Speedway Headlines 1974

Week Ending Jan 5, 1974

The New Year opened to the news from Australia that the Great Britain test team had gone 3-0 up in their winter tour Down Under. This was the result of a 64-44 victory over the home side at Rowley Park, Adelaide in which Britain’s top scorer was Peter Collins with 15 points. The Belle Vue star was closely  followed by Jim McMillan on 13 and George Hunter with 11. Lou Sansom top-scored for the Australians with 13 points but it was a disappointing night for Billy Sanders (7½) and John Langfield (7½). Both teams rode well but, after the meeting, the home captain, John Langfield, announced his retirement from the sport. Reporter Graeme Frost wrote, ‘The British motto on this tour seems to be to entertain and they have certainly lived up to that with 36 wonderful heats of racing during their stay in South Australia.’

These were the top stories from England’s second most popular spectator sport in the year 1974

New headlines are added each week     Scroll down to view later weeks      Click on each picture to see a larger version

It was a year of two General Elections, the Birmingham pub bombings and the Flixborough Disaster. The IRA mounted attacks on the Palace of Westminster, the Tower of London, a coach carrying soldiers on the M62 and Edward Heath’s home. Manchester United were relegated from the First Division of the Football League, the first McDonald’s restaurant opened in London and ABBA won the Eurovision Song Contest with ‘Waterloo’. In the world of British Speedway, the Energy Crisis occupied the minds of many and there were even suggestions of three separate leagues - North, Midlands and South, to cut down the use of petrol…

Week Ending Jan 12, 1974

With Britain and Western Europe in the grip of a full-blown energy crisis, caused by the Arab-Israeli war in the Middle East, supplies of oil were drastically reduced and the price had risen alarmingly from $3 a barrel before the conflict to $11 the following year. By December, Britain would reduce speed limits to 60mph on dual carriageways and 50mph on all other roads. In the Speedway Star, columnist Eric Linden proposed a drastic solution to saving petrol by suggesting three different leagues, one each for the North, the Midlands and the South. There would be 13 teams in the northern group and 12 each in the other two competitions. Commuting foreign riders would be eliminated and second-string or reserve riders would be allocated to the track nearest his home. Thankfully, it never happened.

Week Ending Jan 19, 1974

Ahead of the London Speedway Honours Ball, Wimbledon’s flying Swede Tommy Jansson was named as ‘Mr London’ by the organizing committee and would be presented with his trophy at the event alongside Peter Collins who had won the title of Speedway Star Personality of the Year. Jansson had completed a superb season for the Dons, achieving a higher average than any other London-based rider and followed another Wimbledon favourite, Ronnie Moore, who won the title in 1972. Ironically, the news came just as stories were emerging from the annual meeting of the British Speedway Promoters’ association in Majorca of a plan to ban Swedish riders from the British league in 1974.

Week Ending Jan 26, 1974

The rumours of last week were finally confirmed with the announcement by the British League Promoters’ Association of a total ban on commuting foreign riders from British League participation in 1974. That meant that riders of the calibre of Anders Michanek, Bernie Persson, Tommy Jansson, Christer Lofqvist, Bengt Jansson and others, who had to compete in their own country’s league fixtures, would not be eligible for British competition. The full implications were still not clear but it seemed that any foreigner who could not guarantee to meet all his British commitments would not be considered for a team place. This was followed by the news that guest riders would also be forbidden in the 1974 British League competition except in very restricted circumstances, such as when a team had both its top two riders missing.

Week Ending Feb 2, 1974

On the day that Peter Collins’ parents were in London receiving the Speedway Star Personality of the Year award on his behalf, their son was helping the British Lions win the final test match in Sydney by 55-53. It meant that the Lions had taken the series 6-1 but the final match provided another night of tension which often spilled over into anger. Victory was not clinched until heat 18 when Britain needed two points. There was trouble at the start when, first, George Hunter then top-scorer Peter Collins broke the tapes. Reserve Doug Wyer came in to split the Australian pairing of John Langfield and Greg Kentwell on the last lap to clinch the win. Top scorers for the Lions were Peter Collins (14), Reg Wilson (13) and Eric Broadbelt (10). For the home side, Bob Valentine and John Langfield shared the top spot on 10 points each.

Week Ending Feb 9, 1974

Philip Rising reported this week from the Houston Astrodome, deep in the heart of Texas, where the World Champions Series - a tour put together by Ivan Mauger and Barry Briggs - had arrived to bring speedway racing to that giant arena. ‘Think small,’ he wrote, ‘and you are a nobody here. Which is why the show booked for the Astrodome is billed as “The biggest speedway event ever to hit America”. And in this instance, they’re not far wrong.’ The meeting itself, the Yamaha Classic, was an individual event consisting of fifteen qualifying heats followed by two semi-finals and a grand final. American Champion Mike Bast was the top scorer after the qualifying heats with 13 points but, in the final, could only finish in last place. The eventual winner was Ivan Mauger, followed by Barry Briggs and Ove Fundin.

