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The Birth of the Glasgow Tigers
By Ian Hoskins

The following is an extract from Ian's excellent "History of the Speedway Hoskins" book. The second edition of this has now been published and Ian tells us about his hasty departure from Zimbabwe and the speedway visitors he's had at his New Zealand home in recent times.

Glasgow's White City

Back in England with its rationing, its queues and its rain, I had a feeling of belonging that I didn't get with Australia. I was home again. Even my father, who was born in New Zealand, never returned there in all of the years since his boyhood. He too loved Britain. There were many changes. Winston Churchill had been voted out of office and the new broom of the Socialists under Attlee had the job of restoring Britain's economy. Almost everything was in short supply. People wanted to escape from it all and entertainment, especially sport, began to boom.

In 1945, my father had re-opened both the Newcastle and the Gllasgow White City tracks for speedway. They were both greyhound stadiums and this required covering the dog tracks with sheets on race nights. He had staged star-studded open meetings at both tracks and had revived his fortunes.

The travelling involved, of course, was considerable and with the prospect of Bradford entering the new senior division, the National League, in 1946, he felt he needed a Scottish manager to run Glasgow. Would I be interested? I never hesitated. Unfortunately, there was one major problem. I had found out that I was unlikely to be released by the RAF until mid-1946. The only way I could be free to run White City was a release on compassionate grounds. Even then, I would have to return later and fill in the missing time.

My father then concocted a brilliant letter. He wrote to my commanding officer that he was in poor health, that he had a wife and two other sons to support, and with three speedway stadiums to run, his health would crack up unless I was free to help him. All it needed was a violin accompaniment. The ruse worked. I was given ten months compassionate release, more than enough to get the first season over in Scotland.

On arrival in Shipley, where my parents now lived in a lovely rented bungalow, my father opened the garage doors. There inside was a brand new gleaming black M.G. Midget car. "You'll need transport to get around the circuit next season. Just drive carefully, that's all." He had bought the car at Newcastle from Harry Whitfield, his old Wembley rider who now owned a big garage near Middlesbrough. As driving tests were not required, the two of us promptly set out in it for Scotland during the worst snow storm in 20 years.

The journey north to Glasgow via Newcastle and Edinburgh was quite an experience. The AA at Newcastle warned us that the road to Edinburgh was virtually impassable. We could proceed at our own risk. In the dead of night, we agreed to carry on regardless. There were walls of snow 20 feet high on either side of the road. The M.G. crawled along the icy surfaces and managed to squeeze through recent gaps made by snowploughs. It was dawn by the time we arrived in Edinburgh and the 45 mile drive to Glasgow from there was over in no-time. I do not recall a winter like it.

White City Stadium was situated on Paisley Road West on the south side of the River Clyde, which divided Glasgow into two halves. Not far from the track, was the palatial Ibrox Stadium, home of the mighty Glasgow Rangers. There was a second greyhound stadium, the Albion, just around the corner, and opposite it was Bellahouston Park. Trams and buses passed the door. Further up the road, was an underground station, and to the left, Ibrox railway station. The transport system was second to none and I mention this because so many promoters have perished from overlooking this vital factor when deciding upon a new track.

The private Bellahouston Hotel, situated a few hundred yards up the road from the stadium, became my new home. It then took me a while to get my ear attuned to the various Glaswegian accents. There was the rather 'toffee nose' Kelvinside accent, a faintly superior form of Glaswegian put on by certain middle classes. Then there was the very gutteral Glesca growl of the working man, if ye ken whit ah mean? The Glasgow people were very hospitable and tended to contrast themselves with the folk frae Edinburgh who believed they were something special, as Auld Reekie was the capital while Glesca had the population. This of course, was the local equivalent of hot air.

Glasgow was then Britain's second city with a population of slightly over a million. It later had to give way to Birmingham which became the new industrial capital of the country. Glasgow, at the time, had three evening newspapers, The Times, News and Citizen, each of them with their own speedway critic who had to be supplied with handouts. Only the Evening Times has survived into the nineties.

As there had been no league racing in Scotland since 1930, I had to decide quickly on a name and set of body colours for the team. I later learned that speedway had once taken place at Celtic Park, home of the Celtic Football Club, in 1927. Jimmy Baxter had run a few meetings there. This gave Scotland the honour of staging Britain's first speedway event ahead of High Beech.

I decided that Glasgow Tigers had the right ring to it and that the team's colours should be red and white vertical stripes, the same as the Sunderland football team, the club I had followed for years when at school. My father agreed to both ideas and the next stage was to find a team. This was easier than expected, as the Control Board had drawn up a list of all of the known riders in Britain, and at a big meeting of potential promoters in London, they were allocated to teams on a grading system of merit. The first division tracks, of course, had all of the stars and the six second league teams, of which we became one, made do with what was left.

