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The National Speedway Museum

In Days of Old when Bears were Bold

By John Chaplin

SPEEDWAY got the permanent kiss of life at Middlesbrough – well, Redcar is as good as . . . in 2006 after 58 years – though there had been racing of one form or another at Cleveland Park off and on into the 1980s.  Modern crowds would do well to raise a flag or glass to the memory of the Bears of old who first brought the glory days to Teeside.

This is the side that won two successive league championships for Middlesbrough in 1946 and 1947 when they were members of the old Northern League, the ‘second division’ of the two sections reformed after World War II. Standing from the left are: Herby King, Bill Wilson, Wilf Plant, Tip Mills, Geoff Godwin, Fred ‘Kid’ Curtis and Ed ‘Crusty’ Pye. On the machines are the renowned Hodgson brothers – Jack on the left and Frank on the right.

Key man was captain Frank Hodgson. A pre-war Hackney star, he was out with a badly injured back early in 1946 and the side began poorly, netting only three points in five matches, but after his return he transformed the team and they lost only once more, narrowly to Norwich.

He was also one of four Northern League riders to qualify for the 1946 British Riders Championship Final at Wembley – the World Championship substitute – when he, Norwich’s Bert Spencer, Newcastle’s Jeff Lloyd and Sheffield’s Tommy Allott all mixed it with the National League (First Division) top stars on the big night.

The Bears ran away with the league title again in 1947 with Frank Hodgson and Wilf Plant topping the section’s scorers. In 1948 the side became a victim of its own success when huge home wins saw crowds slump and the club went into voluntary liquidation with the riders being transferred to Newcastle. A promoters’ statement said: “Attendances averaged only about 6,500 and to continue with only that support is an uneconomic proposition.” Makes you think.

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Photo courtesy John Chaplin