As our beloved Bandits await the call to action, I’ve been dreaming, thinking of how these past fifty-plus years have brought us so much Saturday-night pleasure, courtesy of the ever-revolving roster of club ownership.
Basically, we’ve enjoyed speedway at Berwick under seven promotions, and each of them has taken the club forward in their own way.
Firstly, the Taylors set the ball rolling – and what would Berwick-upon-Tweed be if Danny and Liz hadn’t chased their dream?
A forgotten town on one of the far coastal reaches of England, tucked away in a speedway-less world of its own. The kind of place-name you’d heard of, but knew nothing about, nor even exactly where it was.
Like Ilfracombe, Scarborough, Worthing, Great Yarmouth, Fleetwood or, er, Workington?
Instead – and thanks have to go to the Taylors – Berwick is known all over the world, friends of the black-and-gold can be found in the unlikeliest places and when I travel, everyone asks me about the Bandits.
1) All of which is due to the Taylor family. Whatever came later was always down to their startling vision of bikes in Berwick….
What did come later, a dozen years after Danny’s death and following the move to Berrington Lough, was the takeover by the Fairbairns.
2) Their contribution to the cause was a quite startling improvement in on-track results. We became a real contender under Davie’s management, slowly improving year on year until the final three seasons of his reign when we finished 6th, 5th and finally third in 1989 – the year we also won the KO Cup.
Davie’s many-reasoned decision to quit at the top brought firstly a fear of folding until the third new owner arrived, riding to the rescue like a white knight.
Now Terry Lindon wasn’t the ideal promoter in many ways, but on track his teams did the business, and of course in 1991 we won the Gold Cup, finished 5th in the big league table — and even after the implosion at the end of that term, went back to the lower league and finished runners-up!
3) Mark down Terry’s reign as an on-track success, taking the club upward and onward to never-dreamed-of heights.
The next bosses were Mike and Yvette Hope, who took on a down-in-the-doldrums scene at the Lough, steadied the ship at the lower level and – most importantly – generated the move back into town.
4) Credit the Hopes with the vision to return to, and re-model speedway at Shielfield Park. Another big step forward.
Next to take up the reins was wee Peter. Now, there are more than a few who look askance at his time in control, what with a revolving-door rider-roster, a string of unknowns (and a quick revelation as to why they were) and Peter’s penchant for “doing it on the cheap” – but all that was, to an extent, necessary.
Peter had no big-money backer, and – rightly or wrongly – seemed to prefer to keep things to himself. Yes, the Bandits ran on a shoestring, and a pretty frayed one at that, but he ran them for a full ten years while many other owners, and many other tracks would have preferred to cash in their chips and leave the game.
5) Peter Waite has to be honoured for returning us to the “second division” and then keeping the club going through tough times, keeping speedway alive in his home town. On his own terms for sure, but alive. Good on him!
When his financial situation demanded he pass the torch, it came into the hands of the Andersons and the family of Lynda Waite (later replaced by Heppy).
Well, this was an ownership which certainly continued to take up onward and upward! Suddenly, we were being talked about for the right reasons! Television news snippets, a regular club newsletter and favourable comments on our upgrades in facilities, entertainment and attendances were trickling in, right from the start.
In the first season, the track lighting on the bends – which had become a laughing-stock – was revamped, the fence renovated and everything that wasn’t moving got painted! Later, during what could be called the Anderson years, we got real – and I mean real — progress by the installation of the league’s first-ever foam fence.
As a direct result of the arrival of the foam-fence we were awarded in short order a BenFund Bonanza, three FIM events – they’re still talking about the World U-21 Final to this day – and four (count ‘em, more than anywhere else in our league) SKY-TV matches!
6) Mark up huge progress yet again, and put it down squarely to John Anderson (plus Mrs Waite and Mr Hepburn).
And so to the lads. The Courtney kids. John and Heppy, feeling the strain of continual demands on their health and wealth, passed the flame to Scott, Jamie (and, in the first year Gary Havelock, but we won’t talk about him) who brought youth, vision and bright ideas to the table.
Right away, there was the innovation of the training track at Duns. This had been started the previous season, but it was Scott Courtney — together with Gary Flint, Tamas Sike and Grant Henderson — who was to my eyes the mover and shaker, who got it up and running.
Plus, look at the marvellous continuity in the riding staff. At the end of their first season (2017) they had finished bottom of the table, yet retained five of their final seven riders for 2018. Every other club rings changes like Quasimodo used to ring bells. Mad, or what?
Well, that next year — with Aaron Summers coming on board (replacing loanee Nick Morris), they finished fifth, a whisker away from the play-offs. For 2019, it was the same story – five of the seven were retained, David Howe (36) retired and was replaced by 16-year-old Leon Flint, while Coty Garcia (24) came in for loanee Theo Pijper (38). Again, we finished fifth.
For the 2020 season that never was it was to be business as usual. Six out of seven retained, Kev Doolan (39) retiring and Kyle Bickley (18) coming in.
There has also been the widening of the circuit – a long-wanted, much-needed and eagerly-awaited refinement to racing at Shielfield. These guys mean business!
Finally, leaving possibly the best ‘til last, the promotion’s idea of their “5-1” draw, efficiently administered on their behalf by the Supporters Club. A very handy financial boost every month.
7) Thus, credit to the seventh and current ownership for all of the above – training track, team continuity while dramatically lowering the average rider-age, the track-widening and their “5-1” Draw – it’s another promotion folks, but still most definitely moving in the same direction taken by predecessors Taylor, Fairbairn, Lindon, Hope, Waite and Anderson – still onward and upward!
Want to disagree with Dick (as so many do?). He is always happy to hear from interesting people at email@example.com