GLASGOW CITY AC
THE PEOPLE'S CLUB*
* those people mostly being 20-something man-children who waste their days running in circles, chucking things, and playing in sandpits
Written by Martin Hayes, club secretary 2016-2019
The beginning of 2020 saw the official dissolution of Glasgow City Athletics Club as a consequence of the creation of the new National Athletics League format. Then, within a few months of our sad but inevitable demise, the already increasingly crazy world decided to completely lose the plot. Coincidence? Well, yes, I’m not a complete lunatic. However, the club did have some small impact on the development and general lives (it was the bane of mine at times, to be honest) of many athletes in the sport from this part of the country. With this in mind - and the fact that I sadly had nothing better to do when asked to write this - I will not-so-briefly reminisce, in unashamedly bias fashion, about the plight of the plucky little club that represented Scotland so well… most of the time.
The concept of the club was largely imagined by members of the Glasgow Athletics Association in conjunction with Glasgow Sport. The intention was simple: provide British standard league competition to senior male athletes from the West of Scotland without the need for them to leave their ‘home’ clubs. Glasgow City A.C was subsequently established circa 2007/08, but it wouldn’t be until 2010 that the club would first taste British Athletics League competition after negotiating the qualifying match at the second attempt.
The club made an immediate impression on the league led by the then administrator and captain, Cheesy – these were in the days before the majority of people referred to him as Sean Watson. Our first season culminated in an exciting final match decider for the Division 4 title in Guernsey. A close-knit squad, who had largely come through the junior ranks of Team Glasgow together, marched into the stadium whilst waving the Saltire to the musical stylings of Daniel Carlin on the whistle. The only thing that made us stand out more was the original green and yellow hooped vest, which was a slightly contentious issue for certain elements within the team (though, I can’t think why in this part of the country). Nevertheless, the atmosphere was palpable before the first gun sounded. That excitement, coupled with a rousing speech from Sean Fontana the previous night, fuelled the team to victory in the final divisional standings over the host club. The post-match celebrations extended over the full weekend due to a fog-related flight cancellation, and I think the trip as a whole still remains a highlight for many of those who were involved (or at least those who can remember it).
That first season set the tone for the early years of Glasgow City. More success and a few more reserved nights-out in renowned hotspots such as Chippenham followed as the club won two more consecutive divisional titles on our ascent through the league.
Members of the 2011 squad with the Division 3 trophy
We boasted a wealth of talent through a range of disciplines in the early years. Our equivalent to the Hollywood Chrises, the Glasgow Daves, - including Messrs Little, Martin (both versions), and Watson - were central to the club’s success. In fact, David ‘Hurdler’ Martin still shares the Division 3 record for the 400m hurdles from 2011. The club was also fortunate to welcome the maverick contingent of Shettleston-based, Eritrean endurance runners led by Amanuel Hagos, who, when they weren’t trying to smuggle pots of jam through airport security, were completely dominant in their respective events. There were even athletes within the membership who would go on to represent Scotland at the Commonwealth Games, namely, Ray Bobrownicki, Jamie Bowie, Greg Louden, David Smith, and Jax Thoirs. Jax another GCAC alumnus immortalised as the Division 2 league record holder in the pole vault.
As the eagle-eyed probably spotted in the above, despite maintaining a strong core of proud Glaswegian athletes, we attracted others outwith the West to the cause. Not content with just athletes, we even managed to adopt a cameraman, Andrew Murphy (not the one that you know). ‘Uncle Andy’ went above and beyond the typical role of an athlete’s relative by filming our races; offering travel advice; hosting athletes; and even providing us with much-appreciated, chilled refreshments on matchdays (which may have occasionally included a couple of post-match beers) over the years of jaunts down South.
