Hackney to Gdansk then to Leszno back to Gdansk then to Poole
It was a Wednesday morning in 1980 at the Hackney Stadium, the late Bert Bush, who was the head mechanic for Hackney Speedway, Keith White, Sean Willmott, two other mechanics, myself, a Ford transit Van and nine speedway bikes were present. We were all off to tour Poland. It was part of the deal for having Zenon Plech and Roman Jankowski, Hackney had to ride at their Polish clubs - Gdansk for Zenon and Leszno for Roman.
The bikes were loaded into the back of the van (sponsored by Auto Rent) by putting one bike in backwards, removing the front wheel and turning the handle bars down. The next bike was put in to the van frontwards, then the next was put in the same way as the first one and so on. Eventually all nine bikes were in the van and the front wheels were placed on the top of the bikes.
So with all the paperwork for the bikes done, money, passports (which had to be stamped before they would let us into Poland), travel bags, the three "mechanics" head off to the Harwich Ferry terminal and a boat to Hook-of-Holland for an overnight crossing.
As the Hackney riders had to ride on Friday they would be flying out early on Saturday Morning making their way to Gdansk for a Saturday Open meeting.
The Hackney team was Len Silver (team Manager), Barry Thomas, Keith White, Jimmy McMillan (on the tour as a guest), Andy Fines, Sean Willmott, Zenon Plech and Roman Jankowski. Bruce Cribb was down to be a guest rider but was unable to attend.
All was ok on the ferry, as the hours rolled by it was time for some shut eye, as you might know there is not much space on a ferry and all the seats were full and the only free space was the floor. The night went ok but in the early hours of the morning someone thought it would be fun to put some money in the Juke Box and selected Desmond Dekker's hit 'The Israelites'. If you play it you will see the funny side of it.
So we arrived at Hook-of-Holland on Thursday Morning and the boat docked and we waited for the ramps to go down and we were off for the long drive across the borders of Holland. Stopping only for petrol, something to eat, and comfort stops, we took it in turns driving and reached the West German border without incident. We travelled on to the East German border where they had a careful look at what we had in the back of the van and a close look at our passports. We were soon back on our way again through East Germany to the borders of Poland, and this is where the fun starts.
We arrived at the Polish border in the late afternoon, about 5.00pm on the Thursday, we pulled up at the check point and handed our passports to the officer, who then went away and came back and wanted to have a look in the back of the van. Seeing there were 9 speedway bikes in the back he told us that we would have to unload them, we told the officer that it had taken us four hours to load them and that this was not a good idea.
It seemed the paper work was not right it said two bikes and we had nine, we suggested he phone the President of Gdansk Speedway and talk to him. Still holding our passports he went off to make the phone call.
So we just had to wait, it seems that we were to meet someone from Gdansk who was not there at the time we arrived at the Polish Border and that he would help us to get though the red tape. We waited most of the early evening and into the night, not finding it easy to sleep in the van's front seats.
After several hours of waiting someone arrived from Gdansk, and spoke to the border officers and we got our passports back and were on our way again. We never did have to unload the bikes. Now with 4 people in a van that had only 3 seats, space was at a premium and I offered to get into the back with the bikes - bad mistake! To say it was 'uncomfortable' is way off the mark, but at least we were making progress again.
After several more hours on the road we arrived in Gdansk in the mid morning and headed to the hotel for a good sleep and wash and brush up before taking the van and bikes down to the track and unloading them.
We took the van down to the track and started to unload, a number of people who worked at the stadium watched us unloading the bikes.
The Hackney bikes stayed at the stadium overnight in the workshop, which also housed the Gdansk team bikes. Their bikes were looked after by a team of full-time mechanics.
And so ended the Friday and we went back to the hotel for a bit of a rest and to talk about what we were going to do that night, it was decided that we would go out for a meal and call it a day.
On the Saturday morning it was down to the track to get the bike ready for the Hackney team to arrive in the bus. The riders had a practice before the meeting to get used to the track. Everything went well and the riders were happy and with a few minor adjustments to the bikes - all was ready.
The meeting started with a parade involving all the riders walking around the track and then returning to the pits.
After the meeting we had to pack the bike up and load them into the back of the van, it did not take as long as it did at Hackney as all the riders helped to load up.
We were then all invited to dinner with members of Gdansk team, staff and managers of the club. There were a number of speeches some in Polish and some in English. I cannot remember what we had to eat, but it was about 4 courses.
So after the dinner was over we then went to the hotel for some sleep, mindful that early on the Sunday morning we would have to head off to Leszno, again a long drive ahead. It was going to be a little easier as we now had a bus to follow. As there was a lot of space on the bus it was decided that one of the mechanics would go in the bus giving a bit more room for the other two.
