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Ivan Mauger V Britain's Best
Part 1: Nigel Boocock
By Tracy Holmes

In this mini-series, we're going to compare Ivan Mauger to some of the best British riders never to win the World Final. You see it often, people saying, "He should have been World Champion."

All these were Ivan's contemporaries and let's analyze why they never won the biggest prize in Speedway history.

First up, Nigel Boocock. My goodness, they did not come any bigger! What an amazing career. But Nigel never got to grips with the World Final. He qualified for ten of them.

1956 reserve, dnr.
1962 reserve, dnr.
1963. 8 points to finish 7th.
1964. 6 points to finish 9th.
1965. 8 points to finish 8th.
1966. 2 points to finish 15th.
1968. 1 point to finish 15th.
1969. 10 points to finish 4th.
1971. 6 points to finish 10th.
1972. 6 points to finish 9th.

Let's look at 1968. Nigel was a sound bet to finish on the podium. His form that year was amazing. Winner of the Internationale. Captained Coventry to win the British League. Beat Mauger in the run-off to win the Brandonapolis and alongside Mauger, had won a Gold Medal at the World Team Cup Final. So what happened at the World Final?

His score at Gothenburg was 1, 0, 0, f/ex, ef. Any reason for this disaster? This was from an article in 'Classic Speedway', Number 6, 2009. 'Nigel once mused that perhaps the reason why he never went any closer to winning the World Championship was because he had nothing extra to give on the big night. He always gave 100% whenever he rode, be it for Coventry, his country or in domestic individual meetings. He didn't try to hit peak form just before a World Final. Nigel laughs off talk of his past World Finals and what might have been now, "It's just another bloody meeting innit?!"

And there you have it. A famous Nigel quote, "It did not matter if it was a World Final at Wembley or a second half at Canterbury, I rode them all the same."

Now let's compare that to Ivan Mauger, "World Final Speedway is different to any other Speedway and needs to be ridden as such." And this one, "It doesn't matter if you win nothing else all year, as long as you win the World Final."

To compare these two and their attitude, it's easy to see why when it comes to the World Final, it's Ivan Mauger 6. Nigel Boocock 0. That's not criticism, it's the facts.

Now let's look at 1969. Nigel was the home favourite and as expected, won his first heat. But in round two, he was second to Andrzej Pogorzelski. Now, Pogorzelski at the end of the night scored seven points to finish 9th. Very respectful score but he should never have beaten Nigel Boocock at Wembley! At half time, Mauger is unbeaten 9 points. Nigel has 8. From 'The Champions Book of Speedway' here's how Nigel saw the night,

"My best performance previously had been in 1963, so you can imagine how excited I felt this time after my first rides. But I was also worried, dead worried. Why? Because of what happened in my third race. I had come up against the Russian Valeri Klementiev, Soren Sjosten and Ronnie Moore. [ For the record, Ronnie was riding with a foot injury that saw him a shadow of his form that year ] The Russian was drawn on the inside and I had the number four slot, yet he came right over on the first bend and our machines locked. Down he went and when the race was stopped he was excluded. But the damage was done because the collision smashed my carburettor. My brother Eric was acting as my mechanic. There wasn't much time before the re-run so I borrowed his bike and the crowd went mad when I sailed home ahead of Sjosten and Moore. But it wasn't an easy ride. All the time I had to struggle to keep the front end down and I was losing it going into the corners. I'm sure now that it was because Eric's handlebars were further forward than on my bike, so I had to get up to the front of the machine whereas, on my own bike, I can sit in the middle and spread the weight. I know that if I hadn't made the gate, I would have lost it, simply because I couldn't manoeuvre properly. [ He then had to decide what to do for the remaining two heats ] The decision I made was to switch the carburettor from my spare bike to my number 1 machine. But it was a heck of a gamble because I had ridden my spare at Wolverhampton the previous night and I wasn't sure how it would go at Wembley. I soon found out; not very well! I was last away in heat 14. I got past Ken McKinlay but I couldn't catch Henryk Glucklich and Ivan Mauger just went further and further away."

Being beaten by Mauger was no surprise but up to that heat, Glucklich had failed to score.

Nigel continues, "It's easy to think differently now but I'm sure I made the wrong decision. If I could make it again, it would be to use Eric's bike with the handlebars from my own bike. But then that's my Wembley hard luck story."

