George Dodds's picture

I don’t really want to go all Dolly Parton on my loyal reader(s) – maybe even a bit Gabrielle for the younger, trendier or Heinz for the obscurists amongst you – but it seems that Dreams Do Come True.
As a youngster in the all-conquering Tweedmouth West football team of the mid-1970s it seemed destiny that one day I would replace Iam McFaul or Mike Mahoney between the sticks at St James’ Park.
Or that my Sunday job as a basin-cut blonde mini-rugby battering ram at Scremerston made the possibility of becoming the new Fran Cotton or Roger Uttley equally achievable. Although Rugby Union was still a supposedly amateur game in those days so I would have to subsidise my perpetual Grand Slam captaincy and All Black domination with a weekday job as a leading barrister/ brain surgeon/ industry leader/ Prime Minister … whatever paid the bills.
Things changed subtly when I moved to Tweedmouth Middle School and crossed paths with a curly-haired youth who would go on to become a Doctor of Philosophy and one of the UK’s leading names in medical physics and oncology.
Importantly at the time Keith Langmack’s father, Tony, was also editor of the Berwick Advertiser and one of the few people I knew with access a motor vehicle; in his case one of those distinctive little blue Tweeddale Press vans whose main purpose was to deliver newspapers to the newsagents but also provided executive transport for Tony and photographer Joe Paine.
And became an unofficial limousine, ferrying a couple of pre-teens to and from various sociable activities around the town.
It was during one those journeys – often made via Kennedy’s chippie in Spittal – that Tony, who sadly died just a couple of weeks ago, planted the seeds that maybe I could make a career as a journalist.
Once those green shoots flourished it then became inevitable that one day, I would become editor of my home town’s leading publication.
Which will finally come true a week on Saturday.
In the 70s that would have been the Berwick Advertiser which, under Tony’s astute leadership, was the must-read publication which saw off opposition from The Bulletin and a couple of freesheets along the way.
It could have happened in the early 1990s the ‘Tiser management, sensibly, decided to appoint someone who knew what they were doing.
But newspapers are much different beasts nowadays with the ravages of generations brought up on the “read it for nowt on the Interweb” and executives incapable of making news generate income in the new age digital world taking their toll on circulations and staffing.
As a result, in my opinion, that makes Shielfield’s Saturday racenight magazine, our big brother The Dirt, the town’s leading publication.
… And I’m its new editor.
Hit it Dolly … “Dreams. Come. True”.
Most will be aware that Dennis McCleary has finally decided that even he cannot continue to run everything to do with professional sport in the town and is stepping back from some of his official duties at both the Bandits and Rangers this season.
He’ll still be on the microphone when the new season starts next Saturday – and be on hand to guide us through Press and Practice two nights earlier, reuniting with Steve Hayward to reprise the best presentation pairing in speedway – McWard, SteMac, ClearHay, take your pick.
But he has passed on the reigns of programme editor to a combination of yours truly and Lawrence Heppell.
I may have big feet but stepping into the shoes of a legend such as Dennis is still daunting.
Not least because DMac pretty much provided the soundtrack to many of the best days in my Berwick youth.
He was the man who announced Maury Robinson maximums, Dougie Wyer track records, Dougie Templeton tapes exclusions, welcomed us to opening night at Powderhall and kept a straight face as Mike Parker simmered to boiling point while Dave Gifford steered the Bandits to victory, He also provided The Advertiser with superb match reports and news articles.
But Dennis was not only the sound of those early summers; he led me through winter too, hailing the scoring deeds of Roddy Georgeson, Ross Mathie and Eric Tait and introducing the sublime skills of Davie Smith.
The first time we met was when Berwick Rangers decided to liven up their half-times with a primary schools’ penalty shootout.
It would be fair to say that Tweedmouth West’s goalkeeper – resplendent in replica Newcastle United top – failed to cover himself in glory, or even threaten to get as much as a fingertip to a ball during a traumatic 15 minute shootout that afternoon but I still got a kindly “hard luck lad” from Dennis as we trooped off with some heads lower than others.
It would be nearly 40 years before I met Dennis again when, adult if not entirely grown-up, I returned to Berwick having failed but thoroughly, at times overly, enjoyed my attempt at making it in the world of newspapers.
There’s always some trepidation when you meet one of your heroes –I still bear the mental scars of being very publicly ejected from a Kevin Keegan press conference during his time as Manchester City manager for the heinous crime of working for a newspaper which had questioned his tactical nous.
Of course, Dennis is the polar opposite – someone who is even nicer, more helpful, more interesting, more dedicated than you actually realised.
And, indeed, it’s not just me who is stepping into the legend’s shoes.
Gary Flint – someone whose dreams may have included becoming World Champion and has a more realistic shout than me for a place in Berwick Rugby Club’s All-time XV – replaces Den as co-promoter with Stephen Dews taking Scott Courtney’s place at the same time.
Much has changed over the Winter but those bleak speedwayless months are almost over.
Just a week and a bit of chance to go and season 52 will be with us.
Over to you Gabrielle, ramp it up Heinz, shoulders back Dolly.