90 years of Eastbourne Speedway
Author Ken Burnett traces the history of Eastbourne Speedway from its origins in 1929. All copy and images copyright of Ken Burnett.
Part 1: The Pioneering days.
In the first part, Ken tells the story of the early pioneering days.
On 5 October, 1928, Eastbourne’s local newspaper, the Eastbourne Courier, made the following announcement: “The Eastbourne Motor-Cycle Sports Club have purchased a field at Arlington, with a view to building a dirt track.” It took up just two lines but was to lead to an association with speedway which is still going strong today.
The field in question was on land originally owned by the Duke of Devonshire known as ‘The Hyde’, situated near Hailsham.
After much hard work, the track was ready to open its gates to the public the following year on Monday, August 5, 1929. The sports lovers who turned up that day out of curiosity to see this new sport that was sweeping the country were welcomed by Mrs P.C.Bird, the wife of the club’s president, Major P C Bird.
In a short, but interesting speech, she wished the riders every success and pointed out to the exceptionally large attendance that all the preparatory work in connection with the track had been carried out on a voluntary basis.
She also added that the venture was in a large measure due to the untiring enthusiasm and zeal of Mr. H. J. Heanley, the secretary of the Eastbourne Motor-Cycle Sports Club.
Considering it was the first time most of the riders had even seen a speedway track, they showed extraordinary skill and courage. There were a number of falls but those thrown from their machines mounted again without a moment’s hesitation.
The results of that first ever meeting were as follows:
Arlington Scratch Race:
Heat 1: Winner Jack Polley
Heat 2: Winner Not Known
Heat 3: Winner Bert Hele
Heat 4: Winner Les Ashdown
Heat 5: Winner Eddie Allchorn
1st Semi Final: Bert Hele
2nd Semi Final: Les Ashdown
Final: Les Ashdown (Time: 119.4 seconds)
Two match races were won by Jimmy Horton in times of 94.4 and 92.6. A “team” race was won by London with Eastbourne second and Arlington third.
In a handicap event, Horton came out on top once more, winning the race in a time of 97.8.
The ACU steward was Mr H. P. Taylor and other officials were Mr S. Yelo (Timekeeper); Mr J. Coleman (Starter) and Mr G. Weddle (Clerk of the Course).
About one thousand spectators turned up to watch the second meeting which took place on August 29. By this time, speedway, like greyhound racing, had seized the public imagination with tracks appearing all over the country.
The only difference as far as Eastbourne was concerned was that the Arlington meetings were being run by volunteers and not a professional company.
A dozen riders took part in this second meeting. Only a few of them had real dirt track machines, but this in itself made for interesting racing.
Jimmy Horton, Bert Hele and Rod Dutton were the most successful participants.
Dutton shattered the four lap track record, covering the full 1,200 yards in 87.8 seconds. In the Hailsham Handicap Final it seemed as though he would break his new record, but, unfortunately, he hit the safety fence on the last lap.
A great gasp went up from the crowd as he was thrown from his machine and lay inert on the ground. Horton, who was not far behind him, just managed to avoid him and went on to win the race.
Meanwhile, Dutton had recovered sufficiently to tell the first-aid helpers that he was all right and did not need their assistance. Although there was no damage done to him, his gearbox was smashed and he was unable to ride again.
Other winners that afternoon were Bert Spears, who won the Special 350cc class on his new Imperial, and Dutton who won the Arlington Scratch Race. Two match races were held between Horton and Hele with each winning one race.
The third and last meeting of that first season was held on September 14. This meeting attracted a number of visiting riders including Sparks Burgess, Les Bourne and Bert Gerrish. Spears once again won the Special 350cc race while Horton won the Arlington Scratch Race in the fastest time of the afternoon, 91.8. Bourne won the Hailsham Handicap, but was beaten by Horton in a special match race held between the winners of the two main events.
As the short season wound up, everyone agreed that the Arlington Motor Sports Club had done a great job, particularly the two promoters, Mr Henley and Major Bird.
Due to the success of speedway at Arlington, a grass track stadium was opened at Thornwell at nearby Wilmington and a meeting there on 22 September attracted over 1,000 spectators.
The second season at Arlington began on Easter Monday, Apri 21. Once again the Eastbourne Motor-Cycle Sports Club was congratulated on the wide interest and enthusiasm of the captivated spectators. The most exciting part of the day’s events was the exhibition by Bryan Donkin.
Donkin was a local lad and member of the Eastbourne Motor-Cycle Club who, before the advent of speedway, had been an expert trials rider in and around the Sussex area. When speedway arrived in London in 1928 he had gone off to try out the new sport and had progressed so well that by 1929 he had become a member of the Crystal Palace team then racing in the Southern League.
This experience put him in a class of his own compared to the local amateurs and his method of taking corners was a revelation to them and the spectators alike as he proved the theory that the faster you take corners the safer you are.
In his first ride he literally screamed round the four laps, flattening out at corners with the throttle full on. The crowd couldn’t believe what they were seeing and when the time for the four laps was announced it was discovered that Donkin had broken the track record by almost 10 seconds, lowering it to 78.4.
Later in the meeting he went one better, knocking a further second off his own new track record.
It was the first time that Arlington had seen ‘real’ speedway and several of the riders tried to copy Donkin’s method. The most successful was Jimmy Horton who managed to win the President’s Challenge Cup in 88.4 seconds. Other successful riders that afternoon were Rev Reynolds and Bert Hele.
Two thousand five hundred turned up on Whit Monday to see some splendid racing from Bryn Lewis, E. Willis, Perry Gallivant and Tiny Lewis. There were many thrills and falls due mainly to the fact that more than 2,000 gallons of water had been poured on the track to keep the dust down.
A further meeting took place on August 4 when there were more thrills for the crowd to enjoy as the racing yielded some good performances. There was however a disappointing showing from Bryan Donkin, who did not show his usual reckless form and repeatedly fell at the same point on the track.
Two new arrivals from Australia took part in the afternoon’s racing, Steve Langton and Phil ‘Tiger’ Hart. Langton’s style was described in the local paper, the Eastbourne Courier, as “unique”: “He stands on his right footrest and puts his left leg out stiff.”
It sounds to the modern ear like a prototype foot forward style. Langton beat Donkin in a special match race. Langton also won both the Arlington Scratch Race final and the Eastbourne Handicap final. As well as Donkin, Langton and Hart, the usual Arlington riders were out in force including Hele, Horton, Reynolds and Polley as well as Sparks Burgess.
Admission to Arlington was one shilling and twopence (7p) for adults and sixpence (2½p) for children.
Buses left Hailsham Station every five minutes direct to the track. There were also special coaches from the Pier, Victoria Place and the Parade.
No racing took place at Arlington in 1931. Both the local riders and the local supporters seem to have migrated to a new grass track venue nearby at Horsebridge, also run under the auspices of the Eastbourne Motor-Cycle Club by their secretary Stuart William “Tiny” Lewis.
Other “Arlington” riders to appear during the year included Jack Polley, Rev Reynolds and D. Brock. A team event was held on May 24, which saw Eastbourne defeat a team from Hastings by 16 points to 6.
Another match took place on July 5 when the Eastbourne team met a much more experienced team from Oxford called Layton’s Motor Sports Club. Included in the Eastbourne team were Reynolds and Brock. Although the local team lost 15-9, they started off with a heat one victory.
According to the Eastbourne Courier: “D Brock scored a magnificent win, on the post, from F. French, racing up on the inside to win by inches, to the great surprise of French.”Four thousand people attended this match.
Scandal hit the Eastbourne Motor-Cycle Club in August, when the Secretary, Tiny Lewis, was remanded on bail in the Magistrates’ Court. He was charged with embezzlement and making a false entry in the ledger of his employers, Messrs F Ray and Sons.
The last meeting of 1931 took place on September 25. Lewis was conspicuous by his absence.
Speedway returned to Arlington in 1932, the season starting on Good Friday, March 25, and once again a good size crowd of around 3,000 turned up. Bryan Donkin lowered the track record to 75 seconds in winning the scratch race final from Bill Thompson, Jack Riddle and Harry Davidson.
Three days later Davidson won the scratch race final when he beat Donkin. Donkin, however, gained quick revenge winning the handicap final.
On April 4 history was made when the first proper team event was held at Arlington. The match between Arlington and Staines was run over nine heats and won by the visitors 31- 23.
Speedway at Arlington now had strong opposition from grass track racing being held just down the road at Stone Cross with many of the cinder stars riding in both events.
In one interesting incident over 20,000 spectators were expected at the Folkington grass speedway by the Black Horse public house. Special trains were laid on for the spectators as were many buses. So worried were the Folkington track promoters they had minders looking after the track all night for protection.
The two meetings, though, were staged in pouring rain and the crowds of 3,000 and 6,000 were well below expectations.
Meanwhile over at Arlington, Charlie Budden, riding a 1928 Douglas machine, set a new handicap track record. Other riders appearing up to the end of the season, which carried 13 meetings, were Jack Stanselol, Pat Dixon, Lou Berger and Charlie Lumsden. In a pairs event won by Arlington, teams from Norwich, Cambridge, Wimbledon, Staines and Hammersmith took part.
1932 also saw the first staging of the Championship of Sussex which was won by George Wilkie after Lou Berger had fallen when well in the lead. Other riders appearing in this history making Championship were Frank Chitty, who fell and broke his collar bone, Jack Williams, Fred Quinnell, Clem French, Percy Gullivant and Smoky Vielar. Jack Polley, the first ever winner of a race at Arlington, was considered too good for amateur riding and rode under the pseudonym Jack Thomas. This was a common practice throughout the pre-war years.
The first two meetings of 1933 took place on Good Friday and Easter Monday in front of large crowds. Lou Berger won the Good Friday Scratch Race in a time of 79.6, while the honours on Easter Monday went to B. Linn in 84.8.
Two weeks later George Wilkie beat Lou Berger in a match race for the two fastest riders, Wilkie’s time being 80 seconds. The two main events of the day were the Golden Helmet Scratch Race, won by Wilkie and the now common Hailsham Handicap race, won by Lumsden.
Lumsden also attempted to break the track record which stood at 75 seconds, but unfortunately his time was five seconds outside.
However, on June 25, the track record was broken by a newcomer to Arlington calling himself Bill Bennett. By this time Eastbourne was being used by a number of the London clubs to try out their juniors and to give them experience.
One such to arrive was George Newton. The 18-year-old Newton had caused a sensation in 1932 when, in his first outing for Crystal Palace as reserve at West Ham, he had equalled Vic Huxley’s track record.
However, he was not able to live up to this promising start and, by 1933, he was struggling to hold on to the reserve spot. Freddie Mockford, the promoter of Crystal Palace thought the young Newton would benefit from a few outings at Arlington.
On his very first appearance, riding under the name of Bill Bennett, he lowered Donkin’s track record to 73.8 seconds.
At the same meeting, Freddie Douglas won the Friston Handicap while Lumsden won the Golden Helmet Scratch Race Final. Several riders failed to arrive for the next meeting, but luckily the crowd did see Stan Johns win the scratch race and handicap events in spite of being pushed all the way by Jock Elliott, Joe Brown, Cliff Ray and Rev Reynolds.
