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Long Eaton Speedway

In the pioneering days of speedway, tracks would appear and disappear again in a matter of weeks. Speedway was first staged at the Station Road site in Long Eaton in 1929 and 1930, but it was only short-lived, with only three meetings being held. The sport didn’t reappear in the town until 1950 when the Long Eaton Archers were placed in the third division of the National League. The Archers raced almost a full season of challenge matches against second and third division teams, mostly with loaned riders. Ernest `Pedlar' Palmer was the first captain. He later became the Sheffield team manager. The team finished second bottom of the table in that season, just above a Wolverhampton team that was at the foot of the table.

The structure of the sport was changed, and this saw the club take its place in the 1952 Southern League table. However, it did not attract the crowds, therefore the club did not continue and the Archers withdrew from the league, their results being deleted from official records. Many other speedway tracks were also to close in the year or two following, many due to the crippling ‘entertainment tax’ imposed by the post-war government. There were also three meetings at Station Road at the end of the 1954 season. These were `pirate' meetings, run without a Control Board licence by the greyhound promoter at the Stadium, Tom Beattie, and former Norwich rider Paddy Mills, who lived in Leicester. Some riders used their own names, others false names. Former Archers riders Wilf Plant (father of Graham) and Johnnie Jones took part in the meetings under their own names. Jones, who had been riding for Brafield in the Southern Area League in 1954, had his licence withdrawn by the Control Board and missed the chance to compete in the SAL Riders' Championship Final.

When the Provincial League was formed in 1960 the sport was revitalised. Long Eaton was one of many tracks to reopen. The Archers returned in time for the 1963 season under the promotion of Reg Fearman. At first they didn't fare well, and finished second bottom in that year, and again the following year, but the Station Road site was proving profitable for Mr Fearman and for the first time in its history the club was actually viable.

When the British League was founded, this saw the Archers in competition with the top teams in the sport. More well known clubs such as Belle Vue, Coventry and West Ham came to race the Archers at Station Road. Long Eaton had difficulty attracting top riders and it was no real surprise when they finished bottom of the league. They managed to finish second bottom in 1966, but this year will always be remembered for the arrival of Ove Fundin to ride for the Archers. Fundin appeared in five meetings for the Archers and was undoubtedly the greatest rider Long Eaton ever had on their books.

After Fundin left the Archers, they relied on such riders as Ray Wilson and Ray Cresp to get the points. In 1967 the Archers had some support from the emerging talent of Anders Michanek. Both Wilson and Michanek qualified for the 1967 World Final and the Archers enjoyed their best season to date, by finishing third from bottom. The Archers’ fans were in for a shock during the winter when it was announced that the club would be closing down and the licence transferred to Leicester. This meant that the track wasn't used for speeday for a year. The fans either had to follow the team to Leicester or lost contact with the sport.

In 1969, a new promotion moved in for the season and the Archers applied for membership in the British League second division. The team was renamed ‘Long Eaton Rangers’ and finished in an acceptable middle of the table finish, largely thanks to the efforts of Tony Lomas and Geoff Penniket.

The Rangers continued in the second division until the end of 1973, without much real success, during that period Malcolm Shakespeare developed into a quality rider. For the 1974 season the team went back to being known as the Archers for what was to prove the last in a continuous run of six years speedway at Station Road.

Speedway didn’t return again until 1979 under a new promoter, Dan McCormick, who had interests at Cradley Heath. McCormick decided that a whole new image was required and decided to call the team the Nottingham Outlaws. He signed Dave Perks through McCormick’s links with Cradley and proved to be one of the league’s top riders by achieving a ten point average. Mike Sampson was a capable second rider, and inherited the title of ‘top man’ when Perks moved on for the 1980 season. The track closed again after that 1980 season.

