The Hughie Saunders Testimonial
A testimonial meeting can often be the highlight of a riders' career. Not only is it a chance for supporters to pay tribute to a popular club servant, it also allows the rider concerned to pocket a few bob as a reward for his loyalty.
One well-deserving, but very unlucky, recipient was Hughie Saunders of the Rye House Rockets. Saunders, born in Guernsey and one of the few Channel Islanders to ever make an impact in speedway, had been a loyal servant of Len Silver's through spells at Rayleigh, Hackney and Rye House. His lengthy career, that had started at Eastbourne in 1969, came to an abrupt end at Newcastle's Brough Park on 17th September 1979. A dislocated hip ending his season and career.
Hughie remained involved with the sport as team manager at Rye House. He tasted immediate success as he led the young Rockets side, featuring talents like Karl Fiala, Bobby Garrad and Kevin Smith, to the 1980 National League title.
As a reward for his contribution over the years a testimonial meeting was arranged for the 26th October 1980. Alas the weather intervened and the meeting was rearranged for the following week.
When it eventually went ahead the meeting took the form of a clash between Rye House and a select side labelled 'The Hughgonuts'. Hughie opted to make a track return and lined up at reserve for the select side, his team mates on the day including Bo Petersen, Barry Thomas and Melvyn Taylor.
Hughie lined up in heat two but tragedy struck when he fell and his foot got stuck between the back wheel and the machine. After a lengthy delay to free his foot he was taken to hospital where x-rays confirmed that he'd broken his ankle in two places. His trip to hospital meant that Hughie only actually saw one race of his own testimonial meeting!
Hughie was understandably upset about the outcome and was quoted as saying: "I feel absolutely sick that this should happen today of all days. I was really looking forward to going to the disco after the meeting and saying thank you to everybody who supported my testimonial year."
Thankfully his sense of humour was still intact and he was able to quip: "I thought I might end up plastered, but I never thought it would be this way!"
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