Cameras roll for a new breed of local hero

Published on 2nd May 2021
Author George Dodds

It had to be a good omen. Saturday lunchtime, Film4. Local Hero.

Not Bill Forsyth’s best film by any stretch – tepid compared to Gregory’s Girl or That Sinking Feeling, unfavourable comparisons with Comfort and Joy for that matter. And, unforgivably, no Clare Grogan

A film remembered mostly for its music, composed by Dire Straits’ Mark Knopfler.

Supporters who stay put after the Shielfield main event;  supporting the Northern Junior league or trying to identify who’s having a crafty practice session are familiar with the best bit of the score.

Sometime around 9.30pm DMac declares a meeting officially closed and the soaring strains of Going Home (Theme from Local Hero) ends proceedings for another Saturday.

1983 that film came out. I was starting my first job. Most of those responsible for bringing British speedway out of its Covid-induced coma last night – including club owners and management – barely a twinkle in their parents’ eyes.

As it happens the Bullets have their own musical playlist on one of those young person thingy sites called Spotify. An eclectic mix where Guns n Roses, Roy Orbison, Foo Fighters and Arctic Monkeys rub shoulders with Sam Fender, DJ Snake, Catfish and the Bottlemen.

And, for some inexplicable reason, Michael Buble. But no Knopfler. No Local Hero. Tsk.

Forsyth also scripted his own films. Smart, clever, with a wry eye for the witty while remaining edgy. He’d have loved Saturday night’s storyline.

Live and exclusive on laptops, smartphones, TVs and other streaming devices around the world the Berwick Bullets faced the Armadale Devils at Shielfield Park.

The opening segment act of BAFTA-contending British Speedway: Bangin Back saw Berwick boy Leon Flint roar to heat one victory, the fastest thing, legally at least, on two wheels from Highfields, Mason Watson, take the heat two chequered flag and Duns/Jedburgh’s Greg Blair race three.

You don’t get much more local; for that matter more heroic, than that.

Mr Blair is an interesting character at a time when the sport does earnest, professional and focussed to perfection but perhaps less of the WTF characters whose bygone tales are still the stuff of legends.

Greg appeared in Bandits colours, among others, over a decade ago before drifting into retirement. An era that I was MIA from speedway but when the Bullets’ line-up was announced vaguely reliable sources pointed me in his direction.

You’ll enjoy Greg Blair they told me. There’s always something happening when he’s on-track – not always in a good way  but never dull – they added. A bit like Jye Etheridge … only with better hair.

Turns out he’s quite something off-track too and one of the challenges of the 2021 season will be for Steve Hayward, Scott Frame or Dick Barrie to grab a “quick” word with him.

Under the Courtney/Flint/Dews management axis of the past few years the Championship Bandits have consistently punched above their weight, success often attributed to a crackling team spirit. A place where successes are celebrated together, problems addressed and tackled collectively. A team rather than seven individuals in a common racejacket.

That ethos has migrated to the Bullets’ camp. Watson had Bandits’ skipper Aaron Summers spannering and doping for him, the traditional Berwick pits’ gate welcoming committee was on-hand to celebrate triumph and commiserate misfortune.

When Ben Rathbone’s machine refused to fire on the way to tapes the home pits sprung into action and delivered Ryan McDonald’s bike.  A paid second place later it was all hands on deck again to beat the two minutes for the next race with its actual owner aboard.

Ryan’s reward came in heat eight as he became one of five different Bullets’ heat winners on the night.

Another local hero, Kieran Douglas, showed that he bought into the David Howe book of eye-catching celebrations with a fist-pumping effort after his successful drag race to the line against Lewis Millar.

It didn’t all go according to script. The fast and stylish Rathbone had a challenging night as he continues to come to terms with a new home track which remains a mystery while Flint – despite dropping just one point – was hampered by a back injury and passed on the nominated riders’ heat. Which allowed Blair to cap his memorable comeback by a heat 15 appearance.

And the visitors? In the early exchanges, their only luck was bad.

Gregor Millar looped alarmingly at the gate in heat two and a combination of landing flush on his back and the machine returning to earth amidships meant a painful trip in the ambulance. Not to mention an extreme John Wayne gait around the pits.

Once again the not inconsiderable cost of employing two paramedics at Berwick home meetings paid off as the action continued while young Gregor was treated in one of the two ambulances available.

Fellow reserve George Rothery –  whose tasselled racesuit took those of my age back to the days of Doug Wyer and Colin Farquharson, or linedancing nights at  Northern View – fell awkwardly in heat four but picked himself up and went on to be the star of the night for the Devils, working his socks off with 11+2 from seven rides.

Note to self. One to watch as the season progresses.

Nathan Greaves threw a comfortable race win away by falling when he seemed set to inflict the first defeat of the night on Kyle Bickley and there was intermittent support from Tom Wooley and Danny Phillips, who holds the NDL track record, needing a time of 67.3 to inflict Flint’s only defeat of the night.

But it was Rothery who kept the Devils in the hunt on a night when it felt that the Bullets won far more comfortably than a ten point final margin suggests.

Many on show were having their first competitive hit out in almost two years so traditional first match rustiness was amplified to the nth degree. Both individual performances and the newly configured track will settle and – from both – there is a promise of much to come.

More to the point it was a pleasure to once again be picking bits of shale out of what is left of the hair until the early hours of the morning, watching it all again via Bandits’ TV having taken the precaution of buying at the early bird price – the quid saved will pay to have my jacket professionally laundered.

The only downside is that there was no main stand crowd brought to its feet by the heroics of Flint, Watson and Douglas, no Ducket contingent to roar home Bickley and McDonald, no third bend posse to offer backing to Rathbone and no sharp intake of breath every time Blair drove hard into the bend.

That will come.

As will the, again crowdless, reverse fixture at Armadale on Friday night, GB Young Lions’ GHT Speedway Training Academy@Duns MX weekender and the Bandits’ Saturday night press and practice.

British speedway’s back with a bang. What’s that you say Coco? 94 don’t need no brakes yeah. Too true girl.

George Dodds
George Dodds

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