This article was first published at the end of the 2000 season
One of the success stories of the season has been the return of Mark Courtney. Mark has made the transition from jail bird to heatleader remarkably easily. Prior to this season Mark hadn't raced since 1993. This was the year that he made an unsuccesful return to former club Middlesbrough. An incident in a Swindon hotel room, that Mark still insists he was not responsible for, led to his sacking and he drifted into retirement.
Sports stars often encounter problems after retiring and Mark was no different. He became involved in the movement of drugs, got caught and was sentenced to six years imprisonment. It was all a long way from his early days in Speedway.
Mark's career started at Barrow and he showed much promise in a poor 'Furness Flyers' side. His team mates included veteran Charlie Monk and the controversial Geoff Pusey. The Flyers were short lived and Mark joined Middlesbrough in 1979. He stayed for three years and quickly developed into one of the finest riders in the National League.
In 1982 he made the step up to the British League with the Leicester Lions (currently the subject of some debate in the 'Star' letters page). His rapid improvement continued and when the Lions closed at the end of '83 he was their number one. Mark's career was never to reach these heights again.
1984 saw Mark join Belle Vue. The Aces had an extremely powerful side and Mark found the points harder to come by. His average dipped and it was no real surprise when the points limit forced him out at the year's end.
He headed for King's Lynn and there his downward spiral continued. The following year he dropped back to National League racing and rejoined Middlesbrough. A young British League number one in 1983 had become a National League rider by 1986. He was not the only big name to drop down that year, he found himself joined by Dave Jessup, Malcolm Simmons and Les Collins. This was largely due to the rapidly diminishing size of the upper tier.
Mark enjoyed a decent season but should possibly have dominated more than he did. Once again he was on the move after only one year. This time he made the short hop to Newcastle's Brough Park. He should have been a great capture for the Federation Special Diamonds but found himself being overshadowed by David Blackburn, Dave Morton and Tom Owen (the latter two both, by this stage, well past their best). The Diamonds were late withdrawals from the 1988 league, by this team Mark had already moved on to Berwick.
Bandits' promoter Davie Fairbairn made positive noises about the capture of Courtney. Few believed that Mark would justify his faith but this time Mark got it right. He practiced hard and was reborn by the time the season started. His early season form was brilliant and it just kept on going. In retrospect this was probably the most consistent season of his career. He remained with the Bandits until the end of 1990, his consistency had slipped a little by that time but he was still a real force to be reckoned with.
Berwick opted to join the all new Division 1 in 1991 and Mark opted to retire. He resurfaced at Glasgow as 'Team Coach' but was soon embroiled in controversy as he replaced Kenny McKinna in the Tigers side. This put him under immediate pressure but he scored reasonably well. He partnered Jason Lyons and his brilliant team riding was a joy to watch.
A very public falling out with Neil McFarlane ensured that he would once again be moving on in 1992. He joined his brother Sean in the mammoth weekly trek to Rye House. Both brothers did a job for the Rockets but it was only ever likely to be for one season. Mark then completed the first phase of his career with that ill-fated return to Middlesbrough.
This article was first published prior to October 2002
"I thought Mark could have been as good as Gary Havelock if he had stuck to it. I used to love watching him at Cleveland Park when he first started out. Mark, Steve Wilcock and Martin Dixon were 3 of the best heat leaders I have seen ride together in 47 yearrs watching speedway."
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