Full name Bernt Eveart Persson
Birthplace: Eskilstuna, Sweden
Birthdate: 24th June 1946
CRADLEY HEATH CAREER RECORD:
Unlike the great Heathens idols that followed him in the late seventies and early eighties, Bernie had the unenviable job of leading Cradley through some of the tougher times. However, his superb statistical record and accomplished riding style has made sure that this 'Black Country Swede' will always remain in the hearts of the old Dudley Wood faithful.
Already an experienced international, Bernie was allocated to Cradley at the start of 1969 as a replacement for the retiring legend Ivor Brown. He had been brought to Britain four years earlier by Edinburgh and had quickly established himself as a regular heatleader in the formative years of the British League.
His success at Dudley Wood was instant. He began the season by helping the Heathens to home and away victories over Wolves, won the Midland Riders Championship round at Dudley Wood in April and then took first place in the Alan Hunt Memorial Trophy. Unsurprsingly, the season was to finish as our best in the British League at that time. Bernie scored over 300 points despite missing several matches when returning to ride in his native Sweden. Alongside Roy Trigg and Bob Andrews, he helped to form one of the most powerful heatleader trios that Cradley had then tracked.
The success story was to continue for the next four seasons at Dudley Wood as Bernie clocked up season averages consistently well over 9.00 points per match. He was the star; a fans favourite; the jewel in Cradley's crown. Although the team as a whole still struggled to make any impact on the domestic league, we had a rider who excelled on the speedway stage both in England and abroad.
The peak was of course in 1972 when he came closest to bringing the coveted World Individual title to Cradley Heath. Remember this was before the times of Penhall, Gundersen, Hamill and Hancock. Such heights had never before been reached by a rider wearing the old green and white.
In a tough final watched by 80,000 fans, it was the old rivals Ivan Mauger and Ole Olsen who were expected to fight it out for top spot. However, our Bernie had luck on his side and rode through his five heats before taking Mauger to a thrilling run-off. In his first race, he was passed by Olsen but then the Dane fell while challenging for the lead, allowing Bernie to start with a second place. Then in the next, he shot into the first bend alongside another relative favourite Barry Briggs, and the Russian Valeri Gordeev. With all three almost side by side, it was Gordeev who was inevitably squeezed out and then Bernie barged ruthlessly into Briggs while both were struggling to hold onto their machines. Briggs hit the deck and was then hit by Gordeev, eventually having to be taken to hospital to have a finger amputated. Meanwhile, Bernie won the rerun.
Two more heat victories followed, including another slice of fortune when another Russian Alexander Pavlov fell when comfortably in the lead. The dramatic conclusion was ensured when Mauger beat him in heat 19 and the two met for a run-off which went right to the death. The eventual champion took an age to inspect the track and the starting gate but then made the gate to lead all the way. Bernie battled away behind despite being constantly showered with shale from Mauger's back wheel and then produced a last ditch desperate fling to almost catch his opponent on the last bend. It was not to be but it was a meeting to be savoured for the long-serving and long-suffering Heathens fans.
Back on the domestic scene, 1974 saw a ban on all Swedish riders, imposed by the promoters association, and when Bernie was back for the Heathens in 1975, he never quite recaptured his previous outstanding form. He showed improvement at the start of the '76 season but then quit the British season to concentrate solely on the Swedish league. Again he returned in 1977, but his stay was cut short when he missed two consecutive meetings in August and was subsequently sacked by promoter Dan McCormick. Although he made a brief appearance for us against Hull in October, this was to be his last association with Cradley. It was a sad way to end, especially as he was still our top rider at the time. However, it was a long and impressive service that had preceded his departure and this was what would always be very fondly remembered.
In 1979 Bernie returned to Britain to ride for Sheffield, where he was third heatleader behind the Doug Wyer-Reg Wilson partnership and attained an average of just under 7.00Back to the Listing