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Book Extract: Booey - Around in Circles

Once again we've teamed up with our friends at publishers Retro Speedway to bring you an interesting extract from the new Eric Boocock book - BOOEY: Around in Circles.

One of speedway's greatest servants as rider, team manager and promoter, Eric has recently been re-appointed as Belle Vue's team manager following the buy-out by Chris Morton and David Gordon.

Eric is delighted to be going back to Belle Vue. But in this extract from the book, Booey recalls his acrimonious departure from the old Hyde Road set-up in 1982....

You can order BOOEY: Around in Circles for £15.99 post-free in the UK by clicking here.


HAVING Chris Morton and Peter Collins leading the Aces was a team manager's dream. Mort was in PC's shadow much of the time, which was a shame because anywhere else he would have been an outstanding No.1. His contribution was absolutely enormous and to have him in a team with PC was a dream.

I never rated Chris any less highly than I rated Peter. They were both my No1 and, if ever you needed two boys to pull a 5-1 out of the bag when the chips were down, they were the pair to do it.

Mort was dyed-in-the-wool Belle Vue and a great team member. The deal he was on wasn't good - neither was PC's because in those days nobody was on a good deal - but he just wanted to ride for the Aces. If you said the wrong thing to Mort he would bite and respond, but that didn't work with PC. If you wanted to get Peter going you would have to ask him questions like: "Is your bike OK tonight?" or "Have you lost some compression?" Talking to him like that, and making him think, could really have an effect.

That is a part of trying to build a successful team - all the riders are different and respond in different ways. Some would want a shoulder to cry on, others would want a kick up the arse!

In 1981, however, the dynamic duo looked like they had ridden their last meeting together in Belle Vue colours. At the very end of 1980, PC crashed heavily in the KO Cup final at Cradley and damaged his shoulder really badly. He managed just a handful of meetings the following year and then announced his retirement.

Eric Boocock with Peter Collins in Booey's original seven-year spell as Belle Vue team boss.

He was back in 1982, but he was certainly serious about calling it quits. Even today we haven't got to the bottom of how that cup final was given the go-ahead to take place. It was right at the end of the season so the weather wasn't so good and on the morning of the meeting I had a call from Cradley to say the meeting was off because the track was too bad.

I then phoned our riders and passed on the news. Then, at about one o'clock, I had another phone call to say the meeting was back on. I wasn't happy because I had already told everyone the meeting was off but there were no spare dates and it was right at the end of the season, so I agreed to ring round all the riders and tell them it was back on. Unfortunately, one of them had made alternative arrangements and couldn't make it so I had no alternative but to go with a weakened team.

If I knew then what I know now I would have refused, but I was trying to be sporting and doing what I thought was best for speedway. When we got there the Dudley Wood track was terrible and PC crashed heavily, injuring his shoulder. In fact he did it so badly that it's still not right today.

What we still can't get an answer to, even to this day, is who authorised the meeting to be called off? And, more to the point, who authorised it to be back on again once it had already been called off? It shouldn't have gone ahead - the conditions were terrible and, in hindsight, I realised I should have been firm and refused to go. Just to add insult to PC's injury, Cradley won the cup.

Peter declared that he wouldn't be able to ride the following year and announced his retirement, although he subsequently made a comeback when he felt fit enough - and went on to reach another World Final. But when he told me to plan the team without him, it left me with the difficult task of replacing him. How on earth do you replace Peter Collins?

The rider I chose to take his place - probably the only option at the time, to be honest - was New Zealand star Larry Ross, who we bought from Wimbledon for £18,000. He had always gone well at Belle Vue and was looking for a move, so I spoke to Jack Fearnley and a deal was struck. Everything was signed, sealed and delivered, and Larry was all set to make his debut at Belle Vue the following Saturday.

The only thing we didn't have was £18,000! Jack had to go down on the train from Manchester to London to meet the directors of Trust House Forte to ask them to sanction the spending of £18,000 - little did they know that the contracts had already been signed and that we had effectively spent the money before we had even got it! Jack was very nervous because the club could easily have folded if they had turned down our request for the money to buy a new No.1. Fortunately they agreed and Larry turned out to be a good signing. He was easy going and got on with his job - I enjoyed having him there.

By this time I was also a member of the BSPA management committee. It was amazing to think that, when I had first switched to the other side of the fence I was made unwelcome and seen as a man who was suddenly going to start riding again after a couple of seasons, knowing all the secrets of the BSPA's inner sanctum. Then they realised I wasn't as bad as they first feared I might be and invited me to serve on their management committee. I stayed on the management committee for a number of years and I did so because I wanted to do what I thought was best for the sport. If you are going to change anything, you need to be in a position where your views can be heard.

It was quite an honour to be voted on and in a few short years I had gone from being a rider to team manager, to co-promoter and now management committee member. But my time at Belle Vue was running out.

There had been rumours that THF wanted to sell Belle Vue for some time and Stuart Bamforth emerged as a prospective buyer. There were other suitors but both Jack and I felt that Bamforth was the best option. He had been world stock car champion, which may not be the greatest accolade, but it showed he had been involved in sport and was successful at a high level.

Jack and I knew more about Belle Vue Speedway than anyone at THF headquarters in London - we had all the gate figures, programme sales and everything else from every meeting we had run there. Jack gave them to Bamforth quite openly so that he knew what he was letting himself in for and, to be fair, THF London hadn't a clue about speedway, only the Belle Vue Zoological Gardens operation as a whole.

