Sunderland Speedway
 
Sunderland Greyhound Stadium, Newcastle Road, East Boldon, Co Durham.  Speedway took place here in 1964 and 1971-1974 The team was known as The Saints, The Stars and the Gladiators
 
Sunderland has had a website of its own until 2011 when its owners Bob Ferry and Ian Martin decided to call it a day.  I have produced this page on the Newcastle History site to keep the Sunderland Speedway name alive on the Internet.  If anyone wants to finance an independent Sunderland site again, I would be happy to hear from you.  John
 

 
The content of this page was supplied by Sunderland's own Bob Ferry aided and abetted by his great friend Ian Martin
 
 

Bob Ferry with BBC's Jeff Brown and Ian Martin

 

 
 
 Dave Baugh & Bob Ferry
 
 

This is Bob Ferry and Dave Baugh coming out of Sunderland's pits to do the weekly draw

 

 
 
A Trio Of Former
Sunderland Riders
 
 

A trio of former Sunderland riders have a reunion in New Zealand in 2008. They are Jim Wells, Pete Wrathall and John Goodall

 

 
 

The “Stars” & The Stripes

 
 
 

 The Heritage Of
Sunderland Speedway

 

By Bob Ferry

 

The complete history, from the ill-fated beginning in 1964, through the early seventies, to the more recent junior meetings.  Read about the “Stars” captain Russ Dent, Crazy Jack Millen, Gentleman George Barclay and the rest of the Crazy Gang.  This is the complete history of Sunderland Speedway, from the beginning in 1964, through the seventies, and finally to the more recent jnr meetings of recent years.  Boldon Stadium was the home of the Sunderland “Saints” and later to the Sunderland “Stars”/ Gladiators.  The new speedway venture on Wearside began on 21st April 1964, in a challenge match against local rivals the Newcastle Diamonds.  A big crowd turned out to watch the Diamonds beat the Sunderland Saints by 32-44 pts.  In the Diamonds line up was the highly rated Ivan Mauger, who obliged by scoring a maximum.  Also in the Diamonds line up was the young Russ Dent, later to become the Captain of the newly
formed Sunderland “Stars” in 1971.

 
 

The 1964 “Saints”

 
 

The Saints team for that opening match was as follows:- 
1. Maury McDermott
2. Dave Collins
3. Gordon Guasco
4. Graham Coombes
5. Vic Ridgeon
6. Jim Airey
7. Ray Day 
Top scorer was Jim Airey with 9pts, and the very first race was won by Maury McDermott in a time of  68.2 seconds. 

 

The Saints were to last but a few short weeks, before closing on the 9th June.  The reason given was lack of crowds and bad weather.  Well I’ll admit the Saints were unlucky with the weather,
but they never had a rain-off, and the crowds I thought were good.  The Sunderland Echo is quoted as saying there was a crowd of 8,500 at one meeting – and I can remember being among in a
very full stadium, struggling to see the action it was so jam-packed.
 

 
On the closing of the Sunderland Speedway, the riders was split up between Newcastle and  Wolverhampton, two other tracks that the Sunderland promoters had an interest in!  Some people still think that Sunderland never had a fair chance to establish themselves, and in the end there was something sus about the whole business.
 
So it was, that after eight meetings, speedway at Sunderland had been and gone, it was all over, confined to history.  The doors were closed and the track was silent, and would remain so for the next seven years.  What a pity that we never got the chance to see Jim Airey and Gordon Guasco develop  into top class riders, Airey went on to be a World Finalist, Guasco sadly lost his young life in a speedway accident, very tragic.
 
