"The surface has now gone from motocross to smooth. The riders say it�s excellent - not just our riders either!"
Berwick v Edinburgh - 8th August 2009
Berwick v Edinburgh - 8th August 2009
When I walk from the town centre towards Shielfield Park - home of Berwick Rangers Football Club and the Berwick F1 Finance (Scotland) Bandits - I get a vague sense of what it might feel like to be a salmon keen to spawn upstream. Though not exactly a flood, there�s a good volume of Berwick Rangers fans walking away from the stadium. Their team have beaten Annan 2-1 to go top of the league since all their rivals drew. It�s noticeable that there are almost no female fans amongst this stream of football supporters. Another contrast to a �typical� Berwick speedway crowd is the noticeable number of overweight fans - some of them in tight-fitting replica tops - and a higher incidence of scarves. At the open gates by the turnstiles a man of few words barks, "Pit Gate!" It�s a short distance away down the road that runs parallel to the length of the home-straight grandstand. A small queue of riders, mechanics and others wait patiently to enter the stadium. Since my last visit there�s been a quiet revolution at the club. Longtime promoter Peter Waite has left and a new era dawned under ex-club sponsor John Anderson (of Anderson�s Quality Butchers fame) and his business partner Lynda Waite (no relation to Peter). According to press reports and club evangelist Dick Barrie, the new management team have changed the organisation, infrastructure and attitude. Most significantly, John and Lynda retained many of the loyal volunteer staff that, along with Peter Waite, made Berwick speedway so welcoming in the past. They have also brought in ex-referee and Hull co-promoter Dave Peet as team manager, appointed Ian Rae as track curator and kept the services of always helpful Dennis McCleary. He�s got so many responsibilities for the Berwick Bandits (and Berwick Rangers) Dennis would need a sheaf of business cards if he attempted list all these job titles.
Talk of a new spirit and culture around the club is reflected in the much more spick and span first impression created by the pits area, the track and stadium in general. A helpful and chatty man in the pits extols the virtues of some of these changes. "The track isn�t any wider - it just looks that way �cause things have been smartened up!" The lush pristine football pitch that forms the centre green at Shielfield Park adds to the lustre of the uniquely coloured shale track that surrounds it. "The Edinburgh photographer [Jack Cupido] was here last week - �cause he was on holiday - and he said the Hearts and Hibs pitches don�t look so good!" While we talk, we also admire a new-looking tractor as it magic wheels (also a new investment) the light brown coloured shale on bend four before it continues slowly round the track hugging the inside line. "The farmer five minutes down the road lends us a tractor for the meetings. When we were at the old track and things went wrong with the tractors, he�d rush home for parts. He supports the local community as he sponsors the speedway and the football clubs." To the casual glance of someone untutored in the specifics of the stadium infrastructure changes, there�s some new plastic seating in the home-straight grandstand, the safety fencing looks more robust, orange and white plastic crash barriers demarcate the pits-viewing area and, over by the turnstiles, there�s a rather swish new programme booth positioned to overlook the first bend of the track. Though the wooden hut she used to occupy has been swept away by the tide of change, friendly programme seller Davina Johnston remains in situ and now sells a much more reasonably priced programme, "Aye, they�re �2 now!"
The lure of tonight�s clash between the Bandits and the Monarchs means I haven�t seen the (comparatively nearby) friendly between Hearts and Sunderland at Tynecastle nor the Elite League Pairs staged at Eastbourne. With just over an hour and a half to go before the scheduled 7 p.m. start time, the bowser takes to the Shielfield Park shale to douse the surface. Stood by the referee�s box at the back of the home-straight grandstand is tonight�s SCB official, Dale Entwistle (who officiated last night at Monarchs Scotwaste Arena) in the company of trainee referee, Michael Breckon. Dale and Michael will shortly head off to the pits to conduct the vital pre-meeting checks that form a key part of every SCB official�s pre-meeting repertoire. Dale hasn�t been to the Borders area for quite a while. "I stayed in Falkirk last night. It�s my first Northern Tour in a few years and that�s convenient for all three meetings. I�m not reffing tonight, it�s Michael."
[Jeff] "I�m sure you�ll both sort them out."
