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George Dodds's picture

So what are you … back, straight, homer, gate or bender?

If you ask me there is a lot of insight to be gained from asking a speedway fan where their favourite viewing spot in a stadium is.

What’s more if I’m being honest the biggest news of the winter for me was not a brace of Courtneys and a Havelock becoming our new owners, Lewis Bridger’s installation as Berwick’s number one or Mike Hope Honda joining Olympus Marquees as our title sponsors.
No the real close season zinger was the announcement that The Ducket tea-bar is to re-open.

The fact that Rob Grant’s bangers and John Anderson’s pies and burgers are on the menu is a bonus but really this momentous decision by our new management underlines my long held belief that real speedway fans line back straights.
We’re more the connoisseurs of the sport rather than the rabid rabble which gathers in the posh seats around the starting gate.

And now we don’t even have to walk to the first bend to get a burger and a poke of chips.

I haven’t always been part of the back straight bourgeoises. In our first Shielfield incarnation the starting gate was just in front of the home (concrete) football dugout on the top side of the tunnel. Behind that was the wing paddock – in those days steep terracing made up of clinker, drinks can ring pulls and fag butts.

Yes it gave you the chance to rage at the visiting riders as they bumped and stretched the tapes, get autographs through the wire fence which separated paddock from the old pits and vent your spleen at the referee. It also meant that you had a better chance than most of pocketing the coin that Kenny Taylor threw into the crowd after introducing the riders and overseeing the toss for starting gates.

But still something wasn’t quite right and I longed to move.

The main stand seats were out of the question – the 10p transfer charge a real budget-breaker in those days – I wasn’t tall enough to see over the first bend fence and the third bend – then as now – was where the rough lads and lasses gathered!
But when I ventured under The Ducket everything fell into place. The view across the footy pitch gave a completely new focus on the starting line shenanigans, the pits were still in full view, the noise from the bikes was amplified by the tin roof, Westles hamburgers, hot dog sausages of dubious provenance and a raspberry Big Time cup drink cartons were dispensed for a few pennies from the tea-bar built into the back.

I was in heaven.

As I grew older and became a peripatetic speedway fan the first act on entering any new stadium was to make my way around to the back straight – often being one of only a handful to venture there.

Bradford’s vast concrete bowl, Halifax’s Shay and Hyde Road in Manchester offered views on a par with The Ducket – but no cover, Hull’s wooden Threepenny Stand and even the grass banking at the, then fenceless, Arena Essex were good viewing points while just getting under the rather low roof at Berrington Lough was an achievement.

But it was not all plain sailing.

Stoke and Long Eaton’s hinterlands were weed-strewn wildernesses, Wimbledon didn’t bother to open anything past the second bend, Crewe showered you in rust every time the riders roared past, Rye House offered some of the shallowest terracing in history and East End pigeons used you for target practice at Hackney.

Some tracks seemed to go to extraordinary lengths to deny me my perfect position – Belle Vue and Newcastle demolishing perfectly good bars, safety concerns following the footballing tragedy at nearby Hillsborough putting Sheffield’s terracing into cold storage, Edinburgh moving the starting gate from one side of the stadium to the other at Powderhall; Middlesbrough doing the same – albeit after some local teen gangsta torched the main stand at Cleveland Park and clubs such as Coventry and Wolverhampton simply choosing not to open large parts of their stadiums as crowds dwindled.

By the mid-90s the Bandits were back at Shielfield and became one of a handful of tracks where spectators can still watch from both straights.

But sadly The Ducket tea-bar was no more – boarded up and seemingly consigned to distant memories along with JAP engines, Aztec chocolate bars and Co-op milk floats.

But it seems that history is the new today.

So credit where it is due and when it comes to the New Year’s honours list I shall be lobbying hard for Sir Scott and Sir Jamie Courtney along with Lord Havelock of South Tees for their services to old, bald back straight speedway supporters.