SOME SNAPSHOTS FROM A FADING MEMORY.
I REMEMBER :
1949. My very first Cycle Speedway “experience” was at Crossmyloof very, very early on, maybe
as early as 1949, when my mother took me to see a big event which had been advertised on the PA at White
City. Could it have been
floodlit, or was my 7 year-old memory at fault ? I know there was a tannoy, and
that Jack Monteith was involved. I know that because I recalled his name when
he tried motor speedway.
1952. Watching at Crossmyloof the great Eagles side taking on and
beating the best of the rest every Friday night (I used to go and watch after the Wolf Cubs).
Kenny Russell of Redhill Rockets and Bob Devine of Pollok Stars – who wore a strange hat to race – were
good, but never good enough. Pete Bell
looked old even then – must have been the moustache – or maybe he was just old ?
At primary school I had a friend called Duncan Munro who lived in Priesthill and as a treat I was allowed to visit
him and watch the Individual Final of that Summer, staged at Redhills near his home.
I was sure that Jim MacArthur, or possibly Sanny Young, would win it, but outsider Joe Letts got to the Maloco Cup
first that day, in front of a huge crowd. Seventeen years later I lifted the
same trophy, beating Johnny Speirs and Colin Caffrey, I think in a run-off. Pete
Bell presented the trophy to me.
1956. Signing for Craigton, along with my pal Roy Sampson. Early
in 1956 I had been asked by Everard if I’d like to ride for them, but Joe Letts grabbed us the very next night at Crossmyloof
and got our ink on paper. I was put straight into the team (well, number 8) the
same night, racing against Govan Rams, who were a man short, so I got two points. Nearly
beat Chic Mackie though ! Roy Sampson, by the way, while never pulling up the
trees at Cycle Speedway, (he did shine on the indoor track at the Kelvin Hall, but rarely outdoors) has since become a very
fine West End actor and is also regularly on TV in all kinds of drama productions.
My very first trip as a Craigton
Eagle was to the Everard track , situated between Springburn and Bishopbriggs. I
was a very young 13 and probably had not been more than a mile from my Pollokshields home by bike before Joe Letts and the
rest dragged me up through the city to race the “other” Eagles. I
scored one point, and it rained on the way home. There I was, whizzing down High
Street to Glasgow Cross at 5pm on a Saturday afternoon, all glistening cobbles and tramlines, scared out of my wits and desperately
trying to keep up with the big boys as they weaved in and out of the traffic. If
I’d lost touch with them I’d never have found my way back home !
I remember the closing nights
at Crossmyloof, as “Hutchie” school went under construction. Very
sad. As we were deprived of one home we “acquired” another, at Rouken
Glen, where we built a new track in short order to house the 1956 end-of-season Scotland/England match. The shale was trucked in (unofficially) from Redhills, and the circuit was laid out on a gentle slope,
resulting in a death-defying dive into the first turn, a long, long haul back up the straight and a single file convoy round
the third and fourth turns at the top of the hill before the next suicide dash back down over the start/finish line into the
valley of death. The international, when it happened, was very, very wet. I was a drookit flag marshall
(check the Scottish team picture, I’m just behind). The late Brian Moston
stole the show for the visitors.
1957. Again I remember riding to an away match – must have been Knightswood, I suppose, - and whizzing
through the deserted Hillington Industrial Estate in an eight-strong Craigton team, with sixteen Avon Skidway Gripsters humming
and thrumming on the road surface. It might have been all those years ago, but
I can still hear those singing tyres.
The infamous Craigton outing
to Knightswood was on a rainy Saturday, when a copper stepped off the pavement in Renfrew as we headed down to the ferry,
and said “Stop !”. Well, we couldn’t could we ? Wet cobbles, no brakes, and probably we were all dreaming of how we were going to beat those Toffs. We slipped, fell, scattered and clattered – and although wily old Joe Letts
managed to vanish into the interested crowd of Saturday shoppers – some of us were caught. The Stevenson brothers, Davie and Tommy,
and myself had painted our bikes, even the wheels, red and white stripes, thus rendering it difficult to disappear. Especially since I had fallen off right in front of the officer !
