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Birmingham Speedway

The campaign to bring speedway back to Cradley received a boost at the weekend. But as Dave Woodhall reports, would its return be as popular as some might think?

News that the Cradley Heathens speedway team are to be born again, after a fashion, has naturally been treated with great joy by lovers of the sport in one of its traditional heartlands.

The Dudley Heathens will be racing next year in the National League, the third tier of the sport in Britain, with their home meetings taking place at Wolves’ Monmore Green track and the Birmingham Brummies home, Alexander Stadium.

It’s been 14 years since the sale of the Dudley Wood track, on which Cradley had first raced in 1947, for housing meant the end of one of the most successful speedway teams in the country, twice winners of the British League and providing seven world champions.

The new set-up will be hoping to return to the borough of Dudley before too long, as chairman Nigel Pearson says. “We want to see speedway return to Dudley on a full-time basis.” I’m sure the thousands who used to flock to Dudley Wood in the glory years agree. What the local population thinks, though, might be a different matter.

Because speedway is a noisy, intrusive business. You’d have to be a very big fan of the sport to welcome the arrival of a racetrack in the neighbourhood. The Alexander Stadium at Perry Barr, where Heathens plan to hold half their meetings next year, has run into regular problems with local residents over noise issues.

Birmingham city council planning committee has forced increased noise reduction measures to be implemented and approval for speedway at the stadium beyond 2010 is still to be granted. Local residents might not take too kindly to even more nights of disruption next summer.

I realise I might be incurring the wrath of speedway fans worldwide here, but there seems to be an element in this story similar to one I’ve seen over the years in football, namely the belief that sporting institutions should be allowed to ride roughshod over the wishes of the wider community.

I’ve seen it at Villa Park, when ground redevelopment in the light of the Taylor Report was met with opposition from locals amidst the belief from club officials that because they wanted to build a new stand, a new stand they should be allowed to build.

Luckily the Lerner regime has made massive attempts to work with rather than against the local community and should be congratulated for their efforts, but they still seem to be in a minority when it comes to accepting that not everyone is a football, or in this case speedway, fan.

Jan O. Pederson, former Cradley rider and ex-world champion, said recently; “At some stage Dudley council will have to give in.” Why should they? With the best will in the world, speedway is never going to be much more than a minority sport even if the Heathens get back to their former level.

The percentage of Dudley residents attending meetings would be in the low single figures. So why should Dudley council ‘have’ to do anything to help? Wherever this new stadium is situated – and I can’t help thinking that if a site hasn’t been found in 15 years it doesn’t exist – the neighbours won’t be hanging out the flags.

If any speedway fans with a passable knowledge of Dudley are reading this, I’d genuinely be grateful if you could tell me of a suitable place anywhere in the borough, where inconvenience to local people could be kept to a minimum and enough support could be attracted to make the venture viable.

Pederson continued, “When the land is available, something will be done.” He was also reported to express a desire to settle in the Black Country at some point. Will he fancy living next door to the new Cradley speedway stadium, I wonder?



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