Middlesbrough the Best Best....By Steve Harland
Steve Harland is editor of the Middlesbrough website - ClevelandParklife
RECENTLY I wrote a lengthy letter to the Speedway Star magazine about wanting to have speedway return to the Teesside area. Towards the end of the letter I told people to forget about Ellesmere Port and Boston, and consider Middlesbrough instead. It appears Boston fans are up in arms about what I said but I make no apologies and here's why.
Between 1961 and 1996 there was only one season when Middlesbrough never ran, though a couple of seasons were ran on 'open licence'. From 1968 onwards the club had an unbroken run of 28 consecutive seasons. No other club in the lower tier could match that continuity. Speedway didn't cease at Middlesbrough because of the decline in attendances, the land on which the stadium stood was sold for redevelopment. For a good 20 years attendances were always healthy. If the stadium hadn't been sold, speedway and greyhound racing would still co-exist to this day. Granted the support had dwindled from thousands to hundreds towards the end but there were numerous reasons why, some, which for legal reasons I am not allowed to comment on. The amalgamation of the two leagues in 1995 certainly didn't do the likes of Middlesbrough, Exeter & Sheffield any favours. Promoter Malcolm Wright even expressed his doubts as to whether the club could sustain a higher level. He was right, a weak team captained by Shane Parker, were out of their depth and instead of attendances maintaining 1994 levels they dropped alarmingly. I felt sorry for Malcolm Wright because here was a genuine speedway fan who cared about the sport but he took over at Middlesbrough when there were doubts over the stadium. Indeed former promoter Tim Swales had been advised to sell up because speedway at Middlesbrough had now become a loss making venture.
In Boston's case I was present for the Boston v Middlesbrough match in 1987 when there were just over 300 people including a fair few from Teesside. The programme from that evening stated that attendances at Boston were 300 below the break even figure. Soon after Boston went out of business. Apart from the early 1970s when crowds were bouyant Boston were in decline from 1978 onwards and eventually promoter Cyril Crane quit in the mid eighties. After a break the Barracudas returned under another promotion but only lasted 18 months before the plug was pulled. I seem to recall that local rivals Mildenhall were unhappy having loaned Boston a rider in 1986 that payments were falling behind schedule.
More recently speedway was introduced to another Lincolnshire venue just down the road from Boston, in Skegness. Two promotions found to their cost that the people of Linconshire were not willing to support a speedway team. Since then we have seen people like Stephen Lambert looking to get speedway back in Boston and set the wheels in motion by using King's Lynn as a homebase. As far as Conference League racing is concerned I'm sure Boston would support that level of racing but they would only support Premier League racing if they had a successful team to support, anything less, and as history has proved, they would not sustain interest over a long period.
In Ellesmere Port's case prospective promoter Tony Mole has made more than one bid to stage speedway there and been knocked back on each occasion. The council have made it clear they don't want speedway back. Speedway in the town was popular for a few brief seasons in the 1970s. Former promoter Ian Thomas didn't hang around when attendance figures weren't matching his figures. Even before the 1970s ended 'Port's general manager Joe Shaw was not happy about crowd levels. In 1985 having won the National League championship promoter Mervyn Porter moved the whole operation to Long Eaton. A club who had finished rock bottom of the same league that Ellesmere Port had won the year before. Porter mentioned the poor attendances the club had suffered throughout 1985 as the main reason for moving but even if that wasn't the case why didn't someone else come in to promote if the venue was that successful?
Premier League speedway racing was sustained in Middlesbrough quite successfully for many more years than both Boston and Ellesmere Port endured, therefore it stands to reason why the sport would stand much more of a chance of succeeding on Teesside than on Lincolnshire and Cheshire.
This article was first published prior to October 2002
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