On September 9 another visiting rider, Plymouth-based Jack Morrison, left all the locals behind. He stormed to victory in the Big Five scratch race event, though a spectacular fall let Bert Linn win the Handicap event.
Using his real name, George Newton made a further attempt on the track record on September 17, but he just failed, covering the course in 74 seconds, just 0.2 of a second outside.
Stan Lemon won the second Championship of Sussex when he beat Jack Riddle, Harvey Swanson and Rube Wilson who fell, in the grand final in a time of 81.2.
1934 was a significant year in the club’s history as it was in this year that Charlie Dugard, who had been riding at Arlington since 1932, together with Tiger Hart, bought a share in the club. The Dugard family have, of course, been associated with Eastbourne Speedway ever since.
The season started once again on Good Friday and Newton continued to dominate proceedings for the next few meetings, though he was surprisingly beaten by Jack Riddle in the opening meeting’s Scratch Race final. Riddle’s previous best time around Arlington had been 96.0. In beating Newton, he scorched round in a spectacular 79.6.
Shortly after the start of the season, Newton was recalled to London by Mockford, who had by now moved the Crystal Palace team lock, stock and barrel to New Cross.
Other riders now came to the fore including Riddle, Stan Lemon, a Wimbledon junior; Geo Saunders, Rube Wilson and Bill Roberts.
In June and July, a serious drought threatened the running of meetings at Arlington, with the meetings during these months having to be stopped on regular occasions to allow copious amounts of water to be poured on to the track.
Riddle went from strength to strength, winning the Hailsham Handicap on September 2, the same meeting in which Roberts managed to knock a whole second off Newton’s track record. Unfortunately for him, Roberts was badly injured in the last meeting, on September 16, breaking his arm. This left Rube Wilson and Jack Riddle to mop up, Wilson winning both the Hailsham Cup and the Lewes Handicap and Riddle the Championship of Sussex. Others present at the final meeting of the season included Dugard, Burger and Swanson.
A very large crowd turned out for the opening meeting on April 7 to once again listen to the deafening roar of the speedway bikes after a winter’s absence. Unfortunately the noise was accompanied by very heavy rain.
The track had several new alterations, which included widening the corners and laying some 20 tons of cinders all over the course. But, most important of all, was the erection of the starting gate in a bid to ensure perfect starts.
The combination of heavy rain and deep cinders made for plenty of thrills and spills and the crowd loved it. They also enjoyed seeing the success of Charlie Dugard turning in his best performances yet. But even he had to give second best to Phil Phillips who pipped him in the semi final and final of the handicap event.
Of the first five meetings only the fourth wasn’t badly affected by rain. That was the Jubilee meeting which was won by Jack Hawkins.
The meeting described as the best of the 1935 season took place on June 16. There were no serious crashes but plenty of spills and thrilling finishes and, what was even better, good weather for a change.
Once again the main event was the Hailsham Cup and the seventh round of this tournament was won by Rube Wilson. However, it was Joe Brown who really caught the eye with a time of 77.8 in a heat of the handicap event.
He then went on to win the final to crown a fine afternoon’s entertainment. Wilson was presented with the Hailsham Cup after the eighth round despite the fact that on this occasion he did not win the final. However, he now had an unassailable lead with 10 points to spare from previous rounds.
On July 28, the first evening meeting took place at Arlington, during which a collection was held for James Eden who was injured grass tracking at Wilmington the previous week. This raised £20 19s 2d. Although Wilson was still winning meetings on a regular basis, Joe Brown, Harry Lewis and Jack Smythe improved enough to make sure he didn’t have things all his own way through August.
The wettest September for years played havoc with the end of the season fixtures though it didn’t stop Jack Riddle from winning the Sussex Championship.
The erection of the starting gate in 1935 led to quicker times from a standing start and, during the season, the record was brought down to 75.2 by Rube Wilson. This was then equalled by George Newton and Joe Brown
The 1936 season got under way on Good Friday, April 10. There was a good crowd but a shortage of riders which handicapped the meeting somewhat. George Newton, back to riding under the name of Bill Bennett, dominated the meeting, just failing to beat the clutch start track record.
On Easter Sunday however he managed to lower the flying start record from 72.8 to 71.6 and the clutch start record from 75.2 to 74.8. Bennett’s success continued as, on April 26, a record crowd of 3,000, the largest for four years, witnessed his run away victory in the Sussex Championship.
The track, with its new banking which assisted riders, was particularly fast and most winners were singled out long before the winning post was reached. Bennett twice broke the track record and, by the end of the day it stood at 74.2.
Following Bennett’s runaway win, it was agreed that in future the Sussex Championship would be confined to second division riders. Several top second division riders now began to appear every week at Arlington including Tiger Hart, Roy Virgo and Charlie White.
On August 31, a new addition was made at the track – a bell which was rung from the judges’ box for the two minute warning. On September 20 an exciting challenge match between Eastbourne and an all-American team led by the World Champion stunt rider Putt Mossman took place. The thrilling Americans beat the Eastbourne team by 37-32.
The teams for this encounter were: Eastbourne: Jack Riddle (captain), Charlie Dugard, Harry Lewis, Dan Lee, C. Anderson and Jack Tidbury. All Americans: Putt Mossman (captain), Pee Wee Cullum, Pete Coleman, Dick Ince, Manuel Trujillo and Dick Lawton. So successful was this event that Mossman’s circus was invited back the following week but heavy rain caused the meeting to be abandoned.
To round off the season, Bennett returned to set up new track records of 70.2 flying start and 73.2 clutch start.
In many ways 1937 was the start of things to come. For the first time the season wasn’t dominated by the Hailsham Cup, as team racing came to Arlington, although 4000 watched the first round of the cup together with the Championship of Sussex, which was won by 1935 champion, Jack Riddle,
It was on June 26 that Arlington finally saw what many people thought speedway should all be about as Eastbourne got together its very own permanent team and called them the Eagles.
That very first crop of Eagles was hatched and took flight with a stunning victory over the Dagenham ‘Daggers’, led by their skipper Frank Hodgson, by 57 points to 25. The team consisted of Jimmy James, Charlie Blythe, Stan Johnson, Charlie Sargeant, Jack Kirby, Jack Nash, C. Anderson and Harvey Swanson.
After the success against Dagenham, the next matches were home and away ties against Rye House. The Eagles went down 47-25 at Hoddesdon where the racing was described as fast and exciting and a new track record of 90 seconds set.
The scorers were: Rye House, J. Boyd 12, T. Allott 11, R. Lovell 9, W. Lowther 8, F. L. Robinson 5, F. Curtis 2.
Eastbourne, D. Lee 7, S. Johns 6, B. Desmond 3, J. Riddle 4, J. Tidbury 2, K. Tidbury 2, C Dugard 1. Total: 25.
The return on September 4, proved to be an equally exciting match, with the Eagles putting in a great effort, winning 52-32 on the day but just going down on aggregate by two points,79-77.
To end the season ‘Tiger’ Hart was presented with the Hailsham Cup after totaling most points throughout the season.
It was during this season that, for the first time, the 70 seconds barrier was smashed as George Newton recorded a time of 68.8 seconds, a track record that was to last until 1955, when the track was shortened by ten yards. Following the success of the season’s challenge matches, it was hoped that the Eagles’ followers would be able to enjoy league racing in 1938 as talks took place between the smaller non-league clubs such as High Beech, Dagenham, Eastbourne, Rye House and Smallford to see if they could form an amateur league the following year.
The talks proved successful and a new league competition was introduced in 1938, the Sunday Amateur Dirt Track League.
Five teams entered the new league, Eastbourne, Smallford, Rye House, Dagenham and Romford, the latter two both using the Dagenham track as their home base.
High Beech chose not to take part but maintained a team for challenge matches.
Eastbourne were due to race their first-ever League fixture on May 1. The team chosen for the match against Smallford (St Albans) was Phil ‘Tiger’ Hart (captain), Bob Lovell, Danny Lee, Charlie Dugard, Stan Johns, Charlie Page and Jack Collins with C. Anderson, Harold Saunders and Law as reserves.
Unfortunately, the match had to be postponed due to rain.
With the home tie against Smallford being abandoned, Eastbourne began their campaign with an away match against Dagenham. The team saw a few changes from the one originally intended to start the campaign and comprised Tiger Hart (captain), Charlie Dugard, Bob Lovell, Stan Johns, Danny Lee, Charlie Page with Jack Collins and Harold Saunders as reserves.
The Eagles got off to a great start as they took a 4-2 in the first heat with Hart defeating the nigh on unbeatable Dagenham captain, Frank Hodgson.
Hart thus became the first rider ever to win a race for Eastbourne in an official league fixture. He went on to complete a superb maximum 12 points in the Eagles fine 44-39 away win. Unfortunately, there was another first for Eastbourne in the second heat as Collins became the first Eagle to be excluded. His crime was to break the tapes.
Eastbourne followed up their fine win with another superlative performance seven days later, when they performed the double over Dagenham, beating them 57-27 at home.
Once again, Hart played a true captain’s role by scoring a second maximum. The Eagles triumphant start to the campaign received something of a set-back the following week when they were heavily defeated at Smallford by 55 points to 27, but were back on track on May 29 with a home victory over Romford, 53-23.
Surprisingly, Eastbourne lost their next match away at Romford, by 46 points to 33. This was a very unexpected defeat as Romford had failed to win a single match before this though it has to be said that Eastbourne were without the services of Hart, Dugard and Collins for the match.
Normal service was resumed on June 28 when the Eagles beat their closest rivals, Smallford, by 55 points to 28. This was the restaging of the match postponed from May 1 and was the one Eagles supporters had been looking forward to eagerly.
However, it proved to be a bit of an anti-climax as Smallford arrived for the match with only five riders. The Eastbourne management demanded an explanation from Smallford, but never got one.
This victory took the Eagles to the top of the league and they never looked back all season as they went through the rest of the card undefeated to win their first league championship.
During the season, Eastbourne also fitted in a number of challenge matches including one against Reading and one against “The Internationals”, captained by Putt Mossman, who put on one of his famous stunt shows before the match.
The match itself was very one-sided as the Eagles ran out victors, 53-12, with The Internationals failing to score any points at all in five of the heats!
The Sunday League was abandoned in 1939 and Arlington returned to its normal diet of challenge matches and individual events.
The season opened on April 9 with a good crowd present to witness a fine meeting. Stan Johns won the Easter Scratch Race final, while Charlie Page took the Hailsham Handicap final. There was one unfortunate accident as Les Gore broke his collar bone following a fall.
A number of new riders began to make names for themselves at Arlington during the season, which made for better racing. The meeting on June 11 was described as the “finest meeting for some time.”
The main event was the Jempson Memorial Cup, presented by the Eastbourne Chairman, Mr A. A. Jempson, in memory of his son, Ken, who had been killed in a motor cycle accident in 1933.
After some of the best racing seen at Eastbourne for a long time, the winner proved to be the Dagenham captain, Jim Baylais, who beat Tiger Hart in to second place in the final.
On July 23, Eastbourne beat Wisbech 48-36 in a challenge match, while on August Bank Holiday a very large crowd turned out to see Dugard win the August Scratch Race final and Hart win the Summer Handicap final.
