Alf Stevens & Jim Riddington (front row inside right,
right respectively)
Alf Stevens & Jim Riddington (front row inside right,
right respectively)

A slice of history

by Alan Stevens

Our early NZ Reps were all in cross country teams:

1923: A.W.Page

Alf Page was our Club Champion 1921-23. The NZAAA (Athletics NZ today) negotiated with Australia to allow a team to compete in their Cross Country Champs. In 1923 from the NZXC Champs in Christchurch a team was selected that included our Alf Page. The trip was financed by a lot of fundraising led by our first Club Captain, Sam Hall – who was also appointed sole selector and Manager. Alf finished 10th in the Australian championships.

1935: A.L.Stevens and J.Riddington

Alf Stevens joined the Club in 1927 and quickly became our leading runner: Club Champion 1928, 29, 30 & 32 and Wellington Centre Champion 1928, 29, & 33. He spearheaded Scottish becoming the most dominant club in Wellington during the 1930s.

Jimmie Riddington joined in 1933 as a “youngster”, but showed early promise, particularly on the track and was Club Champion 1935,6,7 & 40 and Centre Champion 1935.

The 1935 NZXC Champs were held at Lyall Bay. Starting on and running along the beach, up and over Moa Point (no airport runway then), through Scots College and Miramar Golf Course. All the leading athletes were there, vying for selection. Alf was regarded by some as “past it” (33 at the time), but ran a very well judged race and also nursed his 23 year old club mate Jim to dead heat for fourth place and selection in the team to Australia. Alf was appointed Captain.

World War II intervened and it was not until 1957 that another team went to Australia, but the only Scottish connection was with Alf Stevens being a selector.

In the early 1960s another of our great Scottish administrators, Ossie Melville advocated that New Zealand should send a team to the International Cross Country Champs. The ICC Union then comprised 15 mostly western European nations. The event had been staged annually since 1903 apart from war years (the IAAF took over the event in 1973). Through force of personality and contacts Ossie secured an invitation for New Zealand to participate in 1965. Fundraising commenced with a very successful national harrier raffle. Ossie was appointed Manager and a final trial was held in Masterton.

1965 & 1967: G.C. Wheeler

Grant Wheeler, far right, NZXC Team 1965

Grant, together with his Eastbourne pal Roger Wyatt, was another to come from our Scottish “nursery” – Wellington College. Both came under the coaching of our Brian Derwin and each won many junior races, including Wellington titles (and NZXC & mile titles for Roger). Grant became one of our most successful athletes, being Club Champion a record 9 times 1959-67 inclusive; Centre Champion 1964. With the target of the 1965 team ahead coach Derwin convinced Grant to forgo his flourishing cricket career and concentrate on both track and marathon times. He ran an excellent final trial and gained selection in the NZ team, a feat he repeated in 1967. Whilst the ICCU was an annual event our fundraising resources dictated our participation only every second year. Incidentally, a fellow teammate in both teams was Peter Welsh, the father of our current leading athlete Stephanie MacKenzie.

Grant was transferred to Christchurch in the mid 1970s, then to Auckland. In the early 1990s his wife received a research post in Wales, so they moved to the UK. After time in Ipswich Grant retired to East Wittering, near Chichester, but with family spread in the UK, Australia and NZ he visits regularly. In February this year he and Fiona were here and 34 of his Scottish friends joined them for dinner.

Of course in subsequent years we have had many members represent NZ in various international events, but the above men were our trail blazers.