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Hampden Hawks Cycle Speedway Club History

Neil Grant
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Neil Grant
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1969 KO Cup Win
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Happiness is ..........
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Sadly Neil Grant passed away suddenly in December 2010.
He was the inspiration behind Hampden Cycle speedway Club both as the Hawks and their later reincarnation as the Rebels
.
Below are some of the many tributes made at the time of his untimely passing.
 

Dick Barrie writes:

 

As the bulk of the track-staff (pushers, rakers and even the announcer) at Les Whaley’s Hampden Park operation came from the ranks of cycle-speedway riders (Hampden Hawks and Kingsway Knights) Neil was quickly embraced by the speedway culture.

When the Tigers roared off to darkest Lanarkshire, he followed on, becoming a senior staff-member at Coatbridge and even-more involved at the time of track installation at the first Blantyre circuit, helping Bluey Scott and Tom Shirra (the duo who contributed most labour and expertise to that process) and learning “on the job” exactly what was involved in building a speedway circuit inside a stadium facility.….

It was Neil who suggested a radio microphone could be used to the benefit of a speedway presentation, and under his guidance the very first such system was introduced to British speedway at Blantyre in the autumn of 1977.    Hindsight suggests this has not always proved to be as entertaining as it could be, as too much still depends on the mouth involved.

By the time the speedway team “louped over the wall” to Craighead Park, Neil was acting as Clerk of the Course on race-nights, as well as having been involved in the transferring of equipment between the Blantyre circuits.    Again, although Alastair Craig and Kenny McKinna operated the heavy plant as the track was being laid, Neil led the volunteers who laboured long and hard in building the safety-fence and other facilities.

Such was the respect Neil built among the British speedway fraternity, he was given an “access all areas” pass by the BSPA for the 1985 World Final, when he was instrumental in boosting the Odsal public-address system during the meeting, and famously waved through into the pits by security officers who were at the same time turning away a former World Champion!

His leadership qualities came to the fore during the Tigers catastrophic “wilderness year” at Workington, when it was only his determination that allowed several of the more-eventful meetings at Derwent Park to even begin, let alone run to a finish, but even Neil had to give best in the face of the promotion’s inept blundering and mismanagement -- which eventually resulted in the club being flung out of league speedway.

Make no mistake – Glasgow Speedway at that point was a dead duck, except that Neil Grant refused to accept the verdict, and with the permission of Jimmy Beaton (a largely-absentee owner) set about the task of saving the sport for the city.

Neil met and worked with the Shawfield ownership, addressed the Council’s planning requirements and set up a series of vital fund-raising meetings at which fans dug deep to provide funding for the project.     Along with Dick Barrie he travelled to the BSPA conference at the end of 1987 to plead for another chance – grudgingly granted by a fairly narrow majority, albeit only on the proviso that the previous promoters were kept well clear of the project!

Neil masterminded the return of the Tigers to the city in 1988, directing the construction of the circuit within Shawfield in a startling timeframe of eleven short weeks from the cutting of the first sod on January 25th to the tapes going up on April 15th, 1988 in front of 7,996 spectators – a miracle achieved with virtually no financial support other than the proceeds of regular fund-raising evenings and little outside labour other than a volunteer force of fans.

 

His work was recognised by the BSPA at the end of 1988, when the league's promoters awarded him the title of "Promoter of the Year" and gave his Shawfield creation another trophy for "Stadium of the Year".   He was just 32 years of age.  His reward from the Tigers’ by-now envious ownership was however the sack, and his marvellous, probably-unparalleled achievements being almost-totally airbrushed from the club’s history.

 

Despite his heavy involvement in speedway, Neil also found time to attain an honours degree at Glasgow University in Electronics & Electrical Engineering and, following successful post-graduate work, he took up full-time employment with Pilkington Optronics (formerly Barr & Stroud Ltd) where he led a major defence project and championed the concept of software engineering, reaching the level of Development Manager.

 

Later he took up positions at Yarrow Shipbuilders (Technical Director), Marconi Marine (Operations Director) and BAE Systems (Planning Director).

Neil’s next move was to become Operations Director for Coherent Scotland Ltd,   There he led the creation of a major manufacturing capability for this hi-tech laser company at Glasgow Science Park, before finally in 2005 he moved to take up the position of Operations Director with Babcock Naval Services who manage the Faslane Naval Base and Rosyth Dockyard.

