Bill Lothian: Why Meadowbank will always be much more than a ‘venue’

British athlete David Bedford in the 5000 metres during the British International Games at Meadowbank stadium in June 1971.
British athlete David Bedford in the 5000 metres during the British International Games at Meadowbank stadium in June 1971.
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Driving past Meadowbank Sports Centre this week the message on a giant billboard rang out: “VENUE CLOSED”.

If I hadn’t been aware of re-development plans for this field of dreams beforehand I certainly was now.

But it was the wording that was unsettling because Meadowbank was more than a “venue”; to many of us it was a sanctuary, a place to escape the stresses of everyday life and indulge sporting fantasies.

Since the early December closure we have re-lived the great occasions – David Bedford, Allan Wells and Chris Hoy not to mention Ferenc Puskas and Bobby

Charlton playing in a world five-a-side tournament and Ilie Nastaste in Dewar Cup tennis action - but for many the place evokes essentially personal memories which can’t be eliminated by raising it to the ground albeit to re-emerge in a new form a couple of years or so hence.

Meadowbank and I go back a long way; in fact, our relationship started in the era of Old Meadowbank and Edinburgh Speedway. Thanks to a kindly uncle I discovered speedway before my dad, who, on eventually taking up my invitation to watch the Monarchs insisted on positioning himself on the boards at the first bend despite warnings. Moments later dad retreated splattered by warm shale and greatly chastened at not taking advice from his eight-year-old.

Romanian tennis star Ilie Nastase taking part in the Dewar Cup at Meadowbank stadium in November 1975.

Romanian tennis star Ilie Nastase taking part in the Dewar Cup at Meadowbank stadium in November 1975.

I was privileged to attend both professionally, as a sports journalist, and socially. Edinburgh Rugby might have downed mighty Toulouse there but I was present on the night rugby made its bow in the stadium when my own Leith Accies club tackled border visitors Gala in what was billed a “prestige floodlight friendly.”

Some years earlier I had covered, for the Evening News, the opening ceremony of the 1986 Commonwealth Games. You know, the one featuring a

papier mache replica of the Loch Ness Monster and hundreds of dancing school-kids. Exiting the stadium it was the appalling July weather that was the topic of conversation. Or, as a Canadian sports writer put it not altogether in jest: “why didn’t they hold these Games in summer?”

Meadowbank and I drifted apart in recent years but two memories bring a smile to my face. 2016 ended with a generous invite to present prizes on behalf of “Community Sport” at the annual show of the Royalettes baton twirlers and felt like a giant among Lilliputians. Last year, Meadowbank was chosen to host an exhibition of Star Wars memorabilia.

Monarch rider Brian Brett takes the lead with Dud McKean on his tail at medowbank speedway track in April 1966.

Monarch rider Brian Brett takes the lead with Dud McKean on his tail at medowbank speedway track in April 1966.

Popping across the road to a fast food restaurant for lunch my grandson and I found ourselves queuing behind a couple of Stormtroopers, one Princes Leia and a Chewbacca! Surreal didn’t near do justice to that scene.

Those are the type of memories that will be held dear by those of us never good enough to have medals dangled round our necks or garlands awarded.

Meadowbank was always much, much more than a “venue” and the switching on those trademark floodlights once again can’t come soon enough.

Meadowbank Stadium , Edinburgh hosts a Sci-fi festival.Leon Grieve as Darth Mole and Alan Preston as Obi 1.

Meadowbank Stadium , Edinburgh hosts a Sci-fi festival.Leon Grieve as Darth Mole and Alan Preston as Obi 1.