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CYCLE SPEEDWAY: Mann's wheels still hot for the Comets
CYCLE speedway pioneer and Bury Comets founder Tony Mann has been involved in the sport almost as long as it has existed.
The 77-year-old has just become the club’s new president after spending the last 39 years as its secretary, but Mann has no intention of easing off in his new honorary role.
Mann’s dedication to the Comets helped them to their most successful season in 2012 and to forge a reputation at their base – Goshen Sports Centre – as having one of the best cycle speedway tracks in the country.
The origins of cycle speedway go back to post-Second World War Britain when racing around bomb sites on bikes became an informal novelty pastime.
It was officially recognised as a sport in 1946 and it was only four years later that the then 14-year-old Mann took it up, joining what was to become one of the best cycle speedway clubs in the country, Chorlton Aces in Manchester.
Then living in Manchester, Mann later raced for Gatley club Carswood Hunters, helping them to two national championships in 1954, 1955 and 1957.
By the time Mann and his family moved to Bury in 1967, he had given up racing on shale, but in 1974 he read an article in the Bury Times inviting ideas for a local sports festival.
“My son, Paul (now aged 50), said ‘what about cycle speedway’ and that was it,” said Mann. “I remember my older son, Steve (now aged 55), saying we’d never get a team going in Bury, ‘they’ve never heard of cycle speedway in Bury,’ he said.
“We arranged two demonstration matches – one at Clarence Park and the other at a park at Wellington Road.
“From that moment onward, it was clear there was enough interest, and we got permission from the council to make a track on Clarence Park.
“It was a very primitive club, but we built it up from there.”
The club was initially called Chesham Comets, but it became Bury Comets in 1988 before they outgrew their Clarence Park base and moved to Goshen six years later.
Mann is unfazed by cycle speedway’s status as a minority sport.
“It may be a minor sport,” he said. “But it’s spectacular to watch and has always been very well organised. We used to say, it’s by the riders, for the riders – always run by people who love the sport.”
Bury Comets compete in the Northern Region, and Mann is chairman of the group of eight clubs which compete from Sheffield to Edinburgh.
In 2012, the Comets finished runners-up to Stockport in the Northern League First Division with their eight-a-side team while the six-a-side second team won the Second Division.
Bury also won the Northern Region Fours League, which, as the title suggests, is for four-a-side teams.
The Comets have also had some outstanding individual performers with Fred Rothwell winning the British grand vets title for over-50s in 2004, in addition to two season-long grand prix series Euro Grand Vets titles.
Local lad Ben Scranage has also won the British under-19s and open-age indoors titles on the same day, and new secretary John Whiting was a winner of the Euro Grand Vets in his first year as a 60-year-old.
Rising star James Elston, who lives a stone’s throw from the Goshen track, was last year’s runner-up in the British Youth and Junior League under-12s section.
Meanwhile, the Goshen track has hosted four British finals, the European club finals and a World Championship final Mann talks of the Comets’ success with pride but has been happy to hand over the secretary’s role to Whiting.
“I said at our annual meeting, when my club-mates asked me to be president, it isn’t my club, but it’s my baby. It always was and always will be.”