He was also this year serving as a non-executive director of learndirect scotland, a member of the Court of Glasgow Caledonian University, panel chairman for Prince Charles’ Scottish Youth Business Trust, a Visiting Professor at Strathclyde University and a member of the Scottish Manufacturing Advisory Board.

 

Nicky Nicolson wrote

It is with a heavy heart that I write this piece. Tragically Neil Grant of Hampden passed away on Sunday following a massive heart attack.
     He was barely into his teens when the Tigers moved to Hampden in April 1969, literally just round the corner from his Cumming Drive home. A fortnight earlier Hampden Hawks began life in the Glasgow League and both were to have a huge impact on his young life - and in turn he would make his own indelible mark on both.
   By the end of the season he had made his debut for the Hawks and
what a debut it was too - getting the only recorded dead heat of that particular era! He was a member of Hampden's Les Whaley Cup winning team - indeed he was instrumental in securing Les's backing for the event as by then he was a leading member of the Tigers track staff - all this and he was still only thirteen!
   He quickly became an established team member for the  Hawks and by 1971 was their top points scorer. He rode in two NACSA Junior Individual finals in 1971 and 1972 at Uxbridge and Rye House resprctively. Despite his young years he became Team Manager of the Hawks in 1971 and served as an official on the Control Board. Even in these days it was apparent that organising and management were his forte and it was no surprise that he went on to become a "captain of industry"
 
   Cycle speedway in Glasgow wound down in 1973-74 but was revived with the opening of Edinburgh speedway at Powderhall in 1977. Neil made his comeback with Hampden, now named "Rebels" in 1978 and they powered, undefeated, to the Lothian League championship. At the end of that season, Neil took over the Team Managers role  and once again his organisational skills were in evidence. He negotiated Hampden's entry to the ASC National League, quite a feat given the travelling that would ensue. This was solved by gaining valuable sponsorship from Beatons Coaches.
After a thrilling season Hampden annexed the Division 2 title at the first time of asking - a feat unequalled by any Glasgow team before or since. Neil's contribution to this was pivotal.
 
Neil was also the "main man" of the pits crew at Coatbridge and both Blantyre tracks before, once again, displaying his presentation skills in negotiating Glasgow Tigers reinstatement in the league in 1988 following their midseason expulsion the previous year - Dick Barrie tells of his speedway exploits in more detail below.
 
Neil was an exceptionally clever and talented guy but I'll always remember him most for being really personable and good fun. I'll always remember him being part of the "Balcony Gang" at Crossmyloof where most of the Hampden team gathered to support the local Dynamos - strangely most other cycle speedway riders were Paisley Mohawks fans. I'll always remember him playing at football in the close season at the Hawks car park and I'll always remember him with a smile on his face
Thanks for the memories Neil - God bless.
 
Nicky Nicolson
7/12/2010
 
Campbell Hutcheson writes:
I didn't know him during his cycle speedway days, but our paths crossed
regularly at Craighead Park and Shawfield. On several occasions, he gave my
brother and I lifts from Blantyre when we hit Friday night transport
problems. Neil and Dick Barrie also visited the BBC to work alongside Russel
in editing Super Steve's testimonial video.

A more genuine guy you couldn't hope to meet. Neil was happy to talk about
all aspects of speedway, but wasn't the kind of person to break a
confidence. If he told you something, you knew the information had veracity.
Although he wasn't afraid to get his hands dirty, he always seemed to be
wearing pristine white (and fitting) overalls. He and the colourful Joyce
were quite a pair.

He did a helluva lot for Glasgow Speedway and probably undertook many duties
which went unnoticed. Neil just rolled up his sleeves and got on with it. He
was too much of a gentleman to seek personal glory. I'm sure that the
memories of others in the days ahead will recognise his true contribution.

I'll remember Neil as an honest, polite and friendly guy, with a ready
smile. His efforts over many years allowed speedway in Glasgow to survive.
Thousands of people owe him a tremendous debt of gratitude.

Memorial Dinner on  15th October 2012
 
We held a dinner in tribute to Neil's memory in Sloans in Glasgow. Iain Morrison prepared an excellent DVD showing Hampden's 1979 ASCNL Div2 winning season. Neil masterminded this triumph and it seemed appropriate that we viewed it on a night when we were paying tribute to his CS achievements.
 
