a foot down on the then British record of 24 ft 10 ins (7.58m) - he did not find favour with the selectors and was left out for the 1958 Empire Games team. George Britten was another Beagles' jumper to make his international debut in that Warsaw match, smashing his triple jump (or as it was still called the hop, step and jump) best with a 48 ft, 4½ ins leap in only his second season at the event. He maintained his form for many years leaping a best of 18 ft 10 ins (14.88m), backed up by a long jump best of 23ft 9 ins (7.03m) in 1963.

Beagles' jumping coach Dave Green continued to produce fine jumpers, with Ray Power the best of the bunch in the sixties. His 48ft 6ins (14.80m) triple jump leap in Italy 1965 beat the best listed mark by a British Junior but it was ruled "downhill", and later an even better jump of 14.95m was wind aided, leaving him with a best career mark of 47ft,10ins (14.58m). In the late 1950's two other superb field events exponents came through. In the High Jump the 1958 English Schools champion Mike lgutl, although achieved a best height of 6ft 6ins (1.98m) ranking him fourth on the U.K. all-time list and gaining him an English vest. His almost perfect straddle was developed through constant practice by a jumping pit in the back garden of his Barking home. Vaulter Charles Ifast was also a classy competitor and enjoyed a long career, achieved a best clearance of 13ft Sins (4.04m). In the throws the club also produced useful athletes for the first time, with Bill Drewett in the Javelin and "Big Steve" Wieland in the shot, consistently coming up with the goods.

The three Beagles who represented Britain in 1957: Ron Coleman, GeorgeKnight and George Britten.
But the development of these 'cinderella' events was not carried out at the expense of the Beagles'_ traditional strengths, and the middle distance squad continued to turn in creditable results. The star performer, George Knight, was backed up by Ted Baverstock, who often gave him a tough time in the three and six miles, and by Dick Douglas who gained some success in the mile before emigrating to Canada. Robin Campbell was a brilliant junior, placing second in the 1958 National junior cross country event, and went on to produce a range of classy performances in events from 3 miles to the marathon, for which he clocked an excellent 2 hours 20 mins 20 secs in atrocious conditions in 1964. Unfortunately the career of the Harlow teacher was ruined by injuries.

An amazingly brief but successful career came to an end in autumn 1955: Brian Jackson, 25 years old, retired after a track career lasting less than two years during which he placed third in the AAA mile championship and gained an international vest. His best marks were 1m 52.5 secs for the half mile, 3m 51.6 secs for the 1500m and a mile time of 4 m 8.6 secs achieved during that AAA final. He was widely tipped as a possible for the 1956 Olympics and likely to break the four minute mile. Alas for athletics, Jackson put his family before the sport - his wife had just presented him with twins - and hung up his spikes.

The steeplechase was a happy hunting ground for the Beagles in the early sixties. Guy King set a junior best of 4 mins 14.5 secs for the then standard 1500m steeplechase event in 1961, the year in which he won the AAA junior championships, while others to gain success in the senior'chase were Welsh international Brian "Taffy" Jeffs, whose best of 8 m 57.2 secs came in L963, and Ted Floodgate, twice county champion. Also on the track, Malcolm Browne, AAA junior mile champion in 1960, became the only classy runner left in the Beagles squad by the mid-1960's, notching up a fine series of results which brought him close to cracking the four minute barrier for the mile.

To conclude with possibly the most talented Beagle during the late fifties the only club member in that post-Peters era to reach world class: George Knight, the architect's assistant from Dagenham. Despite periodic ups and downs in his career, he turned in a formidable series of performances on the track, roads and country alike over the period 1951 - 1961, and continued with credit for many years after that. His "purple patch" came in the summer of 1957 when he was aged.24. AAA six miles champion that year, he smashed his 10,000m best finishing second to Kuts in the international against USSR, and in the match against Poland - where he was the third of the Beagles trio - his stunning victory carved ten seconds off Gordon Pirie's British record with a 29m 6.4 sec 10,000m clocking. This gave Knight the fastest time in the world that year and ranked him seventh on the all-time world list. In the thirty years since then no Beagle has bettered Knight's mark.

Unfortunately by the middle sixties the Beagles squad were only a shadow of the team of a decade before. True there were still some fine individuals and there were some promising youngsters, particularly in the sprints, but overall the picture was gloomy. The late sixties were generally a barren time. Already there was evidence of the changes that were to completely transform the athletics scene during the 1970's and the Barking based club was ill-equipped to face these coming challenges.

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