Being a young club, there were other developments beyond the personnel during this time. This included a couple of wardrobe changes leading to the green and gold, tiger-striped vest that would remain our colours to the final season. There was also a gradual change of chief cat-herder (sorry, I meant team administrator) to myself, so it wasn’t all good news for the boys. One thing that did remain a constant, though, was the exuberance of the squad. Unfortunately, we did get the impression that our brand of enthusiasm wasn’t exactly the cup of fine, English Earl-Grey of some of the traditionalists within the league. In my humble opinion, however, the energy that the team brought to competitions was a positive addition to the sometimes otherwise stale atmospheres and was actually appreciated by many more than it offended.
The GCAC vests over the years
In 2013, there was a slight stall in the GCAC juggernaut as we finished 3rd in Division 1. However, just like David on the last leg of that relay (if you need a laugh, the video can be found on Youtube) the club dusted itself off, picked the baton up, and got back on track the next year to secure promotion to the Premiership for the 2015 season.
At this point, a number of our illustrious (read old) membership felt the city’s hosting of the 2014 Commonwealth Games served as a natural finishing line in their athletics careers. Having helped the club achieve its ultimate goal, they made the decision to hang up their spikes and continue with their lives away from the track (I wonder what that’s like). This would prove to be somewhat of a blow to what should have been a really exciting year in the club’s history and sparked the beginning of some unwelcome trends.
All of those who competed over the 2015 season demonstrated great commitment and a lot of heart, but the lack of depth and experience was clear as the group’s morale took a pummelling against the might of the Premiership big boys. Alas, like Icarus flying too close to the sun without any real comprehension of the heights for which he aimed (and a substantial safety net), we were victims of our own hubris and crashed and burned in flames – in Glaswegian parlance, we were a bit gallus and got pumped is what I’m saying! There were impressive individual performances, but the club ultimately finished that year in the unfamiliar position of being bottom of the league table. This only served to add to the deflation from the loss of the big personalities and further blunted the positivity that had become synonymous with the club.
As a result of recruitment issues and an annual first match clash with the Scottish exam period, it really was a battle for the next couple of years. We fought extremely hard the following season to remain in Division 1, but the 2017 campaign ended in another painful relegation. We did have some joy at increasing our membership with the Thomas twins (Alec and Kade) signing-up, and we were also grateful beneficiaries of the conveyer belt of throwing talent from Inverness, but a brief look back through the match reports suggests a recurring theme: athlete availability. The club always maintained potential with talented members, but it was our dwindling numbers and inability to field complete teams – the essence of league competition - that was proving our undoing.
Members of the 2014 squad after finishing second in Division 1
Members of the 2016 squad after securing their position in Division 1
It seemed like the appetite for the whole project had run its course. Quite frankly, I blame the poor leadership and inept travel planning of the secretary. The team camaraderie was still there, but the enthusiasm towards the league itself seemed to have waned. However, just as doubt of the future viability of the club was questioned, cue the dawning of the ‘hype train’ era.
Following some small changes at committee level, a few fresh ideas created a little more purpose and optimism. Headed mainly by the new athlete representatives - the charismatic Connor Henderson (the heart), the pragmatic Sam O’Kane (the head), and the problematic new captain Andrew Murphy (the mouth… a big one) - there came about a mini-renaissance of sorts. A recruitment drive bolstered the ranks, particularly in some of the field events, with some of the finest young talents in Scotland such as Adam Boyle and Reuben Nairne joining the green and gold army. This, together with the experience of club legends like the omnipresent Michael Deason (who, as a side note, had an incredible record of individual success in the last few years of the league) and Allan ‘Rainman’ Ramsay, suggested there could be the potential for a revival.
Although we still had a couple of issues at the start of the 2018 season, there was a noticeable buzz surrounding the team again. This was demonstrated no better than by the performance at the second staging of BAL’s ‘Big Saturday’ match in the third round of fixtures that year. The club travelled with the strongest squad in years and were duly divisional match winners on the day. In addition, we were also the 3rd highest scoring team from all divisions at the match. This felt like some small vindication for choosing to fight on with the club.