Week Ending Feb 16, 1974

Mike Bast, American Champion for the previous two years, revealed that he would dearly love to be World Champion and believed he could do it. He recognised, however, that he would need to leave America and race in the British League if he was to have any chance of fulfilling that ambition.

‘Sooner or later,’ wrote Philip Rising, ‘he must make the decision: giveup assured earnings in America for much smaller financial reward in Britain. I think he will do so and, already, one British track has made an approach but whether he will reach that ultimate goal is another matter.’

Bast himself thought the World Championship formula was unfair, arguing that riders from the USA, Australia and New Zealand shouldn’t have to go to England to enter the Championship.

 

Week Ending Feb 23, 1974

Just at a time when their signing of Alf Wells seemed to have strengthened their side nicely for the 1974 season, Berwick Bandits received the unwelcome news that their longest-serving rider, Andy Meldrum, had made an official transfer request. Top of the club’s averages in 1972, Meldrum had yet to make his mark on away tracks and was said to be looking for a base close to the north Midlands. Bandits’ boss Ken Taylor told the Speedway star, ‘To call Andy’s request a blow is hardly scratching the surface of the matter. He has been a tremendous servant to us since 1969 and indeed one we had looked to for big returns in this and future seasons… He feels he needs a new track to allow further progress in his career.’ Berwick promoter Elizabeth Taylor, while disappointed, had made no attempt to block Meldrum’s plans. She said, ‘He’s been a terrific asset to us for several years now. Why should we try to prevent him from moving on?

Week Ending Mar 2, 1974

The effects of the worldwide energy crisis were still being felt across sport and, in March, came the news that Coventry Bees may have to switch their race day to Sunday afternoons in the wake of the Government’s decision to ban the use of floodlights that relied on the National Grid for their electricity supply. Of all the Midlands tracks, Coventry, which did not share its facilities with greyhound racing, was the only one without its own generator  and the cost of buying one had been estimated at £38,000 (at 1974 prices). Daylight racing was therefore the only viable alternative unless a generator could be hired but, so far, efforts in that direction had proved fruitless. Money had been spent on improvements to the stadium over the winter, however, including a new supporters’ shop, an extended first aid room, increased covered standing accommodation along the back straight and, (imagine this today), a police control point.

Week Ending Mar 9, 1974

Speedway’s first victim of the Energy Crisis and the Three-Day Week turned out to be Reading. The Racers had hoped to open the 1974 season at their new Smallmead stadium but the enforced shortening of the working week meant that things would not be completed on time. Promoter Reg Fearman promised fans his team’s absence from the British League would be for only one season but it meant the competition would begin with no defending champions. Fearman told the Speedway Star, ‘We believed we could get the stadium open by June and we started making alternative plans to house our team until then.’ The economic crisis and the acute shortage of materials, however, had turned what would always have been a difficult task into an impossibility.

Week Ending Mar 16, 1974

The cover of this week’s Speedway star was given over to an unlikely new pop group. ‘The Rivals’, as they were appropriately named, comprised a goodly number of faces very familiar to speedway fans, even if they might not have meant much to regular viewers of Top of the Pops. Dag Lovaas, Scott Autrey, Peter Collins, Jim McMillan, Bert Harkins, John Louis, Martin Ashby, Nigel Boocock, Terry Betts, George Hunter and others had crowded into the Decca recording studio under the guidance of Radio 1 DJs Ed Stewart and David Hamilton at the end of the previous season to record a disc. The song on the A-side was titled simply ‘Speedway’. On the flip side, as the DJs used to say, was the now-forgotten song ‘Hoskins Still Rides’. A short extract from the record will appear on the Speedway Fiction website before long.

Week Ending Mar 23, 1974

The Rest of the World side currently touring America clinched a 2-1 victory in their series against the USA with a four-point win in the third match at Costa Mesa. Top scorer for the World was Ivan Mauger who also headed the score-chart in the other two meetings. Barry Briggs wrote in the Speedway Star, ‘These were some of the hardest meetings I have ever ridden in, with the Americans determined to prove masters of their own tiny circuit here but the Rest of the World rode superbly to win the first and the third matches.’ Best riders for the Rest were Briggs and Mauger with especially good support from Zenon Plech. For the USA, Mike Bast was, as expected, the outstanding performer. The scores were:

Match 1: USA 53 - ROW 55. Match 2: USA 59 - ROW 49. Match 3: USA 52 - ROW 56.

