CRADLEY HEATH "Heathens" Vs. HULL "Vikings" Aggregate score (120-96)
In '79 Hull finished second in the British League whilst Cradley were third. Both teams had power-packed line-ups; Hull had not been beaten at the Boulevard for some two years. Dan McCormick was promoter at Cradley but the Heathens had never won a major trophy in their entire club history. '79 had been a near miss and the they had suffered some narrow defeats whilst plagued by injuries. The KOC Final was the chance for both teams to prove themselves and hence they were both immensely fired up. It was always going to be a super-charged Speedway encounter and the twists and turns finally led down the road to a Cradley victory.
First Leg: 15th October 1979; Dudley Wood Stadium
Hull came to Dudley Wood believing they could pull off a sensible result and leave the scoreline nicely set up for them to complete the job in the second leg at their home track. Indeed much of their confidence may have been down to Dan "The Man" McCormick. Bruce Penhall was riding in Germany and may not be back in time, he announced a couple of days earlier. Bobby Schwartz was badly burned in a workshop accident, it was reported. Erik Gundersen was suffering from the flu, it was rumoured. Hull brought an army of fans to back the Vikings riders in their battle against a seemingly depleted Cradley team. But it was very much a false sense of security. Kings Lynn's Michael Lee was chauffeur to collect Penhall from Heathrow airport and he arrived at the track with minutes to spare. Schwartz made a 'remarkable' recovery and didn't miss any of the action. And Gundersen? Well, he seemed fine. What 'flu' was everyone talking about!? McCormack had built the first leg up perfectly and the racing was arguably the best seen at Dudley Wood all season...
CRADLEY HEATH "Heathens" 62... TOT 1. Bruce Penhall (C)(9.91) 3 1' 3 3 1 - - 11+1 2. Alan Grahame (8.26) 2 2 3 2 2' - - 11+1 3. Phil Collins (7.73) 2 3 2 2 0 - - 9 4. Erik Gundersen (6.63) 1 3 1 2' 2 - - 9+1 5. Kristian Praestbro(6.36) 0 1' 2 1' - - - 4+2 6. Bobby Schwartz (6.95) 1' 2' 1' 1' 1 - - 6+4 7. Dave Perks (Res) 2 1 1' 2 3 - - 9+1 8. John Hack (Res) 2' 1' - - - - - 3+2 HULL "Vikings" 46... TOT 1. Ivan Mauger (C) (10.54) 2 3 3 3 3 - - 14 2. Joe Owen (8.82) 1 1 2 1 1 - - 6 3. Bobby Beaton (8.22) 3 3 2 3 2' - - 13+1 4. Graham Drury (6.42) F NS - - - - - 0 5. Frank Aufrett (6.07) 3 0 3 0 0 - - 6 6. Dennis Sigalos (8.05) 0 0 0 3 3 - - 6 7. Nigel Close (Res) 0 1 0 0 0 0 - 1 8. Brian Havelock (Res) 0 0 XT 0 0 0 - 0
As expected, the match was a classic. In a typical first leg encounter, the Heathens used home advantage and grafted out a controlling sixteen point lead. Hull, led by Mauger and Beaton, knew their best strategy too and managed a damage limitation exercise to keep Cradley from reaching McCormick's 64-point target. The Vikings only heat advantages were in heat 2 courtesy of the inconsistent Aufrett and in heat 16 when Sigalos had finally got going. This was crucucially followed however by a shrewd tactical Heathens move to introduce Dave Perks in the next who finished with a win and combined with 'Big Al' for a home 5-1. In Summary, Hull were a two man team for most of the evening while Cradley's bottom scorer was paid for five points, but even so - the tie was very finely poised.
This Final really erupted the following night which was supposed to be the second leg at The Boulevard. McCormick and his Cradley team were enraged however when the meeting was washed out after just seven heats, with the away side dramatically leading by 23-19. Dan "The Man" claimed that Ivan Mauger was the only person who wanted the match called off and accused the hosts of ducking out only because they were losing. At one stage he even blasted "They can have the cup if thats their attitude!" and refused to return for a restaging. Inevitably the BSPA Management Commitee demanded the Black Country boys did make the trip north once more. Understandably aggrieved at having victory dangled like a carrot and then whipped away, Cradley went back in a more determined mood than ever. On the final day of October, McCormick took his men into battle again, intent on gaining justice...
Second Leg: (restaging): 31st October 1979; The Boulevard
Such a devastating sense of determination and drive from the visiting Heathens, the weakened Hull side had simply no chance of pulling this one off. They had no answer to a team who were so hungry for their first major silverware to consolidate their top three league finish and add to the relatively trivial Inter-League Trophy. Weakened they were as both Graham Drury and Tom Owen were absent through injury and flamoboyant Kelly Moran was riding through the pain barrier with a broken collarbone. Remember still though that the Vikings were unbeaten around the Boulevard and had a distinct home advantage - or so they thought. Not many teams relished the prospect of the daunting circuit but Heathens' Bobby Schwartz flaunted the confidence from his camp by remarking that Hull was his second favourite away track... and he simply loved sawdust! Not only did Cradley defend their sixteen point lead, they produced a storming finish to turn the Vikings over on their home patch, 58-50. All things considered, it was a thrilling performance from Dan's boys who he modestly labelled "the best team ever".
HULL "Vikings" 50... D.Sigalos 13, K.Moran 8, L.Carr 7, B.Beaton 6, J.Owen 5, N.Close 4, F.Aufrett 3, I.Mauger 3. CRADLEY HEATH "Heathens" 58... B.Penhall 13, B.Schwartz 11, P.Collins 9, K.Praestbro 9, A.Grahame 6, E.Gundersen 5, J.Hack 5, D.Perks 0.
It quite simply had to be the Heathens' night when the legendary ultra-professional Ivan Mauger suffered from two engine failures and pulled out of the meeting with just one race win under his belt. Both teams were led by their respective American stars, although in Hull's case Sigalos and the courageous Moran represented the only resistance that was on offer. Credit is due to the reserves, Louis Carr and Nigel Close who battled bravely but the support was lacking in quality and quantity. Cradley's Yankee duo of Penhall and Schwartz were amply backed up by Phil Collins and Kris Praestbro in particular.
Far from being a fore-gone conclusion, the match swung one way then another and finally the pendulum rested with Cradley, where it had begun. In a seething display with revenge clearly on their minds, it was indeed the Heathens who bolted out of the traps, turning their sixteen point lead into an even more commanding 20 point advantage in the early stages. Gradually that picture changed though and in the middle stages came a spirited Viking revival which rocked the good ship Cradley. The home team took 14 points from heats 9, 10 and 11 and suddenly they were in with a shout - the overall margin just a slender eight points. Far from allowing their confidence to crack though, Cradley fired in two of their own maximum heat advantages by way of a reply and then wrapped up the mathematical victory in heat 15. As a final swipe to rub salt in the wounds, the night was completed with two more away 5-1s and the scores - level with just two heats remaining - were now much more convincing to reflect the current mood of the successful Cradley Heathens.
Match remembered for the web site by Phil Johnson.
Words by Steve Johnson, 1998.