Alan Rolfe – Eastbourne Eagles Start Marshal (1972-2010) retires

Eastbourne’s modest and friendly Start Marshal Alan Rolfe bowed out of direct raceday involvement at Arlington in typically understated manner – opting to get on with his job rather than seek the limelight. Race night just won’t seem the same without Alan’s neatly dressed professionalism. Always unflappable, prior to any race Alan combined the hand gestures of sign language into a complex mime of signals to direct, suggest and cajole the riders as they faff about at the start line with last moment preparations. Though keen to escape unnoticed at the end of his era of start marshalship, Alan endured an interval centre

last minute preparations for a televised meeting

always time for a chat

super smart for the Sky cameras

between races

last ever meeting versus Poole in KO Cup Final

green interview with Eastbourne Eagles presenter Kevin Coombes. [KC] “Your ears must be shot” [AR] “No, I can hear quite well!” [KC] “Kath’s been here a similar time {since 1969} – is that how you met?” [AR] “Not quite.” [KC] “Would you like to say your goodbyes?” [AR] “Goodbye everybody! I’ll miss the sport but I’ll be back!”

From ‘Behind the Scenes’ profiles in Eastbourne programme 2008

One of the most familiar and distinctive race day figures at any Eastbourne speedway meeting is Start Marshal, Alan Rolfe. Before every race he goes through an elaborate series of mimes and gestures to encourage often recalcitrant riders to efficiently take their allotted place by the starting tapes. Growing up in London, Alan didn’t come to his first meeting at Arlington until 1969 during a time when the club raced fortnightly in the Southern League. “The start used to be on the other side of the track from where it is now but moved this side in 1970. I took over as starter from Roy Prodger in 1972 before that he used to drive the tractor and do the starts as well. I’ve done 36 years now and have missed only one meeting in that time because I was on holiday (it was a Wednesday).” Alan’s wife Kath also works at Arlington and on race day is mostly to be found in the speedway office by the turnstiles. “When we got married on a Saturday in 1969 we came to the speedway on the Sunday and then went on honeymoon!”

“I’ve been doing it so long that I’ve seen the fathers ride and now I’m seeing some of their sons ride too! Obviously, I’ve seen a lot of riders but I don’t have any favourites. In this job, you have to treat everyone the same whether they’re a home or an away rider. If they’re in the wrong place, I move them – it’s a simple as that! I’m so unbiased it’s scary! They’re just four riders sitting there and I have to ensure that everyone is lined up correctly at the tapes so that the referee can run each race properly. Obviously, the riders can’t hear me with the noise of their bikes and with wearing crash helmets, so you have to let them know what you want them to do with the odd touch, gestures or signals. It works well. Another part of the job is to count the laps and wave the appropriate flag – yellow to indicate the start of the last lap and, of course, use the chequered flag as each rider crosses the line, if they finish. I do this with Terry, who away from the track works at a golf course as a green keeper, and we work well and closely together. I have run the odd five-lap race twice (or maybe three times, if you count my first ever one on TV). That was a bit suspect. That was embarrassing. There’s no excuse but these things happen. The televised meetings present their own challenges with all the cameras and that, particularly as they like to get close up shots of the riders just prior to the start. It’s just another meeting in the end, though I do dress slightly differently so wear a tie. The first time they came to film here, I did have a brandy – for the only time – before a meeting to steady my nerves!”

Away from the track, Alan has been equally loyal to his employers, “I’ve only worked for two garages in 31 years.” Alan can’t stay away from Arlington, even when there is no speedway on. “Kath and I also come to stock cars days at Arlington too. We virtually come together as a pair and enjoy helping out in the car park. We go back a long way with Bob Dugard and whether it has been at White City or here, he’s always been great to work with. At the stock cars we talk a lot of stock car people into coming along to the speedway. A lot of the locally based riders have started to come along to watch too – well, Lee [Richardson], Lewis [Bridger] and Edward [Kennett], who has had a go. We used to run stockcars on the inside of the track but since we rebuilt the outside track in the 80s the two sports go their separate ways. We could learn something from stock cars – I think we should have solid starts rather than shale. It would save all this digging and kicking about that the riders do that achieves nothing. I doubt it’ll happen but it’s an idea.”

“Genuinely, I just love it here and each meeting just flies past in no time. I have a unique view but, as I’m working, you don’t really think about it with a job to do. I have no thoughts of retirement but referees have to finish at 65 and, if we last that long, in theory we go at 70. So, I’ve got plenty more years yet and I intend to enjoy them to the full!”

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