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Glasgow Cycle Speedway History Association

1973 and Beyond - Not Quite the End
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1973 -76 Not Quite the End

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Mid Winter Drama

In the early months of 1973, the cycle speedway fraternity was stunned by the news that Kingsway’s Gordon Neil, nicknamed “Genial G.Neil” for his seemingly innocuous manner had been sentenced to life imprisonment for murder. No one could believe it.

 

That was the year that was…. But was it really that good?

The Cycle Speedway Year Book in its review of the 1972 season, included a Glasgow league table, shown below

 

                 P   W  D  L Pts
Kingsway         16  14 1  1 30
Shields          16  12 1  3 24
Hampden          16  10 6  0 20
Dunedin          16  5  1  9 13
Mill             16  1  1 14  3
 

Like previous articles in this publication, it portrayed a considerably rosier picture of the Glasgow cycle speedway scene than was probably justified. It is believed the author was John Speirs, who is sadly no longer with us, and consequently cannot confirm the background to the table’s compilation.

It is thought that, while it was generally accepted that Kingsway were the league champions following Dunedin’s withdrawal and Shields implosion, there were so many outstanding fixtures that it was still arithmetically possible for the Knights to be overhauled in the unlikely event that they had lost their outstanding meetings. To overcome this, meetings were awarded, which would probably explain the unusual number of draws – while there were numerous close meetings in the preceding three seasons, there were no known instances of a draw being recorded.

Kingsway - 1973 KO Cup Winners

Kingsway, pictured after their KO Cup success over Shields at Hampden. Dave Allcock presents the trophy to captain John Speirs. Back row features Alan McColl, Jack Pinkerton and Jimmy Hall. Front row comprises Sandy Robertson, John Murhy, Chic Mackie and Paul McQuarrie

 

Team Hero

It also looks likely that Mill’s sole “victory” was due to Dunedin failing to travel through to the west. Indeed it is possible that during their three year existence the Wheelers never actually won a meeting. Some may have nicknamed them “Team Zero” but their contribution to the Glasgow scene was invaluable as it is certain that the league would have folded without them. Their loyal riders like Bill McMillan, Calum MacAuley, John Davidson and Mike Kennedy who kept on “keeping on” deserved a medal for perseverance and perhaps “Team Hero” would have been a more apt moniker.

Incommunicado

Communication in the sport in this era was always informal to say the least. Phoning around with details of meetings was never really considered and as for writing ….!

The main source of information for riders was at various gatherings. During the season it was after the speedway on a Friday night at Hampden. Most cycle speedway riders were regular followers of the Glasgow Tigers and could be seen milling around the concourse after a meeting. This “apres speedway” was a useful source of information when fixtures were finalised and stewards appointed. There were also “team briefings”, many years before American management consultants “invented” them! In the close season Saturday afternoon football games in the Hampden car park and Sunday afternoons at Kingsway were the venues when the weather was OK and together with the ice hockey at Crossmyloof.

The Tigers relocated from Hampden to Coatbridge at the start of the 1973 season. Considerably fewer riders were to journey to Coatbridge on a Friday night, and even fewer were prepared to hang around Cliftonhill after a meeting!! No ice hockey was played at Crossmyloof during the 1973/74 season and cycle speedway had lost its two best meeting points. This was to greatly undermine the running of the sport.

 

Final Exclusion

Little has been recorded about the 1973 season but it seems to have featured teams from Hampden, Kingsway, and possibly Mill and Fingers Flyers, with tracks at Hampden , Kingsway and Queens Park being used. Nicky Nicolson recalls riding in a meeting at Kingsway. “Neil Grant was the Hampden team manager at the time and he had persuaded Dick Barrie and I to turn out for “one last time” He was obviously desperate! We were paired together and lined up against John Murphy and Dave Mackay in our final race. By this time I was feeling the pace on Kingsway’s banked track. Dick and John disappeared into the middle distance and I was having a tough time keeping Dave at bay – when the steward excluded me! If I had any breath left I’d have disputed this vigorously – but probably would have agreed that by the next bend the exclusion would have been justified!!