1982 saw another revival, and the team was once again renamed, this time as the Long Eaton Invaders. Ken McKinlay was appointed team manager and his extensive experience of riding and machine maintenance proving useful. Dave Perks returned to Station Road and proved just as effective as he had in 1979. The team finished seventh in 1982, however things returned to normal the following year when the Invaders finished bottom of the National League.

In 1984, a minor miracle occurred, when a solid, but unspectacular side lined up for the Invaders and went out and won the entire National League. This was a remarkable achievement considering teams such as Berwick, Hackney and Peterborough looked significantly stronger on paper. The Invaders won the title by a single point, just beating the Mildenhall Fen Tigers.

The eight man team that won the league consisted of: Dave Perks, Paul Stead, Graham Drury, David Tyler, Chris Pidcock, Miles Evans, Mark Stevenson and John Frankland. 1985 was an anti-climax for the Invaders as they slumped to second bottom of the league, only an Edinburgh side finishing below them. It looked like closure of the club would follow, but Mervyn Porter saved the day. Porter had been promoter at Ellesmere Port in 1985 and his Gunners side had won the league. However, he had heavy losses which forced him to move the club to Station Road. The team kept the Invaders name but lost Dave Perks to Newcastle. He was replaced by Mark Fiora and Geoff Pusey on loan from Middlesbrough. The club staggered on for the next few seasons not really achieving much, and between 1985 and 1990 they never managed to finish out of the bottom two in the National League. During these years riders like Keith White, Richard Hellsen, Gary O’Hare, Paul Fry and Glenn Doyle gave good service. Grasstracker Gerald Short looked to be a major discovery at this time, but a series of nasty injuries drained his confidence and his speedway career was cut prematurely short.

1991 saw businessman Tony Mole, who had held a long association with Wolverhampton, buy the Invaders, and he set about rebuilding the club. He first appointed Eric Boocock as his general manager, this was a good move and it brought the club immediate respect along with more influence within the corridors of power. Boocock and Mole were key figures in the revival of the club along with another important component, Jan Staechmann. The Danish rider came down from Wolverhampton and his flamboyant personality lifted the club. He became an instant success and, along with fellow new recruits Kai Niemi and Carl Blackbird, transformed the Invaders into a competitive and attractive side. Staechmann also brought the club more notable success by winning the Second Division Riders Championship at Coventry.

Over the next three seasons the Invaders were always closer to the top of the table than the bottom. Entertainers like Neil Collins, Martin Dixon and Steve Johnson were recruited and the side eventually became one of the top outfits of division two. Staechmann even bettered his previous achievements by qualifying for the last ever World Final.

Staechmann moved onto Hull in 1995 and the leagues merged together to form the all-new Premier League. This meant that the World’s top riders were back at Station Road for the first time since 1967. The combined league lasted for two years and during that time several big names turned out for the Invaders. Some notable riders were: Simon Wigg, Ronnie Correy and Dukie Ermolenko. At this time there was also a change in the promotion side of things as Eric Boocock was replaced by Graham Drury. The leagues split into two divisions in 1997 and it was no surprise when the Invaders chose to race in the lower level. Carl Stonehewer was an impressive figure in the Invaders attack on the title, he was supported by the energetic Martin Dixon and the club seemed to be in good shape. The season closed on 29th October when the Invaders defeated Exeter in the first leg of the Young Shield final.

The following year it became clear that all was not well. A shock announcement was made that the stadium was to be sold for housing development and that the club would have to leave immediately. Protests were made but the Invaders were forced to withdraw from the league. It is well documented that fans of speedway formed an action group with a campaign entitled Save Our Stadium (SOS). As yet, the plans to build housing on the Station Road site have not come to fruition. Neither have plans to rebuild a new stadium or reinstate speedway.

The following information and pictures of Long Eaton Stadium (1927 and 1948) and speedway racing in the 1950s are from the book Nottingham and Long Eaton Speedway 1928-1967 (Stadia 2007) by former Long Eaton Advertiser journalist Philip Dalling.

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