The History of the Romford Bombers
Season Review - 1969


Frank Wendon

APRIL
The Bombers roared into action on Thursday 17th April 1969 when, under their intended name of Rochester, they provided the opposition for the newly-reformed Ipswich Witches at their inaugural meeting at Foxhall Heath. The Bombers were led by Barry Duke, with Phil Woodcock as second heat leader and Tony George and Chris Yeatman expected to battle for the third heat leader position. Frank Wendon, Charlie Benham and Mick Steel completed the team. Duke and Woodcock both recorded maximums on the night and eight points from reserve Mick Steel from five rides ensured that the Witches would not be celebrating their return home. Bombers were never behind in the meeting and ran out 42-36 winners. A week later, the Bombers took to the track again at Long Eaton. Duke and Woodcock were joined by Ross Gilbertson, who had been tempted out of retirement after three years out of the saddle. With captain Duke again unbeaten, Bombers recorded another victory, 46-32. Rangers' Fred Hodder guested for the Bombers, scoring 3 points.


MAY
The long trip to Teesside on 8th May ended Bombers' winning streak. Without Barry Duke, recalled by parent first division club Swindon and Mick Steel transferred to Crayford, Bombers lost narrowly 36-42, new captain Ross Gilbertson finding his form with 14 points from 5 rides. Two days later, another defeat at Canterbury, 35-42, again saw Gilbertson record 14 points from 5 rides and the match was in the balance until Bombers lost both Tony George (fell) and Frank Wendon (broken chain) in the last heat. Brian Read made his only Bombers appearance, without scoring.

And so to Bombers' first home meeting - Thursday 29th May, with the scheduled League match against Crewe Kings reduced to a Challenge with the visitors under strength. With some 3,000 spectators to watch the tapes go up for the first time at Brooklands, the Bombers had arrived home at Romford. Ross Gilbertson and Frank Wendon opened proceedings with a 5-1 as Gilbertson and Woodcock went through the match unbeaten. Tony George also weighed in with 11, headed home only by Woodcock in the 13th as the Bombers won 45-33. Crewe managed just one heat winner on that memorable evening as the Bombers celebrated their homecoming. Gilbertson also set the fastest time of the evening, 71.9 seconds.


Charlie Benham - 10 pts against Canterbury

JUNE
The following week, British League action came to Brooklands for the first time with the visit of Canterbury. Bombers easily avenged their earlier defeat at Kingsmead with a 44-34 victory over the Crusaders with Charlie Benham the unlikely hero, with 10 (paid 11) from 5 rides. Former Crusader Brian Foote made his first appearance for Bombers, scoring one point against his old team. Romford's Knock-out Cup debut came next, with the high-flying Reading Racers providing the opposition. A tightly-contested match ended all square at 38-38, with Gilbertson recording another 12 point maximum. However, Bombers might have been celebrating a victory had they not provided only one finisher in seven races. Friday 13th June proved to be unlucky for Tony George as he crashed during a second-half ride at Plymouth. George slid underneath the speedway fence and collided with the stock car barrier, breaking his knee cap on a protruding bolt - an unfortunate end to what had been a successful meeting for Romford, winning 39-36.

The next meeting at Brooklands was the first leg of the Ken-Ess Four Team Tournament, with Romford up against local rivals Canterbury, Crayford and Rayleigh. It was the Crusaders who drew first blood, with the Bombers in second place thanks largely to another maximum from Ross Gilbertson. It was Gilbertson who provided the only real opposition to Canterbury two days later when he recorded half of Bombers 28 points in a Challenge match hammering. Romford returned to form for the visit of Eastbourne to Brooklands on 26th June, recording a narrow 40-38 win as Gilbertson marched to another maximum. Brian Curtis made his League debut for the Bombers, having appeared in the challenge match at Canterbury. But June ended with further injury problems at Crewe when Chris Yeatman broke an ankle in a resounding 25-53 defeat. Yeatman at first thought that he had just bruised his ankle in the 6th heat fall and drove all the way home to Oxfordshire before the fracture was diagnosed.

JULY
A new face lined up for injury-hit Romford in their home meeting against King's Lynn Starlets - Roland Schofield, previously with Canterbury. Schofield failed to score but a full maximum for Phil Woodcock and a "paid" for Ross Gilbertson ensured that Bombers won 43-35. Bombers' quest to strengthen their squad led to an offer being made to tempt ex-Poole Pirate Tony Lewis out of retirement. When this move failed, Bombers made a similar attempt to sign the retired Exeter rider Alan Smith, again without success. Reading took full advantage of a weakened Romford side to progress in the Knock-out Cup replay. Ross Gilbertson was beaten only once in six outings, by Racers' Mick Bell, as he recorded 17 of Romford's 34 points. Phil Woodcock, with 11, was the only other Bomber on form.


