CRADLEY Heath Speedway enjoyed and endured a chequered history since its inception in 1947. There were the highs of the 1980s when the Cradley Heathens were winning every title going, and the lows of the 1990s, when first their Dudley Wood Stadium was lost to a planned housing development in 1995, and then, after competing at the Loomer Road Stadium in Stoke under the name of Cradley and Stoke Heathens for just one season, the team was finally wound up in 1996.
But the idea of a speedway team continuing to keep the name of the Heathens alive and kicking is, for the moment at least, looking fairly rosy.
CH supporters have never given up their dream of having a home track of their own, and while they wait for that day to materialise, a Heathens team will be back in action during the 2010 season, albeit with a changed name (Dudley Heathens), sharing two local stadiums, Monmore Green (home of Wolverhampton Wolves) and Perry Barr (home of Birmingham Brummies), but most importantly competing once again in the National League.
At the suggestion of Bill Hodgetts, a die-hard speedway fan who travels to Stoke from the Dark Region every week during the season to support his favourite sport, Mick Mathers, a follower of Stoke Potters, has dropped us a line recalling a time in his life he will never forget: “I was aged ten when my parents took me along to see my first ever Stoke speedway meeting after the Second World War in 1947. I’m now 73 years of age and still follow the Potters every week. My late parents were both pioneering motorcyclists during the 1920s, so I suppose I could be called a very lucky youngster. I’d already been to a meeting in 1945 at Belle Vue, a day out to celebrate the end of the war after a promise made by my mother, but going to see the Potters at their home circuit was something extra special.
“My first visit to the Sun Street Stadium in Hanley however didn’t start very well as I couldn’t understand why there should be a dog track in between me and the racing. Like any ten year old given half a chance, I wanted to be down there on the track riding those incredible machines, or at least be a little closer to where all the action was taking place. Then there was the visiting team from somewhere down south wearing a big ‘CH’ on their chests. Surely they wouldn’t beat the Potters? I had well and truly been bitten by the speedway bug.
“As the years rolled by it became clear that the Cradley Heathens would become one of our deadliest rivals, and one of my most treasured possessions is the programme from that meeting (May 8th 1947) that I have managed to keep all these years, when the Potters beat the Heathens by 48 points to 33. But like most sports home advantage counts for a lot and in a return fixture two months later at Dudley Wood the Heathens beat the Potters 49 - 34. Sun Street reopened in 1960 - 63 and some of the Potters’ keenest rivals on the speedway track came from that era, including Bastable, Brown, Eadon, etc. But on the other side of the coin we had Pratt, Jarman and Cole to do battle for the Potters, all of whom went on to ride for the Heathens in later years.
“By the 1980s no team could touch Cradley Heathens and they became the Man United of speedway.
There were more American and Scandinavian World Champions in their team than most tracks had exhaust pipes.
They were the elite and put the big ‘CH’ on the world map. Sadly, the Cradley Heathens are no more, but everyone in the world of speedway wants them back. Fingers crossed therefore for the future and Mr Pottinger’s new venture to run third division meetings at Birmingham and Wolves.
All the Potters up here in Stoke realise just how much folk in the Black Country miss the Heathens, and I’m sure former Cradley fans will enjoy watching a new clutch of up and coming youngsters appearing for Dudley Heathens for the first time this year.
“It was a sad day in 1995 when Cradley Heathens lost their Dudley Wood Stadium, but of course it gave us Potters supporters the chance to see what we had been missing when the whole team came to Loomer Road in 1996 as the Cradley Potters, a unique situation enjoyed by all and a speedway season we will never forget up here in the Potteries. We had a World Champion to be proud of in Billy Hamill, and who can ever forget those last heat deciders with Hamill and Hancock as they wrestled wheel to wheel around the track, often sharing the spoils.
The stadium would erupt when these two giants of speedway shot past, side by side, both doing wheelies, aboard their Exide-sponsored bikes and wearing leathers; thanks lads! And a double thanks to the 500 plus speedway supporters who travelled up from the Black Country every week to keep the Cradley Heathens dream alive and create an extraordinary atmosphere which will live long in the memory.”