A recent lunchtime walk in the pleasant Scottish summer sun caused me to walk down Logie Green Road in Edinburgh. For the more unfamiliar this used to be the road leading to Powderhall, home of the Edinburgh Monarchs. 'Used to be' is the operative phrase. I'm only 36 but even I was struggling to pick out what had once been. Reading the articles on this site have long brought back memories and I decided to commit some (perhaps random ones!) to paper.
I should state that I have always been a Hearts fan first and foremost but from my earliest days I was a regular attender at Powderhall with my father. In the early eighties, it made for a safe, more wholesome alternative to the football hooliganism if nothing else although he had been going infrequently since the days of Old Meadowbank. Indeed, he was there the night Peter Craven died.
The first memories of Powderhall I have are of running up and down the curious indoor seated area on the first bend and not paying a great deal of attention to the racing. Instead I looked forward to a Bar Six from the crank-handled vending machine or even a burger. However, as I got older I paid a lot more attention to the actual speedway. Perhaps the filling-out of speedway results in the programme helped train me to be the Business Analyst I am?!
Unlike with Hearts I didn't go to away matches - one visit to Berrington Lough and later, Shawfield aside - but even so, Powderhall struck me as one of the better speedway stadiums. For starters it had four sides including cover and a massive car park into which men in white coasts - the good type - would guide your car in. The stadium was directly beside the Duncan's Chocolate Factory - also now gone - and on nights with poorer weather you would anxiously wait to hear the roar of bikes warming up before paying to get in.
I was told tales of Ian Hoskin's promotions of the past - hats being set on fire and so on - and my dad regularly recalled a meeting where a pipe band had to accelerate their departure from the track amidst the first heat. By my time the riders were piped on by a mere record but the 'Black Bear' is still a tune that sends me back. The riders would walk round from the pits to their lined-up bikes and after introductions it was straight off for practice laps - in the case of Les Collins he simply spun his baseball cap - and in hindsight it was odd to see so riders roaring around without helmets as they do now. Maybe that was precipitated by one occasion I remember when Rod Colquhoun of Peterborough had to be extracted at length from the safety fence after crashing on the first lap of the practice.
That first bend was our normal home - along from the glass-fronted supporters bar - and on dry nights you could be showered by shale and still find clumps of it in your hair in the shower next morning. We eventually moved under the adjacent cover at the starting gate and the atmosphere in there - particularly against Glasgow - was superb. On the opposite side was the Main Stand with a stall which sold programmes from all over the country as well as the Speedway Mail and Star. I've still got them all. That was also the way to the pits and the various vans - and cars - carrying bikes would arrive behind the stand and pitch up on the hill beside the giant greyhound scoreboard. Supporters were free to wander round the area and after matches I collected the autographs of many riders which are no doubt illegible to me now.
The first riders I can remember are the likes of Dave Trownson, Scott Lamb, Neil Collins and George Hunter. However, by the mid-eighties they were superseded by Les Collins, Doug Wyer and Jamie Luckhurst. Les Collins was almost unbeatable around Powderhall but also had all the experience in the world and knew how to keep out of trouble. One distinct memory is of a match against Wimbledon Dons around 1988 when a last heat 5-1 clinched victory for the Monarchs. Powderhall went crazy and it seemed at that time that even the bigger teams didn't like coming north. I remember one night Exeter were taken for over sixty points in a processional meeting. The meetings against Glasgow always swelled the crowd and were 'tasty' although you had to admire riders like Steve Lawson and the many McKinnas that they produced. Jamie Luckhurst was also a superb rider although I seem to recall he left Edinburgh to become a Monk of all things. When he promptly returned with Middlesbrough he was assured a more hostile reception. He seemed a nice guy though and once walked all the way across the speedway and greyhound tracks to sign my programme which was good enough for me.
Monarchs raced on a Friday evening and with the weather good there was a relaxed feel about life as my Dad looked forward to a weekend free of work and I of school. As a result we usually stayed for the second-half and the reserves were entertaining in their own right. You certainly felt for them as they hung around all night just to get a few laps. Guys like Jon-Jon 'the White Knight' White and George Wells. I even joined the Ray Taaffe Fan Club. The nearby residents had long complained about the noise from Powderhall so there was often a rush to finish the meeting and sometimes those Juniors were the victims. There were also the brilliant 'De'il tak the hindmost' races after the main event in which, I think, eight riders lined-up and raced lap after lap with the last rider dropping out each time. That was eventually banned on safety grounds.
Of course Powderhall closed in 1995 after several years under threat of development. Monarchs subsequently moved to Glasgow for a season and now Armadale. I've been to just two speedway matches since - although I occasionally watch on SKY - an early visit to Armadale and then a couple of years ago a holiday in Berwick allowed me see the Bandits race Birmingham. My father had died a couple of years before and now I took along my own family. True to form my little boy spent most of the night running around and ignoring the racing. I had been to Shielfield with Hearts several times but as I stood at the first corner and listened to the prolonged roar of four engines and then the 'snap' of the tape there were tears in my eyes as I was taken back 30 years to Powderhall with my Dad alongside me.
I might never be the complete speedway fan but it will always bring back the fondest of memories.
This article was first published on 16th June 2013
"Enjoyed reading this article, I was a regular in the late seventies before I could get into pubs. My mate was a bigger fan than me and used to drag me along every week.Bert Harkins was a big draw if I can remember correctly, he had a dirty yellow jacket and a distinctive upright style. Have been once to Armadale but it did not hold the memories as Powderhall. "
"Very evocative and nicely written article, thanks."
"Great place Powderhall. I am surprised the wall of death man never got a mention in the article. We all know who he is. I gave them every pennies worth of entertainment. I am only joking of course (no I am not). I remember the shacks at the back where the cold showers were cause I was always the last one in them. That was my wake up for the long trek home 220 miles. Beautiful place my beloved Powderhall. "
"Scott - a lovely and beautifully written and personal article. My late mother first took me to the speedway at West Ham in 1964, so I know how you felt when you started taking your own family. A very absorbing and interesting piece. Thank you for it."
"My dad Jimmy Duncan loved speedway and used to tell me about me going to Meadowbank when I was a toddler. I grew up going to Coatbridge and Berwick but Powderhall was the place where magic happened. Friday nights with the smell of chocolate from the factory and standing at the 30 yard line with my dad was just a special time. Sadly dad died last year but was a Monarch to the end. I heard the Black Bear recently and it just brought back so many happy memories. I've been to Armadale but its just not the same"
"What I didn't know then I know now about all these riders when I burst upon the scene in 78 just how long of a head start they had on me. Powderhall was a great Stadium to track was tricky but once you learned it it was a fairly good track. The stadium was better than most British League tracks in the 1st division. I have to give my thanks to the Scottish people without them I would have never had a Speedway career. "
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