Friday June 26, 2015
On Friday the Exeter Falcons took on a Cradley Heathens side at Somerset’s Oak Tree Arena, and the Heathens prevailed by 50-40, but those are only the bare facts, and not the story behind the facts. The story of this particular meeting started many years ago, in 1929 in fact.

On 2nd March 1929, following a Rugby match, ex-pat Exonian Freddie Hore and a 16 year old Australian, Bert Spencer rode an exhibition on the newly laid County Ground circuit. Just seven days later the first competitive meeting took place, with the Exeter Handicap being followed by the Golden Helmet. Just over two months later, the first team speedway meeting took place, and as they say, the rest is history.

It was a history that spanned 76 years, with highs and lows, which saw several closure, and reincarnations, and quite a few promoters, until the emotionally charged night of 10th October 2005, when at the ‘End of an Era meeting, in front of a huge crowed, Ivan Mauger rode the last four laps ever ridden at County Ground, and the doors closed to speedway at the venue for the very last time.

Since then there has been dashed hopes that the Falcons would find another home, there have been short sided challenge matches, but no Falcons side has ridden a full 15 heat match for virtually 10 years, until Friday 26th June 2015. The Falcons have been brought back to the track, by the hard work of Rob Doran, Alan Spencer, with the support of their families. Until this meeting they have run short sided second half matches at the home of the Somerset Rebels, culminating in this full 15 heat match, against another team, who like Exeter have been without a home of their own for many years, the Cradley Heathens.

Rob Doran and Alan Spencer had put together a decent Falcons side, and one with a special link to the past, as the skipper on the night was none other than current Mildenhall rider Connor Coles, son and grandson to Falcons legends, Michael and Bob Coles. Joining Coles were some of the top riders from the National League, including New Zealand sensation Bradley Wilson-Dean, Dan Halsey, and Luke Chessell, with a late switch of reserve seeing Rob Shuttleworth replacing Harvie Banks.

On the other side of the pits, the Heathens had been hit by injuries, so were without Nathan Greaves, and Michael Neale. Rider replacement covered Greaves rides, whilst Neale was replaced by ‘Kent Kings’ Danny Ayres, making them particularly strong in that reserve spot. They also brought in Ashley Morris as a late replacement for Ben Morley, who was guesting at Lakeside, again a move which apparently made them stronger.

The meeting took place in front of a decent and enthusiastic crowd, and produced some spirited and exciting racing. Cradley got off to a good start, as Morris and Ayres took a full house over Wilson-Dean and Coles, with the former getting blocked out in the opening turns.

The Falcons kept it close, after adding a 4-2 win to their tally in Heat 3, which proved to be the only other heat advantage in the first six heats. Despite four shared heats in the first six, the riders from both sides put up a great display, with some close racing, particularly in Heats 2 and 5. Heat 2 saw Danny Ayres and Rob Shuttleworth put on a passing fest for two and a half laps, until Ayres finally got the better of his rival towards the end of the penultimate lap.

Ashley Morris and Luke Chessell produced similar excitement in Heat 5, as they raced wheel-to-wheel for three laps, after passing the quick starting Arron Mogridge early on. Only a minor error on Chessell’s part proving the difference between the two, giving Morris the opportunity he needed to eventually take the win. Bradley Wilson-Dean took the win in Heat 6, but the heat was shared despite the fact that Matt Williamson, for the Heathens had to start off 15 metres, following his excursion into the tapes.

The Heathens pulled clear over the next couple of heats, with two advantages, including a 5-1, as they made better use of the wide fast lines of the Oak Tree Arena circuit. Ellis Perks was the star of both heats for the Heathens, as he came from behind, to overcome the Falcons hopes of a 5-1 in Heat 7. Heat 8 saw him swapping places, on more than a couple of occasions, with Rob Shuttleworth, before he got the better of the Falcons man, to give the Heathens their second maximum of the night, and an 8-point lead in the process.

The next four heats were shared, as the Falcons battled to reduce their deficit, but to no avail. Just because the heats were shared, didn’t mean the racing was dull, far from it. There were good wins for Matt Williamson, Bradley Wilson-Dean and Lee Payne, whilst Ashley Morris took advantage of a Heat 11 re-run, after Tyler Govier fell, to lead all the way after having only been in third place in the original running. Wilson-Dean finally got the better of Ellis Perks in a thrilling Heat 10, with the pair swapping places, and re-passing each other over the first two laps, but Wilson-Dean had to be on his mettle, as Perks was never far away to the flag.

