|Track address||The Shay
|Founded||1928, 1949, 1965|
|Closed||1930, 1952, 1985|
|Website||Halifax Dukes Website|
|Colours||Red and Blue with White Elephant|
|Track size||400 yards|
|Major team honours|
The Halifax Dukes were a Speedway team which operated from 1949–1951 and again from 1965 until their closure in 1985 at The Shay Stadium in Halifax. The team were nicknamed the 'Dukes' after the local Duke Of Wellington's regiment stationed in the town, and even used their elephant symbol on the race jacket.
A team called Halifax Nomads operated racing a few fixtures in 1948, and speedway in Halifax was originally staged at Thrum Hall between 1928 and 1930.
On 8 February 1949 construction began on a new speedway track at The Shay. The team enjoyed good support during the opening season with a crowd of over 18,000 attending one meeting in September. However attendances soon dropped and at the end of the 1951 season the club closed. On 31 March 1952, Dukes promoter Bruce Booth announced the end of speedway 'while rates and taxation remains at the present levels'.
After a lengthy absence, the sport returned to The Shay in 1965 when Reg Fearman moved his Middlesbrough promotion. The new team opened to big attendances as the sport hit another 'boom' period and the 'Dukes' popularity was re-inforced by winning the British League Championship and KO Cup in only their second year of operation, 1966. In 1969, the team's captain, local geengrocer Eric Boothroyd retired from riding after a long and successful career to join Reg Fearman as Co-Promoter. By the early 1970s, the Dukes were enjoying higher attendances than the Shaymen (Halifax Town). However, by the mid 1980s, Halifax Dukes and Halifax Town had financial disagreements and in 1986 The Dukes left The Shay and Halifax, moving to Bradford's Odsal Stadium to become the Bradford Dukes.
1965 Season - finished 5th (39pts) out of 18
The 1965 season saw a major transformation for the sport. Previously the old National and Provincial Leagues had run as separate organisations with the Provincial League initially being unrecognised by the sports controlling authorities, but the gradual decline in numbers of the "official" National League during the early Sixties led to a reconciliation between the two bodies and the merger of the two leagues leading to the establishment of a single British League for the 1965 Season.
At the same time Reg Fearman, one of the leading promoters in the Provincial League, took the opportunity of opening up a new track at the Shay Grounds Halifax and entered the new league. This was a big, fast track laid around the existing Halifax Town football pitch with high banking around all corners - just the recipe for high speeds and exciting racing and a considerable advantage for the home riders.
As a result of the merger of the two leagues prior to the start of the season, a control body had been set up to "equalise" the teams. This was needed because the remaining National League sides had team strengths way above those of the Provincial League sides and a certain redistribution of star riders from the stronger to the weaker sides was recognised by all as a necessity to ensure a competitive league competition. As with all such exercises, the process was highly contentious as promoters tried to ensure the strongest possible line up and riders (naturally) had preferences about where they wanted to ride.
From a Halifax perspective, the process looked like it had delivered a poor result. Reg Fearman had decided to close his operation at Middlesbrough (performing as a mid-table side in the Provincial League) at the end of 1964, and as a result was able to bring some of those riders to the new Halifax side - these consisted of the up-and coming Dave Younghusband and Eric Boocock, and a steady middle order man in Clive Hitch. He'd also been able to persuade ex-England international Eric Boothroyd (now running a grocer's business in Halifax) to come out of retirement and captain the new side. The rider control process had allocated the Dukes one ex-England international, Bryan Elliott from Coventry and the team was made up by a number of young, inexperienced Australians - Bert Kingston, Bob Jameson and later Dennis Gavros.
Most experienced observers predicted a year of struggle for the new team.
This feeling was initially confirmed when the team failed to make an impression in their first away matches at the Belle Vue Aces and Newport Wasps before opening their gates at the Shay to an enormous 5-figure crowd on 17 April. The opposition were the Long Eaton Archers, a team destined to struggle all season long, but with the young Ray Wilson and Kid Bodie both flying round the new circuit and the Dukes hampered by the absence of Bryan Elliott (injured the previous night at Newport) the “Archers” dampened the crowds celebrations by winning 41 – 36.
Success at the Shay was not long in coming however and the Dukes soon beat off the challenge of the Newport Wasps and Coventry Bees before recording a comfortable 43-34 win over local rivals the Sheffield Tigers. During this period Eric Boocock and Dave Younghusband were establishing themselves as forces to be reckoned with in the new league and Eric Boothroyd and Bryan Elliott (especially away matches) provided plenty of support. Clive Hitch was clearly struggling to come to terms with his new home circuit however and the young Aussies were inconsistent and still finding their feet. A month into the season and it seemed as though the team might hold their own at home, but would continue to struggle away from the Shay. To the encouragement of the promoter however, the good early crowd levels were holding up as the Halifax public took to their new team in a big way.