Due in part to the head start we had given to the teams in the first two matches, an immediate return to Division 1 was out of reach, but the groundwork seemed to have been laid for a full-on assault the following year. Glasgow City had never spent any more than two successive years within the same division… and we weren’t planning on being relegated!
Members of the 2018 squad with the 3rd place ‘Big Saturday’ points trophy
There were further high-quality additions to the squad in 2019, and we looked ready for a genuine title challenge. The cancellation of the first scheduled match was another development that heavily favoured our ambitions given the previous years’ issues. Having said that, there were typically still a couple of familiar obstacles to overcome (we wouldn’t be a proper Scottish sports team if we made it too easy for ourselves), but the injection of quality helped to mitigate these and GCAC managed two consecutive 2nd place finishes to leave us top of the table before the final round: a home match at Scotstoun Stadium.
The scene was set for an exciting day of action, but, with all due respect to the competition, there was never any doubt over the final outcome. Inspired by the lively atmosphere, there were some brilliant individual performances throughout the match, the pick of which being a Scottish U17 record from Reuben in the pole vault. The somewhat boisterous spirit of the class of 2012 appeared to have been recaptured as a near-enough full team dominated the match to win by an emphatic margin of 101 points, sealing a divisional title once more.
On reflection, I don’t think anyone could have scripted a better ending to competitive action for GCAC.
Members of the 2019 Division 2 winning squad
It was an interesting ride in our relatively short time as a club. There were ups and downs; comings and goings; and even an impromptu staging of an airport decathlon which included the classic events such as the ‘bin jump’ and ‘pencil-neck squatting’ (a supposed affectionate reference that the throwers used for the endurance runners). We had a bumpy period in the middle, but, when looking back as a whole, it was quite a successful venture for a small club to secure four divisional titles, one year in the Premiership, and a further three seasons in Division 1. Without focusing too much on any negatives, it would have been interesting to see what else could have been achieved if we were able to have garnered a little more support from some sections of the wider athletics community in Scotland. We did make mistakes along the way, and we could have done certain things differently, but I genuinely believe we tried to make decisions for the right reasons. It could be argued, though, that any criticism or even just apathy towards GCAC only served to strengthen our resolve and perhaps further bond the club’s membership together.
Despite sounding a little trite, the club really did take its lead from the city’s motto in that the people who were involved, made it. Of course, we were truly grateful for all of the support from Glasgow Sport too, but the club simply wouldn’t have lasted without the work of a few very important “adults” to supervise the creche of man-children that was our membership. I could be here for a long time listing every individual who had helped sustain the club over the years, from committee members such as Ronnie Stevenson to the brilliant officials that accompanied us to matches such as Hugh Baillie, but I think there are a couple of people who deserve particular recognition for all the time and energy they devoted to enable the squad to compete:
Brian Donaldson was a driving force for the club in more ways than one. Not only was he a huge advocate of the role that the club had and could further have, but he also racked up countless miles transporting poles the length and breadth of the country to allow our vaulters to compete when airlines would not take them. He was always there to give us guidance and encouragement; a kick up the backside when it was required (which was pretty often); and even the rarest of all things, the B.D smile.
Evelyn Melvin had the unenviable task of looking after the club’s finances and helped to organise much of the travel. Quite simply, the club would not have been able to function without all of her tireless efforts. Many would even rightly argue that she deserves a medal just for having to deal with the constant barrage of messages from me over the years. Seriously, if you’ve managed to read this waffle (congratulations by the way), you might have a small understanding of what an ordeal that must have been.
This would also be a good opportunity for us to acknowledge the contribution of the late John Melvin. Although never occupying an official role within the club, he was always a much-valued ally of GCAC, just as he was with most things athletics in Glasgow. As well as having a huge impact on many of our athletes’ individual development, he was always on hand to offer some prudent advice and assistance. I think his attitude is typically exemplified by the fact he spent the evening before our last match trying to repair the pole vault stands to help us jointly host such a successful meet. He will be sorely missed.