The Nordic British Final, held in Glasgow in July 1971, was the high point of the Hampden era, but it was nearly all down hill after that! Perhaps unusually that summer, the Tigers team was well settled. New signing George Hunter was vying with Jim McMillan for the number one spot, with Bobby Beaton pushing Charlie Monk for the third heatleader position. The top four were backed up by the Templeton brothers and Bill McMillan, who had finally answered the perennial problem of the number seven slot. It all looked so good, but, by August, things started to unravel. Bill McMillan retired in fairly sensational fashion by calling it quits halfway through a large home defeat by Belle Vue. The Templeton brothers intended to join him at the end of the season, although they were persuaded to extend their careers by dropping down to Division Two with Berwick. There were further changes in the close season, when Ian Hoskins ended a lengthy association with Scottish speedway by selling his shares to Neil McFarlane.
At least the Templetons had given considerably longer notice than their nephew, and the promotion had plans to sign Wayne Briggs and Brian Collins. Unfortunately, Briggo could not be persuaded to return to the saddle, and it would be a further two years before Collins returned north of the border. Instead the Tigers were allocated Paul O’Neill and signed Norwegian Kjell Gimre. Neither was to prove to be a great signing, but there were to be greater problems and tragedies that beset the team during 1972.
George Hunter was unsettled and unsettling. He had domestic reasons for wanting to be based in the Midlands and seemed to be conducting a crusade to ensure no meetings were raced in the wet at Hampden. To be fair, he was usually backed up by Monk and McMillan, but in May with three meetings out of five being either postponed or abandoned, both the supporters and the promotions patience was wearing thin. When a further meeting was postponed in dubious circumstances in June, Les Whaley wrote in the program “ Riders blandly decide they are not going to ride despite the referees decision that the track is rideable, so how long do they think that a promotion can keep a track open under these circumstances?”and his frustration would ultimately lead to him selling his shares to James “Farmer” Wallace from Gorebridge in East Lothian.Wallace had been unsuccessful in obtaining an open licence to stage racing at Newtongrange.
Jim Beaton had ridden in some early season meetings for Tigers before being loaned out to Berwick. He sustained some horrific arm injuries while riding at Shielfield, and it would be some years before he miraculously returned to the saddle. After a run of poor scores Gimre was released but his replacement, Preben Rosenkilde, after turning out for Tigers at Hackney was banned by the Danish Motor Union following a Danish dispute. By now the promotions patience had run out with George Hunter and they agreed to him moving to Wolverhampton. Svein Kaasa was signed in August and, while not an immediate star, showed enough promise for fans to believe he would develop into a heat leader in the years to come. The feel-good factor continued with Jim McMillan getting to the Wembley World Final as first reserve. The supporters club ran over a dozen buses to Wembley and the Tigers fans raised the roof when Jim had two rides following Barry Briggs injury. Sadly there was no more joy for the Tigers camp. Indeed the following weeks would bring only tragedy. Svein Kaasa was killed after a track crash at Hampden in late September, and, with the season winding down, more terrible news, with George Beaton, eldest of the Beaton boys, losing his life in a car crash. Hampden was indeed a gloomy place in October, and, while it was obvious that the sport was in a terminal downward spiral at the venue, it was still a major surprise when a move to Coatbridge was announced for the 1973 season.
The close season brought more woe on the team front. Charlie Monk, who was not enjoying the best of health, was feeling the effects of the long drive from his Wakefield base to home meetings and had requested a transfer. His replacement was as much of a saga this time as it had been five years earlier when he moved to Sheffield. Briefly, a number of riders were approached, including Soren Sjosten, Jan Simensson and Bert Harkins, but all refused to come. In the end Tigers signed Christer Sjosten, the younger brother and untried brother of “refusenik” Soren. Egon Muller came over, rode twice and disappeared – what a pity as he went on to become a World Champion!! Tigers were in a real fix, which probably explains why the promotion resigned Kjell Gimre and Al Brady for 1973. Neither had managed a three point average in their previous spells for “the Stripes”!
To put the Tigers predicament into perspective, in less than two years they had lost
Charlie Monk, George Hunter, Doug and Willie Templeton, Bill McMillan and Paul O’Neill – almost an entire team! It was obvious to the promotion that they could not rely on English riders being prepared to come north. They decided that they would have to train up their own riders. With this in mind they sought to run Division Two challenge matches to give their junior riders more experience. With Jim Wallace on the board, they decided to reopen Newtongrange. Jim’s farm at Gorebridge was the proverbial stones throw from Victoria Park.
This was a brave, some would say fool hardy, move. The team would be known as “Edinburgh Monarchs” and would be captained by Doug Templeton. It was hoped that this would attract more fans from Edinburgh than had attended the last attempt at staging the sport at “Nitten” The venture got off to the worst possible start when the opening meeting against Teesside on 30th May was rained off. The fact that a number of fans got booked for parking outside the stadium that night didn’t help either! To see the program for the rained off meeting click here
The timing of the second meeting wasn’t great either as a “Young Scotland” v “Young England” test match was staged at Berwick the previous night. Travelling fans probably felt it was a more attractive fixture than the Edinburgh v Birmingham meeting. Certainly the turnout at Newtongrange was pretty disappointing.
However, crowds were even less for the following three meetings against Sunderland, Workington and Barrow, all of which were lost. Crowds still were not prepared to come out of town for their speedway
The program for the Barrow meeting said that the track would be closed for July, taking account of the local holidays. (Edinburgh “Trades”, the first two weeks in July, and the Glasgow Fair, the last two weeks in July). It went on to say that further fixtures would be announced in the press – unsurprisingly, they weren’t and no further meetings were staged at Newtongrange. No further open meetings have been staged in Scotland to this day!
30/5/73 Edinburgh V Teesside Rained Off
6/6/73 Edinburgh V Birmingham 38-40
13/6/73 Edinburgh V Sunderland 37-41
20/6/73 Edinburgh V Workington 36-42
27/6/73 Edinburgh V Barrow 36-42
|v Birmingham||v Sunderland||v Workington||v Barrow||1973 Season Totals|
|38-40 L||37-41 L||36-42 L||36-42 L|
|Mal Mackay (G)||15||0||5||15||0||5||12.00|
|Andy Meldrum (G)||16||1||6||11||0||4||27||1||10||11.20|
|Lou Sansom (G)||13||1||5||13||1||5||11.20|
|Doug Templeton (G)||14||1||5||10||0||4||24||1||9||11.11|
|Willie Templeton (G)||12||0||4||10||1||5||22||1||9||10.22|
What Went Wrong?
Simply, fans weren’t prepared to travel to Newtongrange in any numbers. Things hadn’t changed since he earlier attempt in 1970 and with the imposition of VAT and the cost of petrol beginning an amazing hike, it was probably no real surprise.
Victoria Park was used as a training venue for a couple of years and while a number of Tigers fans had a try, no real prospects were unearthed. Would things have been better if Coatbridge was used instead of Newtongrange? Possibly, although the vex question of Sunday afternoon racing would still have had to have been resolved. With stock car racing at Motherwell on Sundays, there certainly was some precedent. By the following year, during a “Winter of Discontent” football matches on Sunday suddenly became acceptable, and by 1977 both Coatbridge and later Blantyre would stage racing on a Sunday without any problem.
Newtongrange in 1973 was to be Scotland’s last attempt at Open Licence racing