Sunday, May 25, 2014

John Green - Six Day Rider - 1958/1962

Madison racing has always excited me.  The history of Six Day bike racing in Australia and overseas has a rich history. Australia was quick to take on this discipline of bike racing from the late 1800s. Those early days were events with individual riders vying for the longest distance over the six day period ridden initially on high bikes or Penny Farthings. Our first true legend of those individual six day events was Jack Rolfe.
Rolfe won four of our first six one man Six Day races from 1881 to 1890. It wasn't until 1912 that two man teams eventuated in Australia and in that year Paddy Hehir and Alf Goulett won both the Melbourne and Sydney sixes. Another two Sixes were held the following year and again one each in Sydney (Reg McNamara and Frank Corry) and Melbourne (Bob Spears and Don Kirkham).

This post takes us on a further five decades to the 1960s and the "Green Train". The Green Train was John Green and John Young and I had the good fortune to ask JG a few questions regarding the team's experiences during those years.

He started by saying, 
"In 1958 ,I won the Amateur Six Day Race in Sydney with Kevin Wylie.
Winning the six day race definitely made my mind up for me for my future, in Madison/Six Day Teams racing.
If you could ride Madisons/Six Day races, then you could ride all other Track Races  well –Handicaps, Scratch Races, Omniums, but you would not necessarily be a good sprinter for Derbies.
Training for endurance events, meant many miles in the saddle, after work".

John Green's first Six Day win - 1958 with Kevin Wylie.

When I asked John how many Sixes he and John Young rode together, he was able to remember the following but keep in mind these were amongst the many that they rode and not necessarily won and also keep in mind that they had other partners at different times.

"John Young and I rode lots of sixes together. I do not know how many? We won the Melbourne Six in 1960".
The 1960 Milk Six was advertised in the Australian Cyclist magazine, March 1960 as having a prize value of 10,000 pound ($20,000) with Sid Patterson and Peter Panton the favorites. 
The promoter Bill Long wrote,
"On Saturday Night, March 19, at 10.45 pm, I expect Sid Patterson and Peter Panton to have 2000 pound in cash. That's real money, but it will be their slice of the Milk Board's fabulous 10,000 pound six-day race."
Green and Young had just won the Astor 24 at the Melbourne Velodrome and Greenie was on a high from his Tasmanian Carnival success in the Aces 10 mile at Latrobe. The headlines in Australian Cyclist shouted "GREEN ANNIHILATES 10 MILE FIELD".  On Christmas day the writer said that Green rode all the champions, including Patterson "into the ground". On New Year's day he backed up his win at Latrobe with the 10 mile at Burnie.

Just prior to the 1960 Milk Six, Green and Young won the ASTOR 24 and came into the 1960 Milk Six with great form.

Although Promoter Bill Long, proclaimed Patto and Panton as the likely winners, that was not to be as Patto had broken his collar bone towards the end of the Tasmanian carnivals and so Oscar Plattner was flown in by Long to partner Panton. 
Both Green and Young raced in green jerseys as they did in the Astor 24 which gained them the title of the "Green Train". 

As a team, this was their first Six-Day win but there were more to follow as "the Green Train". 
They also won the Adelaide Six -1960, Sydney Six in 1961 and the Launceston Six in 1962.
That year the Australian Professional Track Championships were held in Devonport and John Green's form was still on song. True to his Christmas carnival successes, he again took out the National 5 mile title, and adding a 2nd place in the 10 mile. All in all, 1960 was a great year for John Green.

I was fortunate to ask John a few more questions regarding his past memories and these were his comments.
John Young was a fantastic partner.He rode excellent position, and could put me in the perfect position for the big money sprints, and vice versa, I could put him in the perfect position for the sprints as well. He could chase all night and sprint all night, and he never knew when it was hurting.
He could make a break and open up a gap, then throw me in to consolidate the break to get a lap. We used to stop on the fence in our day as soon as possible, so one rider was never in too long and we never missed a change in the chases or sprints. We were the same height, and the same weight, and we were the perfect team together.
We had a very special understanding , coming up for the sprints, and we used to put fingers up – one or two when we were going to change for the Sprints –it worked well.
In 1960 we raced Plattner and Panton in the Melbourne Six, which we won. Plattner was a great Cyclist, ex World Sprint Champion, and an All-rounder. He was an excellent Six Day Bike Rider and could do everything.
Peter Panton was a great Track Six Day bike rider as well. He was so strong, and was a superb pedaller, especially in the chases.
We did not have much to do with Oscar Plattner. After we won the 1960 Six Day race in Melbourne, Oscar said he would organise Six Day Contracts for the Green Team in Europe.This never eventuated.