The meeting finished with two match races. Tiger Hart beat Stan Johns in the first, while in the second Ken Tidbury beat Cyril Brine. Although no-one realised it at the time was virtually the end of racing at Arlington for seven years.
When World War Two was declared on September 3, all speedway racing in this country came to a halt.
Some clubs managed to put on a few war time events, notably Belle Vue. The Eastbourne track was taken over by the Canadian Army and speedway was abandoned for the duration other than one meeting in 1940.
PART 2: The 1940s
Speedway resumed at Arlington after the Second World War but it wasn’t an easy process, as author Ken Burnett explains.
Before Speedway could resume at Arlington after the Second World War, the track didn’t only have to be re-laid, it had to be found!
The stadium was under six feet of thistles, rubble and muck. The whole place was in a state of ruin.
It was at this point that Charlie Dugard stepped in and bought the track outright. Eventually the racing track was found. It had sunk about two feet but it was still there.
Finally, after weeks of hard solid graft, the place was cleaned up and the surface re-laid.
On 14 July 1946, speedway resumed on the 368 yard circuit. Admission was two shillings (10p) and 10d (4p) for children. The car park was one shilling (5p).
On a pleasant sunny day, a very large crowd was treated to plenty of thrills. The track record of 68.5 seconds, still held by George Newton, was never threatened, the nearest anyone could get to it was Dick Harris with a time of 74.2 in heat three of the scratch race.
He went on to win the final in 76.0. Charlie Dugard won the handicap event after Reg Moore had bike trouble when well in front.
Meetings took place every two weeks until 6 October and although they were all of the individual championship variety there was surprisingly no Sussex Championship.
The track record was not broken all season, the fastest time being 72.2 by Ron Clarke in the final meeting.
Riders appearing at Arlington in 1946 included Charlie Dugard, Cyril Brine, Reg Moore, Mike Erskine, Jimmy Coy, Basil Harris, Dick Harris, Dan Lee, Ron Lemon, Harry Saunders, Jock Grierson, Dennis Gray, Jack Tidbury and Ken Tidbury.
Most were newcomers and were to form part of the Eagles 1947 team, but a few were old stagers reappearing for the first time since the pre-war meetings at Arlington.
With speedway now entering its boom period many new tracks, or tracks that had laid dormant for many years, were opening up and so at a promoters’ meeting held at the end of 1946 it was agreed to start a third division of the National League in 1947.
Eastbourne applied to join and were accepted along with Hanley (Stoke), Southampton, Exeter, Wombwell, Plymouth, Tamworth and Cradley Heath.
The new season promised to be of exceptional interest as Eastbourne began its new era as a semi-professional league team at 6 pm on Saturday 19 April 1947.
The track was re-laid for the opening meeting, an attractive challenge match against Hanley. Most of the favourite riders from 1946 represented the town in their new role.
Ken Tidbury was made captain of the Eagles and the rest of the team was: Ron Clarke, Bob Sawyer, Dennis Gray, Jim Coy, Basil Harris, Dick Angell with Bob Griffiths and Les Tams the reserves. Supporters turned up in force to see the Eagles win 49-29. Eagles’ scorers were Gray 11, Harris 10, Tidbury 9, Coy 9, Clarke 4, Angell 3, Griffiths 2 and Tams 1.
Top scorer for Hanley was Harry Saunders who had been loaned to the Potters for the day. He scored 14.
Eagles next match was a challenge against Exeter, this time the score was 63-20. Things were certainly looking good for the Sussex men, although they came down to earth at Exeter losing 52-32 just two days later.
The final challenge match before the league programme started was against local rivals Southampton. Eagles again won, 49-32, with Gray and Harris recording maximums.
On 10 May, Peter Robinson of Southampton became the first post-war winner of the Sussex Championship and shortly afterwards, Tidbury, Harris, Grey and newcomer Jock Grierson were chosen to represent the Eagles in the first round of the Riders’ Championship, the replacement for the World Championship.
None of them progressed through to the second round.
Despite their successful start to the season in challenge matches, Eastbourne were defeated in their very first home league match when, on 17 May, Southampton Aces played their trump cards and defeated the Eagles 46-35 at Arlington. The response from the embarrassed Eagles was instant, an away win at Tamworth 44-40. This was followed by a stunning away win by 43 points to 40 at Southampton’s own Bannister Court track, a win which brought back some of the lost pride.
Hanley came back for their league match and were trounced 55-29 with Eagles’ new signing Wally Green scoring 9 points. He would have recorded a maximum but for a second ride fall when well in front.
The Eagles went back to Southampton, who were by now the league leaders and again won, 44-39.
Following this great victory, Eastbourne moved up to third place in the table with a big win against Exeter who were second. The Eagles then gained a massive away win at Plymouth 54-33 and won at Hanley, 46-36. The Eagles were now flying high and attracting large crowds.
One of the biggest of the season saw their next match against Southampton, which they won 48-34.
Eastbourne then shocked the speedway world by beating Exeter on their home track by 51 points to 45 in The Midlands v The South Cup. This was the first loss suffered by Exeter at home all season. Defeats at Cradley, Southampton, Exeter and surprisingly Plymouth followed in the League but home wins over these clubs evened things out.
Back in the cup, the Eagles won 50-46 at Plymouth after a defeat at Southampton which meant that they qualified for the final even before the home match against Exeter had been raced.
Although Southampton had led the League right from the start of the season, the situation entering October was that they had finished their fixtures and stood on 35 points.
Behind them were Eastbourne and Cradley, both on 34. As luck would have it, the last two fixtures of the season were the two home and away clashes between Eastbourne and Cradley, which meant that whatever happened Southampton could not win the league and that either Eastbourne or Cradley would.
With Eastbourne holding a distinct race points advantage they looked odds-on favourites to take the title as they had to win just one of the encounters to become the inaugural National League Division Three champions.
Not only did the Eagles duly win the home encounter on 4 October, but they won it by the massive margin of 55 points to 28.
The whole team contributed to the success with Wally Green scoring a maximum, Basil Harris 11, Jock Grierson 9, Harry Saunders 8, Ken Tidbury 6, Ron Clarke 4, Jimmy Coy 3 and Eric Dunn 2.
Five days later, on 9 October, the Eagles travelled to Cradley for the return leg and got hammered by 59 points to 25, their biggest defeat of the season. But by then it didn’t matter, they were the champions.
Eastbourne had to wait almost a month before they knew whether they could add the cup to their league triumph as it wasn’t until 5 November they met Tamworth, a team they had already beaten four times in the League, in the final of The Midlands v. South Cup. Unfortunately, it was not to be as the Eagles went down by 55 points to 41.
Nevertheless, it had been a highly successful season for Eastbourne and it now meant that in the only two years they had entered a league, 1938 and 1947, they had won both times.
Wally Green, on loan from West Ham, was the top rider with an average of 9.68.
On demob from the Army at the end of 1946 his ambition had been to ride for Wembley, but Wembley already had more juniors than they could handle and he was advised to try West Ham.
After a trial at Rye House, Green was offered a contract. The West Ham management thought he ought to gain experience at a Third Division track before he would be ready for the big time, so he was packed off to Southampton.
He was given a second-half ride but unfortunately his front tyre came off when he was leading. After the meeting Jimmy Baxter, the Southampton manager, told him he did not want him in the team as he had come last in his race.
As he was leaving, the shrewd Charlie Dugard approached him. Dugard had been impressed by the youngster and asked him if he would like to ride for Eastbourne.
The following week Green was riding at reserve. When Dennis Gray fell and severely damaged his hand shortly afterwards, Green was promoted to the team proper and never looked back.
Green was ably supported throughout the year by Basil Harris, who averaged 8.96 and Jock Grierson, 7.39.
In the end of year rankings compiled by the authoritative Stenner’s Annual, Green was placed fourth in the third division rankings with Harris fifth and Grierson tenth.
In spite of continuing his 100% record in league competitions, Dugard had lost something like £2,000 during the year and decided not to run Eastbourne in the 1948 Third Division.
Instead he transferred the team to Hastings.
His reason for doing this was that Hastings had much better facilities than Arlington which was still essentially just a track in an open field in the middle of nowhere with an old timber garage converted in to dressing rooms and no running water.
The Hastings track was also much nearer to a centre of population, being just on the outskirts of the town. Dugard hoped that all of this would lead to an increase in crowds.
Agreement was reached and completed between the Hastings Town Clerk, Mr.N.P.Lester, and Hastings Speedway Ltd. for the letting of the Pilot Field for the 1948 summer season for a term of 7 years to enable them to establish a speedway team.
Terms of the let were agreed between Hastings Speedway Ltd, Hastings Corporation and Hastings Football Club.
Although no longer in the league, Arlington did continue to operate as a training track as well as running a number of open meetings. The first of these was on 13 June 1948 when the Sussex Championship was won by Wally Green.
Sadly, however the day will be more remembered as the day that Eric Dunn gave his life to speedway after a tragic crash on what is now the first turn.
Dunn fell and was struck on the head as he lay on the track. He died two days later in hospital.
There was another open meeting a fortnight later, which was followed by a challenge match against Rye House on 12 July, won by the Eagles 42-30 to become the first team to beat the Roosters since before the war.
There were no further meetings in 1948 and none at all in 1949, although car racing was staged at regular intervals and the Eagles did manage one away match, a challenge at Rye House which they lost 40-38.
One of the Eastbourne team was Ken Middleditch, the father of Neil Middleditch, who was later to ride for Eastbourne in the 1970s.
Meanwhile, Charlie Dugard’s Eastbourne team had moved to Hastings to the Pilot Field Stadium.
Speedway had been held in Hastings before the war in 1933 at Marley Lane, Battle, organised by the Hastings Motor Cycle Club. Riders included Vic Pierce, Don Patterson, Jack Williams, Joe Linn, Vic Harrington and a contingent from Arlington, Stan Lemon, Tiny Lewis and Doug Buss.
The meetings were run along the normal individual events lines common at that time.
The track lasted a couple of years but was not successful and closed down in 1934. There were also a number of grass tracks in the area including one at a village called Three Oaks.
Dugard’s new track, the Pilot Field, was a long established sports stadium, originally opened in 1923 for Hastings Football Club.
It was carved out of a hill to the North but built up on the South and East side in order to form a level playing area.
A large stand had been built in 1928 on the South side of the stadium and it was in front of this stand that the starting gate was established. The entrance was at the South West corner. The hill and banking formed from carving out the playing surface made excellent natural terrace areas on the West and North sides of the stadium with a wooded area to the East and rising from the entrance on the West side of the stadium.
The Pits were located in the North East corner of the stadium with a track to the North giving access from Elphinstone Road. The 388 yards long track, built by Rutherford’s of Battle, was a cinder track and built tightly round the football field making it, in consequence, a strange shape.
It was almost rectangular with two very long straights and four very sharp corners which made for two further short straights. Originally there was also a kink in the track opposite the pits that made a fifth bend, but Dugard straightened this out after complaints from riders.
Nevertheless the track was still a strange shape and described by a number of riders as “dangerous”. The safety fence was constructed of thick steel panels.
Much discussion took place about the team’s nicknames with three names, Hastings Warriors, Hastings Lions and Hastings Pirates being proposed. In the end, none of these proposals were taken up and the team became known instead as Hastings Saxons.