First time ever I’d ended up in court, that was. When we had been
booked and released (we went home via the Whiteinch ferry, you can be sure) we went on our way to Dyke Road, but the episode had taken the wind from our sails. The Toffs gave us a real pasting. I didn’t score a point
– possibly the only time in my entire 17 year career that I failed to score – which clearly proves that crime
does not pay
came into the league with rather poorly painted race jackets, attempting to re-create the familiar red and white Wembley Lions
motif. During the year, however, since Wembley had ceased to race motor speedway.
Peter Christie and Bert Harkins wrote to the stadium, explaining that Mansewood were “The Lions” and did they
have any old body colours to spare ? By return a number of jackets arrived with
a polite letter of encouragement ! Thereafter, from being the team with the tattiest
colours, the Lions became the smartest, although, as the Wembley set was designed to be worn by grown men over racing leathers,
there were times when their wind resistance and weight handicapped the younger Mansewood lads !
One Saturday afternoon at Knightswood
I noticed that Alex (Duck) Hughes was missing from the Toffs line-up. As Duck,
winner of the Glasgow Individual Championship twice, was in my eyes one of the greatest riders (and certainly one of the fastest
gaters) I ever had to face, this was no bad news. I enquired why he was not on
parade that day and was told that he had to work that day. To a schoolboy like
myself this was shocking. Did it mean that when you grew up and went to work
you might have to miss something as important in your life as a Cycle Speedway match ?
Ah, the sweet innocence of youth ---
1958. I encountered the wit of the late Doug Maxwell. Immaculate
– albeit very hard – on track, Dougie always cracked me up with his asides.
At a Control Board meeting in Jim Thornton’s house at Mosspark (always a popular venue, ‘cos Jim’s
mum made good cakes and there was always a chance we would catch a glimpse of Ethel Gillan, who lived across the road and
looked like Marilyn Monroe) I remember Johnny Gillies trying to sell tickets for a coach trip he was running, with weird and
wonderful tales of far-off places his previous trips had ended up. Finally Maxwell
cut in: “John” he said, “I’ve been on your trips – just admit it – you fill the bus with
as many girls as you can find, and drive to the nearest field”. Gillies
sold all his tickets in the next thirty seconds.
I remember Barry Shapley (who
has been eulogised previously, and deservedly so) popping up at Coventry
and Oxford motor speedways when I travelled there with my
previous clubs over the years. I was never quite sure what Barry did at speedway
meetings, but he was always there, and never seemed to have to pay to get in. To
add one last “bubble car” story to his obituaries, there was a night I was driving
my van away from an Old Meadowbank speedway meeting when Barry whizzed up alongside in the little car. He was waving at us all so actively that he failed to notice the lights changing and traffic ahead coming
to a halt. Bang ! No-one hurt, except for our sides which were aching with laughter,
not least when it was realised Barry’s Bubble was of the kind which had its only door at the front and the bump had
jammed it totally shut. Barry was locked inside.
We all went to the pub !
I remember some very strange
tracks, all over the land. Shaldon in Devon,
with a solid metal plate starting gate. The plate was hinged up at an angle for
the front tyres to rest against. The race was started when the plate dropped
flat into its shallow recess. Netherlee, so big and with bushes on the infield
which prevented the steward from seeing what was happening on the back straight – which was plenty. Oldbury, in the Midlands, where it always rained, and we used to clean
our bikes by dipping them in the local canal. The Langlands circuit in Govan,
so deep in cinders that when it was resurrected for a Govan Fair event, the surface went right over our tyres and rims. The ruts formed at least six inches deep. Only
for the big strong boys. I was 14, and neither.
1965. I remember when Gilliland, Speirs, Chic Mackie and I raced in the Edinburgh League for Scottish Rangers.
Chic at that time had his three sons to care for (aged about four, three, and two, I think), and they would travel to our
matches with us in the infamous Mackie Dormobile. One Sunday the boys decided
to sing to us. The only song they knew was Jingle Bells. This was July. Constantly, chorus only, three tuneless but
very loud little voices sang Jingle Bells for nearly two hours there and two hours back again.
There was no M8 back then ! That song is not my favourite Christmas tune
– not since that Sunday, in that van. This was the van which Chic could
induce to backfire at will: a technique particularly effective in places like Princes
Street, packed with shoppers, when teenage girls were crossing the road.
