Whether it was that the people in the North and Midlands considered they were placed on their trial owing to the contentions of their Southern rivals, in regard to the inconvenience of their annual venues, and the ill accommodation these resorts afforded, may be doubted, but it remains a fact that the two Championships decided within a fortnight and managed by them have given an amount of satisfaction hitherto unknown in the history of the pastime. It was asked in reference to the Northern whether a more charming spot than his lordship's park at Crewe could have been obtained, and the answer was in the negative, and following this they were able to negotiate with those who manage the estate of Mr. Hooley for the National Championship, and this event was on Saturday duly decided within the confines of the Trafford Park, just outside the city of Manchester.
This Park is a place of historic interest, belonging until recently to Sir Humphrey de Trafford. It covers a wide area and really consists of a dual park. As we travelled along the carriage drive the space selected for the cross-country course, we met with a line of buildings in the raw deal state, which are being erected in view of the Royal Agricultural Show, which is to be held there in June. Almost at the farthest point of this enclosure stands a farm. Here arrangements were made for competitors to dress. There was ample room, and all things considered, there was nothing the most exacting could find fault with. This building was something like half a mile from the starting point, but to gentlemen who are able to pump ten or twelve miles at a stretch and finish fresh, and even show an anxiety for more of the same brand, this was probably as serviceable as the dressing accommodation at the average running track, where they treat the competitor as if had been reared in an Orchid asylum.
At this point then it is due to the officials, who have had the manipulation of the 1897 championship, to give them credit for very excellent provision they were able to make in the interest of the popular fixture. The survey of the course was a task of some difficulty, there were many miniature forests in the way, and these had to be laid under contribution to a certain extent. There was not a number of natural water jumps, but these desiderata were supplied to as numerical a strength was enjoyable. The total area covered reached ten miles 1,150 yards. The peculiarity of the surface made the going somewhat heavy, as it is altogether undulating.
It was subsequently alleged that it was owing to its severity in this particular that one or two who were expected to show prominently did not accomplish anything like the amount of success that was predicted their admirers. It is seldom that championship is shorn few of these heart-breaking incidents, and it probably would have been curious if the event on Saturday had not been able to furnish some. The starting and finishing point was arranged to the left of the carriage drive, and was thus convenient for the public as well as being favourable to the clubs, as a long tramp over sodden turf was avoided. There was a fine straight roped for the finish, giving a good sight of the men as they came into view for the judge's verdict. The 'force' was also assembled in round numbers prevent any interference with the runners. The number of spectators present at the commencement was about 2,000, which is something satisfactory when it is remembered that the committee elected to do the thing well and trust Providence for ''gate," which latter highly-prized and infinitely popular bit of merchandise has in the present instance been freely sacrificed to the demand for what we call respectability.
The weather was bright, but there blew a determined breeze across the two hundred acres which caused the populace to move about and their talking en route. A glance through the line of faces revealed the presence of old-time cross-country runners. Men were there who had achieved championship honours. Bacon and Watkins were interested onlookers, and there was a crowd of others who had 'been there once' and could not keep away from it for ever. In most audiences of this character there is disposition to have an opinion - and a pretty firm one - and those moving about were no exception to the rule. Although it is not expected that there should be quotations in a notice of this sort, dealing as it is with amateur running, yet the fact is that there was a frequent tendency to wager that a certain club would not win, and also, by like reasoning, that a particular man would not get first past the post.
On the form displayed at Crewe a fortnight before, Harrison was thought to have the race at his mercy, consequently it was reasonable to expect that if an admirer desired a wager, those who dealt in futures would lay no more than evens, and this tune was played to considerable purpose, whilst the man Robinson (who by the way is not a man yet, being only twenty years of age) was favoured by not a few at the enticing figure of 5 to 2 against. The youngster who hails from Bolton, F. Entwistle, was marked at 5 and 6 to 1 and found friends. There was something like 20 to 1 offered against any other, so that it will seen that there was on the spot opportunity for gentleman to work few stock Exchange transactions in the interest of his own pocket if he were so minded. And some way this gave a breezy outlook to things, and caused to seem very real indeed. So far as the clubs are concerned, Salford were the holders, but they had been weakened considerably by the defection that gave to the Manchester Harriers a number of good men.
The Midland champions were known to have a capitally even team - just such a compact organisation that would need to reckoned with. The success of the Manchester club in the race at Crewe enhanced their prospects, so that it was a matter of considerable doubt which would gain the title for the ensuing twelve months. It was certain among export judges that the three would fight out the battle for the honour. Yet curiously enough they almost left out of the calculation the Warrington Orford team, who obtained third place. They managed to beat the Midland organisation by 6 points, and by that victory they went up one, and they will doubtless be heard of favourably in the annals of the pastime. It is not often that we find a race split by two clubs in one town.
