Speedway enthusiasts are sure to find this an informative read and even readers who don't know much about this hair-raising sport are in for an entertaining treat.
In 1923 Johnnie Hoskins pioneered the hair-raising sport of Speedway in New South Wales, Australia. In those early days this was one of the few businesses one could break into with modest capital. As he discovered, fortunes were made and lost with the trick being to know when to get out of the game. Some fifty years later his services to the sport were officially recognised when he was awarded an MBE.
Following in his father's footsteps, Ian Hoskins embarked on a career promoting and creating speedway venues in Scotland, England, Majorca and Zimbabwe. He admits to being broke when he retired from the sport but went on to launch a new career in the entertainment industry. Ian notes that despite the highs and lows of the sport once the "cinder bug" bites you are addicted for life.
In this exclusive extract from the book Ian covers the 1964 season, one of the watershed years in the sport's history.
The close season of 1963 was the most sensational in the entire history of speedway racing. The First Division was down to seven teams and they decided to ask the Control Board to invite certain Provincial League teams to join them. Wolverhampton was one of the sides invited. When Mike Parker, their promoter, rejected the idea, along with Poole, the other favoured track, the Control Board decided to use compulsion. The two teams would be promoted or else!
An emergency meeting was held by the Provincial promoters. We all decided to resist the directive. We were happy where we were. The Board then dropped its bombshell. Unless we agreed, every track and every rider who rode for us in 1964, would be declared 'black' and have to run outside of the A.C.U. and the F.I.M., the world controlling body. We would all have our licences revoked and be suspended indefinitely. It was the act of desperate men and a total abuse of power. But, it became a reality. Faced with the prospect of running outside of authority, of being banned for life, the Provincial promoters made an appeal to the RAC for a full investigation, but nothing could be done to save the 1964 season.
There were other grievances of course. The First Division promoters had two representatives on the Control Board, Ronnie Greene and Charles Ochiltree, to our one and took six equal shares from the Wembley World Final proceeds and we were given one share to divide between 11 promoters.
As we were all running the same business, entertaining the public, and as our riders also participated in the World Championship qualifying rounds, it seemed unreasonable that only the 'elite' should qualify to benefit so handsomely from Wembley.
The outcome was that the Provincial promoters dug in. They would not give away a single track and the First Division were obliged to re-open West Ham as a joint promotion to keep their numbers up to scratch.
A move was then made to try and break us by working on our riders. Fortunately, they too, with one or two exceptions, decided to remain loyal. But, the fact that one set of promoters could vote to have the rest of their colleagues banished, rankled for a very long time after the dust had settled. It showed the lengths some men will go in order to preserve their status in this world.
Trevor Redmond had meantime, approached me with a view to moving his St. Austell team to Glasgow. We agreed and first approached the Celtic Football Club, the venue of the pioneer 1927 meetings held there, that Norrie Isbister recalled riding in. After their manager, Jock Stein, a friend of mine and a former speedway supporter, had been optimistic, it was found that the Celtic constitution now barred other sports from being staged there.
Instead, we decided to revive the Glasgow Tigers at White City on Wednesday nights and we would be 50-50 partners, with Trevor being the front man who had to be flown up from London every Wednesday morning along with Maury Mattingley, the 1963 Scottish champion just released by Wolverhampton, who ran a tubing business in Southampton.
Another of our stars was Charlie Monk, one of the most incredible track personalities I have ever come across. A man of few words, an Australian, he was so dedicated to riding that he hardly spoke to anyone during a meeting, or afterwards. He was an inverted showman. He could be relied upon to do the exact opposite of what was expected of him. He would remain seated during pre-match introductions when the others stood and waved. When he won an important race and the crowd wanted to cheer him, instead of doing the traditional lap of honour, he would pull off into the pits.
There are characters in every team. It is often possible to assess a man's character from the way he rides. If he has a bad temper, it shows. If he lacks the nerve to pass, he becomes a gater. If he is moody, he has his off nights and on nights. He can either ride for himself or for the team. There are the triers and those who only pretend to try and pass the opposition. Every team has a selection.
Because we in the Provincial League were running outside of the Control Board, we had to find our own referees and timekeepers for meetings and despite the inherent dangers in such a scheme, there were no reports of fiddles from around the circuit. It also had its advantages. Women were no longer banned from riding and Trevor Redmond being the front man decided to capitalise on this.
