Fifty years ago this year the sounds of speedway bikes and stock cars used to regularly roar out from Seedhill Stadium in Nelson.
In 1967, stock car and speedway promoter Mike Parker sought out the town’s football stadium on Carr Road to introduce both sports to the Lancashire locals. The Nelson Admirals speedway team were born in that year running on an open licence with challenge matches (friendly meetings) before entering the newly formed British League division two in 1968.
A very successful first full season saw the Admirals finish second in the league to the mighty Belle Vue Colts – the junior side to the world-famous Belle Vue Aces. Lancashire lad Dave Schofield topped the team’s averages in the first season and went on to captain the side in both 1969 and 70. Stuart Riley and Alan Knapkin were two other mainstays of the side.
Sadly in 1970 the speedway was lost to Nelson after just four seasons with the club’s licence being transferred to Bradford Northern. The stock cars however managed to survive at Nelson for several more years.
“Northern England and Lancashire has a rich history of speedway racing”
Former rider and England International, Burnley-based Eric Broadbelt began his career in the late 60’s around the time of Nelson’s arrival on the shale scene. Eric had a distinguished career winning second division championship medals with the Belle Vue Colts before becoming the number one rider and track record holder for the Rochdale Hornets speedway team.
Eric progressed to the very top level of the sport and also became a three time first division champion with Belle Vue Aces in 1970, 71 and 72 as they became the first team in British League history to capture three titles in succession.
“I first rode at Nelson’s track representing Young England against Young Australia in 1969. The tracks were all bumpier and harder to ride in those days”, recalls Eric.
Another highlight of Eric’s career were the four winters spent racing for the British Lions, England’s National side down under in Australia racing at their big, fast-paced circuits including the renowned famous Sydney Showground, “They were great times; I was riding with the likes of future multiworld champion Peter Collins”, he added.
Eric, now a regular Burnley FC follower at Turf Moor, still keeps in touch with speedway and can regularly be seen at the newly built National Speedway Stadium at Belle Vue in Manchester. Even as we spoke to Eric in the luxurious setting of the Peter Craven Suite at the new Belle Vue Aces track a fan of yesteryear recognised ‘Broady’ and wanted an autograph in that match day’s programme!
The new National Speedway Stadium and race circuit at Belle Vue in Manchester has rapidly gained a well earned reputation as the best speedway race track in the country, with today’s modern riders regularly singing its praises as it provides fast, fair and spectacular racing.
Last season saw the Aces – who are due to celebrate their 90th consecutive season in 2018, top the league and narrowly miss out on the championship in the play off finals against Wolverhampton Wolves.
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Apart from the regular cut and thrust of team racing in the league, the showcase meetings of the 2017 season at the National Speedway Stadium will be the prestigious British Individual Final which takes place on Monday June 19th and the Premiership Riders Championship on Saturday September 16th (further information of all the fixtures can be found at www.bellevueaces.co).
Northern England and Lancashire has a rich history of speedway racing with teams over the past decades once racing at venues such as Barrow, Fleetwood, Liverpool, Preston and Rochdale as well as circuits across the Pennines in Bradford, Castleford, Halifax and Leeds. There still remains a strong speedway following at current Northern tracks including Workington, Sheffield and Buxton. There is also the training track at Northside (Cumbria) where tomorrow’s heroes could be taking their first steps into this fast paced motorsport.
Only recently a Nelson Speedway programme that originally cost one shilling (5 pence) sold for £12.50 on the internet – there still remains a call for speedway nostalgia.
By Howard Murphy