600 days. More than 14400 hours. Around 860000 minutes. Roughly 51800000 seconds.
Take your pick but that’s how long it is since Craig Cook’s dive inside Jye Etheridge sparked a centre green contretemps involving – but not limited to – an odd team manager, potential father-in-law, combative referee, veteran centre green presenter and a highly-strung, overwrought furry animal.
Just shy of 9.30pm, September 7, 2019.
The last time Shielfield Park hosted team speedway.
Super Saturday was the sport at its best. A huge crowd left the old stadium buzzing from one of THE great nights in Berwick speedway’s half-century plus history. There was unanimity. We couldn’t wait to do it all over again.
Missing the playoffs then a global pandemic meant we had to … with knobs on.
600 days of team inaction.
There was some racing in the Borders – Dan Bewley crowned 2020 British Under-21 champion on a night when Leon Flint adding to his burgeoning reputation by finishing runner-up.
After some false dawns, behind-closed-doors practices in Covid secure bubbles, finally we are on the verge of being back in action. 600 days later.
In typical Berwick fashion there’s a twist in the tale.
It won’t be the world famous Bandits ending the enforced inertia but the town’s new boys on the block, the Bullets.
Unlike the night that Cookie crumbled, there won’t be a crowd cheering on Berwick against the Armadale Devils but, as with the Brit Final, a livestream audience.
Prices and a how-to guide designed to allow even idiots such as this author to access the action are in the Bandits’ TV section of this website.
With the country still in lockdown it is the only way to see both this and the reverse fixture at Armadale next Friday.
Hopes remain high that the government will be prepared to let the bodies pile up – sorry that of course should read, meticulously follow the science, and honour its roadmap for fans to return to sports stadiums from May 17.
That will translate to Shielfield channelling the memory of the legendary 1970s Four-Bs challenge when Birmingham and Belle Vue visit Berwick on May 22.
Speedway comes out of its involuntary Covid-induced coma full of fight and finally ready to hitch its wagon to the raft of up-and-coming domestic talent.
Is this how it was in 1968? I really should know the answer because, as Max Boyce used to say, “I was there”. In my defence I was only four years’ old at the parallel birth of second division speedway and the Bandits.
Rather than the minutiae of speedway combat, life then revolved around Tonka toys, dreams of being allowed to wear long trousers, money-making scams to fund the next bag of Tudor Crisps, packet of Treets or Marathon bar, the impending enrolment at primary school; all while plotting revolution, regicide and the political downfall of a buffoonish upper-class twit of a Prime Minister (plus ca change) in cahoots with fellow members the Young Communist League’s Scremerston chapter .
British speedway’s 1968 expansion was a direct response to the number of young – and not so young – men desperate to sate their desire for speed, danger and derring-do on a speedway oval.
There weren’t enough opportunities in the top league so tracks sprouted up around the country and those magnificent men and their, often misfiring, occasionally flying machines rolled up to put on a show.
Sound familiar? Not the misfires as the modern day National League hopeful has the kind of set-up which would have made the top riders of sixties and seventies look decidedly slapdash, but the need for talent to be given extra competitive opportunities.
National League racing has been something viewed from afar by those of us in the real north – Belle Vue and Buxton being the nearest tracks to Borders’ heaven.
Local lads Luke Ruddick, Kieran Douglas and young Flint’s exploits with Mildenhall, Coventry, Stoke and Belle Vue stoked interest.
But surely that was all the National League would ever be for us: happening “down south” featuring some of our lads.
Not at all. Covid allowed our owners, promoters and engine room to mull things over, crunch numbers, draw up plans.
All leading to the announcement a few weeks ago that Berwick would be joining a revamped NDL along with Armadale, Newcastle, Eastbourne, Kent, Leicester, Belle Vue and Mildenhall.
Bringing with them an intriguing mix of teen talent and slightly more mature promise, all with a distinctly local feel.
We also bagged the rights to launch the 2021 season. At Shielfield. On Saturday. At 7pm.
Obviously, the spotlight will be on our twin teen terrors Flint Junior and Kyle Bickley as they continue their path to the top.
Here, instead of being reserves with instructions to whip their counterparts with anything else a valued bonus, they shoulder the burden of leading from the front.
No problem. Both have already done the job with Belle Vue and Leon also bursting onto the scene at Birmingham.
But each of the 15 heats has six points up for grabs. A reserves’ win yields three points, the same as when the big guns clash in heats 13 and 15.
So for the Bullets to triumph the big guns need support.
Mason Watson has come a long way in a short space of time since switching from moto-x while Kieran Douglas has had to travel a long way to get the rides but now finds he can progress almost literally on his doorstep.
Ryan McDonald and Ben Rathbone have plenty of experience at this level but not many laps under their belts at “home” while Greg Blair is eager to test himself again after a fairly lengthy retirement.
The Devils have an equally impressive spearhead in Nathan Greaves and Danny Phillips while the Millar brothers will be familiar to Northern Junior League followers, Lewis having been a team-mate of McDonald in Ashfield colours. Tom Woolley made a couple of guest appearances for the Bandits in the injury-plagued 2017 season while Cumbrian George Rothery completes the opposition.
It’s been a long time but speedway’s coming home. Get them on two minutes. Racing starts at 7pm, the livestream at 6.45pm.
Don’t forget the popcorn.