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My First Sporting Hero
By David Pickles

Bjorn Knutsson

I often think of how many people when looking back, could name their very first sporting hero. I was fortunate (some would say unlucky) to be born and live equidistant between the Boleyn (West Ham's sadly missed ground) and Custom House (The REAL West Ham's sadly missed track). As a very young child, before the reopening of Custom House, one could hear the goals going in at the Boleyn on a Saturday afternoon in the garden.

It wasn't until I was 9 that speedway entered my life, courtesy of West Ham Stadium. Before then, with the odd visit to the football, names like Bobby Moore, Martin Peters, Geoff Hurst and, wait for it, Harry Redknapp, came to my attention. But, something was missing.

Although we youngsters enjoyed our football visits (9d in the chicken run - who remembers that?) it began to leave me cold. Then, when finally I discovered speedway, one individual shone out amongst all. His name? Bjorn Knutsson.

"Knutty" as he was fondly known, became the talked about hero of not just myself, but dozens of my fellow school friends, and beyond. We began to emulate him locally by stripping down our bikes and sliding around dirt tracks in local parks. Knutty was truly an east end hero in 1964. As 1964 was my first year watching our great sport, 1965 dawned as something of a shock, when Knutty was absent from the line-up at Custom House as the new season dawned.

This was something, then, I failed to understand, and actually wouldn't now, the ogre that was known as "Rider Control". It seems odd now, in the days of greater cooperation between promoters that back then certain "Bigwigs" were in total control of the sport and could move riders from club to club willy nilly. We all have our memories of it, and memories of total surprise they were.

Knutty, of course, wasn't "moved" - he decided not to ride in the UK, but subsequent years saw many a star moved from one club to, in many cases, those of great rivals. Thankfully, the transfer market takes care of that now. But, I digress. Bjorn Knutsson was, in all honesty as I look back, my very first proper sporting hero. Someone who had to compete with the likes of the great Bobby Moore (and numerous tv wrestlers like Mick McManus).

How many readers of this great website have their own first sporting hero? It will make interesting reading in the weeks and months to come.


This article was first published on 2nd February 2020

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  • Jim Henry:

    "I realise the article is about Bjorn Knutsson but the photograph shows him with Jim Clark - world champion racing driver that year. There is a magnificent Jim Clark Memorial Museum in Duns in the Scottish Borders. I mentioned Jim Clark's role at this event and the staff manning the museum had never heard of it. They have loads of Jim and it might provide an opportunity for a wee bit of a plug for speedway if the Museum did have a copy of tis photo. I had a look at a copy of the World Final programme and there is no mention of who was to present the Trophy."

  • Bob Bath:

    "The first ever World Final I attended was the only one where Bjorn became World Champ -ahead of Plechanov and Fundin (Igor beat Ove in a run off for 2nd for the second year in a row). Bjorn had come close on a couple of occasions prior, sometimes was pre meeting favourite but had a rep for big night nerves letting him down. In 1965 however, he lost his first race to Bengt Jansson and since Igor won his first two races maybe that took the pressure off Bjorn a bit - anyway he won his four other races. Not for a minute did I think that would be his only World Title. Bjorn retired too soon for sure. Great rider."  


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