In response to a request from Sue Hooper (Webb) for information (mostly about the origins of the Welsh Masters Track & Field League) I recently met up with Geoff Matthews in order to confirm some of the details regarding the start of the ‘Welsh Veterans Track and Field League, and the official Welsh Masters Athletics Association.’ Both of us looked at some of the results and were, of course, getting regularly diverted for long periods by photographs and stories! I am extremely indebted to Geoff for his scrapbooks, factual information and, of course, anecdotes!
I originally spoke with Tom Wood who was responsible for what, I believe, was a fairly informal Welsh Veterans Athletics Association, regarding whether Track and Field existed in any formal sense within the ‘Association’. Naturally, however, I learned that almost all athletics activity in this age group occurred amongst the endurance fraternity, and any track and field activity more-or-less operated on an individual basis (I remember Les Williams being a good example at that time – Welsh Rugby Union and League international, and M60 World Record Holder at the 60m and 200m, and British Record Holder in the Triple Jump).
In early 1983 (the year of my 40th birthday which in those days was the age when you officially became a Veteran Athlete) when I was in one of my extended periods stuck in my sick bed, I took the opportunity to try and start our first ‘Veteran’s’ T&F team (Cardiff – male) by writing to everyone I knew over 40years who was in, or used to be in, CAAC, asking them if they wanted to become involved in a CAAC Veteran’s team to compete in the West Midlands Veteran’s Track League (I’d already spoken with Professor Tony Crocker, who ran that League, and he had got an agreement passed for the Cardiff team to compete on an invitational basis).
Using the various fixtures, over the period of the summer track season, this league managed to cover the whole spectrum of track and field events. On one Wednesday in May 1983, I managed to persuade one of my neighbours Geraint Roberts (ex-Cardiff AAC and now Professor Geraint Roberts in the University Hospital of Wales) to join Geoff Matthews and myself to travel to the small cinder track at Bromsgrove, and we were made very welcome by all present.
We did extremely well, and were allowed to finish off the competition with a 4×100 relay with just the 3 of us! Geoff ran the first 200m, and Geraint and I ran the last two100m legs – and we won!
We attended two or three more fixtures during the summer, and it was at one of these that Tony Crocker mentioned that he was a arranging a Veterans Inter-County Match to be held in September. The ‘Glamorgan’ team we took consisted of 9 athletes: John Walters, Brian Adamson, Jim O’Brien, Geoff Matthews, three others plus myself. The order of finishing was: Yorkshire, Surrey, Essex, Glamorgan, Worcestershire and Lancashire. The following day I had my date with the surgeon to remove half of my right lung.
As that inter-county competition was the end of the season, and as I had been bending Geoff’s ear for some time regarding constituting the next season a South Wales Veterans Track League on the same basis of the West Midlands League, and also knowing I was going to be out of action for some time, I left it all in the hands of Geoff. That was one of my more inspired bits of cajoling!
In October, Geoff had a meeting with Tom Wood who was the main person keeping Welsh Veterans going, mostly in the guise of Road and Cross Country. Tom gave Geoff his blessing to get on with a track league in South Wales starting in the 1984 season.
What an absolute star Geoff Matthews was. In early 1984 he sent letters to all the clubs in South Wales and called a meeting at the Bridgend Leisure Centre on Friday 2nd March, 1984. It was attended by representatives of 3 clubs, Derek Crowder (currently one of the UK’s top track & field officials) and Roy Anthony (Bridgend AC), Bill Kingsbury (Rhondda AC) and Geoff Matthews (Cardiff AAC). It was agreed to form a men’s and women’s league without delay. A programme and a set of rules were agreed and by the time the season arrived, I was up and about and able not only to compete, but to offer the cinder track up at Cyncoed for two of the fixtures, and I arranged for a horde of students to help the qualified officials run the meet. The other two fixtures were held at the old Swansea Stadium.
Bernie Plane Sports sponsored the league, and Bill Kingsbury also donated ‘The Matt Cullen Trophy’ for the best overall thrower of the season.
The first meeting at Cyncoed was on May 15th 1984, and 41 Men and 10 Women from 7 clubs took part. For the second meeting, 125 athletes turned out! From that point on, the League grew in strength and reputation.
In September, we were again invited to compete in the Inter-County Competition at Bromsgrove. This time we took a much larger team, 12 in all: Roy Austin, Godfrey Benson, Alan Jeffries, John Collins, Brian Griffiths (all Swansea Harriers), Mel James (LeCroupiers AC), John Loney and T. Abson (Rhondda AC), and John Walters, Tony Jones, Geoff Matthews and myself (Cardiff AAC).
This time, there were two new counties involved – Warwickshire and Staffordshire, to make it 8 counties. The outcome was that we (Glamorgan) beat Warwickshire by 50 points, and Essex were 3rd. A huge success in such a short period of time that we had been in existence.