The Heathens sealed the match win in Heat 13, with Ashley Morris taking the win to record a four ride full maximum, as Bradley Wilson-Dean held off a charging Matt Williamson to prevent a full house. The Falcons finally found the outside line in Heats 14 and 15, and in both races, it was Luke Chessell producing the fireworks.

In Heat 14, Rob Shuttleworth beat off Danny Ayres at the second turn of Lap 2, with Chessell in third. Chessell stuck it out in the dirt, and charged after Ayres, producing a storming run as they ran to the final lap, before squeezing through the very narrowest of gaps between Ayres and the safety fence down the back straight. The move was met by a huge roar from the Falcons supporters, as Chessell came home to give Exeter a 5-1.

Chessell was at it again in the final heat, but despite a stunning ride out in the dirt for all four laps, and only inches from the fence, he ended up losing second place right on the line, as Ellis Perks sneaked by at the flag. For almost all of the race, it appeared as though Chessell’s persistence would pay off with a win as he harried Matt Williamson, only then to see Perks snatch away his second place right at the death. Justice would have seen him rewarded with a first place, but this was speedway, and those things happen.

Although not a winning one, this could only ever be seen as a highly successful return to the track for a Falcons septet, over a full 15 heats. Whilst the result didn’t go their way, the occasion did, and in many ways that’s what was important. The size of the crowd showed that there is still an appetite for the Exeter Falcons, and the dreams of Rob Doran, and Alan Spencer’s of brining them back in a home of their own will surely pay dividends if those dreams can be achieved At the moment that’s for the future, but then again, so it was for Messers Glanfield, Cottey and Henly in early 1929.

(Acknowledgements to Tony Lethbridge, and Exeter Speedway - The County Ground Years website for some historical information used in this report)

Exeter Falcons Select - 40
1. Bradley Wilson-Dean 1, 3, 3, 2, 0 = 9
2. Connor Coles 0, 0, 0, 0 = 0
3. Lee Payne 1, 1*, 1*, 3 = 6+2
4. Luke Chessell 3, 2, 2, 2*, 1 = 10+1
5. Daniel Halsey 2, 2, 2, 0 = 6
6. Tyler Govier 1*, 0, 1* = 2+2
7. Rob Shuttleworth 2, 1*, 1, Flx, 3 = 7+1

Cradley Heathens Select - 50
1. Ashley Morris 3, 3, 3, 3 = 12
2. Rider Replacement
3. Ellis Perks 2, 3, 2*, 2, 1*, 2* = 12+3
4. Arron Mogridge 0, 0, 1, 1*, 0 = 2+1
5. Matt Williamson 3, 1*, 3, 1, 3 = 11+1
6. Danny Ayres 2*, 3, 2, 3, Flx, 2, 1 = 13+1
7. Adam Sheppard 0, 0, 0 = 0

SCB Referee; Graham Reeve

Heat Details
Heat 01: Morris, Ayres, Wilson-Dean, Coles 1-5 58.87
Heat 02: Ayres, Shuttleworth, Govier, Sheppard (Flrmnt) 3-3 4-8 59.62
Heat 03: Chessell, Perks, Payne, Mogridge 4-2 8-10 60.06
Heat 04: Williamson, Halsey, Shuttleworth, Sheppard 3-3 11-13 59.81
Heat 05: Morris, Chessell, Payne, Mogridge 3-3 14-16 60.19
Heat 06: (Re-Run) Wilson-Dean, Ayres, Williamson (15mts – Tapes), Coles 3-3 17-19 59.94
Heat 07: Perks, Halsey, Mogridge, Govier (Flrmnt) 2-4 19-23 60.38
Heat 08: Ayres, Perks, Shuttleworth, Coles 1-5 20-28 60.43
Heat 09: Williamson, Chessell, Payne, Sheppard 3-3 23-31 61.19
Heat 10: Wilson-Dean, Perks, Mogridge, Coles 3-3 26-34 60.66
Heat 11: (Re-run) Morris, Halsey, Govier (Flrmnt) 3-3 29-37 60.93
Heat 12: (Re-run) Payne, Ayres, Perks 3-3 32-40 61.25
Heat 13: Morris, Wilson-Dean, Williamson, Halsey 2-4 34-44 60.93
Heat 14: Shuttleworth, Chessell, Ayres, Mogridge 5-1 39-45 61.45
Heat 15: Williamson, Perks, Chessell, Wilson-Dean 1-5 40-50 61.25

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