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Alec Nelson: professional runner and athletics coach Ian Stone Durham Business School Durham University ‘Sporting Lives’ Symposium, Wychwood Park, Cheshire.

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Presentation on theme: "Alec Nelson: professional runner and athletics coach Ian Stone Durham Business School Durham University ‘Sporting Lives’ Symposium, Wychwood Park, Cheshire."— Presentation transcript:

1 Alec Nelson: professional runner and athletics coach Ian Stone Durham Business School Durham University ‘Sporting Lives’ Symposium, Wychwood Park, Cheshire 4 th December, 2010

2 Main themes Outlines Alec Nelson’s sporting career Sets Nelson’s sporting life in its wider social and athletics context Proposes an explanatory model that helps in understanding Alec Nelson’s life and career? Warns about dabbling in family history... you never know where Google will take you!

3 Extent of family information re- Alec Nelson

4 Family photo - reverse side : ‘Mr & Mrs Alec Nelson’

5 ‘Alec Nelson takes salute’... or does he?

6 Alec Nelson ( ) background Father Robert ( ) b. Fife - with wife Margaret relocated to Hayes mid-1850s; - family - labourers (agric, gardening, domestic service) Mother Elizabeth Reeves (b1837) - Wiltshire family, moved to Orpington, Kent - own account carpenters Alec (+ twin Beatrice and bro William) products of liaison between Robert/Elizabeth), b. Orpington - regd. Leopold Reeves (no father on birth cert); later reverted to Alec Nelson (common name on father’s side) - ‘Elizabeth Nelson’ used in all censuses – ‘widow’ Early 1890s, Alec living with Beatrice/husband Jack Levy; working with him in paper mill

7 ‘Granny Nelson’ – well... Elizabeth Reeves

8 Amateur athletics career Naturally gifted - fleet of foot as child – sacked for impossibly quick delivery of kidneys! Member Goldsmiths’ AC (1999 – Brighton & County Harriers); handicap races, 880yds to 2 miles Good but not outstanding - amateur championships: 3 rd in ½ mile Northampton 1896, Huddersfield Reading 1898 ¾ mile amateur record 3m 11 4/5 sec, beating great rival Joe Binks* Kensington Oval, 17 Sept 1898: ‘some good running was shown by A. Nelson of the Goldsmiths’ Institute, who beat the grass record in the 1,000 yards Invitation Scratch race, winning by ten yards in front of J. Binks in 2 min 15 secs’.

9 Alec Nelson c.1900

10 Scratch ¾ mile limit race Nelson (left) vs Binks, Reading, 26 Aug 1899

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13 Nelson winning ¾ Mile, Record Time (3m 11 4/5 sec) Reading 26 Aug 1899 Where’s Binksey?

14 Progression to professional status Married 1897, Catherine Smith (Cambridgeshire) at Southwark (m/cert occupation ‘clerk’) 3 children: Winnie (b1893), Millicent (1900), Stanley (1902) Started competing as professional after 1901; 1905 won a race for the professional half-mile championship Why did he turn professional? Age (30+), or the need to earn some money? Millicent had Congential Talipes (club foot) – how did she obtain specialist surgery/3-4 week stay, GSOS Children’s Hospital 1907 (by Sir HA Thomas Fairburn)? Professional race opportunities scarce...

15 Early career in coaching Professional coach at Cambridge Univ How did he come to be appointed? (resulted from ‘meeting a prominent CUAC official at the London Athletic Club in 1907’) Within 3-4 years coaching talents apparent - Olympic coach in 1912 (Stockholm); British team ‘performed well’ War intervened...Friends Ambulance Unit /4

16 Alec Nelson, 1913

17 C.U.A.C 1913 (Rex Woods back row 2 nd from L)

18 Wartime – pushed or pulled into ambulance service? No coaching engagements Spent most of war in ambulance service in France, n. Italy Why did he join the FAU? Assumed within family it was because he was a conscientious objector – but how true is this? Answering this Qn was key to unlocking understanding Nelson’s career and contribution as an athletics coach