The colours were a White race jacket with a red “H” on it. Being ever the showman, Dugard had the rakers led out each week by a Saxon warrior dressed in flowing robes with a King Harold-style bob haircut under a winged helmet.
The team continued Eastbourne’s membership of the National League Division Three but with a weakened side as the three Wimbledon loanees, Jimmy Coy, Basil Harris and Harry Saunders all left.
“Spud” Murphy, Wally Green, Jock Grierson, Ken Tidbury and Ron Clark remained as the backbone of the team. Shortly after the season started Bill Osborne arrived on loan from Bradford and the South African, Buddy Fuller, was signed up to give the team strong hopes of retaining the title in their new guise.
The new track was opened on 24 April by the Mayor of Hastings, Alderman F W Chambers. The conditions were perfect and around 5,000 people packed in to watch Hastings Saxons beat Hanley by 44 points to 39.
Among those watching this first meeting was Cllr. George Steele, a director of Hastings Speedway Ltd., who had done so much towards the introduction of the sport to Hastings. For Hastings, both Green and Grierson scored maximums.
Nice wins at Hanley and Poole set the Saxons up for a title challenge and by the end of June, Hastings hopes were high. By mid August they had disappeared.
Wally Green broke his collar bone, Osborne was recalled permanently by parent club Bradford and Fuller had to return to South Africa following a bright start after being injured.
Green made a comeback only to break the other collar bone, putting him out for the rest of the season. With skipper, Ken Tidbury, and Dan English also becoming injury casualties Hastings’ hopes were dashed. However, it wasn’t all doom and gloom for the team as other people’s misfortunes gave Ken Middleditch, Pete Mold and Ken Smith a chance to make the grade.
Middleditch in particular proved to be a real discovery.
All in all, it wasn’t the best of seasons for the Saxons. At one time they had a team second to none but never once were they in a position to use all of their stars at the same time. In the end they finished in sixth place out of 12 teams, having won 18 home matches and losing four and doing the complete reverse away by winning four and losing 18.
Green managed to appear in just half of the club’s fixtures recording not only the highest average of 10.61 but also the fastest time round Pilot Field with 71.0 seconds. The other two heat leaders, Grierson and Osborne, turned in averages of 9.57 and 7.89 respectively.
The Speedway Control Board stated that in their opinion, it was one of the finest speedway venues in the country but, despite this, the directors of Hastings Speedway said that they were still not satisfied with the facilities and that they were already looking at the acquisition of floodlights and proper terracing on the grass banks. Dugard also made some track improvements by easing the bends.
When Hastings opened in 1949 it was without Wally Green, who had returned to his parent club, West Ham. Fuller and Clark stayed with the team as did Grierson and Middleditch, both of whom had wintered out in South Africa with Fuller.
Middleditch’s sojourn out in South Africa had done him the world of good and he showed in the first few meetings at the Pilot Field that he had improved beyond all recognition and, for the rest of the season, he was vying with Grierson for the number one spot. Without Green however, the team seemed to have little chance of improving on their sixth place in the League let alone winning it. However they started off well, recording a number of massive victories at home, 50-28 against Leicester, 52-31 against Plymouth, 58-25 against Halifax and a stunning 65-16 against Rayleigh.
But it was to prove to be a false dawn as they lost their next home match 44-40 to Hanley. By the end of the season they had won 18 matches at home but lost five and drawn one, while away from home they had managed to win just three, losing 21.
The Saxons dropped two places to finish in eighth place. Part of the reason for the drop in form after the good start was a horrific accident to Fuller, who fractured his skull in a crash and had to return home to South Africa.
As it was, Grierson and Middleditch were responsible for more than one third of the team’s points between them and it was this lack of support that did for the Saxons.
In the end, Grierson just topped Middleditch’s average with 8.66 to 8.36, but it was Middleditch who took the track record with 70.4, a record which, of course, still stands to this day as there was to be no more speedway at Pilot Field after the end of the 1949 season.
Rumblings of discontent amongst the local community had been heard as far back as 1948 when 13 local ratepayers, under the chairmanship of Mr Arthur Parsons, formed an organisation called “Kill Hastings Speedway” and complained to the Council about the noise.
Eventually the residents took their objections to court, with Dugard defending 11 “charges”. Ten were thrown out and the residents ordered to pay costs on them.
However, the one remaining charge was upheld and this meant the end of speedway at Hastings.
In other words, the Saxons lost the battle of Hastings.
The last meeting to take place at the Pilot Field was on 5 October 1949 when Hastings lost to Tamworth 44½-39½.
Speedway returned to Arlington after the Hastings soujourn, as author Ken Burnett explains.
With the demise of Hastings, speedway returned to Arlington in the form of challenge matches. Although he was not yet prepared to risk another season in league racing, Charlie Dugard told the Eastbourne faithful that if the Eagles gained sufficient support there was a chance that he might consider re-entering the team in to the third division.
Unfortunately, the crowds didn’t turn out in as many numbers as at Hastings.
Dugard himself felt that the main reason for this was because he was not able to race on what he considered to be the best day for drawing in the crowds, Sunday, because of the Lord’s Day Observance laws.
He felt being forced to race on a Saturday was not in the best interests of the supporters or the club.
In all, there were just six matches in 1950, the first of these being on 24 June, when a team captained by Harold MacNaughton went down to Rye House, 45½ – 36½. Although the track was coated with red shale and made thick by heavy rain, racing was as keen as ever between these two old rivals, even if the fastest time was a poor 79.4.
Star of the match for the Eagles was MacNaughton who dropped just one point to Rye House’s maximum man Ron Barrett.
The Eagles’ scorers in this first match back at Arlington were: MacNaughton 11, R. Burnett 9, A. Hood 6, E. Steers 3½, B. Sivyer 4, J. Hayles 2, B. Weston 1 and B. Grimes 0.
Shortly after this match, MacNaughton signed for Southampton for a fee of £50, though he still continued to turn out for the Eagles in their challenge matches.
The second match against High Beech saw a number of spills as Eastbourne’s MacNaughton, Arthur Hood and Ian Hilton and Jon Fry of High Beech all bit the Arlington dust.
Fry broke a leg, but the rest were all uninjured.
Top scorers for the Eagles were MacNaughton, Hood and Sivyer with 8.
On 23 July, Ron Burnett became Sussex Champion when he beat MacNaughton, John Hayles and Hood in the final, his time being 70.0.
For the first time in 13 years it looked as if George Newton’s track record might be broken when MacNaughton returned a time of 69.4, just 0.6 outside the record.
With no meetings planned for a fortnight, the Eagles travelled to California (Berkshire) the following week and beat the home team 57 – 24.
On 19 August the Eagles raced their last match of the season against the Rye House Roosters. It was an exciting end to the short season as the two teams drew 41-41 and McNaughton at last managed to equal Newton’s track record.
Not only were the crowds not enough for Dugard to consider relaunching the league team at Arlington but they were so poor that he decided to pull the plug altogether on speedway for two years. Strangely enough he applied to hold Pony Racing instead but the local authorities voted “Neigh” on the grounds that it would be a gambling sport.
There was no racing of any sort therefore at Arlington in 1951 and 1952.
Not happy with the lack of activity at his beloved Arlington, Dugard decided to try again and in 1953 he tested the water once again by staging the Sussex Championship which was won by Ron Barrett. With a reasonable crowd turning out, Dugard took the plunge and entered an Eagles team in to a new league which was being inaugurated in 1954, the Southern Area League.
And so, after a gap of seven years, league speedway racing returned to Arlington.
The new league was intended to be a training league for junior riders and consisted of a number of training tracks then operating in the south, Eastbourne, Rye House, Brafield, just south of Northampton, California, Aldershot and Ringwood, Hampshire.
All matches were to be with eight man teams run over 14 heats with each team meeting every other team four times, twice at home and twice away.
The Eagles started the season away at Aldershot in a challenge match and were crushed 55-29. The first home match was against Rye House and despite a brilliant 12 point maximum by Norman Street, Eagles went down by 49 to 34.
Eagles other scorers were: Harry Wilson 7, Wally Wilson 5, Gordon Richards 4, Reeve Turrell 3, Bob Warner 2, Dave Yiannari 1 and Dave Freeborn 0.
Following this meeting, Eastbourne’s leading rider and maximum man, Norman Street, was banned from the league because he was too experienced.
This proved to be a disaster for the Eagles. To say this wasn’t a very successful season might be the greatest speedway understatement of all time.
By 15 August, Eagles record read: Won 0, Drawn 0, Lost 12 as defeat followed defeat, the worst being 60-22 at California and 59-25 at home to Ringwood.
The best was a home defeat to Rye House, 43-38. The best they had managed away was a 50-33 defeat at Brafield.
Suddenly, out of the blue, came a 41-37 win over the team that had beaten them by the record score at home, Ringwood, who were back for their second fixture at Arlington.
Eagles gained a 5-0 in heat one and somehow managed to hold on throughout the next 13 heats.
The Eastbourne scorers in this historic victory were, Jim Preedy 9, Johnny Fry 8, Harry Wilson 7, Steve Bole 5, John Grunow 4, Wally Wilson 4, Bob Bunney 2 and Bob Gladwin 2.
After the shock of winning their first match, the Eagles soon returned to their old ways crashing 49-34 the following week at home to California. Brafield came next, severely weakened by the loss of several riders, and Eagles duly recorded their second win this time by 47-31.
At the end of the season, after having a 100% success record in all previous league competitions, Eastbourne found themselves rock bottom of the 1954 Southern Area League.
After Street had gone, their top man was Steve Bole, who averaged fewer than five points per match.
The Eagles tried out no less than 18 riders during the season and not one of them, apart from Street, measured up even to junior league status.
On an individual level, Maurice McDermott became the new Sussex Champion with Street winning the Silver Helmet championship and Steve Bole taking the Supporters’ Trophy.
On Sunday 17 April 1955 the Eagles started their second season in the Southern Area League. After finishing bottom the previous season with only two wins, it was felt that things could only get better.
Unfortunately they got worse as Eastbourne managed just one league win.
Before the season started some track alterations were made and the track shortened by ten yards to 342 yards.
The first match of the season was against California.
Unfortunately for the Eagles, those Berkshire Californians were as deadly as the Americans were in heir British League heyday, notching up no less than nine 5-1 heat advantages to win 61-23 with only Wally Wilson and Bert Little managing to win a heat for the home side.
Eagles scorers were Wilson 6, Little 6, B. Bunny 4, G. Smithson 2, D. Collett 2,R. Davies 1, R. Turrell 1 and A.Brett 1.
The next home match was against Rye House and it was a much stronger looking Eagles side that took to the shale led by captain Harry Wilson who scored eight points. Although they put up a much better show, it still wasn’t good enough as they went down 47-33.
Eastbourne had some success in the Sussex Championship as it was won by the Eagles’ own Bert Little, but then it wasn’t surprising that an Eastbourne rider won as all 16 entrants were Eagles riders.
Having an all Eagles line up though was to prove costly as Alan Brett, Ray Terry and Frank Bettis all sustained injuries. With these three now out and with Harry Wilson deciding to retire, it was obvious that once again Eagles would have an uphill struggle.
And so they did as heavy defeats at Brafield, 61-23, and Rye House, 67-17, followed.
