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Heather McNeilly and Joe Screen

Through this website, Facebook and Twitter, I’ve tried to keep everyone aware of what’s happening to our former riders and friends of Hackney Speedway.

So there I was a couple of weeks ago, looking at the stories coming in from Hackney’s friends around the world, when a young lady started chatting me up on Facebook, which of course is fully understandable. I initially thought it was Hawkeye, this clearly wasn’t the case as this person was quite intelligent!  

This young lady wasn’t from some far flung place in Asia or the sub-continent either, but from Glasgow (it used to be 12 hours by road in the 60’s, no motorways then so I guess it was in the olden days) but the only trouble old Hackney had was understanding her! I mean Hackney is in the east end of London, and I almost had to contact Bert Harkins to translate!

It transpired the lady in question is well known to current Scottish speedway folk and quite a bit further afield to. She is the start marshal at Glasgow speedway and her name is Heather McNeilly.

So why you may ask is Heather on hackneyspeedway.com? Well she’s without doubt the most glamorous start marshal I’ve ever seen. Certainly more glamourous than the great start marshals we had at The Wick.

But folks there is a connection with Heather and Hackney. Let’s go back not that far to 2011 when the Hawks were resurrected in the National League and raced there home meetings at Rye House and at Lakeside.

Ben Hopwood who rode for the Hawks that year, currently rides for Stoke in the National League and Heather is Bens other half!

It seems Ben has been around for years but Ben is still only 23. He shot onto the speedway scene when he was 15, including winning a U 15 meeting at Plymouth

Like many young riders, Ben is struggling financially in the sport which he loves to compete in. Due to racing commitments he’s had to leave full time employment. He has no main sponsor, so he’s a full time speedway rider and mechanic plus he mechanics for other riders to try and make ends meet.     

Riding for Stoke this year is ideal for Manchester based Hopwood. Previously he’s been a long distance speedway commuter racing for the Isle of Wight, had a spell with Poole earlier this year and of course the nomads of Hackney in 2011.

But as I say, Ben is in need of sponsorship. As an ex Hawk, I’m only too pleased to try and raise Bens profile.

Every penny counts, I know Ben will be really grateful, no matter how small your donation is.

If you’d like to support Ben, he has a go fund account link below.



Ben Hopwood

Ben Hopwood in Hawks colours

Click here to buy Cinderfellas When Speedway Rock'n Rolled from Amazon

If you want a signed copy of Cinderfellas, when speedway was rock ‘n’ roll, it is available online, through Amazon [link above], or (google Dave Lanning, Cinderfellas).  Or send a cheque for £12 (includes postage) made out to Dave Lanning and addressed to:  Sundowner, 8A Corfe View Road, Parkstone, Poole, Dorset BH14 8SX (for a postal copy).

Set in 1940s austerity Britain, Cinderfellas takes you to the heart of the full-throttle spectacle of speedway. Millions of war-weary spectators packed the stadiums of Britain to experience the thrill of motorcycle racing at its highest level, and its stars were adored as much as Hollywood actors or top footballers. 
Follow the rags to riches story of Jacko Rintzen, an animal-loving jackaroo from the Australian outback, as he takes the speedway world by storm. His hopes and dreams, failures and tragedies are all laid bare in this thrilling narrative set in the cinder-covered tracks of London.
‘There has never been, and probably never will be, a better speedway wordsmith than Dave Lanning” 
Philip Rising, Managing Editor, Speedway Star

Key Points

  • Vividly portrays the characters and atmosphere of the forgotten 1940s entertainment sensation of speedway racing
  • Speedway was as popular as cinema and football, in the pre-television days
  • Author has been one of the best known speedway commentators for 50 years, has covered races in 20 countries, and was print journalist for the Sun, Daily Mail and Daily Sketch
  • Author has many contacts in the speedway and entertainment world, and will be doing author events and promo
  • Book was originally commissioned as a film script, and rights have already been optioned

The Author
Dave Lanning has been described as ‘speedway’s greatest ever commentator’. He covered 50 years of world speedway finals, was twice a member of ITV World of Sport’s award-winning team, and has covered racing in every major speedway stadium in more than 20 countries. Originally a print journalist, Lanning was speedway specialist to The Sun, Daily Mail and Daily Sketch and a columnist for TVTimes. He lives in Poole Dorset

Click here to by Memories of Hackney Speedway

This brilliant Hackney Speedway DVD which includes interviews with some of the 1968 team, plus much more is available from Retro Speedway, to buy just follow the link below.

If you want to relive what happened 25 years ago on 1988, the year Hackney Kestrels won the League and KOC then why not treat yourself to this DVD set of all Hackney’s home meetings from 1988, details on the link below.

