Hellingly Lions Club History
Post-war Speedway attracted thousands back through the turnstiles, and gave many boys their first experience of the sport, inspiring the fledgling sport of cycle speedway. Oval tracks modelled on their counterparts at Wembley, New Cross, Belle Vue and at Eastbourne Eagles track at Arlington, were built on inner city bomb sites and any other vacant piece of land. Track bikes were made from spare parts scrounged or bought for a few shillings and a length of inner tube formed a starting gate.
Inspired by visits to watch their favoured Eastbourne Eagles race at the Arlington track, Roy Lancaster, Ron Medhurst and Ron Winter’s response in 1947 had been to form a cycle speedway team called the ‘Red Hearts’ and appropriate the old wartime emergency airstrip on Milton Hide, near Upper Dicker, as a track.
From its inception in 1946, cycle speedway attracted many, and established leagues with rules and fixtures implemented by a board of control. Local teams adopted named like Battle Bulldogs, Broad Oak Aces, Sidley Cyclones and East Hoathly Hornets. By 1949, the Red Hearts had vacated their Milton Hide track and were holding matches on waste ground adjacent to the old Back Lane at Lower Dicker. In response to this move, Upper Dicker Lightnings took over the track at Milton Hide before they too moved to a new track opposite Hentie’s shop in Upper Dicker.
Extract from the Sussex Express, dated 2nd September 1949:
“CYCLE SPEEDWAY COMES TO DICKER"
If you should see a lad wearing a white cloth breast shield on which is a large blood red heart symbol, he will be a member of the Lower Dicker Red Hearts. This is the name a group of lads have adopted and they are enthusiastic exponents on the cycling speedway. At present there are 16 members, their ages range from 13 to 18 years, Roy Lancaster is the captain. The Red Hearts started with a track on Milton Hide, Arlington about two years ago, but they have now made a track on the old London road between Horsebridge and Hackhurst Lane, Lower Dicker. Here on most evenings of the week the lads are practising on their stripped bicycles, no brakes or mudguards, trying to increase the speed at which they can skid round the bends. The circular track in 95 yards (87.6 metres) and the record of 32 seconds for three laps is held by Ron Smith and Ellaby Martin.
The first match that the Red Hearts had was on Easter Monday at East Hoathly, where by beating the local Hornets, they won the Challenge Cup. They went on to St Leonards for their next match but were beaten by Baldstow Boomerangs 62 points to 46.
On Saturday 28th August, the Red Hearts had their first meeting on their own track, and they obtained revenge against Baldstow, winning 63 points to 45. Top scorers for the Hearts were, - Roy Lancaster 16, Ellaby Martin 11, John Langridge 12, other members of the team were Ron Smith, Gordon Page, Doug Cox, Ron Medhurst and Pete Langridge.”
Although cycle speedway has been slow to capture the media’s attention, the Red Hearts attracted large crowds to their Back Lane track. High-spirited spectator noise and close proximity to a large house, eventually led to a confrontation with the owner. Despite this, the owners donated the Bruford Best Pairs trophy. Closure of the Back Lane track became inevitable and a new track was built on vacant ground at Horsebridge near MacDougall’s Flour Mills; the team was renamed Hellingly Lions.
The Lions competed in the 1950 News Chronicle Team Championship and the East Hoathly Challenge Cup which they won, and they raced against the Edinburgh Tourists in July, which attracted a record 350 spectators. Two matches were also contested against arch rivals, with Dick Wise top scorer for the Upper Dicker Lightnings on both occasions. Once again track location and the team’s success, courted controversy!
Extract from the Sussex Express, dated 4th August 1950:
“CYCLE SPEEDWAY TRACK CRITICISED"
The little track at Horsebridge, made and used by Hellingly Lions Cycle Speedway Club, came into some criticism at a meeting of Hellingly Rural Council. In a report, described the track as a public danger, situated on a narrow winding road, people watching proceedings stood on the road, some holding bicycles, occasionally cars drew up, - making conditions very dangerous indeed. The whole thing took place during church hours and was highly objectionable.
Hellingly Parish Council gave permission for a track to be built on the Lower Dicker recreation ground, which had previously been gifted to the parish in 1926 following a road accident in which a boy was injured while playing in the road.