1966. I remember flying to Southampton in what seemed a very old Viscount aircraft to watch
the 1966 NACSA Finals on a hot Sunday, when the pride of Sighthill fought the toughest of duels against Derek Garnett’s
Offerton Devils and won by a nerve-tingling 50 – 46. I think only Ross
Gargrave and I were there to represent Scotland
as spectators but it was a memorable day out. As I was also at Uxbridge in 1971
to see John Speirs’ Shields Racers win the same trophy, am I the only hanger-on to have witnessed two such famous Scottish
victories South of the Border ?
1967. One memory is of racing for Scotland
at Halifax on a Bank Holiday Monday against a rather robust
English side. Highlight of the match was the home nation’s unfortunate
“ace” Chris Gooch, riding as the reigning NACSA Individual Champion, dressed immaculately and on top of a bike
which looked faster than he could possibly pedal, attracting a few comments from the sidelines – not least when his
expensive saddle fell off during a race, right in front of a coven of Scottish female supporters !
1968. On a weekend tour of the Midlands with Scottish Rangers we raced at Brian
Buck’s Oldbury track in the wettest part of Birmingham. It was a dreadful Saturday afternoon, with relentless drenching rain falling throughout. We had come so far and they were determined we should race. The mud was at least three inches deep ! As we had to go to
Leicester the next day, and because the bikes were so encased in mud, we tried on-the-spot
cleansing by tossing them in the canal adjacent to the Oldbury track. This sort
of worked, except that a lad called Mikey Davis over-reached and went in with his machine.
He could not swim, which meant that Johnny Speirs and I had to wade into this fetid stinking filthy canal to help Mikey
out. None of us had a change of clothing.
Good trip, that one -
I remember the marvellous John Speirs, a friend
and hard-riding adversary from our first meeting in late 1956. He was best man
at my wedding, but I never held it against him ! There have been many tributes
paid to Johnny (not least by Brian Gilliland’s excellent obituary in an earlier History} but much was left unrelated. He was a guy who won things. When there
was a speedway meeting sponsored by the Gas Board at the Scottish tracks (George Hunter won the Hi-Speed Gas bike), who should
be picked out of the crowd to collect a spanking new gas cooker for his mum but John ?
He also collected a biggish win
of something like £1,000 on (I think) a Spot the Ball competition in the Evening Times.
With part of his winnings he bought the Scottish Rangers our famous set of red white and blue race jackets. The supplier was a firm in Swindon, who at the time manufactured all the
various motor speedway bibs, so these were the real deal ! I was so pleased for
John, really so pleased, when his Shields side (still wearing the same body colours) won the big one at Uxbridge in ’71. I have many other memories of John. One
day I will write them down.
When we were contemplating our
return to Glasgow, while still racing in Edinburgh, Speirs, Gidgie and I used to visit Dales Cycles in Glasgow, up near Parliamentary Road
somewhere. There was a guy who taught us a lot about bikes. He suggested that we bore out our rims and hubs to take thicker gauge spokes, instead of bringing him wrecked
wheels to rebuild three times a season. This was a brilliant concept, and we
never broke another spoke. I recall getting a Kingsway lad’s foot caught
in my wheel once at Hampden years later. He had to go to the Victoria Infirmary
for treatment. The wheel was fine.
The Scottish side was composed
of eight Edinburgh-based riders when Glasgow staged the 1970
International against England. I was nominated as No 9 as I was the so-called “star” at Hampden in our Glasgow League. Everyone turned up so I became the announcer for the event instead, whereby hangs
a tale. One of our guests of honour was Les Whaley, then the promoter of motor
speedway at the “other” Hampden circuit down the road. After the
match he came over and told me he liked what I had been doing, consequently,
if his regular speedway announcer Don Cumming was unavailable, would I try my hand at the big stuff ? Later that year Don did indeed take some time out to visit Canada,
and I took over the microphone for the Tigers. So, to everyone who later complained
about my words of wisdom at thirty to forty speedways all over the world, it was Les Whaley and Hampden Cycle Speedway to
1971. When I reached the NACSA semi-final, my Hampden team-mates voted that I be given a pair of brand new Avon Skidway Gripsters to aid my efforts. The
aid wasn’t enough. Bert Harkins and I had a late night after the Wembley
speedway meeting the night before the semi-final. Old Bert Mansbridge, from Hungerford,
was the steward, and he twice took exception to my efforts, which seemed to involve little Panthers tumbling as I passed them. The tyres were great, though – I used them later to win the Glasgow Individual