Week Ending Mar 30, 1974

The closing days of March saw the eruption of a pay dispute between Belle Vue’s management in the form of Jack Fearnley and long-standing Aces rider Chris Pusey. The Polkadot Kid wanted a better deal and Fearnley was incensed at his demands. He told Speedway Star’s Dick Bott: ‘No-one is going to hold me to ransom four days before our first match. And Pusey needn’t think we’ll release him. We won’t. He can sit on the sidelines if he doesn’t want to ride. His demands are outrageous and totally unacceptable… We have offered Chris perfectly reasonable terms for the season and if he won’t accept them and won’t sign a contract, then he can’t ride for us - and he certainly won’t ride for anyone else. We wouldn’t let him go for all the tea in China!’

Week Ending Apr 6, 1974

This was the week when Eamonn Andrews and the most famous red book in television caught Barry Briggs by surprise with the words, ‘This is Your Life!’ Arriving from the USA, Briggo was met at the airport and taken to Plough Lane to put in some practice laps, allegedly for the benefit of a TV crew preparing  a speedway preview for World of Sport. As Barry wrote in his Speedway Star column, ‘There was so much television equipment around but I really didn’t give it a second thought. I did a dozen or so laps before the TV director indicated that he wanted me to do four more and and ride into the group of riders and officials by the tapes, with my motor cut. By the time I got there, Eamonnn had joined the party, dressed up as a mechanic, and I was hooked.’ Guests on the programme that night included Ronnie Moore, Ove Fundin, Ivan Mauger and Johnnie Hoskins.

Week Ending Apr 13, 1974

In contrast to today’s rather poverty-stricken speedway calendar, the early weeks of the 1974 season saw a host of big-name individual meetings to whet the appetite of any winter-weary supporter ahead of the busy League, Knockout Cup, International, Golden Helmet and World Championship programme. Such things as the John Player Open at Belle Vue, the British Airways Trophy at Coventry and the Marlboro Superama at Hackney were all in the diary for April but, this week, it was Wimbledon who took out a full page advertisement in the Speedway Star for the annual Spring Classic. Due to appear were such crowd-pulling names as Anders Michanek, Christer Lofqvist, Ivan Mauger, Tommy Jansson, Barry Briggs, Peter Collins, Ole Olsen and John Louis. Who could turn down the chance to make the journey to Plough Lane for that one?

Week Ending Apr 20, 1974

In a week which saw much criticism of the speedway authorities from columnist Eric Linden, Belle Vue’s Chris Pusey let rip with his views on the Golden Helmet match race challenges. ‘Why the hell should the Helmet be raced for only once a month?’ He railed. ‘It’s not enough.’ Like many riders and supporters, he favoured a return to the system under which the holder had to defend the Helmet at whichever track he happened to be riding. The once-a-month challenge with riders selected by the BSPA was poor value, he thought, whereas under the old rules, ‘the Helmet used to get round to most tracks during a seaon. Maybe it was difficult to keep track of it sometimes,’ he added, ‘but the interest was always there.’

Week Ending Apr 27, 1974

This week Peter Oakes reported the news that a scheme was under consideration to allow the Americans to select a rider who would be seeded directly to the 1974 Anglo-American-Nordic Final of the World Championship. (The Nordic-British Final as was). The plan was for four U.S. Riders to race a series of open meetings in Britain with the winner taking his place at the Fredericia circuit in Denmark. United States based riders Mike Bast and Bill Cody would fly to England and take part in a series of open meetings alongside Exeter’s Scott Autrey and Hull’s Steve Gresham. A decision was expected in the coming week to allow Autrey and Gresham time to compete in the British qualifying rounds if they so wished.

Week Ending May 4, 1974

The beginning of May brought a shock for the Americans when Scott Autrey and Steve Gresham were sensationally banned by the FIM from competing in the British World Championship qualifying rounds. Earlier, the two riders had been given complete clearance from all the necessary authorities and had been included in the original draw. One of the reasons for the ban was that their own country had wanted to nominate one of them for the vacant seeded place in the Anglo-American-Nordic Final. If they rode in the British rounds and were eliminated, it could hardly be permissible for them to have a second bite of the cherry via a seeded place. Exeter promoter Wally Mawdsley had a busy week ahead of him trying to sort out the arrangements for the young Americans.

