The town of Blantyre has long had links with speedway racing. In the pioneer days a group of riders who appeared at White City in Glasgow were known as “The Blantyre Crowd”. They operated their own track at Airbles Road in Motherwell in 1930-1932 and this was known as the Paragon Speedway. Riders included Andy Nicol, Billy Naismith, Jack White and J Dunn. Admission to these meetings was 6d, programmes on sale for 2d. A team called “Blantyre” also raced at White City in 1930.
The Blantyre Crowd also operated a more professional version on the same site in 1932. The last meeting of 1930 was staged in September 1930 and it drew a poor attendance of just 300. The drawings would have done little to boost the coffers of the charities supposed to benefit from the event. The scoring was 2 points for a win and 1 point for second. It is assumed that the event had two riders from each team as the Blantyre lads took a 3-0 advantage in the last heat to snatch victory.
The members of the winning team each received a small trophy as a memento of their victory. Blantyre’s team was Andy Nicholl, Sam Aitkenhead, Jack White, Bill Naismith, Billy Lewellyn, Alfie Williams and Hugh Adamson. It is also assumed that this was the first leg of a two-leg event of sorts. The only surviving advert for an event at Motherwell’s Paragon Speedway featured a Blantyre versus Glasgow event. Whether this event was staged at the ‘Dirt-Track’ in Motherwell is not known.
While speedway had taken place pre World War 2 in Glasgow, it was not until 1946 that the Glasgow Tigers were born, growing up through their formative years with intermittent periods of residence at the White City Stadium. The greatest ever, Scottish rider, Ken McKinlay came from Blantyre, as did Tommy Miller who had a somewhat meteoric rise to stardom in the first half of the 1950. In 1968 White City closed down due to the creation of the M8 motorway.
The Glasgow Tigers entered a period of history looking for a new home. Shortly before that, on 19th March 1965 the old Greyhound Racing track at Craighead, Blantyre had been extended and turned into a better facility.
However, greyhound racing in Blantyre was soon to have its day and on Friday 8th July 1977, the Glasgow Tigers had found a new home and they held their first speedway race in Blantyre against Crayford Kestrels. Programmes were sold for 15p each to the large crowds assembled, of which many people were from Blantyre. The sport saw a new fanbase locally and speedway was well received (if you lived at least 200 yards away from the noise). The 1977 team included Jimmy Gallagher, Derek Richardson, Grahame Dawson, Nicky Hollingworth, Mick McKeon, Merv Janke, Brian Collins, Johnny Hack and Benny Rourke.
Bobby Beaton, born 8th September 1927 is a Blantyre man who was an official director/promoter for the Glasgow Tigers Speedway stars at Blantyre Greyhound Stadium 1977-81.Last speedway meeting was on 18th October 1981 Tigers vrs Bobby Beaton’s Buccaneers. On heat 8, Brian Collins led from Charlie McKinna, Ray Palmer and Willie Mirtle. Charlie passed Collins at a bend on the next lap to give the Glasgow side a heat advantage. The final result was 44-27 with Charlie getting a 15-point maximum. The rest of the scorers for the Glasgow side were: Ray Palmer 9, Kenny McKinna 9, Colin Caffrey 6 and Andy Reid 5. Brian Collins top-scored for the Buccaneers with 10, followed by Bobby Beaton 9, Wayne Brown 4, Jim Beaton 3, Benny Rourke 1 and Willie Mirtle 0.
During the winter 1981 into 1982, the Glasgow promotion moved the team a few hundred metres to Craighead Park, which was situated behind the wall that ran along the back straight, which was to be the new venue for Blantyre speedway.
A new chapter in the history of Glasgow Speedway began on Friday 30th April 1982 with the opening meeting at Craighead Park, Blantyre. The new track was a 263-metre circuit and Steve Wilcock won the race on the opening day. Steve Lawson won Heat 2 in what was to become the first track record and went on to win the prestigious, “silver helmet.” Rye House complained about the track after a 60-36 defeat and the next meeting against Weymouth was cancelled. A Speedway Control Board inspection had to be carried out at Craighead before any further meetings could take place.
A last-heat decider against Arena Essex took place with the closure of the Blantyre speedway for good on 14th September 1986 at the end of that season. However, a very final match took place at Craighead Pk on 17th October 1986 when Tigers defeated Milton Keynes 47-31. Speedway in Blantyre is fondly remembered as something good that happened to this town.
Photos kindly shared by Gary Doonin, pictured is Mick McKeon. Words from “Blantyre Explained” a forthcoming book by Paul Veverka (c) 2016
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Margaret Elma Griffin My Uncle Tommy Miller also won the Silver Helmet it had pride of place in my Granny Millers China cabinet along with countless other Trophies
Isobel Paterson Worked at the speedway cafe Beatons are my cousins ☺loved the smell at the speedway 😊
Margaret Elma Griffin I loved the smell of the Speedway as well !
Traci Smith We could hear it from High Blantyre and spent a Friday night going down to watch it . Did the Beaton family not live in Caldereood Drive and run Buses as well
Colin Duffy I remember it well never miss it me and my brother Jim we went to Coatbridge when the the tigers where there my dad Mick Duffy drove the bus to it then it came to Blantyre me and my brother Jim and or cozen Calum Beaton would walk to it it was brilliant happy days
Liz Boxall Yes Traci !!! Their bus garage was in auchinraith road .. I also think the Beaton boys raced the motor bikes
Isobel Paterson Bobby and Jim Tigers and George B Bandits Liz x
Craig Wilkie I never forget that first smell of Castrol R – always takes me back to watching the Tigers. and what can beat the taste of a mouthful of grit after standing at the wrong corner – I did wonder why no-one was standing in the spot where there was clearly such a brilliant view…