Well, Nigel could still finish with the Silver Medal. To win his last heat would give him 12 points. Ove Fundin was in the same position. In the same heat, Barry Briggs and Hasse Holmqvist, who each needed to win for 11 points. Heat 18 was all over at the gate. Briggs from gate 4 made it from Holmqvist and Boocock. Fundin reared up and never recovered. Result; Briggs, Holmqvist, Boocock, Fundin. And at that moment, Mauger had the Gold Medal as he could not be equalled. With not needing any points from heat 20, Ivan was happy to follow home his Belle Vue team-mate, Soren Sjosten. Briggs then beat Sjosten in the Silver medal run-off, leaving Nigel 4th. [ Holmqvist also had 10 points but was 5th. Nigel having two wins to Holmqvist's one ] And the closest he would ever get to the podium.

Yeah, it was a hard luck story.

Could Nigel make up for that the following year? uummm, this could get me into trouble. I don't think Nigel tried to qualify. Not just Nigel. The World Final was being held for the first time in Poland. And to get there, the Western riders had to go through the last round, the European Final in Leningrad. It was no surprise to hear that this did not interest some international riders. I won't mention any names but Ronnie Moore told me that it was no surprise Trevor Hedge was England's sole representative at Wroclaw. Nigel was no stranger to Wroclaw. Having represented Great Britain there at the 1966 World Team Cup Final. And he qualified from there at the 1968 European Final, if only just. But he knew he could not win there. That's why I believe he threw it. Let's look closely at Nigel's participation in the 1970 competition.

Sheffield. 11 points 3rd.
Wolverhampton. 13 points 1st.
Coventry. 15 points 1st.
British Semi-Final, Leicester. 10 points.
British Final, West Ham. 7 points.

It's this meeting that has the alarm bells ringing. His scorechart; 3, 2, 0, 1, 1. No injuries, no mechanical issues, no flat tyres, no tapes exclusions, no falls and I think, no effort. These 7 points made him reserve for the British/Nordic Final at Coventry. Had he qualified, there is no way he could have thrown any heats before his home fans. That's why I'm convinced Nigel engineered his reserve position. It was a gamble that paid off. No rides, a clean bike and out of the World Championship. No trip to the Soviet Union and well clear of Wroclaw.

What convinces me even more is Nigel's record over the five year stretch. 1968 qualified. 1969 qualified. 1970 failed to qualify. 1971 qualified. 1972 qualified. In the book, The Ronnie Moore Story, Ronnie says this, "But so often British riders have gone so far along the world championship trail and no further. Nigel Boocock for example, was a brilliant rider at his peak and for years was Britain's number one. And yet he always stumbled when the time came to take the final steps to the top. Until Britain can produce a really hungry rider, a man with a burning desire to beat everybody else, the UK's world championship trophy cupboard is going to remain bare. Skill and talent are only half the requirement."

That book was published early 1976 and Peter Collins, as we all know, won the World Final. I will be looking at Malcolm Simmons, Chris Morton and Dave Jessup later in the series.

For the World Finals of 1971 & 1972, Nigel probably disappointed himself as well as many others. Six points in each was probably half of what he was aiming at. And no, that's not criticism either, it's just that Nigel Boocock was that bloody good! BUT, we have to go back to that attitude regarding the World Final. If Nigel really believed it was "just another bloody meeting", then he could never have won it.

For Ivan Mauger, it was the be all and end all. Let's not forget that Ivan was only ever in Speedway to be the Champion of the World. That's why he qualified for 14 of them, putting up the winning score in half of those, winning the record 6!!!!!!

Nigel Boocock was a true Speedway legend with the results and trophies to warrant that title. Another of his quotes would sum up his 'World Final' attitude. After Coventry won the 1968 British League, he said, "Ivan won the World Final but we won the League." If the genie in the bottle had offered Nigel the choice of changing that result, so that he was World Champion but Coventry missing out on the League, would Nigel have accepted that offer? Not on your life!


This article was first published on 26th May 2024

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  • David Cohen:

    "A very interesting and probably long needed analysis of British riders in 60's and 70's World Finals. And, it demonstrates a lot about attitude and preparation. Looking forward to the other articles in the series."  


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