Week Ending May 11, 1974

The tragic death of Pete Bailey just a few hours earlier cast a grim shadow over Coventry’s fixture with King’s Lynn and it surprised no one when the Stars walked off with the points. In a simple but moving ceremony before the meeting, Bees’ boss Charles Ochiltree paid tribute to Pete and this was followed by a two minute silence as riders from both teams lined the track and a flag marshal slowly lowered the Union Jack until it touched the shale. Bailey had been loaned out to Ipswich when they entered Division Two in 1969. This was followed by a brief spell with Birmingham before he was recalled by his parent club to ride full time in Division One. The talented and popular rider had been killed in a traffic accident near to Brandon stadium at the age of only 29. He left behind a wife and three children.

Week Ending May 18, 1974

In a hard-hitting opinion column, Speedway Star blamed Ole Olsen and Coventry Bees for what it termed the ‘Golden Helmet Fiasco’ which saw Olsen fail to take up his place as challenger for the Star-sponsored prize against holder John Louis at Foxhall Heath on May 9. Commitments in his home country were given as the reason for the Dane’s non-appearance. In the event, Peter Collins stepped in to fill the gap and took the opening heat, eventually losing the first leg to Louis 2-1. The second leg was due to be raced at Belle Vue at the end of the month. Given that the magazine was putting up the prize money, they had reason to be annoyed. The column concluded: ‘At least our faith in speedway was restored by the efforts of John Louis and Peter Collins in three fine races at Ipswich.

Week Ending May 25, 1974

Following criticism of him the previous week for his failure to take up the Golden Helmet challenge awarded to him, Ole Olsen exercised his right to reply at the top of the front page of the Speedway Star. He wrote: ‘I didn’t receive the written confirmation of this booking until Tuesday - two days before I was supposed to be at Ipswich. What sort of organisation is that? I do 150 meetings a year in 11 different countries and I expect to plan further ahead. Why couldn’t they have let me do the first leg when Wolverhampton (Olsen’s team at the time) were at Ipswich a week later? I will ride against anyone, anywhere but all this criticism I’m getting at the moment is very upsetting.’

As a follow-up to their comments in the previous edition, Speedway Star asked the question of the authorities: ‘Why did it take 11 days from the time Olsen was nominated to the time he received his official booking?’

Week Ending June 1, 1974

Australia took the Western Zone Semi-Final of the World Pairs Championship at Rodenbach, West Germany, beating teams from New Zealand, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Scotland and West Germany. The pairing of Phil Crump and John Boulger scored 28 points, with Crump taking 16. The Kiwi duo of Ivan Mauger and Barry Briggs took second place on the rostrum with 22 points, two more than Sweden’s Anders Michanek and Tommy Jansson. Ole Olsen notched up 16 points for Denmark but Finn Thomsen could add only two to their total while the Norwegians’ 15 point tally was made up of 11 from Reidar Eide and 4 from Dag Lovaas. Scotland’s Jim McMillan and George Hunter scored 14 points while West Germany’s Uhlenbrock and Herlert managed only eight between them. The Final, in which England would take part, was due to be held at Belle Vue.

Week Ending June 8, 1974

They don’t make meetings like this anymore! Tension overflowed in heat 10 of Crewe’s home match with Birmingham when home skipper Jack Millen brought down Carl askew and was excluded for dangerous riding. Askew barged Ian Cartwright into the boards in the re-run and was also disqualified. A girl spectator needed hospital treatment for a lacerated leg after being hit by a board dislodged from the fence in the impact and, as tempers frayed, there was a flare-up in the pits. The second re-run was reduced to two riders, with Keith Wright stepping in for the still shaken Cartwright against Ricky Day. White, recovering from a last lap wobble, won by half a wheel but referee E. W. Roe awarded the race to the Birmingham rider and caused further ructions. He then reversed his decision following Crewe’s protests and after he had consulted with the starting marshal. You couldn’t make it up.

Week Ending June 15, 1974

Hull announced a real coup in talking Yorkshire Television into sponsoring an all-star individual meeting at the Boulevard towards the end of August. The Yorkshire Television Speedway Trophy would get the full outside broadcast treatment and would be screened in the regional programme, Yorksport. Said co-promoter Ian Thomas, ‘This is going to be another terrific boost for speedway, particularly in Yorkshire. We understand that Yorkshire Television will be covering a much wider area from the autumn because a new transmitter will be in use. So we shall make every effort to line up the world class field we feel sure the viewers will vote for.’ Yorksport viewers had been invited to name the 16 riders they would most like to see contest the meeting and the Vikings were aiming to give away 20 free tickets to the fans who got closest to the final choice.

Week Ending June 22, 1974

Despite riding with two steel plates bolted to the right arm he smashed last season at Newport, Eric Boocock became the 1974 British Champion with a 13-point haul at Coventry. The Yorkshireman told Martin Rogers, ‘I don’t yet know what being British Champion will mean to me. The money is nice and everybody wants to know you when you’ve done something like this. So far, I don’t feel any different. Looked at realistically, it can’t do me any harm.’ Previously, Boocock had so many big nights spoiled by engine problems but, on this occasion, he was still toiling in his Wakefield workshop at ten to four on the afternoon of the meeting on the last of five bikes he had built up and tested in the previous 48 hours.