 

The 1971 “Stars”

 
In 1971 the sound of speedway bikes could be heard again around the Boldon track.  Newcastle had closed and Sunderland opened for a second time.  Their nick-name was now the “Stars” – a heavy Burdon to carry for a team that was to struggle all season long.   Promoter Len Silver would greet us with a cheery “Hello- and welcome to sunny Sunderland” – or in his Cockney twang – “Sanny Saanderland”
 
Russ Dent was to lead the team as captain, with George Barclay and young New Zealander John Goodall forming the back bone of the team.  The soon to be legendary Jack Millen made three brief appearances at the start of the season, but was whisked off the join the Crewe Kings, another track run by Allied Enterprises.  So that left Alan Mackie, John Knock, Brian Whaley, John Lynch and Gerry Richardson scrapping for the final team slots.
 
Russ, George and John Goodall were all more than capable performers, the rest of the team found it hard going to say the least.  John Goodall’s last appearance in a Sunderland vest was against Long Eaton at the Boldon Stadium on the 8th Aug – then he just disappeared, failing to turn up for the away meeting at Hull on the 11th Aug, leaving Sunderland with a big headache.  John had been such a good rider for the Stars, he was hard to replace.
 

The Stars struggled on, and Pete Wrathall was signed up and made his debut in the home meeting against Canterbury on the 22nd August.  The Stars took some hefty defeats in their 1971
opening season, finishing bottom of the league that year.  Skipper Russ Dent and George Barclay kept the sinking ship afloat, without them the Stars would have sunk without trace. 
We just prayed that they would get another chance to ride in 72.  Russ topped the averages for the Stars, George was just behind, with John Goodall third.

 
The one bright spot was Russ Dent winning the Farewell Trophy at Teesside, he clinched victory in a three man run off, beating local Teesside hero Bruce Forrester and Long Eaton’s Mal Shakespeare.  Something to shout about at last! 
 
To sum up the 1971 season – we were given a weak team, but the fans got behind them, at least we had speedway at Sunderland.  There was always next year to improve – and the team did improve – with one or two additions! 
 
 

1972 The “Stars” Are Back

 
At last came the confirmation, the Sunderland Stars are to race again in 1972.
 

The addition’s came in the shape of, Jack Millen and Graeme Smith – what a difference they were to make, now the burden of points scoring was no longer on Russ and George. 
Young Dave Gatenby was given his chance, as well as young New Zealander Jim Wells.  After a slow start, Dave really got going, while Jim was steady but slowly making progress. 
“Speedy” Pete Wrathall was also back, steady as ever.  Now we had a team that could compete.  No longer did we fear anyone in the league.  Jack Millen was an instant hit with the fans,
and soon the legend of “Crazy Jack” took off.  Nothing was dull when Jack was around, there was a real buzz about the place.  Graeme Smith was silky smooth, a pleasure to watch, if he hit the
front he took some shifting off that inside line.  Russ and George continued where they left off the previous season, Jack stormed to the top of the Stars averages, closely followed by Smithy. 
Russ and George had slipped a wee bit, but still piled on the points.  The team produced EXCITEMENT.  Because of his riding style, Millen was always likely to pick up injuries, and he had
quite a few.  Not that they kept him out of the saddle for too long.  Broken bones and plaster casts were common place for Jack.  He once had a steel grave diggers boot fitted over the plaster
cast on his injured foot so that he could still ride.  Excitement and mayhem were always around whenever “Crazy Jack Millen” rode.

 
 

Something Special

 
The local derby meetings against Teesside and Berwick were something special, especially Teesside when the Jack Millen / Frank Auffret hostilities were raging.  Frank it was hatred, but to Jack it was all showmanship and to generate excitement with the fans – whip them into a frenzy – leaving them wanting to come back for more  when the SHOWMAN was in town.
 