 
Dick Barrie couldn't make it to the dinner but sent the following tribute

He was so far out of my league that he would be Barcelona to my Queens Park Strollers, yet we remained firm friends from our first meeting – almost certainly at Hampden cycle-speedway -- around 1970.

That we worked at Glasgow speedway together through Hampden, Coatbridge, a couple of Blantyres, Workington and famously at Shawfield is well enough known.

I do not think that at any time, then or since, in over forty years – in the heat of battle running big-time speedway or travelling around the world as we did in the winter of 1988/9 -- we ever exchanged heated words.

Which was entirely due to Neil’s calming influence and intelligence.

I watched in admiration as the young schoolkid soared like an eagle through Allan Glen’s (where I had dropped like a stone) attained his honours degree in Electronics & Electrical Engineering and did his post-graduate work.

I saw him working at Barr & Stroud where, after the old firm became Pilkington Optronics, he was appointed Head of Operations.

After that came Yarrow Shipbuilders (Technical Director), Marconi Marine (Operations Director) and BAE SYSTEMS (Planning Director).

When Neil joined Coherent Scotland Ltd as Operations Director work often brought us together before he moved on to take up the position of Operations Director with Babcock Naval Services as Faslane.

If all that wasn’t enough, he was a member of the Court of Glasgow Caledonian University, panel chairman for PSYBT, a Visiting Professor at Strathclyde University and member of the Scottish Manufacturing Advisory Board.

Yet every single week for the last ten years of his life this high-flier would find time – if not travelling the world – to get together with me, usually on a Tuesday or Wednesday night.

In summer we would drive to Troon or Largs, buy ice-cream and sit looking at the Firth of Clyde while talking and laughing – always laughing -- about everything and anything. On colder darker evenings it would be a video at my flat, and we’d giggle like small boys at the most nonsensical things.

His intelligence and far-reaching education dwarfed mine in every respect, yet Neil seemed to be happy with our companionship.

The last time I saw him was on such an evening, and as he strolled off down the stairs into the night he said he’d see me the following week.

But he didn’t. The bastard went and died on us, long before his time. I would have thought I could have forgiven him almost anything, but it is hard to forgive him for that.

I still see something, hear something almost every single day that he should be here to share with me and laugh about. .

 

Our souvenir menu carried the following memories

Glasgow Tigers moved to Hampden in April 1969, bringing speedway to Neil’s attention, and what an impact it would have on his life – and he on it! He quickly joined the track staff, beginning a lengthy association with the Tigers. With Ronald “Moosh” Nicolson a classmate at school, he quickly found out that cycle speedway had started up in Kings Park and he was soon competing for a team place. By the end of the season he had fought his way into the team and was a member of the Hawks side, which won the Les Whaley Trophy, a cup that Neil was instrumental in persuading promoter Les Whaley to donate.

1970 saw him consolidate his team place and by the following year he was Hawks top point scorer and rode in his first NACSA Junior Individual Final, a feat he repeated the following year. By 1973, the sport was in almost terminal decline and Neil was heading off to university, but for the actions of younger brother Colin and Ronnie Young, the sport may well have just faded away.

The opening of Paisley speedway in 1975 was the stimulus that led to a number of riders turning up at Kingsway on a Sunday afternoon to pick scratch sides.Colin Caffrey, Iain Morrison, Chic Mackie and Ronnie Young were regulars, with Colin Grant supplying a couple of bikes. Things continued in this vein the following year and, with Edinburgh reforming thanks to speedway returning to the city at Powderhall, a Lothians League was set up. Hampden joined this new set up but it has to be said made little impression in the inaugural year.

1978 saw Neil make a return to racing after a five year absence and he sparked a huge upturn in Hampden’s fortunes. They won all twenty four league matches to become runaway champions. Iain Morrison arranged a weekend at Hull, in which Hampden won all four matches. These victories and the lack of top class opposition in Scotland led to Hampden considering the possibility of entering the National League.

Neil had taken over as team manager and his first task was to secure NL membership. His preliminary discussions with League secretary Gene Bailey established that there was no opposition to Hampden joining the second division providing they could manage the travelling. Hampden’s application was unanimously accepted at the AGM, into a new league that would see both first and second divisions being combined. Hampden would be racing against First Division sides in 1979! Neil solved the transport issue by securing an invaluable sponsorship from Beaton’s Coaches. They would be travelling to away fixtures in some style in a luxury coach!