[Dale] "There�s the added pressure that Dave Peet used to be a referee! He�ll ring up and say �Why don�t you think of this?� and �Why don�t you think of that?� Of course, he used to be an assessor too - so that makes it all the more fun!"
[Michael] "I�m just here tonight and going to Peterborough on Thursday to see Graham Reeve and hopefully get rubber-stamped. Then I can get paid and get some petrol money. I haven�t been able to do so many meetings as family and other things have come first. Darren Hartley [newly qualified referee] did a lot of meetings in succession."
While we talk, speedway turnstile operatives Muriel Ennis and Lacey Louden, scamper along the now obstruction-free ginnel that separates the grandstand from the safety fence. They nod to the impressive spray from the approaching bowser, "We can�t stop �cause we don�t want a shower from the wetter!" When not studying or practising his new trade, Michael Breckon is a Middlesbrough Football Club fan. "I didn�t renew my season ticket this season. I�m sick of it! Last night we drew 0-0 and there were all the usual excuses from Southgate. I haven�t been enjoying it for years, if I�m honest. Even under McClaren we supposedly had our best ever years but the football was so dull and boring!"
[Dale] "Have you heard about Norwich? My wife rang to say they were 4-0 down at half time. Fans were tearing up their season tickets in front of [manager] Bryan Gunn [in the dug-out] even some of the directors came down from the box to tell him what to do and had to be escorted away by the security! Amazing!" Dale is a long way away from his home in Colchester, "As we�re there, we have to support them! They�ve got a new ground now but Layer Road still hasn�t been built on - the recession hit, so it�s not likely at the moment."
Berwick Bandits Speedway Club Limited director and co-promoter John Anderson arrives to survey the pre-meeting scene stood by the plastic security barriers that separate the pits from the public viewing area. Even these barriers are a sign of change at Shielfield since Linda and John spotted these on their travels to other tracks and, as soon as they held the reins of power at the club, they introduced this popular feature to the Berwick spectating experience. In one direction, there�s the bustle of activity in the pits as riders and mechanics prepare and, in the other, the Bandits curatorial team continue to tend to the track surface. John�s business is located in North Berwick, which always surprises southerners like myself to learn is some distance from Berwick-upon- Tweed. "12,000 people were in North Berwick for the Highland Games. It was pandemonium! August is our harvest so it�s very, very busy. I started going to speedway way back in the Meadowbank days almost 50 years ago (I was 60 on Wednesday). I�ve been to speedway more or less continuously over that period of time. When I stopped going to Meadowbank, I followed Edinburgh to Coatbridge but it didn�t have the same appeal to me. I had a bad accident in 1974 to my head and had concussion and this arm got all messed up. I spent six weeks in the house and I was frightened to go in the car and a friends said �Come on, I�ll take you out - come on, you�re coming with me to the speedway�. The very first person I seen - the first rider - was my hero from Meadowbank days, Dougie Templeton!  I�ve been every year since �74, except when we were at Barrow [track sharing in 1981]. For two years we were the main sponsor [Anderson�s Quality Butchers]. Since we started, we�ve made some changes! We�re aware but had no big insight into professional speedway, except things that were visible to the eye. Some nights the track was like a motocross, the place was uncared for and unloved. We�ve renewed all the [wooden safety] boards, the riders complained about the lights, well that�s what they said to Lynda, and we�ve sorted that. We got 150 tons of shale! We got Ian Rae in as a track curator - one of the best - so the surface has now gone from motocross to smooth. The riders say it�s excellent - not just our riders either! We�ve spent �4,000 upgrading the lighting system. We�ve got a new pole on the fourth bend with double lighting and we�ve got a new pole on the second bend. Each other pole now has an extra light. There�s been lots of painting [points to the safety fence], we spent the whole weekend digging up roots and rubbish and we�ve added a new fence. We�ve thrown away bricks." 
