Sinking feeling on the road at Nelson

Published on 9th July 2024
Author George Dodds
Nelson action as Colin Robertson and Roy Williams are captured at Seedhill in 1968 

Focus might be firmly on the National Speedway Stadium this week – and for some on Dortmund – but it’s just eight days until the Jewson Bandits, powered by Keenwood Karpets emerge from their mid-season chrysalis.

Edinburgh bring the bikes back to Shielfield next Saturday but before then the Bandits are on their travels – to Oxford on Wednesday and then Armadale in front of the BSN cameras on Friday.

No-one would ever question the commitment of those in the black and yellow but it would be fair to say that the Bandits’ away form has been “patchy” to say the least over the years.

That was especially so in the first couple of seasons. And even when they did win on the track victory was snatched – months later – from them by the grey men in smoke-filled committee room.

There had been a 40-37 challenge match victory against a Coatbridge Kings’ scratch side featuring young Scottish talent such as Alistair Brady, Bobby Beaton and Bill Maxwell in September 1968 but the Bandits were still searching for their first league points when they headed to Lancashire in July 1969.

Despite the successful recruitment of Maury Robinson to replace broken leg victim Lex Milloy, Berwick had made a wretched start to their second season and had won just six of their first 16 meetings when they arrived at Nelson’s Seedhill Stadium.

In an effort to improve matters the Berwick management had recruited Peter Kelly from First Division Newcastle. Kelly initially made his name with Belle Vue in the mid-1960s before moving to Newcastle but had suffered a broken skull in a crash at Hackney in 1967.

He made a successful comeback with the Diamonds but found himself at odds with the Brough Park management and signed for the Bandits.

Kelly made his Berwick debut at the stadium which had staged professional league football – Nelson AFC were in the Third Division North between 1921 and 1932 – and was a well-supported stock car stadium, run by the volatile Mike Parker.

Kelly made an immediate impact as, trademark white silk scarf flowing, he won his first two races in Bandits’ colours and ended the evening with eight points to his name.

With Mark Hall scoring ten, Roy Williams 8+3 and Robinson 7½+1 – including a dead heat with the Admirals’ Alan Knapkin – the Bandits had finally broken their away duck, winning 42½-34½; or so it seemed.

Peter Kelly team-riding with Bobby Campbell

Kelly settled in well and the Bandits were suddenly very competitive on the road, losing by just two points at Ipswich on their next away day and winning 44-34 at Plymouth – Kelly scoring a paid maximum.

July just got better and better as the Bandits brought a point home from Cleveland Park following a 39-all draw with Tees-side. It could have been more but two falls from Kelly and engine problems for Brian Black allowed Terry Lee and Dave Durham to salvage a share of the spoils for the Tees-siders.

They lost by a point at Doncaster, the Stallions including Sheffield loanee Doug Wyer at reserve that day and were only eight adrift at Reading’s Tilehurst Stadium.

In full flow at Ipswich

But then came the news that the win at Nelson had been take away by the powers’ that be.

It seemed that Kelly’s dispute with Newcastle had not been resolved by the time that he rode at Nelson, the Diamonds management had not released the necessary paperwork and so the Speedway Control Board ruled him ineligible to ride.

As a result Peter’s points were struck from the record with the riders who had finished behind him having their results upgraded; the new scorecard reading Nelson 39½-37½.

Kelly finished his first season with a healthy average just under eight points from his 14 outings – three maximums being added to the paid full house against Plymouth.

Even with his efforts the Bandits still finished 14th in the 16-strong league with nine wins from 30 meetings.

Kelly remained a good heat leader back-up to Robinson in 1970, again averaging over seven points, but his scoring took a dip in the 1971 to a little under six points a match in what was to be his last season as a rider.

On parade at Shielfield with Andy Meldrum

However, he still played a vital role as, with Wyer and Robinson getting great support from Alistair Brady, Andy Meldrum, Bobby Campbell and Alan Paynter, the Bandits had an incredible season which saw them win all their home meetings but fail to collect even a solitary point away from Shielfield.

In all Peter Kelly would ride 68 times for the Bandits over a three year period, later emigrating to New Zealand where he died, aged 87, last year.

Track problems in 1970 saw Middlesbrough skipper Tom Leadbitter lead a walkout when the Tees-siders visited Nelson in June, the meeting being abandoned after five heats. Instead of addressing the issue the promotion decided instead to up sticks and move the team 30 miles away to Bradford instead.

Stock-cars continued to draw big crowds until Seedhill was compulsorily purchased and demolished to make way for the M65 in 1979.

PICTURES COURTESY JOHN SOMERVILLE COLLECTION
George Dodds
George Dodds

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