James running in the West District Cross Country Championships at Stepps.


James joined the club as a Senior Boy (ie Under 15) in 1977 and trained with Derek McGinley who guided his career until he was a senior athlete.    Starting as an 800 and 1500 metres athlete he eventually found his true niche as a steeplechaser and over the country.    His claim to fame within Clydesdale Harriers is as the man who won the club cross country championship and Hannah Cup more than any other athlete in club history.    Although he was on the Committee, he was never really a committee man or official – he was a runner who raced for the club in County, District and National relays and championships as well as in many open events.   He also represented the county, the district and Scotland.


He was also a very good track runner specialising in the very difficult steeplechase event.   His annual progression in listed below with the personal bests underlined and in italics.

1991 – 3000 metres, 34th with 8:34.9; 5000 metres, 29th with 14:58.9; 10000, 22nd with 32:17; Steeplechase, 9:10.34 for 7th  Scot, 22nd in UK.

1992 – 3000 metres, 6th with 8:29.9; 10000, 12th with 30:53.2 (64th UK); steeplechase, 7th with 9:06.1 (35th UK)

1993 – Steeplechase, 8th in Scotland with 9:05.3; 3000 – 23rd with 8:28.5; 5000 metres, 21st with 14:52.5

1994 –  Steeplechase, 9:12.2, 46th in GB; 10000 metres, 14th in Scotland with 32:10.6

1995 –  Steeplechase, 7th in Scotland (79th UK); 9:24.75.

1996 – Steeplechase, 5th in Scotland with 9:17.4 (51st UK)

1997 – Steeplechase, 8th in Scotland with 9:24.9.

1998 – Steeplechase, 20th in Scotland with 10:09.4

His career as an athlete and as a Clydesdale Harrier started when he joined the club in 1977.   He had run in a local Primary Schools 1500 metres track race organised by club coach Derek McGinley and finished fourth but had looked promising enough to be invited along to the club – an offer that was not taken up immediately.   He followed this up with a run in a schools cross country at Levengrove Park, Dumbarton where he finished second and Douglas McDonald, who was training with Derek, mentioned to him that James was very good.   Shortly after that James was training with Derek and joined the club.  


The set up in the club at that times was that Derek was very much the Boys and Youths coach: he used the same dressing room all the time where the boys would gather, be instructed as to what was going to happen that night and at the end of the evening the session was discussed and any plans for races or championships. He was coach however.   As James says, “Derek was there for the boys, not to make himself look better.”  He subsidised travel to matches and meetings without the boys knowing he was doing it and usually without asking the club for reimbursement.    He encouraged the boys to attend club committee meetings and see how the club was run.    He himself looked further afield than just club or local races – he made a point of making sure that those capable of it entered District and National Championships and often took parties of boys to races as far afield as Cockermouth in the north of England.   He had a fair bit of success locally with his athletes – they were always ‘My Athletes’ – but there was also some success nationally with Graeme Walker and Gordon Parker being members of Scottish Schools squads and other very good athletes winning events at the Scottish Schools Championships.   The list of names is virtually endless but it includes such as Graeme Creamer, Gordon Urquhart, Kevin Walsh, Peter Jack, Douglas McDonald, Robert McWatt, Scott Leitch, who all won championships and in some cases representative honours.   He was more than a coach but his pride and joy was James Austin who returns the respect and says that he learned discipline, respect for others, self belief, commitment, friendship and even punctuality from the sport but mainly from his years with Derek.


Right from the start James was recognised as a talented athlete – his natural running action and sense of balance over the country stood out in most cross country fields.   He recalls running against such as the two Cambuslang Harriers runners Charlie Thomson and Jim Orr who several years later told him that they always looked for his name in the results and if they had beaten or been close to ‘Steve Austin’ as they called him, then it had been a good run.   The three were later to train together as Seniors.   Originally James ran cross country and then tried most track events, eventually specialising in the steeplechase.  