"Our initial plan was to renew things and replace everything that�s needed replacing. Our overall plan is, well, it would be nice to think we could bring a trophy to Berwick! Not short-term but long-term. We rent the ground from the Berwick Rangers supporters club. Peter never had a good relationship with them but we have a fantastic one! It�s worked in our favour - they�re so passionate to keep speedway, the people have been fantastic everyone has helped who could help. People have pulled together. The first day we asked for help with the boards, we had 30 people came along the next day and we had an average of 20 people from then on. I�ve been to every meeting this year, except King�s Lynn, it was closer than the score [65-25] suggests. We made it quite clear that Ian Rae and Dennis McCleary - a referee for 10 years, fantastic man! - are the backbones. Dennis is also club secretary and on race nights, announcer, timekeeper and incident recorder. They know so much of the history and have the experience. Nothing�s a bother to them. Without them life would have been more difficult. Along with Dave Peet, we reckon we�ve got the best team in the business. What Dave doesn�t know about running a speedway team isn�t worth knowing. He had 10 years as a ref too and 2 years as an assessor. A lot of the success is down to them. Okay, we came in with the finance and kept the place going but all these other guys have kept the place going too. Have you spoken to Lynda? She�s brilliant, so enthusiastic. I couldn�t pick a more brilliant business partner! The amount of time and effort she puts in behind the scenes is unbelievable! I promised I�d never go into a partnership but this is good! And, of course, Dick Barrie is our wordsmith on the centre green. Is there anyone better?" 
Ex club owner Peter Waite enjoyed a fascination with Poland and property investments there. He�s not the only one with this inclination. Indeed, the rider in the Bandits number 4 race tabard tonight, Stanislaw Burza helped build John Anderson�s house near Tarnow in Poland. Before I can ask, "Do you have to own at least one house in Poland to qualify to promote at Berwick?", John walks off to warmly greet some new arrivals.
When the turnstiles open there�s quite a rush to the main home-straight grandstand to find favoured seats. There�s also quite a large contingent of Edinburgh fans who�ve come along to enjoy the rejuvenated Shielfield Park experience. The consensus sounds somewhat pessimistic about the Monarchs prospects for success this evening. "We don�t go to so many away meetings anymore. The Sheffield fans by us [last night] got very excited at one point thinking that Sheffield were going to win! Especially when Edinburgh had so many passengers: Byron Bekker and Max Dilger - though he might go well here this evening as they have big tracks in Germany. I bet Armadale is a bit of a shock to the system! Why was Paul Cooper in Heat 14? [I explain plan]. Whatever the plan was, knocking into the fence on bend three and stopping the race to turn a 3-3 into a 5-1 wasn�t what was needed!"
Over the speaker system the dulcet tones of Dick Barrie welcome fans to the stadium and treat us to a number of housekeeping announcements. "When you come through the gate, you can buy the best value speedway programme in Britain!" All British speedway clubs depend upon their sponsorship as well as their gate revenues to survive. Ever professional, Dick decides to name-check the complete range of products and services provided by Bandits heat sponsors  along with tonight�s meeting sponsor: Gary Young and Friends. The only heat sponsors who don�t have a product to sell are Maureen and Peter Blackie and, of course, the aforementioned Dougie Templeton who "Thanks Berwick for the Memories". If cleanliness is next to godliness then tidiness still ranks pretty highly, "If you have any rubbish tonight, please put it in the receptacles because it�s a condition of our use of the stadium and, picking it up at quarter to 11, isn�t much fun!" Announcements over, though in his 60th summer of speedway Dick still exudes vim, vigour and enthusiasm for what he does. Initial announcements completed, Dick bounds up to my display table, "Here I am panting up to see you."
[Jeff] "The crowds look appreciably bigger."
[Dick] "But are they any happier though?"
[Jeff] "I couldn�t say!"
[Dick rejects a prepared sheet I tried to hand him on Quantum of Shale] "I don�t need that I�ve read it."
[Jeff] "You�re one of the few!"
[Dick] "If you can come and talk to me later that would be nice - if not, you�ll get a bad review next year!"
No meeting at Shielfield Park would truly be complete without the presence of Edinburgh taxi driver, Berwick Bandits fan and speedway obsessive Jim Brykajlo who�s here tonight without his son Steven ("He�s away with the trains on a four-day jaunt to Scunthorpe and Doncaster"). Similarly to the Edinburgh fans, Jim downplays the strength of the Berwick Bandits line-up. "Carl Wilkinson got 3 last night which is crap and he�s our guest tonight �cause [Josef] Franc�s away riding in a Czech Best Pairs Championship better known as the Czech Hoover Championship." Edinburgh fan Maurice (pronounced More-reece) reports in to say, "I didn�t read any of your book last night; I was watching the cricket highlights."
