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Glasgow Cycle Speedway History Association

Sliding Bikes and Sliding Doors

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Sliding Doors and Sliding Bikes

The film “Sliding Doors” highlights the narrow margins between meeting someone or getting involved in something and missing out completely. My young boyhood was a succession of near misses with both speedway and cycle speedway. As a toddler we stayed in a flat in Cairnlea Drive at Ibrox. It overlooked Stairway 13, the scene of the Ibrox Disaster many years later. Surely if we had stayed another summer, my Dad would have taken me to the White City to see the Tigers with Tommy Miller and Ken McKinlay in what would turn out to be their last season at Paisley Road West. We probably heard the bikes from our house. But it was not to be!

A few years later we moved to Drumchapel, but by the mid 50s the track at the Girnin’ Gates was long gone – although some of my pals’ elder brothers regaled us with tales of a track near the woods. Even in these days it was hard to differentiate between fact and fantasy! Knightswood was only a few miles away, but as a seven year old, it was too distant to get to know of the Toffs. A few years later, we would play at pitch and putt at Knightswood Park and go to Knightswood Secondary to see Drumchapel Amateurs play, but again “I was born too late”!

My Dad worked in the railways and, with its travel concessions, we generally went through to the east every second or third weekend to visit both sets of grandparents in Edinburgh and Peebles. The train journey from Waverley to Peebles went right past Old Meadowbank, indeed the line backed onto the stadium wall behind the back straight. There were a few times when we could actually hear the bikes as we passed. How much closer could I get? Even closer! My maternal grandparents lived in the Merchiston area of Edinburgh and we often played football and putting at Harrison Park which was just over the road from their house. On a Saturday afternoon we would watch amateur football in the “swing park”, the smaller section of Harrison Park. One Saturday I noticed that a round track had been dug out in the area behind one of the goals. A local lad told me that a “speedway world final” had been held there the previous Saturday! He was known for exaggerating things and I took what he said with a few ounces of salt! After all, the track was far too small for motorbikes! But he was right, the 1962 CYCLE speedway world final had been staged there – I was that close to being there! If only we had travelled through that weekend.

            Possibly we didn’t travel through that weekend as I had just started at Allan Glens school and the trials for the rugby teams were taking place. I was about five stone when soaking wet and unsurprisingly never felt rugby was for me! However going to Allan Glens was a stroke of good fortune. For once I got in before the doors slid shut! Fraser Aitken, one of my classmates, lived in Mosspark and after the 1964 Easter holidays came back sporting a Tigers badge on his lapel and telling us all about Charlie Monk.

tigers64badge0001.jpg

Fraser could have sold sand to the Arabs – am I allowed to say this in these politically correct times? – and by the summer about half the class had been to the White City. Most young boys, who went to the speedway, tried to build a track on which to emulate the Tigers – and we were no different. Like most others, our track was really nothing like the real thing. It was an anticlockwise track with three straights, one sharp corner and one uphill corner around a nettle patch and the brickwall along the back straight had a chimney stack jutting out. Apart from that it was pretty good! We had racejackets, plastic helmets, facemasks and even goggles. Our meetings had more in common with Halloween than any kind of sports gathering!

Drumchapel action: “It’s cycle speedway, Jim, but not as we know it”

Once again, Fraser came back from the holidays with something to tell us about - a really good cycle speedway track behind the Corkerhill railway sheds not far from his home. He arranged for a school team to race the local boys. For me, this meant taking my bike on the “blue train” from my Drumchapel home to Partickhill and then cycling through the Clyde tunnel to Corkerhill. We were beaten 47-31 but, partnered by Fraser, I managed to score 5+2 and I was hooked! This time I had got on before the Sliding Doors closed!

By the following year, my family had moved to Kings Park, where none of the locals seemed to have heard of speedway or cycle speedway. We soon changed that! By the summer a band of us were heading to the White City every Friday and we had made a number of abortive attempts to set up a cycle speedway track. The most promising site had been an old disused tennis court in Kilchattan Drive, although on reflection it was probably too small for a regulation sized track. We didn’t get the chance to find out as a visit from the local constabulary ended our interest there, although exactly what our offence was has never been clear! Undaunted, we found a field at the end of Kingsacre Road but our attempts to dig out an inside line came to an abrupt halt when a neighbour told us that the farmer wasn’t going to be too pleased when he saw what we were doing to his field! We never went back there!

