NEIL Hodgson is one of East Lancashire’s greatest sportsmen. He is recognised around the world as one of motorcycling’s best. He has won the British and world Superbike titles, and has ridden in America. In the first of a four-part series looking back on his amazing life, he tells us about his rise to the top.

HE would go on to become the British and World Superbike champion, and for Neil Hodgson it all began on the fields of Brierfield.

It was at the end of the 1970s when Neil and his brother Carl, inspired by their father’s motorcycling career, started to ride bikes.

These days their activity might be regarded as a nuisance to the local residents and stopped almost immediately, but back then it proved to be the beginning of something very special.

“My older brother Carl started riding bikes when I was about five,” said Hodgson, now 36.

“I used to go watching him ride and then I started riding, so it was from a really early age for me.

“I was six when I started riding round fields.

“I remember exactly how it felt the first time I got on a bike.

“I was petrified, I hated it. I didn’t really want to do it.

“My brother loved it and I wasn’t too keen on it.

“But we went on some playing fields in Brierfield where my grandma lived, just riding around. In those days you could do.

“If you did it now, the police would be there in seconds and you’d have an ASBO.

“If they’d stopped us in those days, you never know how things would have panned out. But we were doing no harm.

“Then we went to watch a few races and I liked the look of it.

“My dad said, ‘Do you fancy giving it a go?’ and I said yes.

“I started racing when I was nine.”

For Carl, initially the more enthusiastic of the two brothers, a career in the sport did not work out and he quit in his late teens.

It was Neil who had started racing first, and the young sibling’s rapid development meant they rarely competed against each other. Any sort of rivalry never developed.

But there was no silver spoon either for Neil – a primary school pupil at St Francis Xavier primary school before moving on to Fisher More high school in Colne.

His story was far from a magic carpet ride to the top.

Now living on the Isle of Man, a career that came to an end in April has undoubtedly been financially rewarding.

But for a long time it was a struggle for the family, who lived for periods in Nelson, Harle Syke, Colne and Burnley – where his parents still reside now.

So Hodgson will always be grateful to his father for the groundwork that allowed him to fulfil the potential he was starting to show as a young racer.

“My dad used to road race,” he said. “He raced for three or four seasons and just did club race meetings like most people.

“But he stopped racing because he couldn’t really afford to do it.

“He loved bikes, though. The whole passion of motorcycling came from my dad. I didn’t know anything about that because I was young, but for my brother it all came from my dad.

“I don’t think he’s got any regrets because I guess he has lived his racing career through his sons, like a lot of people do.

“Road racing is an expensive sport and my family could never afford to push me a long way in it, but thankfully I got sponsorship.

“In the beginning it was all generated from my dad going knocking on doors, speaking to local companies and all sorts of different people.

“He was really motivated. He spent his life on it, remortgaging the house, working two jobs.

“My parents didn’t even think about having a personal holiday because everything was thrown into me and Carl racing.

“That built an incredible bond. I’m so close to my mum and dad, and so is Carl.

“I am so grateful and I can’t thank them enough.”

Such commitment from his father, both in terms of finance and time, might have left him under extreme pressure to perform.

“It never did,” said Hodgson.

“My dad always pushed me and my mum was the chill factor. It was the perfect combination.

“And my dad certainly never hit me or anything like that. You saw some parents who would go crazy with their kids.

“He did shout and get worked up sometimes but once I started doing road racing and doing well, he never shouted.

“It was scary when you saw lads getting hit by their parents, you used to see that at motocross. You wouldn’t see that now.

“Some of the stuff I saw when I was doing schoolboy motocross, if it happened now the parents would be arrested. And rightly so.”

Motocross rider of the year for the 1986/87 season, the leap to road racing came in 1990. A year later he earned a place in the British 125cc Championship, and the year after that he won it.

Hodgson’s career was up and running.

Even he would be surprised by where it would take him.

>> Tomorrow: How Hodgson became British Superbike champion – three years after almost quitting the sport