STAN GREENBERG – Britain’s most travelled Athletics fan?

Since 1948 and the London Olympics 90 year old Stan Greenberg has watched athletics in 35 countries attending 9 Olympic Games, 13 Commonwealth Games, 13 World Outdoor championships, 13 World Indoor champs, 8 World Cups, 19 European Outdoor champs, 23 European Indoor champs, 17 European Cups and 13 World Cross-country champs. Not to mention 60+ AAA / UK national outdoor champs and 50+ AAA / UK national outdoor champs. He has had unique reasons as to how this has been achieved but nonetheless who can match that?

This amazing athletics statistic – this is Stan’s area of expertise after all – has been stimulated by Stan recently re-discovering a letter that from March 1969, after 20 years of already being a fan that had travelled widely to many major international events in a period when it was not easy to do so. The letter was from Arthur Gold, then the Hon Secretary of the BAAB, then the governing body of British athletics, inviting him to become “advisory statistician” to the newly formed BAAB Team Selection Committee. He then held that post, and helped pick British international teams, for the next 28 years. Stan believes that he was the first ever pure statistician to hold such a position in a national selection group anywhere in the world albeit some statistics-minded individuals such as Harold Abrahams had already held management positions in governing bodies.

Stan’s other “first” claim is that of probably also being the first pure statistician to be permanently attached to a television team. This had begun in 1968 when Stan was asked by then BBC commentator Norris McWhirter – himself no slouch at statistics – to help him at a couple of British cross-country events. This developed into a specific 26-year career from 1969 with the BBC that ran until 1995, when Stan retired, and was replaced by Mark Butler. Stan had first helped ITV during the 1964 Olympics, when he was based in London with their link-man Kent Walton. At the start of this new career for 12 years Stan also held down a normal job (firstly with the Greater London Council, and then with the Guinness Book of Records), and so had to fit the BBC work in around this. It was only from 1981 that Stan actually started working directly for the BBC full-time.

Since retiring Stan has returned to attending events as a fan, as he had done prior to his BAAB & BBC commitments, and for the past 20+ years he has been a regular client and doyen of Track & Field Tours groups – a very popular person to sit close to for his in-depth knowledge and access, through his BBC connection, to treasured start lists!

Stan has written: “Coming from a family which had virtually no sporting interests at all, it is perhaps rather surprising, even to me, that my particular interest in athletics developed so intensely. It may be because the Good Lord didn’t seem to favour me with looks, height, toughness or musical ability, but did particularly bestow on me basic speed and quick reactions. These latter gifts enabled me to survive what was at times a very rough childhood, and did help me to achieve a decent level at sprinting, playing football and cricket, and later achieving a fairly good level at badminton. Unfortunately my sprinting went no further than club level, but that may be because I was too interested in trying nearly all of the other athletics events, instead of concentrating on the one at which I showed some early promise.

I realised very early on that there is a definite skill to watching an athletics meeting, and I reckon I developed that skill early in my statistician’s career. At such a meeting there can be two or three field events going on at the same time as races on the track. One can obviously not watch everything, but it is possible not to miss the best parts of everything with a little planning. I used to check the order of competition in the field events, making a note of who was particularly worth watching, and making sure that at least I caught their efforts. That way one can almost be sure not to miss anything special. Of course you can always be distracted at the last moment – something that did cause me to miss the current world long jump record (Mike Powell from Tokyo in 1991). However, I have been extremely lucky to have missed very little else of note at any meeting I have attended during my 73 years of watching top class athletics. That’s how I have been able to honestly claim to have actually witnessed 369 “live” world records so far.”

As with his good friend Mel Watman anytime spent in Stan’s company will reveal an endless series of tales and anecdotes to delight true fans of our sport following his distinguished and astonishing record of involvement in watching and appreciating athletics.

David Barnett