When Ringwood closed during the season, Dugard bought Merv Hannam and Harold Carter from them for £300. In Hannam, Eastbourne at last had a decent rider – he even broke the Arlington track record – but unfortunately he was destined not to stay very long.
Because of the withdrawal of Ringwood, the scheduled league match against them was replaced by a challenge match against California.
After ten successive defeats – four of them to California – Eagles seemed to have little chance. Surprisingly Eastbourne trailed by just one point with one heat left. Even more surprising was the fact that in the last heat Hannam and Bob Bunney stormed to a match winning 5-1 to give the Eagles their first win of the season.
The fourth of September was a red letter day for the Eastbourne Eagles, as it was on that day that they recorded their one and only league win of the campaign when they beat Brafield 49-33 at Arlington. The Eagles scorers were: T. Reader 10, Hannam 9, D. Collett 8, H. Carder 7, Bunney 6, J. Preedy 4, G. Bridson 4 and R .Terry 3. The Eagles’ top scorer, Reader, had the chance of challenging Vic Hall for the Silver Sash Match Race title but met with defeat.
Individually, Tom Reader won the Southern Area League Riders Championship qualifying round. He went on to finish seventh with eight points in the final.
California’s Bob Andrews took the Eagles’ Silver Helmet Championship and in the final meeting of the term, Hannam beat a strong field to win the Supporters’ Trophy. It was in this meeting that runner-up Mike Broadbank at last broke George Newton’s eight year old track record, albeit on the new shorter track, with a time of 68.6 seconds.
Once again the Eagles finished bottom of the league, but this time with just one win to their credit. They had managed to use 23 riders in 12 matches. Wally Wilson was top scorer with 46 points from eight matches and only one, Bob Bunney, was ever present.
After two consecutive wooden spoons for the Eagles, changes were made. Ringwood signing, Harold Carter, was appointed team manager and he managed to unearth some real talent for the 1956 campaign.
His first signings were Ray Cresp, Jim Heard, Colin Gooddy, Frank Bettis and Cliff Greener, five top class riders. Alan Brett also returned after a nine month lay off.
The first meeting, the Easter Trophy, was won by ex-Hastings, West Ham and Rayleigh star, Bettis, who went through the card unbeaten in front of a big crowd. But within a week there was trouble with Gooddy and Bettis being refused permission to turn out for the Eagles by the Control Board because they had had First Division experience.
For some strange reason, Gooddy was then allocated to the Eagles’ first opponents, the Southern Rovers.
The Rovers, who as their name suggests, had no home base, came on 15 April and won 48-36 with Gooddy scoring 11 of their points. The Eagles scorers were: G. Bridson 10, J. Heard 7, B. Bunney 3, D. Collett 3, B. Little 3, A Brett 3 and D. Freeborn 0. Ray Cresp made his debut in the following match, an away fixture at California, where he scored 11 points helping the Eagles record their first away league win for nine years. Other scorers in that memorable meeting were: Heard 10, Reader 8, Bunney 5, Bridson 4, Collett 3, Brett 3 and Murrell 1. The Eagles completed the double a week later winning 55-28 at Arlington.
With further scores of 11 and 12 in the next two matches it was obvious that Cresp was far too good for this level of speedway and he left to join the famous Wembley Lions. Dugard was not too happy about this and fumed that “The Wembley Lions should be called the Wembley Eagles!” In 1962, Cresp went on to reach the World Championship Final. Cresp’s place was taken by Leo McAuliffe but he could not stop a home defeat at the hands of Rye House, 54-29.
Although now racing on Sundays again, Eastbourne hit further problems with the Lord’s Day Observance Act as they found they were not allowed to charge admission to watch racing. They got round this by charging 2/6d (12½p) for a programme although they also put on a few Saturday meetings as well. The first Saturday meeting was against the Southern Rovers and ended in a 41-41 draw with Rovers’ Eric Hockaday setting a new track record of 66.0. Rye House came next and suffered their first defeat against the Eagles for many years on a very wet track which accounted for two 5-0s, a 3-0 and two 3-2 heat results. The Eastbourne management were now getting very concerned about the crowd levels which had dropped during the season and put out a request for at least another 500 supporters to come through the turnstiles if they were to remain viable.
Following some good away victories, Sunday racing returned on 16 September with a 43-41 win over the Southern Rovers, a victory that sent the Eagles to the top of the league table.
In the end, the Eagles finished in second place behind Rye House, a far cry from their first two seasons in the Southern Area League. Top riders were Jim Heard who scored 81 points from 12 matches and Leo McAuliffe who managed 65 from 9. McAuliffe and Heard also shone individually as they came first and second in the Southern Riders’ Championship. Former Eagle Merv Hannam took the Sussex Championship with a win over Ray Cresp, Frank Bettis and Colin Gooddy in the final while Tom Reader won the Supporters’ Trophy in the last meeting of the season.
The new season opened on 21 April with everything looking good for a change. After finishing runners-up in the League in 1956 there was an air of optimism about, with talk of a possible Championship winning team. The season started with the Easter Trophy which was won by Colin Gooddy, who went through the meeting unbeaten. Following a battle with the Control Board, Eastbourne had been given permission to sign up Frank Bettis, who took on the role of rider-come-manager and seemed to be doing a fine job despite the restrictions due to petrol rationing.
The Eagles first match at Arlington was a challenge against the Southern Rovers, which they duly won to the tune of 46-38. Eastbourne then went to Aldershot and came away with a 54-54 draw only to lose at home to the same team a week later, 49-35. By now the Southern Rovers had found a permanent home at Rayleigh and it was therefore the Rayleigh Rovers who were Eastbourne’s first league opponents of the season at Arlington. In spite of the optimism at the start of the season, the Eagles suffered a 48-35 reverse in this match. Rayleigh had put together a very strong team which included Brian Meredith, Colin Gooddy and Tommy Sweetman, who each scored 10 points. The Eagles scorers were: Frank Bettis 11, D Collett 7, Leo McAuliffe 6, Reg Davies 6, John Dugard 3, Les Searle 2, Jim Preedy 0 and Bob Warner 0.
The gloom at Eastbourne continued as the Eagles were massacred at Rye House, 66-17. However, just seven days later they won their first match of the season, beating the same Rye House 51-32. This was followed by a one point defeat at Aldershot and a 52-31 victory back at Arlington. Part of the reason for the improvement in the team’s performance was the signing of Colin Gooddy in place of McAuliffe. However his help did not last for long as in the Eagles 43-39 home defeat at the hands of Rayleigh, Gooddy was badly injured and was out for the rest of the season. He had lasted for just three matches. Dave Collett was also injured in the same match.
On 4 August, Arlington staged the Championship of Sussex. The meeting was won by former Eagle, Ray Cresp. Making his debut at Eastbourne was a young New Zealander who went on to even greater heights than Cresp, later winning six World Titles and three Long Track World Finals, none other than Kiwi superstar, Ivan Mauger. In his first race Mauger could only manage third place behind McAuliffe and Cresp, but in heat nine he beat Ross Gilbertson, Les Searle and Bob Warner in 71.4 seconds. His final tally was 7 points from 5 rides. McAuliffe won the Southern Area League Riders Final on 15 September after a second run-off against the Eagles’ own Maury Conway. The first had ended in a dead heat.
The final league match of the season, which the Eagles won 46-36, was against Rye House. With the match counting for four points as Rye House had no dates left for home meetings, it meant that Eastbourne finished the season with the same number of points as Rayleigh at the top of the League. Unfortunately for the Eagles, Rayleigh had more race points and were therefore declared champions. In the second half of the final meeting Jim Heard won the Supporters’ Trophy in a thrilling finale.
Bettis had used his experience to good effect throughout the season and finished as Eastbourne’s top scorer with 94 points from 10 matches. Jim Heard contributed 75 while third heat leader, Australian Maury Conway, also did well. In his three matches, Gooddy managed 28 points. Another generation of the Dugard family became involved with the Eagles this year as Charlie’s son, John, showed considerable promise in the few outings he had.
With the withdrawal of Rayleigh from the Southern Area League at the beginning of 1958, leaving just three teams, it was felt it would no longer be viable. The idea of a National League Second Division, made up of the three remaining teams, Eastbourne, Rye House and Aldershot, together with Exeter, Yarmouth and junior teams from First Division tracks, Swindon and Norwich was mooted to take its place. However it soon became apparent that the idea as originally conceived was a non-starter. Exeter and Yarmouth wanted ten-heat matches, Swindon and Norwich were only able to offer three home dates while Eastbourne, Rye House and Aldershot considered the proposed pay rates for the new league too high. The league eventually went ahead with Yarmouth plus Norwich, Swindon and Poole second teams but without Eastbourne.
As a result, Eastbourne reverted to a season of challenge matches and Individual meetings. First up was the Easter Trophy, won by Leo McAuliffe after Colin Goody had dropped a chain in the final race. Two team matches against Rye House and Aldershot followed, both ending in victories for the Eagles. Frank Bettis won the Championship of Sussex in a meeting that saw Ivan Mauger come to Arlington on a more permanent basis. On 8 June he put on an Eagles Race jacket for the first time and picked up 8 points as Eastbourne beat Chiswick Nomads by 46-38. Against Coventry he did even better as, along with Colin Goody and Frank Bettis, he picked up 11points in the Eagles 61-23 success. On 20 July Mauger scorched to his first maximum as Eastbourne beat California 51-33. He then won the Silver Helmet Championship at Arlington by beating McAuliffe, Goody and Jim Gleed in the final.
On 31 August, Eastbourne was selected for its first Test match. Although only a junior Test it was still a major honour for a club who were not even staging league speedway. It was originally billed as Young England v Young Australasia but later changed to Young England v Overseas. The match was notable for the fact that it heralded Ivan Mauger’s first international team appearance. England were without Leo McAuliffe, who broke down on the way to the track, so Ross Gilbertson replaced him in the team and Bob Warner, who was attending the match as a spectator, borrowed novice Ken Vale’s equipment to take over as reserve. It was to be an eventful meeting for Warner and the peak of his speedway career as, with Overseas holding a three point lead after 11 races and with England robbed of the services of Bobby Croombs and Frank Bettis through injury, Warner was called on to ride in five of the last seven races and it was his 8 points that gave Young England victory by 58 to 49.The scorers were: Young England: C. Gooddy 16, T. Sweetman 9, R. Gilbertson 9, B. Warner 8, F. Bettis 7 and B. Croombs 3 Overseas: M.Conway 14, T.Blokdyk 14, I. Mauger 11, S.Schirmer 6, G. Bridgson 4, L.Spillsbury 0.
The last meeting of the season proved to be the Supporters’ Trophy which was won by Mauger who also added his name to the track record at the same time. The last meeting of the season was scheduled to be a Best Pairs meeting but it was washed out by rain; a shame for the supporters as it meant there was none of the usual farewells from the riders and management. Although there had been no league this year, the season was nevertheless considered a “Mauger” success!
League racing returned to Arlington in 1959 when the Southern Area League was re-introduced originally with four teams, Eastbourne, Rye House, Yarmouth and Rayleigh. Aldershot’s application to join was originally turned down but they were later allowed in and then Rayleigh closed with the team moving to Ipswich. So the final line-up was Eastbourne, Rye House, Yarmouth, Aldershot and Ipswich.
