Knock, knock! The Seventies Pass Quickly...
I was last to succumb to married life and was busy setting up a new home with Janet in Wallsend on Tyne. I was still living at my Grandma's in Benton and was sat at home one boring suburban evening minding my own business while rubbing baby oil into Janet's lissome lower spinal areas -oh sorry, stop that - when there was a knock on the door. When I opened it I had to rub my eyes instead to make sure I wasn't dreaming. Cor, that baby oil sure does sting! Who should be standing on my doorstep with grins a mile wide, completely out of the blue - none other than ex-racers Ashie Patterson and Mick Hoult! (Ash reckons this took place at my Grandma's in Benton - same result).
I was gob-smacked, and not really sure I wasn't dreaming. They "invited" me to restart Cycle Speedway with them, so how could I refuse? I didn't expect a second coming for my soul passion in life but jumped at the chance. At 28 I wasn't sure if it would be too late for me, but I think I justified the comeback a few years on. Little did I know that just a quarter mile from my front door, right on the Newcastle/Wallsend border on my old stamping ground, these two had been mucking around with a squad of lads led by Dave Armstrong. They had all met at or through the Speedway at Brough Park and started using my lovely but sadly long-neglected little old Eastfield track to play speedway on, as well as the rough one they had up on the Old Coast Road known as Tinker's Turn at Benton (below).
Unfortunately, "playing speedway" was exactly what they were doing. Of course, Ash and Mick were not the least bit impressed but wanted back in on the action, so had other, slightly more mature ideas for the track, and bikes with brakes, mudguards, lights and the faithful old cowhorns weren't included in their strategy. That's why they dragged me out of my enforced retirement (no dragging required - I leapt at the chance).
So it was that we started all over again on our Second Phase of NCSC participation. That year we mucked about locally and had a few Challenge matches against our faithful old mates from Glasgow, Edinburgh and Hull as Dave's "Tynesiders", then at the end of season AGM there was a bust-up at Roy Clarke's house and Dave walked out (into a cupboard first which was side-splitting to witness, then back out and out of the house!), defeated by the two Fawdon revivalists, some new found allies in Fred Mitchell's Benton squad and common sense. The Newcastle "Rebels" were born, and appropriately named. Super-keen Dave, however, would rejoin us later and produce some great performances for the Rebels.
Thus began our hectic journey out of the Seventies, into the Eighties with two superb council-built tracks, first at Fawdon and then back at Eastfield then through to the early Nineties, and with it the whole fantastic episode that saw us climb from minnows in the geographically challenged dregs of CS to Regional stardom as a Winning Team, and beyond that with a couple of special individual performances right at the end, but of course this is supposed to be my story, so let's have yours.
Below - I win the 1980 Newcastle Riders Final, the "Newcastle 900 Trophy" at Fawdon celebrating the City's 900th birthday, with Stuart Craig runner-up. The reason you can see through Stu's chainwheel and not mine, is that I was then using a modified Bicycle Polo chainset with a 28 tooth ring, and a 16 tooth freewheel for 2-under. My chain was also thicker than anyone else's, 1/2" by 3/8" from a moped as I kept snapping both standard 1/2" by 1/8" and heavy duty 1/2" by 3/16" chains. When Union pedals came along they were a Godsend as I also kept snapping Raleigh pedal shafts! Bottom bracket spindles only lasted me a few months before they twisted too badly to use any more. You may also notice the reversed handlebar stem for swifter gating and twitchier steering. I dumped that after half a season. (Actually Stu is sat on Fred Mitchell's immaculate Ace Cycles bike). I also won the NRC title in 1978 and 1983 although I have definite recollections of winning a 12 man individual in 1970 which at the time was acclaimed as the NRC but ridden with a shortage of riders on the day.
This was the era when all the previous ground work paid off. With two good tracks and some half decent local league matches to compete in we managed to attract a few batches of rapid youngsters, most but not all through the Speedway connection. Andy Murray, Brian Mills, Paul Marshall, Stewart Craig and Michael Parr joined Fred Mitchell, John Wilson and myself and were eventually moulded into a strong outfit, particularly on home ground but also, memorably, with some fantastic away performances to match. We found Jason Keith and a few of his mates - Chris Brannon and Andy Crawford - and Gavin Parr had grown considerably taller so we had a great Combination team also which won a championship but somehow Manchester got to share the title after having a poorer points difference - evidence of the typical sniping that went on against us, but hey, we'd really arrived now.
Unfortunately in 1989 and finally in 1991 we were forced to wrap it all up when almost all of these lads found better things to do with their spare time - the usual, girls and beer - and while a handful of us rode for Hull for a year or two that was the end of local racing yet again as the cycle repeated.
Mention of "sniping" above reminds me of the way I was treat in 1990. I'd waited as long as anyone (forty years!) to be old enough to take part in the British Veterans Championship and had been patiently ticking off the days on my calendar. When enrolment time came, my application was rejected by the Cycle Speedway Council which informed me I was "too young" to take part. My 40th birthday was the week before the event, so I have no idea how they could rule me out after being a legitimate candidate, but that's exactly what the b@st@rds did. I therefore had to wait another full year before being allowed to race!
Anyway the venue was Leicester's Slater Street track, one I'd never visited before so it was really exciting, and at this time there was only Michael Parr and me racing, although for me this was a one-off. Mick had signed for Heckmondwike and became one of their best servants, spending ten seasons there, a real accomplishment. The meeting was over-subscribed and so there had to be two semi-finals to decide the 16 finalists. I wasn't too confident looking around the pits with the likes of Derek Garnett, John Watchman,Grant Warwick, Dave Parsons and other great names of our Sport ready to line up with little old me! Anyway, somehow I got through the qualifier and into the final, which felt fantastic in this kind of company. I fell twice in the final from leading positions but still copped 10 points to finish tenth, so I'd lived my Thirty-somethings dream although never had I dreamt of taking part in a real National final.