PIRATES TURN LION-TAMERS
Despite Poole winning the Second Division in 1952, it was a further three years before the Speedway Control Board would promote them to the National League`s top tier. This, it seems. was partly genuine concern over whether a club with comparatively small crowds could survive in Division One, and partly pure snobbery – the First Division was the home of teams from London, Manchester, Birmingham, Bradford and Norwich, while Poole was regarded as a far-flung provincial outpost. When the Pirates were finally admitted to this rarefied sphere in 1956, it was less a reward for another championship campaign than because the First Division were running out of teams.
Owners Bravery and Matchan had long targeted promotion, feeling that the lure of top clubs would rejuvenate Poole Speedway and arrest falling attendances. In the First Division, there was no bigger drawcard than Wembley Lions, eight times league champions and four-time winners of the National Trophy. Unable to use their home stadium until the FA Cup Final was played, they nevertheless arrived undefeated at Wimborne Road, with two victories and a draw from their early travels.
While Poole’s victorious Division Two squad had been augmented by the signings of Jack Biggs, Cyril Roger and his brother Bert, the Lions boasted a legendary line-up that included two world champions – Tommy Price and Freddie Williams – together with two riders who had finished runner-up – Split Waterman, who had twice lost run-offs for the crown, and former Pirates hero Brian Crutcher. It was that man Crutcher who set the pace. He roared away from the start of heat one and tore round the circuit in a time just two-fifths of a second outside the track record, looking like he’d never been away. His team-mates however lacked his speed and local knowledge, and the home side asserted themselves in the next race as Terry Small and Cyril Roger held off Wembley`s world champions.
The Pirates had spent five years turning the stadium into a fortress, and with wins from Jack Biggs, Bill Holden and Jim Squibb, they quickly established a twelve-point lead before Crutcher reappeared ontrack. Still popular with the Poole faithful, he delivered a masterclass in heat six, missing the gate and picking off the field one by one, until he breezed past Ken Middleditch thirty yards from the chequered flag to win. Eric French took third place for Wembley`s first heat advantage. Biggs and Squibb restored normal service in the next race, though their maximum effort was immediately cancelled out. Otherwise unbeaten by the opposition, Cyril Roger fell in heat eight as French and Jimmy Gooch led Norman Strachan home. Middleditch combined with Small in the next race to snuff out any suggestion of Wembley rallying.
Resistance was left to The Nipper, and while Holden led him for a lap in the tenth, Crutcher emerged victorious. It was the last act of defiance, however. Poole secured the league points in the following heat, turning “a quiet, expectant crowd of over 10,000 into the most enthusiastic and jubilant crowd the stadium has ever seen.” Even their former star couldn’t halt the barrage of points with which they ended the meeting: just after the tapes rose on heat 14, a collision saw Cyril Roger`s footrest wrench the chain from Crutcher`s bike, Such was the goodwill towards him that the Herald’s correspondent admonished the referee for not ordering a restart.
Although the Pirates were unbeaten at home in league matches since 1950, the scale of their triumph took many by surprise, Wembley team manager John Evans admitted that he expected his side to win, “But I didn’t think there would be more than one or two points in it. Poole are a great team.” The promotion had been saying it for years while their riders proved it on the track. If there were any doubters left, this result showed that the Pirates belonged in the top flight for, as the Herald concluded, “little, outcast Poole had humbled mighty Wembley Lions.”
Poole 55 : Jack Biggs 10. Terry Small 9, Jimmy Squibb 9, Bill Holden 8, Ken Middleditch 8, Cyril Roger 6, Bert Roger 3, Norman Strachan 2.
Wembley Lions 29: Brian Crutcher 9, Eric French 8, Mike Broadbanks 6, Jimmy Gooch 2, Tommy Price 2, Trevor Redmond 1, Split Waterman 1, Freddie Williams 0.