From an early age I can remember asking my Mum what the roaring noise was on a Saturday night in the distance as we played in the cul-de-sac (yes we used to play outside then !) and her telling me it was the motorbikes at Cradley Speedway. I guess it was about 4 miles as the crow flies to Dudley Wood Stadium – a ramshakle old place that had seen much better days and looked relatively untouched since it was built in the 1940s. I remember at the age of 13 or so going to the speedway with a neighbour it was a one off and no one thought to take me again until 1978 when as a 16 year old I went to watch Cradley Heath versus Manchester’s Famous Belle Vue Aces. That day in July literally changed my life.
The thing I remember most besides the stadium falling down and the huge crowds was how friendly people were. I had only experienced football until then where everyone wanted to kick your head in – but here opposing fans mingled with home fans and looked like they were having a good time. Oh that and the smell, what a smell, someone once said to me if you could bottle it you would make a fortune! and I truly believe they were right. On the evening I believe Cradley won by a narrow margin but the result was secondary to the experience, make no mistake I was hooked!
I needed a plan – I wanted to go every week but had no transport so it was an 8 mile round trip on foot or an unreliable bus journey to Cradley Heath High Street. The plan ? to get the family to go – my sister had tagged along and as a 12 or 13 year old the attraction of blue eyed blond american bombshell Bruce Penhall meant she needed no persuasion. Mom and Dad quickly followed and it was, in keeping with the sport as a whole, a family affair.
So thus began a roller-coaster journey that gets me to where I am now taking in helping out with stadium developments, video commentary (if you can get hold of one of those early 80s supporters club videos you will see what I mean) , working on the car park in exchange for free entry to home meetings travel to all corners of the UK, World Travel including USA,Mexico,Denmark,Sweden,Germany and numerous transit countries inbetween. If you add into that mix meeting my first girlfriend, Wife (and subsequently the kids we had) you will see just how this sport really did change my life.
So to bring it up to date the Cradley Heathens are long gone and the stadium is now a housing estate but following the 1995 demise of the club in 2010 a team once again sprang from the ashes and bears the Heathens name – The Dudley Heathens race at their adopted home of Monmore Green (affectionately called Monmore Wood by the locals in homage to the old stadium) in the third teir of the sport. My passion is re-kindled and Ive made a whole new circle of true friends and guess what ? – the new Mrs Northall loves it, in fact she is more of a fanatic than me!