The "Bombers" began life in 1969 under the promotion of Pete Lansdale, Wally Mawdsley and Maurice Morley. Both Lansdale and Mawdsley had been involved with British League First Division track Exeter for a number of years. In 1968, a Second Division was introduced after promoters had agreed that there was a need for a new league where young riders would be able to learn the trade much more quickly than they were able to at a First Division track.
Founder members of the Second Division had been Belle Vue (with a "Colts" team), Berwick, Canterbury, Crayford, Nelson, Plymouth, Rayleigh, Reading, Teesside and Weymouth. Lansdale and Mawdsley had an interest in the Weymouth set-up but this had not proved successful and they were eager to move the team to the City Way Stadium, Rochester, for the 1969 season. New applications to join the Second Division had also been received from Crewe, Doncaster, Eastbourne, Ipswich, King's Lynn (for a "junior" side) and Long Eaton.
The local authority in Rochester had given approval early in 1969 for speedway to go ahead at City Way Stadium. The stadium, under the same ownership as Wimbledon, had been used for speedway in the past and all that the new promoters had to do was to inform the local Council of their intention to re-introduce the sport. No major meetings had ever been staged at Rochester and the cinder track had long since been buried. The plan was to build a completely new track inside the existing greyhound track, with a grassy area separating the two. This would have made the speedway track around 340 yards long. However, no work had begun on laying the track until formal approval had been received from Rochester Council - and this did not happen until 14th April.
The team, to be known as the Rochester Bombers, went into action with a series of away meetings. The first was on 17th April 1969 at Ipswich, where speedway was returning after an absence of six years. The Bombers spoiled the Witches' party by winning 42-36, with captain Barry Duke and promising youngster Phil Woodcock each scoring a maximum 12 points. Seven days later, the Bombers were winning again in their second League match, 46-32 at Long Eaton, with Duke again unbeaten with 12 points.
But the fledgling club was about to hit trouble. Duke (left, with Maurice Morley) was recalled to his parent club, first division Swindon and would not appear again for the Bombers. Despite the recruitment of the experienced Ross Gilberston, tempted out of retirement, the Bombers were to
Far more serious, though, was the decision by Kent County Council to refuse permission for speedway to be staged in Rochester, despite the local council's initial agreement. So it was that Mawdsley, Lansdale and Maurice Morley, who had joined the promotion from Wimbledon, found themselves in a cafe in Victoria Road, Romford, contemplating a problem. They had a speedway team under contract . . . but no track for them to race on!
It was at this meeting that Mawdsley decided to go and inspect Romford's football stadium at nearby Brooklands Road. The stadium had been looked at in the past but ruled out because the football pitch was considered too wide to accommodate a speedway track around it. Mawdsley insisted that it was still worth a look and the trio accompany him to Brooklands Stadium.
They were met at the stadium by Football Club manager Harry Clarke, who immediately saw the advantage of having speedway at Brooklands. Clarke took the three to meet Club secretary John Haley. He, too recognised the fact that speedway could help not only the soccer club financially but also provide a much-needed entertainment for the townspeople. He quickly arranged a meeting between the prospective speedway promoters and chairman Mr. Jim Parrish. The first approach had been made on a Tuesday. By Wednesday evening Mr. Parrish had convened an emergency meeting of the Board of Directors at which it was verbally agreed there were possibilities that interested both sides.
On the following Saturday, Romford's soccer team had a league match at Brooklands which Mawdsley and Lansdale attended. Romford Speedway Club was born that evening when the Football Club Board agreed that, as long as the speedway promoters undertook the work, they were happy to have their pitch cut back some yards to make it possible to lay a track.
An application was immediately made to transfer the Rochester license to Romford and work immediately began on preparing the track. Maurice Morley was the real track expert and he wanted to experiment at Brooklands. Instead of building a new foundation, the top surface of soil would be cut away and the track laid on top of that. There was just nine days in which to do it, for the first meeting had been arranged for Thursday 29th May.
It is doubtful if any speedway track had ever seen such frenzied activity as followed in those nine days. In an interview for "Backtrack" magazine in 2005, Wally Mawdsley recalled, "I actually rode around the pitch on Alan Cowland's machine, marking out with my front tyre where I thought the white line should be. Alan turned up with Norman Hunter to help us one Sunday Morning". It rained all day on the Sunday but a band of hard working helpers - including Cowland and Colin Clark - put potato sacks over their heads and began cutting, turning and lifting the edges of the soccer pitch. Ragstone Dust was ordered from Kent and was brought up by lorry. The soccer club's floodlighting was adjusted to cope with a speedway track. Two thousand tons of banking was shifted from the terraces. Additional terracing was constructed for 500 people. The pits area was excavated behind the terracing at the eastern end of the stadium. Loudspeakers, danger lights, additional lighting and the starting gate were installed. A special pits gate had to be constructed to lead from the pits to the track.
On the ninth day, Romford Speedway was opened! The last load of dust was laid only hours before the lights were switched on for that memorable first meeting against Crewe and even as the riders marched onto the track, Wally Mawdsley had a hammer in his hand and was fixing up a last touch of carpentry. A week later there was still work to be done as a wooden bridge was constructed to take supporters from behind the goal area to the main stand without having to walk through the sometimes dangerous pits area.
Never, in the history of speedway, had a track been constructed so quickly and the fact that there were never any complaints about the track is the surest tribute to the wonderful job that Maurice Morley did on laying a racing strip. However, Wally Mawdsley was to confess, many years later, to "Backtrack" magazine that, in places, the track was only 24 feet wide and less than the minimum width prescribed by the Speedway Control Board regulations! "Our tape measure was a bit short", he added!
Of course, Romford Speedway could never have opened on time but for the immense co-operation of the football club. Even though verbal agreement had been reached between the two parties it wasn't until August that a contract was actually signed! "We had a verbal, gentleman's agreement with the club and they said we would sign when there was time. It was August before we got round to it. That, I believe, is the perfect example of the wonderful way in which the football club co-operated in bringing speedway to Romford," admitted Mawdsley.
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