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George Dodds's picture

All aboard the Bandits’ TARDIS.
Set co-ordinates for August 13, 2017, press the big green button and off we fly.
Kev Doolan has just attempted to set a new world speed world for crossing a start line on the backside of his kevlars, his bike beating the King to the chequered flag by a number of metres.
The Bandits – three wins and a draw from 28 outings in their 50th season up to this point – trail Peterborough’s Panthers by a point. The clock says 9.29. The curfew is set to come down like a Northumberland County Council-branded guillotine.
But, with seconds to spare, the nominated riders make it to the tapes for heat 15.
Nick Morris and Jack Holder race off into the distance but behind them David Howe is keeping Shielfield specialist Ulrich Ostergaard in fourth place. It all means that the Bandits win by a point and The Phoenix celebrates as if he has won the World title.
Team-mates meet him at the pits gate. All around the stadium fives are highed, backs slapped and strangers hugged in a way rarely seen before 2am in Charleez.
A month later the sheer joy and pandemonium of that night is replayed to a full house at The Maltings as the meeting provides the backdrop to Margaret Salmon’s film, Mmm, the star of last year’s Berwick Film and Media Festival.
Right back on board – TARDIS hire is expensive and I can’t afford to stay in the past for too long in case they don’t let me back.
Just over a year on can you still remember what happened next?
Bonus points available for those who remember the Bandits ended the 2017 season like an express train. Scunthorpe, Workington, Newcastle, Edinburgh and champions Sheffield shunted into the sidings but we still finish bottom of the pile.
In the pits there is a real Musketeer spirit which spread like wildfire to the terraces and posh seats alike.
More importantly what happened on and off track encouraged the Courtney boys to build their 2018 team around four of the team on duty that night – and a fifth who was there in spirit if not battered body: the Dane known in 2017 as Nicolaj Busk-Jacobsen-Rider-Replacement.
Messrs Doolan, Etheridge, Gappmaier, Howe and the afore mentioned NBJ were announced as the core group for the 2018 team – a decision not widely hailed at the time.
Indeed “them what think they are in the know” widely tipped us for a second successive bottom spot in the Championship.
Many questioned whether we would even win a meeting. We were going to be blown away in heats 13 and 15. Some couldn’t see where a race win was coming from.
The recruitment of Aaron Summers and unknown Swede John Lindman did little to temper the bile of the naysayers but, you know what, it turns out that two young former riders steeped in the sport knew more than Speedway Star contributors and the social media twitterati when it came to assembling a team which would extend that aura of invincibility around Shielfield.
Those who put their two-penneth worth on messageboards, text updates and twitter away take great exception at being referred to as keyboard warriors or, especially, forum fannies, but come up with little that is constructive.
They tend to be a depressing read, giving the impression that if a ray of sunshine followed them around they would still accuse the BSPA of stealing the crock of gold at the end of the rainbow.
Indeed were Ivan Mauger and Ove Fundin riding today someone of the BSF would brand them “gating tarts” and Speedway Updates would reduce most of their races to FTG (from the gate for those who manage to live their lives without acronyms).
Our owners continued to go their own way team-wise when Lindman was dropped and replaced by Theo Pijper after the Dutchman became surplus to requirements at Redcar.
As with Etheridge and Howe the announcement of Theo’s return was greeted with mild interest rather than frenzied dancing on tables in the pubs and clubs.
Like the aforementioned he took time to find his feet but last Saturday Theo was an engine failure away from becoming the first Bandit since Richard Knight in 1992 to score back-to-back home maximums.
Knight also managed the rarer feat of back-to-back maximums that season as he followed up a perfect 12 at Powderhall on a Friday night in May with five wins from five at Berrington Lough 24 hours later. The victims on both occasions? Edinburgh of course.
Only Workington have lowered our colours at home in anything other than a challenge match this season and with trips to Scunthorpe, Ipswich, Peterborough and Edinburgh left after Saturday’s Shielfield last hurrah there is still a chance that we can reach the top four playoffs but to do so we will need break our duck on the road in spectacular fashion.
Despite being the King of Shielfield, Mr Doolan probably thought that his days as a number one were history while NBJ was equally unlikely to have dreamed of donning a number seven race jacket but in a season when strength in depth really has carried us across the winning line at home who is to say they will not trade places when the final averages are worked out?
It has been a season when all seven Bandits have shown flashes of brilliance – Etheridge and Gappmaier have both made the step from reserves with potential to reliable points scorers in the main body of the team – while still being capable of the odd off night.
Off track our covers continue to get meetings raced while others – I mean you Ipswich – prefer early call-offs while racing on the same day as England football matches and Grand Prix are on the TV means that we have rattled through our fixtures while others flounder and blame everyone bar their own lack of effort for a backlog which threatens to derail seasons.
Duns’ training track points the way for young talent, the STARS scheme launched last week provides a conduit for fans who can afford to and want to help cement the future of the Bandits.
And when the dust settles on the big league battle the youngsters of Berwick and Peterborough will do battle in what will most likely be a Northern Junior League decider.
Tapes up 7pm.