The History of the Romford Bombers
Season Review - 1971


Mike Vernam - loaned from Poole

As 1971 began, there was much uncertainty in the air at Romford. Both Ross Gilbertson and Phil Woodcock were expected to move up to first division racing, Gilbertson being linked with Poole and Newport whilst Woodcock looked certain to go full time at Exeter. Romford entered into negotiations with Poole for the loan of Mike Vernam. Vernam had previously been loaned to Reading, where he gained Young England honours thanks to an average in excess of 9 points per meeting. But with Reading moving into Division 1, Poole would insist that he left the Racers. Vernam eventually signed for the Bombers in February. A further possible move involved the potential swapping of Des Lukehurst for Canterbury's New Zealand International Graeme Smith. This came to nothing when Lukehurst, along with Gilbertson, announced his retirement in March. Woodcock was to stay, however and was appointed captain. Two West Ham juniors, Dave Percy and Alan Sage, were signed to boost the squad, in which 29-year-old Charlie Benham was now the oldest member.

MARCH
On the track, things didn't get off to a good start, Bombers losing their opening meeting 36-42 at home to Ipswich. Mike Vernam made a disappointing debut with just one point as it was left to Colin Sanders to top score, with 9. Star of the meeting was Ipswich's 18-year-old sensation Tony Davey, who scored a maximum 15 points from the reserve berth and lowered the Brooklands track record to 68.8 seconds in heat 4. Also unbeaten for the Witches was John Louis with 12 points - and a share of the track record in heat 12.

APRIL
The visit of Rayleigh for a challenge match on 1st April gave hope that the season wouldn't be as bad as feared after the Ipswich defeat, Bombers crushing the Rockets 51-26 with a "paid" maximum for Kevin Holden and Phil Woodcock unbeaten. Mike Vernam showed signs of the form of which he was capable with 10 points. Fears that Colin Sanders may have broken his ankle in a three-man pile up in heat 4 proved unfounded. Teesside came to Brooklands the following week for a League fixture that resulted in another big win for the Bombers, this time 51-27 as Woodcock was again unbeaten. The meeting marked the Bombers debut of Australian Bruce Edgar, who picked up three points. Edgar had been sleeping in the back of his car since arriving from Melbourne two weeks previously but some impressive second half rides had earned him an Exeter contract and a loan to Romford. The return fixture at Ipswich was virtually a repeat of the opener at Brooklands, Louis and Davey leading the Witches to a comfortable 44-34 win in the absence of Phil Woodcock, for whom Tony Childs guested whilst the former was on duty at Exeter. Brian Foote top scored for the Bombers with 9.


Kevin Holden - early season form

Woodcock returned for the Johnnie Hoskins Trophy match at Canterbury, only to fall in the first race and injure his back. Kevin Holden's 10 points was enough to top the scorechart as the Bombers lost 36-42. Holden combined with Mike Vernam in the home fixture against Long Eaton as they scored over half of the Bombers points in a 45-33 win. With both teams operating rider replacement (Romford for the injured Woodcock), Rangers' Mal Shakespeare was denied an 18 point maximum by a first heat machine failure. He was unbeaten in his next five outings. Heats 9 and 10 were unlucky for the Bombers, with first Bruce Edgar and then Colin Sanders picking up injuries in falls. Bombers secured victory in the Johnnie Hoskins Trophy as a 52-26 win against Canterbury overturned the Crusaders' first leg advantage. Brian Foote recorded a maximum with "paid" max's for Kevin Holden (11+1) and Mike Vernam (14+1). Vernam recorded his first maximum for Romford in the return challenge match at Rayleigh, which Romford won 41-36.



MAY
Ross Gilbertson came out of retirement - and joined CANTERBURY! Kevin Holden's continuing improvement saw him become the popular winner of the Spring Cup open meeting at Brooklands with 13 points. The following evening Bombers recorded what was to be their only away League victory of the season as they won 41-37 at Workington. Holden's first League maximum came in the home meeting against Berwick as the Bombers triumphed 43-35 but the next meeting at Brooklands resulted in a second home defeat of the season as Eastbourne took the points 40-37. New Zealander Terry Shearer made an unimpressive pointless debut as he was named as replacement fro Phil Woodcock, now permanently with Exeter. Ipswich's John Louis and Tony Davey were again responsible for  another Bombers defeat, this time 37-41 in a challenge at non-League Rye House but a return to League action at home to Workington brought a change of fortune, Bombers winning 46-26 in a meeting notable for the fact that heat 10 was completed AFTER heat 13! The original race was stopped after Romford's Charlie Benham and Comets' Malcolm Mackay and Bernie Hornby all fell. The re-run involved just Hornby and the only non-faller from the original line-up, Kevin Holden. Somewhat unsurprisingly, Hornby fell, leaving Holden the winner in a 3-0. To complete a miserable night for the Comets, their captain Taffy Owen broke his collar bone.