19 And the answer is... Philip [Noel-] Baker Quaker... Cambridge athlete... CUAC president Stockholm competitor 1912 (6 th in 1500m) etc. PNB is link between Nelson and his sporting (and other) life ‘Chauffeur’ (rank on Nelson’s medal record) Report, Malo-les-Bains 16 Dec 1914: establishment of Unit now complete... from commanding officer, Baker, down, each man has his daily duties... the “butler” is a well-known English athletic trainer and celebrated starter, and “what a character he is, too!” PNB’s ‘Batman’ (army officer’s servant /orderly) Provides model for understanding AN/PNB relationship - patron-client or master-servant; Confirmed by letters in PNB Papers – Churchill Archives, Cambridge - strong element of mentoring - lasting close relationship, mutual loyalty/respect (assisted by PNB’s character as a decent man)

20 Philip Noel-Baker ( ) Quaker Industrial family – baking equipment (later Baker-Perkins); strongly ethical business - respect for workers etc. Organised FAU at Ypres 1914; Adjutant FAU in Italy Founder Achilles Club 1919 British delegation, Paris peace conference; League of Nations secretariat ( ) Inaugurated Oxford-Cambridge Relay races, Member British Olympic Council; British delegate to Olympic Conference 1921

21 PNB – more... Cassel Professor of International Relations, University of London, Labour MP Coventry , MP Derby (later Derby Sth) Sec State for Commonwealth ; then Minister Fuel & Power 1958 pub. The Arms Race: Programme for World Disarmament; Nobel Peace Prize 1952 British Olympic team Commandant 1960 President, International Council of Sport & Physical Recreation, UNESCO. Virginia Woolf’s diary: ‘Phil Baker shd do half what he does, and should drink wine’ (Oxford DNB)

22 PJN-Baker’s elder brother Allan Richard Baker (4 th from r), with FAU in Ypres, 1914

23 Philip Noel-Baker (c1924 and c1957)

24 Censored pc to sister Beatrice from Dunkirk, 17 March 1915

25 Postcard, Alec Nelson FAU 1915

26 Ambulance exercise – the real Alec Nelson (left)

27 Postcard to mother from Zona di Guerra, Udine, Italy, September 1915

28 Inter-war years Cambridge athletics coach ( ). Returned from Cowes (‘welfare work’ at J&S White & Co. shipbuilding); PNB to ‘constructed’ income sources Achilles Club coach. Founded 1919 – coach for several years, until loss of Queen’s Track; Nelson advice on laying track etc. Guy Butler: ‘I’m glad you have got Alec involved with the Queens track. He is such a treasure’. British Olympic track coach 1920 (Antwerp) – organised by PNB through (and paid for by) Achilles London University coach (1928-) plus helped develop ULAU facilities for 20,000 students (PNB again; lectures for students on science of athletics training)

29 Ireland Olympic coach wks national coach; wks up to LA Olympics; visited athletics centres, incl. schools/colleges; lectures and demonstrations. Coached Bob Tisdall (former CUAC) to gold in 400m hurdles. Coach to the army engaged by Army Council; many competitors in Bisley Champs, ‘were entirely ignorant of the basic principles of running’ - in attack shooting, soldiers too puffed to fire straight. Times reported much better performances followed: ‘Hitler: My G2 Uncle’s Part in his Downfall’ Through to mid-1930s regular army training engagements, summer months - Lydd (Kent); Catterick; Colchester; Bovington- Tank Corps, Dorset. 2/4

30 The professional coach within a new infrastructure Patron role consistent with PNB’s ambition to create athletics infrastructure (physical, organisational) - developing public school and university (C,O,L) athletics - post-university framework for international competition Nelson emerged when ‘grip of amateur officials upon athletics’ – and cult of ‘effortless superiority’ - was under challenge. Many argued need to improve international performance via competent scientific athletics instructors (David Day) Army Athletic Assoc. similarly viewed professional coaching - and new training facilities at Aldershot = means to larger British military representation at 1924 Olympics (Lt-Col Strode Jackson?)

