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The National Speedway Museum

You could say that they are national monuments . . . and one of them is still with us. They are, of course, Wembley and the Incredible Flying Scot. The one, the only (could speedway survive if there were more than one?) former WSRA President and all-round good egg, Bert ‘Haggis’ Harkins!

That’s him on the bike threading his way through all kinds of chaos on the Holy Ground, the old Wembley soccer pitch. The old and original Wembley we all knew and loved, not the brand new edifice that was beset by embarrassing problems – and the even more embarrassing comments by a certain (now retired) football manager following some FA Cup Semi-finals that ‘a speedway event’ was responsible for the appalling state of the pitch. How blinkered can you get? We could have told him that the last speedway event to take place at Wembley was 32 years ago, the 1981 World Final.

No wonder that gent in the background is leaning on his shovel and scratching his head, with all his mates looking on aghast. They can probably hear, over and above the sound of Bertola’s two-valve JAWA, the whirring of the late Wembley chief Sir Arthur Elvin spinning in his grave at the unbridled desecration of his beloved turf. For this is not a picture of the recent troubled times, it was taken in 1970. Speedway was back and ready to paint the Grand Old Empire Stadium red and white. The sad part is that it all turned out blue, because the Wembley revival lasted a mere two seasons.

Bert, who had been transferred with the Coatbridge team to Wembley, remembers this particular incident. He said: ‘We were asked to come along with our leathers for some publicity shots when they were digging up the Wembley football pitch to lay our track . . . ah yes, happy days. The photo was taken before I had my white boots and we all had made-to measure red and white leathers which didn’t fit too well so I went back to my American-made blue and white ones.

‘Brian Collins, Reider Eide, Wayne Briggs and I all joined the Lions. Even the great Ove Fundin was tempted to make a comeback (Bert modestly fails to confess that he finished only 0.62 points behind the great Ove on the score sheet). It was a terrific experience and I loved it there, even though I was still living in Glasgow and wearing a groove down the M1 every Saturday! I did, however, stay over at Freddie Williams’s stately home in Harpenden sometimes and that is where I met my future wife Edith . . . but that’s another story!

‘Wembley looked like a good career move, and it was! The only other times I had been to Wembley was when I used to travel down from Glasgow with my friends on the overnight bus to watch the World Final, so to eventually ride there was very special. Wembley always attracted lots of publicity and sponsorship from outside the sport, just because it was Wembley. For that reason I always thought the speedway authorities should have done everything to keep hold of that name. Too late now, eh?”

National Monuments

by John Chaplin

Picture: The John Somerville Collection. Words: John Chaplin. (Thank you gentlemen)
Their forthcoming book, Speedway: The Greatest Moments, is to be published by Halsgrove. To pre-order go to:  this page

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