No records have yet been found covering the 1973 season and it is believed that the sport petered out as the autumn nights were approaching. Certainly the Glasgow Individual championship was not contested and the trophy remained on the mantlepiece of Dick Barrie, the 1972 champion. John Speirs, writing of the 1973 season for the British Cycle Speedway Handbook reported

Cycle Speedway was almost allowed to die in Glasgow last year, following several seasons in which the sport gradually disintegrated to such an extent that last season all organised team matches came to a complete halt with absolute chaos, leaving all but one of the main competitions uncompleted. The reasons for this are not too difficult to find as the weak control board received some resignations, including the secretary, and no one seemed willing or able to organise anything or accept any responsibility with the result everything ground to a stop.”

He goes on to record, somewhat reflectively that

While the sport has survived in a modest form in Glasgow, it is sad to look at the remains of what used to be in Edinburgh. In the hey-day of the sport there in the mid-1960's there were four leagues and over forty teams, all within the city. Now also it looks as though all that remains is three riders, Jack Pinkerton, John Murphy and Graham Willox, who hope to assist some team in Glasgow this year. It is a far cry from the days when Sighthill Hammers and Ecurie Alba from Edinburgh and Shields from Glasgow were able to win the National Championship or Stuart Potter winning the N.A.C.S.A. Senior and Junior individual championships in successive years. These days are probably gone for ever unfortunately as it is difficult to get teams to travel what is now a 450-mile round trip to the nearest cycle speedway centre outside Glasgow, the cost and time involved make it very impracticable”

 

…and no butts!!

1974 brought a fuel crisis when the price of petrol almost doubled overnight. Travelling any distance for cycle speedway meetings was now out of the question.

However, during the winter, the thought of cycle speedway disappearing completely helped to create a different atmosphere and by spring there was a general willingness to do something to get cycle speedway back on its feet again. An almost completely new committee was elected to run things, with John Speirs taking over the post of chairman from long-serving Ian (Chic) Mackie – so presumably the weak Control Board was rectified to his satisfaction! Billy Elliott and Gordon Mackie had no experience of cycle speedway but had served as office bearers for the Glasgow Tigers Supporters Club and were prepared to get involved in the sport, taking up the posts of secretary and PRO respectively.

Two new teams, Cathcart and Millbrae, joined the league, with newly elected P.R.O. Gordon Mackie managing the former in partnership with Billy Elliott, while the latter were formed by a completely new line-up of riders, mainly from the East Kilbride area. Queens Park Rangers, the other new name, were largely the remnants of Mill Wheelers who were based at Queens Park Recs and were allocated the Edinburgh “missionaries”. Elsewhere, resources were pooled in an effort to equalise the standards of the five teams with top experienced riders like Colin Caffrey, Bill McMillan, Alan McCall and Billy Russell being moved in an effort to balance team strengths as far as possible to prevent one team being so dominant as the Kingsway Knights had proved in the last few seasons. The line-up comprised: Cathcart Clansmen, Hampden Hawks, Kingsway Knights, Millbrae Lions and Queen's Park Rangers. The Clansmen used the Shields Raiders body colours, while Queens Park sported the former Shields Racers/ Scottish Rangers jackets and Mill Brae used the Levernside Lions/ Mansefield colours.

Everything ran smoothly for the first half of the season with four of the five teams in with a chance of honours in the league. Odd men out were Hampden, whose problems were compounded with the loss of their fine track after six matches after an extension to the adjacent bowling green clubhouse saw the third and fourth bends excavated. The Hawks had to race the rest of their matches away from home. However stewarding continued to be a problem, with some new stewards making decisions to “balance up” wrongs they felt their team had suffered in previous meetings. Gordon Mackie was a leading exponent of this form of retribution!