Our next site was more promising, behind the old Vogue cinema – it would later become the home of Kingsway Knights. We marked out a track shape on the black ash football pitch but found all traces had been removed on our next visit. The locals used it for football and we had to make do with marking out a shape each time we went there. By now we had been to Corkerhill a few times to watch the Glasgow against Edinburgh “B” meetings. By a stroke of good fortune, another classmate at school, Dave Sampson, who had Mansewood connections, was riding for Glasgow and through him we got to know the “big three” of Speirs, Gilliland and Barrie. John would later write in Smoke Signals that we were hoping to dig out the old Merrylee track, a bit of journalist licence as we had never managed to find it! However this would lead to us taking part in some practice meetings at Corkerhill and even a return meeting at the Vogue.

John Speirs causes mayhem at Corkerhill Glasgow versus Edinburgh B

Colin and Fred Caffery sit in the pits

While the Corkerhill boys headed through to Edinburgh to race for Scottish Rangers in 1968, things were considerably quieter in Kings Park and indeed cycle speedway there might have evaporated, had it not been for a chance meeting. My brother and I were through in Edinburgh for the final meeting at Old Meadowbank in October 1967, when we met Ronnie Young and Ian Welsh. Both were interested when we told them of our attempts at cycle speedway and, during the long hot summer of ’68, and it was Ian who sent two vital letters. The first, a cleverly worded letter, to McTaggart and Mickel, led to a meeting with the chief executive and us securing written permission to use the old tennis courts in Kingswood Drive – we wouldn’t have problems with the police this time! The second was a request to George Fernyhough for a NACSA rulebook. This request was flagged up to Jimmy Cobain and was probably the catalyst that set in motion a train of events that led to league racing being revived the following year. To think that if we hadn’t gone to Old Meadowbank that night, it might never have happened – we definitely got in before the doors closed that time too!

By October 1968, we had staged a couple of meetings at our newly built track against the Knights, some other local lads who initially thought they would use Kilchattan Drive as a home track. This again proved unfeasible, but, with Chic Mackie now their team manager, they returned to the Vogue and managed to build a permanent track that would withstand the ravages of local footballers. The Kilchattan Knights had become the Kingsway Knights, with Kingsway being the name of the local fish and chip shop. It is a pity they never sought any sponsorship as free chips after a meeting there would have been most welcome! It would be nearly ten years later before teams routinely incorporated sponsors details into their team names. The Knights were certainly ahead of their times!


Sandy Robertson leads Jackie Hides at the “permanent” Kingsway track (1969)

By the following month an AGM had been held and league racing would restart the following spring with Hampden, Kingsway and three teams based at Corkerhill – Corkerhill, Levernside and Ralston. The winter of that year saw regular Sunday afternoon practice sessions at Corkerhill

Barry Wilde; Colin Caffrey; Stevie Mitchell; A Bunny; John Thompson?; John Speirs; Donnie McDonald?

The first meeting of the new era was on the 29th March 1969 when visitors Levernside beat Hampden 56-39 in a Spring League encounter. I top scored for the Hawks that day with eleven and the following week I managed twelve in the Easter Egg Trophy, which was won by Dick Barrie from Alan Irvine. I was in a run off for third place but finished behind David Norrie and Bill McMillan. After that impressive start, I guess the rest of my career was downhill! In May Ronnie Young and I joined Billy Russell and Stevie Mitchell as the Glasgow four for the Manchester 21st Anniversary celebrations, although our last minute selection owed more to availability than ability!