The season opened (or almost did) with the Easter Trophy. Due to persistent rain supporters only saw two heats. The Eagles then lost 41-31 at Rye House in a challenge match but gained quick revenge winning 43-29 the week after back at Arlington. Goody, who had taken over the captaincy from Bettis, broke the track record in heat one and again in heat eight and, but for an engine failure, would have had a maximum. The Eagles scorers were: Gil Goldfinch 11, Frank Bettis 10, Colin Goody 9, Bob Warner 6, John Dugard 4, Ron Sharp 3 while reserve, Reg Davies, did not ride. Goody’s first maximum came the following week as the Eagles beat the Kent Rovers 46-26 in another challenge match.
What was supposed to be the first league match was against Rayleigh. The Rockets took a 5-1 in the first heat after Goody fell and another in heat four leaving the score at 12-12. The Eagles then hit five 5-1s and three 4-2s to win 49-23. Goldfinch scored a maximum and John Dugard a paid maximum to top the Eagles score chart. Eastbourne then won at Rye House, 38-33 and subsequently beat Kent Rovers 38-34 in a challenge match thanks to a last heat 5-1.
The Sussex Championship was next and was won for the first time by Colin Goody.
With Ipswich taking over from Rayleigh and the introduction of Aldershot to the league, the Speedway Control Board met to consider the position of the Southern Area League. On 15 July the Board pronounced that the league would consist of one home and one away match.
Up to this point it had been run on the understanding that each team would be meeting twice each home and away, so a number of matches which had already been run, including the Eastbourne v. Rayleigh encounter, were deleted from the records.
In addition the Board switched some riders around to try and even up team strengths and allowed the use of guest riders. As a result a number of riders found themselves appearing for different teams in successive weeks.
In the end, in spite of all the complications, it was Eastbourne who finished up as League champions, with five wins and just one loss out of eight matches, their first success since 1947.
This victory was based on Colin Goody who averaged over 11 points per match and amazingly was never headed on an away track.
Goldfinch scored well until he was transferred to Ipswich while Dave Still provided strong backing. Ross Gilbertson returned for several matches and yet another Dugard, Bob, turned out several times for the team.
For many years the number of speedway teams had been showing an alarming drop. Fewer riders were coming into the sport while more and more experienced men were retiring.
Only the Southern Area League (SAL) offered any real hope for newcomers, but the cost of learning the art of racing was spiralling and returns were very low.
There were a few half-hearted attempts by the National League promoters to encourage novices, but many of them rapidly disappeared.
However, during 1959 there was a sudden resurgence as a number of tracks re-opened to stage open meetings including New Cross, Plymouth and Bristol.
These tracks operated under the auspices of the Speedway Control Board (SCB) but it was in the north of the country that the most significant developments were taking place as Mike Parker opened up Bradford, Liverpool and Cradley Heath to run unlicensed meetings.
They were unlicensed because they only contained 15 heats of racing instead of the minimum 18 as laid down by the Board. Parker discovered that, in spite of the official ban, he had no shortage of youngsters on his hands wanting to take part.
Parker followed up his success by opening Stoke with Reg Fearman and contacting the promoters of the Southern Area League and its secretary, John Wick, to see if they would be prepared to join together to form a new league.
The SAL promoters agreed as long as it could be made official.
The Control Board, for their part, realised that they could not allow the current situation to continue with so many unlicensed tracks running, so they called a meeting in November 1959, to which all interested parties were invited.
At the end of the meeting, agreement was reached to form a new official league in 1960 to be called the Provincial League. All the Southern Area League tracks expressed an interest in joining and a number of former tracks including Rayleigh also applied to join.
With 13 clubs involved, things looked bright and rosy, but out of the blue came a Speedway Control Board bombshell as Eastbourne and Rye House’s applications were both refused on the grounds that their tracks were not up to standard and because they raced on Sundays.
Dugard and Rye House promoter, T. Lawrence, both lodged appeals but both were turned down though they were given permission to stage open meetings on Sundays.
With Ipswich joining the National League and Yarmouth the Provincial League, the old Southern Area League was no longer viable, so Eastbourne were forced to revert to the old challenge and individual meetings routine.
Ross Gilbertson won the Easter Trophy on 17 April and then the Eagles lost two successive home meetings to Aldershot, 42-30, and Yarmouth, 35-34. They then drew 41-41 at Rye House before beating the Rye House Red Devils 36-35 at Arlington. Eric Hockaday became the new Sussex Champion on 5 June.
The next meeting was against the strong Rayleigh outfit, who were at the time one of the leading teams in the Provincial League. The Eagles, however, pulled off a shock win, defeating the Rockets 42-30.
Rayleigh went on to win the Provincial League title. Ipswich came and forced a draw and Cradley were sent packing 45-27. Aldershot returned and this time the Eagles won 44-27.
The Eagles suffered a rare defeat at Rye House on 4 September but made up for it the following week by winning 41½ to 31½. Gilbertson won the Southern Riders Championship and the season ended with Gil Goldfinch winning the Supporters’ Trophy.
Although not in the league, Eastbourne had put on a successful season and with a team consisting of Colin Gooddy as captain, Jim Heard, Ross Gilbertson, John and Bob Dugard, Dave Still and Bob Warner, had taken on and beaten a number of Provincial League teams.
The 1961 season began with the customary Easter Trophy, won by Colin Gooddy, who stayed unbeaten throughout the meeting despite the top class line up which included John and Bobby Dugard, Ross Gilbertson, Des Lukehurst and Speedy Pete Jarman. Jim Heard and John Dugard then won a Best Pairs event before the first challenge match of the year against Rye House.
Bill Osborne joined the team, which, his signature apart, stayed the same as the 1960 line-up.
John Dugard top scored with 11 points as the Eagles beat Rye House 41-31.
Gilbertson recorded three wins and a fall. Rye House won the return 38-34, with John Dugard again proving to be the Eagles’ top scorer with 14 points. Gilbertson won the Championship of Sussex on 14 May.
Two more challenge matches against National League junior teams followed, the first against New Cross ’Colts’, which Eastbourne won, 41-31.
The second against Ipswich ‘B’, which included a young Len Silver. This proved to be an easy victory for the Eagles.
There were several meetings run on the lines of the old Hailsham Cup before Gilbertson won the Silver Helmet Championship, equaling his own 63.8 seconds track record in the process. The Eagles lost 49-35 at Rye House, but a week later won by the same score after some controversy.
Eastbourne actually won 50-34 but Jim Heard was adjudged to have fouled the rules in the last race and the referee ordered it to be re-run.
Rye House took a 5-1 to leave the aggregate 84-84.
Poole ‘Pirates’ made their first Arlington appearance in a challenge match on 3 September and, despite a brilliant eleven points by ex-Hastings and Eastbourne rider, Ken Middleditch, lost to the Eagles. The final meeting of the season was, as usual, the Supporters’ Trophy.
Like, pretty much everything else in 1961 the meeting was won by Ross Gilbertson.
During the year, on 1 July, Bill Osborne opened a training school at the track. This ran on alternate Sundays and on in to the winter months.
A machine was available for hire at a cost of £3 for 12 laps, although Osborne was not in favour of novices turning up without their own equipment.
“Any lad who expects to become a speedway rider must own his own bike,” he said.
Among his first year discoveries was Johnny Guilfoyle.
At the end of the 1961 season there was some talk of reviving the old Southern Area League with teams from Eastbourne, Rye House, Yarmouth and Weymouth taking part.
Dugard himself had still not given up the idea of entering the Provincial League and applied for membership once again.
He agreed to switch Eastbourne’s race day to Saturday but still had to satisfy the Control Board that the track was up to the standard required. In readiness for the move to the Provincial League, Dugard announced his team as John and Bob Dugard, Frank Bettis, Bill Osborne, Jimmy Gleed, Jim Heard and Bob Warner.
He also originally proposed using Colin Gooddy as he claimed he was an Eastbourne registered rider, even though he was now riding for Ipswich, but the Board ruled he had to stay at Ipswich.
On 18 March, two ACU inspectors passed the Arlington track fit for the Provincial League provided warning lights were erected and the safety fence was improved.
Just under one month later, the Control Board made a further inspection and felt that neither of the two items referred to by the ACU inspectors had been sufficiently improved to allow for Provincial League racing to take place.
The other Provincial League promoters offered their support to Eastbourne saying they were prepared for their teams to race at Arlington and had no objection to Eastbourne taking its place in the League. The Control Board said they would announce their final decision in May.
So it was a somewhat dubious start to the 1962 season as it still wasn’t clear whether the Eagles would be operating in the SAL, the Provincial League or neither and this was still the position when the first meeting, the Easter Trophy, won by Poole’s Geoff Mudge, took place.
Until the SCB’s final decision, Eastbourne were restricted to putting on challenge matches, the first of which was against local rivals Poole.
The Pirates who were a much stronger team on paper, were given a real fight with only a last heat 5-1 robbing the Eagles of victory. Scorers for the Eagles were: Des Lukehurst 11, Dave Still 8, Jim Heard 8, Bob Dugard 6, Ron Swaine 2, John Dugard 2 and Frank Bettis 1.
A very strong Plymouth team led by Jimmy Squibb, came and put one over the Eagles to the tune of 52-26, this despite the fact the Eagles managed to get Colin Gooddy to help them out.
The final announcement from the Speedway Control Board came on 19 May. Eastbourne were refused permission to join the Provincial League. It was now too late to start the Southern Area League so once again it was back to challenge matches which were strangely enough against Provincial League teams.
It seemed distinctly odd to the Eastbourne management and to the many Eastbourne supporters that their track was safe for challenge matches against Provincial League teams but not for league matches against the same teams.
The next home match was against Stoke led by ‘Speedy‘ Pete Jarman. Jarman top scored with nine points but Eagles still won 46-32. Bob Dugard won the Championship of Sussex, beating a very strong field.
The Eagles then beat Leicester, Poole, Wolverhampton and Exeter before finally drawing 39-39 against Rye House. The Eagles rode three matches away from home, at Exeter, where they went down 46-32, at Poole, where they lost 49-29 and at Rye House, again losing, this time by 43 to 34. Frank Bettis and Des Lukehurst won a Best Pairs event before the traditional final meeting, the Supporters’ Trophy, won this year by Bob Dugard.
Colin Gooddy, who had been allowed to ride for Eastbourne after all as they were now only riding challenge matches, finished top of the Eagles’ averages for the year with 11.25, followed by Pete Jarman, who put in three appearances averaging 11.00. Frank Bettis was top of the “regular” team with 7.70.
The 1963 season started on 14 April when Colin Gooddy won the annual Easter Trophy. A high class field was lined up for what should have been a first class meeting but, unfortunately, heavy rain spoilt the proceedings.
The second meeting, on 5 May, was a challenge against Rye House. Eagles saw off their old rivals by 47-29 with both John and Bob Dugard netting 12 point maximums on a dry and bumpy track. The Eastbourne scorers were: Bob Dugard 12, John Dugard 12, Dave Still 7, Bob Warner 6, Frank Bettis 5, Jim Heard 3 and Ken Vale 3. Eagles then rode away at Weymouth in a challenge match, losing 47-31, and away at Rye House, losing 40-38.