So I went with the bus and the riders, after a number of comfort stops it was back on the bus and on our way again. During the drive I kept feeling what felt like a fly landing on my ear so I kept brushing it away with my hand, but it kept coming back time after time. By now I was getting a bit pissed off with the fly, so I waited for it to land again to see if I could hit it, and there it was. I was just about to swot it when I turned around to find a laughing Jimmy McMillan sitting behind me and he had a long grass stork with a feathery seed head and was flicking my ear with it!
When we arrived in Leszno we headed straight for the track, it was unusual to see people looking at the van with GB number plates (remembering it's the 1980s).
One or two of the riders needed some spare parts and rear tyres and so went off to see if they could find a speedway bike shop and get the spares and tyres, which they did.
The rest of the day was spent cleaning the bikes and we were shown to our room as we were going to stay at the Stadium for the night. Leszno have a hotel in the complex.
In the afternoon there was time for team photos.
After the meeting was over we found out that there was going to be another meeting back at Gdansk on Monday evening and so we had to drive all the way back to Gdansk for that meeting, which was an "Open" meeting.
We were again invited by the Leszno club to a dinner in their restaurant/bar of the stadium. On the tables there were 3 large crystal vases, about 15 inches high and they looked very nice indeed.
I thought to myself "some lucky rider is going to get one of those vases, and they deserve it."
I assumed it was for the highest scorers over the 2 matches so I carried on eating my dinner.
Again speeches were made in Polish and English, Len Silver made a speech thanking the club for their hospitality. After the speeches someone from the Leszno club asked if the three mechanics from England would stand up and come to the top table, we did and to our great surprise we were given each a crystal vase. They were engraved with a brass plate.
We thanked them for the gift of the vase. to this day it is one of the things I hold dear as I remember the good times of the trip.
So after all that it was time to head off to bed, I turned in early and was sharing a room with Jimmy McMillan who, with the rest of the Hackney team, headed off into town.
At about 2.00am or 3.00am I heard a crash and the sound of glass falling to the ground and shattering. The riders had come back, found themselves locked out, and someone (and I know not who) broke the glass door to let themselves in.
When Jimmy Mac came in to the room I asked "what was that noise", all he would say was "a glass door has been broken".
On the Monday morning we headed off back up to Gdansk for the "Open" meeting. Sean Willmott was feeling a bit off colour from the night before and we had to stop for Sean to be sick on the side of the road.
We arrived at the Gdansk Stadium unloaded again and got set up for the afternoon's meeting. The riders had their practice and got ready for the meeting.
All was going well until Sean Willmott, who was still feeling under the weather, was sick in the pits. Len Silver called for the Doctor, who could not speak English and therefore Sean had to withdraw from the meeting. All the riders received coloured vases as trophies.
After the meeting had finished and the riders had helped us to load the van, they got changed and they left for the Airport to fly back to the UK.
Leaving us mechanics to do the long drive back to England as quickly as we could...because there was a meeting at Poole, Poole vs Hackney in the British League.
Everything went well on the return trip, the ferry crossing was okay and as we headed down the A12, we called in to Hackney Stadium, only to find the meeting at Poole had been called off because of a waterlogged track.
So in closing it was a very good trip to Poland, but very hard work, driving long hours, cleaning the bikes, not getting much sleep, finding the speedway track when people you ask for help don't speak English.
I would like to thank Len Silver, for trusting the three mechanics to take the van and nine bikes over to Poland, the Hackney team for a great few days together and the Leszno and Gdansk clubs for their hospitality
This article was first published on 17th February 2006
"I would like to thank Andy for the wonderful story and snaps. A lot of time and effort, so very much appreciated by someone at the bottom of the world who has never experienced such a life. Yes, its the riders who score the points and get their names and pictures in the papers/magazines but without all the 'Andys', that kind of trip just wouldnt happen! Thanks again, Brilliant!"
"What a great little story! Events like this should be recorded so thanks to 'Speedway Plus' for providing the means, and the writer for his memories."
"Brilliant article, had tears rolling down my cheeks, brought back a lot of memories, thank you very much."
"Just been reading Hackney to Gdansk etc by Andy Davidson ....... what a trip ....what a laugh. I really enjoyed reading that. It felt as if I was on the trip! The pictures were great as well ..lots to look at."
"I enjoyed the article. Big shame that Hackney is no longer with us but happy that Len is still going strong."
"Great story Andy, the door had nothing to do with me, honest! Good times that I wouldn't have missed for the world. Managed to cut my smoking down to 30 a day so will soon be looking for a sponsor."
"My Dad (Steve Stevens) was also on that trip. Sadly Dad passed away in 1996 but the crystal vase still has pride of place at Mum's. I have lots of fond memories of happy times at Hackney and the parties we used to have at our house at the beginning and end of the speedway season. "
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