John Green - Cyclist of the year 1961
This win had gained them a total prize money of 900 pounds each plus 327 pounds in primes. Young used his share to build a house and Green on the night announced his engagement.
The following are recent comments from Michael Goldie who was only just 14 years old at the time and that Six-Day obviously left a great impression in his mind.
"The 1960 Milk 6 Day bike race had in the field 11 winners of the Herald Sun Tour between 1954 and 1968. Hec Sutherland 1954, John Young 1958/61, Peter Panton 1959/60, Bill Knevitt 1962, Barry Waddell 1964 to 68 inclusive. This tells you there were some very strong endurance men in this field. The winning team was John Green and John Young. 
John Green did not ride the road but he did big miles for track training. I think he told me 50 miles (not kms) a night. As a combination they were about the best there was for speed and chasing. Second was Oscar Plattner and Peter Panton. Oscar Plattner was one of the greatest showmen you would ever see on a bike and a former World Sprint Champion. Third Barry Waddell and Dick Ploog (Dick won a sprint bronze in the 1956 Olympics). Hec Sutherland and Bill Knevitt were fourth. 
I recall the last night of this race was just full on and very good teams lost numerous laps because Green/Young & Plattner/Panton rode so hard attacking each other. As a kid of 14 years I recall it was fantastic to watch with just about a full house in both the front and back straights".

1. Green – Young 0 laps lost & 771 points2. Plattner – Panton 638 points3. Waddell – Ploog 3 laps lost - 469 points4. Sutherland – Knevitt 9 laps lost -  416 points5. Stiefler – Wylie 9 laps lost - 373 points6. Oriani – Grenda 10 laps lost - 535 points7. Willis – Ousley 10 laps lost - 293 points8. Morre – Horder 12 laps lost - 439 points9. Harrison – Middleton12 laps lost - 255 points10.Anthony – D. Patterson laps lost13 -129 points11.Clark – Stout 15 laps lost -172 points

Note; these races were held outdoors for the 6 days but given that March was the most stable time of year I don't think this race lost any time.
John Green only just manages to throw his front wheel to the line to take the last sprint at the Melbourne Milk Six of 1960. 
There were several further questions in my interview with John Green which he reflected on and they will make for additional fodder for future editions of the Cycling Scrapbook Blog and possibly what I hope will become a book on "Six Day Bike Racing in Australia".

I'm always interested in the beginnings of our past Champions and how they came under the spell of our great sport. Many of our great riders didn't always start out as shining lights but worked hard to gain their successes. John was one of those who admits in his own words that success didn't come initially.

"My brother Alan Green (deceased  March 2011) was a cyclist before me. He started racing as an Amateur for Prahran when he was 14. Alan was a year older than me and raced at Prahran on a grass track opposite the football ground.
Later Alan transferred to Richmond Amateur Cycling Club (RACC) and was a good track and road rider. Retiring from Cycling when he was only 18, I bought his equipment. The bike was an Orion, built by Ken Weir in Windsor. This was my first bike.
I started riding for RACC when I was 17 at the start of the 1954 Track Season.
Starting as a limit rider, off the front mark, I did not do too good in my first track season, as I had Hepatitis.
I then rode the Junior Road season in 1955".

It was noted in Australian Cyclist magazine August 1955 in Club News (written by June Long - Bill Long's wife) that RACC stated that their junior members, J. Lack, J. Green, D. Good, A.James, T. Davis and K. Mullins were doing very well in that season's road races.
During the Xmas Track Carnivals of 1956, John came in a good third at the Echuca meeting handicap against Clive Middleton, 1954 Junior Australian Champion with Ken Trowel second.
His track racing career was moving forward.

John continues;
"In 1961, I crashed on Austral night in the Aces Scratch Race, 5 or 6 riders crashed with 5 laps to go. I was the reigning 5 Mile Australian Champion and I broke my collarbone. This put me out of the 1962 Melbourne Six Day Race, which John Young won with Faggin. (a story in the making. Author)
John Young was going so well that year, he carried Faggin for the first 5 days and they won. A costly fall for me.
John and I rode the 1962 Melbourne Six together, we finished second to Patterson and Grenda. Two Falcon Cars were their first Prize. This was their first win together – and they won again in 1963. This was my last Six Day race, as I retired from Cycling in July 1962.
I went to Bill Long the Promoter in July, and asked him for contracts for the 1962/1963 Track Season. I was asking him for a guarantee of 200 Pounds a Six Day race, for as many Sixes as he would promote in the coming Season.
He  did not agree.
I told him I would get a proper job, and give up bikes. He told me John Young was going to ride. He said you will ride Greenie – and he was wrong .
Bill Long was a good Promoter,and a man of his word. My decision to retire from cycling, was a business decision. He thought I would ride on, but I did not. I had no regrets to retire so early from Cycling.I started with Robert Bosch Australia in August 1962 in Clayton, and worked for them until December 1993, when I retired from Work at the age of 56 years. I have now been in retirement 20 and a half years, and have been lucky enough to grow up with my grand children".

