Back in 1972 when Edinburgh’s Meadowbank Velodrome was still a thing of beauty and not kindling-in-waiting, the British Madison Championships were held there.
I’d been reading about the Six Days over the winter and wanted to see for myself what a ‘chase’ was really like.
The field was meagre but I remember being fascinated by the tactics, technique and speed.
The men who won that day were the young Australian rider, Murray Hall – then riding for Croydon Premier – and his compatriot, Tom Moloney.
Back then Aussies could contest British titles if they were in a UK club; until the Archer Road Club became a virtual Australian colony, the men from Down Under began to Hoover up too many titles and the BCF changed the rules.
We caught up with Murray recently during our researches about the Six Day races of old – he has a good tale to tell.
Tell us about the Archer Road Club connection please, Murray.
“There was a connection between Stuart Benstead – who was the man behind the Archer – and myself that began when I first arrived in London in 1972.
“I’m not sure what it was but we saw a lot of each other around the racing circuit of that era; Herne Hill, Crystal Palace, Paddington and the other London and South East venues – we got on well.
“As other Australians arrived, Archer-Cutty Sark – as everyone referred to it – became a bit of a de facto Australian club.
“Stuart was supportive of us all and we returned the favour with good results.
“When we cleaned up at the British track championships in 1974 the BCF moved to exclude foreigners from competing in their National Championships (they had a point).”
What was it like arriving in London with a suitcase and a bike?
“Not easy but when I first arrived in London as an 18 year but there was no looking back.
[Hall had to put to the back of mind what many may have seen as a portent – the crash of a British European Airways, Hawker Siddeley Trident airliner near the town of Staines, killing all 118 people on board just an hour before he landed from Australia. ed.]
“I had two phone numbers in my pocket, if neither had answered it would have caused me some stress but I would have survived, there was no option.
“As it turned out the Brotherton family who were living in Slough answered the phone and offered me a bed ‘til I found my feet.
“I had no back up funds so my attitude was that of a professional, train hard, race well and earn enough to live off. It sounds easy when you say it fast but it was a week to week challenge and I had the frame of mind to do it.
“Also, as an Australian used to long distances between events I wasn’t afraid to travel and I would chase races, going to Leicester or even Edinburgh to throw the leg over the bike.”
What was the dream?
“That was uncomplicated; I just wanted to be a good bike rider.”
Where did you stay in London?
“After I found my feet and way around London I moved out of the Brotherton family home and moved in above Geoffrey Butlers shop in Croydon and that became my base for quite a while.
“I remain grateful to George Clare [ex-Scottish international rider who ran the GB business and whose frames were ridden by many of the top track men of the era. ed.] who allowed me to stay there.”
What were your best results in the UK?
“I won British championships in the Team Pursuit & Madison.
“And I won a heap of races around the circuit – Herne Hill, Paddington, Crystal Palace, Portsmouth, Brighton…”
Tell us about Gary Wiggins, he was a contemporary, wasn’t he?
“I knew Gary really well, he and Dave Sanders turned up in England a year or so after me.
“We travelled a lot together and obviously rode the same races.
“At that point in the mid 1970’s I wouldn’t have said he was going to finish on the Six Day circuit, I didn’t at that time see that in him.
“But when I returned to Australia, he stayed on and persevered. He found his legs a couple of years later. He was a hard case but a likeable bloke and we got on well. I’ve no doubt that Wiggins set up Maurice to race the Christmas Carnivals in Australia 78-79. I can hear the conversation now; ”Pack your bags Mo, were going to Australia”.
“It would have been as simple as that and a testimonial to the Wiggin’s – Burton relationship.”
You had two Commonwealth Games silvers – tell us about those.
“The Poms [I believe this refers to our English cousins, ed.] had won a bronze medal at the Munich Olympics in ‘72 in the team pursuit; so in ‘74 we were only ever going to finish second – they walked all over us in the final.
“In the Ten Mile Scratch race I knew most of my opposition well, especially the Poms.
“Steve Heffernan who took the gold was already a good mate of mine and he got away by himself at some stage. In the sprint to the line I was running him down at ten to one but he held on for a half a wheel win.
“I was thrilled to get on the dais as my parents were in the back straight.”
You had some nice results on the continent but chose to go back to Australia – why?
“The only regret I have from cycling is that I didn’t stay on or return.
“I had the same opportunity as Wiggins and Maurice regarding the Six Day races and I’d already ridden the amateur events in London, Ghent, Brno and Grenoble so I was setting myself up OK at the time.
“I had moved back to Ghent at the start of winter because I could train on the track there but I was agitated living with some other Australians in Kazzematten Straat [a rather insalubrious low rent area of Ghent, ed.] and the summer season in Australia looked more appealing.
“Dave Sanders had the same idea and we jumped on the same plane home. Back in Australia life was a bit easier, I could work and race and the passion to return faded away.”
And you had Six Day wins of your own…
The Launceston Six Day race in Tasmania; twice with Dave Sanders.”