Former Belle Vue speedway Star Alan Wilkinson, known as ‘Wilkie’ to his thousands of fans, has died at the age of 71.

He passed under the chequered flag for the final time last Friday at Furness General Hospital following a short illness, with his devoted wife Jean at his bedside.

Wilkinson was born in the small village of Stainton, near Penrith, but moved to Barrow when his father took up employment at the West Cumberland Farmers branch in Lindal.

He soon developed a passion for motorcycles and competed in local scrambles events, often upsetting the established stars with his no holds barred riding style on a works-sponsored Greeves.

He switched to speedway racing in 1970 and rode for Rochdale, where his natural talent soon caught the eye of the promoter Dent Oliver, who also ran the Belle Vue Aces.

In 1971, recognising Alan`s potential, Oliver moved him into the Belle Vue team where he was soon elevated to team captain.

He raced with the British League-winning team that year and was a Knockout Cup winner with them in 1973, while he also represented his country with the British Lions who toured Australia. Despite several offers he stayed loyal to the Aces throughout his career.

His flamboyant and aggressive riding style soon gained him the admiration of thousands of fans and the respect of the opposition, who knew they were going to have a hard time if Wilkie was in their heat.

Many was the time he’d storm up into the referees box to challenge what he thought was an unfair decision, often getting him into trouble with the controlling Speedway Board.

He counted amongst his close friends world champions Ivan Mauger, Peter Collins and many TV Stars from the nearby Granada studios.

His glittering career came to an abrupt end one Saturday night in July 1978 when he crashed heavily at the Belle Vue Stadium, sustaining life-changing injuries that confined him to a wheelchair for the next 42 years.

Throughout that period, he had several health issues as a result of his accident and had many visits to the spinal unit at Southport for treatment.

During all that time, always put on a brave face and never complained. Despite all this, he still maintained his interest in Speedway and on his better days made regular trips down to the stadium to watch the Aces in action.