George Dodds's picture

In hindsight perhaps it wasn’t the best idea for a first date.
But in all honesty, almost 30 years on, I still maintain that there was nothing fundamentally wrong with a night out at a four-team qualifier at Cleveland Park, Middlesbrough – especially when the alternative was a tour of Darlington’s boozers.
After all what teenage girl could fail to be all a-quiver at the combined talents of Geoff Pusey, Brian Havelock, Paul Price, Steve Wilcock and my sparkling company?
The only shame was that she never got to see the legend that was Mark Crang, scraping and demolishing fences, opponents and partners in equal measure.
In fact she didn’t get to see much as at the end of the first lap of race one coming onto the home straight a coming together saw an unfortunate visitor –a vague memory tells me it was Long Eaton’s Dave Perks but I have tried, obviously unsuccessfully, to wipe memories of the evening – slide under the safety fence and thump, back first, into the hare rail on the inside of the greyhound track.
After a long delay the meeting was abandoned and the atmosphere during the journey home was frosty to say the least.
Probably not for the last time in her life the young lady heard the phrase: “It usually lasts a lot longer.” I made the point that her readmission ticket was valid for any of the next six meetings.
As far as I am aware it went unredeemed.
Last I heard she was something quite high up in the BBC. I suspect she never ventured back to speedway but it may go some way to explaining the corporation’s rather frosty relationship with our sport.
I, on the other hand would go to become married to another non speedway loving lady – although at least she has seen a full 15 heats at Shielfield and a double header at Rye House which seemed to last a whole weekend – and currently enjoy life as a retail opportunity enabler while moonlighting in The Ducket t-bar.
And it was from there that I watched aghast when Nick Morris’s debut as a full-time Bandit saw him take off and mono wheel at high velocity towards the first bend.
Miraculously he kept it out of the fence but was watching from third place when Danny King of all people lost it while miles in front and had reason to be grateful that Aussie riders are taught the art of laying down a speedway bike with their Farleys Rusks – Cameron Heeps’s lightening reactions surely avoiding injury to both.
As the referee asked to speak to team managers, captains, clerk of course, Doris Stokes, Elvis, Hayley in the pits t-bar, Gordon in H Bar, Uncle Tom Cobley and all; the prospect of suffering my second non-weather related abandonment in a lifetime seemed real.
Current day riders are a much maligned breed among the twittering classes of t’interweb who would have you believe that they will have meetings called off at the drop of a hat.
Fortunately the Witches and Bandits were made of sterner stuff and after some wonderwheel magic we got a full meeting, albeit in conditions which remained, ahem, “tricky”.
During the track work Chris Louis was spotted heading to Granty’s burger van for a sly Anderson’s pie. At the cup match earlier in April he managed to sneak in a crafty Belhaven from The Ducket so, come the second league visit of Ipswich in September he has the choice of H Bar or Hospitality to complete the full set and qualify for the much coveted Shielfield Holy Trinity Triple Crown (burger or pie, beer and Bovril from a different catering outlet). A commemorative T-shirt is being designed as we speak.
When the action – and there was plenty, if not always for the right reasons – resumed Rory Schlein outdid Morris in the save it and prosper school of gating, not only staying out of the foam fun trap but actually managing to keep the throttle on and romping to victory.
Heeps also showed a liking for Shielfield which had gone un-noticed on previous visits while young guns Ben Hopwood and Jack Parkinson-Blackburn added to their growing list of admirers and probably a number of new Facebook Friends for their efforts.
But on the whole it was night when trouble was, literally, just around the corner for most.
All that is except Lewis Bridger who, aboard GM machinery, seemed to revel in riding on the edge of disaster.
For a man who is supposedly more at home on the tight, slick “technical” tracks LB has been a ray of excitement in our less than stellar start to the season.
Just a handful of meetings into his Bandits’ career Lewis already has the makings of an outstanding Shielfield highlights reel in the Tapes Up Productions can but his cutback off turn two in heat 15 – making best use of the grass on The Ducket wing since the heyday of Peter Davidson – will take some beating.
There’s now a two week hiatus at Shielfield before Peterborough become the next team between Bandits and opening their league account.
One thing about this season – it certainly isn’t following a predictable script – dare you miss the next instalment?