UNDERNEATH the spiralling ribbon of roads where the A66 dissects the A19 at the southern end of the Tees flyover lies a piece of British sporting history.

The site of Cleveland Park Stadium on Stockton Road in Middlesbrough may now be home to the Goals complex of artificial soccer pitches owned by MacMillan College, but for much of the 20th Century it was an integral part of Teesside heritage hosting both greyhound and speedway racing.

It began life in 1928 when Jack French formed the National Greyhounds Middlesbrough Ltd on an eleven-acre site of former allotments in the Ayresome Ward, just south of the River Tees and from then onwards, dogs and bikes attracted decent crowds over the years, despite one or two interruptions and relocations, before it finally closed its doors at the end of 1996.

The speedway team was renowned for showcasing local talent over the years under the guises of Middlesbrough Bears, The Teessiders and Teesside Tigers, and enjoyed plenty of success, the highlight being winning the National League Championship in 1981.

As well as traditional league competitions, the track hosted a number of high-profile individual meetings, including the end-of season Battle of Britain Trophy in September 1963 following a memorable time for the Bears fans. Just three weeks earlier, Ivan Mauger, riding for Newcastle Diamonds and who would go on to win six world titles, set the four-lap course record before reigning world champion Peter Craven wowed the crowds the week before setting a new three-lap course record in a match versus Norwich.

The Bears had endured mixed fortunes in 1963 and ended the Provincial League season third bottom, after a series of injuries to key riders had plagued their season. So, the chance to shine on home soil was a great incentive for the Bears, who were up against riders from Newcastle, Cradley Heath and Long Eaton.

Newcastle’s Mike Watkin won the opening heat before Middlesbrough skipper Eric Boocock took heat two. Long Eaton’s Australian sensation Bluey Scott was victorious in heat three whilst Cradley Heath rider Ivor Brown took the flag in heat four. John Mills edged out Bears teammate Boocock in heat five before Brown defeated Watkin in heat six. Boro’s Clive Hitch took heat seven with Heathen Ivor Davies winning heat eight. Alan Butterfield for the Bears claimed heat nine prior to the interval.

The meeting continued through the second half, including Middlesbrough riders Jack Swales, Maurice Tate, the emerging Dave Younghusband, Kevin Torpie and John Fitzpatrick all getting on the scorecard as the meeting progressed.

And so onto the final heat which saw Boocock needing to defeat Brown in order to force a ‘run-off’ for the prestigious title and trophy which had kindly been donated by the Middlesbrough branch of R.A.F.A.

Younghusband was there to try to assist his teammate whilst Coventry’s Matt Mattox was a late replacement for Newcastle Diamonds star Brian Craven.

With the crowd on tenterhooks and cheering for the hometown skipper, Boocock did what he needed and edged out Brown to win and with both riders on 14 points, and Scott back on 13 points, it was down to a two-rider run-off to determine the title.

But the drama wasn’t over and as Boocock arrived at the tapes, there was no sign of Heathen’s caption Brown, whose machine was suspected of developing a mechanical fault, so the crown went to Yorkshire-born Boocock by means of a ‘walkover’.

Following the 1964 season, Bears promoter Reg Fearman opened up a speedway track at The Shay in Halifax and moved his Middlesbrough riders, including Boocock, there to form the Halifax Dukes. It meant league speedway was absent from Cleveland Park until 1968 where it remained until the last meeting in September 1996.

However, speedway still lives on in the region with the Redcar Bears racing most Friday nights at the Media Prime Arena at the South Tees Motorsport Park complex, once current restrictions are lifted.

  • A special thanks to Steve Harland for his help in compiling this article.

Dateline: Friday, September 13, 1963

Location: Middlesbrough Speedway

Meeting: Battle of Britain Trophy Meeting

Cost/Pages: 9 Shillings