Excitement levels were maintained throughout May and early June as the team embarked on an incredible series of matches with last heat deciders at the Shay. During this period the team forced home 39-39 draws with Swindon Robins and Glasgow Tigers before taking a narrow one point win 39-38 against future champions the West Ham Hammers. This was immediately followed by yet another home draw against ex-National League legends the Wimbledon Dons. The home crowds were definitely getting their money's worth, but vital league points were slipping away, and the team sank to the lower reaches of the league table.
In the middle of June, the promotion found a way of strengthening the side. Clive Hitch was still struggling to come to terms with the high banking of the Shay track, and was allowed to move on to Long Eaton and in came the much travelled Tommy Roper after spells with Sheffield and Long Eaton earlier in the season. This proved a master stroke as Roper immediately started hitting high scores and was soon an effective fourth heat leader. Boocock and Younghusband were now almost unbeatable round the Shay, and hitting high scores on the teams travels as well. With Dennis Gavros and Bert Kingston beginning to provide regular support from the lower end of the team the “Dukes” were becoming a team to be reckoned with.
Substantial home wins were now becoming the norm, culminating in a 62-16 thrashing of a sorry Cradley Heath Heathens side on 10 July with Boocock, Younghusband, Roper and Elliott all gaining full or paid maxima. A first league away win 41-36 at Long Eaton provided revenge for the opening night defeat at the Shay, and initiated a run of 4 further away wins (at the Poole Pirates, Edinburgh Monarchs, Swindon Robins and Glasgow Tigers) out of the remaining 7 away matches. Combined with a solid set of home wins during the remainder of the season, the Dukes soared up the table to finally finish in 5th place. This could easily have been 3rd had the away match with Cradley Heath been ridden, but this fixture was left unfulfilled following two rain-offs.
All in all, the 1965 season could be considered a major success with crowd levels high all year. A weakish looking team at the start had gelled over the early part of the season, added some strength in Roper mid-way through the year and finished almost as strongly as the League Champions, West Ham. Boocock and Younghusband had justified the promotor's faith by developing into established British League stars and Eric Boothroyd had taken on the mantle of captain with aplomb – both in encouraging the younger riders and in delivering match winning performances in support of the top two. Bryan Elliott had faded slightly after some promising early season performances, but still provided solid second string support throughout and Tommy Roper provided the catalyst for the late season recovery by delivering a fourth heat leader performance. Of the Aussies, Dennis Gavros had been the pick of the bunch and Bert Kingston had held a team spot all year – it was a season for consolidation with the promise of more to come in 1966.
1965 Averages (League and Cup matches) :
|Rider||Matches||Rides||Bonus Pts||Total Points||CMA|
1966 Season - finished 1st (54pts) out of 19
The main question at the start of the new 1966 season was whether the team could live up to the expectations created by the strong finish at the end of the previous year?
It looked like the loss of Bryan Elliott who had emigrated to Australia during the winter would weaken the team as the only addition was Greg Kentwell who was yet another in the supply of promising young Aussies that promoter Reg Fearman had tapped into, but he was an unknown quantity in British League terms.
Success therefore looked like depending on the heat leaders from the previous season maintaining their progress, and for last years Aussies (Kingston, Gavros and Jameson) building on their experience from 1965 and taking significant steps forward.
A series of good away performances at the start of the season showed some promise although there was still only patchy support to Boocock, Younghusband and Boothroyd from the rest of the team. Unfortunately, after a good 41-37 win over last years champions the West Ham Hammersin their first home league encounter, the team surprisingly lost 38-40 in their next match at the Shay to the Newcastle Diamonds. It was a controversial match full of incident - machine failures and falls costing the Dukes dear. The highlight of these early matches was the form shown by captain Eric Boothroyd, but by the end of May the team were languishing in the lower half of the table with the Coventry Bees showing the best early season form to lead the table by 4 points.
June however saw a change in fortune as the team racked up big home wins against Newport Wasps and Long Eaton Archersas well as a first KO cup win 57-39 against the Glasgow Tigers. This was combined with good away wins at Long Eaton, Exeter Falcons and a magnificent 41-37 win at the West Ham Hammers where Eric Boocock underlined his progress with an impeccable maximum 12 points. Although the contribution from the heat leaders was vital, it was the improved results from Tommy Roper and the Aussie brigade that was making the difference. Solid home scoring from Kingston, Gavros and Jameson was being complemented by more effective away form that was now showing in the team results. At the end of June, although Coventry were still 7 points clear, Halifax had shot up the table to joint second with Swindon, Belle Vue and Glasgow.