He followed the normal pattern for an endurance runner in the club.   In winter, training from Bruce Street Baths where all the men in the club – from Under 11’s to vets – changed and used the same huge warm room for exercising, doing some simple circuit training and jogging before heading out on to the roads.    It was there that the boys saw the senior men and learned about running and racing and it was there that James first met the top senior in the club at the time – Philip Dolan.   Phil was a very good runner who represented Scotland on the track and over the country as well as setting records on the hills and roads.   James’s viewpoint was that when you were allowed to train with Phil you knew that you had really made it.   He recalls his first run with Phil as being quite hard with a painful memory of Phil accidentally running him into a hedge by the side of the road.   He is also of the opinion that the club at the time never made as much use of Phil as they should have for recruitment or promotional purposes.   One thing he learned from Phil was how to run with the head.   He still thinks that to beat Phil in a race you had to be about 20 seconds faster than him or Phil would outwit you every time.   In summer the club moved to Whitecrook Sports Centre where there was a 400 metre, eight lane, cinder track which could accommodate all the club members – there was also a large perimeter round the football pitches and track where you could run 800 metre loops.  


Although he says it wasn’t his favourite, he was an outstanding cross country runner.  With a host of first class performances behind him it is difficult to say what his best run was.   To me his best races were over the courses at Braidfield Farm in Clydebank and at Cumbernauld House for the annual inter-are match which often included races against Wales and Northern Ireland as well as the Civil Service.    Both are courses with many ‘graveyards’: ie places where if you go to fast or pick the wrong route across a field you will come to grief.   James excelled on these types of course where his running action took him over the surface of the ground rather than through the mud, rather like that of John Wright in the 1950’s.   In Clydebank there were several mighty hills and lots of mud and dodgy footing, at Cumbernauld there was grass to run on but the many long hills were often across the side of a slope with the ground falling away in two directions at the same time.   The Clydebank trail is not used any more mainly because of the country being used for other things than farming – it’s the same nationwide – but it was where James did a lot of his best running in County and District Championships taking many illustrious scalps along the way.   He reckons his best runs were at Cumbernauld  – but his best ever run might have been at Cumnock on another extremely heavy underfoot course in the West District Championships.   Going into the last half mile in fourth behind Tommy Murray (1st), Adrian Callan and Graeme Wight, he was closing fast when he jumped a burn and his foot went into the mud sucking his shoe off.   He dropped back to eighth with club runner Des Roache refusing to pass him one place back voicing the general feeling of most athletes that James would have been in the first three without doubt had he not had the accident.    Ayrshire courses are always long and are always muddy and mucky and are not universally popular!   His best at Cumbernauld was when he was sixth in a race incorporating the annual international fixture with Scottish and British Internationalist Chris Robison in eighth place ahead of a host of representative runners.


Domestically, from the time that he became a Senior Man in the Centenary Year of 1985 until the end of the century he dominated club cross country and road championships.   There were many better track runners and the club was blessed with superb talents but none of them shone on the Braidfield Farm course like James.   Allan Adams, better known as a road runner, did win all three races at one time or another but the other top men of the time were either beaten or ran away from the event.   James was the dominant figure winning the club championship more than any other in history.   The Championships, the Cross Country Handicap for the Hannah Cup and the Sinclair Trophy for the 5+ miles Road Race are the top winter awards.   His record is as follows.




Date Champs Hannah Cup Sinclair Date Champs Hannah Cup Sinclair
1985 1st Junior 1996 1st 1st 1st
1986 1st 1st 1997 1st 1st 1st
1987 1st 1st 1st 1998 2nd 1st 1st
1988 1st 1st 1st 1999 1st 1st 1st
1989 3rd 2nd 2000 1st 2nd 3rd
1990 2nd 1st 1st 2001 1st 1st
1991 1st 1st 1st 2002 1st
1992 1st 1st 2003 3rd
1993 DNR 1st 1st 2004 2nd
1994 1st 1st 1st 2005
1995 1st 1st 2006 1st


At present (October 2008) he has also won the Championship in 2007 and 2008 – who knows how many more to come?   Every race has its own story but the closest finish of any of his victories was right at the start of the sequence in 1986 when he was first in 34:11 a mere 33 seconds ahead of Brian Potts, with the first four being covered by 61 seconds – Derek Halpin was third in 35:02 and George Carlin fourth in 35:12.    Ten years later he defeated hill running international Ian Murphy who was running really extremely well at the time by 50 seconds in 42:07 on the sort of muddy trail that both men liked.


