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George Dodds's picture

Napoleon IIIs Franco-Prussian War campaign, Ernest Shackleton’s march to the South Pole, the second Boer War Siege of Ladysmith, Robert Lambert’s successful British Under-21 title defence.
All would have experienced suffering on a greater scale had it not been for the foresight of an exiled Scot 150 years ago.
To say that there was a nip in the air as Shielfield staged the British Under-21 Final on Tuesday night is akin to suggesting that Sunderland’s season didn’t go entirely to plan.
Early signs were not good as Penguins arrived in duffel coats, an iceberg made steady progress through Ivinson/Greenwood towards the main car park and Dick Barrie appeared on the back straight wrapped up like a survivor from Shackleton’s ill-fated campaign.
The wind howled, the sun hid and winter woolies were extracted from car boots as an impressive midweek crowd gathered to watch the country’s top young talent – at least those who didn’t find a grasstrack meeting in Germany a better option – do battle.
Usually when an army of Glasgow fans descends on Shielfield's back straight the call is for Tenants, Fosters, Belhaven or a double Bells.
But on Tuesday the most often asked question at the Ducket a la carte bar, bistro and nightclub was: “Any Bovril?”
It may have been an homage to John Lawrence Johnston, a Scottish emigrant to Canada who, in 1870, secured an order to supply a million tins of beef to French troops fighting the Franco-Prussian War.
He had the raw meat but how to store and transport it in an edible form became a problem.
So in true Scottish style Johnston though outside the box and turned the meat into a beef flavoured drink.
At the same time Edward Bulwer-Litton’s published a novel called The Coming Race featuring a tribe whose supernatural powers come from a substance called Vril.
Obviously the Latin for anything cow-like is Bov.
And so Vrilbov became the staple for British soldiers, explorers, winter sports fans and speedway championship followers alike … after a well-needed shuffle of letters.
I suspect this was foremost in the minds of fans as they waited to be served on Tuesday night.
Mind you they might just have been freezing cold.
On the track Mr Lambert was, literally, straights ahead of the opposition.
If there was any doubt about how seriously he was taking the defence of the crown it was dispelled in his first outing – the fastest time at Shielfield this season.
He had brought his best bikes and lived up to his Ruthless nickname, leaving the rest in his wake. At times he was so far ahead that he could have stopped, posed for some of the many selfies and snaps that he obliged fans with pre and post meeting during his races and still taken the chequered flag.
Now he just needs to break into the Grand Prix cabal and take that Ruthless streak with him.
In fact the only man to give young Robert a run for his money was Buddy the Bandit.
Controversially brought in by the Courtney kids during the close season to replace Bertie – now retired to the Goodie Patchy where he can now do what comes naturally to bears in the woods until his heart’s content – Buddy was everywhere on Tuesday, posing for selfies, entertaining fans, encouraging riders, high-fiving Luke, pushing bikes back to the pits and even managing a few laps himself on a minibike.
Definitely one to watch in the future – although there is a danger that all this attention could lead to him becoming a little big-headed.
Elsewhere in the field Connor Mountain showed how important it is to grab an opportunity when it it knocks with Nathan Greaves and Dan Bewley also booking their tickets on the bigger stage.
Alfie Bowtell rightly won the most entertaining rider award – not least for his semi-final attempts at a wall of death on the third and fourth turns and Luke Ruddick raised the roof with two cracking heat wins – even if the applause was somewhat muffled by the thermal mittens.
After a few barren years these are exciting times to be an English speedway supporter.
Messrs Bewley and Bickley are back on Saturday as Workington round off the most exciting trilogy since Sara Lund hung up her chunky sweater at the end of The Killing.
The story so far this season at Shielfield: Lakeside Hammered, Tigers tamed, Robert Ruthless and, well I forget exactly what happened against Newcastle.
Now the Comets are coming and phasers are set to stun.
As I write the forecasters are promising sunshine on Saturday so pack some Ambre Solaire, although new stocks of Johnston’s Fluid Beef have been ordered … just in case.
As always tapes rise at 7pm.