It began to look as though the bubble might have burst at the start of July when the Dukes lost heavily at both title rivals Coventry Bees (25-52) and Swindon Robins (29-49) in successive weeks - the ex-national sides heat leader strength proving too much even for the emerging Eric Boocock to master. Despite these reverses good home form kept the Dukes in contention, but July ended with further problems with both Eric Boothroyd and Eric Boocock on the injury list.
Despite the lack of the two Erics, sterling performances from Dave Younghusband and Tommy Roper plus significant contributions from guest riders Ron Mountford and Cyril Maidment brought two further away wins at the Oxford Cheetahs and Hackney Hawks. This proved to be the start of an amazing run of wins for the team which, with a full team again, saw them unbeaten through to the end of September. At this stage the team were still 3 points behind Coventry at the top of the league, but the momentum was with the Dukes and not even the loss of Bert Kingston with a broken ankle in a cup victory over West Ham could dampen the enthusiasm around the team. Meanwhile, Coventry were struggling to maintain their progress following a dispute with their captain Jim Lightfoot which led to him missing a number of crucial matches. The only cloud on the horizon were a couple of official protests after the wins at West Ham (about the use of Kingston at reserve) and Hackney (about the injury to Eric Boothroyd), but the authorities eventually found in favour of the Dukes so the points were secure.
October saw the realisation of the teams and supporters dreams, where home and away wins against the Belle Vue Aces saw Halifax snatch the league title away from Coventry literally at the death. Then a massive 69-27 thumping of the Wimbledon Dons in the first leg of the KO cup final made the result of the away leg (a 44-52 defeat) academic as the team went on to scoop up both major competitions – just as West Ham had done the previous year. A marvellous achievement that earned the respect of even their most consistent critics.
So 1966 had ended as a memorable year, culminating in a record run of 15 consecutive league victories with all the team improving their averages and contributing to the success. Eric Boocock established himself as the star rider and made the breakthrough as a regular in the Gt Britain team. Dave Younghusband was a consistent high score all year after some initial problems with new machinery, but it was Eric Boothroyd who came up with a true captains performance adding over a point on his previous years average. Of the rest, Tommy Roper again proved a remarkably effective “fourth heat leader” scoring particularly well during the second half of the year and Bert Kingston established himself as the best of the Aussie second strings although both Dennis Gavros and Bob Jameson had many memorable meetings. Greg Kentwell had only a limited number of opportunities in the team, but had confirmed the promise with which he’d arrived and spent much of the year loaned out to Long Eaton to gain more experience.
1966 Averages (League and Cup matches) :
|Rider||Matches||Rides||Bonus Pts||Total Points||CMA|
1967 Season - finished 7th (37pts) out of 19
The successes of the previous year had provided a warm glow for all the supporters that lasted through most of the Winter. Then a cloud appeared on the horizon - in the shape of the dreaded Rider Control Committee.
Other promoters were insistent that the Dukes were too strong and in the interests of keeping the league competitive should release a rider. Various rumours circulated at the start of the year but Reg Fearman was clearly under pressure to make a concession and after some hard negotiations, Tommy Roper was whipped over the Pennines to bolster the Belle Vue Aces following the retirement of captain Dick Fisher. Halifax were given “permission” to replace him with one of their own assets - Greg Kentwell. However, despite Kentwell's promise of further progress in the coming year, it was effectively replacing a heat leader with a junior. The local supporters were not impressed, and Rider Control Committee members were not welcome in West Yorkshire!
Nevertheless, the team still had the core strength of Eric Boocock, Dave Younghusband and Eric Boothroyd – a match for most. There was also good reason to believe that Bert Kingston and maybe Dennis Gavros could progress into the sort of solid scoring second strings that could fill the gap left by Roper. So most supporters viewed the coming season with some hope of success – if only things went the Dukes way!
The season started on Apr 1st with a disappointingly comprehensive away defeat (26-52) at the Swindon Robins and even though this was without an ill Dave Younghusband it wasn’t the start that the team needed. A narrow (37-41) defeat at the Newport Wasps showed more promise and a win (47-31) in the first home match against the Belle Vue Aces showed that the team would be strong at home, but the return of Tommy Roper in opposition colours was doubly disappointing. He scored only one, but was involved in a crash with Bob Jameson and this put the young Aussie on the Injury List until July – an unfortunate sign of things to come!