[Jim] "Australia is 300 ahead and England 80 for 4."
[Maurice] "80 for 5!" [both laugh]
[Jim] "The crowds have been up here all season."
[Matthew Platten] "The local derby always gets four-figure crowds."
[Maurice] "Who�s going to win the battle of the Germans tonight?"
Dick Barrie announces over the tannoy that a "silver Peugeot is blocking a nearby driveway".
[Maurice] "I know how mad I would be if I came out to find my driveway blocked!"
[Jim] "I can tell you exclusively that Thomas Jonasson [who recently left the Monarchs to return to his native Sweden] will be signing for Poole next season. Who�d want to go to Edinburgh on a Friday night when you can be on the Continent?!"
Away on the centre green, close by the start line, both sets of riders line up next to their bikes. Dick Barrie does the rider-parade introductions, "Let�s meet the victims, the Premier League champions - the Scotwaste Monarchs!" He greets the riders in descending race tabard order and it�s not long before you can almost visualise tanks and barbed wire, "Another one! This is getting like Poland in 1939. Meet Max Dilger!" A few moments later, sight of Monarchs reserve Byron Bekker fails to prompt any thoughts of apartheid or Nelson Mandela�s prison food for Dick, so he contents himself with a more traditional observation, "A rider who always gives of his best!" Edinburgh have also brought along their number 8 this evening, Johnny Grey (though he doesn�t get to ride). When I express concern to Jim Brykajlo that, with Andrew Tully injured, the Monarchs line-up has a slightly weakened look, he retorts, "I don�t care, they have no sympathy for us!" With his enviable knowledge of the sport, Jim is more obsessed with records. "Michal Makovsky needs 122 points to become the all-time top points scorer for Berwick, overtaking Steve McDermott who�s presently the all-time top scorer. Steve�s got something like 3,200 points."
By the start/finish line, Dick Barrie conducts the ceremonial toss of the coin for gate positions between team captains Paul Clews and Matthew Wethers with the levity usually reserved for a pantomime, "Wake up, Matty, wake up!" "Heads" "That�s a tail, Matty!" Berwick choose gates one and three. Jim notes resignedly, "Dick Barrie�s in time warp!" Monarchs number 1 Ryan Fisher comfortably sees off Bandits guest Carl Wilkinson to win heat 1 with ease. Dick�s pleased with what is probably speedway�s equivalent of a quick flash of knicker by a can-can girl, "and, for me, the real pleasure of that win for Ryan is that his green helmet slipped to reveal a white helmet! Why can�t we have white helmet colours anymore?" The Bandits immediately hit back with a 4-2 to tie the scores at 6 each after an impressive Tero Aarnio rode with aggression into the first corner to emerge in the lead. Stan Burza wins the third race and, with Paul Clews ahead of big track-expert-in-waiting, Max Dilger, the Bandits enjoy a narrow lead. One pleasure of speedway at Shielfield Park is the opportunity to stand on the grass and concrete banked terraces that overlook the exit of the second bend. Not only does it provide an excellent panoramic view of the whole vista of the circuit but you�re ideally positioned to watch the start-line and the vital first-bend action. After three races without hint of a pass, I ask evangelical Bandits fan Jim Brykajlo, "Will we see any overtaking tonight?" He believes there is some probability, "We might see Clews try a couple - the track�s too slick!" In his report on the meeting for the Speedway Star Keith Hamblin would remark, "The racing was fast and furious, but passing was virtually impossible".
