The Linlithgow Story
Linlithgow Speedway was the brainchild of former rider Alan Robertson. Robertson was a junior with Edinburgh and was frustrated with the lack of racing opportunities. The nearest training facility was at Felton in Northumberland, a long and expensive journey from central Scotland. Robertson set his heart on building his own track nearer to home.
In 1988 Robertson finally found some suitable land. By this time his own career was over and his motivation was to provide others with the opportunities he never had. The land was on a Linlithgow farm and required a huge amount of work before it would be suitable for racing. By the middle of the following year he and his team of helpers had constructed a basic, but serviceable, training circuit.
The track offered first rides to many riders and staged irregular training meetings for some of the more experienced juniors. Riders to benefit from these facilities included James Grieves, Stewart McDonald, Blair Scott and Barry Campbell.
During the early nineties plans were hatched to form a low cost training league to replace the existing junior leagues. Robertson expressed support for the idea and indicated his willingness to field a side.
After several false starts the league was launched in 1994. Linlithgow became founder members but only after they had built a completely new track and stadium. The existing circuit was too small for league racing and the spectator facilities were non-existent.
The team that took to the track, now christened Linlithgow Lightning, consisted mainly of reasonably experienced juniors. None seemed to have real potential but all benefited from the experience of regular league racing. For some of them the league undoubtedly came a couple of years too late. The experienced Geoff Powell led the side in that inaugural season and was joined by Stuart Coleman, Grant Blackie, Paul Taylor and Neil Hewitt amongst others.
The end of season accounts did not make pretty reading. What had started as a low cost training league had evolved into a fully blown third division. The pay rates, rumoured to have been ten pounds a point, were more than could be sustained on Linlithgow's meagre crowds. The promotion lost heavily but decided to carry on into 1995.
There were few changes to the side at the start of that second season. Stewart McDonald, fresh from a Division 2 win with Glasgow, was recruited to add some extra strength but was soon snapped up by Premier League Middlesbrough. The club was still living outwith its means and by mid-season was in serious trouble and closed down.
The closure was shortlived and the club was back in business in a matter of weeks. The club was saved after the riders agreed to race for expenses only. The whole league would operate on this basis in future years.
The emphasis of team selection was beginning to change around about this time. Youngsters Brian Turner and Barry Campbell joined the side and veteran Geoff Powell moved on to Mildenhall. The club saw out the season and the progress of some of the youngsters offered much satisfaction.
The 1996 season is one that will always be fondly remembered by Lightning devotees. The team, now boosted by 15 year olds Blair Scott and Grant MacDonald, won both the league and the cup. It was a remarkable performance from such an inexperienced side. The most experienced rider was Peter Scully the former Belle Vue and Edinburgh man. His career had lost momentum but he was in blistering form throughout the '96 season.
The sport restructured over the winter and five of the Lightning side found places in the new Premier League. A sixth, Neil Hewitt, was track reserve at Edinburgh and remained available for selection. He was appointed skipper of the new Lightning side and started the season in blistering form. Tragically he was paralysed in a track crash at Armadale and is now confined to a wheelchair.
The mantle of skipper and number one passed to Paul Taylor, an original Lightning team member on the comeback trail. He led an extremely inexperienced side that struggled desperately. Some of the previous year's side returned to help out occasionally but results were seldom good.
One bright spot in that difficult season was the discovery of a youngster called Ross Brady. Brady had limitless potential but was extremely raw and prone to falling. He couldn't get to grips with the tight Linlithgow circuit and was allowed to move on to Peterborough.
It was no real surprise when Robertson decided not to enter the team in the 1998 league. The available riders were not ready for league racing and Robertson decided to concentrate on a grass roots training operation. A series of practice meetings were staged and the public were admitted free of charge. Steven Jones of Newcastle benefitted from these sessions and came on in leaps and bounds.
The team was back in the league in 1999. John Campbell, the experienced Edinburgh promoter, joined the club and took on much of the administrative and financial responsibilities. Jonathon Swales, Steven Jones and Rob Grant proved to be the big scorers while Derek Sneddon and Robert McNeil slotted in further down the order. It was an entertaining side that contained a great deal of potential. Swales brought success to the club when he was crowned Conference League Riders Champion.
During the 1999 season it became apparent that the future of the venue was in doubt. The land the stadium stood on was sold on and the new owner had other plans for the site. The venue closed in October 1999 with a fun four team tournament featuring riders like Les Collins, Mick Powell and David Meldrum.
This article was first published on 13th March 2004
|Please leave your comments on this article|