DVD Review: Memories of Norwich Speedway
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the closure of the famous Firs Speedway Stadium in Norwich. Despite the passing of the years, there's still a huge affection for Speedway in the City and this new DVD is bound to prove popular with the locals.
'Memories of Norwich Speedway' runs to around 3 and a half hours, looking back over the complete history of speedway in the City. It's jam-packed with loads of old cine film showing racing action, as well as lots of interesting behind the scenes footage. We can thank former rider Malcolm Flood for recording much of this material, it really gives the viewer an insight into what life at the Firs was like.
The story is told in a roughly chronological order, starting with a brief look at the Pre-War era and progressing through to the track's closure in 1964.
Much of the content comes from interviews with former riders, including the remarkably sprightly Len Read who rode for the club in 1946 and 1947. Len is now 96 but recalls those long gone days with remarkable clarity. Cyril Roger (a five times World Finalist) is another veteran of the post-war era who is still going strong. Cyril joined Norwich from New Cross in 1953 and is now 92 years young. He recalls how he used to earn £400 a week, but in his own words "squandered it".
Trevor Hedge, Reg Trott, Terry Betts and Olle Nygren are other former favourites interviewed on the DVD. Nygren and Hedge are both still based in the Norwich area and they speak fondly of their time with the club.
It's impossible to think of Norwich without thinking of Ove Fundin and the legendary Swede is featured heavily on the DVD. He's interviewed on a visit to Norwich in 2012 and talks fondly of his time as a Norwich Star. Surprisingly, he reveals that the Firs was not one his favourite tracks, preferring to ride the smaller tracks. Despite this he is still disappointed that he wasn't able to spend his whole British career with the club, insisting that he never really felt a part of the clubs he rode for subsequently.
Fundin also speaks of items that will be of interest to all speedway fans: his relationship with legendary mechanic Les Mullins; his World Title wins and his opinion on his contemporaries.
Although Fundin was the star's greatest rider, their highest ever points scorer was Phil Clarke. Clarke was interviewed by Peter Yorke in 1995 and the interview is included here. He's sitting astride a pre-war bike built that was built by Max Grosskreutz and alongside another legendary Star - Billy Bales. We see Bales in action on some of the cine film and his style on the large Firs circuit is reminiscent of Peter Craven in full flight around Hyde Road.
The last meeting at the Firs was on 31st October 1964, a restaging of the Supporters Trophy meeting that had been postponed a fortnight earlier. Former favourites like Len Read and Phil Clarke took part in old timers' race to mark the closure, but the Fundin was unable to make the restaging due to other commitments in Sweden, something which he still regrets. The Firs was sold for re-development for just £75,000 and a housing estate now stands on the stadium site. The DVD features some sad pictures of the decaying Firs stadium prior to demolition, such a tragic waste of a hugely popular facility.
There have been efforts to restore speedway to Norwich in the fifty years that have passed since that last meeting. Most notably a one-off meeting on nearby farmland that Cyril Crane staged in 1976. That unlicenced meeting proved to be a one-off, but at least the sound of bikes was heard one final time.
A more recent attempt to revive the Stars was made in 2012 and this is given coverage on the DVD. Steve Ribbons was the man behind the project and he speaks convincingly about the prospects for the project. The site on the Norwich Showground looked ideal, particularly since there was a busy road running right past the perimeter fence. It must be a source of regret for all that this project was ultimately still-born.
The greatest strength of this DVD is its simple format, great action interspersed with interesting interviews. As well as the footage from Norwich, we also see clips from sister-track Yarmouth, from the early days at King's Lynn and from Wembley World Finals that featured Norwich riders. It's an excellent production that beautifully captures a bygone and fondly remembered era.
Watch a trailer for the DVD
How To Order
By Phone : 01708 734 502
By Post : Send a cheque for £16 (payable to Retro Speedway) (add £2.50 if outside UK) to:
103 Douglas Road
Online : At Retro-Speedway.com
This article was first published on 27th April 2014
"From 1947 to 1955 I was a staunch fan of the Harringay Racers and I well recall the very first appearance of Ole Nygren on his arrival at Harringay from Sweden. His bike was painted orange and manager Wal Phillips had him do 4-5 laps of the track as an introduction for the fan. It was obvious from the first lap that the young blonde Swede was going to be a tremendous favourite with Racers fans, and so it proved to be. In my opinion, the backbone of the Racers team at that time was the great Split Waterman, Jack Biggs, Ron How and Danny Dunton, plus new boy Ole Nygren. I live in Dereham now but never got the change to visit the Firs Stadium in its heyday, but I wish I had. Mind you, I did see Bert Spencer and Billy Bales riding in end of match scratch races at Harringay."
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