Coventry v Cradley, 8th August 1981
"One of the most complete British League performances I have ever seen" (Dave Lanning)
COVENTRY "Bees" 26... TOT 1. Ole Olsen (C) (9.58) 2 2 2 0 2 - 8 2. Rob Hollingworth (3.85) 1' - 0 - - - 1 3. Mitch Shirra (8.33) 1 0 2 R - - 3 4. Alf Busk (6.86) 2 0 1 1 0 - 4 5. Tommy Knudsen (9.17) 1 2 1' 2 1 - 7 6. Kevin Hawkins (6.07) 1 0 - 1 - - 2 7. Keith White (6.06) 0 1 - - - - 1 CRADLEY HEATH "Heathens" 52... TOT 1. Bruce Penhall (C)(11.08) 3 3 3 3 - - 12 max 2. Bent Rasmussen (6.19) 0 1 3 0 - - 4 3. Erik Gundersen (9.56) 3 3 3 3 - - 12 max 4. Alan Grahame (8.95) 3 3 3 2' - - 11+1 pm 5. Phil Collins (7.68) 0 1 2' 1 - - 4+1 6. John McNeill (4.62) 2' 0 F - - - 2+1 7. Dave Shields (4.44) 3 2' 2' - - - 7+2 pm HEAT DETAILS... Current Brandon Track Record: 61.4 1. (62.2) Penhall, Olsen, Hollingworth, Rasmussen (3-3) 2. (63.5) Shields, McNeill, Hawkins, White (4-8) 3. (64.2) Grahame, Busk, Knudsen, Collins (7-11) 4. (62.5) Gundersen, Shields, Shirra, Hawkins (8-16) 5. (63.4) Penhall, Knudsen, Rasmussen, Busk (10-20) 6. (62.5) Gundersen, Olsen, Knudsen (T/S), McNeill (13-23) 7. (64.4) Grahame, Olsen (T/S), Collins, Shirra (15-27) 8. (66.0) Rasmussen, Shields, White, Hollingworth (16-32) 9. (63.2) Gundersen, Knudsen, Busk, McNeill (Fell) (19-35) 10. (64.4) Grahame, Collins, Busk (T/S), Olsen (20-40) 11. (65.2) Penhall, Shirra, Hawkins (Res), Rasmussen (23-43) 12. (64.0) Gundersen, Olsen, Collins, Busk (25-47) 13. (65.3) Penhall, Grahame, Knudsen, Shirra (Ret) (26-52)
1981 League Champions: back: Derek Pugh (director), Alan Grahame, Erik Gundersen, Phil Collins, Peter Adams (manager/promoter), front: John McNeil, Bruce Penhall (captain), Bent Rasmussen, Dave Shields. Photo courtesy of Lee Morris.
The match was billed as "absolutely vital" in the race for the league title. Cradley were top by five points and looking for their first ever British League Championship with Coventry chasing in fourth place.
The conditions - blamed by The Bees for their total lack of competence on the track - were indeed tricky after a couple of days of rain, despite being labelled as "nigh on perfect" by the dramatic commentary voice of Dave Lanning. For this one - not just a Midlands derby crunch - was being filmed by ATV sports and broadcast in full the following day to be relived all over again.
For the stats freaks, Coventry never even provided a race winner. By heat five the dominant Heathens led by 10 points and by heat ten, the gap was 20. Two maximums and two paid maximums were clocked up individually. Team-wise there were five 5-1s backed up by three 4-2s. The result was wrapped up in heat 10.
The night is remembered by Cradley fans for the pre-meeting expectance that their reserves would prove to be their weakness. Evidently, few would have predicted the paid max return by Shields and the away 5-1 in the second heat which got the ball rolling! Not only did the reserves prove that they were not the achilles heel but Shields in particular put in one of his best Heathens performances to date, astounding both Coventry and Cradley fans alike!
Coventry were simply crushed by the Cradley steamroller that stamped its authority on both the meeting and furthermore the 1981 British League. Cov could presumably only take heart from the advice on Erik Gundersen's baseball cap: "Have a Better Day Tomorrow". The young Dane himself was unstoppable and never troubled in four faultless rides. Penhall was threatened just once in a sweeping heat eleven first lap. However a full-throttle, leg trailing blast out of the second bend took him clear of any danger. Grahame usually gated superbly and when he didn't he breezed from the back as if his opponents had stopped for a picnic. Rasmussen earned his four points, Collins and McNeill both deserved more for their efforts and both were subject to some harsh riding from the increasingly frustrated home riders. The hero of the night though was undoubtedly little Aussie, David Shields. He epitomised the Heathens strength in depth, as Lanning summarised "Nobody's gonna stop this lot, not on this form".
And no-one did. Cradley went on to wrap up their first ever title later in the season, but the Speedway world certainly knew it was coming after this resounding victory. Coventry fans were left reeling and reflecting on one of their worst Brandon performances ever. Cradley fans were already cracking open the champagne. They were celebrating with almost as much disbelief at the sheer quality of their team as Coventry were baffled at the consummate lack of interest from theirs. One thing is for certain, Lanning was spot-on with his prediction that "Cradley [were] having a night that they'll be talking about for decades!"
Steve Johnson, 1998