The Non-Essential Guide to....The Workington Tigers
Tigers? I thought that Workington had always been called the Comets?
They pretty much have, but during the 1987 season the Workington Tigers were members of the National League - although the circumstances were unusual to say the least.
In what way was it unusual?
Glasgow Tigers raced at Craighead Park in Blantyre from 1982 until 1986 but were evicted at the end of that season. The circuit, once described as "the worst venue to ever stage professional speedway", was built around a tiny football pitch that seemed to gradually encroach onto the track over the years - by 1986 the track was almost rectangular. The arguments between the football club and the speedway club over this issue led to a falling out and the Tigers were kicked out.
I thought we were talking about Workington, not Glasgow?
I'm getting to that! After the eviction the Tigers needed to find a new venue and concentrated their efforts on Rosberry Park in Glasgow. It was another small football ground and appeared in many ways to be an ideal venue for the sport. Unfortunately the planning application was rejected as no provision had been made for car parking. This left the Tigers in something of a spot and without a home. The local authorities approached the other local venues that had staged the sport in the past (Coatbridge, Paisley and Hampden) and the response was unanimous - "We don't touch speedway with a bargepole!". With no local alternative available the Tigers promotion had to cast the net wider and looked around the country for a new home. They identified Workington's Derwent Park as their only option, despite it being 130 miles from Glasgow, and swiftly concluded a deal with Workington Rugby League Club to become their new tenants. The intention being to stay for a few weeks until the planning application for Roseberry Park was approved.
Wasn't there already a speedway team using the stadium at Workington?
No, the last action had been in 1985 when Dave Younghusband staged a season of open licence meetings. Prior to that the track had last been used in 1981. Despite 18 months of inactivity the track wasn't in too bad a shape and a few working parties - mainly consisting of people travelling down from Glasgow - managed to get the track back into a raceable condition. Temporary lighting was also installed on the bends, although this proved to be inadequate when it was actually used in anger.
So the Workington Tigers were born?
Not initially. For the first few months of the season the team was officially still the Glasgow Tigers. However in all promotion in the Workington area they were simply labelled the 'Kishorn Windows Tigers' - neither Glasgow or Workington was actually mentioned. As the year progressed the prospects of a return to Glasgow diminished, the crowds dropped off and it was felt that the Workington fans were unable to identify with the team. As a result the club was renamed the Workington Tigers and the colours were changed from red and white to blue and white.
What kind of crowds did they race in front of?
The first meeting staged attracted a crowd of over 1000. This included quite a number of fans who travelled down from Glasgow on subsidised coaches. The meeting the following week was cancelled due to a pre-booked motor show and when the action resumed a week later the crowd had fallen away. The coaches from Glasgow continued to travel but often arrived late due to roadworks on the M74. As some of the riders also travelled on the coach this wasn't an ideal situation!
How did the team fare?
Badly. The team simply wasn't strong enough to compete and even home wins proved few and far between. The side was led by Steve Lawson and also included Bobby Beaton, Gordon Whitaker, Martin McKinna, Derek Cooper, Geoff Powell and Jacko Irving. Beaton was by now at the veteran stage and a back injury forced him onto the sidelines after a few meetings and effectively ended his career. Whitaker was one of the few bright spots in a disastrous campaign and proved to be virtually unbeatable around Derwent Park. In subsequent seasons he suffered from a recurring shoulder injury and never recaptured this 1987 form. Interestingly the side featured three men who lived in the Workington area in Lawson, Powell and Irving. Lawson had actually joined Glasgow from Workington ten years previously and 1987 was supposed to be his testimonial year.
So where did they finish in the league?
They didn't finish the campaign at all. The team were falling behind in their home fixtures and the BSPA became frustrated at the numerous problems surrounding the club. They took decisive action in September and expelled the club from the league with all their results being expunged from official records.
Seems a bit harsh?
Not really, the club was in a mess. The promotion were based 130 miles away from the circuit so everything had to be done on raceday, this led to a poor racing circuit and the fixture list was all over the place. At the time of expulsion the fixture list showed scheduled home meetings at weird and wonderful times - 5.00pm on a Saturday and 12.00pm on Sunday being examples. This was principally because the ineffective lighting made it essential to stage racing in daylight. Some other unfortunate incidents didn't help the promotion either.
A meeting against Peterborough was called off because of dust! There was no water cart at the stadium on that hot summer's night and the clouds of dust made it impossible for the spectators, referee or the riders to see what was going on. On another occasion there was a water cart available but it hadn't been cleaned out since spreading slurry on a nearby field. When the circuit was watered it left an unmistakable stench around the stadium and Steve Lawson, who ironically hardly ever hit the deck in his long career, chose that afternoon to slide off the bike. He was guaranteed plenty of elbow room in the pits on his return!
Is there a happy ending to this story?
Yes and no. Glasgow reopened the following spring at the magnificent Shawfield Stadium in their home city. They raced in front of large crowds - nearly 8000 attended the opener - and Steve Lawson enjoyed a bumper pay day when his testimonial was eventually staged. Things weren't so good in Workington where the reputation of the sport had been badly damaged by the shambolic season that had unfolded. Speedway didn't return to the town until 1999.
This article was first published on 12th August 2005
"Just read your wonderful piece on the unbelievable Workington Tigers. I
remember that year being a bad year in the National League as Boston closed
down and also think another team closed down that year as well. But to be fair
I really do like the story you tell. I remember hearing them in the past but
wouldn't believe you if I hadn't read them on the site.
Surely this has to be one of the poorest promotions ever run? Thanks for the
laugh I really needed it!"
"I remember going there with Middlesbrough on a Bank Holiday Monday except it wasn't a Bank Holiday in Scotland. On an absolutely boiling hot day there was more supporters from Teesside than there was from Glasgow. I reckon no more than 150? The water cart was getting its supply from the the river close to the track and it hadn't been cleaned out but they were watering the track with this brown slurry that stunk of something pigs do. The first couple of races were a complete farce as riders struggled to acclimatise and it wasn't only Steve Lawson that came to grief, Geoff Pusey did too and there was an awful stench. Obviously the riders from both teams weren't happy as the dust soon took priority. After a handful of races it became obvious the home team were not really up for it and Middlesbrough ran out winners by 54-23pts if memory serves correct? They got to August and Eastbourne were visiting and made numerous complaints and the track was closed down and all their results expunged from the records. "
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