ONE of the many unsung heroes of Scottish sport is Frank Hanlon, promoter, producer and “chief cook and bottle washer” of one of Scotland’s oldest and most venerable sports events, the New Year Sprint.

Cards on the table, I have known Hanlon for many years and count myself a pal of this former-butcher-turned-bookmaker and occasional taxi driver who is now officially retired – though he is still the promoter of the New Year Sprint that since 1870 has always been Scotland’s biggest professional sprint event.

Each year there is the main 110 metre event, plus the previous winners race. As they are all handicap events, men and women and boys and girls can and do compete against each other, with Jazmine Tomlinson becoming the first ever female victor of the sprint two years ago.

Organising the sprint has been very much a labour of love as well as a familial duty for Hanlon. He had close relatives in previous generations who took part when it was raced in Edinburgh and his uncle Jim was not only a competitor but later one of the officials who kept the race going. Another of his uncles also raced.

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It was after a 28-year spell at Meadowbank that in 1999 the sprint moved to East Lothian with the final at Musselburgh. Hanlon credits the late Pilmar Smith, director of Hearts FC and boss of Lothian Buses, with that idea. In a nice touch, Hanlon has organised the Pilmar Smith Memorial Trophy to be awarded to the 800m winner of the event.

Two years ago Hanlon suffered an agonising fall just three weeks before the 2017 race. He severely damaged tendons in both legs and fractured a wrist, but even while recovering in hospital he was on the phone to the officials and volunteers who help him run the event, making sure the 148th running passed off smoothly.

If truth be told it was that accident and the milestone of this year’s 150th running of the sprint which has made Hanlon think about the future, and at the age of 74 he is now looking for a successor to take on the role that he has so manfully fulfilled for nearly three decades. He jokes that he wants to carry on until he is 99, but he knows that it is now a job for a younger person.

“I just want to make sure that after all this time, I will leave the sprint in capable hands,” he told me.

He deserves to do that because without Hanlon and his team that includes handicapper Adam Crawford in his 40th year in the job, this great tradition would have died. It has kept going somehow, with sponsorship always a problem to raise, but now this Ne’erday will see the 150th sprint final at Musselburgh during its National Hunt meeting.

The main day for the event will be held at Meadowmill Sports Centre in Prestonpans on Saturday, December 30. That will see all the initial heats of the main sprint as well as the heats and finals of the 200m, 800m, youths 90m, ladies 90m, veterans 90m and the former winners 90m race.

The action then moves to Mussel-burgh on Ne’erday when the four cross-ties (semi-finals) and final of the main sprint take place between the horse races.

There are a lot of quality athletes turning out at Meadowmill and Musselburgh, with the usual large contingent from the Scottish Borders where running is a big part of many of the local festivals that take place during the summer. The Highland Games circuit is also well-represented and there are numerous runners from major athletics clubs such as Pitreavie and Edinburgh.

There is strong support for two former Scottish champions from the Borders who will be competing in the Ladies Handicap and 800m respectively. Stacey Downie is a 31-year-old teacher from West Linton who was the UK under-23 200m champion a decade ago and who is a familiar figure at open-graded events. She is the joint back-marker for the 90m event.

Former Scottish indoor 800m champion Colin Welsh will go in the same event and has been given a chance by the handicapper with a start from the 45m mark. Now 36, Welsh is fresh from setting a new Scottish national record for the 800m masters event in which he finished second in the UK championships. He also qualified for the European and World Masters, but he will face stiff competition for the Pilmar Smith Trophy and the £300 prize from teenager Euan Hood who runs for Lasswade AC and has reportedly shaved 10 seconds off his personal best over the last season.

It will be two days of good sport and powerful running at Meadowmill and Musselburgh, so why not make Frank Hanlon’s day and go along and view the 150th running of Scotland’s best-known foot race.