At the start of the fourth race the riders get no further than the first bend before trainee referee Michael Breckon slaps on the red lights to stop the race. It�s a decision that appears to exasperate presenter Dick Barrie, if judged by the exasperated way he holds his arms out wide (then, again, he might be a keen angler). The rerun sees Tero Aarnio and Michal Rajkowski alongside each other as they exit the second bend until Rajkowski tries an attempted shove. It�s one of the dark arts of speedway gamesmanship or, would be, except Aarnio refuses to be shoved aside. Encountering an immovable object and, probably, not anticipating this rebuff, the effort involved causes Rajkowski to fall peculiarly on the banked incline of the third bend. The manner of Tero Aarnio�s rebuff certainly impressed the Berwick fans in my section, almost as much as they enjoy the sight of Michal Makovsky cross the finish line closely followed by Aarnio. After 12 meetings without a win against the Monarchs, joyous celebration is understandable but somewhat premature. Ryan Fisher wins the next race (heat 5) comfortably, while behind him a fascinating battle rages between Stan Burza and Michal Rajkowski. Third-placed Burza repeatedly threatens an overtake on the fourth bend of each lap. First time round the threat is there but poses no danger. On the second lap, Rajkowski looks inside as he exits the bend and the fractional loss of momentum this causes nearly proves costly. Another fourth-bend charge is repelled on the third lap and, just when it looks like we�ll see Burza again fail to swoop past Rajkowski, he finally manages to win their dash to the line and, thereby, deprives Edinburgh of their maximum heat advantage by the width of a wheel. If the loss of the second-place point isn�t quite enough to make a grown man weep it, nonetheless, provokes one of the Monarchs fans to gloomily claim, "Only Fisher will win a race here tonight!" Though with some possible merit, this forecast only lasts until the second bend of heat 6 when the yellow-helmeted Aaron Summers overtakes Carl Wilkinson at the very same moment that his green-helmeted teammate Mathew Wethers executes a similar manoeuvre on the inside. It�s the turn of another exasperated fan (this time from Berwick) to cry out, "Why pick Wilkinson? He can�t gate against a team of gaters!" I don�t like to intrude on private grief, but can�t help myself so have to point out that he did gate, "Wilkinson actually led". Though factually correct it�s not a point of view that gains favour, "He was mid-track when he should be by the fence to block them!"  Another Berwick fan disagrees, "If he�d moved across he�d have had them off!" Clearly unable to concede any argument, even when wrong, he retorts, "Phil Morris would!"
While the Bandits fans bicker amongst themselves and contemplate how a 6-point lead after four races fritters away by the sixth, Jim Brykajlo has Paul Cooper on his mind. "He�ll come here and be brilliant, he�ll do well at Glasgow but all he does at Armadale is fall on his arse!" One of life�s great pleasures is to remind others of their misfortune. Some enjoy it silently but not the Monarchs fan with the theatrically loud voice, "I think they [Berwick] were conned by William Lawson who wanted to go to Glasgow but he had too high an average for them to fit him in!" If overtakes are a rarity at Shielfield Park tonight, then there�s no lack of entertainment from the bump and grind. Heat 7 is a case in point when Max Dilger shows trackcraft and aggression as he changes racing line to block Luke Priest�s blast round the outside. Priest suddenly finds himself pinched up against the fence as they exit the second bend and, forced to shut off momentarily, Dilger escapes to claim his first ever away point (paid 2) in a Monarchs tabard. The Bandits German national Frankie Facher looks off the pace and out of sorts but, luckily for the Bandits, their tungsten-tough, hard-riding reserve Tero Aarnio races to his third (full or paid) win of the night. If modesty, pessimism, and gamesmanship dictates that Monarchs fans play down their chances of yet another victory at Shielfield Park, then heat 9 confirms that it might well not be their night. Stan Burza rides an aggressive first and second bend to streak away for a comfortable win by over half a lap and, thereby, equals the second fastest time ever round Shielfield Park (only 0.2 of a second outside the record set by Sean Wilson in 1999). Surprisingly for a non-informed neutral like me, Bandits captain Paul Clews also gives no quarter on the first bend and proceeds to dominate the often rambunctious Ryan Fisher. Despite the continued lack of overtaking, this was the race of the night (so far)! The much-heralded "Battle of the Germans" completely fails to materialise in heat 10 when Tero Aarnio replaces Frankie Facher. Carl Wilkinson again shoots from the tapes and continues up front to justify his selection as a guest with a race win. Behind him, Tero Aarnio zooms through an extremely small gap as he exits the second bend and holds off Matthew Wethers for the rest of the race.
