Riders to Remember: Ove Fundin
As a schoolboy growing up in a village just outside Norwich, the name Ove Fundin was familiar to me long before my first visit to the Firs Stadium. Many people I knew were supporters but I was something of an outsider, whose only knowledge of the sport was hearsay.
It was the middle of the summer of my 16th year (1962) when two friends invited me to go with them to watch speedway. In fact, they said that they were going to support the Stars, and I could go with them or be left out. I had seen stock cars at the Firs on a couple of occasions, and frankly could not understand, in advance of seeing them, how 4 motorcycles racing (hopefully without collision) could compare with 30 or 40 pre-war Ford 8s knocking each other off the track.
I first saw Ove Fundin within minutes of the start of my love affair with speedway, now almost 50 years ago.
This tall, almost gangling blonde haired Swede was, of course, a legend at The Firs. Since that day in June 1955, when he lined up at reserve (Norwich no doubt taking advantage of his lack of an average) against Belle Vue, Ove had been the backbone of a sometimes not too strong National League (equivalent of today's Elite League) Stars team. Fundin won that first race in green and yellow, but the Stars went down by a couple of points.
Let me describe those first impressions of speedway: 14 'men in black', half with the (to me still) iconic yellow star on green race jackets, were introduced to the enthusiastic crowd (and I do mean crowd - the generous terraces were always crowded at Holt Road).
Ove Fundin was a local hero in Norfolk, and still is, having been made a freeman of the City of Norwich in relatively recent times. Even now he loves to return whenever he can, to meet old friends and fellow riders.
In those days we had handicap racing. This meant that five riders, considered to be too good for the rest, started 10 yards behind the others (a few novices and those with poor averages started 10 yards ahead of the field).
Fundin was one of the five 'super stars' (we didn't call them that then) who started behind the field (Barry Briggs, Ronnie Moore, Peter Craven and Bjorn Knutsson were the others).
Ove's first ride in my presence took a path that was to become very familiar to me in the next two and a half years.
The tapes went up and Fundin moved to the inner line, behind the rest of the field at the entrance to the first bend. By the exit of the bend he was usually in the lead. Ove was a forceful rider (although I always thought Briggo more 'forceful', but neither took prisoners), and he seemed to push his way through, front wheel often over the white line
I soon learnt that Ove was at least as good as any other rider in the world, and arguably the very best, even in that era of super stars (many, including me, would say of all time).
With Ove I was, like the other 15,000 around me, always confident that he would come through to win. He never, ever, disappointed and, if he didn't win, then we had seen a cracking race anyway. In short he was a tower of strength in a sometimes struggling Stars team.
Ove was sometimes criticised for being a poor loser, and often criticised for not team riding.
On the latter count we have to appreciate that, at that time, Swedish League speedway was held on a four team basis, so back home there was no such thing as team riding, as each race was up against representatives of three other teams.
As for being a poor loser, then it certainly seemed like it sometimes, but Ove's drive to win was such that he keenly felt it when he lost. It was disappointment with himself that sometimes lead to the appearance of being a poor loser. It was also this drive that made him a superstar.
Unlike today, when we seem to have 'all change' at the end of, and sometimes seemingly during a season, Ove was a very loyal team man. He loved the Norwich Stars (and still does) and was loyal to them for nearly a decade. The ridiculous, stupid and still lamented, sale of the stadium for housing could be said to have taken the heart out of him. Ronnie Moore is often seen as the ultimate one-team man, but Ove was a very committed and faithful Norwich Star. I imagine that, if Norwich had gone on, Ove would have seen out his career at The Firs and might have been with them into the 1970s. I would suggest that he would also now be credited with the greatest number of world championships.
Ove had numerous great rides for the Stars. I have described, at an earlier time, the deeply impressive way that Ove, on the final lap of a race against Belle Vue, rode straight between team riding Peter Craven and Soren Sjosten (if you had seen those two tiny riders team ride that evening you would have been amazed at Ove's feat), to join Olle Nygren in a match deciding 5-1.
Ove was a very frequent holder of the Golden Helmet match race trophy, so we were treated, almost monthly, to 1 to 1 races before normal meetings. Ove's match races against Peter Craven were, for me, the most special of all. Two supreme, but in many ways very different riders, in action, the very best in the world at our own great Norwich raceway.
Ove was a great individual and international racer. He had the 'big night' temperament. His five world titles of 1956, 1960, 1961, 1963 and 1967 were a record at the time. He was unfairly banned from the 1966 event and would, I am sure, have taken 6 and probably 7 or even 8 titles had Norwich not closed, and had he not have been denied the 1966 chance.
For me Ove's greatest win was that last 1967 event. I was there at the old Wembley stadium that night. The line up was as tough as ever, with Mauger, Plechanov, Briggs and Michanek among the contenders.
Ove's serious speedway career had effectively ended with the closure of Norwich, he had not really been a regular BL racer since. The records show that Ove won his first three rides and finished on 14 points. My impression from the terraces was, however, that he was perhaps not quite the rider of old (but that is in no way to diminish his achievement that night, as I will come to). It seemed that he was no longer quite the dominant figure of 1963.
