If truth be told, Ashfield was doomed from the moment that the sad news, that Ken LeBreton had been killed, was broken in Glasgow, although the Giants did compete in Division Two in the two following seasons. Things were never going to be easy without the “White Ghost” but the departures of Gurtner and Harding in successive seasons to Motherwell and New Cross respectively finished off any realistic hopes of survival.
The program for the final meeting of the 1952 season more or less accepted the inevitable stating
“Without a good team, we cannot get enough crowds to cover our overheads. We might therefore be compelled to withdraw from the league and concentrate on open meetings with visiting stars every week. These open meetings, if we do decide to withdraw from the League, would give excellent racing. We could also train Scottish stars by giving them not one but several rides every week. However it is far too early to speculate about next season"
Johnnie Hoskins clearly saw the writing on the Ashfield wall and left to become Belle Vue’s general manager in 1953, but not before transferring Willie Wilson to the Manchester club for a staggering £1500! It was left to Norrie Isbister to take charge of Ashfield after they managed to secure an open licence for 1953.
The 1953 season did not get off to a good start. There was controversy over the Stobhill branch of the Ashfield supporters club asking Motherwell to stage the Ken le Breton memorial meeting that year. Apparently the secretary had twice written to Norrie Isbister without getting a reply and had then approached the Eagles management. Possibly the Ashfield management were reluctant to guarantee the “all star” field being sought by the supporters club, who had donated the original trophy two years previously. Ultimately the event was staged at Ashfield but the intrigue and infighting cannot have helped the launch of the open licence era.
The first meeting was held on 9th June and had a rather unusual composite format.
The first event was the “Junior Whirligig” in which eight junior riders rode three times, with the top four scorers contesting the final. This was won by Bob Lindsay.
Event Two was billed as “North V South, although the reasoning behind this is not particularly clear. Four first division riders from Belle Vue (Johnson, Sharples, Lawson and Fletcher) raced against each other FOUR times, while four Scottish based second division riders (Phillips and McGregor from Motherwell and Mark and Fairhurst from Edinburgh) also rode in a series of four races. Talk about deja vue!! The top two scorers from each section contested the final, which was won by Gordon McGregor.
The program for the meeting consisted of eight pages, although it was printed on a very large piece of paper and then folded twice – really unusual! Johnnie Hoskins wrote the editorial and concluded with an unusual tale
“It looks like we shall start next season with a completely new team, which reminds me of a big league baseball team in the States. They were winning too easily and too often and they lost their crowds. So they got rid of the whole outfit and with a new team created so much interest they got record gates. You get a big kick out of watching a new team grow.”
Make of that what you will!
The Scotland v The Dominions meeting was held on 23rd June with a “Stars of today and Tomorrow” meeting being staged the previous Tuesday. The meeting comprised solely riders from the other three Scottish tracks.The program was of standard design and layout, with the editorial being penned by “Apossil” and its last paragraph exhorting
“Lets start a boost campaign. Tell people about Ashfield speedway on Tuesday nights. Make speedway your breakfast topic of conversation. Argue about it in the cafes, trams and buses. Talk about the Giants. Give us your interest and support TO BRING BACK THE GIANTS”
Further meetings followed along similar lines with juniors and riders from Edinburgh, Glasgow and Motherwell turning out each time.
The view, that bringing back former Ashfield riders and developing local novices, could spark a revival was really a nonsense. Unsurprisingly, crowd levels dropped even further – although today’s promotions would be glad of these seemingly depressed figures – as a comparison the Scotland versus the Dominions drew around 5,000, whereas the previous season’s Scotland versus England had attracted over three times that figure! Crowds of below 3,000, and more importantly below break-even point, were a feature of the meaningless challenge matches that were served up. Sadly, even the LeBreton memorial trophy, held after a long gap in the fixture list, did not buck this trend, and the promotion realised it was time to give up on the unequal fight. Ironically the last motor sport event was held a couple of weeks later when a midget car meeting was held between a team of speedway riders and a team represented "Stepps Stadium"
A greyhound track was subsequently laid over the speedway track, and it would be close to fifty years before the track was reclaimed from the dogs.
A postscript to the supporters asking Motherwell to stage the Le Breton memorial. They again approached Motherwell in 1954 and seemed to have gained the promotions agreement to stage “an All star show”, according to the editorial in the Eagles V Rayleigh program of 18th June. The same program had an item saying that the Noel Watson memorial trophy would be a second half event on Fair Monday. Watson, like Le Breton had been killed in Sydney, during the previous winter season. It is doubtful that Eagle supporters would have been happy with this differentiated approach and, not unsurprisingly, there is no record of the Le Breton event actually being staged.
What went wrong?
When Ashfield were thrown out of the league before the start of the 1953 season, they should have accepted their fate. The loss of LeBreton, Gurtner and Harding had sucked the lifeblood out of the Giants. Crowds had fallen alarmingly over the final weeks of the 1952 season, and there was never any chance that this downward trend could be reversed by serving up decidedly inferior quality meetings in an open licence season.
Staging meetings weekly was also a mistake as it only served to highlight the fact that the same riders were being rearranged into different sides.
9 June Senior and Junior Individual Championships - McGregor; Fairhurst : Lindsay
16 June Stars of tomorrow
23 June Scotland V Dominions
30 June The Scottish Junior Championship
7 July Hardings Red Devils V Campbell’s Dandies
14 July Ex Giants V Scottish Select Rained Off
21 July Ashfield 11 v Glasgow 24 v Motherwell 29 v Edinburgh 20
28 July Wilsons Wasps V McGregors clan ???? Abandoned
4 August Ashfield Best Pairs
29 September Ken LeBreton Trophy - Tommy Miller
Grateful thanks to Alex Norrie for the two rare 1953 programs.