Week Ending June 29, 1974

In the Peter Oakes column this week was an item of news that two speedway stars, Australian John Langfield and American Mike Bast had both become involved in the world of films. Bast had joined the growing number of Stateside motorcyclists to be engaged as stuntmen in film and television movies while Langfield had just completed a week working on an American-financed film named The Sidecar Boys. In this venture, he was recruited to stand in for Ben Murphy, the star of the show who most British viewers would be familiar with from the immensely popular Western series, Alias Smith and Jones in which the actor starred alongside Pete Duel. Although the film told the story of a sidecar passenger making his way in the sport, it included a segment on solos, filmed at the Sydney Showground.

Week Ending July 6, 1974

The Junior Championship of the British Isles returned to Belle Vue for another twelve months following Chris Morton’s emphatic 15-point maximum in the event held at Canterbury on June 29. Morton took the trophy ahead of Steve Bastable on 13 points and Neil Middleditch who scored 12. On one of the best-prepared Kingsmead surfaces of the season, it still proved to be a gater’s night, with only two passing moves recorded in the whole evening, aside from the usual sorting out of order in the first turn. Morton also broke the Canterbury track record in his first heat, trimming 0.8 second off Trevor Jones’s time with a return of 55.2 seconds.

Week Ending July 13, 1974

In a controversial and thrilling clash at Hyde Road, Exeter put the holders, Belle Vue, out of the Speedway Star Cup this week. Belle Vue failed by just two points to pull back the 14-point lead the Falcons had built up in the first leg. Ivan Mauger, the Exeter captain, was excluded for tape breaking in Heat 11 and this brought Falcons’ promoter Wally Mawdsley to the starting line for a strong protest because only one end of the tapes was anchored by elastic. To underline his protest, he ripped the tapes from their clips. Home chief Frank Varey started a rough-house and both bosses were deservedly fined £2 by the referee, Colin Tirrell, for ungentlemanly behaviour.

Week Ending July 20, 1974

At Waterden Road on July 12, England had a field day in the first Test Match of the series, wiping Poland off the map with a crushing 88-19 victory. The Poles, who were unhappy with the choice of venue, escaped a 90-18 whitewash when Ray Wilson was excluded after a first bend fall in heat 17. By that time, sadly, many supporters had already left the stadium. The home riders had a gala night, five of them scoring paid maximums in what must surely have been an all-time world record score-line. Ironically, the Poland team included now fewer than five changes from that listed in the programme.

Week Ending July 27, 1974

The decision by the Swedish authorities to replace Tommy Jansson in their World Pairs line-up ahead of the Final at Hide Road was not only disappointing for the young Wimbledon star but also very expensive. Tommy had already booked his passage to Britain for himself and his parents and found he couldn’t cancel the tickets at the last minute. Not only did he have to fork out for the fares, he also had to pay his entrance fee to Belle Vue and buy his own ticket for the dinner afterwards. Said a dejected Tommy, ‘Everyone seemed to forget that I helped get Sweden into the Final. Anders (Michanek) and I qualified from Germany and I was told I would be riding at Belle Vue. Then, a couple of days before the meeting, I was told I wasn’t riding. By then it was too late to get my money back for the ferry tickets so I decided to come after all.’

Week Ending Aug 3, 1974

Ipswich’s tremendous home run was finally ended by Exeter when the Witches lost their first meeting at Foxhall Heath in two years, going down to the Falcons by 36-41. For the visitors, captain Ivan Mauger scored a maximum but there were other solid contributions, notably from Scott Autrey and Kevin Holden. Tony Davey and John Louis scored 23 of Ipswich’s 36 points between them amid thrills and spills galore in what the Speedway Star reporter described as ‘one of the most remarkably eventful meetings ever staged’ at the Suffolk track. Ipswich fought very hard to keep their record but Exeter deserved credit for tenacity and a never-say-die approach. At the time, the Falcons stood second in Division One, with Ipswich only three points behind in fourth place.

Week Ending Aug 10, 1974

‘Hans Christian Andersen couldn’t have written a better script,’ said Philip Rising, reporting from Fredericia in Denmark on Ole Olsen’s triumph in the Anglo-American-Nordic Final round of the World Championship. ‘Olsen has put Danish speedway on the international map,’ he continued, ‘and it was through his past achievements that a meeting of this stature should come to be staged in Denmark. It was fitting, therefore, that Ole should walk off with the first ever British Nordic American title.’ Olsen scored 14 points, dropping his only point to John Boulger in heat 17. Ivan Mauger was runner-up with 13 points and John Louis finished third with 10.