Mauger was at, or close to, his best. Plechanov was at the time a brilliant rider, then there were Briggo, Bengt Jansson and Bernt Persson, so Ove had his work cut out.
Somehow, Ove rose to the occasion, and got better with each race, ending up joint leader on 14 points (losing only to the great Plechanov on the way). Bengt Jansson, the likeable long term Hackney racer was equal with Fundin, and there would be a 'match race' for the world crown.
The run-off was a demonstration of the greatness of Ove Fundin. He was first from the tapes, cool and as ever living up to the 'fox' tag. Ove had seen his chance and had taken it - still the best in the world.
When Norwich had closed at the end of 1964, Ove seemed largely lost to what emerged as the new 'British League'.
Ove had a few meetings for Long Eaton, to help out his friend (and now near neighbour) Reg Fearman. Ove would appear for Belle Vue for a relatively short time and play a riding part in the Wembley reopening of the early 70s period.
He must go down, as very possibly the greatest of them all.
Ove did not wear particularly smart leathers and boots, and did not boast expensive machinery. His, almost legendary, steed was during the Firs years, was the 'Norwich Number 2 track spare'. Not a very auspicious machine, either in looks or name, but tuned by Les Mullins the best in the world in the hands of the master. Ove was a great Norwich rider, and East Anglians had the great Aub Lawson to thank for pointing Ove in the Stars direction in the mid 50s.
For me, a personal 'thank you' to Ove for giving me the privilege of seeing and supporting on a regular basis, a truly great superstar and 'super Star'.
Thanks for all those memories.
This article was first published on 22nd December 2011
"A good article, I almost agree with you but Peter Craven will always stand out for me. I have been watching speedway since 1949 and think that like any other sport money has spoilt it in lots of ways. in the old days you could see lots of thrills from lads on an old bike having a good go at so called stars. My best race I have ever seen was Briggo v Ken Mcki nlay at Wimbledon at a world qualifier."
" Thank you for a fine article...reading it made me happy and proud."
"It has been really satisfying, and somewhat humbling, to find that my modest contributions have been read and given some satisfaction and pleasure to Ove Fundin, and the relatives of such famous riders as Jack Biggs and Peter Moore. I am sure I speak for very many when I say that there must be many thousands of supporters, past and present, who feel privilaged to have witnessed these and other great names in action and who hold great memories. These riders, and many others, gave us something special and enduring. They certainly played a big part in my life, and influenced my sporting interests for ever. Also, I hope and imagine that there must be many younger readers who wish they could have been there to see these and all the other heroes of the shale recalled."
"How very typical of Ove Fundin to take the trouble to send a "thank you" for the content of the article about him. I remember some time ago sending him a note asking about Sverre Hardfelt and he replied within a day telling me Sverre was OK, something I had never been able to discover following the horific injuries he suffered many years back, in Poland I believe. Someone of Ove's stature, to many, including me, the greatest ever does not need to create an impression, but his modest courtesy and humility says a lot for the way sport "superstars" could behave. Many a celbrity footballer and the like could take a lesson or two, but I doubt any are relatively the "best" as Ove was. Thank heavens for some of the people we have to look up to in our sport."
"Ove Fundin ---- simply the best of all time! No question."
"Great article on a great man "
"As a 12 year old I attended every home meeting in that fateful season of 1964 when the Firs Stadium in Norwich staged speedway for the very last time. Ove Fundin was, and still is, a legend. In my book no other rider will ever compare with Ove Fundin. He was simply the best. "
"I lived next to the speedway at Holt Road. My dad was a second half rider in the late forties. I remember Ove's first appearance at The Firs. It was like a breath of fresh air. No disrespect to Reg Trott and Billy Bales etc."
" This is a very good article, I enjoy reading about Ove Fundin. I would like to say I had the pleasure to be picked up at his friends bungalow in Thorpe St. Andrews By Ove ( sorry I have forgotten their names ). I think Ove driving a yellow Mercedes - Benz he than took us to London for the world finals. What a great day I had thanks to Ove and his friends. I would love to see Ove open a new track in Norwich soon! "
"Well written, I met Ove Fundin, Olle, Bjorn and another rider from Sweden called Ole Heymans in Graz, Austria, must have been in the late 50 or early sixties and lately have watched speedway races on youtube and eventually remembered these names or they came up in my search. Following the sport as a youngster he definitely was my hero at the time, well this is a long time ago and I was surprised he was born in 1933 and Olle in 1928, I was born in 1944 so I assume around 10-14 years of age which makes it around 1954-58."
"Ove was the greatest man who ever sat on a speedway bike. I saw him win 2 world championships - 1963/ 67. I met him and had a chat with him he was my hero, there will never be another Ove he was the best and a great guy to talk to."
"Ove Fundin quickly made a name at Claremont Speedway in the Fifties. We would get into the Claremont Showgrounds through a hole in the fence or hidden in the back seat of the family car and it was worth it to see solo champions like Ove, Chum Taylor, Ken McKinley, Aub Lawson etc duel. Ove was the talk at our Graylands primary school and meeting in the street and everyone wanted to be a Ove Fundin although we wanted our Aussie guys to do well. We enjoyed seeing Ove compete at Claremont (Western Australia) and he deserved his world championships. Thanks for the memories."
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