Berrington Remembered

BERRINGTON IN 2013

From the narrow road to Berrington Lough, the casual motorist – and there are few enough of them on that very minor thoroughfare – will see nothing. The hedges are high in the summer but even the brief glimpses afforded by the scattering of field gates reveal no clue that, close by, the Saturday evening stillness was once rent by the sound of 500cc engines.

Those days are long gone, of course. The speedway bus no longer makes its seven-mile journey from Berwick town centre. The supporters’ cars no longer crowd the narrow lane as race-time approaches. The neat little stadium at Berrington is largely gone and nature is slowly re-claiming the two hundred and fifty-metre track together with what remains of the referee’s box. Trees are growing through the shattered windows of the restaurant and snack-bar. Only the three lighting pylons, with their floodlights curiously intact, stand out defiantly from the lengthening grass of the old centre- green.

END OF AN ERA

Berwick Rangers Football Club, for boardroom reasons that still beggar belief more than thirty years on, gave their speedway tenants notice to quit in 1980. The Bandits had operated from Shielfield Park since their inception at the inauguration of British League Division Two in 1968. So abrupt was their dismissal by the Football landlord that they had to run their final two league matches, as well as their ‘home’ leg of the Knock-Out Cup final at Brough Park, Newcastle. Their final fixture at Shielfield was a double-header on September 6 when they beat Peterborough Panthers 49-29 and followed up with a victory over Mildenhall Fen Tigers by 52 points to 26.

The following season, homeless but determined to remain in the National League, they raced their fixtures at Blantyre, Brough Park, Derwent Park and Park Road while work went on in constructing a new track at Berrington Lough. Sadly, in mid-September, they were forced to withdraw from the League and their results were cancelled. Nevertheless, they continued in the K. O. Cup and reached the final, despite having to ride every match away from home. Cruel fate saw them lose to Edinburgh in the end but only the steeliest of hearts would disagree that, if ever a team deserved success, it was the nomadic Bandits.


A new rural beginning for the Bandits

A RURAL RETREAT

Planning permission for the site at Berrington was won by the summer of 1981 but delays meant that the stadium opening did not take place until the 1982 season when Berwick reclaimed their place in the National League. On April 24, when the Bandits notched up a 56-40 win over Edinburgh Monarchs, it was not just the work of a couple of hours, it was the culmination of almost two years’ worth of tireless effort.

Sadly, Liz Taylor, who had been the team’s promoter since the death of her husband Danny in 1968, passed away herself  in 1985 at the age of only 66. Her beloved Bandits, however, would go on to more success at Berrington and it was there, in 1991, that the team took its place in Division One. Financial problems meant that they only remained there for a year but in that time a galaxy of track stars would thrill the fans in the all-covered enclosures of that picturesque venue.

Engineered out at the end of the season to save Swindon - who actually finished below them at the bottom of the League - the Bandits resumed their place in Division Two after paying an almost crippling re-entry fee.

Financial problems continued. Attendances were not as high as everyone would have liked and, by the end of 1992, the future of the track was in serious doubt.


Looking up the home straight from the stand adjacent to the pits area

Today, the only buildings that remain are the restaurant and the referee’s box

Three riders from the  Bandits’ Berrington Lough days:

L to R: Rob Woffinden, Rob Grant and Jimmy Nilsen  

Berrington press report from the Glasgow Herald

Monday, July 10, 1989

FULL CIRCLE

Terry Lindon, the promoter whose vision had taken the team into Division One left at the end of the season but new owners brought the stadium back to life late in 1993, staging two two events in October. One was an international challenge match, The Rose v The Thistle, and the other featured a Stars of Tomorrow meeting.

In 1994, the Bandits entered the newly-formed Division Three of the British League which became the Academy League the following season. In 1996, after formal noise tests had been held successfully at Shielfield Park, the team returned to their original home and the final meeting was held at Berrington Lough on October 21, 1995. The Bandits ended their tenure as they had begun it, with a convincing victory. This time, the victims were Stoke who went down 63-42 in the Academy League Knock-Out Cup final.

The chance to go back to their town-centre home was too good to turn down and the little stadium of the Northumberland countryside would be silent once again but it had etched itself deeply in the memories of those who had grown to love it.

More action from the circuit which still holds a special place in many people’s memories

Last of the summer wine -

all that remains of the bar stock

The Snack Bar - now permanently open

No more burgers cooked or served in here

Time, gentlemen, please

The referee has declared the meeting ‘closed’

Would the last one to leave …

Formal noise tests take place at Shielfield Park on July 9, 1995

Sleeping peacefully now …

In 2013, trees grow through the referee’s box as nature reclaims the remains of the neat little stadium at Berrington Lough

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