Saturday, 12 May 2018

Stock Cars

Manchester Gregorians  2  Dukinfield Town  1

Manchester Football League – Premier Division

I would imagine it would have been around 1978 when I was taken to my one and only stock car meeting, at Brafield-on-the-Green near Northampton.

I was taken by my Dad and one of our neighbours, Digby, who was also into the sport. When I say into the sport, at that time, from memory, football had ceased to exist in our house, it was all about the stock cars. We had programmes, magazines, coats, stickers, Top Trumps, the lot. I think Dad was between his spell watching an ailing Derby County and the start of his long relationship with Belper Town.

If Only.....
I used to get up on a Saturday morning, well before my parents stirred, and sneak downstairs to read the programme from the meeting the night before, be it at Long Eaton, Belle Vue, Sheffield, Birmingham, Bradford or even Skegness.

I knew the names of all the drivers as well, Bert Finnikin, Dave Mellor, Stuart Smith, Dave Beresford and Frankie Wainman to name but a few. The popularity of the sport appeared to be huge, but then for some reason, and I seem to think a serious crash occurred one evening where members of the crowd were injured, my Dad stopped going and returned to football.

A few years ago now, a programme was aired by the BBC called 'Gears and Tears', which was about the rivalry between the Smith family and the Wainman family. The sons of the legends of the seventies were now vying for supremacy on the ovals of the UK, and it was compelling viewing. The money needed to compete in the sport at the top level was vast. I enjoyed watching it, as did my Dad, I suspect it brought back a few memories.

It's Screaming Football....
In more recent years I’ve probably paid a bit more attention to Speedway if I’m honest, mainly because my mate Steve was a big fan of the sport (less so in the last couple of years), plus, his wife Julie was probably an even bigger fan and is now a promotor for Sheffield Tigers.

So why on a night when I’ve been to see Manchester Gregorians play, am I waxing lyrical about the great days of stock car racing, and to a lesser extent speedway?

It’s simple really. Gregs (as they are more commonly known), play on an artificial pitch at Belle Vue Stadium in Manchester. To one side of the pitch is the greyhound stadium (where I understand the stock car track is also based), while to the other side of the pitch is the new National Speedway Stadium that is the home to Belle Vue Aces.

Belle Vue is an historic sporting venue, yet until now it’s not really featured on the football map, but with a little bit more foresight, it could have been.

Belle Vue - But Not As Many Would Know It
When they built the fantastic new stadium, with its large stand and corporate facilities on the home straight, and its covered terraces on the back straight, they also put an artificial football pitch in what is more commonly known as the centre green. The trouble is, the pitch isn’t quite big enough for senior football. I seem to recall a couple of years ago Northwich Manchester Villa had it inspected as a possible venue for North West Counties League football, and it was at that point the issue came to light. Had it been the right size, then it would have made for a fantastic home for a football club, but alas, it was not to be.

That said though, it isn’t all bad news because if you skirt around the back straight from the confines of the sports centre, you eventually arrive at the purpose built floodlit surface that is now the home of a Gregs side that made some noises a few years back about progressing through the leagues.

I arrived at Belle Vue around an hour before kick off, and my first thoughts were of liquid refreshments. I’d done my homework, badly it seemed. The Q Club opposite the stadium on Kirkmanshulme Lane was shut for refurbishment while all hopes of a pint in Gala Bingo were dashed when it appeared that too wasn’t open. I’d been tipped off that they had a bar at the Showcase Cinema complex, I was right but it was bottles and it was expensive.

Rugby - On An Artificial Pitch?
Back at the sports centre it was vending machines only, but suitably drained of cash and refreshed I made my way to the pitch, where a small crowd, including a number of hoppers were in place to watch the game. One of the hoppers was indeed Hoddy from Crewe who I last heard had been to over 7,000 grounds worldwide, and more recently in Africa watching games in places that the British Government do not advise travelling to! 

As for the game, well like many taking place artificial pitches, it was entertaining with some good quality football played despite neither side pulling up any trees in the league this season. The visitors took the lead in the first half before the hosts found an equaliser.

Gregs scored a fantastic winning goal very late in the game from distance, and on balance of play was the least they deserved for their endeavours.

So that was Belle Vue, but oh to have been there in the seventies watching Frankie Wainman and Stuart Smith battling for the World Championship. While I might not have seen it, I was fortunate to both read about it and hear about first hand from someone that was there. Maybe one day the two of us might make one more appearance at a stock car track, it seems an awful long time since we were at Brafield-on-the-Green.  

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