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Upcoming Reg Fearman Auto-biography
By Philip Dalling

Speedway legend Reg Fearman lifts the lid on a controversial racing life

The explosive memoirs of a man who for more than 40 years held down every job worth having in speedway racing and knew intimately every individual in the sport worth knowing, will be published to coincide with the 2014 British Grand Prix.

Both Sides of the Fence is an apt title for the long-awaited autobiography of East End boy Reg Fearman, who was presented with his racing licence on his sixteenth birthday, in front of more than 40,000 fans at one of speedway's glamour venues, West Ham's Custom House Stadium.

Fearman went on to ride for the Hammers in the sport's National League Division One at the height of speedway's post-war boom period, when in 1949 more than ten million spectators packed stadia such as Custom House, Wembley, Harringay, Manchester's Belle Vue and the cavernous Odsal Stadium, Bradford.

He was part of the British Lions test side which toured Australia in 1950-51 and also raced for Stoke and Leicester and in New Zealand. He went on to promote speedway at Stoke, Middlesbrough, Leicester, Long Eaton, and Halifax, where his team were British League champions in 1966.

His crowning achievement in club speedway was at Reading, where he refused to accept defeat when the stadium used by his successful Racers team - which won the British League championship and the knock-out cup - was sold under his feet in 1973.

When most people in the sport added the Berkshire town to the list of former speedway venues, Reg was the driving force behind the construction of a new stadium on the site of a former rubbish tip, gaining national media headlines in the process.

Reg was a successful international team manager, guiding the British Lions to test series success in Australia in 1973/74 and again in 1977/78. He introduced speedway racing to the Middle East, promoting the sport in Egypt, Kuwait and Abu Dhabi.

On the other side of the fence he was one of the founders of the Provincial League, which revived British speedway in 1960 after the number of operating tracks had reached a post-war low. In 1965 he was in at the birth of the highly successful British League and three years later was one of the inspirations behind the creation of a second division for the competition.

In 1973 he was elected chairman of the British Speedway Promoters Association and served seven terms. He had previously been chairman of the British League Division Two from 1968 to 1972.

Both Sides of the Fence is not simply a record of the life and times of one of the sport's major personalities. It does not shrink from tackling head-on some of the major issues to affect the sport over the years, from shrinking popularity to drug-taking and race-fixing.

Fearman spotlights the intriguing characters who made speedway so exciting and colourful during the years when the sport challenged football for popularity. He lifts the lid on the behind-the-scenes controversies and gives his considered and sometimes damning appraisals of riders, promoters and administrators.

He is disarmingly frank about his less successful speedway ventures, notably his spell in charge of one of the sport's most iconic clubs, the Poole Pirates. The chapter dealing with the period in question says it all, being entitled The Poole Disasters.

Away from the speedway tracks Fearman recalls his childhood in the old East End of London, the thrill of being a teenage star during the sport's post-war golden age, the ups and downs of National Service, and the heart-breaking illness which robbed him of his first wife and business partner.

Now happily re-married, Reg, a former President and a still active member of the World Speedway Riders Association, spends much of his life touring Britain, the Continent of Europe, the United States and Australia, meeting up with his former team-mates and opponents.

Both Sides of the Fence has forewords by five times World Champion Ove Fundin and the late John Berry, one of speedway's most successful and also most controversial promoters and administrators. The excellence of the book has been endorsed on the dustjacket by leading speedway historians.

John Chaplin says: "Reg Fearman is the man who knows all of speedway's secrets ... and is prepared to reveal them. He has taken a unique, full-throttle, white-knuckle ride to the top as an international rider, a world-class team manager, a successful promoter and a formidable administrator. He has never ducked a confrontation, on or off the speedway track; he knows the glamorous and the murky side of a tough, fabulously exciting and sometimes cruel sport, and he spares no one's blushes ... not even his own."

Brian Belton JP says: From humble origins in London's East End, this is the story of how Reg Fearman became a local hero with West Ham, the cockney giants of speedway, and went on to represent his country, first as a rider at the tender age of 17, and then as an international manager. A captivating mixture of sporting achievement, politics and business and social history, it also looks at how speedway was resurrected from the doldrums of the late 1950s and dragged into a new 'Jet Age' golden era, a time which paved the way for the heights that the sport has enjoyed in the twenty-first century as a global phenomenon. Including a plethora of untold truths, revelations and a rich treasure trove of photographs, Reg lays bare for the first time the sensational inside story of the resurrection of speedway ... warts and all!"

 

Both Sides of the Fence will be published by The History Press (ISBN: 9780750958486) £16.99 on July 7 2014.

It will be on sale in Cardiff on British Speedway Grand Prix day on Saturday July 12 2014, available at the memorabilia fair organised by Nick Barber at the Cardiff Blues Rugby Club (10.30am to 4pm), situated adjacent to the Millennium Stadium. Reg Fearman will be in attendance throughout the day to sign copies.

 

This article was first published on 22nd June 2014


 

  • Ron Malm:

    "Well remember Reg Fearman from the 1978-79 season in Australia. My dad & I were in the Empire Speedway office at the Sydney Showground (buggered if I know why we were there). Anyway, dad sees Reg - got to be at least a quarter of a century since they had last been in contact. So they start chatting. Reg knows dad & dad know Reg. Gordon Kennett (who was no 2 in the world at that time) hurdles the desk between where these guys were chatting. Unbelievable for a wide eyed teenager as I was at the time. They just ignored the frivolity. Reg answered a question re Peter Craven, which had been nagging my dad for 16 years. Reg was frank and was refreshingly candid about it. That was Reg - straightforward, to the point; and that made made him successful. The sport needs more like him, not only with his forward thinking, but with the passion for the sport to put everything at risk to both be a promoter and entertainer. Look forward to reading his book."

  • Reg Fearman:

    "Just a slight correction on the opening statement. The book is my autobiography written by me, Reg Fearman, and not by a third person - although Philip was most helpful in many ways. "

  • Jeff Maloney:

    "Extremely disappointing, from a Reading angle no description of the Tilehurst project the riders from Dickie May to Dag Lovaas are ignored yet he rambles on about Halifax and Stoke. All the stuff about Mike Parker and Bill Dore were submitted to this site years ago. Poor effort Reg."

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