Week Ending Aug 17, 1974

‘Eric Boocock flew home from the Anglo-American-Nordic Final bruised, battered and broke!’ Wrote columnist Dick Bott this week. ‘The hapless British Champion,’ he reported, ‘had just a half-penny piece left in his pocket when he landed at Manchester Airport 24 hours after his dramatic first race, first lap spill at Fredericia. And but for a sympathetic Danish airport official, he might not have got home at all. “I only had £80-50½p on me and the scheduled flight was £82 but they let me off with what I had got on me,” said Eric.’ Boocock had been stretchered off after striking the safety fence when he tried to overtake American Scott Autrey.

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Week Ending Aug 24, 1974

It was announced this week that Swedish riders would be allowed back into British League competition in 1975, following  a year-long ban. A meeting between BSPA representatives and SVEMO officials was due to be held at the World Final in Gothenburg while more detailed arrangements would follow in October. One of the reasons for banning the Swedes in the first place was said to be the confused economic situation and the fact that transportation costs had become so high but with the First Division due to expand to 18 teams, following the return of Reading Racers, a controlled reintroduction of foreign riders was desirable. It was hoped that the old problem of fixture clashes could be got over by having both countries prepare their fixture lists well before the turn of the year. It was certainly good news for such riders as Anders Michanek, Christer Lofqvist and Tommy Jansson.

Week Ending Aug 31, 1974

In an exclusive interview ahead of the European Final at Wembley, Martin Rogers talked to the Soviet Union’s Gordeev brothers. For some time, fans in the West had believed Valeri and Vladimir were actually the same rider - such was the suspicion of anything Soviet in the days of the Cold War. As kid brothers they had watched speedway in the mid-Sixties at the Balakowie circuit in the Saratov region on the River Volga and recently, the elder brother, Vladimir, had added another notch to his honours board by winning the Continental Final at Togliatti. Of the tracks he would face for the upcoming European and world Finals he told Rogers, ‘Wembley - very difficult. Gothenburg - good track.’ Naturally, his preference was for the big, fast circuits along the lines of those in his Russian homeland.

Week Ending Sep 7, 1974

In a gripping run-off with Ivan Mauger and Ole Olsen, England’s Peter Collins walked off with the European Championship at Wembley, to the delight of the home crowd. The USSR’s Vladimir Gordeev took fourth place. Speaking after his victory, Collins told Speedway Star: ‘Things seem to go quite well for me at Wembley. Knowing that people are so keen to see an Englishman do well makes it all the better.’

One of the highlights of the night, however, was the qualification for the World Final of King’s Lynn’s Terry Betts, riding with a broken collar bone. Six agonizing points saw him through - with just a little help from his British colleagues.

Week Ending Sep 14, 1974

In what was described as ‘the most conclusive World Championship speedway has ever produced’, Sweden’s Anders Michanek took the title in his home country with an immaculate 15-point maximum ahead of Ivan Mauger and Sören Sjösten, on 11 points each. Afterwards, when asked for his views on apossible return to British speedway in 1975, Michanek surprised listeners by saying: ‘There is more to life than speedway and money. This year, perhaps I won the title because I was not so burned out.’ He added, ‘At the moment, I am not talking about returning to the British League.’

Interestingly, one Swedish pressman revealed after the meeting that the Swedish riders had been given every facility to practise at Ullevi in the period leading up to the Final. ‘It is what you might call a common secret,’ he said.

Week Ending Sep 21, 1974

England sat on top of the world this week after a sensational victory in the World Team Cup - a victory made all the sweeter by being achieved in the Slaski Stadium at Chorzow, Poland. The home nation and the Soviet Union were both eclipsed in a scoreline which read: ENGLAND 42, SWEDEN 31, POLAND 13, USSR 10. Peter Collins scored his second successive maximum in a World Team Cup Final and was joined on maximum points by John Louis. The pair were ably supported by Dave Jessup and Malcolm Simmons. The Swedes made them fight in the early stages but by the end, England had provided 10 of the 16 heat winners and were second home in the other six races. To rub salt into the wounds of their opponents, John Louis then came out and won the Victor Ludorum scratch race final.

