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Speedway buff tells of shock at refusal

SPEEDWAY enthusiast Calvin Hughes says he was shocked by the borough council's decision to block the sport's return to Ellesmere Port.

SPEEDWAY enthusiast Calvin Hughes says he was shocked by the borough council's decision to block the sport's return to Ellesmere Port.

He said: 'I couldn't believe it when I heard the news. I don't know how the council can be so naïve. The bikes are all modified with better silencers and dirt deflectors, so hardly any shale comes up and there's no dust in the air.'

And Calvin, 42, of Overpool, should know the difference between today's bikes and the racing machines of yesteryear, for he started working at Thornton Road Stadium as a raker on the track when speedway first came to Ellesmere Port in 1972.

Following the demise of the Gunners in 1985 he has been forced to travel to Stoke and Belle Vue to get his regular doses of the sport by following the fortunes of the respective Potters and Aces teams.

He said: 'I was a 13-year-old schoolboy when I first joined the Gunners. There was a group of about six of us who used to prepare the track. Three of us would be on each big bend and we had to make sure there were no ruts. We also brought the shale back on so the track wasn't bare.'

Calvin was later promoted to become a bike 'pusher' and look after the machines before and after races.

By the time of the Gunners' final season, in 1985, when Ellesmere Port bowed out of speedway as League Champions, Calvin had risen to become a team mechanic.

He said: 'When we found out the Gunners would not be returning we were all gutted. We'd just won the league and had a great team. I don't know if they finished because of promoter Mervyn Porter's other business interests or captain Joe Owen's injury, which affected everyone in a way.'

Calvin recalls the buzz in the town when speedway first arrived.

He said: 'Everyone was excited and there was big TV coverage from World of Sport on ITV. The atmosphere on race nights was fantastic and we'd get big crowds of 4-5,000. The 70s were a real boom time for the sport and the popularity reached its zenith with the 100,000 crowd for the World Finals at Wembley.'

Many of speedway's best riders raced in Ellesmere Port and Calvin recalls the galaxy of stars that graced the Thornton Road track.

He said: 'The American superstars caught the imagination. One of my favourites was the great Bruce Penhall from California, who was World Champion in 1981 and 1982. He also went on to become a well-established actor, playing Bruce Nelson in the hit TV show CHiPs.'

There were plenty of impressive riders in the Gunners line-ups too and Calvin picks out some of the big names.

He said: 'Graham Drury was a popular rider and was always a good points-scorer. He was replaced by John Jackson, who was our number one for several years.

'He was hardly ever beaten on the Thornton Road track and seemed to take maximum points every week.'

Although most of the riders were out-of-towners, there was great pride in the town when Port lad Peter Ellams made his way into the first team.

Calvin said: 'Peter was a great home-grown talent. He worked his way up through the ranks and turned out for the senior side in 1980 and 1981.'

The excitement of seeing their heroes in action also inspired many Ellesmere Port youngsters.

Calvin said: 'The young children would try and copy the riders on their push bikes. They built their own mock-up track in Whitby Park and would recreate the Gunners' matches.

'If you look at the state of the stadium now, it's such a shame. Greyhound racing is in a downward trend whereas speedway is on its way back up and could reach its 1970s levels by being the most popular spectator sport after football.'

Public opinion mostly favours sport's return

by Christopher Beesley, Ellesmere Port Pioneer

PROMOTER Tony Mole is due to announce next week whether he will appeal against the council's decision to reject his plan to revive speedway at Thornton Road Stadium.

His intentions are still unknown, as he has been on holiday and will not return to the UK until Monday.

Before he went away, Mr Mole told the Pioneer he would base his decision on public opinion.

Since then, the Pioneer has been inundated with letters and e-mails about the stadium issue, the vast majority of which are in support of Mr Mole's plans.

Former Ellesmere Port Gunners' captain and prospective team manager, Graham Drury said: 'I've never seen so much reaction in all my 30 years involved in speedway. I've always thought public opinion can move mountains and in this case I think it could move Everest.'

Tommy Griffiths, the only councillor to vote in favour of the speedway plan, believes it is time to examine the facts and end the speculation.

He said: 'I'm very upset with what's been happening. I just want something up and running. The site is derelict at the moment and it needs to be cleaned up, but nothing is getting done. I don't care what sport we use the stadium for as long as it helps bring the estate up to scratch.

'I don't want to let Stanney Grange become run down, I want to build it up. The people of the area have got to get involved.'

Potential uses for stadium are being investigated

THE area surrounding Thornton Road Stadium is in need of more recreational amenities and the site has not been earmarked for an extension to Cheshire Oaks.

These facts are revealed in the borough's Local Plan, which is nearing completion after being updated for the first time in eight years.

In the wake of the council's rejection of a plan to revive speedway at the stadium, we took a closer look at the overall planning blueprint for the area.

It states the council's aim to improve the M53/Shropshire Union Canal corridor, which includes the stadium, through environmental upgrading to provide more attractive landscapes and recreation amenities for residents.

One such recreational use could be a return to live sporting action at Thornton Road, but the exact nature of what this will be is still unknown.

Council chiefs favour greyhound racing, despite previous leaseholders Track Star Promotions going into liquidation earlier this year.

But they refuse to back down over their controversial blocking of promoter Tony Mole's speedway proposal.

Rejection of Tony Mole's speedway plan for Thornton Road also appears to comply with the council's general policy towards noise.

The Local Plan identifies the area as noise-sensitive and points out there is another site the council has set aside for noisy sports on the other side of the M53 near to Stanlow.

The sports given as examples of possible uses for this are motorbike scrambling or paintball.

Residents' fears that Thornton Road Stadium is earmarked for an expansion of Cheshire Oaks are also addressed.

The location for both the retail and business park areas of the Cheshire Oaks and Coliseum developments are clearly highlighted elsewhere on the plan's map and go nowhere near the stadium.

What are your views on the future use of Thornton Road Stadium? E-mail your opinions to us at pioneer@ chronicle.u-net.com


David Holmes
Chief News Reporter
David Norbury
Mike Fuller
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