Two better centres on which to decide the athletic Grand National could not possibly exist than Birkenhead and Ockham. As really good hunting country is the great desideratum, no more suitable places could be selected. It cannot be denied but that a ten miles run over either country soon settles the pretensions of all the fancy athletic bazaar work to be found in Old England. Now, races of the kind to which we are directing attention, there is one class of persons always considered, and to be considered. In connection with hunting the scraps o' paper, the British farmer must be induced to be in unison with it. So far as the farmers round and about Ockham are concerned, they are in the aggregate fine, jovial, straightforward fellows. To sum them up - thorough trumps, and either the National or Southern committees can't be far wrong when in the hands of the Yeomen of Surrey. Tories of the good old Eldon school to the letter.
It was a right merry party that journeyed down to Horsley by the 12.35 from Waterloo. The observed of all observers were the Birchfield and Salford Harriers. Our lines were cast with the wearers of the scarlet and black. And what is more, we shall not forget it. Owing to our selecting Heath, Randall, and Dermott to finish in the first three, a vulgar fusillade was opened upon us by the jovial Salfordians. The two M.'s, Morton and Moran were going to walk in, so they said, and our funeral was to be today. But we told them to bide a wee time, as they would not draw our club money to-morrow. After a by no manner of means slow march to Horsley, but little time was cut to waste in detraining. Numerous vehicles were in waiting, and in co. with the jovial Blackheathens we were driven to Ockham.
It was pleasing to renew acquaintance with the Hautboy Hotel, so ably managed by Viscount and Mrs. Sprague. As time wore on a large crowd assembled outside the time-honoured hostelrie. Amongst the familiar faces in evidence it was pleasing to note the presence of many athletic veterans - notably Mr. Murray Russell, once a prominent member of the Thames Hare and Hounds. Doubtless one or two of the old-'uns longed once more, if it were possible, to take part in the pastime of their youth. One of the inconveniences of being man is that one can never be again a boy. Running our eye along the crowd we noticed President Fred Reed (of the Blackheath Harriers). W. Birkett, Reay senior, Nat Strickland. C. Herbert, Joey Turnbull, C. Strickland. A. F. Gardiner, Lew Mathias, Bruce, Mr. and Mrs. Walter Langlands, and Williams (Epsom), Sopper (who was so closely connected with the late H. L. Cortis), Arthur Nightingall, Monte Neck. F. W. Firminger, Pratt, Frank Moore, G. Harris, Tom Grafter, F. Denman, M. D. Rucker. Mrs. Wm. Chinnery, A. G. Lee. C. E. Lodge. R. Pulleyn, Holmden, John Allison (vice-president), John C. Hamer. R. G. Melling, Ernest Bamber, J. Turner, J. Senior. E. W. Parry (Salford Harriers), W. Wilfred Howard (Carl Rosa Opera Company), M. Doggett & c. The usual conversation ensued respecting the chances possessed the various runners, and the Northerners especially were eager to gather all they could concerning the line of country they had to negotiate. "It is I am told a very stiff one," remarked Alexander, of the Birchfield, "and I fear that there is but little hope of our men getting home.'Why not, Mr. Alexander' chimed in Mr. Hardwick, the energetic hon. sec. of the Salford Harriers, " for I notice in jour travels you are generally very fortunate in being well placed. You are in a very complimentary mood this afternoon. Mr. Hardwick," was the rejoinder. "We know that you keep your place however fast the pace."
It cannot be denied but that the Northerners were upon the horns of dilemma, fearing that the Southerners, were already acquainted with the ins and outs of the course, held a strong card. Monte Neck, as usual, was all over the place, like a pea in a frying pan, but to our eye, and possibly to our eye only, some of his team appeared trifle too fine. Be that as it may, the Boys in Pink were brim-full of confidence in their ability to beat the Essex Beagles. Prior to the men coming out a committee meeting (strictly private) was convened to adjudicate on the protest handed in to the eligibility of C. E. Willers for the BeagIes. We were ultimately informed that on the proposition of Mr. Alexander, who was seconded by Mr. Hardwick, that the objection was overruled. Sonnie Morton, of the Salford Harriers, scarcely looked up to the mark, but that genial little soul. R. J. Moran, was fit as a fiddle.
That consistent runner. F. Dermott, of the Polytechnic Harriers, had a good following, and so had Birchfield Birch, a gay young spark of some thirty-seven summers. However, H.A. Heath, of the South London Harriers, towered above the lot in the public fancy. Retained his place at the head of the poll as firmly as Peabody's statue at the back of the Royal Exchange. It will suffice here to say that H. A. Heath worthily upheld the honour of the South London Harrier flag, and won handsomely, not only to the delight of Gordon Innes, but to almost the entire company. On this occasion he was not accompanied by a scarlet runner. As in the Southern Senior, Randall, of the Finchley Harriers, finished second, with P. Dermott. of the Polytechnic Harriers, third. This was exactly our forecast in the Sporting Life of Wednesday, March 2.
Now the first countryman to finish was Sonnie Morton, of the Salford Harriers. He was fourth. Next sped home that gallant veteran Tommy Birch, of the Birchfield. Well run indeed sir! And then, oh! what a fall, my country, when the news went forth that, so far as the positions of the clubs were concerned, Birchfield and the Essex Beagles tied for first place with 74 points each, with Finchley third, their register being 110 points.
The arrangements for the race were admirably carried out under the direction of the chief clerk the course, C. T. W. Hickman, Mr. Harry Looman (Essex Beagles) (hon. sec.), and Mr. H. V. Starbuck (S.C.C.C.A.). Sergeant Southcott, of the Guildford Constabulary, who was assisted P.C. Sumption (80) and P.C. No. 61. rendered invaluable assistance. Finchley were the first to show, and then appeared Birchfield, Salford, and the South London Harriers. Heath, who wore a white guernsey over his club colours, was much cheered as he walked quietly to the post. It was past four o'clock when President J. E. Dixon dropped flag. B. Ravenscourt, of the Birchfield Harriers, was the first to lead out, he being attended by Tommy Birch and H. M. Eaton, both of the same club. Very soon W. H. Morton, of the Salford Harriers, drew up, and took the lead, attended by Moran.
When they came into sight again in order Morton to complete the half-distance the two wearers of the scarlet jacket, Morton and Moran, were well in front, with F. D. Randall lying second [third]. As the men came up the hill to complete the half-distance, the Salfordians were in ecstasies and vice-president Allinson's face was beaming with joy. News from the country then came to hand that Bamford of the Birchfield, was compelled to retire, owing to a nasty kick in the eye, whilst both Ponsford and Gordon Innes had relinquished the contest.