Coaching in the club: 1930 to 2005: Part 1

These two contributions, this week and next, are to show the development of club coaching over the last 100 years with the emphasis on the 1980’s – 2000’s.   To start at the beginning:

In the 1920’s and 30’s, there were no club coaches but most clubs had ‘trainers’.    These trainers were usually ex-Army or Navy men, or PE staff from public schools but there were some individual athletics coaches around and of course there were the ‘pro coaches who dealt with professional athletes.

We had the Wright brothers.

Harold Wright joined the club in October 1927 and his brother Willie at approximately the same time.   Harold was a sprinter and a good one, while Willie, although being a solid club runner, was mainly a committee member and a trainer of athletes and football teams.   He had been vice captain in 1929 but was mainly a General Committee member rather than an office holder.   At the meeting on 2nd May, 1932, he was appointed trainer to the club. After training the club runners for a time he resigned the post – but not his club membership – to train the Duntocher Hibernian FC and then Clydebank Juniors and Yoker Athletic Football Clubs.   A good Committee Member and trainer he resigned on 15th September 1933 and Tom Millar said in the ‘Clydebank Press’: “Not so good news item is that trainer Willie Wright is leaving us.   He takes up an appointment with Duntocher FC.   The Wrights have had a lengthy connection with the club.   Mention Jack Wright to an old Harrier and he will tell you the rest.   His two sons have naturally followed in his footsteps – Harold is our champion sprinter and Willie has given good service as a committee man and trainer.   We are still assured of Willie’s best interest and I know I express the good wishes of the club in saying ‘success in your new job, Willie.’”   That he left on the best of terms was confirmed when it was noted three weeks later that “During the season our enthusiastic trainer Willie Wright took up a new post as trainer to Duntocher Hibernian FC.   In his letter of resignation he mentions that if at any time a member of the club is in need of treatment, he will be very pleased to do all he can for him.” 


The club then went through several trainers, some of whom stayed for less than a full year.   The club was hungry for success and when they had a good group of athletes together and the trainer left, they again turned to Willie.   It was suggested at the August 1937 Committee Meeting that they approach him to take on the job of trainer.   The Minute of the September meeting reported that “a letter had been received from Mr W Wright accepting the position as trainer to the Harriers.   Mr Wright made a personal appearance at the meeting to discuss arrangements for the following cross-country season.   The main features of discussion were:


  • Each Harrier to supply his own oil for massaging;
  • Mr Wright gave the Committee a list of requisites for training kit;
  • In the event of any difference between him and a club member, the member be referred to the Committee.


He had clearly worked with committees and sportsmen before and knew what he wanted and needed.   This arrangement carried on until the War started.


Before the War there was a group of Irishmen who came to Clydebank to work on the Empress of Britain in John Brown’s and several joined the club.   One of these was Hans Noble who was a very good runner and ran for Ireland in the international ross-country international in Wales in 1933.  With Willie busy with the footballers, Hans was approached to help with coaching in the club.   Hans Noble, however, was the first to be described as ‘coach’.    He was first to be so described in the club minutes (in 1936) and had the description applied after the war as well when his appearance at Committee Meetings was followed by the word ‘coach’ in brackets: note the extract at the start.   He ran, acted as coach and like all good Clydesdale Harriers recruited runners on behalf of the club.   He was reputed to be a very good coach but he returned to Ireland at the end of the 1940’s and the next man to ‘coach’ the senior men was Bobby Boyd, albeit informally.   The last club team to win medals (third place) in the national cross-country was in 1955 and they were all coached by Bobby who had been a very good distance runner himself, winning the West District cross-country championships and defeating many of the very best in relay races at district level as well as being a good miler on the track.   He had stopped competitive running because of injury and had the men training on Wednesdays as well as Tuesdays and Thursdays with the further addition of a long walk on Sundays up over the moors above Faifley and round Carbeth.  They met on the Boulevard on Wednesday nights and there were problems because at that time most men were on some kind of shift work.   Unfortunately he moved to Dundee because of his employment and there was a gap in the organised coaching at that point.

Meanwhile the women’s section was doing very with victories on the track and over the country in the 1930’s with Jean Tait winning the Scottish Women’s Cross-Country championship in 1936 and being selected for the International to be held at Blackpool.   They were coached by George Ballantine who had been a professional runner and was the father of Georgina Ballantine, one of star women of the club.   George insisted that he have a woman with all the time he was working with the women and May Thursby took on the job of assistant trainer with him.  She joined Ayr Seaforth after the war when her husband was working in Ayr and became manager of the women’s international cross-country team.  


However, the club was going into the 1960’s with some very good athletes, both men and women, but with little in the way of structured coaching.   A special meeting was about to be called.

Part two of this look at club coaching will appear next week.


Did you know that: Scotland’s first sub 2 half- miler was a Clydesdale Harrier from Dumbarton called Robert Langlands.  His time was 1 minute 59.8 seconds.   One of four brothers who were all club members, he was trained by Danny Friel from the Vale of Leven who was Celtic FC   trainer at the time.   He also looked after a few other runners in the west of Scotland and was