In the Dunbartonshire Championships he had two firsts, one second, seven thirds and another 6 top six finishes in 20 years, as often as not leading the club to team victory.   He was just as consistent and just as prolific a medallist in the County relays.


Cross country and steeplechase have a lot of things in common – the need for a sense of balance, the need for courage and bravery, the ability to take instant decisions for example.  As a ‘chaser he could take off from either foot which is a talent he reckoned he learned when running in the hills with Jim Shields.   James had started out running 400 and 800 metres on the track and moved up to 800/1500 while still running 400’s in relays and in league matches.   As to how he took up the steeplechase, his version is that he came to a Senior Men’s League Match and as Team Manager I asked him to run the B 800 metres.   There was not a lot of difference in standard between the two races at that time and there was not a lot of difference between himself and Peter Halpin (who had been asked to do the A Race).   In addition, James was coming back from injury.   Derek always told his boys to stand up for themselves in any situation if they felt that they were right and James insisted on getting the A Race.   I came back a few minutes later and said he could get the A 800 if he ran the B steeplechase.  He discussed it with Derek who said that he had got his race so there was no reason not to do the steeplechase – he had run some in the Young Athletes League.   He ran the A 800 and finished fourth or fifth with Peter winning the B race in an almost identical time.    He then surprised himself by being third in the longer race.   He then discussed the matter with Derek and they came to the conclusion that he had become stuck in the 800/1500’s with little progression being made.   It would therefore be logical to move up to the ‘chase.   I don’t remember the exact incident but it sounds like the kind of thing I would do – Peter probably got the A 400 metres to go with the B 800 and Alistair MacLeod would get the A 200 to go with the B 400!   There is always some politics between athletes and it is often the case that if two athletes are about the same standard, and especially if they have different coaches, they will not want to concede the top spot to ‘the opposition’.   If in that situation you can ‘do a deal’ with the athletes concerned that is not to the detriment of the team then it is reasonable to do that.   And that is how James’s steeplechase career was born.


James and Kheredine Idessane at the Small Nations International in Cardiff.

His first steeplechase for the club in the League was in 1989 but his best years were undoubtedly the mid 90’s.    We should maybe start with 1992 and see how the times progressed.    In that year he won the West District Steeplechase and had a best for the season of 9:10.4.    Although he slipped to second in the District Championship in 1993 his time had come down to 9:06.1.   In 1994 there was an improvement down to 9:05.32 which was to remain his personal best although in the opinion of many he had the potential to go faster.   His 3000 metres time that year was 8:29.9 giving him a differential of 35+ seconds – his technique was always good.   In 1995 he had one of his best ever years on the track.   Second in the West District Steeplechase, he was also second in the District 10000 metres and was selected with fellow Clydesdale Harriers Grant Graham (1500 m) and Kheredine Idessane (800 m) to represent Scotland in the International against Wales, Northern Ireland and Turkey.   The selection was for the 5000 metres though when on form he should have been in the steeplechase ahead of Greenock’s Billy Jenkins and he finished fourth.   He followed this by running the last stage of the team which won the West District Relay at Lenzie in October 1995.   In the race Ewan Calvert had given the club a lead on the first stage, Des Roache held it on the second and Grant Graham opened it out a bit on the third.   This left James in a very exposed position with little margin for error since he was being chased by some of Scotland’s finest – Bobby Quinn of Kilbarchan, Tommy Murray of Inverclyde and Graeme Wight of Shettleston among them.   He brought the club home comfortably enough without any apparent difficulty.   In 1996 he was second in the Scottish in 9:17.4 behind old rival Graeme Croll of Cambuslang.   His technique stood him in good stead in this one because the third placed runner was a British Internationalist from England called Bashir Hussein and early on James learned that he couldn’t water jump so he took yards out of the man every time they came to the obstacle and the work required to catch James up left him on the last lap with nothing to give and James took silver.   The following year (1997) he dropped to third in the Scottish Championship and had five times inside 9:25 at the end of the year.   That was his last very good year in the ‘chase and in 1998 there were no medals and a best time for the event of 9:24.   He was just as successful for the club in League Competition where he was one of the mainstays of the team.


