Handicapping was never a popularity contest, says Don

Don Campbell, pro games handicapper.
Don Campbell, pro games handicapper.
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He is a massive part of the Scottish Games scene.

But he does not compete or fire a starting pistol, take time on a stopwatch or judge.

He is always watching the action though, quietly observing every race. He is Don Campbell – games handicapper for 14 years, a man who is, through the nature of his job, often under fire from all angles.

However, the 58-year-old from Lochgelly in Fife is well aware that his role is never going to win him a popularity contest.

Involved in the running game for 44 years, Don also has had strong links in footballing circles.

He said: “When I was a youngster I had trials with a lot of the top clubs, including Leeds United.

“I finally signed for Cowdenbeath and was also on the books of Dunfermline Athletic. After I stopped playing, I was speed/fitness coach with teams such as St Johnstone, Brechin City, Forfar Athletic and Dunfermline, working with managers Paul Sturrock, John Blackley, Bert Paton and Jim Leishman. I certainly enjoyed my time in football.”

He made his first appearance on a professional track in a two-mile handicap as a youngster at Burntisland Games.

And ever since, whether as an athlete, a coach or a handicapper, Don has been in the fast lane in one way or other.

Don is very modest about his achievements as a runner. The facts point out, however, that he was victor of the 1977 Summer Classic 110m handicap at the Meadowbank Stadium, winning the final in a time of 10.97 seconds from a mark of 9.5m. The Summer Classic was a big event and to win it a great achievement.

Don also made an impact as a coach, training Brian McManus to win the New Year half-mile in 1989, and Bernard McGurk when the sprinter won the Jedburgh Games sprint in 1991.

Although a Fifer through and through, Don has a great love for the Borders and its folk.

“My first venture to the Borders was in 1971 for the Jedburgh Games and I have been coming back ever since,” said Don. “During this time I have met a lot of lovely people.”

It was while competing on the games circuit that Don got involved in an award-winning film which provided the soundtrack of this summer’s London Olympics.

Explaining, Don said: “I was an extra in Chariots of Fire and appeared in several of the running scenes, including the very well-known one of a group of runners running along St Andrew’s beach.

“Being in a film like this was a great experience and as a thank-you I was given an original script of the film, which I have kept to this day.”

Don is now handicapper at all the Borders Games, as well as 15 Highland Games meetings and the recently introduced Pitreavie Gift.

Don added: “I have a database of more than 500 athletes the length and breadth of the country and I attend as many games as I can. Though some meetings are handicapped by Adam Crawford from Glenrothes, I need to know every result from all athletic meetings on a weekly basis as it is imperative to keep the handicap system competitive, which is my main aim at all times.

“The best thing about handicapping in the Borders is working along with my good friend and youth handicapper Ernie Blair.

“Our wives Margaret and Jean, who come to the meetings and do a great job in helping behind the scenes, once said when Ernie and myself go into the inner area of the track at a games meeting we are like a couple of gladiators entering the arena in ancient Rome, as we seem to be alone and up against everybody.

“This might not quite be the case, but if it is, then Ernie is Spartacus.”

“Believe nothing that you hear and only half what you see,” is the best advice Don says he received.

Thety are wise words he has taken in, for Don has certainly made his mark as a handicapper.