Two successive away meetings brought defeats, 36-42 at Peterborough and 28-50 at Eastbourne. Kevin Holden top scored in both meetings. Bruce Edgar found the long Peterborough track to his liking as he posted his best score for Romford with 6 points but at Eastbourne Holden's only support came from Brian Foote with 9 points. Another challenge, another defeat for Rayleigh at Brooklands. Charlie Benham turned on the kind of performance that he seemed to reserve for meetings with Rayleigh with 12 points from 5 rides as Bombers won 41-37 on a waterlogged track. The teams were level going into the last race but Mike Vernam led home Brian Foote for a 5-1. 

JUNE
Heat 11 proved to be significant in the home meeting against Hull.  The race saw the controversial exclusion of Hull captain Tony Childs after he had tangled with Brian Foote. The referee initially excluded Foote but then changed his mind and excluded Childs from the re-run, which was won by Foote to give the Bombers an unassailable lead - which was just as well as they then conceded two 5-1's in the last two races to narrowly win 40-38. Bombers' miserable form in the Knock-out Cup continued at Boston with a 29-49 first leg defeat. The Barracudas compounded Romford's misery by winning the second leg at Brooklands 42-36 four days later, In between, Bruce Edgar had broken his collar bone in a four-man pile-up at Exeter. Kevin Holden topped the scores for Romford in both legs. The visit of Crewe the next week saw two unfamiliar faces in Bombers colours. Rayleigh's Hughie Saunders was guesting for Kevin Holden, who was on international duty whilst west countryman Mike Sampson made an eventful debut which saw him fall three times but still end up with 6 points. Bombers ran out 48-30 winners.


Kevin Holden in action at Rayleigh

Ross Gilbertson top scored with 14 points for Canterbury as the Bombers visited for a challenge match which they won 40-38. Bombers included Peterborough's Dick Greer as a guest for Mike Vernam, who was on international duty. It was to be Terry Shearer's last appearance for Romford, a transfer to Birmingham following. Kevin Holden followed up his earlier Open Meeting success by winning the Carnival Rosebowl at Brooklands with 14 points. The trip to Rayleigh for League points led to rumours of Romford signing a "mystery" First Division rider who had been out injured for most of the season. New Zealander Graeme Stapleton was also expected to make his Bombers debut in the meeting. In the end, neither happened - but the Bombers did have a new signing in Exeter's Bob Coles. It was to no avail as Romford's woeful away form continued with a 30-45 defeat. Only Kevin Holden was competitive with 11 points, Bombers' only other heat winner being - Charlie Benham!

JULY
Bob Coles' home debut brought him a maximum, the first in the League from a Bombers rider for two months, against Peterborough in a 41-36 victory and there was almost something to celebrate from the visit to Long Eaton. The scores were level going into the last race but Rangers' Roger Mills managed to pass Kevin Holden to secure a 4-2 heat win and the match for Long Eaton, 40-38. Sunderland provided just two heat winners in their visit to Brooklands as maximums from Coles and Holden gave the Bombers am emphatic 51-27 win. Holden was also the form man on the trip to Bradford, winning four races in a row as Romford lost 32-46. The next evening saw another defeat for Romford, 47.1/2-30.1/2 at Teesside. Still looking to strengthen the side, Maurice Morley's attempt to sign Wolverhampton's James Bond failed, as did a similar bid for Boston's Russ Osborne, who had been unbeaten on his last visit to Brooklands. Romford were also fined 30 because a loan agreement had not been signed for Mike Vernam.


Ian Gills - best score against Birmingham

Rayleigh's visit to Brooklands did see a new signing for the Bombers, in the form of West Ham veteran Stan Stevens. Stevens had  survived  the Lokeren mini-bus crash that had claimed the lives of several of his Hammers team mates and was seeking to regain his confidence on the track.  He marked his debut with two heat wins - but it was Charlie Benham who turned in another of his "Rayleigh Specials" with 12 points from 5 rides. It wasn't enough to prevent the Rockets from taking the points 40-37. This meeting saw the last Romford appearance of Colin Sanders. Appointed captain on the departure of Phil Woodcock, Sanders had been unhappy with his form and announced his retirement. Charlie Benham was voted replacement captain by his team mates. Ross Gilbertson returned to Brooklands with Canterbury and was their only heat winner as Bombers won 49-29, Kevin Holden picking up another maximum. Another ex-Bomber returned in the next meeting, as Birmingham included Terry Shearer in their line-up. A "paid" maximum from Bob Coles helped the Bombers to a 46-32 win. Ian Gills' 7 points was his best of the season so far.