An advertisement in the Glasgow press produced a couple of letters from girls who were prepared to have a go. The last time women had been allowed to ride speedway was prewar when Eva Askquith and the renowned Fay Taylour used to compete against each other in match races and even race against the men. The Control Board finally banned them. This time, despite having a match race in prospect, the plug was pulled on the contest by our insurance brokers who flatly refused to insure women speedway riders against injury.
The major event of 1964 was the reintroduction of the Scottish Cup contest between Glasgow and Edinburgh. This one turned out to be the honey of them all. Edinburgh had just lost the services of Wayne Briggs with a broken thigh. Tigers had been strengthened by Trevor Redmond. Tired of seeing his team just scrape home, he had decided that as there was no law prohibiting promoters from riding for their own teams, he would get back into action.
In desperation, I managed to persuade Dave Younghusband to sign from Middlesbrough on loan to replace Briggs. The two teams were both very evenly balanced, and the outcome would be touch and go. The first leg of the cup-tie was staged at White City on a Friday and Tigers won by 52 points to 43. In the return leg on the following night at Old Meadowbank, it began to rain an hour or so before the start and the track became what is known as a trappers paradise. If you could get out of the starting gate ahead of the others into the first bend, you were half way home. The spray of wet dirt from the back wheels of the other bikes made passing dangerous.
With only two heats remaining, the Monarchs had managed to pull back the aggregate deficit to one point. There followed one of the most incredible races ever seen at Edinburgh. Monarchs had Kevin Torpie, a sleepy eyed Australian I had signed earlier in the year. He had the ability to make brilliant starts, only to allow the opposition to pass him one by one as his stamina ebbed away. His partner was Glasgow-born Bert Harkins, a gutsy, likeable lad who wore glasses. This was his first league season with the team, and to wear glasses on a wet track was a considerable disadvantage.
Tigers had Trevor Redmond, who had won all his previous races, and a fellow New Zealander named Graham Coombes. Redmond knew that if he won this race, the Scottish Cup was as good as on its way back to Glasgow. He had Charlie Monk and Maury Mattingley out in the next and final heat. I saw Trevor discussing tactics with Graham in the pits and I decided that Torpie was our only hope. I said: "Just get out in front and stay there! Make Redmond pass you on the outside, but keep going!" He nodded and I crossed my fingers.
There undoubtedly have been greater rides in the sport. Bigger turn-ups. But nothing exceeded the sensation of this most dramatic occasion. Kevin Torpie, with a point average of just over three per meeting made the gate and rode the race of his life. Redmond followed him like a bulldog, but refused to risk overtaking him on the outside. Lap after lap followed with supporters going wild with excitement. The impossible occurred. Torpie won and Bert Harkins came in third. This put Monarchs one point ahead and in the final heat, George Hunter and Dave Younghusband split the Charlie Monk and Maury Mattingley partnership to divide the points. The Cup was Edinburgh's.
I do not recall scenes like it after a speedway meeting. Hundreds of delirious Edinburgh fans waited outside the boardroom for the riders to emerge after their customary post match drinks. They then carried Torpie shoulder high to his car while a dejected Trevor Redmond still couldn't believe what had happened. He said: "I would have bet my shirt on it. He just kept going!"
It was notable that the public turned out in their usual numbers for 'black' speedway in the Provincial League. By not having a Control Board to pay dues to, we all probably made more money than had we been racing under their banner. The winter close season proved to be a momentous one. After a full-scale inquiry by Lord Shawcross, his report was made known. The Provincial League promoters were totally vindicated. The Control Board manager was sacked and the First Division promoters were informed that in 1965, in the best interests of the sport, there would now be only one new League, the British League, with all tracks taking part under the one banner.
Sanity had at last prevailed. Ronnie Greene of Wimbledon and Charles Ochiltree of Covenry were resigned to having to eat at the same table as their former country cousins and the sport then got down to a complete revolution which was to be the salvation of speedway for years to come.
This article was first published on 6th April 2006
"Hoskins was a great showman and as the sixties were an era of great change, he put speedway up there with soccer. George Hunter would be there with George McLean, Jimmy Baxter, and other soccer heros, Hoskins would keep it wound up. The great nights he staged for us young guys at the time and he made sure we kept the Scots Flag flying high. We would trot off to Manchester, London and where is Cradley Heath anyway? I wish Ian well wherever he is and thanks again mate!"
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