Another joy of my book promotion tours is that, occasionally, I�m invited to the centre green. I�m not so keen on the interviews but the chance to watch any speedway race from there is truly exhilarating and wonderful! I�m privileged to be able to witness tonight�s heat 11 duel between Michal Makovsky (off gate 1) and Ryan Fisher (gate 2) from this unique vantage point and enjoy the different perspective it gives on the race action. Dick Barrie tees up the likely lively action beforehand, "Fisher and Makovsky, they're at each other like Rangers and Celtic. They're sporting in their own way however, although their jousts usually involve elbows and might even end up with one or the other down and out -- they'll come and pick each other up, and always, always shake hands after their races!" Watched from the centre green, the race is brilliantly exciting. Makovsky rides his bike in a manner that suggests he�s a cross between a gymnast and a jockey. Michal frequently alters his body position to change his weight distribution on the bike to ring out the maximum speed from his machine. Michal�s manoeuvre round the banked third and fourth bends (on the third lap) stands out for its potent mix of daring and skill. He initially tries to blast round the top of the banking but, when he finds that avenue past blocked, he shuts off dramatically and so has to suddenly throw out his leg to counterbalance the g-force of this sudden manoeuvre to steady himself enough to stay on his bike. It�s poetry in motion. The bare facts of the race are that he finishes third behind race winner Ryan Fisher and his teammate Michal Rajkowski but, that said, the speed he generates while he gymnastically dances-cumglides around his bike is poetic to witness. People often claim to me that they have the best job in speedway but, surely, anyone who gets to watch the racing from the centre green on a regular basis does really enjoys a privilege that must be hard to ever become jaundiced about!
Not only has 2009 seen a 20 per cent reduction in the price of the Berwick programme but expectations about the quality of said product have changed dramatically too. Dennis McCleary draws everyone�s attention to tonight�s collection for the Speedway Riders� Benevolent Fund and then follows it with a statement on behalf of the club, "We apologise for the resolution of the printing on page 2 of the programme." Dick Barrie concludes his centre-green interview with the recommendation that everyone purchase my latest book, something he renames as "Quantum of Speedway". If the result of heat 11 suggests a possible Monarchs fightback, then the team, management and fans are quickly disabused of this idea in heat 12 by another win from Tero Aarnio (to take his points tally to paid 15 from five rides). He�s closely followed home by Paul Clews, while Max Dilger gets a consolation point for the Monarchs to further extend his personal points tally to paid 3 from four rides. After four successive 5-1s (three of them for the Bandits), the 40-32 scoreline still offers possible hope of a Monarchs fightback. However, the choice of Edinburgh pair for heat 13 - Ryan Fisher with Byron Bekker - either indicates all hope is lost or, from a more cynical/tactical point of view, that Edinburgh wish to �fall� enough points behind to use a tactical option. When Ryan Fisher finishes behind Michal Makovsky, their 10 point deficit allows Monarchs wily co-promoter and team manager, John Campbell, to send out Matthew Wethers in the blackand- white helmet colour for the penultimate race of the night. Mathematically a 8-1 heat advantage followed by a 5-1 could give Edinburgh an unlikely 46-47 win but this possible scenario is immediately wrecked when Stan Burza wins his third race of the night.
So many changes have been wrought at Shielfield Park Stadium that even the catering vehicle has undergone a significant make-over. As a steady stream of satisfied customers departs to the burger van, one man with a burger and a chop advises, "That�s my idea of a balanced diet!" GRT Media supremo, Bob Tasker draws my attention to something I might have otherwise missed, "You will notice a big difference here - there might not be tons of overtaking but there�s many less crashes!!" Preparations for the last race of the Premier League meeting are put on hold after the wonder-wheel jumps off the back of the tractor about five yards ahead of gate three. Dick Barrie makes a virtue of this mechanical failure, "What about that? A wonder-wheel that can jump off the tractor by itself!" Davina Johnston takes a phlegmatic view, "I like to see overtaking, there�s not so much of that! Some of these southern boys come out of the gate - like Ben Barker last week - and they�re gone! That�s not racing when they�re off and away! It�s much better here but I like to see overtaking." While the track staff struggle with the beached wonder-wheel Dick Barrie takes it upon himself to explain the miracle of speedway scoring (one race from the end of the meeting) and concludes his analysis, "It�s a bit like cricket, actually!" Somewhat obsessed with the recent record of the Monarchs ("we race our bogey team - you read the programme, it�s in there!"), Dick excitedly shares his joy that the Bandits finally win their first home fixture against the Monarchs since their 52-38 Premier Trophy victory in March 2007. "It�s the first time the Bandits have beaten the Monarchs in 12 meetings!" When heat 15 eventually gets underway, Ryan Fisher wins but the heat is drawn. Second-placed Stan Burza demonstrates his donuting ability afterwards, while Dick Barrie chortles, "For the Monarchs fans on the back straight, you must be gritting your teeth and Stan�s got a small celebration for you!" Moments after, Dennis McCleary runs through the final racecard. The Bandits stars of the night are Tero Aarnio [paid 16], Stan Burza [paid 13] and Michal Makovsky [paid 12]. Ryan Fisher top scores for the Monarchs ably supported by Matthew Wethers [paid 12]. A man of generous spirit who believes praise should be given where praise is due, Dennis McCleary informs us, "In fact the whole meeting was controlled by Michael Breacons - a probationary referee - and what a good job he did!" Predictably enough Tero Aarnio is nominated as the "most entertaining" rider of the night. On the centre green Dick Barrie speaks to the person next to him but accidentally broadcasts his ruminations over the stadium loudspeaker system, "And what�s the presenter�s name? Jevon? Oh, yes, Jevon!"