Week Ending Sep 28, 1974

This week in his Speedway Star column, Eric Linden paid tribute to Ipswich boss John Berry, whose commitment to having no ‘guest’ riders had cost his team the First Division title. The Witches had been in contention for the top spot all season but, robbed of their top riders for some crucial late-season fixtures, meant that their challenge had faded. In particular, for a vital away fixture at Newport, Berry had found himself without John Louis (away with England), Olle Nygren (sacked), Mike Lanham (riding at Peterborough) and Trevor Jones (broken collar bone). The team used rider-replacement for Louis, called Dave Gooderham back from loan at Canterbury and named junior Andy Hines as number eight but, in the event, went down to a 51-27 defeat.

Week Ending Oct 5, 1974

Boston’s Carl Glover became the Division Two Riders’ Champion at Wimbledon Stadium on a sawdust-covered Plough Lane track, just two weeks short of his 22nd birthday. The Yorkshireman took the title after a race-off with the evening’s shock performer Ted Hubbard who had been a last-minute inclusion in place of Canterbury’s Trevor Jones. In the run-off, Hubbard led from the gate but Glover hit back, taking the lead on the second lap and holding on to take the cup back to Boston for the second successive season. Arthur Price had been the champion in 1973.

Also this week, there was bad news for readers of the Speedway Star. Spiralling publication costs meant that from October 12, the cover price would rise from 12p to a staggering 15p! A 25 per cent increase.

Week Ending Oct 12, 1974

Sheffield were the runaway winners of the Speedway Star Cup, beating Ipswich at Owlerton by 49 points to 29 in the second leg of the Final. The Tigers had also won the first leg at Foxhall Heath 41-37. In fact, the Yorkshiremen had enjoyed a fine unbeaten run on their way to the Final, too, scoring home-and-away victories over Hull, Newport and Poole. In the away leg, Sheffield’s top-scoring Arnold Haley had actually spent the previous night without sleep because of a major stomach upset but his 13 points proved crucial in securing a Sheffield victory. In addition to Haley, the cup-winning side included Doug Wyer, Reg Wilson, Bob Valentine, Bob Paulson, Carl Glover and Craig Pendlebury.  

Week Ending Oct 19, 1974

The British Lions touring party, soon to leave for Australia, faced a tough challenge match against title-winning Exeter. It was the idea of Falcons’ promoter and Lions team manager Wally Mawdsley told Speedway Star, ‘There isn’t another track in the country more like an Australian track than Exeter and I wanted to reward our supporters with an extra meeting so Exeter v The Lions seemed a natural choice. I will use it to try out my pairings rather than risk losing points in Australia. If I find that two riders clash as partners, I will be able to switch before we get to Newcastle for our first meeting.’ The match was to be given added spice with the booking of newly-crowned World Champion Anders Michanek as a guest for the Falcons in place of their own Kevin Holden who would be wearing a Lions’ race jacket.   

Week Ending Oct 26, 1974

Belle Vue’s 20 year-old star Peter Collins became the first Englishman to win the British League Riders’ Championship in front of 25,000 vociferous supporters on a rain-soaked track at Hyde Road. The young man from Lymm, Cheshire, not known for his fast gating, streaked from the tapes to head off former World Champion Ivan Mauger in his opening ride and pulled further ahead throughout the race, finishing fully 40 yards ahead at the tapes. That win produced the fastest time of the night - 70.8 seconds - and put down a marker to his fellow competitors. He went on to score a flawless 15-point maximum and was only really challenged by Phil Crump who beat him into the first turn of Heat 10 but Collins overhauled the Australian very quickly afterwards.    

Week Ending Nov 2, 1974

‘Champagne has never tasted so sweet,’ wrote Ivan Mauger in his Speedway Star column after his Exeter side had clinched the British League title. It certainly flowed freely - 36 bottles of it - and it wasn’t just for the riders. ‘The rakers, pushers and everyone was invited to sample the sweet taste of success,’ he went on, ‘and I’m sure that did more for morale than any other single action during the season.’ As anyone who has read Mauger’s autobiography will know, Exeter’s victory meant as much to him as his former team’s failure to clinch the championship. His treatment by the Belle Vue public following his move to the West Country, after many successful years in Manchester, had hurt him badly and fuelled his determination that the Aces should not finish ahead of his new team.

Week Ending Nov 9, 1974

British Lions captain Nigel Boocock had some harsh words for critics of his squad - not least former England captain Ray Wilson - following suggestions that the team was little more than a ‘B’ side. Speaking on the eve of their departure for Australia he said, ‘We are tired of reading that Ray Wilson says… we are a “B” team. After all, we’ve got 90 per cent of the squad that won 14 out of 15 meetings last year. We will fulfil our obligations over there and hopefully come back with the Ashes again.’ It was Boocock himself who had approached the Star for a chance to put the record straight as he saw it. ‘As captain,’ he told Philip Rising, ‘it was decided that I should speak on behalf of the boys. They can only take so much.’ A number of England riders had turned down the trip because the dates did not suit them.

