Memory Lane: From speedway to football league?

memory lane may 7''then and now'Highbury Stadium, Fleetwood 1950s

memory lane may 7''then and now'Highbury Stadium, Fleetwood 1950s

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FLEETWOOD Town are bidding for a fifth promotion in seven seasons and this time the reward would be a place in the Football League.

After qualifying for the play-offs in their first season in the Blue Square Bet Premier, Highbury staged its final match of the season – a semi-final against AFC Wimbledon last night.

memory lane may 7''then and now'Highbury Stadium, Fleetwood being used as a speedway track from 1948 until 1952

memory lane may 7''then and now'Highbury Stadium, Fleetwood being used as a speedway track from 1948 until 1952

The stadium itself has undergone enormous changes in recent years with the magnificent new Parkside East Stand having been completed in time for the play-offs.

But 60 years ago the stadium had a very different look with a huge cinder and railway sleeper bank where the new stand has risen.

In 1948 The Fleetwood Flyers Speedway Club relocated to Fleetwood football ground from Wigan and, in order to accommodate the huge crowds, often exceeding 10,000, the huge back straight banking was created.

Fleetwood historian Dick Gillingham first visited Highbury in April 1956 for a Fleetwood game against Prescot Cables. He recalls: “Dad and myself climbed the back steps up the banking from Park Avenue – the view from the top was great.”

memory lane may 7''then and now'Highbury Stadium, Fleetwood 2011

memory lane may 7''then and now'Highbury Stadium, Fleetwood 2011

Despite the huge speedway crowds, with many people travelling from Blackpool, local residents hated the noise and the football club hated the corners of the pitch being lifted for meetings.

Dick says: “Highbury Stadium is now a truly splendid place to watch football – the changes are unbelievable.”

From May 1952 (during their final speedway season) the Fleetwood Flyers were renamed the Fleetwood Knights, with a change of racing colours from green and red to black and silver. The team did not race in the National League 2 as previously but raced in home-only friendly meetings and invitation events when riders from other tracks raced against Fleetwood riders. Attendances still reached 5,000.

Dick, who has provided all the pictures, says: “The two football photographs are taken from the same place about 60 years apart. The speedway action picture is again taken from approximately the same place.”

These and many other images relating to Fleetwood football and speedway are now on show in the new 175 exhibitions at Fleetwood Museum along with other sporting memorabilia.

Speedway supporters’ badges – the supporters’ club had more than 4,000 members – and Flyers programmes are now highly collectable. Mike Craven’s excellent book The Flyers Remembered is also available from the museum.