I DOUBT whether any the previous forty-five national cross-country championship races have been held under more delightful conditions than the one on Saturday. Crewe Hall Park, an ideal enclosed demesne, beautiful air and sunshine, a charming course, was a setting for such an important event that pleased the large concourse of spectators - l should think quite 6,000 - immensely.
The entry of 39 teams and 29 Individuals constituted a record, and every team entered turned out, and the vast majority of individuals as well. The total numbered 406 runners, a wonderful and inspiring sight it was as they bounded down the slight incline from the starting point.
The eliminating process of area champions had left a residue important runners, and a fairly easy focus, so far as finding the first half dozen men and half that number of teams. The consensus of opinion seemed to favour E. Harper as the individual winner, but not until the race had gone quarter of the way was there any indication of the domination of the Hallamshire club.
When the runners had settled down to serious work, and the first obstacles of groups of men had been overcome, it was made manifest that Harper and Beavers were put fight a stern battle once more. In the earliest stage they had Metcalf, of Derby, Price, of Coventry, Eckersley, of West Lancashire, and Allnutt, the Southern champion, to contend with.
Long before half-way was reached the Northern pair had disposed of those rivals and were out by themselves, toiling and struggling, yet unable to get away from each other. There were many futile efforts by both men, and it was not until just before the half-way that Harper launched one of his supreme and desperate sprints that allowed him to get a lead of just a few yards. They were enough.
Beavers was running nicely, nay prettily, but the sting had been taken out of him, and Harper just pounded along, apparently joyful and full of life and energy. The further they went the more he gained, and any hope of a final tussle vanished. Eckersley had been in third position up to half way, with Metcalf always thereabouts. At last he fell away, and Metcalf became a certain third man, although Fisher of Hallamshire challenged him in the last mile.
The race was won at half way by Harper, and consequently the next serious interest was in the team honours. Poor Birchfield! They were never prominent and did not look like a club team that had gained the honours seven years in succession. Their first man was C. E. ('Joe') Blewitt. No pluckier man ever ran for a team. He was lamentably supported, yet he went on and finished in a better position than he did a year ago at Wolverton.
Hallamshire, at the point I stood, had in the first quarter of the journey six men in the first twenty-three. At five miles they had six men in the first seventeen, and, at the close, they had six in the first thirteen - a great achievement.
They went on, lap after lap, never losing place but always gaining a few points. There is a wonderful club spirit existing amongst their members, never excelled even by the great Birchfield club, and it is team work of real intelligence.
Clearly they all are well trained, and they are imbued with the one desire to win and allow no obstacle to stand in their way. I should say every man runs himself out and never spares himself.
We have to go back to the year 1877 to find a team winning with a smaller aggregate points. That team was Thames H. and H. They won with 35 points - against Hallamshire's 36, like that of Birchfield in 1923; Of course, in the old days the number of runners were possibly in the region of a quarter of those of to-day.
I have so far said nothing about the course. It was a genuine cross-country one. There was nothing easy about it. There was plenty of rough grass land, not by any means level; there were jumps that required careful negotiation, and there was moisture in the ground that made the going heavy.
Harper has now proved himself the master of all his contemporaries, and his team by winning the Yorkshire, the Northern, and the National championships have Indicated once more that they are a force of inestimable value to sport this country.
It is not the first time they have gained the triple honours. The last occasion was 1913. They fell away during the period between 1914-18, but they have been building up all the time in a methodical manner which I put forth as an example to all clubs, and especially those who have had great honours for a time and then fallen away.