Long wait for the Monarchs

Published on 26th June 2024
Author George Dodds

Edinburgh are the next visitors to Shielfield Park – albeit not for a while.

Although four weeks is nothing really. After all we had to wait nine years for the Monarchs to visit Shielfield Park.

As a city Edinburgh has never really looked out for its speedway team.

The Monarchs’ original Marine Gardens home in Portobello never reopened after being turned into an army camp during World War II and in 1967 the city council evicted them so Meadowbank could be redeveloped to host the 1970 Commonwealth Games without as much as the offer of an alternative home. In 1995 that same band of city councillors gave the go ahead for houses to be built on Powderhall.

Decisions which sent the Monarchs into exile – across the country to Coatbridge as the sixties lost their swing and then to the salubrious surroundings of Armadale where they remain today, albeit on a year-by-year basis with the luxury of Powderhall sandwiched in between.

In between Meadowbank and Powderhall the Holy Grail was a return of bikes to the Scottish capital, or at least close to it. A number of venues were looked at – including the home of Scottish junior football club Newtongrange Victoria – about 12 miles outside the city limits.

Berwick promoters Kenny and Liz Taylor announced their intention to open the track – which had been used for training in the 1950s – and enter the Saints in the 1970 second division.

Coatbridge promoter Ian Hoskins – who had considered, and rejected, the venue when the Monarchs were initially made homeless – wasn’t keen on the potential competition and a lack of planning permission also went against the application, which was rejected by the Speedway Control Board.

Hoskins had always been niggled by the fact that many of his Edinburgh fans, especially those from East Lothian had chosen to migrate south to the newly opened Berwick rather than travel cross-country to north Lanarkshire when the Monarchs went west in 1968.

However the SCB did agree to an Open Licence, allowing the Taylors and fellow promoter Walter Elliott – aka retired former Bandits’ star “Mark Hall” – to stage a string of challenge matches.

A lack of track lighting meant that meetings were planned for the summer months.

Not surprisingly, given the connections, opening night saw the Saints take on the Bandits of Berwick – coincidentally my first taste of speedway anyway other than Shielfield.

A big barrel roofed main stand dominated the stadium, the football posts made it a home from home and the shallow terracing gave a decent view of the action. At 430 yards (390 metres) it was just a tad shorter than Shielfield Park’s quarter-miler.

Belle Vue and Rochdale’s Alan Wilkinson was named as Saints’ number one, setting the track record in the opening heat and scorching to an untroubled maximum.

Names that would become familiar to Bandits’ fans – Alistair Brady, Cinder to Shale museum creator Ian Paterson, Brian Murray, Allan Mackie and Jimmy Gallacher completed the home line up. For the Bandits, reserve Roy Williams scored ten and Mick Beaton was paid for nine as they slipped to a narrow 37-39 defeat.

The Saintly Alan Wilkinson

The crowd on opening night was a good one but for some reason – racing on Wednesday evenings and poor transport links in an era before many families could afford motor cars perhaps two of the major ones – by the time I returned, three weeks later, there were much bigger gaps in the stand.

Sheffield Cubs provided the opposition that night, Australian Bob Valentine going through the card as they won 41-37.

Reg Wilson made his second appearance of the season at Newtongrange – he had also ridden for Workington – with two of his team mates on the night, Doug Wyer and Bernie Hornby, going on to become Black and Gold favourites.

Crowds continued to drift away – a rain-off against Rochdale didn’t help – and a sparse gathering attended as the Saints drew 39-39 with Kings Lynn II, the promotion pulling the plug and it was all over by July.

Promoter Walter Elliott during his racing days alongside Colin Robertson

Three years later there was a second attempt with Glasgow bosses James Wallace and James Beaton announcing that the Edinburgh Monarchs would stage a series of Challenge matches at Newtongrange.

Doug and Willie Templeton provided a direct link to the old Meadowbank days while Allan Mackie and Mick Beaton returned from the 1970 attempt, joined by Wattie Robertson and Harry McLean.

There was also a familiar look to the programme with the main column entitled Straight Talking written by Dick Barrie who also doubled as stadium announcer.

Again the Wednesday evening meetings proved resistible to fans as Sunderland, Workington and Barrow all won tight, entertaining, matches. I was back to see Sunderland – Crazy Jack Millen, Brian Havelock and all in action but few others bothered.

July was again as far as the season went, the promotion announcing they would not be running during the holiday period of what was then still a mining community. And never re-opening.

Sometimes Monarch and Happy Face Allan Mackie is sandwiched between Charlie Benham and

Indeed it would be four more years before Edinburgh fans finally got the real Monarchs back in Edinburgh with the opening of the plush Powderhall in 1977.

The track at Newtongrange was tarmaced over and became a Mecca for stock car fans under the guidance of legendary promoter and driver Gordon McDougall.

Many a southern Formula II driver withered under pressure from the partisan Scottish crowds which packed the arena before a falling out saw McDougall switch his operations to Cowdenbeath.

The stadium closed and was bulldozed for housing in 1994, around the time that the Monarchs were once again looking for a place to call their home, eventually replacing stock cars at Armadale, in 1997.

Pictures courtesy of the John Somerville Collection
George Dodds
George Dodds

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