It was the beginning of May before the Dukes managed an away win (42-36) at Cradley Heath with Dave Youghusband extending his unbeaten run against the Heathens with a fine maximum. This was without Bert Kingston though who’d crashed heavily the previous Saturday in the home win over Glasgow and been diagnosed with a fractured skull which was to sideline him for 3 months. It was followed almost immediately by an upset at home when the Coventry Bees scrambled a draw. It was after a tightly fought contest, partly down to a below par score from Eric Boocock who had been suffering engine problems for some time and spent most of this match on borrowed equipment. Then, as if to underline the inconsistency, the Dukes went to Newcastle two days later and beat a highly rated Diamonds side by 44-34 with Dennis Gavros suddenly finding some away form with 6 paid 8. Unfortunately, this was to be the last away success of the year.
Maurie Robinson and untried Aussie newcomer Les Bentzen had been drafted in to cover for the injured riders, but realistically were hard pressed to match the expected scores from Kingston and Jameson. The scene was thus set for a period of generally strong results at home, but little to show from their travels where the inability of the second-strings to support the top 3 was leaving the Dukes short of firepower on away tracks.
June saw an early departure out of the KO Cup at the Poole Pirates where, despite track protests and an injury to captain Eric Boothroyd the Dukes went down to a 36-60 defeat. The month also saw the departure of Maurie Robinson from the team with a badly broken thumb following an horrendous smash at the Shay in the match against the Sheffield Tigers where the unlucky (or maybe very lucky) rider hit the fence hard and was thrown into the crowd.
One bright spot throughout this period was the form of Eric Boocock. He had overcome his early machine problems and was now established as a true international star, underlined by his top scoring for Great Britain in the series against Sweden and some magical moments in the following series against Poland (including an 18 point maximum in the home test at Halifax).
By the end of August, the team had established a consistent mid-table position following some solid home performances and despite the loss of Dave Younghusband for four matches with yet another injury. His return to track action at the end of the month however was an unfortunate affair. This was against Cradley Heath at the Shay on a very damp night. After winning his opening ride, Younghusband joined fellow Halifax riders Eric Boocock and Dennis Gavros in walking out of the meeting in protest at the track conditions despite the referee ruling that the match should progress. Halifax were allowed special dispensation to bring Maurie Robinson into the side as a replacement, and the match went ahead with various levels of enthusiasm from the remaining riders. Almost inevitably this led to the Dukes first and only home defeat of the season by a narrow 38-39 margin and despite the sterling effort of Bob Jameson who top scored with 12 from 6 rides.
September was memorable for Eric Boocock’s 3rd place in the British Final (12 pts) at West Ham behind Barry Briggs and Ivan Mauger to qualify for his first world final at Wembley. In the big event itself he came away with a very creditable 6th place on 9 points after winning his first ride and scoring in each of his others.
For the team however the season petered out in a fairly low key way with more home wins (including a 61-17 thrashing of King’s Lynn – a record), and yet more away defeats. This culminated in a poor 32 point thrashing at Oxford (23-55) at the end of September where only Eric Boocock with 12 did himself any justice. At least the final home match of the year at the Shay on 7th Oct produced a good pay night for the Dukes with all the team scoring heavily as the Newport Wasps were despatched 60-18. Only regular to miss out was Greg Kentwell who’d sailed back to Australia a couple of weeks earlier, and fittingly Bert Kingston scored his first league paid maximum for the club in what was to be his last match in England.
So in the end, luck didn’t go with the Dukes. The loss of Roper and the seemingly never-ending series of injuries proved too much to overcome. A final league position of 7th was better than 12 other teams could manage, but was a disappointment after so much success the previous year. Of the riders, Eric Boocock had scored much the same as the previous season but had clearly improved further. Dave Younghusband had upped his average and become the team’s most effective scorer at the Shay with an average in excess of 11. Eric Boothroyd had dropped back a little, but was still a very solid heat leader. The real difference from the previous season lay below these 3 where none of the young Aussies were able to raise their game home and away to make up for the loss of Roper. Kingston had suffered a career threatening injury almost from the off which eventually led to his retirement from British Speedway. Gavros was gloriously inconsistent away but excellent at home. Greg Kentwell had developed into a useful rider and Maurie Robinson had looked promising before also succumbing to the injury blight. Bob Jameson and Les Bentzen had found the year a struggle – particularly on their travels away from the Shay.