The tapes go up at Brooklands

Brian Foote turned out to be the match winner for Romford when Crewe made their second visit to Brooklands, this time for League points. Foote's 9 points (from 5 rides) were crucial in a narrow 40-38 win after the Kings had held a two point 12th heat lead. The strong pairing of Woodcock and Gilbertson grabbed a dramatic last heat 5-1 to snatch a victory for the Bombers. A week later, Bombers saw off the Nelson Admirals 43-35 in a meeting that saw Gilbertson record another maximum but lose the track record to Phil Woodcock, who reduced the best time to 70.8 seconds. Another away win followed, 40-38 at King's Lynn where Gilbertson recorded a dramatic last race win to clinch the meeting for Bombers and finish unbeaten again. Roland Schofield scored an impressive and valuable 7 points, his best for Romford.

July ended with three consecutive League defeats for Romford - two of them at home. The first was at the hands of unfancied Doncaster, the Stallions snatching a 40-38 win to end the Bombers' unbeaten home record. Romford were never in front in the match but drew level in the 12th with a 4-2. However, the previously unbeaten Phil Woodcock was only able to split the Doncaster pairing of Chris Hawkins and Terry Shearer in the last race. Two days later, Nelson gained revenge for their Brooklands defeat by winning 44-34 at home to the Bombers. But captain Ross Gilbertson drew some satisfaction from the meeting - his first race time of 59.0 secs not only knocked a whole second off the track record but made Ross the first person ever to record a sub-60 second time at a Division 2 track. Bombers gave a debut to Roger Knight and were forced to borrow Nelson's Jack Lee to make up the numbers - Lee finished 3rd top scorer (behind Gilbertson and Woodcock) with 5 points. Reading consigned Romford to a second home defeat when they took a 42-35 victory back to Tilehurst. The meeting marked the Bombers debut of ex-Plymouth rider Ian Gills, a good friend and next door neighbour of Tony George. Gills scored 3 points - the Bombers other 32 points coming from three riders - Gilbertson (16), Woodcock (10) and Frank Wendon (9). Roland Schofield was loaned to the Racers for this meeting - he fell and broke his ankle in heat 4.


Ian Gills - signed from Plymouth

AUGUST
The month opened with Ross Gilbertson (15) and Frank Wendon (4) top scoring at Rayleigh - but for DONCASTER! Both were guesting for the under-strength Stallions. 
The visit of Long Eaton on the 7th saw Romford return to winning ways, Woodcock unbeaten in a 41-37 win that marked the Bombers debut of ex-Hackney rider Brian Davies, with 7 points - and the track record as Davies scorched around Brooklands in 69.9 secs in heat 6. The victory set the Bombers up nicely for their next meeting, the visit of the touring Young Czechoslovakia test match side for a challenge match. The strong Czechs won 43-35 with over 7,000 spectators at Brooklands making it "the greatest night of our life", according to Maurice Morley. Phil Woodcock top scored for the Bombers with 11 from 5 rides with Frank Wendon next up on 9 points. However, the Bombers provided only 4 heat winners. The long trip to Shielfield Park ended in a 33-44 defeat against Berwick, Adrian Baker scoring 2 points on his Romford debut. Phil Woodcock was fined 2 by the match referee for deliberately breaking the tapes after having been excluded for failing to reach the start in time - only for the fine to be rescinded when the track doctor confirmed that Phil was suffering from concussion after an earlier fall! Meanwhile, Roger Knight was out of action having broken his arm in a crash at Newport.

The Bombers provided the opposition in the second half of a double header at Crayford. Gilbertson and Woodcock won 6 of the 13 races but Bombers lost 33-45. Worse was to follow the next evening, when Romford lost at home to local rivals Rayleigh Rockets. The Rockets' New Zealand International Graeme Smith did the damage with a 12 point maximum in their 41-36 victory. But Smith was fined by match referee Lewis Stripp for "ungentlemanly conduct" along with Bomber Brian Davies after they had exchanged blows on the track at the end of a fiercely contested heat 12. After Smith had taken the chequered flag ahead of Davies, the pair had dropped their machines at the pit turn and squared up to each other. Track staff separated them before the referee imposed the fine - of 1 each! A fourth home defeat followed a week later, when Ipswich led all evening to end up 40-38 winners, despite another Gilbertson maximum.

