SPEEDWAY fan John Murphy looks back at the glory days of the sport at Odsal.

IT is difficult to deny the irony as stock car promoter Steve Rees currently endeavours to breathe a ‘motorsport’ life back into Odsal Stadium.

It is now 23 years without a sound or smell from racing engines at the top of Manchester Road. Today marks 50 years to the night when Speedway promoters Mike Parker, Bill Bridgett and Les Whaley brought the sport back to Bradford (its middle era), having moved their Nelson Admirals across the county line. The ‘Admirals’ were no more - Bradford ‘Northern’ would replace them in the British League, Division 2.

Speedway first ran at Odsal from 1945, the Bradford team raced as ‘The Odsal Boomerangs’. Later, into the 50s as ‘Odsal Tudors’. Riders such as Arthur Forrest, Arthur Wright, Eddie Rigg, Ron Clarke and Oliver Hart helped put the sport into the public’s heart.

A massive crowd, rumoured to be nudging five figures, crammed into Odsal that June evening in 1970. The Eastbourne Eagles would provide stern opposition. Visiting rider Dave Jessup had the distinction of winning the first heat. Dave remembers the meeting: “During the match spectators were resting on part of the fence, which collapsed and fell onto the track. The race had to stopped and re-run. The track was big, fast, well prepared. I became friendly with Alan Knapkin and Gary Peterson, before his tragic death. I rode against Alan Bridgett, now well known for track preparation.”

Alan Bridgett, riding for Bradford, preferred the track at Nelson. He found Odsal “very big and heavy to ride. The shale was really deep!”Team mate Sid Sheldrick, says: “We were allowed two hours the night before track time for press and practice but actually got very little track time. The crowd the following night was reported to be 10,000. Coming out on parade for the first time - the noise, the atmosphere was awesome, from being used to 1,200 size crowds at Nelson. Fond memories; great fans and fabulous races.”

Many who attended had previously got their Speedway fix at The Shay in Halifax. Now they had a track they could call ‘home’. Denise Dunlea remembers “the noise, smell and general atmosphere. The Bradford Brass Band playing and fireworks at the end. I remember Shahid Malik appearing one night, jumping into a pool from a crane over the rugby pitch. I once sent a get well card to one of our injured riders, Robert Maxfield. I mentioned where we sat and the following week he limped over to the third bend on crutches to find us! The tannoy made a call for us to meet him in the pits. I went all coy and was lost for words. Happy days.”

Bradford Northern’s race jacket colours of red/yellow/black were a nod to their rugby landlords. The Yorkshire rose was added and the classic design was remembered long after it was worn the last time in a competitive fixture. Robin Adlington, from New Zealand came into the side, following the wheel-tracks of Kiwis Gary Peterson. and Mike Fullerton. From Australia, riders such as Brenton Langlois - Rod Chessell, Robert Maxfield, Eddie Argall and Tony Boyle gave the side a cosmopolitan look. There was a ‘club’ house off Whetley Lane that was home to most of them...

Skipper Alan Knapkin eventually took the promoter reins, presenting the Speedway Control Board with a dilemma. Alan wanted to continue riding but the SCB didn’t allow it. A capable replacement on track was needed urgently. Knapkin came up trumps, signing Tony Featherstone from Boston.

Trophies were thin on the shale but there were special nights a-plenty at Odsal. The Wolverhampton connection with the Parker/Bridgett/Whaley promotion enticed 1971 world champion Ole Olsen as a guest shortly after his success in Gothenburg. Ole was smartly dressed in civvies to present trophies rather than ride any laps. England whizz kid Peter Collins was invited for match races against Tony Featherstone and team mate Colin Meredith. Featherstone was the one to beat the Belle Vue Ace. Peter would eventually turn his ability into a world championship win in 1976. Alan Knapkin eventually passed his promoter’s hat to Shipley newsagent Jim Streets, along with new team name ‘Barons’.

This era of Speedway sadly came to a conclusion in October 1975. The gloom was compounded further by the death of Gary Peterson in a track crash at Monmore Green Stadium, Wolverhampton on October 17. Gary is remembered with a street name on the new housing complex next to Odsal.

There would be no Speedway at Odsal for another 10 years. Again, circumstances elsewhere ignited a series of coincidences; Halifax’s Shay stadium rent/repair dilemma and Wembley Stadium relenting to pressure from the FA for exclusivity and closing to Speedway. The British Speedway authorities were desperate to host a World Speedway Final for the FIM, the biggest event in the sport. Their only realistic option? Odsal.

It was Johnnie Hoskins who brought Speedway to Odsal, 75 years ago. The biggest tribute to him was by Allan and Bobby Ham, with Eric Boothroyd in ensuring a world final took place there in 1985. All these years later it would be poignant for Steve Rees to carry the torch again and provide Bradford with more superb memories.