The sport of cycling offers many great memories and friendships way past those days of fierce competition. John reflected on those personal friendships that still are part of his life today.

"David Good, Peter Crooks, Robin Daubeny and I, all started at Richmond at the same time in 1954.
David Good won the 1960 Austral.
Peter Crooks was second to Vin Beasley in the 1959 Austral,and was second in the Bendigo Golden Mile.
I turned PRO in Jan 1959 to win the Austral, but I finished fourth. I had a 40 yard gap in front of me, and a 40 yard gap from the two scratchmen, Waddell and Reynolds. I did not wait for them, and it took me two and a half laps to get onto the back of the middle markers. Vin Beasley won in record time of one min. 49 secs for the mile.
Robin Daubeny was in many Austral Finals, and I think, he finished third once?
Tony Marchant was a good mate of mine, and he won gold in the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, on the Tandem with Ian Browne.Tony lived in Chelsea.
Also Ron Murray from Richmond PROS, was another good mate and Champion Cyclist.
He won the 1955 Austral, and two Burnie Wheelraces and six day races as well.
The five of us are still very good mates".

John Green today is a motivating force in bringing past cyclists together through regular luncheons at the Skinny Dog hotel and his involvement of the Maillot Jaune Club.

Thanks to John for his honest answers and to Michael Goldie for his insight to his thoughts on John Green from his childhood memories. Also thank you to Suellen Loki for the loan of her club's (Wangaratta CC) collection of Australian Cyclist magazines from the 60s.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

A contribution by Cycling Victoria's History & Heritage Committee Member, Ray Bowles.

.… and The Birth of Malvern Star  

Heats for the highly prized two mile handicap at the MCG began with some controversy.   Both the backmarkers and the press were expressing great concern about the quality of the frontmarkers out on such big starts. The press commented ; 
“It was remarkable to see how some of the men who have almost qualified themselves to ride alongside a hearse, suddenly brightened up and did wonders.”   
Only heat winners and some fastest seconds qualified for the final and in slightly unusual form, many frontmarkers had agreed to work together to ensure the elimination of the better opponents behind them.

Tom Finnigan, born in Gisborne, only in his third season of racing at 26 years of age, was one such marked as generously handicapped on 220 yards.   He won the fifth of the eleven heats easily, by a margin of five lengths, although he only had one double win at Sale previously to his credit.
Betting on the event, legal, but beyond the control of the League of Victorian Wheelmen, had an unpredictable influence on the conduct of the heats evidenced by the sea of torn and discarded tickets littering the betting enclosure.
There were 30,000 spectators at the final including His Excellency the Governor and Lady Brassey who were great cycling fans.   The Argus newspaper was very enthusiastic about the day with comments made ; “The meeting was one of the most pleasant that had yet been held by the Melbourne Bicycle Club”  and …  “the best day ever known … fast and brilliant."

In the final, the backmarker was W.C Jackson on 40 yards and out front was A.W. Bennett on the arguably excessive 300 yards.   The frontmarkers worked fairly cooperatively again but bunches variously formed and disintegrated during the eight laps on the grass track.   There also appeared to be a little bit of outside assistance happening as whistle signals were being blown from the spectator area, apparently telling certain riders to go faster or wait.
Finnigan was said to be one of the recipients of those signals but he did much of the front running over the last few laps and led from the bell for his narrow win by half a length.   His winning time was 4 min. 30.8 secs.   Second was W. Middleton 190 yards and third G.C. Macgibbon 230 yards.

The win was worth a huge 240 Gold Sovereigns and with that, Finnigan set up his own bike shop in Malvern and in 1903 began building and selling his own brand bikes which he named Malvern Star.   That successful business and name was sold to Bruce Small in 1920 who greatly expanded it including the racing aspect, notably supporting Hubert Opperman and Sid Patterson.   The Australian foursome who won the Olympic Teams Pursuit gold in Los Angeles in 1984, rode on Malvern Stars and the iconic name remains evident in racing today.
The descendent Finnigan family still conduct a bicycle shop today in suburban High Street Northcote.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

The Bob Spears Articles

Bob Spears memories of the 1913 Sydney and Melbourne sixes
From a series of articles that Bob Spears wrote for the Adelaide News during the 1920s. 

How Bob Spears Won Big Six-Day Race With Don Kirkham
How Don Kirkham, one of the greatest long distance cyclists Australia has known, helped him to win his first big six-day bike race in Melbourne, is told by Bob Spears, former world's champion track rider ,in the second of his stories written exclusively for "The News."He says that this great win only made him more eager to go overseas in search of fame and fortune.