The atmosphere at Boldon and Teesside’s Cleveland Park was “white hot” – the place was “jumpin” the atmosphere was electric.  Crazy Jack’s mantra was “give the fans  something to cheer, jeer, boo, hiss, anything to get them on the feet and exercise their vocal chords, for Frank it was all too serious, and the arguments raged on and on.  1972 was also the year when Sunderland won the Four Team Tournament, beating Berwick, Teesside and Workington, clinching the victory in the final leg at the Boldon Stadium – and they did it without the injured Jack Millen.  Jack and Smithy were usually paired together in heat 13 (13 heat format in those days).  A sure fire 5-1 to the Stars on their home track you would think – not so, it would usually end up with one them not finishing the heat, usually Jack.  Maybe he was trying too hard to prove he was top dog, instead of making sure the points were in the bag – Smithy was always very quick out of the gate.  Dave Gatenby’s slow start to the season quickly gathered pace, his first full season saw him finish with a very respectful average of 5.27.  Meanwhile Jim Wells finished on 3.82, but still showed us enough of what was to come the following season.  Pete Wrathall kept plugging away (a good team man was Speedy Pete) and a young  local lad, John Robson was given a few outings.  All in all 1972 was a much improved season for the Sunderland Stars – better results, more entertainment, more for the fans to shout about – and we won a Trophy!   And above all there was the hope that we could get even better.
 
 

1973 The “Stars” Continue

 
This turned out to be Sunderland’s best season, in terms of league position – eleventh out of eighteen teams.  Well – not fantastic, but the racing certainly was!  Berwick promoter Liz Taylor took over the promotion at Sunderland, along with son Kenny who acted as team manager.  Graeme Smith was gone, much to the disappointment of the fans, he was a big hit with them.  Millen, Dent, Barclay, Wrathall and Wells were all back.  George Barclay’s son Terry was introduced into the line up, as well as Brian Havelock.  Crazy Jack suffered badly with injuries and only rode in 23 of the 36 league meetings.  Not that those injuries affected his points scoring – he recorded his highest average, 9.74.  That shows his dedication to his teams cause.  Jack never let injuries affect his form! 
 
Dave Gatenby’s form was a real surprise as he reached an ave. of 7.56, second only  to Jack Millen.  If that was a surprise what about Jim Wells – he DOUBLED his last years average to hit 7.44 ….. wow!   Russ and George were still doing the business for the team while young Terry Barclay raised a few eyebrows ending with an ave. of 4.66 The ever popular Pete Wrathall called it a day after 18 meetings, we missed having him around. 
 
Brian Havelock had a gutsy 4.64 average from 22 appearances, showing promise of better things to come – as we were soon to discover.  Russ Dent was back to his old self when he won the annual “Northern Star Chapionship” with a 15pt maximum at the Boldon track, with Dave Mills in second place and team mate Dave Gatenby in third place.  Bradford’s Dave Baugh had been the winner in 71-72.  Russ and Dave Gatenby met each other in their final ride – if  Dave had won, there would have been a three man run-off  for first spot!  Russ told me years later “I came under Dave a bit hard during that race” he said with a wink, hard but fair !!! 
 
Terry Barclay was loaned to a man short Chesterton team when they visited Sunderland, he came up trumps when he scored 10pts for them!  That score included a win over Russ and George.  Terry also created something of an unwanted record when he top scored for the Stars (minus Jack Millen) at Birmingham in a 63-15 thrashing – Terry scored 4pts!!!  One meeting definitely to forget.  Sunderland’s jinx track was Birmingham – they always got well hammered at the Perry Bar track – a case of “Brummie Bashing” me thinks. 
 
Typical of Sunderland, they bounced back the following week to thrash Berwick Bandits 54-24 at the Boldon track.  Russ Dent and Jim Wells both scored maximums, and George Barclay a paid max.  Jim Wells was the only rider to ride in all of the Stars meetings in 1973.  Jack Millen took over from Russ Dent as captain of the Stars, when Russ missed the start of the season, due to some contract dispute.  Bradford’s Dave Baugh equalled Ivan Mauger’s nine year track record on 22nd June (64.2).  Baugh certainly liked the Boldon track. Sunderland won two away meetings, both challenge matches.  They won at Newtongrange on the 13th June 41-37, and at Hull on the 15th June 40-38.
 