AUGUST
Kevin Holden just missed adding the Div. 2 London Riders Championship to his list of open meeting successes, losing a run-off with Rayleigh's Hughie Saunders for the title after both had finished on 14 points. Terry Shearer showed what Romford had missed as he scored 10 points for Birmingham against Romford as the Bombers lost 35-43 at Parry Barr. The Bombers comfortably disposed of Rochdale 50-28 at Brooklands but lost Mike Sampson with a broken leg in a second half fall. Bombers' poor away form continued in the Four Team Tournament at Canterbury where they could muster just 17 points to finish 4th. The following day at Eastbourne, Bombers achieved only 15 points and lost Brian Foote with a broken collar bone. A weakened Bombers team lost 47-30 at Hull, where Stan Stevens topped the scores with 10 points. 

Kevin Holden was the star of the Test Match at Brooklands between Young England and Young Czechoslovakia as he top scored with 15 points. Bob Coles was next up with 13 in a 66-42 win for Young England. The following evening, Holden scored 14 points in the international at Ipswich. Romford's away form looked to be changing as they led at Rochdale after the 5th heat. But the Hornets fought back, led by Peter Collins, and took the meeting 37-41. The meeting was to be the last in Bombers colours for Mike Vernam who, having seen his status reduced from heat leader to reserve, announced his retirement. The home leg of the Four Team Tournament resulted in a Bombers win with 32 points, Kevin Holden unbeaten. Stan Stevens top scored for Romford with 10 in the final leg at Rayleigh as the Bombers were pushed into 3rd place with 24 points. August ended with a Bank Holiday Monday trip to Boston - and another away defeat, 33-45. The meeting was marred by a crash involving Bob Coles in which he suffered a broken leg.

SEPTEMBER


Brian Foote - back from injury

It was an unfamiliar, weakened Bombers that took on Bradford at Brooklands. Using Rider Replacement for the injured Bob Coles, new signings Dene Davies and Clark Facey made their Romford debuts but the home side were overwhelmed by Bradford 33-45. The long trip to Berwick resulted in another heavy defeat, 22-56, Kevin Holden scoring 12 of Romford's 22 points. It was a little better the following evening as Stan Stevens (10) and Ian Gills (9) helped run Sunderland close, the Stars winning 42-36. The visit of Boston brought a 15-point maximum for Kevin Holden and the return of Brian Foote (10pts) helped the Bombers to a much needed 44-34 win. Foote then topped the Bombers scorers at Canterbury with 13 points to run the Crusaders close in a 37-41 defeat. The Rayleigh pairin gof Hughie Saunders and Allen Emmett won the Best Pairs at Brooklands.

The trip to Crewe ended in another away defeat for Romford, 24-54. Ex-Ipswich rider Ted Spittles made his Bombers debut and scored one point. There was a scare for Kevin Holden, who picked up a leg injury that was at first thought to be a cracked tibia. Fortunately, it was nothing more than bruising but he missed the Recorder Open Trophy at Brooklands, Birmingham's George Major the unbeaten winner. The last day of the month saw the last ever meeting at Brooklands and defeat for the Bombers 37-41 in a challenge against Rayleigh. Ross Gilbertson returned to guest for the Bombers and top scored with 9 points from 5 rides.

OCTOBER
There were still three meetings remaining for the Bombers, despite the closure of Brooklands. The a Four Team Tournament at Rayleigh ended with the Bombers in 2nd place on 31 points behind Ipswich, Stan Stevens topping the Romford scores with 9, followed by Brian Foote and, inevitably at Rayleigh, Charlie Benham with 8 apiece. Benham contributed 5 points to Romford's miserable total of 22 in a challenge match 22-56 defeat at Rayleigh the following week. Mike Sampson also returned from injury. The Bombers' final match under the Romford name came on the last day of October when a side including Eastbourne's Reg Trott and Hackney junior Tiger Beech lost 21-57 in a challenge match at Canterbury.

Action from the Bombers' home meeting against Workington, with Comets' Malcolm Mackay splitting Brian Foote and Colin Sanders

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