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Inside Story : Elfield Park

Terry Cheney was the visionary behind the introduction and promotion of Speedway at the purpose built Elfield Park circuit in Milton Keynes. Here is the exclusive inside story of his days in command.

We left Groveway because the owners had a plan to sell off some of the site for luxury housing and they didn't feel it would assist their value stuck right next to a speedway. We, the consortium, were very disappointed, as we felt we had made a fair effort to put a little bit of buzz back into the venue. We felt very sorry for outgoing promoter Ted Jarvis, who had given blood for the cause of Milton Keynes, and suffered the worst run of Tuesday weather imaginable in the early part of the 1988 season. We never expected to have our feet taken from under us, especially as we offered to invest time and labour into the venue to improve it.

We were pointed towards Elfield Park, as it was a designated noisy sports area - a matter contested by the professional protesters who were unaware that I would be presenting the official documents at the court hearing to prove the fact. In summing up, the prosecution opined that the noise coming out of Elfield Park could be compared to the irritating clatter of a very old typewriter. I remember smiling and promising to buy a more up to date model.

It was bloodymindedness, I guess, that drove the Elfield Park effort. Had we known the hassle we were going to encounter, needless to say, we wouldn't have bothered - in a nutshell, we were politically stuffed ! Bob Humphreys started the ball rolling at Elfield with a BMX plot and sort of started to put the plan together. It was then Deano Barker's dad, Mick, who developed the training track - which was far too small for league racing, but an excellent training facility. Mick came on board at the outset, and we set about putting in the new track.

Security on site was always a problem. It was such an isolated site, it was impossible to raise insurance - a nightmare scenario, so it was guarded in vigilante fashion. Having measured out the new track, we found ourselves faced with an existing, but derelict, farm house standing slap in the middle of the fourth bend. Our first obstacle was to go to planning to get permission to demolish it. So, picture this - We had 80 per cent of the track laid and a house standing, with the planning meeting set for March 8th and the new season looming fast. Permission granted, site flooded with plant and said house demolished and made an excellent hardcore base for fourth bend.

At this time, we had none of the banking the site finished up with, just a five foot raised platform for viewing. The season opened with the site looking extremely basic and arguably tidier than it did at the death. Opening day came and went in a flash to be honest, we never had time to worry what could have, did, or didn't go wrong - it was all a haze. The early days were fraught with teething problems, the track - so freshly laid, was subject to settlement, despite the constant sight of JCB's trundling around for endless days compacting it. Viewing was excellent, although creature comforts were primitive - to say the least, but we felt that it was right to strive for a venue that may one day prove to be one of the only stand alone venues in which speedway was king - and its own landlord. This was a very important objective. It wasn't long before all the professional protesters came out of the woodwork though and our famous heaven-high banks started to come out of the ground in an effort to contain any noise within our boundaries. With the banking came other problems with placing buildings on site, drainage and security.

We always tried to make Elfield Park a welcoming venue, but there was no denying, it was a five star bomb site, with a great heart and even better atmosphere. The actual viewing was second to none, as was the mud on really wet nights. One favourite memory was when Allan Ham turned up with his illustrious Bradford side, having been drawn against us in the Inter-League Cup. On arrival he asked to be directed to the Executive car park - Bless him, he took it all in good heart. Then came heat one, Gordon Kennett and Paul Woods out with Gary Havelock and Wiggy, well, it must have been the culture shock that did it, 'cos we 5-1'd the unstoppable Dukes. Needless to say, we got stuffed in the match, but........

Daz Sumner went particularly well around there, as did Todd Wiltshire, Les Collins, Frede Schott and most of the opposing riders. Being a new, settling track, it was fair to say that, in the early days, the home riders were not impressed. As with all new tracks, there was no home advantage, and, as the team had to be built with a very tight budget in mind, our lads always had to work hard for their money. The track did improve, and in latter days, both Troy Butler and Gordon Kennett looked special around there.

Regarding vandalism, we had more than our fair share. The day we were due to hold the Craig Featherby Memorial Trophy, we arrived to find that someone had set fire to the main electrics. The National League office was informed, and Alan Hodder put out the announcement the meeting would be postponed. I underestimated the next scenario, for as the news broke locally, the papers swarmed the place with offers to call in help wherever possible, and an army of fans also turned up, willing to roll up their sleeves. it was a very stiff ask, but, knowing the work had to be done anyway, we set about repairing the damage. Realising, a little later, that there was an chance we could pull the rabbit out of the hat, I contacted the National League Office to tell them what had occurred and suggested we reverse the decision in light of all the noble effort expended. This, unfortunately, was met with a cold response, and it was a moment responsible for a dimming of the light of hope within me.

The other major occurence was when we had worked tirelessy throughout the close season to comply with council wishes to raise the banking to contain the noise (?), and had to put a makeshift tunnel through the main bank, install and refurbish new portakabins for a special bar area, catering area and main bar, only to get called from my bed in the middle of the night before we were due to open the next day, to be informed that the whole lot had been set ablaze. Yes, we managed to open, but I was left with no walls to head butt!

