George Dodds's picture

So what were you up to in your mid-teens?
For those of us for whom those years were in the black and white when hanging around the chip shop on Prior Park was the height of cool – the opportunity to perform naff tricks on a skateboard in Asda’s car park still decades away – the times have very much a-changed.
Personally I dreamed of being kidnapped into a life of rock debauchery by Siouxsie Sioux or Toyah (Clare Grogan would have sufficed) while doing just enough at school to pass the odd O-level to keep mother quiet.
Nowadays your average Berwick teenager is dreaming of making it as a professional speedway rider while looking to make his mark at both European and World level.
Actually 15-year-old Leon Flint, Kieran Douglas, 18, or Luke Ruddick – virtually a veteran at 19 who signed for Coventry’s National League side this week – are anything like your typical Berwick teenager – or those from anywhere else for that matter.
All three have chosen to dedicate themselves to a sport which is always demanding of time, finance and body and can be cruel on the physical toll it inflicts and often fails to compensate with the riches that the efforts, even of some at the top of their game, deserve.
Kieran will tell you that. At just 18 he has already had to recover from a broken back but this week he became the third local lad to put pen to paper when he signed for Buxton Hitmen.
Kieran and Leon will both be part of our junior set-up – the former invincible Border Raiders are to be known in 2018 as The Berwick Bandits Academy – and will no doubt be regulars back at Duns when the weather allows the wraps to come off our training track.
All three lads have the kind of set up on and off the track which would leave some of the international riders of the 60s and 70s gasping on their Woodbines.
For example young Master Flint will officially launch his 2018 campaign at the Black and Gold on Friday (February 9) from 7.30pm.
Entry is free and taking to the stage alongside the legendary Derek Sneddon and Bandits’ co-owner Scott Courtney will be Neil Vatcher who probably suffers less juvenile behaviour and tantrums in his role as GB Youth Coach than his other job as Speedway Control Board co-ordinator.
Over the past decade or so Vatcher has been instrumental in introducing and promoting the kind of youth and development programmes which have steered our local trio to the brink of professional speedway riders.
Suddenly we have a raft of young riders – led by Robert Lambert and Dan Bewley – who look as if they have the ability to make the step up into the international arena.
In many ways it is the most exciting group of young British talent since the 1970s when Collins, Lee, Kennett, Morton and Carter stood on the brink.
But, as always in British speedway, there is a fly in the ointment as this Winter has also seen the retirement of the likes of Liam Carr, Joe Jacobs and Tom Perry and the inability, at the time of writing, of quality young Brits such as Ellis Perks, Dan Halsey and Connor Mountain to find team places while non-British licence holders of similar, in many cases lesser, ability will be racing in two or even all three leagues.
The revival of British speedway, if it is to come, will start at the bottom with the crop of young Raiders and riders currently following in the tyretracks of Messrs Flint, Douglas and Ruddick.
With a bit of forward planning by the time they arrive then hopefully the obstructions will have been cleared and their will be a development path plotted through the National League, Championship and Premiership for young Brits talented and dedicated enough to duff up the Danes, shoulder out the Swedes and poleaxe the Poles on the World scene.