A visit to the United States was planned for 1913. I had bowed to the wishes of my mother the previous year not to accept the invitation of John M. Chapman, the American promoter, who had offered me a contract and two return tickets. And now I set out with the determination to earn enough to provide my passage and a few pounds to keep me going. 

In 1912 J. D. Williams, the American picture magnate, promoted six-day races in Sydney and Melbourne, which were won by All Goullet (now promoting in U.S.A.) and Paddy Hehir (who is associated with Fred Keefe another international, in the bicycle-building business at Footscray). 
The bike shop did move but was was actually in Commercial Rd, Prahran.
Goullet and Hehir won the first traditional 2 man team six day bike races in Australia - prior to their wins, sixes in Australia and overseas were run as one person "teams" and the rider that rode the longest distance was the winner.  Paddy seems to have become a forgotten Australian six day star with six wins to his credit, two in Australia and four in the USA. (author note)

More on Paddy Hehir -

The success of these races had induced a promoter in Sydney and another in Melbourne to stage similar events. I had improved a lot as a sprinter, but as I was an unknown quantity in six-day races, most of the aspirants for the "sixer" shied off me when my name was mentioned as a likely partner. I was depressed because I had visions of being teamed up with some mediocre rider, but eventually was overjoyed when the late Don Kirkham came to the rescue."I have been impressed with your riding on the track," said Don. "I do not know whether you have sufficient staying power to last out a week's hard riding on account of your youth, but I know that you have courage and ability and so I am prepared to take the risk."

The Sydney Sports Ground - the scene of Bob Spears first Six Day with Don Kirkham in 1913.
They finished second to Reggie McNamara and Frank Corry.
I shall never forget that great and gruelling experience. In many respects it was a nightmare to a newcomer, but Don Kirkham was an inspiration from start to finish. His words of encouragement acted like magic, for my limbs were very tired. The going was terrific-wind, rain, and then heat-but I was determined not to quit. Suddenly Don would appear on the track to relieve me. saying, "Go on Bob, go and have a good rest. I will keep the field busy for a while."Believe me, the big crowds would be delighted when they saw me changing over from Kirkham, whom they cheered because they realised his great work in nursing me over a trying period and allowing me to conserve my energy. I won the 500th. 1,000th. 1,500th, and 2,000th mile sprints, so I had a great following for the final sprint. Don't think that I am boasting, but, though Reggie McNamara was a great pal of mine, and I was only a kid, as far as cycling was concerned, I believe that if I had had put more heart into the final spurt. I would have won it from "Mac." 
Reg McNamara did later partner Bob Spears in the USA where they won the 1916 Chicago 6 Day together 
Don Kirkham was a happy old warrior, and he was delighted at finishing second with the assistance of a youngster like me. After the race I promised Don that I would win the Melbourne six-day race for him and thus atone for what I considered was my failure at Sydney. "You did wonderfully well." he replied. "You must remember that it is not good for any young rider to strike success at the outset. It sometimes has a disturbing effect and perhaps sweeps a young chap off his feet." 

The scene of Bob Spears and Don Kirkham's 1913 Melbourne Six Day win - The Exhibition Oval
Don Kirkham with partner Bob Spears competed in Australia's first two (2 man teams) Six Day Bikes races in 1913.

Was Robbed of 100 Sovereigns
They were words of wisdom and I never forgot them throughout my career. I rewarded Kirkham by winning the Melbourne six-day race before an immense crowd which went crazy with excitement. I think that it was the greatest thrill Don ever got out of the bike game. But victory came our way only because of the courageous riding of Kirkham. I had taken ill one night and had to rest for hours, but Kirkham came to the rescue by staying on the track and keeping his rivals in check until I had recovered. When I dismounted after winning the final sprint I was dizzy with excitement. The cheers almost deafened me. I was sore and weary-ready to fall asleep . . . Then words of encouragement from Kirkham who predicted great things for me. My American trip was now certain, and I had visions of sailing from Sydney to win fame and fortune. The thrill I got when I was handed100 sovereigns for my win was somewhat diminished a few days later. I had put the 100 sovereigns in my suitcase, which I locked and placed under my bed at the boarding house. A few days later I went to get some of my hard-earned money but to my astonishment I found that the bag had been burst open and that the money was gone. I almost fainted as I reeled on to my bed in anguish.

Fancy riding a whole week for nothing. This incident nearly stopped my trip to U.S.A. But I had saved a few pounds, and with a lot of scratching and scraping and assistance of my mother I was able to make the trip. On my return to Dubbo (N.S.W.) after winning the Melbourne race I was hailed as a hero. But, believe me, I was not too happy at my big loss, though I cracked hardy. No one ever knew of the incident, which I am now relating for the first time in print.

More on Paddy Hehir -