Extract from the Sussex Express, dated 20th August 1926:
“RECREATION GROUND ON THE DICKER"
Children living on the main road of the Dicker, now have an excellent recreation ground in which to play and elderly people have a pleasant spot in which to sit. Mrs M E Mason of Temple Court, Reigate, purchased the land, with 300ft frontage to the main road situated between Coldharbour Road and the Dicker Stores, on the south side of the road; has been laid out with trees, seats, a see-saw, double entrance gates, and a large felled tree for the youngsters to clamber over. Mrs Mason has offered the land to the Parish Council with a free conveyance and there were no conditions attached to the gift, except the land should be preserved as an open space or recreation ground.
Following construction of their Lower Dicker track, Hellingly Lions joined the Hastings and District League in 1951, and what now must be perceived as the cornerstone of the Lions illustrious cycle speedway history. During the 1950s the Lions team had been champions of both the Hastings and Seddlescombe Leagues, “News Chronicle” Sussex champions, winners of the Criterion Cup and Bown Cup, the East Hoathly Challenge Trophy and RAFA Cup, as well as individual championship trophies won by Ellaby Martin, Ron Smith, Ron Medhurst, Gordon Page and Peter Smith.
In 1956, floodlighting was used at the Lower Dicker track for the first time when they rode against London-based teams, Western Broadsiders and Weston Stars.
Early funding and support for cycle speedway had always been difficult. Track bike maintenance necessitated visits to a cycle shop in Hailsham affectionately known as ‘Quank and Pweddle’ due to the owner’s speech impediment, and transport to away matched always presented a drain on limited resources. The removal of rear seats to accommodate the team’s bikes in one of Ben Wise’s coaches meant there was no problem with transport to the numerous away matches. A financial crisis that plagued Hellingly Lions in 1953 was surmounted by Mr A D Jarvis of Hailsham, champion of many youth organisations in East Sussex, and Mr George Kirby who had been elected chairman at a general public meeting held at the Kings Head, Horsebridge. The meeting and media coverage not only brought about public awareness of this fledgling sport but ensured Hellingly Lions’ immediate future, and previous financial problems and loss of track sites were now a distant memory.
By 1959, Hellingly Lions had joined the Southern Premier League, and a year later had entered the British League. At the start of the 1963 season, £50 had been spent on track improvements and repairs at Lower Dicker and a new set of team colours purchased, and five riders had purchased new track machines, costing almost £150. Tom Killick won both the Sussex Individual Championship, and the Easter Trophy at the Brighton Scorchers track (which has previously been won by Lion’s George Hollebon), Hellingly Lions defeated South London Rangers in the final of the BCSF Gold Cup at Bournemouth.
Extract from the Sussex Express, dated 20th September 1963:
“LIONS WIN GOLD CUP"
The climax to the major team competition of the British Cycle Speedway Federation was reached on Sunday when Hellingly Lions and South London Rangers met in the final of the knockout Hold Cup on the track at Iford Lane, Tuckton, Bournemouth.
Lions sprang a surprise by winning 57 points to 50, for the Rangers had only been beaten once this season in the British League, and the Lions were their victims in two of the encounters. Lions reached the semi-finals stage of the Gold Cup in the previous three seasons. Rangers became the first holders in 1959 and in 1961 were beaten in the final.
As anticipated, it proved a hard fought 18 heat match, a cracking pace being maintained throughout. The lions took the lead in the third heat with score at 10-7, gained a five point advantage at the sixth and at the interval the score was 29-24. On the resumption, Rangers struck back strongly, abd were in front 37-34 at the twelfth heat. In the next heat, the Lions wrested the lead from them and retained it to the end. Tom Killick and John Myles, mainstays of the Lions throughout the season, scores 12 and 11 respectively; George Hollebon and Mick Green each contributed 9, Roy Hazeldene (age 15) youngest member of the team 8, Ron Smith 5, Pete Smith 2 and Mick Martin 1.
The cup was presented to Lions captain Tom Killick by Tony Lewis, speedway star with Poole Pirates. The individual members of the team received pennants.