The following week’s home challenge with Weymouth was postponed and the prestigious Championship of Sussex was abandoned.
At this point, Eastbourne were told by the Control Board that they could no longer book top Provincial League or National League riders.
Dugard was incensed and told the Control Board that without these riders the crowds would decrease and speedway at Arlington would no longer be viable.
In June he defied the Control Board by putting on a composite meeting which included speedway and was fined £20 by the Control Board for using National League riders in the event.
This was the final straw and Eastbourne shut down. The Speedway Riders’ Association were horrified at this turn of events and protested to the Control Board about their ruling which was eventually reversed but the reversal came too late to rescue the 1963 season.
Before the 1964 season began, Dugard spent about £1,000 on improving the track as a precursor to another application to join the Provincial League.
He re-banked the track and built a new stand for 1,000 spectators. In the end however, they entered a revived Southern Area League, which was renamed the Metropolitan League.
As well as Eastbourne the league comprised Ipswich, Rayleigh, Weymouth, Exeter ‘B’ and Newpoole (a joint Newport/Poole junior team).
The season did not start until 24 May so there was no Easter Cup. Instead the opening meeting was the Sussex Championship which was won by Ross Gilbertson.
The Eagles first league fixture was an away match at Ipswich, which saw Ipswich run out victors by eight points.
The first home league match was against Newpoole which the Eagles won 37-30, matches being staged over 12 heats. Ipswich came on 28 June and were dispatched 41-31.
It was at this point that the Metropolitan League ran in to difficulties as Exeter B pulled out and other teams failed to complete their fixtures.
Not only that, but the riders seemed to swap teams with alarming regularity, so that, for example, Geoff Penniket, as well as being Eastbourne’s second highest scorer also rode for Newpoole; Malcolm Brown rode for both Rayleigh and Weymouth, while Wal Morton rode for Ipswich and Weymouth and Vic Ridgeon rode for Eastbourne and Rayleigh.
After one outing with Exeter B, Des Lukehurst became the Eagles top scorer with 26 points.
With Ipswich managing to complete more fixtures than any other team, six out of eight, they not surprisingly finished top of the league with Eastbourne, for what it was worth, in second place. One rider who rode in the second halves in 1964 was Eastbourne’s Roy Prodger. However, Roy’s racing career came to an end when in his own words, “I crashed on the top bend and hit my nut”.
As a result of this farcical season, Dugard became very disillusioned with the current state of lower league speedway and decided to call it a day.
He therefore closed Arlington to speedway and concentrated on stock car racing for the next four years, pulling in crowds of over 8,000. Every winter rumours circulated that speedway was about to return but it was not until the winter of 1968 that the rumours took on a more substantial air.
After a break of four years, the smell of fumes and the roar of the JAP engines was to be heard once more in the Sussex countryside as it was announced that Eastbourne had entered the British League Second Division.
A new promotion team calling itself Arlington Promotions, which was in effect former West Ham manager, journalist and ITV sports commentator, Dave Lanning and Charlie Dugard’s son, Bob, with help from old Eagles’ favourite, Colin Gooddy, had taken over. The British League Second Division was in its second year of operation and included Belle Vue Colts, Canterbury, Rayleigh, Nelson, Middlesbrough, Berwick, Plymouth, Crayford and Reading as well as a new crop for 1969, Ipswich, Crewe, Romford, Long Eaton, Kings Lynn II and Eastbourne.
Lanning made his intentions clear from the start, “It is no good staging speedway at Eastbourne,” he said, “with a mediocre team. We have to win all our home matches – and a good few away ones in to the bargain. We are going to be the smartest team in the league and anyone who rides for us must have immaculate equipment…I’m mounting a publicity drive to make sure everyone in Sussex knows about Eastbourne speedway.”
Over the winter, Arlington Promotions poured thousands of pounds into improving the stadium, probably spending more money on the place than had been spent in its entire history.
The new Eastbourne team was a combination of old and new with the biggest potential find being the 16-year-old, Dave Jessup.
To other youngsters, Hughie Saunders, Derek Cook, Laurie Sims and Tony Hall, Lanning added experience in the shape of former Wimbledon, Norwich and West Ham rider, Reg Trott, who was appointed captain. But perhaps the biggest masterstroke was in wresting Barry Crowson away from Canterbury after a bitter close season struggle as Crowson knocked up a string of double figure scores in the early part of the season.
The new era for Eastbourne dawned on 6 April when the Eagles defeated the King’s Lynn Starlets, 39-37.
As the scoreline shows it was an exciting tussle with Eastbourne winning thanks to a last heat decider. The large crowd was enthralled and vowed to return for more of this British League action.
The fastest time of the day was 65.8 seconds recorded by Crowson and Lynn’s Graham Edmunds. The Eagles scorers in this, the first match of a new era, were: Crowson 11, Trott 8, Jessup 7, Saunders 5, Sims 4, Hall 2 and Cook 2.
The Eagles then drew at Canterbury in what turned out to be the first of many exciting local derbies.
Unfortunately for Eastbourne, the Crusaders, led by Graham Miles, Pete Murray and Martyn Piddock took full revenge by winning 40-35 at Arlington eight days later.
After a few close results away from home in which the Eagles picked up three points, Ipswich came to Arlington for what can only be described as an amazing match.
Following his early run of success, Crowson had been recalled by his parent club, West Ham, and was therefore only present at the stadium as a spectator.
However, his replacement, Brian Davies, failed to turn up so Crowson put on his leathers and rode for the Eagles. With one race to go, Eastbourne trailed 36-35.
In the final race all four sped from the tapes and into the first bend. Unfortunately Ipswich rider Ernie Baker was rammed into the fence. He stayed down and the race was stopped.
Baker was adjudged to be the cause of the stoppage and subsequently excluded. The Ipswich team and management were outraged by the decision as it was quite clear to them that Baker had been the victim of first bend pushing and shoving. Consequently, they pulled out of the match leaving the Eagles to take a matching winning 5-0.
The Eagles then gained their only away win of the season, 40-38 at Plymouth.
Canterbury’s Martyn Piddock won the Sussex Championship and then the Eagles beat Len Silver’s Rayleigh 41-36.
The experienced Alby Golden was signed as Crowson’s replacement but he couldn’t stop Eastbourne crashing 60-18 at Belle Vue and 57-21 at Crewe.
On 21 September Eastbourne’s new management were rewarded for all their hard work when Arlington was used as the venue for an England v Australasia Test Match, England winning 69-38 with Dave Jessup making a valuable contribution to England while another Eagle, Cec Platt, rode for the Aussies.
Romford led by Des Lukehurst, Brian Davies, Ross Gilbertson, Charlie Benham and Phil Woodcock became the second team to take the league points from Sussex, but Eastbourne finished the season on a high note when they defeated eventual champions Belle Vue Colts 44-34.
The loss of Crowson and an injury to Saunders mid way through the season which kept him out for several matches, badly affected Eastbourne’s chances of carrying out Lanning’s wishes of winning all their home matches and “a good few away ones.”
Nevertheless it was a good return to league speedway as they finished mid-table having won 14 and drawn two of their 30 matches.
In Dave Jessup and Hughie Saunders they had unearthed some real talent, Jessup finishing the season with an average of 6.62 with Saunders going even better, recording 7.00. Lanning had also performed something of a masterstroke with his “oldies” as well, as Trott finished the season with an 8.70 average and Golden with 7.88.
One final note from the season. On 25 May Crowson dead heated with Crayford’s Archie Wilkinson in a match at Arlington. This was the first dead-heat ever recorded in the Second Division of the British League!
The 1970s (Part 1)
Author Ken Burnett continues the Eagles story.
Eastbourne’s reasonable first year back in league speedway brought clear hopes of better things to come and the crowds returned to support the Eagles.
So many attended the first meeting of the 1970 season that the “House Full” notices went up and hundreds had to be turned away.
The Eagles started off the season with six very convincing league wins, although only one of them was away from home, a 41-37 victory at Crayford. The first of the home victories was against Canterbury, 45-33, on 29 March, this was followed by wins over Berwick and Ipswich who both took heavy beatings.
Canterbury came back again, this time in the Knock-Out Cup, with the Eagles clear favourites, but after 13 heats of pure hard racing, the Crusaders came out on top winning 44-34.
The Eagles maintained their superb League form until 16 May when once again, the Canterbury Crusaders lowered their colours at Kingsmead by 42-36.
After a brilliant 47-31 win at Rayleigh and more mammoth home wins, Eastbourne lost at Bradford, 44-34. The very next day Eastbourne were thrashed at Ipswich by 51-27 and for the first time that season lost the top of the table spot to Canterbury.
The Eagles hit back with fine wins at Workington, 45-33, and at third place Romford, 40-38, but defeats at Rochdale 53-25, Reading, 45-33, and Doncaster, 44-34, left them struggling to get on terms with the league leaders.
The Crusaders were invited back, this time for the second leg of the South Coast Cup. The Eagles who had lost 45-33 at Kingsmead the previous day lost again at Arlington.
However, Eastbourne bounced back, winning at Peterborough and Boston and then drawing at Long Eaton thanks to a last heat 5-0. The Eagles hit 50 plus scores in all but one of their remaining home matches.
Eastbourne finished the season with two away matches at Teesside and Crewe, victory in either would have put them level on points with eventual League champions, Canterbury. Victory in both would have given them the league title.
Unfortunately, it was not to be as they lost 45-32 at Teeside and 53-25 at Crewe.
Although Eastbourne finished second in the league it had been a tremendous year for them and they had unearthed some spectacular junior talent which augured well for the future.
The 17-year-old Dave Jessup continued on his record-breaking way, recording an average of 9.69 in just his second season, topping the Eagles averages.
For good measure, he also won the Division Two Riders’ Championship Final. But this wasn’t all from the Eastbourne production line as another 16-year-old, Gordon Kennett, was given his first run out on a speedway track on 29 March and by 12 April found himself in the team.
So wild was Kennett when he started that he picked up the nicknames “Bronco” and “Cowboy”. One promoter even said he was so dangerous, he should be banned. But by the end of his first season he had ridden in 29 matches for the Eagles and scored at a sensational average of 6.79.
Nor were these the only two teenagers spotted by Lanning as he also gave track debuts to Roger Johns and Gordon Kennet’s brother, David, both of whom would turn out to be top riders.
One of the reasons Eastbourne was able to unearth such precocious talent was its training school which ran regularly through the winter months. The cost was £2 plus £4 10s (£4.50p) for the hire of a bike for 20 laps.
Of the rest of the team, Derek Cook was second highest scorer with an average of 8.44, while Reg Trott scored at 7.52 and Alby Golden, Phil Pratt (signed from Poole in mid season) and Mac Woolford all contributed over six points per match. Laurie Sims recorded the lowest average and that was only fractionally below 6 at 5.98.
No wonder the Eagles had had such a good season.
With their ever-improving youngsters, it looked as though 1971 would be Eastbourne’s year and that they would go one better and become league champions.
However, the season started badly when Jessup moved up a division, transferring to Wembley, and Golden decided it was time to retire following a serious injury the season before.
Pratt refused to ride for Eastbourne and Cook was whisked back to his parent track, Poole, after four matches for the Eagles in which he had averaged 10.25.
