1996

Heathens at Stoke: End of Another Era

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Season Review

So with Dudley Wood closed the options for the continuous operation of the club were limited to finding a suitable venue or piece of land in the Black Country to carry on.  Searches went on to find either of these and a number meetings took place with supporters to put their views.  The best option at the time was to run at Loomer Road Stoke.  Quite a gamble, with the Stoke track some 45 miles up the M6 and in quite a bad state of repair, it would take quite a serious amount of money to bring the facilities up to first division standard.  However the consortium decided to go for it despite losing Colin Pratt who resigned from the club to take over as manager of the London Lions at Hackney and Simon Cross who joined Coventry.
Former Heathen Jan O Pedersen was appointed as team manager and moved swiftly to secure Cradley's biggest assets Greg Hancock and Billy Hamill, and with the help of co-promoter Sven Heiding, Swede Dalle Andersson was next to sign replacing Simon Cross.  Stuart Swales replaced Jonathan Forsgren and Troy Pratt in for Scott Smith who had returned to his home track Sheffield. At reserve Jan O retained Steve Knott and John Wilson.
The Stoke supporters were not happy with the situation, although it would mean getting First Division speedway back to Loomer Road following a few Academy League fixtures in 1995 they were upset that the team were to be called Cradley and not Stoke. A compromise was called for and following another meeting of supporters it was decided we were to be 'Cradley at Stoke'!

team photo

The 1995/96 winter was a bit harsh and with snow on the ground it was difficult to get a good racing track down for the start of the new season. Eventually it was up and running but it was not 'home'.

L to R. Troy Pratt, Dalle Andersen, John Wilson Grant McDonald,
Steve Knott, Stuart Swales, Billy Hamill On bike - Greg Hancock.
(photo by kind permission of Speedway Star)

The team was quite successful really with fifth place in a league of nineteen was very creditable.
Changes were made with the team as the season went on with Les Collins coming in to give the team a boost and again with Sven Heiding's Swedish influence Niklas Karlsson joined the Heathens half way through the season.
Although crowds were initially good with coaches laid on from from the Black Country, 45 miles each way proved to be a bridge too far for the very loyal Heathens supporters and the expected boost of Stoke supporters never really happened.  Traditional Saturday nights were OK but crowds were well down on alternative nights with the usual Dudley Wolves Trophy which usually pulled in a massive crowd was down to around 500 fans on a Wednesday.
It was always a big 'ask', to get enough Cradley fans to travel each week and to carry on past 1996 would have been a financial disaster.

Individually Billy and Greg were superb despite having teething troubles with carb's on the new laydown engines and problems with the new 'dirt deflectors', they both continued to improve even though they were at the top of their game.  Billy became Cradley's fourth rider to become World Champion with Greg in third place. Billy and Greg also finished first and second in the league averages.
So that was the end of the Cradley Heathens or was it?

 


programme

Riders Performance Chart

1996 Cradley 'The Heathens at Stoke'.

Rider
Matches
Rides
Points
Bonus
Total
Aver
B.Hamill
36
188
480
22
502
10.68
G.Hancock
35
187
448
44
492
10.52
D.Andersson
35
169
241
30
271
6.41
L.Collins
29
145
190
37
227
6.26
N.Karlsson
11
48
54
7
61
5.08
J.Wilson
15
57
59
13
72
5.05
T.Pratt
29
114
128
11
139
4.88
S.Swales
36
154
117
20
137
3.56
S.Knott
5
17
8
1
9
2.12
G.McDonald
3
11
5
0
5
1.82

statistics taken from the Cradley Speedway database for BL matches only.


Final League Table

1996 British Premier League

Team PL W D L BP
For
Ag
Pts
Wolverhampton
36
29
0
7
18
1941
1504
76
Peterborough
36
23
0
13
15
1834
1615
61
Eastbourne
36
23
1
12
12
1808
1634
59
Swindon
36
22
2
12
12
1777
1657
58
CRADLEY
36
21
1
14
13
1819
1633
56
Belle Vue
36
21
1
14
12
1775
1651
55
Hull
36
20
3
13
11
1774
1675
54
Ipswich
36
20
0
16
12
1799
1654
52
London
36
20
0
16
11
1732.5
1693.5
51
Coventry
36
16
2
18
10
1770
1679
44
Bradford
36
16
0
20
9
1692
1717
41
Scottish Monarchs
36
16
0
20
5
1673
1780
37
Oxford
36
12
4
20
8
1676
1748
36
Poole
36
13
2
21
5
1633
1801
33
Exeter
36
13
2
21
4
1614
1841
32
Middlesbrough
36
11
1
24
6
1607
1843
29
Long Eaton
36
12
0
24
4
1615
1807
28
Sheffield
36
13
0
23
2
1533
1871
28
Reading
36
11
1
24
2
1590.5
1859.5
25

The Heathens took a tour of Sweden in August, racing in the Euro Cup at Rosspiggarna winning 49-47 and in a Challenge at Smederna where we won 55-41 thanks to Heathens  promotor - the late Sven Heiding

K.O.Cup

Round 2-1st leg - Belle Vue 53 Cradley 43
Greg Hancock 13, Billy Hamill 12, Stuart Swales 6,
Les Collins 5, Dalle Andersson 3, Troy Pratt 2, 
John Wilson 2.
Round 2-2nd leg Cradley 52 Belle Vue 44
Greg Hancock 13, Billy Hamill 11, Les Collins 9,
Dalle Andersson 9, Troy Pratt 4, (G)Alun Rossiter 4,
Stuart Swales 2.

Belle Vue win 97-95 on aggregate

Belle Vue drew the quarter final with Wolves, then Wolves won the replay 97-94, Wolves then beat Bradford in the semi-final 101-91 and won the cup against Peterborough 100-92


Dudley Wolves Trophy

1st Leg Wolves 55 Cradley 41
(G)Leigh Adams 13, Les Collins 11, Dalle Andersson 7,
Niklas Karsson 4, Stuart Swales 3, Troy Pratt 3.

2nd Leg Cradley 48 Wolves 48
(G)Mike Faria 12, Les Collins 10, Dalle Andersson 9,
(G)Chris Manchester 6, Stuart Swales 4,
Niklas Karlsson 3.

Wolves win 103-89 on aggregate
Controversy surrounded this competition when the top riders refused to ride with the introduction of 'dirt deflectors'.


The Golden Hammer was won by Billy Hamill
-Golden Hammer-



Again the Heathens World Champion making machine moved on, this time Bill Hamill took the second Grand Prix 
(the GP replaced the one-off World Final in 1995)
Billy became our fourth rider to win the coveted prize - 
Greg Hancock joined Billy on the rostrum in third place,
 then went on to win the title himself in 1997, 
8 World Champions in 16 years - can any club ever achieve such success?

-World Finals-

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