IT was amazing, absolutely amazing. I couldn’t have wished for anything better! I could never have envisaged it would have been that good.” And, no more than you deserved, Middlo. Finally, after so many years of waiting, Neil Middleditch can reap the rewards of the Testimonial that had Wimborne Road rocking, fans smiling and the lifelong Poole fan shedding a tear or two.
His story is pretty well known, but there’s certainly no harm in recapping on what had been a sorry saga for the former Great Britain boss.
Neil’s family was steeped in Poole’s history. His dad Ken rode and managed the Pirates during those heady days in the 50s and 60s. His mum looked after scores, if not hundreds, of riders who either lived with the family at Bailie House, a guest house home-from-home for countless overseas riders who signed and wore the skull and crossbones.
Neil, naturally, spent much of his career racing for what is, essentially his hometown club, even though he was brought up eight miles from the Dorset track, in nearby Sturminster Marshall.
He made his debut for Poole (as a guest against Exeter on August 7, 1974), some 12 years after his father’s 303rd and final appearance for the club on August 15, 1962. Neil made his official bow in the opening league match of the following season on April 16, and spent ten years in their colours before seeing out the final days of his racing career at Arena-Essex and Reading.
Neil had been taken to Wimborne Road while still a babe in arms, became a supporter, travelled to away matches on the Supporters’ Club coach, and, 13 years after deciding it was time to quit as a rider, took over as team manager in the first year of Matt Ford’s watch as co-promoter and later outright owner of the club.
His first benefit meeting, to celebrate a decade riding for Poole, was in 1984 but that was also the year that the club folded, and he never received what he was due.
After Ford came in, initially with his partner Mike Golding, who had also been on those coaches that ferried Neil and fellow fans to the British League Riders’ Championship Final at Belle Vue every year, he promised Neil that he would give him a fitting testimonial and everything was approved and arranged for early in 2020!
But all the work was in vain as the season was put on ice because of the coronavirus pandemic which shut down British speedway for virtually 18 months and, for a second time
• Surprise! Poole owner Matt Ford and his wife Helen with Middlo and wife Suzi
Neil missed out.
He admitted: “I was beginning to think, ‘is it ever going to happen?’ It was all in place, everything sorted out and Covid comes along. Then even this year I was watching Eurosport when Steve Worrall pulled out before Belle Vue’s second Bank Holiday Monday meeting against Wolverhampton. Luckily, Charles Wright said he would take Steve’s place and then, as I am watching, he crashes and is injured.”
But all that worrying, all those anxieties melted away on Wednesday of last week when, finally, the Gods shone on Middlo and the band of helpers who made it all possible. The day was sunny and fine. And the fans rolled up in numbers.
Not just those who have been Wimborne Road regulars over the years, but others who haven’t been near the track for half a century.
Neil said: “I bumped into one woman who said she hadn’t been to speedway since 1956. She never saw me ride but she recognised the name in the local paper and remembered that she had seen Ken Middleditch riding for the Pirates.”
Her presence was justification, in a way, for the massive effort that went into publicising the event.
A team of volunteers went to every single pub in Poole, Wimborne and Broadstone, handing out fliers advertising the meet. Posters and leaflets were distributed among the hundreds of bikers who descend on the town every Wednesday for the councilarranged Dream Machines Motorcycle Evenings which take place every Tuesday night between the beginning of April and September 27.
Neil’s son Keaton, his Danish partner Alicia Amira and friend Nikita Caslida went up and down the quay, all wearing the costumes of the Poole publicity mascots (above right), attracting attention from a potential new audience along the quay the night before the meeting.
Radio personality David Hamilton gave several plugs to the meeting on his midmorning Boom Radio show and also mentioned it again the following afternoon.
Neil revealed: “Alicia has only ever been to speedway since she has been with Keaton and loved it. Her and Keaton went into the crowds on the Quay, walking around, talking with people who hadn’t been to speedway for so long. It worked, so many people turned up at the meeting who hadn’t been there for years.”
And what a turn-out of stars, both in person or on the big screen.
• Neil with the Meridian Lift Heroes, Danny King, Hans Andersen, Brady Kurtz, Jason Doyle and Chris Harris, kneeling, Zach Cook and Dillon Ruml. • Neil with the Country Crest All-Stars, Scott Nicholls, Kyle Newman, Paul Starke, Frederik Jakobsen, Jack Holder and Ben Cook, kneeling, Richard Lawson.
32 speedway star September 10, 2022
Pictures: TONY BURCHELL