The demise of many Sussex teams meant the end of locally based leagues. Outside of friendly matches, Hellingly Lions had been compelled to enter a British League, which resulted in longer journeys to race against South London Rangers, Bournemouth Viscounts, Thurrock Racers and Drayton St Leonard Vampires based in Oxfordshire. The defeat of Beckenham Monarchs (64-44) in the Sussex Invitation Cup in October and winning the prestigious Gold Cup brought to an end another satisfactory season for the Lions team. During the winter months a new track surface was laid and a new electric starting gate installed. The 1964 season saw the Supporter’s Trophy won for the first time by a Hellingly rider (Tom Killick) and John Myles defeated British champion Ray Chivers in a run-off to win the Champion of Champions trophy on the Hawbush track. In September of that year, Hellingly Lions toured Holland competing in a series of challenge matches. The popular impact of cycle speedway in the 1960s was demonstrated by the press coverage in national newspapers.
In 1970, Hellingly Lions left the British League and underpinned the forthcoming season with entery into the Southern League. They became League Champions after beating Hawbush Hammers 60-47 on Sunday 22nd August (scorers – T Killick 12, J Myles 11, B Weaver 10, D Davidson 9, R Smith 8, G Hollebon 5, L Cox 3 and S Killick 2). The Hellingly Lions again captured the limelight in 1976 when they won the Southern League (Group B) Shield.
Prior to the 1979 season, the Sussex Express headline “THE END FOR LIONS”, would have brought consternation to cycle speedway’s followers. Due to a shortage of riders, disbandment became a serious threat. Following an influx of new riders from a training school held a week before the Lion’s match in the new Radio London sponsored league. It was at ‘Festival of Sport’ held at Southwark, London that Hellingly Lions became the victors in a challenge match against Beckenham Monarchs. The season with started ominously, ended with a heavy defeat by Uxbridge Pirates.
The dearth of riders continued throughout the early 1980s. the 1981 season which had seen them as the league’s wooden spoonists, was followed by a season when the Lions only competed in challenge matches. In 1985, the club left the Southern League and enters the British (South East) League. Despite seasons of uncertainty, some team members had been successful in individual events: Darren Prodger has won the Daily Mirror sponsored Southeast region’s 1991 Schoolboy Championship; in 1984 Gary Walder won the London Individual Junior Championship and in 1987 Martyn Hollebon became the Daily Mirror Schoolboy Champion, and a year later became the youngest rider to represent England.
On Saturday 2nd May 1987, Hellingly Lions celebrated their 40th season as a cycle speedway club, by beating Hawbush Hammers 91-88, to finish third in the British League (Division three). They were elevated to Division Two due to league restructuring, and with determind and competitive riding by Gary Walder, Tommy Killick, Eddie Ridley, Darren Prodger, Martyn Hollebon, Clive Kidman, Alan Boniface, Matthew Honeyball, Simon Curtis and Mark Cornford, the Lions were runners-up in 1988 and 1989, and won the southern League Cup in 1989.
In the 1990s the Lions continued to compete in the British League until moving to the Southern Premier League in 1998; following a good start to the 1993 season, hopes were dashed of the runners-up spot when they lost 90-88 to Headley Hawks. In 1994, the Lower Dicker track hosted a semi-final of the British Open (Senior) Championship, a year later Hellingly Lions beat Leicester in the Under 21 team final. Following the Lion’s first tour in Poland in 1997, there was a winter of uncertainty due to depleted team numbers. Although the Lions had been beaten at home by Exeter Aces, Horspath Hammers and Poole Pirates, the Lions could take heart from their 1998 season. Two major results stand out: winning a last heat decider against a strong Polish side and the shock British Team Cup victory over Wednesfield Aces, before losing to Stoke in the quarter finals.
A disappointing 1999 season resulted in finishing in the league’s basement and electing to compete only in challenge matches the following year. Hellingly Lion’s survival was much due to manager George Hollebon’s stubborn ‘never-say-die’ attitude and hours dedicated to the track’s appearance. Experianced riders Martyn Hollebon, Eddie Ridley, Gary Walder and Zac Parsons form the nucleus of today’s team and open practice sessions encourage new riders. In 2003, Hellingly Lions had the distinction of not only being the sole surviving Sussex cycle speedway club but the oldest in the United Kingdom. After beating Manchester-based Bury Comets on 31st August the Lions were crowned National League Champions in front of one of their largest crowds. The team were: Martyn Hollebon, Neil Hollebon, Eddie Ridley, Zac Parsons, Joe Plumstead, Barrie Geer, Jamie Chesire and Alan Boniface.