One other ‘star turn’ that season for Geoff and myself, was the invitation we received to run against Sutton Coldfield AC in an attempt to beat the Veterans World 4x200m world record! This was to be the main event of an evening’s athletics meeting for the official opening of their new track. Our team consisted of a running order of Roy Austin, Tony Jones, Sean Power and Geoff Matthews.
The record was set at 1min 40.2 secs. Needless to say, the home team were pretty confident, particularly as they had the great Ron Taylor running for them. Two years later Ron was still running 22.91 in the M50 age group, and is still ranked No 1 at the top of the World Masters All-Time Ranking Lists in the M60 200m with 24.00! Whatever, we were leading until the final 200m leg, when Ron Taylor went into his own particular brand of overdrive, and they smashed the previous World Record with a time of 1 min 35.9 secs. In fact we set a time of 1 min 39.3 secs, which also beat the old World Record. Ah, if it hadn’t been for the superb Ron Taylor! By the way, currently ranked No 5 on that World All Time M60 200m ranking list? Our own Glyn Sutton with 24.65.
In November 1984 Geoff Matthews instigated a meeting of all the clubs involved in the South Wales Veterans Track League and the Welsh Veterans Athletic Association was formally instituted. A constitution was agreed and officers were elected:
Chairman: Tom Woods (Newport H)
Secretary: Geoff Matthews (Cardiff AAC)
Treasurer: Irene Lisle (Cardiff AAC)
In actual fact, 1985 started with a major event as far as the newly constituted Welsh Veterans Athletics Association was concerned, in that they were asked by the British Veterans Athletics Federation to organise their Cross Country Championships. Together with a small committee, Geoff organised the Championships which were held in the Heath Park, Cardiff. It was a major and very successful event with competitors from all over Great Britain.
The South WalesTrack League (initially Swansea, Cardiff, Newport, Rhondda, Bridgend, Beddau, Les Croupiers) continued to flourish and become an established part of the Vets calendar. The standards were very high in the league at that time. I remember personally competing in the Long Jump on the cinder track at Cyncoed, jumping over 6 metres and still getting beaten into second place by Wyndham Amos (Rhondda AC)!
In June 1985 Geoff Matthews organised the first Welsh Veterans Track & Field Championships at Swansea, and there were a number of competitors from other parts of the UK competing also. It was a very well attended meeting.
An invitation was then received to take a South Wales Track League Team to participate in an Inter Area Competition at Battersea Park on the 14th September, 1985. The teams were London Home Counties, West Midlands Track League and ourselves. The team consisted of men and women. The Women’s team were Sally Blake, Babs Whitehouse, C Smith, P Wybrant. The men’s team were Glyn Sutton, Owen Edwards, Roy Robertson, Roy Austin, Russell Brandon, R. Morgan, John Loney, John Walters, Terry Roberts, G. Evans and Sean Power. Both teams came second to the London Home Counties.
The following week saw us on the new tartan track at the Hadley Stadium in Birmingham for the third Inter-Counties Match. This time there were 10 counties with the addition of Kent, Norfolk, Hertfordshire and Leicestershire. Our team was: Russell Brandon, Glyn Sutton, Roy Austin, R. Pritchard, John Walsh, John Collins, Roy Robertson, Alan Garrett, John Walters, John Loney, Bill Kingsbury, Terry Roberts, T. Abson, Geoff Matthews and Sean Power. We came away with no less than 5 meeting records in the Shot (John Walters), Pole Vault (Glyn Sutton), and High Jump, Long Jump and Triple Jump (all Sean Power). Needless to say, we came away with the trophy for the second consecutive year.
One of the lasting memories of this trip, for both Geoff and me, was when on the journey back we stopped in Monmouth for food and a celebratory drink. We went into a pub whereupon Russell Brandon (music lecturer at the Welsh College of Music and Drama) took it upon himself to entertain us and the other customers on the piano. As Geoff remembers, Russell was so engrossed he thought we were going to have to take the piano home on the coach with us with Russell still playing!
Naturally, the league has evolved over the years, and other just as committed persons became involved, for example the late, lamented Mary Webb and her family. Over the period concerned athletes from the Welsh Masters Track & Field League have won British, European and World titles and, of course, set British, European and World records. It would seem to me that, unless those initial faltering steps and massive amounts of hard work had not been undertaken by people like Geoff Matthews, the opportunities and pathway to such successes may not have become available for many Welsh based Masters Athletes. Whatever, to my mind, it has helped establish a unique and unmatchable forum in Wales for athletes ‘of a certain age’ to meet, enjoy each other’s company, and particularly to compete with serious intent to the best of their ability.
Long may it continue!
(Cardiff AC) Feb 2010