1967 Averages (League and Cup matches) :
|Rider||Matches||Rides||Bonus Pts||Total Points||CMA|
1968 Season - finished 7th (39pts) out of 19
During the Winter of 1967/8, it looked as though the Dukes would track an almost identical team in 1968 to the 1967 side. Definitely gone were Bert Kingston who’d retired back to Australia, and Les Bentzen who’d decided against another year with the team. Complications then arose in the New Year when Dave Younghusband put in a transfer request, which was eventually resolved by promoter Reg Fearman and later, when Dennis Gavros damaged a wrist in a garage accident that would mean missing the start of the season. Ironic really, as the promising young second-string had decided not to return to race in Australia during the Winter in order to be ready for the new season in England.
Fortunately, Fearman was able to come up with a ready made temporary replacement in Alan Jay, a very useful rider at Sheffield for the past few seasons, but who’d been allowed to leave by the Owlerton management. Throw in a late announcement of the capture of yet another exciting young Australian, Les Sharpe - and this was on the personal recommendation of the great Aub Lawson. Then add the excellent form of Greg Kentwell in the Winter test series Down Under against the England touring side and suddenly the Dukes were looking like having a side with real potential. But would that translate to results?
The season started at the end of March with another trip to a strong looking Swindon Robins side. The Robins comfortably saw off the Duke’s challenge by 48-30, but Eric Boocock inflicted an early defeat on Swindon legend Barry Briggs on his way to an excellent 14 points. Boothroyd aside with a creditable 9 points however, the rest of the team found the going tough.
April saw the Dukes kick-off the home campaign with a good win against the Wolverhampton Wolves by 49-29 setting a trend for solid, comfortable home wins against Swindon, Belle Vue and Leicester during the rest of the month. Away, the team seemed to find another gear after the Swindon drubbing to go down to relatively narrow defeats at Sheffield, Leicester and the Wimbledon Dons. The top three were piling in the points again and Alan Jay was giving better support where a 10 point haul around his old stomping ground at Owlerton almost brought the Dukes a first away win of the year. Of the Aussies, Greg Kentwell was scoring well at home but didn’t yet seem capable of carrying that form onto the away tracks. Bob Jameson was very inconsistent and newcomer Les Sharpe was predictably taking time to find his feet in English speedway.
The end of April saw the Dukes see off a strong-looking Exeter Falcons side in the KO cup 57-50, but were well and truly walloped in a league fixture at the Falcons County Ground home a few days later. The writing was on the wall when Dave Younghusband dropped out of the team for domestic reasons, but even so no one was expecting the team to muster only 19 points as the home riders ran riot.
Progress in the KO cup was brought to an abrupt end later in May as a full Dukes side went down to a disappointing defeat at the Wolves by 47-60, the team again relying too heavily on their three heat leaders with the rest contributing just 10 points between them.
Early in June, the promotion ran a double header to catch up on some previous rain-offs. The Dukes quickly dispatched the Glasgow Tigers by 50-27 in the first match, and this despite a lowly 4 points from Boocock, who was in the middle of a spell of mechanical trouble with his bikes. The second match brought on the Sheffield Tigers who proceeded to snatch a 39-39 draw and dent the club’s previous 100% home record. This time it was Younghusband who was off the pace with only 4 points, and the rest of the side were unable to compensate in an exciting match leading to a last heat decider won by ‘Tigers’ star Bob Paulson. Alan Jay contributed a well-earned paid 9 points in what was to be his last home match following the return of a fit again Dennis Gavros.
Just as the Dukes’ management were coming to terms with dropping the home point against one set of ‘Tigers’, the trip north to face the Glasgow Tigers in the return match a few days later brought the smiles back on their faces. With Jay getting a couple of wins in his last match for the Dukes, a rare away win from Kentwell and a solid 5 paid 6 from Les Sharpe, there was finally some support for the heat leaders and the Dukes came away with a solid 44-34 victory. Maybe this was a turning point?
The next couple of months were to prove that these hopes were unfounded. Dennis Gavros immediately setted into a high scoring run at home with a paid max in his second match against Oxford Cheetahs who were soundly dispatched 56-22 and then scored a full max against King’s Lynn ‘Stars’ a couple of matches later. Unfortunately, he couldn’t match this on the away tracks, and as before the Dukes were unable to get effective support to the top three. Reserve Maurie Robinson was brought in for a while to replace youngster Les Sharpe and although more effective at the Shay, was also struggling to score significantly on away tracks.