I have never been back to the site since the time I walked away back in 1992. I met some truly excellent people during those strange days, many of whom sweated blood for the cause of our weekly methanol fix, but my life would have been so much more straightforward had I walked away after we were asked to leave the Groveway.

Will speedway ever return to Milton Keynes? Yes, it is inevitable! The fact that it's cable city is a plus, but, then again, the Milton Keynes public are spoilt for choice when it comes to entertainment - the place has everything - and, it's all new and shiny..........except for the concrete cows, that is - anyone got a pooper scoop?

 

This article was first published on 3rd July 2004


 

  • Chris Baldwin:

    "I have some rather sad news regards Elfield Park. I recently visited the site for part of my University research, and the site has been flattened ready for development, the whole place is just mud. It was quite upsetting when I visited, and went to the shopping centre with muddy shoes. There is nothing remaining to remind anyone of what was once there, except from the signs at the entrance road, which in some way I wish I could have taken."

  • Alison Ridgway:

    "Wow reading your inside story article on Elfield Park really brought back some happy memories for me. I was 16 when we had our last meeting at Milton Keynes and am still missing my speedway! I travel to Oxford to see the Silver Machine about 3 times a season and long for the day that speedway returns to MK. There seems to be very little speedway information on the net so I'm really glad I've found your site - keep up the good work!"

  • Mike Wilson:

    "Wow, the memories this article stirs. I was the captain of the junior team when Elfield opened and also rode in some first team matches. The fans were second to none and Tuesdays back in 89 were some of the highlights of my life. Having come from NZ I thought Elfield was a paradise as all we got to race on here were mega grippy tracks designed for the cars. Paul Atkins who was a very popular team member emigrated over here after I asked him to come race for the summer and we often {as you do} reminise about those days. Terry Cheney sweated blood for that place and was the best promoter a young kid from NZ could have hoped for. I went back for a holiday in 96 and visited the old place and even then it was a derelict site and I felt very sad for everyone but especially the diehard fans who were always ready to buy a skint rider a pint. LONG LIVE THE MILTON KEYNES KNIGHTS......RISE AGAIN FROM THE ASHES."

  • Peter Perry:

    "I only went twice, but two good matches, Rosspigarna (Sweden) with Tony Rickardsson and a touring team from Hungary. The track was very smooth almost like a billiard table, but the facilities were very basic, i think that was the charm of the place. Happy memories."

  • Dave Carter:

    "Being a reading fan it was Reading on a Monday, the Knights on a Tuesday - Peter Glanz, Nobby Atkins, the Blackbird bros, Trevor Banks and some mad Frenchman. Happy days, both gone, thank you Stadia UK."

  • Andy Downing:

    "I remember the Elfied Park meetings well. Also many of the riders that passed through at the time including Mike Wilson who I think was one of the only riders at the time still using a DOHC Jawa if I remember rightly. I can still see Hans Nielsen gracing the track in an inter league challenge. Racing like he was sitting in an armchair!"

  • Steve Perry:

    "Very sad indeed... I was Mike Wilsons 'spannerman', I worked next to where he worked and got on very well indeed. I used to love the speedway nights and the away legs... some very funny times. I remember dropping into Mike in NZ during a trip and having some giggles about what we used to get up to. Happy times."

  • Mandy:

    "Oh happy days. I remember going to Elfield when it was a training track and spending the odd weekend painting the barriers. ... And happier racing 'knights' and searching my way back to the car over the rough dark car park after a night in the bar. What fun!"

  • Martyn:

    "I used to do the first aid at the practice track, often the only one in the middle in all weathers, good times!Ccan anyone remember the ex rider's name that use to run the days practice meetings? I never was any good with names, I knew all the regular "Practicers" but can't tell you any of their names."

  • Brian Clay:

    "Remember those days well, I used to help with the track with my father when Bob Humphreys had it ( Bob would remember me as tanker drivers boy ) then after Bob closed, we had the Mike Barker era . Well the names he would call me esp when I was riding my bike! Oh to take that old Sherpa van of his round the track again. Fun days with the Barkers as for some of the riders I recall - John Perry, Trever Edwards, Fraser Southerland plus Mick's boys. Those were my fun days. I can only admire Terry for trying to keep MK going."

  • Richard Williams:

    "I used to ride at Elfield Park when Mick ran the training schools, happy day's! Names that I remember racing with included Kevin Howse, Anthony Brown, Long haired Kev, Rob & many others! I was the one that always broke many footrests & toes!! I then later refereed the 2003 Championship of GB. I was on a training course in Milton Keynes & took a walk along where our little track used to be, I could almost smell and hear the old DOHC's & Wessie's. It may not of been Wembley, more like Bomb site central, but to me it was pure Heaven!! :)"

  • Graham Andrews:

    "Just reminiscing about Elfied Park training school. I rode there in 82 and 83 when Bob Humphreys ran. It would be nice to catch up with old friends. "

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