The make-up of the new second division - the Northern League - was: Birmingham, Glasgow, Middlesbrough, Newcastle, Norwich and Sheffield. This will give an idea of the vast distances involved in travelling. Norwich was more than 400 miles from Glasgow and there were no motorways in 1946. By the end of that first season, I had clocked 24,000 miles in my little M.G! Don't ask me how I came to find the petrol coupons to do this, despite sport having a special allowance, but ways and means existed and we had to use them.

The fixture list was designed to play all five opposing teams four times during the season on a home and away basis, as in soccer. In between there were open dates which a promoter had to fill by booking in individual riders from other teams. The season opened in April and closed 28 weeks later. Our racing night was Wednesday.

Wanderin' Wal Morton

Bach team had eight riders allocated to it. After that, you were on your own. In the original share-out, Glasgow had been allocated an Australian leg-trailer called Bert Spencer who was an all-round point grabber. As he refused to leave Norwich, they were compelled to give up a rider named Wal Morton. Wal was a brilliant performer at Norwich and nowhere else. He rode in 16 meetings for us and was transferred the following year. He went on to become a very durable rolling stone in the sport, and possibly only Jimmy Squibb rode longer and for more teams than he did.

The mainstay of the new Tigers were two Geordies from Newcastle way, Will Lowther, the captain and Joe Crowther. They were known as the terrible twins, although two more unalike personalities would be hard to find. Will was an introvert who had a gammy left leg which he used to stick out before him in the corners like a crutch. Crowther was an extrovert who would have a go from anywhere, and he quickly became the darling of the crowds.

More than 14,000 people attended the opening meeting, and by the end of the season we averaged almost 13,000 a week. Not one meeting was rained off. My father initially came up every week from his Newcastle promotion, which raced on Mondays, to see if I was going off keel or not. Soon, he seemed satisfied that all was well and his appearances were confined to big occasions. I was still only 21 at the outset of the season, the youngest manager in the sport's history at that time. But, I had had the advantage of understudying the master himself all those years before and I soon discovered that age was not relevant. Once people know you are in charge and you are able to make on-the-spot decisions, they will accept you.

My first innovation was a new design for the programme cover. I borrowed an idea from Time magazine and had a new picture of a speedway rider on each edition. This surprisingly had never happened anywhere in the sport before. I was also obliged to write the eight page programme every week and keep numerous journalists in Glasgow supplied with publicity about forthcoming meetings. I was also pitchforked into becoming team manager and had to travel to all away meetings in charge of the team. It is surprising how quickly you can learn when the buck cannot be passed elsewhere.

The toughest part of the job was learning how to use the microphone on the track centre to maximum advantage. Most promoters shy clear of the mike and leave everything to their announcer. This was not the Hoskins way. Both teams were introduced from the starting gate prior to each meeting and this required an intimate knowledge of each rider. You were then expected to know exactly when to go on the mike during a meeting and get the crowd warmed up by leading a war cry. "Two! Four! Six! Eight! Who do we appreciate? ... Tigers!" I later used to build up a particular race that might have a crucial bearing on the final result, to get the crowd totally involved in its outcome. It was all part of the almost lost art of showmanship.

Another hat goes up in smoke

We were lucky at White City in having a first class announcer, Archie McCulloch, a show biz impresario who used to compere his own shows at various Scottish resorts in the season. He was also the speedway columnist for the Evening News. It was Archie who first called me lan 'Mac' Hoskins, or 'The Hat.' The latter came about because in those days, most men wore hats and the riders used to creep up on me at interval time, snatch mine from my head and set it alight with methanol to the delight of the fans, as they used to do to my father. I always pretended to be taken by surprise and amazingly, the crowd never seemed to tire of the spectacle. I must have gone through 15 new hats a season for years.

Another managerial headache I discovered, was the on-going war that existed with the manager of the greyhound stadium. In those days, we were allowed one morning for practice on the track. Invariably, the greyhound manager also wanted time for his dog trials. The dog track had to be covered on race nights with hessian or canvas sheets at the two bends. Wooden portable ramps had also to be laid out from the pits and another from the entrance made for the track grader. Arguments galore resulted if it was found that the sheets were not ideally placed and the greyhound employees used to dislike carrying the wooden sleepers into position. We had a different set of priorities.

The White City track was 420 yards in circumference, most of it being in two long straights and the rest in two very wide and sharpish corners. This gave rise to what is known as 'home track advantage'. The Tigers soon learned that most visiting riders used to shut off their throttles entering a corner far too early. By the time they cottoned on, Ihe Tigers had usually built up a commanding lead. Nevertheless, I used to describe White City as the 'fairest track in the league'. This would hopefully account for our many early defeats by implying that the track was too easy to ride for the visitors.

