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The Return of the Gunners

This article was first published in 2001

The prospective return of the Ellesmere Port Gunners should provide a welcome boost to next year's Premier League. The Gunners last raced in 1985 and signed off in style by lifting that year's National League title. That victory was overshadowed by the tragic crash that ended the career of Joe Owen and which has consigned him to a wheelchair ever since. Owen was at that time the undisputed star of the league and played a massive part in the title success.

The side also featured, the still racing, David Walsh along with the long retired Dave Morton, Louis Carr, Gary O'Hare and Miles Evans. On paper the side didn't look that strong but the inspiration of Owen and improvement from the youngsters was enough to clinch the title. The Gunners were expected to come to the tapes in 1986 but financial problems forced to club to close.

The man behind the proposed revival is one of Speedway's greatest friends, Tony Mole. Over the years Mole has been involved at Wolves, Long Eaton, Oxford and is currently the man behind the success story that is Workington. He runs the sport as a business and is one of the few to actually run a profitable Speedway club.

As well as planning to act as promoter, Mole is considering making a bid to buy the stadium. The Thornton Road circuit, the original home of the Gunners, is owned by the council but the greyhound company that held the lease has recently gone into liquidation. Mole has stated that he would also consider running greyhounds. This would appear to make the whole project more commercially viable. The stadium itself has fallen into disrepair and some work would be required before the bikes could return.

Predictably there is some local opposition to Mole's proposals. Noise and car parking appear to be the most contentious issues. Sound tests have proven that lorries on the nearby motorway make more noise than the bikes would, hopefully this will be taken into account by those considering the evidence. The car parking hurdle can hopefully also be overcome. The existing stadium car park can cater for 230 cars and there is some currently unused land that could also be utilised. On the whole it seems that the planning application has a fighting chance. Promisingly, a recent meeting of local residents ended in a show of hands in favour of the sport returning.

Assisting Mole in this project is former Ellesmere hero Graham Drury. Drury, a magistrate in Wrexham, used to be general manager when Mole owned Long Eaton. It seems likely that he would be offered a similar role at Ellesmere. Drury proved an able administrator in his spell with the Invaders and would be welcomed back into the fold.

The intention seems to be to apply for Premier League membership. This could throw up some interesting winter discussion as Somerset and Belle Vue have also indicated that they wish to switch into that league. If all these moves go ahead then we would have a strong and vibrant Premier League but both the Elite and Conference would be struggling for numbers.

It's too early to speculate on the make up of the new Gunners side, but we will anyway. If they're looking for a link to the past then riders like David Walsh, Peter Carr and Neil Collins are all fomer Gunners and still in competitive action. Collins is actually currently racing for Mole at Workington but seems unlikely to feature in their long term plans. An entertainer like him might just fit the bill for this new venture.

 

This article was first published prior to October 2002


 

  • Craig Watkins:

    "Bring Back the Gunners. I was privileged to watch the Gunners way back in the late 70s and early 80s. Witnessing John Jackson setting yet another New Track Record was an incredible sight."

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