AFTER over 50 years in the sport, the man affectionately known as ‘Mr. Berwick Speedway’ will once again take up microphone and stopwatch duties at Shielfield Park next month.
Dennis McCleary has been one of the Bandits’ main race-night voices across two stints and a variety of different promotions – the break from that role coming in the 1970s when he joined the sport’s refereeing panel.
And that led to an almost under-cover spell on the mic at Edinburgh where he was combining jobs, with the main determination being for supporters not to know who he was!
Initially involved as PA announcer for Berwick Rangers FC, Dennis was approached by football director Charlie Inkpen, who was also clerk of the course at the speedway, to take over from their existing announcer.
He recalled: “I’d seen speedway on TV, but I hadn’t been to a meeting until Berwick opened in 1968. I did a couple for them in that year and then took over full-time announcing in ‘69, which was when the Taylors were running it.
“Danny had passed away suddenly in the winter, but his widow Liz and son Ken kept the speedway going, and I helped them out behind the scenes and did the programme.
“I got to know the referees who came regularly to Berwick. There was a guy called Dr. Lewis Jamieson, he was a GP on Tyneside, David Millar who was a Tyneside guy as well, and there were a few Scottish lads – Jack Cuthbert, Bill Taylor, Ernie Chaplin – and in the early ‘70s Dr Jamieson and David Millar were keen to recruit some new blood.
“They tempted me to have a go, so I packed the announcing in, and I think Dick Barrie took over. I did a season of refereeing second-halves at Berwick, in the days when you had a Rider of the Night and a Junior Scurry and so on, and then moved on for my tests in ‘74.
“Things were different in those days and it maybe wasn’t as strict as it is for the referees coming through now. I didn’t have to go to the office for meetings or interviews, I just really got thrown into three tests.
“The first was at Sunderland, at the East Boldon Greyhound Stadium. I was with David Millar, it was a local derby KO Cup tie against Teesside on April 12, and I can remember in
He’s almost part of the furniture at Shielfield Park, but Dennis McCleary’s role in the official’s box hasn’t solely been confined to that of announcer – he’s been a referee as well, as DAVID ROWE reveals
Heat 2, the reserves’ race, all four of them went down at different times!
“Alan Emerson actually won the race from Tony Swales, it was a 5-1 to Teesside, and the test overall went fairly well.
“I had a bit of a gap then until my second test on August 24, that was at Hyde Road, Belle Vue against Hackney in a British League match, with Leo Penderguest who I think was from North Wales, and that was pretty straightforward although I had Len (Silver) on the ‘phone a couple of times!
“I was told if they don’t get those problems sorted, I’d have to call the meeting off – and I knew how much work Ian Thomas had put into this meeting, he’d done a huge publicity drive.
“So I was thinking, ‘this isn’t going to be good,’ but as it transpired they got the kerb sorted and the hump had been flattened, so
“My third test was the Bass Open Yorkshire Championship at Sheffield on September 26, and really that was the easiest of the three.
“John Whitaker was the referee, people will remember him as CoC there for many years, and John had a refereeing friend up from London so he just sat in the back of the box, told me to get on with it and give him a shout if there were any problems!
“I had one tape-breaking, and also a threeman run-off. Peter Collins won it ahead of Soren Sjosten, and Dave Jessup was third, so it was a big meeting but as a test it went smoothly.”
DENNIS was duly appointed to the list ahead of the 1975 season, operating mainly at Newcastle, Middlesbrough and Workington.
It was the re-opening meeting at Brough Park on March 31 which was his first in full charge – but he recalls a particularly stressful build-up to the event.
He said: “It was the first leg of the TyneTees Trophy against Teesside with a huge crowd, about 8,000 in there, but the fun and games started in the morning.
“We’d moved down to Ashington because I’d got a job with Wansbeck Council in sport and leisure, and on the morning of the match I got a ‘phone call from the ACU asking how far I was away from Brough Park, and could I get there because they had a problem with the kerb and there was a hump in the home straight!
• Mic man: Dennis in the official’s box at Berwick
16 speedway star April 10, 2021