However, none of this seemed to faze the Eastbourne youngsters who rattled off 11 wins and one draw in their first 12 fixtures, starting with a win over reigning champions Canterbury by 58-20 followed by Sunderland 59-19, Peterborough 53-25, Workington 45-32, Crewe 54-24, Rochdale, complete with a young Peter Collins on his first visit to Arlington, 44-34, Romford 50-28 and Boston 49-28 all at home, and 39-39 at Rayleigh, 41-36 at Canterbury, 41-37 at Workington and 40-37 at Romford. Eastbourne’s first defeat came in a controversial meeting at Boston at which, after several dubious refereeing decisions, the Eagles finally lost 33-45.
In the cup, the Eagles again drew Canterbury but there was to be no repeat of the previous year as Eastbourne won the first leg 47-31 at Arlington.
With Laurie Sims injured, the Eagles drafted in Bob Dugard for the second leg at Kingsmead. Eastbourne hit three quick 5-1s to lead 18-6 after heat four. In heat nine, Dugard went in hard on Crusaders’ Ted Hubbard who fell.
Much to the amazement of most spectators it was the Canterbury rider who was excluded. This was a signal for pandemonium to break loose.
Protesting home supporters climbed on to the track and just about everywhere else with a few even trying to get in to the referee’s box. When the match was restarted some 25 minutes later, the Eagles, who had already done enough to ensure the aggregate victory, took it steady, with a 39-39 draw the result. Dugard himself took no further part in the meeting or indeed the season.
Unbeaten after 12 matches and through to the next round of the cup, Eastbourne had a lot to thank their production line of youngsters for.
The Kennett brothers were improving all the time and were now both heat leaders and Roger Johns came in to the team as a more than useful second string but it was yet another junior, Malcolm Ballard, who proved to be this year’s sensational find.
In his first four matches in league speedway, he scored paid nine from three rides, paid 10, paid 11 and paid 14.
Just 50 days after making his debut, he became an international when he rode for Young England against Young Sweden at Ipswich on 17 June. Three days later he turned out for Young England again, this time at Arlington. He was top scorer with 14 paid 16.
On 27 June he became the new Sussex Champion beating a top class field that included Peter Collins, Dave Jessup and John Louis. He was to finish the season with an incredible average of 8.74 and was Eastbourne’s top scorer. Lanning had done it again!
In spite of the rise of the juniors, the Eagles received a big blow to their Championship hopes on 4 July as Rayleigh came to Arlington, superbly led by ex-Eagles rider Hugh Saunders, and won 40-36.
Rocked by this result, Eastbourne followed this with a disastrous result away at Crewe, losing 54-24 and two days later at Hull by 41-37, despite a 15 point maximum by guest Arthur Price.
The Eagles fought back however and responded by thumping Teesside 58-20. Unfortunately at Workington in the Cup, the Eagles hit all sorts of problems and lost 51-27. In the return two days later it looked as though Eastbourne would pull back the deficit, but, tragically, Mac Woolford, in trying to avoid a fallen opponent, hit the safety fence in an alarming crash and broke his neck.
Although Eagles won 45-31 they were out of the Cup. Yet another product of the Eastbourne training school was brought in to replace Woolford, a young man who had spent most of his boyhood as a track raker, Trevor Geer.
After their Cup setback, Eastbourne continued on their winning ways in the League, beating Ipswich 46-31. The return was an astonishing demonstration of the strength in depth the Eagles were now showing as, in spite of Ipswich’s John Louis, Tony Davey and Pete Bailey all scoring maximums, Eastbourne managed to come away with a 39-39 draw.
Big home wins followed at Arlington. A crushing 52-26 defeat at fast rising Bradford was the only blemish on what was now turning out to be the Eagles most exciting season for many years. Wins at Teesside, 43-35, and Sunderland, 46-31, left the Eagles needing just two points from their remaining three matches to take the League title.
These were easily secured with a magnificent 39-38 victory at Peterborough on the same day that close rivals Bradford were crashing at Rochdale. Eastbourne then drew at Birmingham and beat Hull to lift the championship by a margin of four points. They had lost just seven matches out of a total of 32 ridden. The team completed the season by winning the South Coast Cup against Canterbury and the KEN-EX Four Team Championship.
The previous year when finishing second, Eastbourne had seven riders who had scored at an average of six points per match or more. This year, not counting Derek Cook, who left after just four matches, they had eight, with the lowest being Woolford at 6.67. This would have been enough to make the Eagles’ eighth best rider a heat leader in the Sunderland team!
The Eagles were rewarded for their successful season with a civic reception at which Eastbourne’s mayor, Councillor John Robinson, congratulated the Eagles on their achievement. Dave Lanning commented that this was “an unprecedented gesture in speedway history.”
Following their success, Eastbourne felt that they should be automatically promoted to Division One, but this was refused, so they applied in the normal manner for membership, which was also refused because they were not prepared to pay the £3,500 licence fee.
Bob Dugard said he felt Eastbourne were “entitled to promotion as the new Division Two champions, but if we do well again in 1972 we will go for the top grade even if it means buying a place.”
There were a number of enforced changes to the line up for 1972. Dave Kennett was transferred to Hackney for £350 and Laurie Sims also moved on. Sadly, Mac Woolford was forced to retire due to the injuries suffered in the cup tie against Workington.
Lanning kept faith with his juniors and, instead of splashing out in the transfer market, tried out a number of juniors including Paul Gachet, Tim Ballard, Simon Bruce and yet another of Charlie’s sons, Eric Dugard, to slot in behind Gordon Kennett, Malcolm Ballard, Reg Trott, Derek Cook, who returned to the team, Bobby McNeil, Roger Johns and Trevor Geer.
Crowds were around the 3,000 mark and it was considered surprising if three or four coaches full of travelling supporters did not go to the away matches to cheer on their heroes.
Unfortunately, the Eagles did not live up to expectations, often throwing away silly points on their travels. In fact they only managed away wins at Sunderland, 42-36, Ellesmere Port, 42-36 and Bradford, 40-38 and a 39-39 draw at Rayleigh. Six matches were lost by just two points, though there were also two teams who managed fifty against the Eagles, those being Peterborough and Crewe within three days of each other.
At home, Eagles dropped just one point at home to Rayleigh, while most teams were beaten before they arrived. Scunthorpe, Ellesmere Port, Workington, Berwick, Hull, Bradford and Sunderland were all hit for fifty plus.
It was Crewe who were to take Eastbourne’s place as the star team of Division Two as they took the League title, the Knock-Out Cup and provided the Division Two Riders’ champion in super Aussie Phil Crump.
Crump proved his brilliance wherever and whenever he rode, including at Arlington where it was due to him that Crewe put Eastbourne out the Cup in the semi-finals by just six points after Eastbourne had beaten Long Eaton and Boston on their way there.
Eastbourne dropped down to the League to finish in fifth position but did have some success beating Rayleigh for the Manser Trophy and thrashing Canterbury in the South Coast Cup.
During the year they were invited to ride in West Germany against a local side Olching and despite a gallant effort lost 49-29. On the plus side for Eastbourne, Ballard continued his meteoric rise, topping the averages with 9.94, setting a new track record of 62.4 and representing the Eagles in the Division Two Riders Final scoring 8 points from his final three outings.
Kennett also showed great improvement, especially in technique, as in came a more polished style to replace a lot of the wildness. The biggest improvement of all came from Bobby McNeil, who rose from reserve to heat leader during the season. Towards the end of the season, with the youngsters doing so well, Reg Trott decided to call it a day.
This left Malcolm Ballard, at the grand old age of 22, as the oldest member of the team. Rayleigh’s Allen Emmett won the Sussex Championship and, along with 16 year old Paul Gachet, won the Southern Best Pairs. Emmett also won the British Junior Championship forcing Eastbourne’s Gordon Kennett into the runner-up position.
With Eastbourne only finishing fifth in 1972, Dugard did not pursue his plan to seek promotion to Division One. The main consequence of this was that both Malcolm Ballard and Gordon Kennett left for higher grade racing with Oxford.
Derek Cook also left for Canterbury. This left Bobby McNeil and Roger Johns to take over the two major positions in the Eagles side at the start of the 1973 season.
To replace the experience of Trott, Lanning brought in the even older 50-year-old Jimmy Squibb. Squibb had first ridden at Arlington as far back as 1947 when he was a member of the visiting Southampton team.
Mike Vernam was signed from Reading and, after a long wrangle, Ross Gilbertson from Canterbury, who took Eric Dugard’s place, after the latter was injured later in the season.
The season started badly with two successive home defeats in challenge matches to Canterbury and Peterborough as well as two away defeats, neither of them league matches.
When the league matches did get under way the first match at home to Boston was abandoned with the score 7-5 to the visitors. The Eagles then suffered a double blow, a home Knock-Out Cup reverse to Canterbury followed by a 54-24 defeat at Barrow.
On 11 May the tide began to turn as Eastbourne snatched a 39-39 draw at Sunderland and then a 41-37 win at Berwick the next day. After just 14 matches with Eastbourne, Vernam left to go to Hull. His place was taken by yet another 16 year old training school sensation, Neil Middleditch, the son of the former Hastings star, Ken.
It was an event surrounding Middleditch which was to cause great controversy later in the season. In the ninth heat of the match at Long Eaton, with the scores 26-22 in Long Eaton’s favour, Middleditch was excluded for ducking under the tapes at the start of heat eight.
Eastbourne argued that Strachan had rolled forward and it was this that had caused Middleditch to get a flyer and that therefore the referee, Mr E W Roe, should have ruled an unsatisfactory start with all four riders back.
Mr Roe, however, refused to change his decision, so the whole Eastbourne team walked out, handing Long Eaton five 5-0s and the match, 51-22.
After the somewhat shaky start to the season, the Eagles were proving invincible at home and won every home league match for the first time since 1970.
Only Workington and Barrow along with eventual champions, Boston, came close. In the match with Boston on 18 August, Eastbourne were trailing 37-35 with one heat left and took a gamble by giving Neil Middleditch a reserve ride.
In third place throughout the race, Middleditch just did not give up, finally catching Boston’s Arthur Price on the line to give his team a 5-1 and victory in the match, 40-38.
Beating the eventual champions was a great achievement in itself, but it was made all the more remarkable by the fact that the oldest rider in the team that day was just 20 years 55 days.
The age of many of the Eastbourne team created an unexpected problem as Dave Lanning pointed out that they had difficulties in transporting their riders to meetings as “half of them aren’t old enough to drive.”
Lanning’s help in getting them to the track each week didn’t stop them throwing him in to the Arlington well, which was situated in the middle of the centre green, at the end of each season!
In the end, in spite of managing only two away wins all season, Eastbourne finished third in the league. McNeill was top of the Eagles’ averages with 9.34, followed by Gilbertson on 8.88 and Johns on 8.59.
Individually it was a successful year for McNeil as he took the Silver Helmet from Workington’s Lou Sansom in July and came second in the Division Two Riders’ Championship after losing to Arthur Price in a run-off for first place. Along with Geer, he also rode for England against Poland and Sweden. Johns won the Sussex Championship.
Eastbourne made a little bit of history in the final meeting of the season as they lost away at Rayleigh, 48-47. It was to prove to be the last-ever meeting at the Rayleigh Weir stadium.
All copy and images copyright of Ken Burnett.