Date Events
1985 400, 800
1986 400, 800, 1500
1987 400, 800, 1500
1988 1500
1989 800 ,1500, steeplechase
1990 800, 1500, steeplechase
1991 800, steeplechase
1992 800, 1500, 5000, 10000, steeplechase
1993 800, 1500, 5000, steeplechase
1994  5000, steeplechase
1995 1500, 5000, 400H, steeplechase
1996 5000, steeplechase, 400H, javelin
1997 5000, 400H, Steeplechase
1998 400H, steeplechase
1999 steeplechase



















As the table above shows, James was as good a club man on the track as he was over the country.    He ran for the club in almost every match in every season and was an automatic selection in one of the best track and field teams the club ever had.   It might even have been the best with a 50 metres plus hammer thrower, a 49 metres plus javelin thrower, four sub 1:10 800 metres runners, five sprint hurdlers and so on.   He never missed a year and never missed a fixture without good reason.   The table also shows his progression up the distances.   All technical events are good points winners in inter club fixtures and the points gained by James over the years must be in the hundreds.


It would be thought that with his speed on the track and his ability over the country would have made him an outstanding road runner but although he ran regularly in the Edinburgh – Glasgow Relay he did not like the roads and seldom showed his real ability on that surface.   (This may well have had something to with him only having two real injuries in his career.)   He was always reluctant to run in the McAndrew Relays which were the traditional start to the cross country season preferring to start with the first cross country relay the following week.   In the E-G he ran in 13 races and turned out on stages 1 (3 times), 2 (once), 3 (twice), 4 (once), 5 (twice), 6 (three times) and 8 (once).   The team of the mid 90’s with James, Grant Graham, Ian Murphy, Ewan Calvert, Allan Adams, Des Roache and so on was placed fifth, sixth, fifth and sixth in four consecutive years and he was in all four teams.   Although most clubs have an ‘if only’ moment, then the fact that at the one time we had James, Grant, Des, Ewan, Kheredine, Ian Murphy, Allan Adams and Graeme Reid all in peak form with John Hanratty, Derek Halpin and Peter Halpin not far behind we should have certainly won at least one set of medals.    The nearest we came was the medal awarded for the most meritorious performance outside the first three was won in 1994.    


Jamie Hendry to James at the seventh changeover in 1996


James was a prime example of the ‘you do what your club needs you to do’ philosophy.   His record over the country on behalf of the club has been quite outstanding, his record representing the club on the track is exemplary and even when he was asked to turn out on the roads in the E-G he  did so despite not liking the surface.    He never asked how good the team was – he ran with who could turn out for the club – he has raced in teams with top class athletes and has run in teams with athletes who were not so good at all and gave it his best.   He has like all athletes got a lot from his club and like all really great club members has given much more than he has received.

He will however be remembered by most as the most prolific championship and trophy winner in the history of Clydesdale Harriers.   I have listed the main cross country awards but he has won almost every honour the club has to give.   Club track championships, special awards such as the Gardiner Quaich for the outstanding summer season performance, the Semple Merit Award for the outstanding performance during the winter season have both been won, the wonderful Memorial Bowl for the winner of the track points contest, the Dan McDonald Cup for the winner of the winter points contest have all found places on the Austin sideboard at some time or another.   The club may have had better athletes in the various events at various times but there has never been a better Clydesdale Harrier.


In the Edinburgh to Glasgow, 2002

FOOTNOTE/ACKNOWLEDGEMENT : All member profile articles, photographs, data, statistics, results and history provided by Brian McAusland.