We didn't know that the bleak ride to Southport 2019 was the last ride to a National Rally for a long time...
We didn’t know that the bleak ride to Southport 2019 was the last ride to a National Rally for a long time…

Wow, that rally season went by quickly! Who would have thought that last year’s Southport National would actually be the last National Rally for at least a whole year?

Like many scooterists, I really thought we’d be able to at least get to the last BSRA event. I was looking forward to a decent ride and a drink but the rule of six and early pub closures announced earlier this month kyboshed any thoughts of enjoying ourselves. Then ‘Tier 3’ restrictions escalated the town’s Coronavirus status to ‘Very high’ so it’s another weekend at home I’m afraid.

Col has been going stir crazy as well and has been reminiscing again. Here he gives us a little history lesson about Southport as a rally destination.

Iggy

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8 decades of scootering

Here in the UK, scooter enthusiasts have been setting off on journeys to the seaside for weekends away in eight different decades now. That sounds like an incredibly long time to me. My flashback articles pretty much all start back in the decade that was the 1980s, because this is recognised as when the organised National Scooter Rally formula we follow today first began.

The final National Rally of the 2020 season should have been this weekend in the Lancashire seaside resort of Southport, but the COVID-19 virus has put a stop to it, just like the rest of this year’s large (and small) scale rallies.

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NRC Trade & Custom Show

In a slight twist on the previous scooter rally flashbacks, I’m going to start this one at a custom show venue from 1988. To be precise, the first-ever National Runs Committee (NRC) Scooter Trade and Custom Show at the Mansfield Leisure Centre, which was 32 years ago this month. This may sound a fairly tenuous link, but the reason Southport was picked as the final rally destination of 2019 was to replace the long-running Bridlington rally that had served as the end of year Trade and Custom show venue for approximately 26 years. The Brid rally followed on from the Alfreton show, which was the successor of the original Mansfield show.

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NRC/NSRA Trade & Custom Show timeline

  • NRC 1988: End of year Trade & Custom Show was in Mansfield
  • 1989, 1990 & 1991: Were the newly formed NSRA Trade & Custom Shows at Alfreton – also  the home of last summer’s excellent (ScooterExpo) custom show
  • 1992, 1993 & 1994: NSRA shows were held at Bridlington
  • 1995: NSRA Trade & Custom show was held at Great Yarmouth
  • 1996: We saw a return to Bridlington with the NSRA. This was to be the final big event organised by the NSRA
  • 1997: The end of year show was organised and run by the newly formed Britsh Scooter Riders Association (BSRA)
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This event grew and grew in size and ran right through until the final official Bridlington end of year show in 2018. In the early 2000s, the rally stopped being advertised as ‘The Trade & Custom Show’ and was just simply called the Bridlington Scooter Rally, but to many of us it will always be remembered as the legendary end of year custom show. That said, I personally thought Southport was a brilliant replacement venue and I wish I was heading there on my scooter right now.

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Southport is certainly no stranger to scooter events. I can’t think of another town that has hosted National Rallies, pre-season rallies, end of season rallies, Alliance organised scooter weekenders and ‘Coast to Coast’ start and finish venues.

140 arrests

The Southport National Rally as we know it started back in September 1983, which was before my riding time, but I remember reading a write up in Scootermania magazine saying the seafront campsite was basic, and approximately 140 odd of the 1500 rally goers were arrested over the weekend for drunkenness and disorder (can you remember when every single rally write up contained the number of arrests?). The relatively near town of Morecambe hosted rallies throughout the 1980s and seemed to replace Southport geographically on the rally calendar for the best part of the following decade.

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1992 emergency newsletter

In July 1992, Southport returned to the national calendar, but, with some last-minute confusion. The local council stopped co-operating with rally organisers – the NSRA, and two weeks before the rally took place it was in turmoil. The NSRA sent out a newsletter with an information contact phone number to ring for the latest info about plans for the rally. This phone contact offer was unheard of at the time (you didn’t get 12 months advance notice of a rally, or social media contact to discuss your plans back then readers).

