We all know that speedway is a dangerous sport and (although the riders know and accept the risks) it's always devastating when we hear of a rider copping a bad injury. The consequences of a track crash can be long lasting and change a rider's life forever. Alan Wilkinson is one such individual, having been confined to a wheelchair since a crash at Belle Vue in 1978 - some 32 years ago now. Alan, or Wilkie as he's universally known, is now practically housebound in his home in Barrow in Furness.
This new book (written by Richard Frost) tells his story, from his earliest days, right through his cruelly truncated speedway career and on to his life nowadays. All proceeds from the book go directly to Alan.
Alan's career wasn't short on controversy, he seemed to get involved in more than has fair share of scrapes and clashes with authority. His will to win was incredible and he certainly took no prisoners on the track. This is best exemplified when he admits to deliberately knocking off his team mates in a second half race, though this was in retribution for earlier harsh treatment he'd received.
We hear about his pride at being skipper of the world-famous Belle Vue Aces and get the inside story on his rapid rise through the ranks. There's also plenty of coverage of his time as Rochdale Hornet and even a section on a one-off appearance for the Newtongrange Saints. Incredibly his debut as a Saint was also his first ever official meeting and he scored a maximum!
One of the most entertaining chapters details a trip to Russia with the Aces. The world was a different place back then and it was next to impossible for the Russians to get their hands on western goods. Wilkie took full advantage and swapped many everyday items for expensive spares for his bike.
Adventures in Australia are also chronicled - sometimes he travelled as part of the official British Lions troupe and sometimes as a freelance rider making his own arrangements. Alan recalls these times fondly and the reader gets a good insight into what those trips were like.
This book is many things, partly sporting biography, partly an insight into the challenges faced by the severely disabled and in parts also a love story. Alan's wife Jean emerges from the story as a real unsung hero. When Alan had has bad crash she was a young woman who had only been married for five years. He made it clear to her that she was free to move on if she wished, but that underestimated the love she had for him and she became his full-time carer as well as his wife.
Alan's life has improved in recent years with the advent of the internet. This allows him to keep in touch with his many friends around the world and keep up to date with the latest speedway news. It's evident that he still has a lot of affection for the sport and is a regular viewer of the televised meetings on Sky Sports.
As well as telling Wilkie's story, the book allows him a platform to comment on the riders he raced with and against. As a team-mate of Peter Collins at both Rochdale and Belle Vue he's well qualified to comment on PC's brilliance. He's also able to offer fresh insights into what it was like to ride alongside Ivan Mauger. Chapters such as these can often be filler material in biographies, but in this case they're well worth reading.
Even in these tough financial times this book offers good value for money. When you consider the worthy cause it will raise money for, it becomes an essential purchase.
This article was first published on 14th October 2010
"It is a real shame about Alan. Speedway should take care of Alan. There should be a fund that all riders and tracks should donate to each week to be distributed to all injured riders that are in financial difficulty and injured because anyone could be in the same situation. It is like Ronnie O'Sullivan said when Alex Higgins died penniless that Snooker should have had a fund that helps everyone that has giving so much to their sport. "
"I am in full and total agreement with Ivan Blacka. Speedway should look after its injured riders they should be helped, by a fund should they get into financial difficulties. These riders have put their lives on the line for our entertainment, Yes I know its their choice they ride Speedway, they know the risks, but this doesn't distract from the fact riders do need help. Recently Gary Stead was confined to a wheelchair, after his tragic accident much was done to help Gary, but what about now? Has he now been forgotten by the Speedway authorities? A fund as suggested by Ivan would help riders like Gary, Joe Owen and Wilkie etc, LEST WE FORGET!!"
"This is a brilliant book, and I would appeal to all speedway people to buy this book."
"Just a little story thay might amuse you. Some years ago I was at Oxford watching Oxford versus Belle Vue. Someone broke the tapes and the referee decided that Alan was to blame and put his exclusion light on. Alan obviosly did not agree, because he walked all the way from the pits to the starting gate where they had just repaired the tapes- broke all fhree tapes with his hands, turned towards the referees box and gave a two fingered salute with both hands. I dont know if the referee took any action but it was a wonderful moment.Good luck Alan, and thanks for the memories."
"I too live in Barrow as does Alan. I followed speedway religiously in the 70's and knew of his tragic accident as soon as it happened. I was working at British Cellophane at the time where Alan worked and was told a few good tales about him. Sadly, not everything goes to plan in this world. I wish Alan all the best."
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