George Dodds's picture

Next time someone tells you that “speedway’s not what it used to be” point them towards the 2020 SCB Premiership.
You may have thought that Sheffield’s decision to hire 42-year-old Niki Pedersen to spearhead their return to Britain’s top league was a brave move.
But on Monday night Ipswich trumped the Tigers by announcing that Jason Crump had been lured out of a decade-long retirement and will become a Witch at the age of 44.
Apparently following Leon Flint home in this Winter’s Perth internationals was enough to tempt Bristol’s fastest back onto a speedway bike in 2020.
They may be mere pups when compared to Rob Ledwith who will be doing battle with the mighty Bandits in Kent colours this summer aged 49 but their silverware collection is a little more impressive than the Londoner.
At one end of the scale Masters Flint, Bickley, Rowe, Palin and Thompson are proof that if you’re good enough you’re old enough while Pedersen, Crump and Ledwith counter with the adage that age is just a number.
There was a time when any sportsman still competing in his mid-30s was seen to be Canute-like in his or her efforts to keep Father Time at bay.
Many will point to the more “professional” approach of modern-day sportsmen towards hydration and training as the reason for longevity.
In speedway for example gone are the days when the startline presenter of yore – or Dick Barrie in Berwick’s case – was in danger of secondary smoking during the pre-meeting parade as a collection of bobble-hatted gladiators marched from the pits with a Park Drive or Woodbine dangling from their lips, fortified by a slug from a concealed hip flask.
Post-match hydration was also more likely to come in the form of a dimple tankard than an energy drink in those days.
Memory is a strange thing and has a nasty habit of playing tricks on you as the years march on.
So in the same way that with hindsight I never saw a meeting – let alone four laps – that didn’t involve all four riders passing an repassing from tapes to flag along with 10,000 other souls who packed every speedway stadium in the country week-in, week-out in the 1970s and eighties; back in the day speedway was a younger man’s game.
Which simply ignores the fact that Ivan Mauger was 39 when he won his sixth individual world title and two of the four names waiting to be inducted into the Bandits’ Hall of Fame were no spring chickens when they made their Black and Gold debuts.
Jim McMillan was 38 when he was tempted to join Berwick in 1984, 12 years after his uncle, the late Willie Templeton, aged 42 in 1972.
While Jimmy’s riding career for the Bandits was at our other home he was also integral to two of the biggest nights in Shielfield history.
In 1975, then a Hull Viking and Scotland’s number one, he faced Ivan in three match races in front of the biggest speedway crowd ever to shoehorn into the stadium.
Three years later he was back as Scottish speedway paid tribute to Oor Willie’s 25th year of racing – and again the crowds were out in force to pay tribute to the Fife man.
Fast forward 30 years and another testimonial honoured the contribution of one Kevin Doolan – proud Aussie but very much part of the fabric of modern day Berwick speedway and the nearest there has ever been to a Hall of Fame shoe-in.
And then there is the fourth leg to the top table on Saturday night – some tickets may still be available from reputable members of the Supporters Club.
Be it lapping West Maitland in the tractor for Johnnie Hoskins, taking the water bowser out at Ullevi in 1977, serving as Egon Muller’s cabaret booker or fight manager for Cami Brown, Ian Rae has, allegedly, been an integral part of every major event in speedway’s history.
Actually he’s only a few years older than me but there is no doubt who had the tougher paper round.
Team manager, youth coach, track manager, coach driver, mechanic, track guru, commercial manager raconteur, father confessor – there’s few jobs that Razor hasn’t excelled at over the years.
There’s some stories to be shared in the Black and Gold on Saturday night – some of them might even be true – in what should be a perfect way to enter the six week warning period for the 2020 season – a year when the Bandits will field one of the youngest teams in their history and National League racing returns to the real north.
Messrs Pedersen and Crump were part of the furniture before Grand Prix and Polish zloty decimated the top tier of the sport in Britain. They’re back as the green shoots of recovery begin to push through on the backs of some of the most promising young British talent since the days of Collins, Lee, Carter and Tatum.
Bring it on.