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Remembering Liverpool Pirates
By Richard Austin

Mid April 1959, I attended a meeting with approximately 60 Liverpool speedway fans, held at the Stanley Stadium, track office. Mike Parker the meeting organizer discussed bringing back Speedway to Liverpool in 1960, within a newly formed Provincial League. The concept of the new League, to develop the sport, bringing in novices and junior riders to ride in actual race conditions, this was great news, speedway was back on Merseyside.

Later on in the year 1959, Parker ran a couple of "open" meeting at Stanley featuring speedway solos, side cars and Midgets (speed cars). At the time, Mike Parker had a reputation as a skilled midget driver, now a speedway promoter.

Parker announced the Liverpool team line up, it was obvious he held true to the original League policy, providing junior riders track time, and career opportunity. The Liverpool team nicknamed the Pirates, listed Captain Dave Gerrad, Brian Craven, Derek Skyner, Norman Murray, Roy Peacock, Bert Edwards, and Bill Davies. The team's new name, the Pirates, in my view a promotion error, since all speedway fans; know that the Poole team was always known as the Pirates. Even though the Liverpool Chads had closed down, mid season 1953, the Chad name still retained recognition with Liverpool sports fans.

The one rider on the Pirates having dependable track experience was Brian Craven. The Pirates first home meeting, 18 April 1960, at Stanley Stadium, against Stoke, the Pirates lost 32 v 37. Brian Craven the only rider to make an impression scoring 12 points followed by Gerrad 7, Peacock 7, Davies 2, Edwards 2, Murray 2, Skyner 0.

Brian Craven continued to be the team's top performer, until an ankle injury sidelined him early May. Parker during the season tried out a number of riders in an effort to strengthen the team. Bringing in Bryce Subritky, Wal Morton, Dave Dodd, Dennis Jenkins, Shorty Schirmer, Graham Beattie and Col Smith. Not forgetting Sonny Dewhurst at 4 foot 9 inches properly the shorty of speedway. The only riders to make a significant point's contribution to the team were Wal Morton & Bryce Subritsky, impossible to expect two riders to carry the entire team.

While the Northern promoters tended to stay with the original League policy of providing opportunity to novice and junior riders. Southern promoters came into the newly formed League, with full strength match ready teams, of experienced veteran riders. As the season progressed, the varying team strengths became apparent. The imbalance between the teams caused one sided results, as far as the junior Pirates were concerned. During the 1960 season the Pirates won just four of their Provincial League appearances.

Typical results for Liverpool: Raleigh 58 v Liverpool 14, Bristol 55 v Liverpool 17, Cradley Heath 44 v Liverpool 28, Liverpool 26 v Stoke 44. Liverpool 25 v Poole 47.

Speedway thrives on competition; the sport should be an exciting experience for the paying public, thrilling close racing, and not ongoing humiliation. The junior Pirates were riding against experienced veterans such as Hockaday, Redmond, Fearman, Middleditch, Gilbertson, Bastable, Roper, Templeton, Reeves etc.

Provincial League teams that stuck with the premise of providing opportunity to new talent, finished the season at the bottom of the new league. Liverpool fans stayed away, many taking the trip each Saturday night, to watch a winning team, Manchester's Belle Vue Aces. Ironically, at the time captained by Liverpool's own "Mighty Atom", the great Peter Craven.

No surprise when Mike Parker closed the Pirates down, fans had stayed away, no support for a losing team, the history of Liverpool speedway repeating itself once again. Merseyside speedway fans never had a winning team to support, no big name riders, just the Chads, for a short time the Eagles, finally the Pirates.

Liverpool speedway fans might speculate "if only" Liverpool promoters had built a team around a franchise rider such as Split Waterman or a Jack Young, would speedway still be thriving on Merseyside?

Speedway would never return to Liverpool, the big Stanley Stadium was eventually demolished; the site is now occupied by a Fruit and Vegetable market.

 

This article was first published prior to October 2002


 

  • John Hyam:

    "It was good to see Wal Morton get a mention in this review - I actually put Mike Parker in touch with Morton. While Liverpool failed to gain any honours in 1960, there was recognition for the feats of Morton in the 1961 Speedway Star Digest - they gave him the honour of being the 'outstanding veteran in the 1960 Provincial League.' And wasn't as far back as 1936 when he was a Bristol rider that Morton set a track record at Stanley Stadium."

  • Jemmy Hanson:

    "'Merseyside' didn't exist when Liverpool had a speedway team and a stadium. Why mention it in a pre-Merseyside history article? It's silly and small minded."

  • Richard Austin:

    "I was quite surprised to see space was found on the site for comments from a 'Jemmy Hanson' concerning my use of the word 'Merseyside', being inappropriate in my Liverpool Pirates article. I have to wonder, if regular visitors to SpeedwatyPlus site found the feedback comments posted, interesting!!

    Speedway ran intermittently, within the Liverpool area from, 1929-1960. Its worth noting one of the teams was nicknamed 'Merseysiders', they rode at the Stanley track, from 1936-1937 - whether officially or unofficially the word "Merseyside" was in common use back in 1936, well at least as far as speedway fans, were concerned. I know, my Dad was a 'Merseysider' speedway fan, the reason he took me to see the Chads ride back in 1950.

    Maybe the team being nicknamed the 'Merseysiders', the speedway management at the time was thinking forward!!

    A further point of Liverpool speedway history, and possibly a first, six brothers riding on the same 'Merseysiders' team, Tommy & Ernie Price, Eric & Alan Butler, Oliver & Stan Hart.

    Growing up in Liverpool, I well recall back 1962, whenever the Liverpool football club played Everton; in the local press, the game was reported and referred to as a 'Merseyside' Derby match.

    In closing and to keep Hanson happy, if that�s possible. Merseyside officially came into existence as a metropolitan county in 1974, after passage of the Local Government Act 1972. "

  • Adrian Pavey:

    "I can concur with the comments from Richard Austin on the use of the name "Merseysiders" back in the 1930s. I had the pleasure of speaking to Alan Butler many years ago and that is just how he referred to himself "... one of the Belle Vue Merseysiders". I also have a Workington programme from 1937 where a challenge match was ridden between Workington "Reds" and the "Merseysiders" of Belle Vue. Just to add to Richards comments on the three sets of brothers, there were three Butler siblings all riding at Belle Vue, Alan, Eric and Maurice. Maurice was sadly killed at Belle Vue in August 1945."

  • Nigel Bird:

    "I was as bemused as Richard Austin when I read Jemmy Hansons remarks about "Merseysiders". Anyhow for the sake of historical accuracy I an not sure that the Liverpool team were called the Merseysiders until the team moved lock stock and barrel to Belle Vue halfway through the 1937 season (but I could be wrong). They rode as Belle Vue's second team the "Belle Vue Merseysiders" - Liverpool had a second track "Seaforth" 1934-35 they raced team matches in 1935. Known as the Seaforth "Lions"."

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