Who Will Return Harlow to the Glory Days?
Published: 5-Mar-2008 Updated (slightly) 17-Aug-2012
Here is my version of the Harlow Velodrome Story - hopefully taken from a reputable source; the club history to 1996 compiled by Rod Scott and Willi Tarran.
“The track building programme began to take off at about this time with a site being allocated on Edinburgh Way. Fund raising, planning, more fund raising, hopes and dreams began to combine and in the long, hot summer of 1976 the new track was nearing completion. The track was only made possible by the refusal to quit demonstrated by Ron and Kath White and the help, support and the thousands of hours of sheer hard work of many countless friends and cyclists who turned a dream into a reality.
On Saturday 11th September 1976 the Grand Opening Meeting was held with Walter Winterbottom CBE, the Director of the Sports Council, cutting the ribbon to declare the track open. The first competitive ride was by Neil Dykes, the National Junior Sprint Champion, who recorded 12.5 seconds for a flying 200 metres time trial. The first crash happened on that day as well with Halesowen’s Trevor Gadd coming off the worse in a tussle with West Germany’s Hans Michalsky in the Open Sprint.
But the track was complete, and although much work needed to be done on other facilities the 197 metre 45 degree bankings was the newest and the best track in the country. The track had cost £65,000 and it is reputed that the builder Vic Watkins lost £4,000 in building the track. He was quoted in the press at the time as saying “It’s worthwhile for cycling!” Thank you Vic.
Once the problems of the wet winter of 1976/77 that followed the drought of 1976 had been resolved, the Club took a predominant role in track promotion over the next 10 years. 1978 saw the first “Mini Six” meeting and the Tony Gowland Master Class. Tony, Britain’s premier Six Day Rider, wanted to teach less experienced professionals how to ride small tracks before the Skol Six of 78. Naturally he came to Harlow to teach, and virtually all the club riders turned out to watch and listen.
Saturday 2nd June 1979 saw the first televised meeting from the track in the shape of the Debenhams Olympic International Track Meeting. Featuring Great Britain and Switzerland live on BBC Grandstand, the Swiss team manager, the legendary Oscar Plattner, asked if he could take the track back to Switzerland with him. Featured in that meeting were three future World and Olympic Champions and the memory of Steve Heffernan’s win in the 20kms scratch at the end of the meeting will remain with those who saw it forever. What was remarkable was the race time an incredible 22 minutes 58 seconds for the 102 laps!
The early meetings at the Harlow Track were organised by Dave Handley, but from 1980 onwards the promotions moved “in House” with Bill Tarran taking over the mantle of promoter. That year saw the first Olympic Day Track Meeting, the Rank Xerox Bastille Day, the Gilbert Lovell Memorial Meeting and the Mini Six. This set the pattern for the next 10 years with at least four open meetings being organised by the club each year. The meetings featured in the revitalised BCF National Sprinters and Points Race Leagues from 1984 until 1989.
But these were not the only promotions on the track. Besides the weekly Track League held on 16 weeks every year and sponsored initially by CRG Garages and then BP International, the track was used to promote the 1989 English Schools Cycling Association Championships in which Nick Hewes won the Sprint and Pursuit championships and Matthew Wall won a silver and a bronze. The track was “Home” for 13 years as the track base for the ever popular Youth Week where many future champions took their first steps in track racing.
The Club also ran Saturday morning Coaching Sessions with Dave Handley, the former National Track Coach. These were run for three successive years which introduced many now famous names to track racing. It was during this time that the Track and Dave Handley and his assistant Norman Goodchild received the highest accolade on BBC Television. Brian Jacks, the World Champion Judo player was entered into the European Superstars Finals. He needed to learn how to ride a track. Naturally he came to Handley and Harlow. When he won the cycling at the Superstars Final, he was sure it was due to Norman and Dave Handley in their coaching.
Harlow CC members dominated events both at the Harlow Track and throughout the country with medals being won in many open events. Dave March, Dave LeGrys and John Arkwright were regularly in the top positions throughout the country with the highlight being Dave LeGrys’s bronze medal in the 1980, Dave Marsh and John Arkwright’s silver medal in the Tandem Sprint in 1981 and Jackie Harris’s bronze in 1981 and silver in 1983 in the Womens Sprint. In 1981, and despite having no established stars in the team, the Club won the Eastern Counties Track Championships with the team consisting of Mark Minting, Mick Westwood, Bill Tarran, Gary Edwards and Jacquie Driscoll.
In the late 1970’s it became obvious that our pre fab clubroom, so generously donated by Cossors, would not meet the challenge of the 1980’s and beyond. Ken Wall and Norman Goodchild laboured for some years but with the help of the Harlow Council, the Harlow Recreation Trust and the Eastern Region Sports Council, the finances were found to build stage one of an ambitious project to give Harlow Cycling Stadium changing rooms, a bar and viewing gallery. The New Clubroom opened in 1982 at a cost of £82,000 and, although never extended to stages 2,3 & 4, it gave the Club a facility the envy of every one and one to be proud of.
On 3rd November 1993 the site at Edinburgh Way was sold to Longmans Group for £3,000,000 and whilst the old Velodrome and clubroom closed, the replacement indoor Velodrome took a giant pace forward.”
Sadly that final, optimistic statement has proved to be misplaced. As yet no new track for Harlow has even reached the planning stage. And as a result the potential sports talents of Essex have been denied a cycling facility for much too long. The many brave souls who worked so hard to build the track in 1976 deserved better than to have the result of their efforts destroyed in this way
As reported in 2008, the Harlow council published a review that stated - “Wheeled sports are very popular; these include cycling, BMX, mountain biking, roller-skating, roller-blading, roller hockey, scooters, skateboarding and go-karts. Development or change of use to create a new facility, particularly located indoors, is required. The Harlow Velodrome was developed for offices in the early 1990’s, it has proven very difficult to identify an acceptable site for the location of a new facility within the town. Any new facility should aim to be multipurpose for many types of wheeled sports. Although an indoor multi-use facility is sought, this may be difficult to provide so outdoor facilities are acceptable to help meet this sport deficit.”
But it will need a lot more than a council review (of their own inaction)to put Harlow back on the international cycling map. As it says on the British Cycling website “Track racing in Essex died with the sale of the old Harlow velodrome” My guess is that the completion of London’s Olympic Velodrome will see the end to any pretence that Harlow will, one day, get its indoor track - or even a replacement for its lost outdoor one. And so that big question remains .... who has that £3 million and the 19 years of accrued interest?
So no happy ending to this particular story ... and even the “Grand Prix of Essex” has gone from the road racing scene; but that’s another story.
Links - Harlow Recreation Trust | Harlow Council | Harlow and District Sports Trust