The World Championship rounds had seen four Dukes riders through to the Semis, with Greg Kentwell joining Boocock, Younghusband and Boothroyd, but he found the going at Poole a little too tough and dropped out along with a disappointing performance from skipper Eric Boothroyd. Both Boocock and Younghusband represented Halifax in the British Final at Wimbledon where Eric was in fine form to clinch 3rd place with 13 points behind the formidable New Zealand pair of second place Barry Briggs and champion Ivan Mauger. Dave Younghusband had to fight hard for 6 points to see him through as last qualifier for the next round. This was as far as he went however, scoring just 1 point in the Nordic-British final and, although Boocock qualified easily for the European Final, he went down with travel sickness on his way to the event in Wroclaw, Poland and was unable to compete. A sad end to his world championship hopes.
Mid-Summer saw a plethora of international matches. First against the Russian tourists closely followed by internationals against Sweden and Poland leading up to the newly formed World League. Eric Boocock was now a regular in the England team, and missed a number of Halifax matches due to fixture clashes, and with Younghusband also out for a couple of weeks through illness during July the promotion was kept busy making sure that the Dukes had effective sides out. They were almost undone at the end of July when the Ivan Mauger led Newcastle Diamonds arrived at the Shay and left on the back of a very close 38-40 defeat. Fortunately Eric Boocock was back for this one and scored an impressive 15 point maximum as the Dukes used rider replacement for the missing Younghusband. This included the only defeat of Ivan Mauger all night and an impressive last heat win to snatch the points for the Dukes when he came from the back to beat young Danish newcomer Ole Olsen and experienced Dave Gifford. This match also heralded the return of a rejuvenated Les Sharpe to the team.
A bit of a spat with the landlords, the local Football Club, at the end of August enlivened things for promoter Reg Fearman. They seemed keen to take a bigger share of the proceeds from the healthy crowds still flocking to the Shay every Saturday, but he was able to fall back onto the original contracts and the Town directors backed down before anything serious could transpire.
The remainder of the season then settled down into the familiar pattern of generally comfortable home wins, and equally comfortable away defeats. Exeter, Poole and West Ham kept things reasonably close at the Shay before the Dukes embarked on season ending scoring spree seeing off Coatbridge Monarchs 51-27 and Hackney Hawks 54-24. The final home match was against regular ‘whipping boys’ of the time, Cradley Heath, and the team didn’t disappoint racing to a 56-22 win with Gavros, Younghusband and Boocock hitting paid maxima and Greg Kentwell scoring his second consecutive home full maximum to finish the season off in real style.
The reverse was true away from home, with big defeats at Newcastle (28-50) and Coatbridge (26-52) followed by a better performance at Waterden Road where they went down to the Hackney Hawks by 32-46. By co-incidence, the final away match was also against Cradley Heath and the Dukes brought their away campaign to an end with a good 41-37 victory to maintain their unbeaten record against the ‘Heathens’ at Dudley and finish seventh again in the table. Boocock and Younghusband were unbeaten by the home riders and Les Sharpe had a couple of seconds to emphasize his strong performances at the bottom end of the team as the season petered out.
So, all in all, it was an ‘as you were’ year for the Dukes. Seventh place again in the league was respectable and solid performances at home had kept the faithful happy. In the main, the team had avoided the injury plague of the previous year, but the lack of support for the top three away from home meant that a serious challenge for the top of the table never materialised. Boocock, Younghusband and Boothroyd were all slightly down in the averages from 1967, but were still as effective a heat leader trio as most teams could muster. Alan Jay had performed well while deputising for Gavros in the early months and had shown signs of providing the away support required. The promotion tried hard to keep him when Gavros finally returned, but the control board insisted on moving him to Newcastle. As in previous seasons the Aussie contingent were good at home but generally weak away. Dennis Gavros did well to come back mid-season and score competitively from the off, but he couldn’t drive on from his 1967 level, and Bob Jameson too seemed to stagnate. The red leathered Greg Kentwell was the one rider to significantly improve his average, and he finished off strongly which augured well for 1969. Les Sharpe too was a much more effective novice than Les Bentzen and his away performances in particular were very encouraging. Maurie Robinson had had another brief fling in the team mid-season, but had failed to establish himself, despite some encouraging meetings here and there.
At the end perhaps, we were left with more questions than answers. It was difficult to know where the promotion would take team building for the following year.
1968 Averages (League and Cup matches) :
|Rider||Matches||Rides||Bonus Pts||Total Points||CMA|
1969 Season - finished 4th (46pts) out of 19
It was a surprise during the close-season to hear that popular club skipper, Eric Boothroyd, had decided to hang up his leathers for a final time and retire. The bigger shock though was to hear that he was changing 'sides' and joining the management! Promoter Reg Fearman had been looking to expand his activities in the south, opening a new track at Reading, and was looking for someone to 'share the load', so 'Mr Boothroyd' became Co-Promoter and Team Manager.