Week Ending Nov 16, 1974

Rumours from Benidorm suggested that British speedway may have three Divisions for the 1975 season as the Second Division Promoters’ Conference got underway in the Spanish holiday resort. There was already a strong lobby in favour of splitting Division 2 into North and South sections but a further suggestion had been thrown into the mix by Eastbourne promoter Dave Lanning on the eve of departure. He proposed that a Third Division should be formed, consisting of new tracks and those finishing near the bottom of the 1974 championship. He then suggested promotion and relegation between the two sections in an effort to breathe new life into the competition.

Week Ending Nov 23, 1974

Against expectations, the Division Two promoters, returning from their annual conference in Spain, rejected the notion of regionalization of their Division in favour of one big league. To be known as the ‘New National League’ in its first year and simply as the ‘National League’ thereafter, it would feature a world record 21 teams. The newcomers would be Crayford and Paisley. Some had thought that Chancellor Denis Healey’s additional 25 per cent VAT charge on petrol - amounting to 8p per gallon - was likely to make a regional league essential but promoter Len Silver said, ‘As far as I am aware, the vast majority of riders are registered VAT traders and are therefore able to claim back the increased tax.’  

Week Ending Nov 30, 1974

Speedway Control Board members were shocked  and surprised by stories in two national newspapers this week suggesting that there would be no more speedway at Wembley Stadium after the 1975 World Final. The reports followed England’s disappointing football international against Portugal in which the home side had played badly and drawn 0-0 against opposition the pundits had claimed would be ‘easy’. Correspondents claimed that the pitch, particularly in the areas where turf had been laid over the speedway track, was bumpy and made control difficult for the players. As the SCB manager pointed out, it was vaguely ridiculous to blame a speedway match at the end of August for the deficiencies of a football pitch in November - especially as England had defeated Czechoslovakia 3-0 the previous month!

Week Ending Dec 7, 1974

British Lions team manager Wally Mawdsley was seeking a meeting with the Australian Speedway Control Council after a controversial first test match which Britain had lost 62-45. The Lions were upset by the starting procedure adopted at Brisbane and by the way the referee allowed bunching to the first turn. It was hoped the meeting would clear up the problems before the second encounter between the two sides at the Exhibition Ground. Despite the difficulties, Britain produced the evening’s top scorer in the fast-starting Doug Wyer, who produced a dazzling 17 points from his six rides. The most disappointing Briton was Jim McMillan who managed just three points from his six starts. Top man for the Australians was John Titman who showed no signs of rustiness after his summer-long layoff.

Week Ending Dec 14, 1974

Following midweek talks between the British team manager and the Australian authorities over certain aspects of the refereeing, the Lions raced to a convincing 58-50 win over their hosts at the Brisbane Exhibition Grounds. Once again, Doug Wyer was top scorer for the British tourists and it was his clashes with Newport’s Phil Crump that virtually decided the test match. Other high scorers for the Lions in a meeting that was won mainly from the gate were Reg Wilson, Wyer’s Sheffield team-mate, and Eric Broadbelt of Belle Vue. Disappointing for Australia were the mechanical problems that beset their captain Steve Reinke who finished with only two points – one of his worst ever totals. It was announced they would be calling up Bob Valentine for the third test at Newcastle.

  

Week Ending Dec 21, 1974

In the Christmas issue of Speedway Star, it was  a regular feature to see pages of goodwill messages from team promoters, sponsors, riders and advertisers wishing supporters and others the compliments of the season. It was a thoroughly pleasant but long-gone tradition. In this week’s edition there were greetings and thanks from teams such as Leicester, Hull, Weymouth and Boston; from individuals like Eric Boocock and Len Silver; from body-colour manufacturers Astrapi and tour operators Tee-Mill. It seems sad that such a nice touch has been largely forgotten and, since the cost was minimal, can it mean that people don’t wish their supporters and rivals a happy Christmas anymore?  

Week Ending Dec 28, 1974

In the final issue of the year, England star Peter Collins lashed out at the BBC after what he termed ‘an insult’ to the sport. An appearance by some of the country’s World Cup stars on the corporation’s Sports Review of the Year was cut short and only a brief clip of film was used. Collins said, ‘I was told I was going to be interviewed and all through the programme I was thinking “it must be me next”. Then nothing happened. All they did was show a bit of film and run the cameras across us so quickly hardly anyone could recognize us. They just don’t seem to want to have anything to do with speedway.’ Poor though it was, it may not have been so surprising. The BBC were unlikely to want to feature a sport which had become almost  exclusively the province of their commercial rival, ITV. What would speedway give, forty years on, for any national TV coverage at all?

1973 Speedway Headlines