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A last-minute agreement secured the seafront campsite near Marine Lake, with the night time dos in the Floral Hall. I think I’m right in saying the Floral Hall, Theatre, and Convention Centre are all names for the same building, and its guises over the years (basically the 2019 custom show venue). The rally seemed to go down well and was voted in for the 1993 season.

Back then the T5 had replaced the PX as the rally weapon of choice for many
Back then the T5 had replaced the PX as the rally weapon of choice for many

Dodgy entertainment

The ‘93 rally was a month earlier, in June and used the same campsite and night time venue, a slightly better-attended rally than 92’s. The band Dodgy headlined the weekend’s entertainment (if I remember correctly, they were the live first band to be allowed to play a National since the late 1980s – Iggy). Considering they were getting national airplay on Radio 1 at the time it was quite a big thing for rallies at the time. Although they were initially keen to play to a scooterist audience, in an interview a few years later they said it was the worst gig they’d ever played at that point.

1994: Iggy's old MRB 170 T5 in the background, with missing filler on the panel after he fell off in the snow whilst going to work (he was on crutches at the time of the crash as well)
1994: Iggy’s old MRB 170 T5 in the background, with missing filler on the panel after he fell off in the snow whilst going to work (he was on crutches at the time of the crash as well)

VFM

In 1994, the rally was promoted to Bank Holiday status at the end of May. Although strangely, the Floral Hall was already otherwise booked, so it meant a smaller nighttime venue was found. This resulted in people needing advance tickets to get in because of capacity limits. The rallies alternative night dos were run at the time by VFM and they proved much more popular back then.

The NSRA’s popularity was noticeably on the decline at some events, this rally especially. Times were changing.

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Prince of Wales

Four years passed before the next National at Southport, by which time the NSRA had folded and been replaced by the BSRA. The 1998 visit was organised and run by VFM in conjunction with the BSRA. It was my most memorable Southport rally ever, with great end of July weather and a night do in the plush and elegant Prince of Wales Hotel. A warm welcome to a hotel with a library and comfy leather sofas for a night do would have been unimaginable I guess back at the first 1983 rally. Another slightly tenuous link is that this rally to Southport, the 5th National of the 1998 season was originally due to be a rally to the town of Alfreton, home of the 2nd 3rd  and 4th end of year Trade and Custom show rallies. Problems with Derbyshire constabulary meant it was cancelled and Cleethorpes became its replacement.

An early arrival for Col and his Prodigy themed PX
An early arrival for Col and his Prodigy themed PX

Queens Jubilee

Four more years passed before the next Southport National, taking us up to 2002. A new campsite at Victoria Park, a couple of miles out of town, (our small group of riders were first there). This rally coincided with the Queens Golden Jubilee Bank Holiday, which meant the end of May normal bank holiday was delayed by a week to the start of June; an elongated four-day weekend was marred by bad weather towards the end of it, but a very good rally nonetheless.

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Rallies for all-seasons

Throughout the 2000s decade, Southport hosted pre-season, end of season, scooter weekenders and coast to coast events as mentioned earlier. But following on from a pre-season rally in early 2017 the next National was last year’s end of year Trade and Custom Show, which proved very popular. The last big rally of the year on the west coast of England is very rare indeed.

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Southport Factoids

  • At the 1983 rally, approximately 1 in every 10 scooterists that attended got arrested (mostly for drunkenness or violence)
  • Southport only hosted 1 National in the 1980s (the above fact won’t have helped our cause)
  • The 1998 VFM organised rally had a concierge wearing top hat and tails, welcoming scooterists into the night do. Definitely a first on a rally
  • The 2002 rally was the only National Rally ever to officially end on a Tuesday, due to the elongated bank holiday celebrations (Golden Jubilee Weekend)

Roll on the 2021 rally season

Stay safe SLUKers Col

Head to page 2 for Col’s NRC/NSRA & Southport Rallery

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