That left a big hole to fill in the team because, although not quite as effective as in previous seasons, Eric had still comfortably held down a heat leader role in the team. The captaincy was quickly handed over to Eric Boocock, expected as ever to lead from the front again in 1969. But any hopes that a 'superstar' replacement would be forthcoming were quickly dashed, and instead it was announced that the team would be much the same as the previous year, with the 'full-time' return of Alan Jay after impressing in his 'temporary' stint at the start of 1968.
So, any hope of zooming up the league table rested on one of the 'second-string' trio of Jay, Gavros or Kentwell upping their game and stepping up to the third heat-leader role, or maybe a significant jump in form from promising young Aussie Les Sharpe, coming back for a second year with the 'Dukes'.
Then, just before the season started it was announced that ex-Oxford star, Arne Pander would be included in the side at reserve. That was a real bombshell as it wasn't that long ago that the flying Dane had been a top-liner in the National League, but a recent run of injuries had hit his form and confidence. Could he be the Halifax trump card though?
As usual the season started with a 34-43 away defeat at Swindon, but there was encouragement in the way that Eric Boocock twice beat Barry Briggs, relieving him of the Silver Sash match race title in the process, and the consensus was that Pander was worth more than a solitary point from his first match.
A series of challenge matches involving Belle Vue and Sheffield followed, with Boocock again to the fore, lowering his own track record in the Sheffield match. There was good support from Dave Younghusband as usual, but the highlight was a string of highly encouraging double figure scores from 'new man' Alan Jay.
A solid first league win, 45-33 at home against Wolves was highlighted by a developing partnership between Boocock and Gavros, and the following week the team went down by only four points at Oxford with Boocock, Younghusband and Pander getting ten points apiece. Unfortunately Pander crashed heavily in the second half and damaged his shoulder. It was the last that the 'Dukes' were to see of him. Later in the season the authorities declared that match void and handed the match points to Halifax when it was determined that Oxford had fielded an illegal line-up.
The loss of Pander brought Bob Jameson back into the team whose Shay contributions at least were good, and the team, with Boocock scoring heavily everywhere, finally finished April with a couple of good away performances, a fine win at Wolves 41-36 where the heat leaders had good support from Jay, 9 and Gavros, 6 and then a controversial 39-39 draw at West Ham to push the 'Dukes' up to 3rd in the League.
May is traditionally World Championship month, with qualifiers across the country, but only Boocock managed the consistency to qualify for the semi-finals.
The month did well and truly however mark the arrival of Greg Kentwell as a force to be reckoned with as he registered three consecutive full maximums at home against Newcastle, Kings Lynn and Newport. If he could only up his away match returns!
Never-the-less, and despite a first ever loss in the league against Cradley Heath by 32-45, The Dukes were still comfortably in 3rd place, one point behind Belle Vue and Cradley in the League as June arrived.
The new month started encouragingly with a 41-37 win at the Glasgow 'Tigers', with good returns from Gavros and Kentwell, 7 apiece, in support of Boocock and Younghusband. Good home wins against Wolves (43-35) in the Cup and Swindon (50-28) kept the momentum going but defeats at Belle Vue (28-50) and Exeter where the 'Falcons' won by 43-35, despite an incredible 17 point haul by Boocock, held the team back!
So at mid term, the 'Dukes' were still third in the league but had dropped 6 points behind Belle Vue. Eric Boocock was in phenomenal form, still unbeaten by an opposing rider round the Shay and averaging over 11 points a match. Younghusband too had been in good form, but tonsillitis problems were interrupting his season. Jay had contributed good scores, particularly away and Gavros and Kentwell in particular were dominant around the Shay. Jameson was good at home, but poor away and the supporters were still waiting to see the best of the enigmatic Sharpe. Still, with matches in hand, third was definitely a platform for making a title challenge!
July turned into a frustrating month though. Only one league match at home against Sheffield gave the Dukes a hard fought 46-32 win and there was a cup win over Coventry (47-31) to cheer, but illness and injury robbed the team of Younghusband, Jay and Sharpe in important matches. As a result there was a heavy defeat at Wimbledon (24-54) followed by a poor loss at Poole when the 'Dukes' fielded a 6 man team, and then a controversial 38-40 loss at Coventry 'Bees' when the 'Dukes' finally fielded their first team again. Dennis Gavros was the unfortunate meat in a Coventry first bend sandwich in heat 11 with the match in the balance and even home supporters were amazed to see the ref exclude him as he was stretchered off!