Although Manchester and Salford are distinct places, we may regard them one for all practical purposes. There is not a great deal love squandered between the two, as the Manchester club is really a regiment of seeders. They beat the old ones, Crewe, and they were within an ace of administering an additional defeat in the race on Saturday. Yet it was a grand struggle, and we feel quite contented with the result, which was a tie of 102 points. They may sit down and wonder what it was that kept them from being rubbed out by Warrington. Birchfield were a most useful fourth.
The race will be found dealt with below. The Salford Harriers evidently felt themselves handicapped, they ran one or two ancient mariners. A brand humorist met George Morris with 'Good old George' like Charley's Aunt, still running." Yet George did not have great deal to do with the placings. Sid Robinson ran a great race, and he made the pace nearly the whole of the distance. His victory was a popular one, and his friends may be forgiven for saying they have found another champion. The truth is, they may have found the best. Robinson has not yet attained his majority, and there is every prospect of his doing great things ere his running is done. He won easily, and his career will be looked forward to with interest. How to account for Harrison's display is difficult. That he did not give his running evident, He is highly rated in some quarters, yet after his defeat there were many anxious to know why was expected to prove a champion. Marsh looks like improving, and Entwistle is not to be held too cheaply. The event was a great success - in every respect except financially, where we are afraid the Association will lose a trifle on their outlay.
It was a good deal after the appointed time when the teams begun to file into the upper park from the dressing rooms, and some little delay was observed in getting them into line for the start. They were sent their journey pretty evenly, the group breaking away to the right in a cluster and negotiating a pathway between a line of timber. They were in sight for half a mile, after which they disappeared among the bits of forest that here and there covers the area. The first to show pace was Sid Robinson, the Midland champion, and he was followed by Birch, of the Birchfield H., and F. Tarry, who were pursued by Marsh of Salford, and Entwistle, of Bolton.
When they were a couple of miles on the way the tail began to weave itself out as usual and half a dozen were left something like a hundred yards in advance. They arrived at the judges position, showing slight error in the selecting of the favourite, Robinson was running nicely within himself, and was a comfortable yard in front of J. J. Crook, who was elbowed by F. Entwistle. The trio were a matter of six yards the better of Marsh, who was moving in capital style, however, and held a lead of fifty yards of Meacham the Birchfield man. A dozen yards to the rear came on two Manchester Harriers, Barlow and Harrison. The pace was evidently too fast for the latter, who was not running so free from anxiety as his supporters wished. Coming after the leaders at lengthy intervals were Jos Price and H. Grounds, Warrington. who had Dudican, C. W. Davies, A. Brierley, and J. Buckley for their nearest attendants. They went away into the country full of dash, and this maintained for a little over the half distance, where several of the rear men cried quits and retired.
As they came into sight for the completion of the second lap, a cry went up that Marsh was leading, and this proved the case, but it was only a yard in front of Robinson, who moved with a workmanlike air, and seemed very confident of his ability to stay the whole distance at the speed they were making. Some twenty yards to the back of them was Entwistle, who was apparently full of running. He had a lead of fifty yards of Crook, who was perhaps, 400 yards ahead of Davies. Then, at respectable intervals came a string in the following order: -Meacham, Barlow, Harrison, Grounds, Buckley, Dudican, Jos, Price. W. Teed, E. Harrington, and Twigger.
It was now a matter of speculation to which of the individuals would gain the verdict, but Harrison's chance was peremptorily ruled out. Robinson was pronounced favourite, and every eye was anxious to see them they mounted the iron fence on the far side that brought them into view. The spectators had no sooner lost sight the tail than a shout went up that Robinson was leading, and so it turned out. He took the fence jaunty style, and then settled down to finish, pursued by Marsh and Entwistle. The Northampton County man came along with a rare dash of speed, and casting a look over his shoulder and finding he had the race he eased a trifle, but sprinted along the straight, and won amidst hearty cheer by thirty yards, Entwistle being twenty yards to the rear of Marsh.
It was a fine race, and the time. 61min. 50sec,. over the course is accurate indication the lad's powers as a performer over the country. Of the others who ran well, mention should made of Davies, who did capital performance, and he was ably seconded by his club-mate. A. H. Meacham, who was well up to him. Crook, of the Salford H., also did as well as he was expected, and was a prominent factor in enabling his club to get where it did. Buckley and Harrop were well in evidence, as also was Teed, of Northampton, but Grounds, of Warrington, hardly ran up to his form in the Northern. The collapse of Harrison was a surprise, and the explanation would be interesting.