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It's All About You... Harry Ward

Norman Hunter

Tell us about your introduction to speedway

As a boy of around four years old I was taken by my Dad to what at the time was our local track which operated in south london. We lived in Custom House but New Cross was running at the time and the Journey wasn't easy. A bus to Plaistow station or the two mile walk depending on how much my Docker Father had to spare. Then the distict line to Whitechapel and then the East London Line over to New Cross. The walk to the station itself was made memorable by the badge sellers who specialised in the star shaped badges with your favourite rider pictured. I'm not sure why at that age I loved my speedway but I think it was more likely the day out with my Dad, the smell and the noise rather than what happened on the track. But early memories remain prominent and the names Hoskins, Waterman and Briggs remain embedded in my brain. Even a young David Coleman doing an outside broadcast for the BBC was there somewhere. Happy days.

 

Tell us about your favourite meeting of all time

I shudder to think how many meetings I have seen in fifty years but Rye House winning the title at Cleveland Park against a very good team was the best for no other reason than we won the League that night. During that season I had seen every Rockets meeting home and away. We needed something from our Northern tour and thanks to a great meeting from Karl Fiala the victory was ours. What I remember most about that night was being very nervous and expecting us to be beaten but then win the Title in Glasgow the following day. A real surprise then as Karl secured our win. Elated we went on to Glasgow and got absolutely thumped!

 

Tell us about your favourite rider of all time

There are so many riders that I have felt privileged to watch but I suppose it comes down to two both with West Ham connections. After Hackney opened in 1963 My Dad started to take me there, and it was there that I first saw Norman Hunter. How delighted I was when he moved to West Ham my Local track. To this day I am not sure what it was about him but to me he was a great rider whose career I followed until serious injuries curtailed his time in the sport. But I suppose even more loved by me and many others at West Ham was a young Swede introduced by Gordon Parkins. Christer Lofqvist came to us as an unknown but for me it only took one meeting. He was all action and he had everything, being able to pass inside, outside trailing his leg and bouncing off of the safety fence. I think he benefitted from having Varg Olle with him at Custom House. I look back very fondly at old photos and smile at the pudding basin helmet and weird face masks. A great talent and entertainer that brightened my growing up.

 

Tell us about your favourite track/stadium

What is there left that hasn't been said about Custom House? Big sweeping track surrounded by massive stands. The stories my Grandad told about Hoskins, Wilkinson, Young and Atkinson etc came alive for me when the sport was reintroduced in 1964. The stories of the massive crowds, speedway, dog racing, baseball and stock car etched in my brain my own experience combined with the exploits of my Football clunb just up the road made my life so happy especially from 1964 to 1966. We must never forget the exploits of Hoskins in trying to get the public into watch using all the tricks in the book. Nor must we forget the clean sweep of 1965 nor of course the lives lost in the name of sport on the track but for me Tuesdays have never been the same.

 

What are the best things about speedway?

Four blokes on a decent track fighting it out for three points. There is simply nothing better anywhere in sport.

 

What are the worst things about speedway?

If it was just about the riders racing then the worst thing would be the last race of the night bringing the meeting to an end. However there are many things wrong, some are in our control and some aren't. The weather or should I say rain makes life so uncertain where speedway is concerned. Politics in the sport confound me. Yearly rule changes for no reason, the points limit just to name a few. The riders are not blameless, You all know the scenario race called back for an unsatisfactory start, all four riders back. The riders these days without exception need to return to the pits to have an aditional teaspoonful of fuel added, their clutch cooled by the fans and extra tear off put in place. All this on an uncomfortably cold night in October makes me think why bother?

 

What one thing would you do to improve speedway?

I would have a Frank Ebdon clone responsible for running every meeting. Riders finish a race, two minute warning and next race up. Too many times have meetings been allowed to drag on to two and a half hours or five hours for a double header as regularly endured at my track rye House.

 

Tell us about a rider you wish you'd seen

It's not so much a rider that I didn't see more a case of a rider I wish I could remember more about. I saw Peter Craven a handful of times (I have the programmes to support this) but I was too young to appreciate the great man. From the photos I have seen he was as spectacular as Kelly Moran but with more skill and dedication.

 

What does the future hold for speedway?

I think we need to concede that we now have two sports. The GP circus which even as a traditionalist I love and our domestic sport. Difficult times ahead for the domestic side but with effort and by not succumbing to the high finances demanded by the top riders we can get through it.

 

What meeting format do you enjoy most?

Speedway is both a team and individual sport. Along with that we also have the added mix of International racing such as test matches. Personally I love the team racing. I'm not fussed about Individual meetings but oh how I miss the big test matches. the England/GB v the likes of Australia and USA were fantstic.

 

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This article was first published on 10th December 2009


 

  • John Owen:

    "Great site! I came across it recently and have enjoyed reading the articles and recollections of the many fans. The memories of Custom House and the Wick came flooding back to my mind with great pleasure. I have a few stories to tell when I get the time that, hopefully,a lot of the older fans (including some who knew me back then) will get pleasure from remembering like I have."

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