31 C.U.A C 1921 (incl. 2nd row from left: HB Stallard 2 nd, GM Butler 4 th, HM Abrahams 5 th )

32 Cambridge University Athletics Club 1924 (Stanley Nelson front 2 nd from L; DGA Lowe behind SN to R)

33 Stanley Nelson, Perse School, Cambridge University, athletics ‘Blue’ But who paid the fees and pulled the strings?

34 Trusting and loyal servant 1/1920: On whether to give up job in Cowes to return to Cambridge given uncertain contract position ‘Whatever you say, Mr Philip, I do’ 3/1932: For a meet at White City, ‘I think I’ll bring a Thermos Flask up in case Mrs Baker is in favour’ 12/1933: ‘I am informed that Mrs Baker is looking remarkably well, which is a great pleasure. On the other hand, I learn that you are looking very seedy. May I suggest one good cure, 24 hours fasting together with 24 hours in bed.’ 1/1935: ‘I am deeply sorry to hear that you have been ill. I am afraid you work too hard and get terribly run down. Go steady now and thoroughly build yourself UP. You have such a great helpmate in Mrs Baker that really you must steady up.’ AN/PNB letters reveal true friendship and trust, within the bounds of the class divide

35 How good a coach? All the evidence suggests ‘very good’... Clear dominance vs rivals Oxford, pre-war days onwards Countered Oxford’s Rhodes Scholars advantage; developed talents of Public School boys 1931 Cam bt Ox 8-3; 6 th successive win in front of 9,000, Stamford Bridge. Harold Abrahams (Times): ‘Cambridge have now won on 32 occasions to Oxford’s 25 (316 wins v 286). Six years ago the two were level on victories... Cambridge superiority has been overwhelming since Yesterday, Cambridge not only won eight events, they also had seven second places and seven third places’. PNB, after narrow loss to O 1933: ‘You can’t win every year, Alec!’ Respected book on training (publ. 1924, 2 nd edition 1930); covered all events (for different ages), incl. aspects sports management Continuing legacy - ‘The Nelson Programme’ – practised in Tracey Stone’s women’s gym, Simcoe Ontario!

36 British athletes coached by Nelson - Philip Noel-Baker (silver 1500m 1920 Antwerp Olympics) - Harold Abrahams (gold 100m 1924 Paris) - Douglas Lowe (gold 800m 1924 Paris,1928 Amsterdam) - Henry Stallard (bronze 1500m 1924, + 4 th in 800m) - Lord Burghley (gold 400m hurdles 1928) - Guy Butler (gold 4x400m 1920) - Robert Tisdall (Irish, gold 400m hurdles LA 1932) ‘During the reign of Alec Nelson... the CUAC almost certainly gained more Olympic medals than any other club in the world, besides contributing a high proportion of the members of successful British Olympics, British Empire and English International teams’. Dr R S Woods, autobiography

37 Approach to coaching Great attention to detail - nothing left to chance (letters) Development programme for each individual; staged preparation to reach peak condition on race day – ‘giving them long, slow steady work and holding them back for speed as the Sports are much later this time’ Careful observation of each athlete – selection of their best event, developed strengths and worked on weaknesses; took full account of psychological dimensions (‘the wind up’) Strong motivational skills, esprit de cours Careful assessment of balance of team, teamwork, race tactics, assessment of opposition Systematic delegation: ‘it became the tradition for outstanding Blues to hold regular classes in their own events, giving him more time to keep an eye on the Club as a whole and, especially, fire the imagination and ambition of the freshmen’. Patience in dealing with privileged students – ‘my Blues’

