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The Hammers of '65
by Robert J. Rogers

Ken McKinlay

40 years ago this month, West Ham became the first British League Champions. The Hammers history had started in 1928 when the new Australian sport of Dirt track racing came to the newly built Custom House stadium.

West Ham become established as one of the country's top teams, and in the 1930`s had enough good riders to have a team in both the 1st and 2nd Division. In fact during the 30`s both teams had won their respective leagues.

The sport returned after the war and carried on into the mid 50`s. But the sport began a down turn, and West Ham, like many clubs, closed their doors to Speedway.

In 1964 the sport returned, managed by England's first ever World Champion, the Wembley Ace, Tommy Price.

In 1965 the sport for the first time had all teams in one League, and clubs from both Scotland & Wales, National & Provincial joined the English Clubs to ride as BRITISH League Teams.

West Ham had a bad start when one of their young riders, Dave Wills, was killed in a track crash.

By mid season the Hammers were in the top group and by the end of the season it was only between them and close London rivals Wimbledon.

It all hung on the last Saturday of the season, Saturday 23rd October 1965 and the Hammers were away to the Cradley Heath Heathens, one of the midlands' top clubs, meanwhile the Dons were also in the midlands, riding against another top club, the Coventry Bees.

I was a 12 year old Speedway mad kid, and like Max Boyce used to say, `I was there!'

The day started badly, when most of the 30 plus coaches carrying the fans got lost in the fog in Birmingham. We ended up with a Police Escort leading a parade of coaches into the Stadium.

The match started slightly late to allow all the fans time to get in, because as well as the home & away fans, there was also coaches from both Wembley (Lions) and Harringay (Racers) supporters, who no longer had a team to follow.

The first race! The tapes went up, and West Ham Captain, Robert `Ken` McKinley was disqualified for an incident at the start. He promptly protested by laying his bike across the track to stop the race. We then knew we were in for a night of high drama, as Wimbledon were also racing that night, and both teams needed to win to become champions.

If both teams won then the championship would be decided on points difference for that night's racing.

The racing was both exciting and nervous as first Cradley, then West Ham, took the lead.

With three heats to go, the news came over the stadium public address system, `the Dons` had won at Coventry, this meant we needed to win to become the Champions.

The Hammers did us proud that night by winning the match by 47 points to 31.

Scorers on the night were as follows:

Cradley Heath 31 : Eric Hockady 5; Goog Allen 6; John Hart 5; Chris Julian 4; George Major 0; Leo McAuliffe 5; Ivor Hughes 6
West Ham 47 : Ken McKinlay 9; Reg Trott 2; Sverre Harrfeldt 12; Brian Leonard 5; Norman Hunter 8; Malcolm Simmons 9; Tony Clarke 2

The Hammers with the League trophy

Ironically this grandstand finish happened purely by chance. The original meeting between the Hammers and the Heathens was scheduled for August but the meeting was switched to a challenge fixture due to a rain affected circuit. It would have made little difference to the eventual outcome in any case, the Hammers won the challenge by 31-47.

The Hammers also won the KO Cup by defeating Exeter in the two-legged final. The meetings were run over a 16 heat format, 13 heats being the norm for league matches in those days, and West Ham won the home leg by 63-33 and lost by only 6 points in the return match. The Exeter side contained Colin Goody, Des Lukehurst, Jack Geran, Chris Blewett, Alan Cowland and Jimmy Squibb.

The Hammers completed a historic 'treble' by defeating Wimbledon Dons to clinch the London cup. The Dons tracked former Hammers favourites Bobby Dugard and Reg Luckhurst alongside Olle Nygren who would go on to skipper the Hammers. Dugard had actually started the season with West Ham but was forced to move to Wimbledon by the rider control authorities, a decision that still baffles some of us today!

Hammers riders also enjoyed success on an individual basis. Ken McKinlay won the prestigious Brandonapolis meeting at Coventry, Sverre Harrfeldt was London Riders Champion and we even have a cheeky claim to the world championship that year! Bjorn Knutsson of Sweden won it, but as his last English Club was the 1964 Hammers, where he was captain, and he never rode for any British team after that, he was technically, still a Hammer!

