Links: Read the Summary version or Go forward to Part 2

Part 1: From the First Indications to the Planning Refusal

This three-part article is the story of what has happened over the years since Cradley Speedway club was informed at the end of the 1994 season that there was no longer a place for them at their home of 50 years, Dudley Wood stadium. Despite the fact that this is the full story, I have tried to keep it relatively brief - a task which was harder than I had anticipated! All the facts are correct to the best of my knowledge and I stress that any opinions expressed are solely mine and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone else connected with the club. With so many twists and turns, there may well be parts of the saga which even the most devoted of fans didn't know or have since forgotten. Refresh your memory, if you will...

Once the stadium owners (Derek Pugh and the Bridgewater family) made that initial announcement, the battle began: The story immediately received the first of many future front page headlines in the local Express and Star newspaper. Support poured in, including many financial pledges and donations. The public campaign started to roll with the first public meeting attracting hundreds, many of whom had to be turned away. I'll never forget arriving for that meeting to see a long queue of fans stretching all the way around the car park and up Quarry Bank High Street as far as you could see. The response was simply overwhelming. Talks were subsequently held between the club and the stadium owners, and eventually a deal was struck for a stay of execution for the 1995 season, but the long-term future was never secure...

Supporters' worst fears were confirmed just prior to the end of the '95 season with the announcement that the stadium was to be sold to a residential development company for over one million ukp. A solicitors press release at the time prompted the headlines "Heathens' Fight Looks Doomed". It was later revealed that, during the season, informal talks had taken place for the Speedway club to purchase the stadium and the directors told supporters that they had offered a serious bid of 750,000 ukp for the stadium, which was refused. Astutely, they then offered 500,000 ukp to part-owner, Derek Pugh just for his share of the land (believed to be a one-third share). This bid was also turned down.

Several new sites were examined by the club as potential new homes, whether permanent or temporary. Of a long list, these included moves of varying degrees of feasibility: a track-share with local rivals Wolves or a switch to Perry Barr Greyhound stadium - across the road from the former home of the Birmingham Brummies; closer to home: mergers with Halesowen Harriers Football club, use of existing stadiums at Norton Canes (Greyhounds), Dunstall Park (Racing) or Oldbury Stadium; the club exhausted every possible option before eventually deciding on a temporary move to Loomer Road, Stoke; previous and now current home of the ‘Potters’. The stadium was in use for Stock Car Racing and had been used for Speedway in recent years but needed some work to bring it up to the standard of top-league racing.

While the club management and directors set about building a team, beginning with the appointment of Jan O.Pedersen as promoter following the resignation of long-serving Colin Pratt, the supporters had formed an action committee. Signatures were collected on a petition and a case was put together ready to oppose any planning application that may be lodged for the site. As all the pre-season activity raged on, it emerged that housing giants Barratts were the company looking to build on the site. To be precise, they had hopes to squeeze 121 homes onto the 8-acre piece of land.

Eventually, the inevitable application was due to come under the consideration of Dudley council. The names on the petition topped 30,000; the plan by Barratts was found to be crucially flawed on numerous counts and the support flowed in favour of the Speedway from many sources. Armed with the backing of the education authority, the sports council, local transport executives, a neighbouring council, the National Rivers authority and thousands of Speedway fans all around the world, the Heathens bombarded the local council house on the evening of the decision. So much was the support, that the council meeting was moved to another room which had a larger public gallery to accommodate the fans! And cheers rang out that night when the refusal was unanimously confirmed. Speedway had won the first battle but the owners pledged there would still be no more racing at Dudley Wood. Committee vice-chairman, councillor Joe Plant remarked during a statement, "The developers made a big mistake. They have upset Black Country people". More specifically though, they had also upset Speedway people...

Words by Steve Johnson; sources include various press cuttings ranging from 1994 to 1998

[Forward to Part 2]

Web site created and maintained by Steve Johnson. E-mail me your comments and suggestions.
The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of Cradley Heath Speedway.
Copyright: Steve Johnson & Cradley Heath Speedway Ltd, 1999.