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SJP Sports
On your marks....


The conclusion of World War 2 resulted in massive crowds thronging the nation's football stadia - and it wasn't just the round ball game they came to see.

The idea of a high-profile sports meeting in Newcastle city centre was first floated by local officials of the National Cycle Union in December 1945 and following talks with directors of Newcastle United, St. James' Park was chosen.

First staged the following July, open and invitation events took place on the field and after the success of the first event, it became an annual feature. Our image shows the 1949 programme, when 20,000 spectators paid up to four shillings to see no less than 91 foot and cycle races of varying duration over three hours.

No female competitors took part, but Lady Mayoress Violet Grantham had a busy afternoon, presenting prizes after each event.

The start line was towards the Leazes End of the West Stand, with the finish line at the opposite end of the same stand - then the only seated area in the ground.

While longer duration events were staged round the edge of the playing surface, a 100 yard running track was marked out diagonally from South West to North East (the following years' event saw it laid from North West to South East).

Among the 120 participants in the heats for the 100 yards Open Flat Handicap, one name stands out in heat 15. A certain Gordon McKeag ran, but didn't qualify for the Semi-Finals - not the only time he'd endure cup disappointment at SJP...

Emmanuel McDonald Bailey

Arthur Wint

Much attention was devoted to the track just after 4.15pm, when the last of five heats for the Invitation Short Limit Handicap took place. That was won in a time of 10 seconds by Emmanuel McDonald Bailey, the British record holder.

The Trinidadian-born athlete had participated in the 100 yards Final at the 1948 London Olympics and would return four years later to win bronze in Helsinki.

McDonald Bailey left Gallowgate 7 better off (the maximum prize pot permitted by the Amateur Athletics Association at that time) having won the Final in a time of 9.9 seconds - three seconds faster than his personal best. 

Another big name draw for those assembled was Arthur Wint, who had become Jamaica's first-ever Gold medalist when winning the 400 metres a year before.

Originally down to compete in two different events, Wint was reported to have a leg injury and scratched from one of them, finishing third in his only race.

Tommy Godwin

The cycling segment of the day also attracted many riders well known to the two-wheeled fraternity, including double Olympic bronze medalist Tommy Godwin.

Godwin took part in several races over the course of the afternoon, winning the  Double Harness Pursuit, but being beaten into second place in the event finale, a three mile race that involved the riders completing 18 laps of the pitch.

A legendary endurance cyclist, Godwin died aged 91, passing away just months after he'd served as an Ambassador at the London Olympics in 2012. As part of his duties, he also carried the Olympic Torch through his hometown of Solihull.

The last SJP sports day looks to have run in 1950, with the following year seeing separate events staged across the region as part of the Festival of Britain.  

PS: The Newcastle United Challenge Cup was awarded in 1949 to the winners of a one mile Invitation Medley Relay Race, this time Bromsgrove Athletics Club.

Valued at 100 Guineas, the silver trophy was provided by Northumberland Street jewellers David Summerfield. It's believed to still be at SJP.


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Page last updated 22 March, 2020