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Cradley Heathens legends gone – but will not be forgotten

As weekends go in sport, the last one was horrible for speedway fans in the West Midlands.

Colin Pratt and Nigel Pearson.
Colin Pratt and Nigel Pearson.

First the news that former Cradley and Coventry promoter Colin Pratt had finally lost his battle with cancer just days short of his 83rd birthday.

Then, just over 24-hours later, Heathens stalwart Alan Grahame, ‘Big Al’, died after serious injuries sustained in a sidecar accident at the age of 67.

Having had the honour of working with both gentlemen over a number of years, it was a tragic weekend in so many ways.

Colin was a passionate individual who was also straight talking and honest.

When I was 19 he called me up at the newspaper where I was cutting my teeth in journalism and asked if I’d like to ‘have a go’ at being the Dudley Wood Stadium announcer.

He also asked me to compile and write much of the Heathens programme.

Looking back it was a big gamble on Colin’s part, handing all this to a 19-year-old just making his way in the game – but he had faith in me.

You could say Colin put me on the path to where my career is now working in both the written and broadcast media. I’ll always be grateful to the old boy.

Ask any of the superstar riders down the years and they all have the same thing to say about Colin – they would take risks for him.

Alan Grahame.

Greg Hancock, a four-time world champion who was handed his British break by Colin, when he quit British Speedway, told me ‘Pratty’ was the only promoter he would consider coming back to race for.

Alan Grahame was the engine room of the Cradley team, particularly in the 1983 title-winning side which lost only two meetings all season.

To put it in football terms, he was the hard working midfielder who would get seven-out-of-10 ratings every game but never stole the headlines. He’d never be dropped, he was that reliable.

He was part of teams which included Bruce Penhall, Erik Gundersen, Jan O Pedersen, Greg Hancock and Billy Hamill – and he always did a great job.

He was quietly spoken but determined on the track. He wouldn’t mind putting himself about to defend a 5-1 for the Heathens – or England for that matter.

Always a pleasure to talk to, the fact that he was still competing on sidecars at the age of 67 tells you all you need to know about his passion for sport.

The loss of both is very, very sad. Memories of the great Dudley Wood days come flooding back and both represented their country at international level. Colin rode in the 1970 World Final at Wembley and proudly beat Ivan Mauger around Dudley Wood.

Big Al rode for England and also appeared as reserve in the 1984 World Final, scoring five points from two rides in a meeting won by Heathens hero Gundersen.

One thing is for sure. Colin and ‘Bil Al’ will never, ever be forgotten. Two giants of West Midlands speedway gone but fondly remembered.

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