So, the lack of matches and poor away form dropped the 'Dukes' down to eighth in the table, just as a resurgent Poole 'Pirates' team surged clear at the top of the table after a great unbeaten run. It was going to be hard to challenge from so far back, despite a number of matches in hand, but nobody was giving in yet!
After comfortably seeing off the league leaders by 48-30 at home, the team ran riot 41-37 at Coatbridge to end their unbeaten home record with Boocock scoring another 12 point max and this time ably supported by the rest of the team, with Jay the hero after joining Boocock in a match winning 5-1 at the end.
Unfortunately that good form petered out quickly with key defeats at Leicester (29-49) and Kings Lynn (37-41) and, for good measure, Sheffield won the Cup Semi-Final showdown at Owlerton on a rain soaked track. To top it all, an under-par performance of 8 points by Boocock in the British Championship ended his World Championship hopes early, despite being in the top three of the League averages for practically the whole year.
At least the 'Dukes' shaded what was probably the best match of the season at the Shay by beating title challengers Belle Vue 40-38 on the 16th August where Ivan Mauger and Soren Sjosten proved to be formidable opposition. After a tight match it went to a last heat decider but Kentwell's hard fought second place was enough to give 'Dukes' the points. This match marked the first time that Boocock had dropped a point to an away rider at the Shay all season - March to 16th August. An amazing run!
So, as September dawned, the Dukes still lay 7th in the table, with matches in hand, but at the top, leaders Poole, had pulled out a ten point lead over the 'Aces' and now seemed uncatchable. This was almost immediately confirmed in the first match in the month which brought a comfortable 49-29 win over Cradley, but also the loss of the flying Greg Kentwell at such a key time with a broken collarbone.
September did finally bring a busy run of fixtures though with the 'Dukes' still looking very comfortable at home but, missing Kentwell for most of the month, unable to quite do the business away although there was a creditable 39-39 draw at the Newcastle 'Diamonds'. It was notable for a first full 12 point max for Alan Jay (against Exeter) and a surge in scoring from Les Sharpe who picked up 12 in an away challenge at Leicester. The League season officially ended with a close 4 point win over Coventry in early October, the match winners, perhaps fittingly, being Boocock and Kentwell with a heat 12 5-1.
By then the Dukes had climbed back up the table and ended in a very creditable 4th place on 46 points , equal to Wimbledon, one behind Belle Vue but still seven behind worthy winners Poole. It had been a season of 'very nearly, but not quite there', always on the edge of contention, but never quite looking like making the final breakthrough. But given the question marks at the start of the season, the season had to be viewed as a great success.
Somehow, new captain Eric Boocock did manage to improve further and had the year of his life at team level, averaging almost 11 points a match, finishing as top Englishman and behind only world superstars Barry Briggs and Ivan Mauger in the league averages. Dave Younghusband had to overcome some niggling injuries and illness, but he also put 1/2 point on his average, and in fact EVERY Dukes rider improved their average from the previous year. A very creditable achievement indeed.
There were two reasons in the end why Eric Boothroyd was not missed as a rider as much as some had feared. They were Greg Kentwell and Alan Jay. Both of them put themselves up into third heat leader territory, and between them generally came up with the required points. Jay was stronger than Kentwell away from the Shay, but for a long period in the middle of the year, Kentwell was almost as 'unbeatable' as the Captain over home shale.
Dennis Gavros also put up his average to over 6, but still ended the year as a 'good second-string' and may have been slightly disappointed with that, but there had been many memorable performances along the way from a rider with true 'Aussie grit'. Les Sharpe had started steadily and didn't really get going until later in the year, but he finished the season in style and emphasized that the 'promise' was still there. To say that Bob Jameson wasn't even in the team at the start of the year, it was maybe a surprise to see only Boocock and Gavros ride more matches for the team. As usual you got what it said on the tin, solid and dependable at the Shay, generally struggling on the away tracks, but he was always there when the team needed him. And, when the team were short handed, they'd also been able to 'blood' up-and-coming junior Terry Lee who'd rarely let them down either.
Eric Boothroyd might have mused about 'what might have been' in his first year in 'management'. The risk of going with Pander didn't come off unfortunately as the shoulder injury kept him out all year, but if it hadn't, well who knows? Maybe Poole would have found themselves 'plundered' by an all-conquering 'Dukes' after all! And no doubt the new co-promoter would be cheered over the coming Winter months by the club's continued local support with a Halifax crowd of over 11,000 turning out for a final home season challenge against local foes Sheffield!
1969 Averages (League and Cup matches) :
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- Bamford, R & Jarvis J.(2001). Homes of British Speedway. ISBN 0-7524-2210-3