George Dodds's picture

“You’re box office”.
I must admit that when Jamie C uttered the words I was a little taken aback.
Up until this point I had assumed that responsibility for bringing the Berwick public sprinting to the Shielfield turnstiles on a Saturday night had been placed in the capable hands of those twins of brooding cool Summers and Busk Jacobsen, The King, Our Lad Flint, El Coty, The Dragon and Austria’s undisputed number one bingo player.
But no. Finally, almost five decades after it first seemed possible (Berwick Schoolboys, East of Scotland Champions, 1974) I was apparently being called to lead my home town into battle.
What did the grand controller have in mind?
Did he wish me to invoke the spirit of Braveheart, Henry V, Jock Wallace or JFK to fire the boys up for the battles ahead? Was it the fans he wanted me to gee-up?
Perhaps I could guide them through the works of Jorie Graham, lead H Bar discussions on dissecting Descartes, perform extracts from my, scandalously as yet unpublished, metrical composition Ethereal Eastcliffe Enchante (the critically acclaimed follow-up to the equally evocative Prior Park Prescience), celebrate Britney Spears’ contribution to world peace, harmony and red latex jumpsuits.
Presumably I was to be the warm-up act before throwing the night over to speedway’s foremost presentational boy band, McLayward.
No wonder JC was a little confused by my reaction because it turns out that he wants me to man the box office at Shielfield’s main entrance on race nights – one of a number of innovative off-track initiatives unveiled as The Bordernapolis brought speedway roaring back to the Borders last Saturday night.
As the crowds built up at the turnstiles the record-breaking number of those who had taken advantage of our ultra-competitive season pass offer collected their copy of The Dirt! (included in the price) and sashayed through their bespoke admission gate.
Now you don’t need to be Hypatia or Terry Tao to work out that, even with one meeting under our belts, buying a £238 season’s pass still offers a saving of £41 over the next 14 meetings. If you’re over 65, a student or disabled then it’s a £45 saving for a £182 investment.
Buy them on this site and you can give me a cheery wave as you collect your programme from the box office – the number of digits employed is entirely at the customer’s discretion.
My new posting means that Saturday’s are no longer spent in The Ducket Bistro and Bar – stewardship of said Michelin-mentioned establishment now passing into the hands of Helen Dumble, a doyen of Shielfield burger vans over the years.
Perhaps with the change of stewardship should come a new name … Helen’s Hot Stuff (and cold drinks, crisps and sweeties) perhaps. Elsewhere Tushie continues to put the Howay into H Bar and just through the turnstiles it was a case of back to the future.
Forget The Beatles, the Fab Four on opening night was Jackie’s group of fryers, flippers and servers who made sure that a pile of Anderson’s best burgers and scotch pies found its way into hundreds of environmentally friendly cardboard cartons in the new(old) tea-bar at the back of turn one.
Unlike the Merseyside Mop-Tops it turns out that this particular quartet was not averse to getting back together as Jackie, Margaret, Fiona and Susan previously served, with much distinction, at Berrington Lough. As always they were perfectly in harmony as they embarked on their much-anticipated reunion tour.
A rumour has reached me that it that the ladies are off to Catterick midweek for some SAS-led training to ensure that they at peak fitness for the visit of Newcastle – although the speed with which they served the queues on Saturday means that it will probably be them putting Hereford’s finest through their paces.
A bit of foresight from centre green man Hayward would have seen him invest in two of the tea-bar’s popular new baked potato range, enjoying a delicious choice of toppings before slipping the skins into his gloves to beat off the dropping temperatures.
John’s neighbouring club shop also did a brisk trade, benefiting from the hamburger-driven natural central heating while the midweek efforts to replace wiring first installed by one of Hadrian’s dodgiest electricians meant that the Shielfield PA system was clearly heard on both sets of bends for the first time in many a year.
These are all small things introduced to make the experience of speedway’s most vital element – the paying customer – the best value for money possible.
But, of course, it is what happens on the other side of the safety fence which really matters. And there can be few complaints about the quality of the racing served up by the Bordernapolis.
Having spent the previous evening at Ord House, reportedly taking part serious bonding over bingo, general knowledge quizzes and lashings of ginger beer, all seven of the Bandits looked sharp, determined and fast. Each one had at least one heat win under their belts by the end of the night.
Leon Flint’s heat 12 win – his first in senior speedway – brought the house down while the man he beat, Jye Etheridge, did his best to bring the second bend bouncy castle down after the chequered flag.
A number of highly competitive of dashes for the line reminded riders and spectators alike that every metre of the four laps counts at Shielfield.
Coty put down a marker that he has eyes on a place in the body of the team; Aaron – who is now a Panther as well as a Bandit – looked both hyper-cool and extremely fast, NBJ gave his new pits’ pixie a thorough workout, adding rapid inner tube changing to his job spec, Theo and young Aussie Josh MacDonald served notice that they are ready and willing if any of the 20-odd Championship reserves struggle too much in the opening encounters while Kyle Bickley and Luke Ruddick underlined the fact that Flint is not the only surname entered in the “exciting young British talent” category at the moment.
And then there is Kevin. The King. Top Dog. The Master. Numero Uno.
Take your pick.
He must have been one of a handful of people inside Shielfield who didn’t think that the Bordernapolis number one plate was heading down the A1 to the Summers’ abode.
We should have know better that in his mind there is only one way to race Shielfield – throttle open, up the banking, racing blinkers on.
A great final, a popular winner, a tremendous centre green Prosecco battle between the top three – Bandits’ all. The perfect end to a great opening night. New club photographer Taz McDougall captured it all in glorious colour and stayed up until the wee small hours to ensure that the results of her endeavours made it onto Facebook in record time.
It all left us desperate to do it all again.
And, thankfully, we can in just a couple of day’s time as the Diamonds travel north on Saturday, 7pm, and we travel to funny, rundown Byker 23-and-a-half hours later.
Matty Wethers got a look at Shielfield on Saturday, underlining his status as a serial Bordernapolis finalist but when he reported back to his Black and White chums the following night there must have been more than a few ripples of fear.
However, any team with Stevie Worrall, Lasse Bjerre, Thomas Jorgensen and Simon Lambert – in addition to Stormy – will be a handful at Shielfield.
But I have to say that I have just a sneaky feeling that this weekend is going to be the start of something just a little bit special.
It will, indeed, be real box office.
See you at 7.