Far away in Hertfordshire, Rye House stage a double-header fixture against King�s Lynn and Birmingham. Dennis McCleary leaves us in no doubt that he�s bemused, "That match at Rye House versus Birmingham will be starting at 5 past 9. Goodness me! You�ll be home before the result of that one!" Graham Platten�s son Matthew provides me with a matter-of-fact update on his dad�s Motor Neurone Disease. "Oh, he�s alright! [then, in a way it says he�s definitely not] he has his good days and his bad days. He struggles to walk and get up and down stairs. He has a stick now and he�s more confident with that. He loves coming here and he�s desperate to go to Scunthorpe [with Bob Tasker]." 
Monarchs fan Karen Kelly discounts the significance of tonight�s defeat in the context of tomorrow�s local derby fixture with the Glasgow Tigers. "You can carry one rider but not two! I�m not looking forward to going to Glasgow for tomorrow. That�s one place I hate to go to and lose! We looked through the back issues of the Speedway Star and saw Dilger has scored quite well in Poland!" Mike Hunter�s primary concern is with the ongoing deleterious impact the late season fixture pile up inflicts upon man and machine. "The team�s falling apart due to circumstances - it�s become an endurance test! The German�s [Dilger] not up to much. Dunno how riders can beat Elite League riders in Germany and look so out of sorts here? It can�t be that different!"
Despite the strict time curfew at Shielfield Park Stadium, nonetheless, the Berwick promotion stage a Berwick Borderers versus Edinburgh Wildcats Junior Challenge meeting over six heats (that the programme advertises as Berwick Borderers v. Team Viking). The home side run out comprehensive victors 20-10. It transpires that Johnny Grey isn�t really the Edinburgh number 8 (or, then again since this is speedway, actually might be) but rides for Berwick. Either way, he definitely wears the number 2 race tabard for the Berwick Borderers. In the number 3 tabard is the exotically named Hungarian Tamas Sike, whose surname is bound to cause pronunciation problems when his career takes off (pronounced Si-Kay). Not only does the junior challenge provide harum scarum entertainment and give valuable track time for the youngsters but it also gives trainee referee Michael Breckon further opportunity to hone his judicial decisionmaking. "This ref is very strict, I dunno who he is, but before the start he made all the stewards clear the kids from by the start gate before he would allow the meeting to start! We�ve never had a ref do that!"
[Footnote 1 A glance at the racecard in the centre of the Bandits programme reveals every heat has a sponsor. The text by heat 13 reads, "Dougie Templeton - Thanks Berwick for the Memories."]
[Footnote 2 Club captain Paul Clews offers his informed assessment of the situation via the pages of the Speedway Star. "Having joined Berwick midway through 2008, I noticed a few differences this year and made everything work for me. The promoters, John Anderson and Lynda Waite, were absolutely first-rate and there was a family atmosphere about the place. They were always looking at ways to encourage new people through the gates and it seems to have worked from what I can see. What we as a team gave back to the promoters and the supporters, was entertainment and a lot of winning ways I�d say. In truth, the track changed quite a lot this year and a lot of riders really rate it. Under Peter Waite last year, the track was wet and heavy and quite hard to ride, though I didn�t think it was too bad. This year, though, it was smoother and slicker but with the dirt line on the outside. Not everyone liked that high line but that�s a huge part of my game."]
