In the spring of 1967, I was fourteen years old. My friends and I were hanging around Brabyns Park not too far from where we lived in Marple. Brabyns Park was actually in Marple Bridge, which was in the valley of the River Goyt. We usually walked down a dirt road from our neighborhood, crossed the Peak Forest Canal and walked through the woods, down onto the playing fields. One day, we were hanging out on the bank of the river throwing stones into the water, probably skimmed a few and threw some others. I picked up a stone that was 4-5 lbs and because of its extra weight I had to sling it. One of my friends, said “You threw that like a discus thrower," which was true, at least in terms of a standing discus throw technique. What he said next, though, was perhaps life changing. He said, “I have a discus.” This boy’s dad worked in parks and gardens, which is how he got hold of it in the first place. He was happy to sell the rubber 1 kilo practice discus to me for five shillings. Little did I know that the following year I would set a World Age Best for 15-year-olds.
In the next few weeks, I went and practiced on my own down at the park and started to throw. I am sure I started with a standing throw, but I think I did some kind of turn almost from the start. My dad had a book about track and field athletics that covered running, jumping and throwing. The book was written in the 1950’s, or earlier, I think. In the section under discus throwing, the footwork graphic showed starting side-on to the direction of throw, as opposed to the modern method of starting with the feet facing the back of the circle. So, this is how I started, not knowing any better. Probably, it wasn’t a bad thing as it was easier to do for a beginner.
I was at Marple Secondary Modern School at the time. Each school in England taught all the track and field athletics events in high school during physical education classes. It was easy to pick kids to go to the district championships as the athletes were pretty obvious. I won the discus (second in the shot) at the District Championship on May 5, 1967. I then won the U14 (then it was U14 in September of the previous year, when school started) Cheshire County Championship, on June 11, 1967. We got three throws. I won by and inch with 103’ 7” with the 1K discus. I actually think I foot fouled on the winning throw, but the nice lady judge let it go.
In late September of 1967, my mum suggested I go up the road and join a bodybuilding club. The club was upstairs in an old coach house, circa 1860-70. It had a door, that was designed originally to winch horse feed and straw into the loft space, which we used to house the weights. On the door, ten feet above the ground, there was a blue sign with a gold bodybuilder and the “NABBA,” which stood for the National Amateur Body-Builders Association.
The room was probably 15 x 15 feet in dimensions. The equipment wasn’t too bad, in terms of covering the range of body parts to be worked, although most were homemade. I would go up to this club three or four times per week. In the first year I just did bodybuilding. When I started, I was probably 6’ 3” tall and weighed about 155-160 lbs. Not very many teenagers lifted weights and I spent at least a year just doing bodybuilding exercises, which looking back was probably a good thing, as I built a good physical base.
I do not think I threw at all that winter, but in early April 1968, I attended my first coaching course. The invitation was based on my winning position in the U14 Cheshire Schools Championships the previous year. I was a different athlete now with my weight training going well. In early May 1968, I was second in the Youth Discus and shot at the Cheshire AAA open championships. The Cheshire Schools Championships were held on May 21, 1968. I won the Intermediate Boys, (15-16-year-old) discus with a championship record of 153 ft 0’’ / 46.63M with the 1K discus. This performance qualified me to attend the English Schools Championships which were in Portsmouth, on the south coast of England. This was an eye opener! There were about 2000 athletes from all the 42 Counties (at that time) in England.
Basically, every school in the country had a feed into this Championship. The athletes were housed in people’s homes who had volunteered to be a host. I do not remember what I threw. I managed to look up the winner who was John Turton who threw 184ft 10in / 56.34M. I remember wondering around the Championship and occasionally, you would see an athlete with a purple and gold sewn-on badge on their track suit, some with more than one. This was an athlete who had won in previous years, and/or in multiple events in previous years. At the time these athletes were like gods and goddesses to me as I mingled with the 2000, mostly good athletes. I was both star-struck and dumbfounded. On a side note, a man called Alex Rose sailed around the world single handedly in yacht Gypsy Moth. He arrived in Portsmouth, a day or two before the Championships took place and came to wave at us at the opening ceremony, his first public appearance.
When I returned to Marple, it was nearly the end of the school year. I had started to practice starting the discus throw with my back facing the direction of the throw. In the school sports, there was a circle painted on the playground asphalt. This was a bit of a show case for me, and there is seldom a more motivating audience than your peers. I threw 178’ 3” / 54.33M, 25ft over my previous best. Suddenly, I was ranked 3rd in the United Kingdom. I sent the mark into the statistician Alan Lindop (National Union of Track Statisticians). I met him in September at a club competition in Warrington, Cheshire. I threw 170 ft that day, Alan, who I got to know well in subsequent years, liked the fact I had thrown 170+ as it confirmed what he had previously thought was a suspicious mark. Alan, was from Stoke-on-Trent. I was embarrassed in our first conversation as I could barely understand his dialect, even though he lived less than 40 miles from me!
