Portrait of a Champion


Jackie Campbell (1925-2012) Crossing the line for The Oak Leaf Athletic Team at Ballyarnett, Derry circa, 1950.


Jackie Campbell & Oak Leaf Athletic Club

Formed during the dark days of the Second World War, the Oak Leaf Athletic Team dominated Irish running during the late forties and early fifties. This article looks back at a classic team and one distinguished member in particular, the late Jackie Campbell.

Jackie Campbell’s athletic career started during his school days in St. Edward’s College, Liverpool, where he put up the best junior performance by winning four events at the school sports. A few years later, having moved to Derry from Liverpool to avoid the German bombing, he set a record for the 800 meters at the Ulster Junior Track Championships in 1946, winning the 600 meters and the 880 yards senior titles.

The following year he represented Ulster against Connacht at Sligo winning the General O Duffy Cup. Speaking about his running days in 2011 Jackie reminisced,

“We used to play Gaelic games at Celtic Park until one day we decided to form an athletics club. The main founder was Frank Pimley, who was originally from Belfast.


Oak Leaf training at Celtic Park, Derry, 1948.

“When we started out we had no kit. So, Frank’s brother, who used to run the tennis courts near Celtic park, supplied us with black rugby jerseys. When we could finally afford running tops we kept the black colour with white shorts. It was a very recognisable strip.

“We ran under the auspices of the N.A.C.A. The National Athletics and Cycling Association. And, it wasn’t just runs at the racecourse at Ballyarnett. We traveled all over Ireland. We would go down to Dublin to attend inter-provincial meetings. There was the Lisburn Cup at Newry, which was run on Easter Sunday and we had some very unique events like the event run by Cardinal Dalton at Armagh. The medals for that event were unique. They were solid silver with the cardinal’s hat at the top, beautiful objects in their own right.

The distinctive “Cardinal’s Medals”

We would often attend meetings at Ballyarnett Racecourse running against teams like, City of Derry Harriers but unfortunately, facilities back then were nonexistent and it would not have been unusual to change in a field.”


Jackie also recalled the names of some of his former running colleagues, all champions and sadly, many now gone. We had Brendan Duddy and Brendan Dorrian (both run well-known businesses in Derry) Patsy Mc Crystal, brothers, John and Willy Carlin, Ernie Teasie and Billy Bryson, to name but a few. He remembered Brendan Duddy famously tried for both the junior and senior titles in one day! Jackie doesn’t remember if he got one or both but “he nearly died trying.”


When asked what he remembered most about running at the Ballyarnett Racecourse Jackie apparently smiled and reached for an old black and white photo. The striking image showed a young man, in a black top, arms outstretched, winning the 880 yrds. Jackie Campbell – A champion indeed.

Portrait of a Champion

One thought on “Portrait of a Champion

  1. CIARAN BURKE says:

    As a former Oak Leaf runner in the early 1950’s, I am delighted to hear the history of the black vest. I knew a few in the picture, Ramsey, Dorrian, Grimes and Mc Laughlin. I last met Frank Pimley at the Ulster Boy’s Cross Country Championship in Armagh in 1954, he was officiating as a member of the Ulster Council. I was 2nd in the individual and Oak Leaf finished 2nd in the team. I was leading by about 50 yards and a steward sent me in the wrong direction with about half a mile to go missing out by 5 yards. Lovely man.
    Frank acted on the Waterside Gaelic Park Fund committee in the 1940’s and was responsible for organizing the Interprovincial athletics tournament where Ulster competed against one of the other provinces each year.
    Ciaran Burke


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