Click here to buy Hackney Kestrels 1988

Hawkeye asks was it a masterstroke, chequebook speedway, or may be a bit of both?

I would like to make a few points. Point 1: Poole are this season's Elite League champions; point 2: hold on, there's the second leg of the final still to be contested; point 3: see point 1.
Yes, only the most optimistic (or most foolish) would stake any hard-earned cash on Birmingham overturning the Pirates' 21 point lead the team built up in the first leg at Wimborne Road on Monday evening.
The play-offs are money spinners to the four teams who reach that stage; and for the two clubs that contest the final, the nest egg is usually even larger. Mind you, if many fans believe, like I do, that the second leg is a foregone conclusion, Birmingham's potential money-spinner may be somewhat diluted.
The speedway regulations are, in my opinion, too convoluted for an old fogey like me to have any chance of fully understanding them.
What I do know is that the meeting at Belle Vue when the Pirates secured their place in the play-offs should never have taken place. The track was barely rideable let alone raceable.
If I remember correctly, the Aces were without their star man Craig Cook and Poole skipper Darcy Ward openly admitted that his team would rather meet Belle Vue without Cook than with him.
On a night when the referee and clerk of the course should have declared the track unfit for purpose, the Aces had no incentive to compete whereas for Poole, there was a place in the play-offs up for grabs.
It is quite possible (perhaps likely) that Poole would have beaten Belle Vue if the conditions had been perfect for racing. However, for the officials to allow the minimum of ten heats to run and then, when the Pirates had sufficient points in the bag, to call a halt to proceedings was a total disgrace.
Then we have the situation with Poole and Greg Hancock. I don't keep records, but I imagine that up to the time of Hancock's capture, the Pirates used a guest or the rider replacement rule to cover for the injured Chris Holder. Poole promoter Matt Ford should, perhaps, be congratulated for his master stroke in signing two-times world champion Hancock. After all, he doesn't appear to have broken any rules.
Is there a cut-off date in speedway after which a club cannot sign a new rider? You know, similar to football's transfer deadline date. Here again, if such a rule exists Poole didn't break it. If they had done so, other promoters would have soon shouted.
One assumes that Wolverhampton and Lakeside could have, by dangling a big enough carrot, signed a big name to replace their respectably injured riders Tai Woffinden and Peter Karlsson -- names such as Jarek Hampel, Nicki Pedersen or Andreas Jonsson spring to mind.
Did those clubs not think that way or was it a case of affordability. Poole is probably the best- supported team in British speedway and can, I imagine, afford to open the chequebook and entice the big gun.
I doubt that many folk know just how big the carrot waved in front of Hancock had to be to get him to Dorset on a short-term deal, but it surely had to be quite considerable. Whatever the outlay I feel sure Ford will, in the final analysis, receive a significant return on his investment.
The team I supported is, like numerous others, now a distant memory. They've even knocked the old place down, so I've no axe to grind in a competitive sense.
However, Birmingham, Swindon, Lakeside and the rest battled it out with RR or guests, only to lose out to the short-term fix. Luck plays a big part in most sports and Poole had plenty of the bad kind with an early season injury to Ward and then the long-term loss of Holder; but recent happenings do, I believe, leave a bad taste in one’s mouth.
What's gone before are just a few thoughts from a silly old so and so who knows it's water off a duck's back, but at least he's got something off his chest.

