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Wednesday 10th February 2016

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Date Of Birth : 15/4/1940
Birthplace : Glasgow
One of the greatest 'rags-to-riches' stories in Monarchs' history is that of Glaswegian Bert Harkins, the former employee of Glasgow Parks Department who found world-wide fame on the speedway track and who captained the Wembley Lions in the most famous stadium in sport.
Robert Pearson Harkins was born on 15th April 1940, his birthplace being listed as Govan Fire Station! A speedway fan from an early age, Bert's early racing experience was on cycle speedway and road racing tracks. By the time he was thinking about taking up speedway the only Scottish track was Edinburgh, so he made the weekly trek to Old Meadowbank from early in 1961.

His red hair and specs made him an obvious character, and his racing in second half events gradually marked him as a rider to watch., Competition was fairly fierce in the early sixties for tail-?end places and it was a long wait for Harkins before he was finally given team chances.

Bert's first recorded second half race win came on 7th April 1962, in a time of 75.4 (8 seconds outside the track record). These became faster and more frequent, often in a distinctive Birmingham race jacket, but it wasn't until 6th July 1963 that he was selected to race in the team during a serious spate of injuries. The debut should have been at Cradley - but it was rained off. The following week he rode at Exeter and St. Austell, picking up a couple of points at the latter circuit, and he was then a fully? fledged Monarch!

Not that he was an overnight success. Indeed it was almost exactly one year before he got into the side again, this time to stay, He really made his mark in the 1964 Provincial Riders' Championship round at his home track with a brilliant 10 points, including a race win over Redmond and George Hunter. A paid 9 score against Newport rounded off the season and he was justified in looking forward confidently to the first British League season in 1965.

It was not a good year for him, or indeed for the team. His home form was patchy, his away form bad and a broken ankle in July kept him out until nearly the end of the year. Fortunately, beneath the happy-go-lucky exterior lurked a steely resolve which kept him on the right path in spite of setbacks.

1966 was a better year for Bert; no injury worries and an average now just under 5. By 1967 he picked up his first maximum in a memorable win over Sheffield, and although he was anything but consistent there were now flashes of brilliance in his racing. He qualified for the World Championship semi-final for the first time, and at the end of the year sought to widen his experience with a trip to Australia (missing the last two Meadowbank meetings). This was the start of regular world travelling for Bert Harkins, star rider.

At Coatbridge, the Monarchs home in 1968-9, Bert was a popular heat leader, even if he was still a bit unpredictable. 37 points (1968)and 35 (1969) took him to the World Championship semi in both seasons, though he went no further, and one of his best performances of the period was a superb 17 for Scotland against Norway at his home circuit.

In January of 1970 though, came the sad news that Monarchs would not be operating and Coatbridge experiment was over. Bert and the other Monarchs had the chance to move to glamour club Wembley, and Bert said ?Yes?.

He was to become a Monarch again in 1977, but it was the interim period which was in many ways his most fruitful. He captained Wembley in the absence of the Swede Fundin in 1970, and took over the job full time in 1971, setting a great example to his teammates, He was most unlucky to drop out of the World Championship at Hampden in the Nordic British Final due to a broken collar bone. With a meeting at Wembley to follow there had been every chance of World Final appearance.

Wembley pulled out after two seasons and Bert went on to give great service to Sheffield (1972) and Wimbledon (1973-75). Although his scoring dropped a little with the Dons, his personality and reputation as an all-out trier kept him in demand for bookings all round the globe.

Along with Jim McMillan and George Hunter he gave Scotland its highest ever profile internationally, enjoying good results in the World Pairs event.

In 1976 he again broke new ground by spending a season in America with the Bakersfield Bandits team, but when Edinburgh reopened in 1977 he was the obvious choice as captain. Now a new generation of Edinburgh fans were 'Bertola' admirers.

He was top man in 1977 at Powderhall, scoring well everywhere and recording a double maximum in the Scottish Cup win over Glasgow at the end of the season. It wasn't a bad year all round, but 1978 was a disaster as our all-star team flopped. Even Bert couldn't save them.

Illness married his 1979 campaign, though he was still very handy at home, and there were many who were sorry when he moved in 1980 to Milton Keynes where he rode just one season before retiring to concentrate on his motorcycle spares and accessories business. Still very much a man-about-speedway, he has taken on the relatively thankless job of Scottish team manager and has sponsored several of the young Scottish riders in recent seasons. He has also been noted for his unique journalistic contributions to various publications.

He has become one of the stars of the various veteran do?s and has a great willingness to travel, especially up to Scotland. Bert Harkins Racing sponsored the Scottish Open Championship in 2000, and Bert was honoured with the presidency of the World Speedway Riders? Association in 2008.

Proud of Scotland, he liked to sport the tartan on and off the track and anyone asked to name a Scottish rider would probably name Bert first of all, ahead of perhaps slightly more successful riders.

Having said that, he is probably under-rated as a rider; he was a respected competitor at the top level and a great team man for all his clubs. One of the all-time great characters of the sport, he has always been a credit to club and country.
1963-69, 1977-79
8/7/63 at Exeter
Cliff Cox, Dudley McKean, Alan Cowland, Bert Harkins 75.4
21/10/79 at Boston
Steve Lomas, Dave Allen, Tony Featherstone, Bert Harkins 65.6












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