Speedway Fiction

Great stories for speedway fans!

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Speedway Fiction

Great stories for speedway fans!

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MICHAEL HANSEN…

…is the only author writing novels specifically aimed at fans of motorcycle speedway racing.

Sadly, speedway in Britain today is very much a niche sport but it was not always the case. In the years between its introduction in 1928 and the war, crowds at dirt track meetings were huge and speedway riders were some of the highest-paid sportsmen. Again, in the 1970s, speedway enjoyed a revival in Britain and became what was described at the time as England’s ‘second most popular spectator sport’.

These are the periods in which Michael Hansen’s novels are set - when Britain was the centre of the speedway world.

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Earlier articles…

Heavens, the noise!

Cobble Street Speedway Star

Riddle of the Sands

Speedway Beginnings

Speedway Advertisements in 1929

WHERE EXACTLY WAS ZAMALEK SPEEDWAY?

In doing the preparation for the book Cobble Street Speedway Star, much of the research involved life in Salford during the 1920s and 1930s. I was lucky enough to be able to consult many, highly-detailed Ordnance Survey maps of the city as well as read many personal accounts of people who lived and worked there. This was supplemented by large numbers of historic photographs which all added detail and anecdote to the story.

For the episode set in Egypt during the autumn and winter of 1928, however, material was far thinner on the ground and often ambiguous. The story follows the real-life trip made by 20 speedway riders who, anxious to earn a living during the off-season, arranged to set up a speedway in Egypt.

According to a website celebrating and commemorating the life of Gus Kuhn, one of the pioneers of motorcycle racing, two of the group, Ivor Creek and Billy Galloway went ahead of the main party in late September to supervise construction of the track which was reportedly built inside the dog racing circuit of a facility belonging to the Egyptian Greyhound Racing Association. The remainder left Liverpool on October 24 on the SS California.

The article sites the track at Zamalek, ‘a district of Cairo on an island in the Nile River’. Another report in the Auto Motor Journal of January 31, 1929, written by Les Blakebrough, one of the riders on the tour, describes it as ‘situated at Zamalek, Cairo, hard by the swift-flowing waters of the Nile’.

Riddle of the Sands

Zamalek Speedway, Cairo, 1928. The track was reportedly constructed inside the dog track belonging to the Egyptian Greyhound Racing Association

Riders on the Egyptian tour lined up at Zamalek Speedway, Cairo in 1928

Confirmation that the track was in Zamalek also comes in the books ‘Ride It!’ by Cyril May, ‘Speedway Panorama’ by Ron Hoare and ‘Warzone Speedway’ by Trevor Davies’. On the Speedway Archive website (edinburghspeedway.blogspot.co.uk) under the heading ‘Speedway Timeline 1928’ and also on the website Speedway Years (timetoast.com), however, it is claimed that the Cairo speedway track was at the Heliopolis Race Course. On the Edinburgh site (to whose webmaster I am very grateful for all the information he supplied), their naming of Heliopolis is based on articles in the Auto Motor Journal of November and December 1928. There is even a group photo of the riders sitting in mufti in the grandstand at heliopolis. Even so, I can find no evidence anywhere that any speedway racing took place there and the difference is quite significant. My own conclusion is that the racing took place on Boulaq Island, (now known as Gezireh Island or Zamalek Island) at the Gezira Sporting Club. This club, originally named the Khedivial Sporting Club was first opened in 1882 when Britain consolidated its military hold over Egypt. It was named in honour of the Kedive or ruler of Egypt, Mohammed Tewfiq but when the Khedive was replaced with a Sultan, the name of the club was changed to the Gezirah Club. It included a race course, golf course, polo grounds, tennis courts, squash courts and a cricket ground.

It may well be, of course, that there was a connection of some sort with Heliopolis but, on checking with Atef Ramses of the Egyptian Travel Link, he stated that the speedway track which, of course, no longer exists, was indeed on Zamalek, between the northern part of the island and the Boulaq Bridge.

As this 1930s map indicates, Heliopolis and its racecourse are almost five miles away from the River Nile. This does not comply with a description that says the speedway circuit was built ‘on an island in the Nile River, or ‘close by the swift-flowing waters of the Nile’.

The arrangements were made via the Bentley racing driver and shareholder Woolf Barnato, who was a director of the Egyptian Greyhound Racing Association. As a wealthy member of the British Establishment, Barnato is more likely to have been connected with the Gezira Sporting Club than the city of Heliopolis which was built by the Belgians.

Boulaq Island

(Zamalek Island)

Heliopolis Racecourse

is 4.5 miles from the River Nile in this direction

CAIRO

In addition, the programmes for the meetings were headed ‘Zamalek Speedway’. If the track were in Heliopolis rather than Zamalek, it is difficult to see why it would not have been named ‘Heliopolis Speedway’.

The old aerial photograph below, taken in 1936, shows Gezirah Island and, arrowed at the top right is a stadium that could be the Zamalek speedway and greyhound circuit. We do know the track was narrow and 440 yards in length.

Gezirah Sporting Club. The circuit (arrowed) at the top right looks tantalisingly like a speedway track although there is no evidence that it actually is. Zamalek Speedway was a narrow, 440 yard track.

If you know of any evidence I have missed, do share it if you would like to. You can e-mail me via the Speedway Fiction contact page.

© Michael Hansen 2014


Atef Ramses of the Egyptian Travel Link believes this is the stadium. It later became the Mukhtar al-Tetsh Stadium, home to the Al-Ahly football club before they moved out to the Cairo International Stadium. The satellite image below shows the Mukhtar al-Tetsh stadium today (circled) and the modern Tahrir Bridge has replaced the Qasr el-Nil Bridge shown in the black-and-white photograph.