Tucked away in a quiet little corner of Sloughbottom park is a faint little oval in the grass. When the sun shines and the rain falls, it can be easily overlooked in between the irregular Council grass trims. I remember it looking a lot fresher as a kid in the 80’s, the 80 yard Harco-surfaced track was fresh and it was still occasionally being used.
I remember the park-keeper at the time, a friendly old boy named Phil (Pilbrow?) who my friends and I would often chat to, and he would occasionally bore us with tales of how back in the day he was a bit of a demon on the cycle speedway. If only I knew then (a scruffy-looking little scamp on BMX) that in the future I’d be sitting at a PC blogging about him, I’d have probably paid a bit more interest in what he was trying tell us. When he’d finally get bored of our glazed-over and disinterested faces he’d disappear back into the Pavilion to get back on with his work. This would be the cue for this cheeky little collection of scamps to pick up his funny little green 3-wheeled Council van (remember those?) and relocate it somewhere impossible for him to drive it out of, before cycling away as fast as we could. In hindsight, had he wanted to chase us down we’d chosen the wrong man to tempt fate with on a bicycle!
This abandoned and unloved track once belonged to a Cycle Speedway Team named the ‘Galley Pirates’ and it was built in the late sixties to replace their earlier track situated on the nearby Galley Hills – the topographical feature, not the pub – that runs along the back of what is now Whiffler Road. This is presumably how the team came by their name. Their club colours were orange, white and blue and they were particularly active in the 60’s and 70’s.
Cycle speedway took off in the early 20th century and became increasingly popular after the war, as tracks could be easily fabricated on small bits of wasteland, particularly on areas that were still bomb sites and any old bike would do – you didn’t need silly little things like gears or a good set of brakes. The sport has had a seemingly rocky past, blighted by various administrative issues but is still going strong today, just not here in Mile Cross.
In June 1973 the team held a ‘Silver Jubilee’ weekend event that attracted more than 2,000 people. The event received unprecedented media coverage, both on the radio and TV, and highlights were even shown on Look East. It’s hard to imagine all that interest and all those people when you look at it now.
Here is a picture of it in action back in 1974. Note the large crowd looking on.
In the background of my photograph you can see it’s modern-day replacement – well kind of: The Mile Cross BMX track. I’m not sure it’d make for good speedway cycling.
The higher resolution original can be found by clicking me.