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George Dodds's picture

Us Brits like Aussies.
Perhaps it’s an historical thing; embarrassment that without the draconian sentences for petty crime that would make even a Daily Mail reader slightly uncomfortable Australia would be no more than a refuelling stop for those heading for the intellectual Badlands of New Zealand on a Hobbit glamping experience or penguin-watching in Antarctica.
Instead we provided the base population for a vibrant young country which, over the years, has repaid the compliment by returning hundreds of thousands of backpack wielding young men and women to Europe. Their revenge was Foster’s lager and Neighbours.
Aussie icons come in all shapes and sizes – Ned Kelly, Steve Irwin, Breaker Morant, Nicole Kidman, Wally Lewis, Rupert Murdoch, Kylie, Divinyls, Skippy. OK so in truth Aussie icons tend to come in one size – but my basic point stands – we love our little Aussies.
On the speedway track the Bandits go all the way back to Alan Paynter in our opening year to the current crop led by a King, a dark brooding number one and the man from t’other Newcastle.
Rider of the year – voted for by the fans – three years in a row. Not bad for a someone who was not exactly snowed under with options when Scott Courtney called and invited him to become a Bandit in 2017.
Edinburgh had brought him over in the first place, Redcar offered a few outings but it took Berwick to give young Jay – as he is still affectionately known by the hard of hearing among our fanbase – a place to call home.
It’s not been all plain sailing: part-time crash test dummy for Polyfoam Barriers, attempting to introduce body surfing to Shielfield’s centre green, Belle Vue joining the Monarchs in taking the Riss out of our boy. All hurdles to overcome.
And overcome them he has. Now, especially at Shielfield, he is a match for anything the Championship can throw at us with a riding style which keeps fans, and paramedics, on the edge of their seat.
I’m sure I remember Stevie Heywood mentioning at Saturday night’s End of Season extravaganza that his home average was over nine points last season – that’s some going when you consider some of the supposed big names in the paid employ of our visitors.
And of course there was that maximum in the epic season-ending double header. Against Edinburgh – but it still counts.
And so it came to pass that those who voted through this very website chose to three-peat Etheridge J as their RoY.
Despite not having access to the actual roll of honour I’m still fairly confident that this puts him right up there among Bandits’ royalty, if not out on his own.
Graham Jones, Stevie McDermott, maybe even Dave Gifford will, I am sure, have been called up on more than one occasion at the end of season bash but I would be surprised if even they made the trip three times in a row.
Those who were at Marshall Meadows in 2017 will remember Jye’s first shuffle to the mike when he mumbled a few words of heartfelt thanks, gave a self-conscious little wave to the assembled masses and sprinted back to his pint.
It was a much more confident Dragon from Down Under (copyright Rambling Roy Clarke) who took to the stage at Ord House to collect the 2018 prize with a rehearsed speech thanking all the right people and raising a laugh or two along the way.
Come 2019 he had the air of being to the manor born as MC Heywood called him forward to collect the prize – a show-stopping trophy which featured a guitar, bought, engraved and mounted by Jamie Courtney and – contrary to popular belief on the night – not one pinched from big brother and Bandits’ co-owner Scott when he wasn’t looking.
Jye’s address to his subjects in the B&G reflected the old pro that he now is as a trophy winner. The right people were thanked, the right people were bagged, there was biting satire, political comment on the state of speedway’s disciplinary procedure and – as befits an Aussie, even one who has been Twempified – one or two words which just didn’t make any sense at all.
Again I would hate to be held accountable for my fading faculties but memory suggests that in 2017 Jye also won the riders’ rider of the year as voted for by his team-mates. He hasn’t won that since which may, or may not, have some significance.
Indeed this time that title went to Leon Flint who has found a novel way of funding the investment needed to continue his stellar progress. Leon has decided to recycle clothing, accepting his award on Saturday night in a checked trouser and waistcoat ensemble first seen at his end of school prom … at Prior First School.
With Mason Watson collecting the Academy Most Improved Rider trophy it was a good night for Berwick’s young racers.
Mind you with Jye, Kev – now making personal appearances at any home in the town which leaves the toast under the grill too long, just dial 999 – and Aaron – the Supporters’ Club Rider of the Year – living just down the road this little piece of Northumberland is home from home for the international Bandits.
Dany Gapp was another to take up residence here during the summer but, unfortunately, had travelled home after the season ended and managed to miss his flight to England on Saturday. He did maintain his 100 per cent record of missing the end of season bash which surely must merit a special award for the Crown Prince of Austria when our paths next cross. Perhaps Coty Garcia will donate his trophy “won” for most retirements during the season.
And spare a thought for Thomas H Jonasson who enjoyed his brief stint as a Bandit so much that he planned to fly over and enjoy the night with team-mates. THJ got as far as landing at Edinburgh airport only to learn of a family emergency and jumped a plane straight back to Sweden.
Riders enjoy riding for Berwick, the town’s fans love adopting them as one of our own.
All it needs now is for the sport’s upcoming AGM make it possible and feasible for us to do it all again in 2020.
When one man may very be bidding for what would surely be a record-breaking four-peat of RoY titles. Before that can happen the rumour mill suggests that Jye is taking his one-man show on the road this winter with dates already booked for The Sage, SECC, Wembley Arena and The Rowan Tree, Armadale. Prepare for a song, a joke and a cheeky grin - maybe even an Aussie man dressed as a Sheila - as the Jye Etheridge Experience hits the road. Wave your gladi – available from all good florists.