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Tommy Jansson Memories

May 20 is the anniversary of the death of Per Tommy Jansson, one of the most popular and talented speedway riders ever to grace the British League. In his native Sweden, he rode for the Smederna team in his home town of Eskilstuna. In Britain, he was the captain of Wimbledon and, in the eyes of riders, pundits and fans, a world champion in the making.

He died in a track crash at Gubbängen Speedway, Stockholm in the 1976 Swedish Final round of the World Championship at the age of only 23 and the sport lost one of its most intelligent, articulate and focussed competitors. Many people also lost a friend.

Speedway Fiction marks this anniversary by recalling some of the things people said about him in 1976.

In Dons’ colours at Plough Lane in 1975

Joel Jansson, Tommy’s father, at his home in Törnerosgatan, Eskilstuna - surrounded by his younger son’s trophies

Picture courtesy of Eskilstuna Courier

Ever popular - signing autographs at the entrance to the pits tunnel at Plough Lane

Autographed after winning the Golden Helmet at Plough Lane in 1976

From the novel Black Lightning by Michael Hansen

Tommy Jansson was killed on May 20 at Gubbängen speedway, just outside Stockholm, during the Swedish Final round of the World Championship. A rider on his inside had hit a bump and careered into him, carrying them both into the hard wooden safety fence, the top of which had sliced through an artery in Tommy’s neck. There, on the third bend, in blood and shale and tangled metal, one of the brightest lights in world speedway had been extinguished and, with the dying of that flame, something of the heart of the sport – and certainly the heart of the Dons’ team – had been lost.

Riders had been killed before, of course. Too many of them in this most gladiatorial of motorsports. Yet the death of a young Swede – at twenty-three, only three years older than Joe – his star in the ascendancy and, according to so many pundits and fellow riders, a world champion in the making, delivered a shock like no other. His youth, his beauty, a prodigious talent and massive popularity among speedway fans belied a modesty and readiness to make time for people that others in the sport rarely possessed.

In June, Joe had made his second visit to Eskilstuna, Tommy Jansson’s home town, and stood with other Wimbledon riders, still too stunned to say what it meant to them, watching Tommy’s brother lowering the small urn containing the remains of their captain into his native Swedish soil. The funeral service in the town’s Klosters Kyrka, attended by hundreds in the church and thousands outside, had passed Joe by in a mist of tears. At the burial, he had been too numb to feel anything but the warmth of the early summer sunshine that seeped through his jacket and seemed so out of place on that darkest of days. Only when he was back in London, sitting in his second-hand BMW in the car park at Plough Lane stadium, did the feelings of emptiness, anger and deep injustice truly take hold of him.

His despair was far from unique. Such had been the universal sense of shock that the world of speedway found itself reeling. Columnists in the press struggled for the right words. The 1975 world champion and fellow countryman Anders Michanek was so horrified that, for a time, he no longer wanted to ride. Nor was Joe alone in thinking that something of the lifeblood of British speedway had been buried that day in a Scandinavian steel town along with the ashes of its favourite son. There was an overwhelming sense – almost a premonition – that Tommy’s death was more than just a personal loss, shocking, tragic and horrible though it was. It seemed to signify that 1976 would be a pivotal year. That, for British speedway, nothing would ever be quite as good again.

Philip Rising in the SPEEDWAY EXPRESS, July edition, 1976

One of the reasons why Tommy Jansson made such striking progress over the past few years was his utter determination to get to the top. "So many riders in Sweden get so far and no further," said Tommy. "They have the ability but not enough interest. You cannot be a full-time rider in Sweden alone. There is not enough money. You must work during the day, concentrating on your job, then spend the evenings working on your bikes and practising. That is very hard and many go off to do other things. My aim was always to ride in England. When I first started I knew I would have to race in the British League because I wanted to make it to the top. Some others give up before they have really started." In so many ways Tommy's death is still impossible to fully accept. Numerous people have said sincere and honest things about Tommy since that fatal evening in Stockholm. But I still find the nicest tribute is the most common: everyone liked Tommy, and in speedway that's no mean achievement.

SPEEDWAY STAR editorial, May 29, 1976

Tommy was aged just twenty-three and already established as one of Speedway's outstanding riders. His age disguised a wealth of experience gained from riding around the world. Jansson was a precocious star, taking his place in the Smederna team of Eskilstuna - his home town - in 1969 when he first qualified for a licence. Two years later, aged just eighteen, Tommy reached his first World Final, in Gothenburg, and scored one point. That same season he had six matches for Wembley and in 1972 joined Wimbledon. Apart from the 1974 campaign, when Swedes were banned, Tommy had been with the Dons ever since and was, without exaggeration, idolised by the Plough Lane patrons. Tommy was a World Final reserve in 1973 and 1974, a finalist at Wembley last September when he scored seven points. He was World Pairs champion with Anders Michanek in 1973 and 1975 and was scheduled to defend that very crown on his home track next month ... On his last appearance at Plough Lane he retained the Golden Helmet against Dave Jessup and added 15 points in a Marlboro Southern qualifying round. He was the holder of both titles - sadly he will not defend either.