Despite the tremendous attendances in 1946, the promotion didn't make a fortune. The new Socialist Government, in its wisdom, decided to tax speedway on the same level as they taxed greyhound racing, a betting sport. Forty five per cent of all of our admissions went in a ruinous Entertainment Tax. Professional football was taxed on a much lower level and for years the Government resisted petitions to change this anomaly. When this was coupled with our enormous travelling expenses, it made speedway a sport that paid its way and little more. Only in the senior division at the really big stadiums were fortunes being made. As it was, White City, when crammed to capacity, could accommodate only 25,000 people.

My only odd memory of that opening season, was the day, on the way to Norwich in the company of Wal Morton in his car, which had his bike strapped to the rear bumper, we pulled up at a cafe in Carlisle for a meal. When we finished, I discovered that there was an American gentleman waiting beside the car to greet us. "That your bike on the back?" He asked. Wal said it was. "I used to be a rider in the States. Is there any way I could try out for your team?"

I was on to him in a flash. An American speedway rider. The first in Britain since the war. Maybe a potential Jack or Cordy Mile, or Wilbur Lamoreaux, the pre-war American greats. I found that his name was Clayton Glover and I invited him to attend our next home meeting in Glasgow the following Wednesday, when I would fix him up with a second-half ride. We shook hands and my mind was doing somersaults all the way to Norwich.

Came the day when Clayton was due to make his debut. The papers had been given the story and many were agog with curiosity which is the first law of advertising. I should have known better, of course. The anti-climax came on the afternoon of the meeting. The telephone rang in my office beneath the main grand stand. It was the Glasgow police. A very Scottish officer informed me in no uncertain terms that if and when Mr. Clayton Glover appeared at White City, he was to be arrested on the spot.

"What did he do? Rob a bank?" I asked. "Worse than that." Replied the voice. "He is a deserter from the American forces and the 'polis' in Carlisle have been searching for him for weeks."

That was it. I had to talk my way out of it on the track microphone that night and surprisingly, the crowd took it well. Americans were always liable to make rash promises. But, I was determined to curb my enthusiasm the next time and make sure I could deliver the goods I was selling. Clayton Glover, of course, never appeared. As it happened, the Tigers could have done with him because the team finished bottom of the league. But - to compensate for this, the racing at home had been excellent and the public didn't expect us to become the Glasgow Rangers, or Celtic, of the speedway world overnight.  


How to order your copy

Order direct from the publisher at www.FirstEditionPublishers.com for NZ$24.95 (about £8.70)

Or email the publisher at info@selfpublish.co.nz

Or write to First Edition at 155 Dowse Drive, Maungaraki, Wellington, New Zealand and ask them to send a copy with the price.

The book has 278 pages including 10 pages of coloured photographs.

 

This article was first published on 14th September 2006


 

  • Bert Harkins:

    "Great story from Ian MacHoskins about how he started Glasgow Tigers at the White City Stadium. As a wee boy, I lived just down the road from White City in Govan Fire Station where my dad was a Fireman. Every Wednesday night he would take me to the Speedway where I was a red-hot Tigers fan, even my tricycle was painted red & white! My favourite riders being Junior Bainbridge & Ken McKinlay, and I was amongst the hundreds of kids queuing up after the meeting to get autographs and discarded 'Gas Goggles'. Nowadays I import the popular and more technical Scott Speedway Goggles!

    Ian was a true showman, and he could still whip up a crowd these days if he was still promoting. He always had a stunt planned for each meeting and wherever he was promoting, the atmosphere in the crowd was buzzing. We could do with more promoters like him these days. Happy Days for Scottish Speedway, especially when Ian's hat was set of fire! Now, where did I put those New Zealand dollars?...I must get a copy of the Hossie book!"

  • Jim Henry:

    "Sorry Ian. Celtic Park did not run in 1927. I was 1928 and proto speedway had been staged at Glasgow Nelson before Celtic Park. If anyone wants an electronic copy of my book - Glasgow's Speedways - the Pre War Years (1928 - 1940) - let me know by email and I'll email them a copy covers and all. "

  • James Culbert:

    " Great stuff,in the 60's there was no reason to think that the Tigers and Monarchs were run by Ian. There was always entertainment at Old Meadowbank and a great track. White City was a visit away for me and I even made a trip through on my first motorcycle a BSA Bantam 175cc. Later it was by car included a blow out at Coatbridge and a visit with three others to the GRI and the car written off."

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