Alastair Aitken
Alastair Aitken
Alastair Aitken's
Interviews and

John Salisbury

It was last Summer I was at the '10 in 100' Semi Final at Copthall Stadium, Hendon, that I started talking to a very pleasant man about athletics. After a short while I asked him his name and he said 'John Salisbury' and then, my mind flashed back to the late 1950's when I saw a powerful one lap runner tearing up the cinders at the old White City Stadium. I immediately thought, what a wonderful subject for one to read about in Athletics Weekly. These days few, except at Woodford Green & Essex Ladies club, would recognise who he was!
   John Salisbury with Gladys Bird (Taylor) and Jean Burgess (nee' Dicker) all fine athletes in their time, coach or manage athletes down at Ashton Playing Fields, Woodford. Incidentally Gladys, Like Dave Jones, that great bend runner, were coached by resident AAA's coach Ron Bowden and, Salisbury coached Jean Burgess in her younger days.
   People, under the age of 55, may have difficulty remembering who John Salisbury was so I am going to outline a few of his most successful results.
                     In 1956 he gained an Olympic bronze medal in the 4x400 in Melbourne (John Salisbury, Michael Wheeler, Peter Higgins and 800 silver medallist Derek Johnson) 3:07.2
   In 1958 Salisbury became AAA's Champion for the 440 yards (1 John Salisbury, in an English Native and Championship best of 47.2; 2 Mal Spence (Jamaica) 47.8, 3 Peter Higgins 48.0).  
                     European Games in Stockholm in August he gained an individual silver medal in the 400m Final (1 John Wrighton 46.3; 2 John Salisbury 46.5; 3 Karl-Friedrich Hass of West Germany, the Olympic silver medallist in 1956, 47.0)
   That was followed by a European GOLD MEDAL for the 4x400m relay (Ted Sampson, John MacIssac, John Wrighton, and John Salisbury) 3:07.9.
           He then obtained an Empire Games Silver medal in the 4x440 relay in Cardiff in 3.9.6, behind South Africa, who were timed at 3.8.1 (England's team Ted Sampson, Derek Johnson, John Wrighton and John Salisbury).
In the individual 440 yards he ran 47.1 for fourth place behind winner Milka Singh of India who did 46.6.
   For seven or eight years Birchfield's 4x440 team won the National club title for the relay and, for sometime, Olympian Mike Farrell and Mike Rawson were on the team with him, then in the latter part of John Salisbury's career as an athlete Robbie Brightwell and John Cooper, the 1964 Olympic silver medallists, ran with him on the relay team..
   Salisbury's best was 46.5 for 400m and he did dip inside 46.00 in relays so, with the modern tartan rather than the cinders he ran on at the time, he would have done a time inside 46.00. The vastly improved spikes, clothing and medical back up also for the top athletes has changed greatly. When he got serious athletic injuries in 1959 and 60, they would have cleared up much quicker if he had today's medical help and, he would have had better years as he approached the end of his international career. He stopped racing in the 1964-65 season.
   How did he look back at his stock of important medals gained that included an Olympic one?
            "It has only recently hit me that I have got an Olympic medal and ran reasonably well. Whether it is the 2012 Olympics coming up that people are more aware of things, because there are not so many medals floating about.
At the time I ran, all my friends had Olympic medals Peter Radford, David Jones, Alf Meakin, Robbie Brightwell, John Cooper, Adrian Metcalfe, Tim Graham, Derek Johnson and John Disley so I was just one of many then."
   Looking back at the individual silver medal he gained in the European 400m Final in Stockholm where John Wrighton won in 46.3 and he was second in 46.5-
          "What did me was that I had beaten John every time out that year. There was a very good Pole called Stanislaw Swatowski (6th in 47.8) in the lane inside me with John outside of me, which should have been an advantage. After 150m Swatowski came passed me. Now if I had run my normal race it would have been alright but I slightly reacted at 300. The time we got down the straight I never got back. I remember Satowski coming by me and thinking I was going  too slow!"
   However, John Salisbury always loved relay racing. Helping the team and all running for each other, that really appealed to him and it paid off for him so many times.
   John Salisbury was born in Birmingham, on the 26th of January 1934. He played cricket and football at Handsworth Grammar School, Birmingham but only did athletics on Sports day. He soon found he was winning races over 440 yards. Just before he did National service for two years in the R.A.F, in 1952, he ran in the AAA's Junior Championships at Motspur Park and came third in the 440yards. Then he went to Loughborough Colleges for three years and initially became a PE teacher. Except for working at the CCPR in Park Crescent, London for a time, he has always been a teacher. He also remembers one of his administrative interests and that was being a Secretary of the International Athletics club for a while which he enjoyed doing.
   He pointed out right at the start of our talk "I have been coaching at Woodford Green since 1960. I came to work in Woodford in 1960-61 but I was still a member of Birchfield Harriers. For a long time I was Birchfield but coaching at Woodford. Although I was living here I was still loyal to Birchfield and I used to run at the trophy meetings in the South for Birchfield."
He thought that these days, because of the money in the sport at the top unfortunately, the loyalty to the clubs for top level athletes has all but gone for most and parents, who see the rainbow in the distance in football with all the silly money involved, is better for their kids to do, working towards the Premier unless, of course they have got athletic scholarships at  St Marys, Birmingham or Brunel etc.
                         John Salisbury feels that officials are not looked after enough these days. They do things voluntarily for just a cup of tea in the middle of the afternoon and maybe a tea shirt. They go out in the pouring rain all day and if they stopped, athletics would crumble away as a sport. He thinks the Governing bodies should look after them better. Another thing he felt about coaches dictating to athletes was all wrong "Coaches now seem to hold sway as to what their athletes do. In the old days, although the coaches were important, they gave the athlete some independence so that they could say, well I want to do the County, where as the County Championships now is almost a joke with the few that compete in them. He said "Another thing is I think the Under 17's have far too much competition. Today (13th of June 2009) is the Essex Schools, National junior league tomorrow, the Championship for the age group next week.They can't be training properly because they are tuning up for the Championships and all those things extraneous. OK one of them is for the club but lot's aren't for the club."
   He also said " If you want more coaches to come down and help athletes at clubs, you don't want them to pay £300 to get this certificate and then they have got to attend three refresher courses. Somehow I think they have got it arse about face."
However John Salisbury concludes by saying " I live in Chelmsford and to get to Ashton Playing fields track to coach it is nearly 2 hours run. Someday's it is in the pouring rain on a Tuesday or Thursday evening or on a Saturday morning when I coach. I do begin to think, however, I still enjoy it now. Athletics has been a lot of fun. It has been a great part of my life."

Alastair Aitken

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