Team Transformed by the Super Swede
Cradley had some solid foundations to build on at the beginning of 1969
following a year of real progress in ‘68. Roy Trigg and Bob Andrews had
established themselves as firm favourites and solid heatleaders, and both
returned to the line-up for a second season.
L to R. Speedway Manager - Ted Flanaghan, Chris Bass, Ken Wakefield, Graham Coombes, Bob Andrews, Peter Wrathall, Bernt Persson, Team Manager - Russ Bragg - On bike: - Roy Trigg.
| It was the first time that a truly established world class rider
had been attracted to the Cradley setup and Bernie was to
become the next Black Country legend. As the end of one era passed with Ivor
Brown’s winter retirement, a new one was just beginning.
Chris Bass was another signing at the beginning of the season, joining from Exeter, and he became a crowd favourite with a determined attitude. Chris Julian left the ranks and Lars Jansson stayed in Sweden, but it was generally a settled and familiar looking line-up that carried the baton from 1968 into ’69. The major difference was Swedish superstar, Bernie, who led the formidable top three. For the first time ever, Cradley had three genuine heatleaders. A new name joined the managerial team with Russ Bragg relieving Ted Flanaghan of his away-match duties when the stadium’s greyhound racing took precedent.
The hopes and expectations of the new season were boosted with an
uncharacteristic victory in the opening match, and to make things even
better it was a 46-32 romp at neighbouring Wolverhampton which kicked things
off. Within a few weeks, the Heathens were firmly entrenched in a battle in
the top third of the league table – rather unfamiliar territory to say the
least. The strength in the top three of Persson, Trigg and Andrews was given
solid back-up by the improving Ken Wakefield and battling Chris Bass in the
middle order. The only initial weakness was at the bottom end of the team
where Pete Wrathall was soon replaced by Geoff Penniket, who in turn made
way for young Chris Hawkins. The next piece of the jigsaw came with a third
change though, this time releasing Hawkins to bring in 19-year old Mike
Gardner. The Londoner’s relatively quick impact further strengthened the
charge to the top six of the league.
The Dudley-Wolves Trophy was brought back to Dudley Wood and as
the season progressed the team forged themselves a healthy reputation around
their home track. However, whilst winning at the Wood, there were few points
being taken on their travels. Thankfully, there were also few injuries and
at least a consistent line-up was being fielded for seemingly the first time
The second incident of the year to enter Black Country folklore occurred at Dudley Wood when Hackney visited in August, led by the notorious Garry Middleton. After the Aussie forced Mike Gardner into the fence in heat 12, Graham Coombes was first to retaliate by riding round the track to punch Middleton in the head. He was quickly followed by both Gardner and his father, with the home rider using his helmet to inflict another blow. Riders and officials poured out from the pits to either join in or break up the confrontation before order was restored. What happened next is the stuff of legend, but the rumours say that Middleton returned to his pit bay and pulled out a gun from his toolbox. He was eventually smuggled out of the stadium under a blanket in the back of manager Len Silver’s car, but still also required a police escort to evade the baying Heathens fans.
Back on track, Cradley fought out the rest of the season by usually winning at home and losing away, which carried the club to a seventh place finish – their best ever in the top flight. The top three stars finished with a combined average of almost 27 points per match, Persson & Trigg both clocking over 9.00. The Heathens, led by the new super Swede, had at last earned themselves a reputation as a force to be reckoned with.
Riders Performance Chart
'The Heathens' 1969
statistics taken from the Cradley Speedway database for BL matches only.
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