George and Terry Barclay won The Northern Pairs meeting at Sunderland on a very wet Friday evening.  To sum up this season - it’s a case of what might have been had Crazy Jack not been injured and missed so many meetings.  But we sure enjoyed it when he did ride. We had moved up the league, so there was plenty of optimism for the future.  Could we hold on to this team next season?  The answer was NO we couldn’t.  They gave us great entertainment, on a track the fans said was “too fair” to the opposition - little home advantage.  But then again the racing was great, if not nerve jangling – 40-38 was Heaven to the Sunderland fans.
 
 
1974 Gladiators Disaster
 
A new promotion took over Sunderland Speedway in 1974.  The promoters were Ron Fell and Alan Chorlton.  With them they gave the team a new name – “Sunderland Gladiators” also a new race jacket design and a new Captain – Dennis Gavros, formally with Hull Vikings.  Gone were the charismatic Jack Millen and the ever popular Dave Gatenby, also gone was young Terry Barclay.  In their place came Paul Callaghan and young Vic Harding.   They joined Dent, G. Barclay,Wells and Havelock from the previous season’s line-up.
 
The season got off to a winning start with a Challenge match against the Bradford Barons on the 5th April, the score being 46-32.  Russ Dent wearing the unfamiliar no. 5 jacket , top scored with 11pts.  Reserves Callaghan and Harding got off to a bright enough start scoring 5 and 7pts respectively.  A week later they lost to Teesside Tigers in the Knockout cup (37-41)  They bounced back a week later when they beat the Berwick Bandits 46-32.
 
After that it was downhill all the way for the “Gladiators”.  They won only two of their fist seventeen meetings!  And that is where the fans were lost, and the demise of Sunderland Speedway started.  The team that Fell and Chorlton put together just wasn’t strong enough.  The crowds dropped alarmingly, and that was the beginning of the end for the Gladiators.
 
The ground that they had fought so hard to gain in 73 - was lost – gone!  And so were Fell and Chorlton, by mid June they had also gone, as was Dennis Gavros.  And Russ Dent took up the captains armband once again.
 
The wounded Gladiators were rescued by last season’s Promoter Liz Taylor, she and son Kenny stepped in to try and save the season.  With the Taylor’s in charge we saw some improvement in results.  Andy Meldrum from Berwick and Tim Swales from Teesside had been brought in to shore up the beleaguered Sunderland racers.  The second half of the season saw the Gladiators win nine out of 19 meetings, (better then two from seventeen) but still not good enough to win back the fans.  The writing was on the wall!
 
Wells and Havelock took on the roll as leading points scorers for Sunderland, closely followed by Dent, Barclay and Swales.  Andy Meldrum surprised everyone by suddenly quitting speedway for good – a real shame because Andy was such a good rider.  His last ride was against Birmingham on the 23rd August.  And Gentleman George Barclay retired early for health reasons, his last ride being against the Weymouth Wizards on July 26th when Sunderland recorded their highest score 60-18.  Sunderland went on to gain their one and only away victory in their very last away match at Weymouth - 38-39
 
Vic Harding rode bravely in his first season in speedway, and went on to become a very good heat leader with Weymouth, also riding for Hackney in the 1st Division, where he sadly lost his life in a track accident.   John Hart set a new track record when Birmingham came to Sunderland on the 23rd August, in a time of 63.2 sec.  He also broke the three lap record at the same meeting.
 
Sunderland final meeting was against Stoke Potters on the 13th September.  They took  their bow with a 41-37 win.  Brian Havelock goes down on record as the last man to win a race at the Boldon Stadium, he won the Rider Of The Night Final, in a time of 66.4 sec.
 
That was it for the Stars/Gladiators ……. It was all over.  Speedway for the Sunderland fans would be just a memory – Boldon Stadium would remain silent, no longer the roar of speedway engines, just the patter of dogs around the dog track.
 
And so it remains to this day.
 
 • Russ Dent and George Barclay are the only riders to ride in all four seasons for the Stars/Gladiators.
Jack Millen attained the highest average for a Sunderland rider with 9.74 in 1973.
Russ Dent rode the most meetings. Had the most rides, Scored the most points, Scored most maximums and won the most Rider Of The Night Finals.
and
George Barclay scored the most bonus points.
 
