Drumchapel action: “It’s cycle speedway, Jim, but not as we know it”
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!
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!
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
Colin and Fred Caffery sit in the pits
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)
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?
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.
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!!
in Hawks team photo
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.
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 – 220.127.116.11 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!
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!
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!
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!
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
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!
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.
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”!!