During July a couple of vital matches flared up from which the sport never recovered. The most damaging blow came when what John Speirs describes as “an ex-Scotland rider took exception to some of a first-year steward's decisions”, and butted the referee. Unsurprisingly the meeting was abandoned while the unfortunate steward sought medical attention and walked out leaving the match in chaos.  By the end of the week, the steward, who was also the team manager of Queens Park Rangers, had quit the sport and his team folded. The Cathcart club, who were involved in this fixture also collapsed when their team managers quit and overnight the association had lost two office bearers.

John Speirs summed up the situation for the British Cycle Speedway Handbook thus

The last couple of seasons in Glasgow have been the same, starting in high hopes, but ending in chaos. Unfortunately, Glasgow has always had to rely almost 100 per cent on the riders to run the sport, and just recently it has become too much for some people. There is no doubt that most of the present problem stems from the fact , that for the past three seasons all the cycle speedway in Scotland has taken place in an area of about a square mile on the South side of Glasgow.”

The sport had certainly become very inward looking and definitely missed the likes of a Jimmy Cobain or a Peter Bell who, as former riders not actively racing, could have seen the bigger picture and advised accordingly. Sadly it was not to be. From the meetings that were concluded the honours went

League Winner:                         K:ingsway Knights.

Cup Winners:                            Kingsway Knights.

Runners-up:                              Hampden Hawks.

Individual Championship:            1, Colin Caffrey;            2, John Speirs;   3, Fred Caffrey.

Interestingly, despite the sport falling into complete disarray, league championship trophies were bought and presented to Kingsway, although, even then, there were problems in tracing eight riders who had worn the Knights colours that year. Brian Gilliland remembers turning out for his old club a couple of times on his return from Oxford that year and was both surprised, and a bit embarrassed to receive a trophy.

 

Here We Go Again

The opening of Paisley speedway was the catalyst that greatly helped things to restart  in early summer 1975. A number of riders met at the early Lions meetings and decided to give cycle speedway “another go”. They would gather on Sunday afternoons at Kingsway and pick scratch sides from whoever turned up – a bit like at Mansewood many years before - some things never change! Among those who became “regulars” at these ad hoc gatherings were Chic Mackie, Dave and Ross Henderson, Colin and Fred Caffrey, Ron Young, Iain Morrison and Colin Grant. Despite the fact that only four bikes were available, two of which belonged to Colin Grant, a full individual meeting was held in late June although no record remains to show the scorers. 

A few weeks later, Colin Grant organized a midweek meeting against a team from East Kilbride, led by the Henderson brothers. Colin had some difficulty in fielding a team but managed to recruit newcomers Roy Varty, Robert McNulty and Brian Grant, who later would go on to become founder members of the Hampden Rebels. Perhaps predictably, the new boys found the going tough! Robert McNulty scored three points while both Roy and Brian failed to score although it should be pointed out that Roy Varty had three exclusions from three rides!

 

Back in the old routine ?

Several practice sessions were also held at the Hampden track, now shortened due to an extension to the bowling clubhouse, in the autumn and a program has been found, showing that a “Hampden” team beat “Kingsway” 51-45 on Halloween of all days! Colin Caffrey top scored for Hampden with a twelve point maximum and received good support from Colin Grant, Ron Young and Roy Varty. Chic Mackie led the Kingsway scorers with twelve from five rides and he was assisted by Sandy Roberson, Rob McNulty and the Henderson brothers.

A program has also been found for a late season challenge meeting the following week between “Old Hampden” and “New Hampden”, which probably concluded the season. The “oldies”, despite featuring Dick Barrie, Alex Norrie and Nicky Nicolson who were all past their peak to put it mildly, ran out convincing winners and it probably shows how inexperienced some of the youngsters really were. However their day was still to come…..and how!