In November of that year the deal went through. Everyone who worked for Belle Vue was actually made redundant by THF because Bamforth didn't want to get involved in any of the pay-offs, but Roy Carter and I were both employed by him straight away in our existing jobs so we were never out of work.

My job throughout the winter was to deal with season ticket sales and get on with all the usual close season jobs. But throughout that time I hardly heard from Bamforth at all. Whenever he phoned he was very abrupt and straight to the point. If a conversation could last a minute it would last a minute, not 65 seconds.

He never asked me how things were going, whether we had sold many season tickets, if I wanted a hand with anything - nothing at all. If I had been in his position I would have been so grateful that someone was doing the spadework and want to know how things were progressing, but Bammy was too busy selling scrap from his yard to raise the money for his Belle Vue purchase.

My first suspicions that my working relationship with Bamforth would not be a good one came after he asked me to build up three bikes over the winter while he decided which riders would be on which deals. I still had the shop with Diane so it wasn't a problem for me to do that of an evening. It was fine . . . until I gave him the bill.

He turned very nasty and demanded to know where I thought he was going to get that sort of money from. I told him straight - I didn't care. He had placed the order with me and I had spent my own money on buying the parts to build the bikes up - surely it was only fair that he paid me what I was owed. Eventually, about three or four weeks later, he paid me, and only then did he get the bikes.

I found Stuart Bamforth difficult to talk to and our relationship soon deteriorated further. I used to write up all my own programme notes and, as the start of the 1982 season approached, I took my contribution for the first meeting into his office, which was in one of two cabins we had at the track. He was in there with some of his workers eating lunch and, no sooner had I given him the notes than someone had knocked soup all over them.

"Never mind," said Bamforth, "you can write them again." This annoyed me because there wasn't a hint of an apology and a complete disregard for the time and effort it would take for me to type them up a second time.

The final straw came on the night of the opening meeting. Bamforth decided that he didn't want any freeloaders getting in to meetings for nothing so he made virtually everybody pay to get in - the St John Ambulance Brigade included. Taffy Owen had the track shop and, even though he paid a rent to be there, he had to pay too. He ended up passing money through the fence to the St John people so that they could get into the stadium.

I'd seen a system in Australia where everyone, even the competitors, had to pay at the gate but, once you had signed in at the office, you got your money back. It's a great foolproof system to clamp down on people getting in for nothing when they shouldn't and you can't knock it. Bamforth wanted to apply the same principle - only he didn't tell anyone what he was planning to do and the first they knew of it was when they arrived at the stadium for the opening meeting of the season.

He banned all NUJ passes so respected national newspaper journalists like Richard Frost and Dick Bott, who had given Belle Vue such good - and free - publicity, had to pay to get in and do their job. He upset so many people that night, I couldn't believe it. We had always worn a collar and tie on the centre green during meetings, but there he was in a check fleece, jeans and boots smoking a big, long cigar.

That was when I realised I'd had enough. I had just enjoyed seven fantastic seasons and I simply didn't want to put up with it. So after the meeting, when it had quietened down a bit, I went over to see him in his office. I said to him: "Stuart, you have fulfilled your ambition by buying Belle Vue Speedway but after one meeting it's plain to see that me and you are chalk and cheese. We're not going to get on."

He was the boss so things weren't going to change. It was never going to get any better for me so I told him I was leaving with immediate effect. The only thing I wanted out of my office was my England file so I went across, picked it up, and walked out. It was a poor end to a lovely relationship with Belle Vue. It was 38 miles there and 38 miles back but I absolutely loved going to work there and I could quite happily have gone in seven days a week.

I didn't mention a word to Diane about what I had done until I arrived home later that night. We were sitting down having a cup of tea when I casually mentioned I had told Bamforth to stick his job where the sun doesn't shine! She couldn't believe it but I told her not to worry. "We're not going to die because I haven't got a job," I told her.

The following day Bamforth phoned me and asked if I had simmered down. I told him that I had, but that my decision stood - I wouldn't be going back. He made it clear that he wanted me to stay but that was the nicest thing he had said to me since November and, as such, was a bit late.

Ian Thomas turned out to be my successor as team boss and he went on to win the league that season. That was the Aces team I had put together, of course, and Ian went on record as saying his success had come with a side he'd inherited from me, which was nice of him.

Bamforth was a grafter, there's no doubt about it, but he had to work because all the money he had in the world had gone into Belle Vue Speedway. But there is a right way and a wrong way of doing it. Being polite and civil is the right way - treating people like dirt is the wrong way. Peter Morrey and a lot of the track staff left soon after I did, so it obviously wasn't just me who felt that was about Bamforth.

Having bought the stadium for a reported £350,000 in 1982, Bamforth then sold it at the end of the 1987 season for £2.2m. It wasn't long before the bulldozers moved in, but he had no option really because he couldn't have gone on much longer with the stadium in the state it was in. It would have cost millions to put right. It would have been cheaper to demolish it and start again. He spent a lot of money on the toilet blocks but the whole place was very, very dilapidated and needed completely rewiring. Literally just across the road was another good stadium where he could base the team, so when he sold up I thought: 'Good luck to him.'

By the end of 1982 I was looking for work outside speedway. Because not only had I left Belle Vue, but I'd quit my position as England manager too.

 

This article was first published on 29th December 2006

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