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George Dodds's picture

44 years.
That’s how long I waited to see the Bandits win at Brough Park.
Let’s just underline that. Twice. In green ink. With shocked emojis. Hundreds of exclamation points after it.
What I’m saying is that before any of the current Bandits’ riders – or even his dad in one case – management or owners or most of the mechanics were even born I’ve been trekking down the A1 – or from South Yorkshire, London, Manchester depending on my working life. Each time convinced that “this was going to be the night”. Each time it wasn’t.
An odyssey which began on April 14, 1975, a 34-44 Knockout Cup defeat, and was repeated 34 more times.
And ended on April 7, 2019 in the Championship Shield.
Many felt my pain – some suffered it worse.
Those who stayed closer to their roots enjoyed some success in the late 1980s and 1990s – indeed Messrs Grant and Courtney orchestrated an even bigger win for the Bandits on Tyneside and fellow blogger (blogeague?) Dick Barrie highlighted a couple of wins pre-Millenium in his excellent programme article last Saturday.
But I wasn’t there and Bandits’ wins remained extremely rare. A bit like Giant Pandas … I knew that they were real but had never actually tickled their fluffy ears myself.
Now I have – tasted victory that is, the panda thing remains a strange fantasy – and the ruthlessness with which it was achieved was quite breathtaking.
It won’t be another 45 year wait – which at my age is just as well. We’re back in five weeks on KO Cup duty.
Once again Aaron was awesome around Brough Park and NBJ was only denied his first British maximum by getting baulked on the first turn of his opening ride on a track where passing was absolutely impossible.
King Kev was King Kev, Leon did his job away from home by twice relegating counterpart Danny Phillips to the rear, Jye twice jetted from the gate and won the race that referee Michael Breckon didn’t call back and Dany … well Dany probably didn’t enjoy this trip to funny, rundown Byker any more than the previous ones.
And then there was Coty. What can you say about our returning Matador? He’d looked steady in The Bordernapolis and again at Shielfield on Saturday but he took one race to get the measure of the weirdest shaped track in speedway and then put his gating gloves on.
Team manager Gary Flint was another who played a blinder – from the moment, earlier in the week, when the teams were announced and we saw that he had split the pairing of Aaron and Kev for Brough to spread the load among our in-form big three. And when Coty gave notice of his intent Gary was quick to utilise his trump card. Changes were swift and decisive – and paid off. He still went for the jugular in heat 14, pushing for maximum points. Excellent.
It was great to watch on the freezing terraces. “Walking in a Fossway wonderland” is pushing it a bit but there were also calls to “Tear down the (Byker) Wall” and a chorus of “Lights-out Newcastle” ... a kind of homage to the final, final, final, final, final farewell tour currently being undertaken by UFO, another obsession of mine from the late-70s.
Sorry about that … but, as I said at the start, it’s been a while coming and I was really, really, really chuffed!
That’s three successive away wins – albeit spanning two seasons – for the Bandits. Unimaginable bounty and Ashfield to come on Friday night.
With hindsight we should have known it was coming because the night before at Shielfield it had been a case of Stevie Worrall against the Bandits.
Razor and his track staff worked wonders to get the meeting on at all after heavy overnight rain and the kind of miserable misty afternoon that sometimes makes Berwick look just a little less like the Utopia it is.
Three 5-1s and a 4-2 effectively decided the result of the meeting by heat four but fortunately some of the Diamonds joined their skipper out in the heavy dirt and made a match of it.
Jye and NBJ had the outside line on turn two working well while Leon again had the occupants of the posh seats on their feet as he followed Coty home in heat two.
It’s worth noting that points also went for a burton, most notably when Dany suffered a puncture at full throttle while leading and showed incredible control not only to stay upright and park it on the grass but avoid taking out any of his fellow racers and various track staff.
Meanwhile there’s been a major upgrade of the third/fourth bend scoreboard. They’ve given Hayley a stage to strut her stuff on.
At the moment it’s very much an early season work in progress … a sort of one, two, three, up on tippytoes, twist, stretch, hook number, check addition is right, plie, bow to adoring audience, repeat.
But I am reliably informed that much work is going on in dance studios with amazing new routines being honed to perfection under the watchful eye of Wayne Sleep, Christopher Dean and Ashley Banjo.
By the time the play-off final comes around expect a full light and laser production with sequins, spandex and jet packs backed by music specially commissioned from Knopfler, Martin and Courtney.
Just a note to the chaps … our Hayles prefers 5-1s early season cos it lets her keep her gloves on when she’s counting.
Which brings us to this weekend.
Berwick is one of the few towns in Britain with speedway at its heart – where the roar of bikes is the major professional attraction.
Speak to anyone at work or in the pubs and shops of the town and they will tell you that they not only know of the sport but at one time or another have been to either Shielfield or Berrington as a full blooded supporter or just for the odd night out.
Well they need to know that something very special is simmering this season. They need to know that this summer their town is being represented by a team of riders which has the ability and desire to turn the form book on its head and challenge for silverware on every front.
This is also a town where once again Liverpool football fans are coming out of the woodwork after keeping their heads down since the mid-90s.
Tell them that if they want to be glory hunters then they need to get themselves down to Shielfield on Saturday night … because that is where the glory is going to be.
Starting with Saturday. Starting with the Tigers.
Because Glasgow will bring a shedload of raucous, obsessed but friendly supporters. The atmosphere will crackle, the racing will be red hot – because it always is when these two sides meet. There's even the nearest that speedway gets to a pantomime villain!
It will be everything that is good about speedway. Shielfield will be buzzing. They will love it. They will want more.
So do everything you can, legally at least, to persuade, cajole, force, even bribe your friends, work colleagues, casual acquaintances, milkman, wives, girlfriends – although possibly not both if your life is complicated that way – through the turnstiles on Saturday.
They’ll thank you for it on Monday.
As always we start at 7pm.