Hawkeye and the joker
I watched the 2013 World Team Cup final on TV and didn't know whether to laugh or cry. The best team at the event were, in my opinion Denmark, who finished runners-up to Poland.
‘The best team lost’ is a much-used cliche in the world of sport and is often in the forefront of people's minds due to bad luck, a bad refereeing decision, a wrong call from the umpire or whatever.
However, the reason why Denmark failed to win the WTC was the part played by the joker. Had Nicki Pedersen not suffered an engine failure the Danes would have triumphed joker or no joker, but that is almost an irrelevance.
The role of the joker is presumably, to keep the scores between the sides artificially close and that it tends to do -- but it can also create an undeserved and farcical outcome to proceedings.
Denmark, in my opinion, are the 2013 WTC winners because, in a traditional sense, they scored more points than Poland.
The joker system penalised The Danes for being too good -- and also brought about a situation that encouraged rider(s) -- under instruction -- to 'throw' races, which surely can't be good for the sport.
I seem to remember back in the 1980s Bruce Penhall was chastised for ‘chucking’ a ride in a World Championship qualifier (or similar competition) in favour of his US counterparts. Now, albeit in a team event, riders are encouraged to lose when the occasion demands, so that the joker rule can be manipulated.
The rules these days are far too complex for many fans and indeed, where the Swedish WTC team manager was concerned, too convoluted for him.
Speedway today (and it hurts me to say this) has lost its way and made itself not so much a joker -- but a joke.
It can be argued that Denmark, Poland, Australia, Sweden or Great Britain should, in order to attract local support, be seeded to the WTC final when it is held in one of those countries. But the seeding of the Czech Republic to the final in Prague further devalued the event.
However, had the 2013 WTC final been held in Sweden with the host nation seeded to the final they would -- due to injuries -- have had to field their second team, which would have had the same impact as the below par Czechs.
Let’s face it, the stars of the Czech Republic team were – or should have been – the Dryml brothers, but they are only second strings or reserves in the Elite League.
I believe TV pundits Nigel Pearson and Kelvin Tatum do a better job than many speedway supporters give them credit for. They are, of course, broadcasting live so any slip of the tongue cannot be recalled. However, it is a touch premature for them to proclaim there is a revolution (or words to that effect) taking place in American speedway.
In Greg Hancock the US team has a master craftsman who scored approximately two thirds of his team's WTC points. If he decided to opt out of the competition -- as Scott Nicholls did -- the 'revolution' would be a bit thin on the ground.
If Hancock did quit, the US could be seeded to the WTC final in the next few years by scheduling the event for Costa Mesa or thereabouts. On second thoughts, after their monumental efforts this year, maybe Latvia deserves to be the staging venue.
For many years speedway had the UK's second largest following, giving best only to football. Now, for example, we've got Premier League darts playing to sell-out crowds of up to 10,000 while many speedway promoters are almost relieved if they get a tenth of that amount.
I often watch darts on TV, but would stop short of seeing it live. However, the game -- or sport -- of darts has attracted in the main, a young to middle-aged audience of both men and women, who pay their money to be entertained and to have a good time.
The alcohol element of a darts tournament has obvious attractions for those who like a few bevies, but the atmosphere -- particularly when the caller shouts ‘one hundred and eighty’ -- is something that speedway is having problems creating.
My analogy between speedway and darts may be laughed out of court by followers of the two-wheel offering. However, take this on board. The arrows fraternity have spent years lobbying for the game of darts to be deemed a sport. Why oh why is it that speedway’s administrators seem determined that our sport moves in the opposite direction?
Speedway has dug itself into a big hole -- note I said hole and not grave. I'm not sure exactly what the recently formed All Party Political Group for Speedway can do for the sport that’s beyond the control of the current administrators.
The sport’s entrepreneurs should be grateful that the ‘ayes to the right ‘brigade have expressed an interest in speedway racing. However, let nobody forget that it’s the opinion of the fans that matters most and to the best of my knowledge that is something that is seldom taken into consideration.




Are we being ripped off? This is what Hawkeye asks! A speedway fan for nearly 70 years, including 50 years working ‘behind the scenes’
The re-run of Hackney's 1968 speedway season has stimulated considerable interest, so much so that I attempted to find out how admission prices for that year compared to what today's speedway fans are asked to pay.
I was unable to find the weekly admission prices at The Wick for the above year, but on 12 July 1968 there was a Great Britain v Poland European League encounter at Waterden Road. The adult admission prices for that event were 10s/6d and 7s/6d. In today's currency that works out at 52.5p and 37.5p respectively.
This is Money.co.uk (the Financial Website of the Year) shows that 52.5p in 1968 to be worth £8.05p at today's values, while 37.5p comes out at £5.75.
The main event of the aforementioned encounter consisted of 13 heats. That was followed by a five heat 'second half' for the World League plaque. The programme cost was 2/- (10p) -- £1.53 at today's values.
There is little doubt that the above admission prices would have shown an increase over the normal weekly prices, at a time when Hackney fans could enjoy a 13 heat British League Division 1 match, followed by a second half of six or seven races.
That appears to be excellent value for money compared to what speedway supporters are paying today. The adult admission price for Elite League matches comes in at £16.00 or £17.00 and programmes are £2.50 or £3.00.
Today, referees can award a race after just two laps if they feel the need to. A meeting can be abandoned after 10 heats for a conglomeration of reasons, with the match score at that time constituting the result.
I believe what I have written above will give speedway fans, both past and present, plenty of food for thought and maybe, just maybe, give a clear indication as to why the headcount at many tracks is so alarmingly low.
PS: Hawkeye says he enjoyed the British Speedway Grand Prix at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium and hopes to have paid back by the end of the year the bank loan he took out to pay for his admission.
He also believes the organisers stabbed themselves in the foot by charging £10.00 for a programme, because it appeared that an alarmingly small percentage of those present forked out the tenner.



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