Ian MacDonald, SPEEDWAY MAIL, May 28, 1976

Speedway racing showed its cruel side yet again on Thursday, May 20 - claiming as a victim Swedish star Tommy Jansson. The 23-year-old glamour boy from Eskilstuna was killed during a world championship qualifying round in Stockholm. Tommy missed the gate, picked his way past two riders and then was in collision with the race leader. He was catapulted from the track and died on his way to hospital.

On the morning following the tragedy my telephone was jammed with requests for information of the crash and for my views on Tommy. Many callers began their conversation with the words: "You must have known him well…". Truth is, I didn't know the Wimbledon ace very well - as a person, anyway. We had met and talked, on and off, for several years, but never in any real depth.

Ironically, our longest chat was only a few weeks ago when we nattered over a few lagers at London's White City while spectating at the Rebels versus Coventry league match.

Jansson the man? I can't really tell you. Jansson the speedway rider and personality is a different matter. I don't think you will ever replace Tommy… Had Tommy been a film star he would almost certainly have developed into a cult figure. Maybe, he will anyway.

Ray Wilson England team captain

Talking about Tommy Jansson at Blackbird Road the week after Tommy’s fatal accident at Gubbängen Stadium, Stockholm in the Swedish Final.


Cyril Maidment Wimbledon Team manager

Talking to Wally Loak about Tommy’s career in Britain and about how he brought him to London.


Blackbird Road, Leicester, May 25, 1976

This was Wimbledon’s first away match following their captain’s death. Listen to the Blackbird Road announcer asking the crowd to stand for a minute’s silence before the meeting.


Millbrooke Court, Putney, the location of Tommy’s flat during his days with Wimbledon

Tommy’s 1971 Jawa bought in Sweden from Bernie Persson. He took this to Australia in 1972 where it has been ever since.

Interview with Ray Wilson FINAL 2.wav Interview with Cyril Maidment FINAL.wav Blackbird Road May 25 1976 FINAL.wav

John Munro writes:

My first sporting hero. I was going to a school in Balham and, every Thursday, walking to see Tommy and the boys at Plough Lane. I first got to see him when living on the top floor of a block of flats opposite the stadium before we moved to Balham. We would cross the road on a Thursday to watch the speedway - me and my friends on our push bikes riding around the square putting our foot down on the bends and all wanting to be Jansson. I remember everything great seemed to be Swedish: ABBA and Tommy. After all this time I still can’t help myself looking and reading about Tommy Jansson. Don’t get me wrong, I love speedway and as I write am getting ready to see Swindon tonight in the play-offs. However, I have never had the feeling I had when seeing the great Tommy. Never to be forgotten.

Kelvin Adams writes:

I used to see Tommy’s bike in the driveway of a house on the Kingston Bypass. It must have been about 1975. It was always strapped to the back of the car. This house was on the west side as you were approaching Kingston Vale, and is on the slip road, easily visible. I recall that the bike had the name Tommy Jansson written on the cover.

David Purvor writes:

Just to say I met the late, great Tommy Jansson just a week before he was killed. I was only nine at the time and I was in the Wimbledon pits when he signed my book for me. I will never ever forget him. To me he was the best and I was so upset when he died. As I got older, I started doing motocross and was hoping to do speedway and be as good as Tommy but I never did and now, 37 years later, not a day goes by without me thinking about Tommy Jansson.

Andrew Alexander writes:

Loved your page on Tommy Jansson. I started watching speedway in 1975 and Tommy was my idol. I never saw him do anything dangerous or fall off. A great rider. I noticed the passage from the book Black Lightning. Is there any way I could purchase a copy? I now live in Cheshire and work in property. I still have three pictures of him in my office - and his autograph in my desk drawer! And I still love speedway!

Andy Macfarlane writes:

Being Dons fans we were at Plough Lane every Thursday and would drive around the country to as many away meetings as we could afford. Tommy was such a stylish rider and if he missed the gate could glide past riders and make it look easy. He was also such a nice guy. Very friendly and approachable. I heard the news of Tommy's death on the radio the following morning. I couldn't believe it. I phoned my brother and he was stunned. Our mates all started to phone. Wimbledon never recovered from the loss of Tommy. I still think of him now. Sadly missed to this day.

SpeedwayFiction Speedway like it used to be! Home From some of our correspondents: Remembering Tommy Jansson Below, we have added a selection of extra pictures, many of which you may not have seen before. Don’t forget to scroll beyond the pictures to add your own comments or read what others have said

At London’s Sportsman’s Club with actor Malcolm McFee and Cyril Maidment

Relaxing at the Sydney Showground with Neil Cameron and John Langfield

Chatting with Ed Stangeland on parade at Plough Lane

Wearing his own race-jacket for an individual meeting

With actress Linda Hayden and Gordon Kennett at White City

Modelling clothes for the Embassy Internationale - shame about the hat!

After winning the Marlboro Southern with Scott Autrey and John Louis

In Daily Express race jacket for the Spring Classic with Phil Crump and Barry Briggs

Cyril Maidment’s programme notes following Tommy’s death

SpeedwayFiction SpeedwayFiction’s own tribute to Tommy Jansson, 40 years on…