By the summer, Corkerhill had folded and both Levernside and Ralston were facing difficulties in fielding a full squad. Indeed of the Levernside team who rode at Hampden in March, only Stevie Mitchell was still a regular! Ralston were missing their top scorer, Billy Russell, who sustained a severe leg injury while practising on his speedway bike on a makeshift track built around the cycle speedway track. The league was now a two horserace between Hampden and Kingsway. The Knights had won the first league meeting at Hampden but we hammered them in the second fixture at Kingsway. I was on a course in London at the time and got a sleeper back on the Friday night so that I could ride in the meeting and then jumped on the Sunday night sleeper back to “the Smoke”. The third meeting between the two Kings Park rivals was scheduled for late July and Mike Blair had arranged for the Rutherglen Reformer to cover the meeting. Kingsway tracked only seven riders but managed to beat us in a last heat decider. Any chance we had of winning the league disappeared when, without Dick Barrie, we lost at Kingsway, despite holding the Knights until the interval.

Rutherglen Reformer extract

October saw me win two of the few trophies I have ever won! First, the Hawks gained revenge by beating Kingsway in the KO Cup Final, a meeting not without its controversies! Steward Jimmy Cobain couldn’t make it due to work commitments and his deputy, John Speirs, was prepared to let Ronnie Young ride, plastered wrist and all! He did specify however that his jersey must cover the plaster at all times! But more controversial was his decision to permit Dick Barrie to continue to ride his own bike after mid meeting repairs that saw his broken frame strengthened with tennis court net cable, tensioned with a piece of wood that would have gone off like a propeller had its stays been broken. Kingsway were missing the unwell Chic Mackie and certainly missed his tactical know how – particularly in the second last heat, when eight points down, they made no attempt to go for the required 5-1. Bizarrely they went for a 3-3 off gates two and four, losing their slim chance of the cup in the process.

The second was the Les Whaley Cup, presented by the Glasgow Tigers promoter in recognition of the work put in by Hampden and Kingsway riders as members of the track staff at the speedway. This was a twolegged meeting with the aggregate score deciding the winner and the result was in doubt until the last heat. Indeed Kingsway could possibly have clinched the trophy in the penultimate heat but “Lenny” McMillan had the misfortune to miss his pedals and put his foot through his own front wheel – a real sore on that! This left Hampden with the relatively straightforward task of sharing the final race to clinch the trophy – and clinch it we did! As captain I received the somewhat miniscule trophy – you might be able to make it out in the team photo! When the rest of the Hawks found out it was my nineteenth birthday I was ceremonially dumped in one of the many puddles on the Kingsway centre “green”. I had a strange straight legged gait as I walked home after that!!

Scan in Hawks team photo

1970 brought a few changes to the cycle speedway scene in Glasgow. John Speirs had discovered some disused tennis courts in Woodrow Road and had taken his Levernside team there, renaming them ‘Shields Racers in the process.They would race in the blue and red “R” racejackets previously used by the Scottish Rangers in Edinburgh. Pete Bell who had stewarded the previous years Glasgow Individual Final returned to the sport, joining forces with Ian Welsh to form Mill Wheelers who recruited some young lads from the Newlands and later absorbed riders from the defunct Ralston Royals. Kingsway suffered badly with riders leaving Glasgow. Brian Gilliland moved south to Oxford, while Billy Campbell and step brother Alan “Bo” Brown emigrated to Australia.

Hampden were unchanged and this paid dividends as we won the Spring League although sadly there were no trophies for this success. The league was decided by two very close meetings between Hampden and ‘Shields, with the Racers no doubt kicking themselves that they managed to lose at Hampden despite being ten points up with two heats to go – 4.3.2.1 scoring was being used for the first time in Glasgow in this competition and Hawks took the final two races 7-2 and more controversially 7-0 in the final heat when Dick Barrie managed to knock John Spiers into Stevie Mitchell coming out the second bend and they were both still in a heap when Colin Caffrey lapped them!

Prior to the 1970 season I managed to obtain a Philips “Speed Track” frame and this was to propel me to greatness – some hope! I swapped the wheels from my old bike and paid little attention at the time to the struggle to get the back wheel into the rear forks. I really should have added an extra couple of links to the chain but I never got around to it! My gating was never electric but on the new bike it was really pretty poor and my scores and my enthusiasm were on the wane. It would be some thirty years later that Brian Gilliland explained the physics of wheelbase etc!! – oh what might have been!

