George Dodds's picture

“Caring Tories”, “Sunderland rocks both as a city and a football team”, “entertainment all the way at Rye House”.
All phrases I believe will never pass my lips.
And for 31 years I was convinced that January 1986, Whitley Bay Ice Rink would be the unequivocal answer to another of life's big questions.
But hands up … it’s a fair cop guv. It turns out that October 20, 2018 is actually the date of the best live performance of Highway to Hell that I’ve ever witnessed.
Previous holders of ATGLPHTH (All-Time Greatest Live Performance of Highway To Hell) have enjoyed a good run but the baton has been passed; AC/DC must bow down at the feet of SC/JC, backed by the Balladeering Bandits and the phenomenal Huffman and Spence.
If you missed our end of season bash at Ord House Country Park on Saturday night then I strongly suggest that you take a look at Neil Stevenson’s Facebook account.
With a quality of camerawork rarely seen outside a Franco Zeffirelli masterpiece, the man who put the host into Hospitality, the fun into function and the sun into Scunthorpe captures the moment three Aussies, a Dutchman without trews and a diminutive crowd surfing Midlander answered a call to join their bosses on stage.
In many ways the subsequent four minutes: unexpected, off the cuff, raucous, in your face, entertaining, everyone playing their part to perfection, slightly barmy, disconcerting when first announced, logic defying, ultimately triumphant perfectly summed up what was Berwick Bandits 2018 and capped a special night.
It was pure enjoyment from the moment that Berwick’s Mr Entertainment, Steve Hayward, tried to split the room to avoid an elephantine rush for the carvery to the calling of last orders.
Also on Facebook check out Taz McD Photography where the good and the great are captured in their finery. It’s a cracking compilation of camerawork on a night when no-one actually had to be prompted to smile.
Much of the post-party focus has been on David Howe on-stage retirement speech which brought a lump to the throat of the crustiest of observers.
Despite coming just two days after one of those “in-the-know” keyboard warriors had confidently announced The Phoenix as Sheffield’s first signing for 2019 on the British Speedway Forum, it wasn’t entirely a bolt from the blue and I think it would be fair to say that over the past two seasons Berwick and David Howe have been the perfect fit for each other.
Anyone writing a piece on David’s farewell is contractually obliged to include the information that during what turned out to be his farewell appearance in the Bordernapolis David Howe not only beat, but out-gated, Jye Etheridge.
Contracts are sacrosanct and unbreakable.
It feels as if Ian Rae and Jean Foster have been vital elements of the Bandits’ DNA since before David was born and even on a night when generally it is the riders that take centre stage there was still time to honour two people who do so much behind the scenes that is time consuming and unglamorous but every bit as important as those risking it all on-track with lifetime achievement awards.
Well nigh unbeatable, the Bandits’ Academy brought their silverware along for all to admire. When you see them all kitted out in kevlars and helmets, throwing their machines high up the banking at speed it is sometimes easy to forget how young this lot are.
The fact that some of them had to be called in from the outdoor climbing frames and soft play area at Ord to be grilled and receive their mementos by Mr Hayward was a reminder of their tender years.
Fittingly the Young Rider of the Year award was shared by each and every one who pulled on the Academy colours. It’s not just the senior team that smells like team spirit.
Steve H elicited the best line of the night when he asked Theo Pijper what his best moment of 2018 was. Quick as a flash came the reply: “Being sacked by Redcar”.
Being voted Riders’ Rider of the Year gives some idea of how well Theo grasped the opportunity offered hours later to replace John Lindman in the Black and Gold, his end of season form in particular being one of the factors behind our late season push for the playoffs.
He also won the Dirt Xtra award for Best Dutchman in a Kilt, although speculation abounds that it is all a Baldrick-like cunning plan to claim the place in next year’s Grand Prix series rumoured to be reserved for anyone with a viable claim to be Scotland’s Number 1.
I believe that a deedpoll application is currently being considered personally by Theresa May and if Tam McPijper appears in next season's GPs remember you read it here first.
And so to the Big One – the 2018 Berwick Bandits Rider of the Year and it was no surprise that in a season where all seven riders shared responsibility for points’-scoring you could have thrown a racejacket over the results of the online fans’ poll.
After independent scrutiny it was officially announced that Jye Etheridge had retained the title he first won in 2017.
If you were in any doubt of just how far the boy from the other Newcastle has come then compare and contrast.
In 2017 he mumbled a few words of genuine, heartfelt but rather shy thanks before scurrying back to his pint.
Just 12 months later Jye commanded the stage with a sense of swagger and the sort of comedic timing which suggests Adam Hills and Wil Anderson should not rest too easily on their laurels.
At this point I am contractually obliged to inform readers that David Howe out-gated and defeated Jye Etheridge the last time they raced.
Rumours reach me that young Master E is already rehearsing with jugglers, three members of Cirque Du Sole, the remaining Chuckle Brother and a Superfluity of Barry Humphries lookalike nuns to prepare a suitable 2019 stage show in the event that he Three-peats.
Back in 1986 night two of AC/DC’s residency at Hillheads was cut short when sonic cannons used during For Those About to Rock … damaged polystyrene tiles at the ice rink.
Rather like the Bandits throughout 2018 and one last time on Saturday night, they brought the house down!