Longstanding supporters of speedway racing on Teesside will be saddened to hear the passing of Jim Burdfield at the age of 62, following a short illness at his home in Australia earlier this week.
Born in Nyngan, New South Wales, in January 1958, Jim came to the UK in 1982 and initially joined Stoke and was a regular in their team for a couple of years until changes were made to strengthen them up and he found himself surplus to requirements. Initially Glasgow signed him in 1984 – he actually rode for them at Middlesbrough scoring 6pts and then was recalled into the Stoke team for one brief appearance – at Glasgow, before his services were disposed one again with. Jim joined Middlesbrough in August 1984 following a serious injury to Mark Crang and in 11 appearances for the Tigers he was one of only three riders in the team that didn’t fail to score that season – the others were Mike Spink and Steve Wilcock. His top scores in those 11 appearances co-incidentally were both against the same two teams home and away: Mildenhall and Weymouth.
Come 1985 Jim was a regular in a team tipped for the league championship promoter Tim Swales a former Teesside rider had taken over and signalled his intent by signing both Mark Fiora and Martin Dixon. Injuries to key riders at crucial times – at one point both Mark Fiora & Gary Havelock spent time on the side lines and missed crucial matches. Jim himself suffered a dislocated shoulder against Ellesmere Port in July 1985 and missed a couple of matches against Berwick & Wimbledon. It would later be a recurring injury that would later force him into retiring at the end of 1986.
Gary Havelock inspired us to the Four Team Championship at Peterborough but it really was no consolation. We seemed fated in the league – 10pts up halfway through at Hackney when an enraged home fan cut the electricity supply off and the meeting was then abandoned. When we went back there the second time we had had both Fiora and Havelock missing and got soundly beaten. One personal highlight for Jim was he improved his average recording figures of 6.74 from 39 league matches and top scored with 13pts against Poole Wildcats in a 45-33pts victory in August. Like most middle order riders Jim was more effective at home than away, highest scores of 8pts at Milton Keynes and 7pts at Long Eaton respectively
The following season his average dipped slightly, though early on down at Eastbourne his shoulder was dislocated again in a frantic 39 all draw. There was pressure on Jim and talk of replacing him early on, which he thought was unfair but he weathered the storm and his scores started to improve again, which was just as well as come August Gary Havelock our Four Team Championship hero from the year before was injured and Jim was called into the team to replace him. A large following of over 200 had expectantly made their way to a sunny East of England Showground to see if history could repeat itself. Without Havvy though nobody really fancied the Tigers. Both Mildenhall and Stoke had scored 144pts in their qualifying rounds and Eastbourne had accrued 126pts. Middlesbrough had the lowest total with 115pts just squeezing out Edinburgh where Jim himself had scored 5pts.
Cometh the hour cometh the man Middlesbrough were in the second semi-final, thanks to a couple of Martin Dixon victories and with 15pts, Hackney joined us whilst Arena Essex 18pts and Mildenhall 12pts qualified from the first group. Arena Essex with their powerful heat leader trio of Martin Goodwin, Andrew Silver and the experienced Neil Middleditch and Stoke with Nigel Crabtree, Tom Owen & Paul Thorp were favourites. Come the final heat it was between Middlesbrough with Jim Burdfield and Arena – Essex with David Smart the destiny of the Four Team Championship bit Jim needed to make sure he finished in front of David Smart. On the final lap he drifted wide coming off the second bend trying to catch the guy in front of him with Smart tailed off at the back. All he had to do was stay in position, which he did. The title was Middlesbrough’s for the second year in a row. As he come round for a lap of honour the main stand erupted as dozens of Tigers fans invaded the track and carried him shoulder high on the home straight. Jim had even top scored with 5pts in the final having beaten Malcolm Simmons & Martin Goodwin in his first ride.
Back on domestic duty at Stoke his shoulder popped out but Tim Swales popped it back and he helped us secure a narrow victory but he was in too much pain at Mildenhall the next day. There was acrimony after local rivals Newcastle defeated us 54-23pts at Brough Park as there had been a social the night before and some of the riders had been accused of not being professional, but little did we know Jim’s time in speedway and at Middlesbrough was coming to an end. In total, Jim represented Middlesbrough on 92 occasions.
My memory of Jim was he was a well-liked member of the team and for his dry sense of humour, not just with his fellow team-mates but the supporters too. He was never a heat leader but could be relied upon in the ‘engine room’ of the team. 34 years later and Jim Burdfield’s triumph at the East of England Showground still resonates with many of us and for that reason alone, he will never be forgotten in the history of speedway racing on Teesside. He leaves behind a widow, Jenny, and three daughters.