38 Coach’s analysis of prospects – Relays, November 1933

39 Book published 1924 (2 nd edition 1930)

40 Never enough ‘engagements’... £5 per week rate as Cambridge coach 1920; plus tips from athletes (later a pool), payments from individual Achilles athletes, fees for lectures etc., royalties from book... ‘I cannot claim out of work dole, although engagements are scarce from March to October each year; I’ve no employment card, nor any health insurance, and no old age pension’ ‘It’s a long break from March to October and jobs going are generally of short duration and invariably a good way away’ ‘I’m forced to seek diligently for jobs each summer and travel all over England, devoid of many comforts’ 3/4

41 Patron’s practical support... Mrs Nelson ‘beautiful blue silk shorts’ for the CUAC team (and for PNB) Nelson arranged for running shoes to be made for ‘Master Francis’, plus supply other items Regular Christmas cheque Broadcasts on BBC Series newspaper articles (News Chronicle) Typing for Winnie (PNB letters etc) Initiated Nelson Appeal...

42 Alec Nelson, entrepreneur Proactive in (1) identifying income opportunities and (2) mobilising his network (and ‘Mr Philip’s’) in support: - Correspondence School of Athletics - book of athlete’s experiences and anecdotes - support O&C athletes visiting public school (‘ocular demonstrations’ etc) - lecture programme to armed forces and public schools on athletic technique, psychology and coaching - ideas on developing athletics in schools - Prince of Wales Fund for an A1 Nation (certificated coaching courses specifically targeted upon schools) ‘there are hundreds of school masters... who sadly want such teaching. I find the same in the Services Clubs and other places where boys have recreative games’. - development of a system of standards to guide improvement within schools [ahead of his time?]

43 The proud home owner – open invitation Appeal – signed by big names in athletics; aimed at members/former members of CUAC and Achilles Instigated by PNB, but largely organised by Dr RS Woods - raised £400+ (=£20K retail, £75K earnings) Affording the house still a problem: ‘I’ve £400 to make up over house and land. So Mr Philip, anything you can do to helping in A Fit Nation, or any engagement, I shall appreciate ever so much. Yours ever, Love, Alec’ (March 1937) Outside Cambridge/Fenner’s; ‘should be able to carry on at CUAC’, but if ‘illness or anything happen I dread to think of the larder. Perhaps CUAC would still help for any unlooked for eventuality’ even contemplated renting house out (possibly did so?) and moving back to old University lodgings

44 University Lodgings - 4 All Saints Passage, Cambridge

45 Friends in high places 1937 Court case, Cambridge – drink driving charge Police surgeon - Nelson’s breath suggested he was under the influence of drink; he was argumentative, garrulous and ‘at one time had wanted to fight me while being examined’. Defence – condition explained by accused having tripped and fallen when getting out of his motor car. Witness - Dr Reginald Salisbury Woods (local GP) examined accused later, ‘noticed no smell of alcohol’, and ‘found it extraordinarily difficult to determine whether Nelson’s dazed condition was due to slight concussion through his fall, or by reason of having had too much to drink’. Case dismissed (BUT he still had to face being chastised by his disappointed Mentor, PNB...) * Yes the same Dr RS Woods, who was Hon Treasurer of CUAC and organiser of Alec Nelson Appeal...

46 Conclusion Alec Nelson was an outstanding coach in his times. - Learned his trade as an athlete, through observation experimentation, reflecting upon experience etc. - Personal attributes and background (experience, creativity, enthusiasm, humour, patience etc) were vital ingredients Alec Nelson was crucial to achieving Mission of members of a social and sporting elite to develop Britain’s athletics capacity in the inter-war period - via professionalising coaching and developing infrastructure For this ‘indispensible servant’, elite patrons facilitated rewards in terms of public recognition and generous acknowledgements (BBC, newspapers, Pathe News...) but might have done more in terms of employment and financial security, and physical comfort.

47 Final thoughts His humour... Denys Williamson remembers Alec Nelson for the high jump advice given in 1939: ‘Mr Williamson, throw your leg over the bar... and follow it as soon as possible’ And... an artistic side, too

48 Alec Nelson, painter


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