Colin Armistead was Track Photographer and Clerk of the Course before becoming Team Manager in 1974.
Newcastle's Barry Wallace was the Track Announcer in 1973-4.
In Sunderland’s speedway history, they used five different race jackets designs, and five programme covers.  The programme used in seasons 1971-72 won an award.
Russ Dent (The Skipper) retired at the end of the 1974 season.
Bernie Aldridge was around fifty years old when he rode for Sunderland.
 
Some Nicknames:-
 
Rider Nickname
Russ Dent Captain Scarlet      
George Barclay Gentleman George Barclay                                                                                                                                                                   
Jack Millen Crazy Jack      
Graeme Smith The White Knight      
John Robson John the Bike      
Peter Wrathall Speedy Pete      
Dave Gatenby Sprockets      
John Goodall Skebu      
Bernie Aldridge Bernie the Bolt      

 John Skinner says: My Thanks to Bob Ferry for supplying the above text.  Will Sunderland ever come back?  I certainly hope so.


 
1964 Sunderland
 
 
 
Gordon Guasco Ken Sharples
Graham Coombes &
Jim Airey
 
 
 

Dave Collins

 
 
 
Ivor Maughor!
 
 

The greatest ever Speedway Rider Ivan Mauger had to endure so many misspellings of his surname but here his forename is misspelt also.  Ivor Maughor? no I don't think so!

 

 
 
1971 Sunderland
 
 
 
 
John Knock (White Leathers)
& John Goodall
 
 

 
 
1972 Sunderland
 
 
1972. Colin Armistead, Jim Wells, Graeme Smith, George Barclay, Jack Millen, Dave Gatenby, Pete Wrathall on bike Russ Dent
 
 

Russ Dent

 
 
 

Crazy Jack Millen

 
 

 
 
1973 Sunderland
 
 
1973 Sunderland Stars: Ken Taylor, Pete Wrathall, Russ Dent, George Barclay, Brian Havelock, Dave Gatenby, Terry Barclay, Jim Wells, John Robson. On bike Jack Millen
 
 
 
 

1973 Jack Millen Leads v Crewe

 
 
The Crewe rider in white helmet is on a bad line and unless he shuts off he will be  causing a stoppage not to mention upsetting Crazy Jack Millen if he makes contact.
 
 

Terry Barclay

 
 
 

The Biggest Crowd Sunderland
Rode In Front Of

 
 
Sunderland riders John Robson and Peter Wrathall riding around the apron of Sunderland FC's 1973 ground, Roker Park. 50,000 football fans watched the bikes go around the pitch. When they warmed the bikes up, they put the Match of the Day TV recording out of action!
 

 
 
1974 The Sunderland Gladiators
 
 
1974 The Gladiators. George Barclay, Jim Wells, Colin Armistead, Brian Havelock, Russ Dent  Derek Fell, Vic Harding, John Robson
 
 

Russ Dent Leads Rye House Rocket
Pete Wigley In 1974

 
 
 
Brian Johnson & Crewe's
Cliff Anderson 1974
 
 
 

Russ Dent Leads Vic Harding & Doug Underwood Of Scunthorpe In 1974

 
 
 
1974 Eastbourne v Sunderland
 
 

 Sunderland's Jim Wells leads.  An excellent shot from an unusual angle of the Eastbourne track

 

 
This is the end of my tribute for Sunderland's fans 1964, 1971-1974.  Forty years have passed without speedway in the city of Sunderland.  Will it ever come back?  Not likely but who can tell what the future has in store.  I suspect it would only be possible if Newcastle closed down again and that is not in the best interest of the sport in the north east of England.
 

 
The contents of the site are © and should not be reproduced elsewhere for financial gain. The contributors to this site gave the pictures and information on that understanding.  If anyone has any issue or objections to any items on the site please e-mail and I will amend or remove the item.  Where possible credit has been given to the owner of each item.