The scorers on that November Sunday afternoon were

 

Old Hampden                               54                          New Hampden                        42

Dick Barrie                   3 F 3 3 2     11+1                      Roy Varty           2 3 1 3 0          9+1

Alec Norrie             0 0 0 x         0                         Paul McQuarrie  1 2 2 2 1          8+2       

Nicky Nicolson              3 3 0 1         7                           Ian Morrison       1 1 2 2             6+1

Sandy Robertson       2 3 3 3        11+1                     Ronnie Young     0 2 3 1             6+1

Moosh Nicolson            2 3 3 x 3     11+1                      Colin Grant         x 2 2 2             6

Dale Aiken                   3 0 x 2         5+1                       Les Bissett          1 1 f 0              2

John Caffrey                 1 1 0            2                           Derek Varty       2 0 1                3+1

Colin Wylie                   1 1 0 3         5                           Keith McAllister  0 2 1               3+2

           

 

Nicky Nicolson remembers “ It really was the last time for Alec Norrie and me but I think Dick Barrie and Moosh Nicolson may have managed a few more “final races”. After a great start when partner Sandy Robertson was taking good care of me, I ran out of steam fairly dramatically. Alec was similarly affected and I think the previous night at Berwick had something to do with it”

 

The Not So Bleak Midwinter

Unusually, practices continued throughout the winter, suggesting it was one of the milder ones of these times and Neil Grant recalls a meeting being held at Mill’s track in the Queens Park Recs in January 1976.

 

No League but some visitors

With Colin Grant heavily involved with his football commitments, it fell to Roy Varty to organize a lot of the practices. He recruited newcomers Tam Baggley and Jim Wilson to join regulars Rob McNulty, Brian Grant and Derek Varty. Practices continued, mainly at Kingsway, before a home and away contest with East Kilbride was arranged. Riding as the “Mount Florida Flyers” they managed a draw at Hampden before narrowly losing 41-37 in the return, held on a football pitch in East Kilbride.

Chic Mackie arranged matches against visitors from Edinburgh and Hull during the summer. The Edinburgh scene was similar to Glasgow, consisting of weekly practice sessions with sides picked from whoever showed up. The team that travelled west included Jack Pinkerton, Tam Low, Doug Noble, John Tait, John Murphy and Rab Grant, and not surprisingly proved too strong for the younger Glasgow side. A fortnight later, two Humberside teams, one junior and one senior, raced a number of meetings against Glasgow and Edinburgh at both Hampden and Kingsway.

 

The best way forward

There was now a strong interest in reforming organized racing in Glasgow, but there were two conflicting views on how to proceed. Some felt that the league should start with two teams at Hampden and Kingsway and hope that further teams would materialize. Others felt that a two team league was unsustainable, particularly as the proposed Kingsway line up was considerably stronger than the younger Hampden squad. Their proposal was to run a series of Best Pairs events from which riders would obtain an average, which would later be used to create a number of evenly balanced teams. However no consensus was reached and by the autumn, several of the “Flyers” had split away from Kingsway, and under the guidance of Ron Young, they raced in a number of meetings at Hampden, the largest being the Hampdenapolis for which Ron donated several prizes. This meeting was won by veteran John Speirs who beat Ron Henderson in a run off. Roy Varty was third and Tam Baggley took the prize for the top scoring junior. Ron also drew up some interesting match formats, including a four team event over a staggering twenty four heats.

It would seem that the Best Pairs proposal, outlined above, was actually followed. A number of work sheets have been found, showing that at least eight rounds were raced. In these pre personal computer days, Ron must have spent the rest of his Sunday manually calculating the averages! – a real labour of love! Thanks to his diligence, we know that, of the regulars, the top riders, based on a points per ride average, were

Dave Henderson           2.52

Roy Varty                     2.51 

Iain Morrison                2.18

Colin Grant                   2.04

Robert McNulty            1.79

Ron Henderson             1.68

Derek Varty                 1.68

Tam Baggley                1.63

Ron Young                   1.45 

A number of riders, from a few years earlier, who turned up for at least one meeting included Colin Caffrey, Dale Aitken and Frank McKinnon, (both ex Hampden), John Speirs and Lachie McDougall, (both ex Shields), and Sandy Robertson (ex Kingsway).

This year the winter was particularly severe and the traditional break was respected. As 1977 was being rung in, worries about the continuing stalemate over the future of the sport would soon be remedied by events beginning to unfold at Powderhall through in Edinburgh

 

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Riders practising at Hampden circa 1976