A legendary club reduced to ashes.
Byline: Mike Blackburn Senior Reporter firstname.lastname@example.org
FORTY years ago today one of the most famous clubs in the region was burnt to the ground.
Many on Teesside will still have fond memories of the legendary South Bank nightspot The Sporting Club, or as it was known to many "The Sporty".
One of the largest clubs in the North-east, The Sporty attracted a huge following. Countless famous singers and bands performed there including Englebert Humperdinck when he was at Number 2 in the charts with Release Me, The Drifters, Bobby Vee, and Paper Lace.
But on Christmas Eve 1975 the club made the headlines for all the wrong reasons when firefighters were called out to tackle a massive blaze there.
The Sporty was totally destroyed, as well as the Empire bingo hall that was above and a parade of shops and offices on the front of the building.
John Heagney, who ran the club with brother Mike, said: "It was a very sad day for the many staff and customers.
"Whilst the fire was still burning the police and fire brigade and a few days later Home Office forensics all said arson was not suspected."
But around 18 months later a couple of villains were arrested in Hartlepool and coughed up information on the blaze that later led to people being jailed for arson.
Following the fire Mike and John looked into rebuilding The Sporty, "but it was a bridge too far," said John, 63, who lives in Carlton.
But even today the brothers regularly come across former clubbers who want to reminisce about the club and its glorious heyday.
"It's remarkable how people remember," said John, who with Mike also operated the Heagneys chain of stores throughout Teesside.
"Nightclubs then were very different to what they are now. The clientele is different now. You look at all the old photographs of The Sporty and everyone was so well dressed." Back in the early 1970s The Evening Gazette reported how a ban on long hair had made the South Bank Sporting Club a better club, according to Mike Heagney.
He said the club's directors did not object to long hair, but the type of person that wore it.
"We even stop artistes with long hair," he explained.
| Clubgoers at The Sporty on the dancefloor
| Some of the acts at the Sporting Club, which included Englebert Humperdinck, when he was high in the charts, The Drifters, Bobby Vee and Paper Lace
| The Sporting Club in South Bank, which burned down on December 24, 1975
| Below are menus from the early 1970s with fruit juuice as a starter for 15p and fillet steak for PS1.60