SEPTEMBER


New signing Des Lukehurst (right) with Phil Woodcock & Ross Gilbertson

September opened with the Rayleigh leg of the Ken-Ess four team tournament, Bombers finishing equal second with the Rockets to a strong Canterbury side - thanks to 6 points from loaned Rayleigh rider Terry Stone! Next up for Romford was a visit to table topping Belle Vue Colts - never beaten at home, with the Bombers still reeling from three successive home defeats. Romford desperately needed strengthening - and the signing of Des Lukehurst from Hackney was to prove the turning point for the Bombers' season. Lukehurst scored 11 points on his debut at Hyde Road, combining with Phil Woodcock for a 5-1 in heat 11 to give the Bombers a two point lead. A 3-3 in the 12th saw Romford go into the last heat 2 points ahead. Phil Woodcock snatched victory in the 13th, passing Colt's Eric Broadbelt on the last corner for a 3-3 and the Bombers became the first team to record an away win at Belle Vue Colts. Romford had borrowed Colts' Colin Goad after Ian Gills had been involved in a car accident on the way to Manchester - he scored one vital point for the Bombers. "To beat Belle Vue on their own track needed tremendous courage and skill" said Maurice Morley, modestly adding, "We had both!" The next evening, the Colts came to Brooklands, where the Bombers completed the double with a 44-33 victory, Lukehurst unbeaten.

A 39-39 draw at Rayleigh was to be the last League point dropped by the Bombers as Lukehurst recorded another maximum. Two days later, the resurgent Bombers became the first team to win at Reading in 1969, this despite missing Phil Woodcock, called up for 1st Division action at Exeter. However, Ross Gilbertson and Des Lukehurst were both on hand to record maximums. Crayford ran the Bombers close at Brooklands, Woodcock again on first division duty, but 14 points from Lukehurst and 10 from Brian Foote ensured a 41-37 victory. An unfamiliar Bombers line-up lost a challenge match at Plymouth 23-55 but normal service was resumed at Brooklands when 10 points apiece from Woodcock and Foote helped the Bombers to a 47-30 win over Berwick on a wet track. The Bombers then gained revenge for their home defeat against Doncaster, providing 12 heat winners in a resounding 49-29 away win against the Stallions thanks to full maximums from Davies and Lukehurst and a "paid" for Gilbertson. The following evening, Eastbourne were the visitors at Brooklands and the Eagles wings were clipped as Romford won 45-33, Lukehurst was again unbeaten, despite the Eagles protesting his inclusion in the Bombers line-up.


Tony George - back in action

OCTOBER
The third leg of the Ken-Ess Four Team Tournament was held at Crayford - and the Bombers ran out convincing winners ahead of Canterbury. The visit of the Plymouth saw the Bombers record their biggest League victory as the Devils were sent back to Devon with a 58-20 roasting. Ian Gills recorded a "paid" maximum against his old team, whilst the Devils side included Frank Wendon on loan, plus Colin Sanders, Bob Coles and Clark Facey - all of whom were to feature for the Bombers in the future. Romford won the away leg of the Essex Gold Cup 44-34 at Rayleigh and followed this up with a 42-36 win at Eastbourne the next day to complete a League double over the Eagles, Des Lukehurst unbeaten in both meetings. Bombers went into their final League meeting, at home to Teesside, with a slim mathematical chance of achieving the runners up position. At first, they thought that they had done it - a 57-21 win was what League statstician Bryan Seery had said was needed - and that is what the Bombers got, with seven 5-1 heat wins and "paid" maximums for Brian Foote, Des Lukehurst and Ross Gilbertson, plus the return to action of Tony George. But it transpired that it was not quite enough - in fact, Romford had been misinformed and a 60-18 win was required. The Bombers finished third, by .005 of a point, behind champions Belle Vue and Reading. "But for a bad patch in mid season, when we lost 4 home matches, we would have won the League", claimed Maurice Morley.

The Bombers' first League campaign over, there was still silverware to compete for. Romford clinched the Ken-Ess Four Team Tournament at Canterbury, winning the final leg with 41 points. They then added the Essex Gold Cup, building on the first leg lead with a 45-33 home leg victory over Rayleigh thanks to another Des Lukehurst maximum and 9 points from three reserve rides for Ian Gills. Lukehurst teamed up with Brian Foote to win the Best Pairs trophy at Brooklands with 23 points, including a 15 point maximum for Lukehurst. The curtain came down on the first season's racing at Brooklands with the Boro Individual Trophy - and a bumper crowd of over 8,500 turned out to see Crayford's Geoff Ambrose lift the trophy with 15 points after Des Lukehurst had crashed in his first race. Initial fears that Lukehurst might have broken his collar bone were dispelled when severe bruising was diagnosed.

Phil Woodcock is tossed into the air by his Bombers team-mates following his last-bend victory in heat 13 at Belle Vue Colts which handed victory to the Bombers, the first time that the Colts had been beaten at Hyde Road.

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