Shields were very much in the ascendancy and it has to be said had little problem in beating us in the league, although in turn we comfortably saw off both Kingsway and Mill. The Shields v Hampden cup final looked a banker for the Racers but a very wet Kingsway track persuaded a couple of their riders there was no prospect of racing and the headed home without waiting for their colleagues to turn up. Sadly for them, the track was cleared of surface water and Hampden edged out a depleted Shields team. My own role was pretty limited. I think I got about four from five rides. I decided it was time to retire and duly sold my bike. I don’t remember who the lucky recipient was!

By the time spring 1971 came around, Colin Caffrey had been persuaded to join Shields who now had two teams, the Raiders and the Racers and would go on to becoming cycle speedway “immortals” in Glasgow by winning the NACSA Senior Team Championship, something we celebrate to this day. Hampden were short of riders and I was persuaded to ride again, mainly in home meetings on a Saturday afternoon and usually only against either of the Shields teams as the Hawks were usually confident of seeing off Mill or Kingsway without my services. My scores certainly improved and from the records available, I seem to have ended the season with the highest average. It’s amazing what happens when you only ride at home!! The highlight of that season from Hampden’s point of view was our victory over Shields Raiders in July, the only defeat suffered by a Shields team all year. To say it was hard fought was an understatement! I still have the scars today! There were many incidents and it was a good thing that the police car that drew up to watch the early heats had left by the time action started!

However, the highlight of the season, the decade and possibly the entire history of the sport in Glasgow was Shields NACSA victory, and I was there! primarily to take my brother ”Moosh” and team mate Neil Grant down for the NACSA Junior Individual which preceded the team event. The night before, the Tigers were racing Wembley and we were driving back to my cousins in Kew in south London after watching the meeting. We passed a really bad accident and about fifteen minutes later passed it again. If it hadn’t been for the carnage we might well have been driving round in circles all night! Moosh scored seven in the individual and Neil three but he was to ride again in the following years final at Rye House

Dick Barrie will no doubt remind me that he ended up doing most of the driving back from Uxbridge after the NACSA event on the Sunday. I was vreally shattered after driving for nearly ten hours on the previous day. Dick might be less vociferous about switching off the ignition while doing about 40 mph. I can still hear the valves popping to this day. As a result I spent my 21st birthday in a lockup in Leith grinding in new valves!

1972 brought disaster for my by now ailing Austin 1100 which comprehensively failed the MOT, getting the “unsafe to test” failure certificate! Weekly journeys down to Berwick to see the Bandits on a Saturday night were now dependent on getting a lift from Dick Barrie who was doing the announcing there. Dick had to be there in good time, well before he seven o’clock start, so riding for Hampden on a Saturday afternoon followed by a belt along the M8 and down the A1 was no longer an option…and so ended my CS “career”, apart from taking part in an end of season Old Hampden versus New Hampden. My partner that day was Sandy Robertson who took good care of me, shepherding me to two heat wins before my “puff” gave out as the old guys managed to win by a couple of points.

That seemed to be the end of my cycle speedway involvement. However, by 1978, Dick had recruited me to help out with the announcing at Blantyre where he tigers now raced. Ronnie Young was now the team manager of the reformed Hampden team and asked me to do the announcing when they entertained Newport in a national championship. I was glad to do it and it was great to meet up with Jimmy Cobain for the first time in years as the more experienced Welshmen progressed to the next round.

Roy Varty leads in the Hampden v Newport encounter

Again, that seemed to conclude my cycle speedway connection. I would move to Lenzie and then to Edinburgh and later back to Glasgow in 1992, where I became a regular at Shawfield watching my beloved Tigers and occasionally meeting former riders. One day, quite by chance, I got a read of a Daily Record in the office. It told of a cycle speedway get together at Cathkin on a Sunday in October. We were off on holiday a few days later but I could certainly go to this – talk about getting in before the doors closed, it was that close, but for once I made it!! I met Brian Gilliland for the first time in nearly twenty years and he told me about the reunion that had been held to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1948 Olympic Trophy. I was soon a member of the GCSHA and would later be involved in running the 60th Anniversary event which Jack Monteith kindly sponsor

Starting gate action from the 2008 Olympic Trophy at Cathkin

…..and the rest as they say is “The History”!!

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