 [Footnote 3 - John Anderson echoes some of these comments in an interview with Peter Oakes in the Speedway Star. "When we were involved as sponsors I tried to help Peter to do things to try and give a little to make things better. I could see where the downfalls were, the track was like a ploughed field some nights. I thought at times the track was dangerous, especially the second bend. Ian�s changed all that, although he�s still not happy with it yet, he keeps telling us it�s still not finished! If you see the track now you wouldn�t believe it�s the same track. We�ve had people like Gary Havelock saying they like coming to Berwick ... Peter was a deep guy, you never really got to know much, he was very much a one-man band - we�ll try to give it back to the community. I liken it to a merrygo- round. If some of the cogs are not working properly, you can sometimes have a rough ride. The things that had to be attended to first was the track, the safety fence and lighting. We couldn�t have entertainment if the track was like a ploughed field. I�m not a millionaire or anything but I said to Lynda the extra money we had should be spent on lights ... if the product isn�t right, you can�t sell it. I think we are getting the product right but that�s not down to me and Lynda it�s because of other people - [names] Ian Rae, Dennis McCleary, Dick Barrie, Lawrence Heppell, Dave Peet and Phil and Julie Newton.]
[Footnote 4 There�s quite a selection of sponsors and these include: Nissan-Suzuki-Vauxhall in Berwick and Alnwick; there�s Blackshaws Garages. You could do worse than to �check out Cara House� for bed and breakfast or the Berwick Wedding Parlour in Castlegate. A1 Cabs offer a �Prompt Reliable Service�; Cameron Lowrie is definitely yer man for �All Types of Fencing�. You can �Travel in Style� with Waits Coaches. If the renowned fish and chips at the always Robert Smith �Quality Takeaway� aren�t for you (it would be silly to deny yourself) after the meeting then there�s always the �authentic� Hong Kong Chop Suey House Chinese Takeaway. John and Tricia can help you become much more proficient at the City School of Motorcycling. For a rare example of sponsor synergy, you could go to Ideal Carpets and get the �Best Choice at Best Prices (WE SELL BEDS NOW)� and then later call into the �Specialist Carpentry and Upholstery Cleaning Technicians� at Dry Fusion. In fact you�re completely spoilt for choice on the carpet front since Jim Youngman Carpets have �Carpets and Beds for Every Budget�. You can hire unspecified machines and get your �Groundworks Priced� at AGF Plant (Drew Fiddes).]
[Footnote 5 so, he should have shouted, "Why pick Wilkinson? He rides mid track against a team of riders who can pass on the inside or outside!". This doesn�t quite have the same ring about it.]
[Footnote 6 Sadly Graham lost his fight against Motor Neurone Disease on 10th December 2009. Graham was track photographer at Shielfield from 2000 until the end of the 2008 season when he gave up his familiar role on the centre green and that of trackshop franchisee due to his illness. Dennis McCleary officially commented: "On behalf of everyone involved with Berwick, from the promotion to the riders, officials and staff we express our sincere condolences to Christine and all the family following Graham�s passing today. We all knew he was not in the best of health and only yesterday Colin Poole and Michal Makovsky visited Graham in hospital at South Tyneside. To receive news of his death today was a hammer blow. Those who had the pleasure to know Graham Platten as a friend and to work with him through speedway will know what we mean when we say he was a gentleman, a genuine family man who loved his sport, particularly Berwick speedway. In all my years of being involved in the sport at Shielfield I can honestly say I have not met a more decent man." Tributes poured into the electronic Book of Condolence on the club website. Graham�s niece Natalie Platten posts a message in response to the many respondents: "My Uncle Graham was a great man, I always knew that, though what I didn�t know was how many lives he had touched. He was a very talented photographer but, more importantly, he was a real family man. Nothing was ever too much trouble for him. My heart is with his five children who he should be so proud off and Christine his loving wife who he was so happy with. Everyone always says the best ones go first. This really was the case with Graham."]
How to buy "Shale Trek"
This article was first published on 30th September 2010
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