Even though the 15–16-year-old boys official implement was the 1K discus, I threw a lot of throws with the 1.5K and 2K discus, both in training and meets. I thought this was the way to go, getting stronger by throwing the heavier discus early. In hindsight, this was a mistake. I think young athletes should throw light implements to develop speed. It is hard to throw 70M with a 2K adult discus if you cannot throw that far with a lighter discus. I ended up breaking the UK Age records with the 2K discus. On October 5, 1968 I threw 139’ 11” / 42.63 at 15. On September 20, 1969 I threw the 2K 149’ 2’’ / 45.46 at 16; and on September 12, 1970 I threw 159’ 10” with the 2K at 17 years of age. Alan Lindop, figured out that the age 15 distance was the World Age Record at the time.
But throwing far is one thing and winning is another. In the second half of 1968, at 15, I was throwing far, but I was a naïve and an untested athlete in National competitions.
In 1969, I was 6” 3 ¾ “and about 185-190 lbs. I competed for Lancashire, the county of my birth, in open competitions and Cheshire in school competitions. I made the switch, as Lancashire was more organized and had better trophies (!), but also Lancashire did not have any good adult discus throwers, whereas Cheshire had Dennis Roscoe. I was able to compete in the National open men’s Inter-County Championships in late May 1968, with all the top British discus throwers.
In youth competitions, I won the Cheshire Schools Championship with new records in both the 15-16 and 17-18 age groups. The latter win, was a pathway to allow me to compete as a guest in the English Schools 17-18 Championship. On June 21, 1969, I broke the AAA’s National Record in the 1K discus at Kirby, near Liverpool in the Lancashire open championships with 206” 3 ½” / 62.88M. This was a big deal and I got a lot of press in the Manchester and Liverpool area. I had other competitions that I set local and National records and started to win men’s open competitions, all before the 1969 English Schools Championships which were held in London that year on the weekend of July 19, 1969.
As I said above, I planned on competing as a guest in the Senior Boys class (17–18-year-olds). This would allow me to be eligible to be selected for the English Schools International team that would compete against, Scotland, Wales and Ireland. I “won” the Senior Boys event with 165’ 7” / 50.47M. The first placed Senior Boy threw 151’ 10” / 46.28M. After this event, John Turton my main rival, and also a once in a generation talent, went to practice the 1K at the same time. This was one of those moments where we were both trying to psych the other out. Any spectators at that practice session, saw the best 1K 16-year-old performances in history. We were both throwing close to 220 feet / 67 meters. The next day we would who was the best.
In the 1969 15-16 Intermediate Boys discus, I had a complete meltdown. I think it was the only time I ever had a panic attack. I was sweating and felt weak and in the early rounds may have thrown about 150 ft, 70 feet (!) less than the day before in practice. Some, wide eyed Cheshire young kid talked to me, about nothing in particular, between rounds three and four of six. Somehow, this brought me down from the ceiling. I ended up throwing 187’ 5” / 57.11M. John Turton threw 207” 4” to win and beat my AAA’s Youth Record. Later that summer John Turton and I threw in the AAA’s Junior Championship. John beat me again by about 8 feet, in the 15–16-year-old Youth age group. I won the Junior (17-18) age group. By winning the Junior as a youth, and then two times as a Junior, I am still the only discus thrower to have won the AAA’s Juniors three times. John Turton and I were selected for the British Junior Team and competed in France and Germany that year, with the 2k. I beat John both times. By the way, in the English Schools International, which I should have won in my sleep, I did three fouls and consequently had no mark. I was taking anti-histamines for bad hay fever and was truly spaced out, and just wandered out of the circle after my delivery. In a club meet at Stretford AC (now Trafford AC), I was the only Youth competitor, so my performance was classed as an “exhibition”. I threw 67.00M with the 1K, which ended up at the top of the rankings for the year... with an asterisk. John Turton was pissed!
In 1969, I got the experience about what it took to compete at a high level, albeit a baptism of fire at times. I became a hardened competitor for much of the rest of my career in athletics, weightlifting and highland games. In general, as a Masters athlete I have won on my final throw several times and cannot be counted out until the event is over. In 1970, I beat John Turton in the English School Championship throwing 179’ 1” / 54.58M with the 1.5K discus and got my first purple and gold patch. John never beat me again. He was perhaps more gifted in terms of explosiveness than me. He went to California for a couple of years on a track scholarship. California suited his lifestyle and home background. He did not do much with the discus past his early twenties, and his last known whereabouts was Japan where he followed his black go-go dancer girlfriend. He and I were coached by the same coach for those years when we were 16-18 years old. We got on OK, but there was always the tension between rivals.