Magnificent weather was experienced at Haydock Park on Saturday, sun shining brightly all the afternoon. The race for the National Championship provided as pretty and as keen a contest as one could wish to see. It proved a significant triumph for the North, the Sutton Harriers surpassing all expectations by proving the club champions of the year. Their success was further enhanced by the clever individual victory of C. J. Straw, who only joined the Sutton Club this season. There is this to said, that after Saturday's result the Sutton Harriers must be deemed unlucky to have lost the Northern Championship. To say the least of it, they were very disappointed on that occasion, and taking the lesson to heart from Crewe that good packing was an absolute necessity to ensure success, they upset all preconceived calculations on Saturday, and won by a margin of 5 points from the Highgate Harriers. Not since 1898 had a Northern Club annexed the team title, so that a transposition of honours has by no means come out of its turn. Could Cleveley and Still have got a little closer than they actually were, Highgate would, undoubtedly, have been returned club champions for the third successive year.
T. Johnston, who finished ninth in the Southern Championship, improved on this by being placed fifth. He, in fact, beat A. G. Horne, who did not run quite up to his form of the previous week. These were the disturbing factors in the defeat of Highgate by the Suttonites, who were placed first, mainly through the forward running of Welding, second man in the Northern, J. Bailey, and Wilcox, and, of course, the individual champion, Straw. It was a highly creditable performance on the part of the Haddington Harriers to finish third, only a couple of points in the rear of Highgate.
The Irishmen were, for the most part, a strong lot, and Hynes and Hayes, who, it will be remembered, ran second and third respectively in the Irish Inter- County Championship, did good service for their team. As a matter of fact, after the first three miles had been covered, it was found that Haddington and Highgate had three men each in the first twelve, while at the half-distance the Dublin representatives were actually leading on points. Highgate and Birchfield being placed next in the order named. The Birchfield Harriers were distinctly unfortunate not to get nearer than fourth.
A. Underwood, the Midlands junior champion, was prominent in the race for a couple of miles or loss, when he was unlucky enough to come into contact with some wire, over which he fell and hurt himself. Under the circumstances, Underwood had, perforce, to retire. Had he been able to do his running, there are those who hold the opinion that Birchfield might have repeated their victory of 1903. At any rate, the incident referred to put them out of court. Heavy rain fell during the week, and, with a thaw setting in on the top of the previous evening's frost, the going was rendered very heavy, the plough being very deep and treacherous. This doubtless accounted for Crewe not being as conspicuous as usual, but it is only fair to mention that they suffered from the absence of T. Hossack, who was ill in bed. Salford was the sixth club, their first man home being Pickup, who, eighth last year, dropped down to nineteenth position.
As regards individual honours, C. J. Straw's knowledge of the course stood him in good stead. The Sutton runner had not by any means so easy a task as he had when he beat his clubmate Welding in the 'Northern' a fortnight before at the same venue. George Pearce made him travel all the way to win. A great shout went up just after the first lap had been covered, when Straw, on passing Tattersall's ring, was headed by Pearce. The Highgate Harrier at this point seemed like winning, but on reaching the plough again Straw resumed the lead, and increased the gap considerably between himself and the Southerner. His most trying time was during the last couple of miles, when Pearce made up a lot of ground. Coming into the straight for home the last time, Pearce was running far faster than Straw, who was all out to win by twenty-five yards, while the Haddington man, Hynes, although three hundred yards in the rear of the immediate leaders, finished as fresh as a daisy.
It was patent to most people that if the conditions had been as favourable as they were when the 'Northern' was decided. George Pearce would probably have been returned the winner. In saying this, there is not the slightest disparagement of Straw's performance, and he is to be commended for his pluckiness and fine turn of speed. It was observed that on the flat the Southern champion invariably gained ground, but it was the plough that beat him. Pearce's opportunity may come next Saturday in the international race at Newport, and such a good judge as Harry Watkins, the hour record holder, expressed his opinion that on the running it is within the range of possibility for Pearce to do so.
There was a big attendance, and it reminded one of old times to see in company together four past champions in Watkins, E. W. Parry, Sonny Morton, and S. J. Robinson. Parry deplored the fact that there were not more obstacles on the course to give the race more of a cross-country colour. The Midland champion W. G. Dunkley, created quite a disappointment by failing to finish. He was a big fancy by the people from the Midlands. Another runner who retired before the journey ended was W. Ashton, of the Salford Harriers. It may be of interest to know that Straw is three years the senior of Pearce.
All the seventeen clubs entered competed, and there were 163 runners. The race was started at a quarter to four, and passing the stands the first time Wilcox (Sutton) led from T. Hughes (Farnworth), Welding and Straw (Sutton), Perkins (Salford), Whittle (Farnworth) and Pickup (Salford). This order underwent alteration after going a quarter of a mile, when Straw took up the running from Welding, and Wilcox, while Hughes and Whittle (Farnworth) lay next.
Close up followed Perkins and Pickup. Well out in the country and passing over the plough, G. Pearce (Highgate) had drawn into second place. The first lap (2miles 1,150 yards) was covered in 16 min. 15 sec. by Straw with Pearce but a few yards behind. Next came Hynes (Haddington) 23 secs. behind the Southern champion, while in close order there followed Greenall (St. Helens St Joseph's), Deakin (Herne Hill), Welding (Sutton), Casserley (South London), Johnston and Horne (Highgate), Hughes (Farnworth), and McNamara and Harris (Haddington). Pearce temporarily took the lead on entering the second circuit, but on the plough Straw again went away, and at the half distance, covered by the Northern man in a second under 31 mins., Pearce had dropped 60 yards in the rear. Hynes was 200 yards away third, and at this stage Johnston had moved up into fourth place. Deakin was still fifth just in front of Price (Small Heath), who, together with Hayes (Haddington) who came next, had made up a great deal of ground. Hughes, Casserley, McNamara, Horne and Welding were still retaining their places.