1 October 2023
The Dirt Xtra
The more things change, the more they stay the same, or so…
At this time of year all the magazines, podcasts, streaming service providers, forum fannies and, yes, bloggers are besotted by a burning need to preview the coming season.
We read their interesting, informed, influenced and inspirational prognostications with attentive curiosity and either nod or shake our heads.
Then we go to the first meetings and watch their forecasts being turned upside down. Every year!
So, instead of peering forward into the future, and not being named either McFly or Brown, I’m spending my next 500-odd words on looking back.
Answering again the questions I am regularly asked in the Black & Gold late on Saturday evenings by folk who ply me with strong drink and (correctly) believe that such kindness gives them the right to sip from my fountain of memories…….
Question #1: Who was the best-ever Bandit? In terms of ability and achievement that has to be Jimmy Nilsen. Our 1991 superstar was the World’s No 2 in 1998, and finished in the top five in six other seasons. He joined us as No 5 in the world (just think about that!) and finished in the same position at the end of that memorable season. He was also the fastest-ever man around Berrington Lough. Others have done very well, but Jimmy was the best. End of.
Question #2: Who have been the unluckiest Bandits? I’ll give you six. Riders struck down by life-changing injuries while wearing black-and-gold. In no particular order. Carlos Villar flared across our radar for 34 matches before the crash which has left him wheelchair-bound. Mikael Blixt raced only three times (during which he took a Saturday off to ride in the 1991 World Final — he was that good) before a terrifying accident in the Gold Cup Final damaged his hand so badly he could never race again. Seb Alden became a hero in just 74 outings, but a broken neck at Sheffield ended his career. Jim Beaton was a sixteen-year-old prodigy we watched doing impossibly-graceful things in the early ‘70s for 41 meetings, but suffered horrible damage to his right arm in a 1972 Shielfield smash – not of his own making – and robbed speedway of a talent never restored. Plus the two great ones who can never race again after shockingly touch-and-go injuries at Scunthorpe and Edinburgh respectively – Ricky Ashworth and Adrian Rymel. Every one unlucky, and we thank them for their service.
Question #3: Who were the craziest Bandits? The kooks, the ones who could light up the crowd off, as well as on our track? Well, one man’s fool is the next man’s hero, and opinions may vary, but I always appreciated the antics and personality of nutters such as Kozza Smith, Rob Woffinden, Kevin Doolan, Rob Grant and of course, Jack Millen, each for far more than the points they brought to the party. With party being a truly-appropriate word……
Question #4: Which Bandit was the biggest disappointment? Charlie Gjedde.
Question #5: Who was the best team man? The Bandit who contributed more than just points to the cause? This one’s an easy answer – the greatest Bandit of them all – Rob Grant. The ‘Woolly Bully’ raced in 418 matches for Berwick and in 1,737 races never, ever gave anything but his best efforts. Rob totalled 2,724 points – 438 bonus – and served our club for fifteen seasons. No-one has come close, and – here I go with a prediction, despite saying I wasn’t in the forecasting business – no-one ever will.
Want to disagree with Dick (as so many do)? He is always happy to hear from interesting people on firstname.lastname@example.org