Although the regular seven received most of the plaudits there were other riders that also made a contribution to the success. Ted Ede was our regular number eight, I spoke to him recently and he is now 60 years old and still riding as one of the "Men in Black". Also Geoff Hughes, Ray Wickett, Terry Stone and Neville Slee. Neville was a good friend of the late Dave Wills.

There was no civic reception for the all conquering Hammers, a sad oversight when you consider their considerable achievements that year.

Speedway continued during the 1960`s, with the Hammers remaining one of the top clubs.

The start of the 70`s saw the beginning of the end for the Hammers. In a horrific road crash in July 1970, four members of the team, plus the manager were killed. The team struggled through 1971, but had to give up owing to lack of support, both through the gates and from external sources.

In 1972, the now homeless Romford Bombers arrived as the 2nd Division, West Ham Bombers, but it was short lived. By May 1972 it was all over, the Stadium was closed, and in October it was knocked down and turned into a Housing Estate.

The streets in the area were given names of some of the older West Ham riders, but none of the greatest ever team, the 1965 Hammers, were remembered.

I note with some sadness that this season is the last for both Exeter and Wimbledon. We had many a fantastic matches with both teams, and with the Dons going, (GRA you need your heads examining!) means that from next year, there will be NO speedway teams in the capital of Speedway's greatest nation, London.

Let us hope that both teams can find a local home track before too long. As well as the racing, we had some fun time and some sadness with the Dons. I can remember Reg Luckhurst doing a `rain dance` on the centre green at Wimbledon, cannot now quite remember why, or for that matter if he was riding for us or the Dons, as we did seem to pinch each others riders at times.

There was also sadness such as the loss of Gary Everett who we had `borrowed` to give him some experience of Continental racing, amongst those killed at Lokeren in 1970.

Finally, West Ham fans were infamous for giving riders nicknames, some made sense, some did not. I give you:

Bjorn Knutsson (Ben Nutty)
Ken McKinlay (Hurri-ken)
Sverre Harrfelt (`eart-throb) (Just remember the cockneys drop their `h`s.)
Norman Hunter (Sailor)
Malcom Simmons (The Dockland Pearl) (remember West Ham was in the heart of London's docklands)
Reg Trott (the Phantom Waver)
Brian Leonard (scatterbrian)
Tony Clark (the Tooth)

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This article was first published on 21st October 2005


  • Ted Breed:

    "A sparkling feature by Robert Rogers. Bob will ensure that the legend of West Ham Speedway will survive.

    Two points I would like to make. In the immediate post-war years, the Wembley heat leaders comprised Bill Kitchen, Tommy Price, and George Wilkes. For some reason, Tommy Price was never liked by West Ham fans, even to the extent that his appearance was often greeted with booing. Perhaps it was because, this quite brilliant rider, remained quite aloof and did not seem to communicate with the crowds as other riders did. However, nothing could detract from his determined, uninhibited and extremely successful style of performance. It was, therefore ironic that, because of his 1965 management of the team, he has become a true West Ham Speedway legend.

    The 2nd point is in those immediate post-war years, the name of (Mr) Sanderson was prominantly associated with West Ham Speedway and the Arthur Atkinson/Stan Greatrex promotion. I can only think that he owned the club on contract from the G.R.A. Apparently, he owned an hotel and the riders of the day were often invited to attend gatherings there. (as often reported in the Speedway News and Speedway Gazette's of the day). His name was synonymous with West Ham Speedway in those days; a name which sees to have disappeared from West Ham Speedway history. Perhaps Robert or someone might be able to resurrect this seemingly forgotten Mr Sanderson?

    Best wishes for the contiuned success of this website."

  • Adrian McKinlay:

    " In the Hammers '65 article you referred to Dad's name being 'Robert', his full name was John Robert Vickers McKinlay. Robert was in fact his younger brother. sorry to be pedantic!"

  • Peter Starley:

    "Whilst it is a few years since I rode on the speedway, I read your article with great interest as I grew up knowing Reg Luckhurst, Martin Piddock, and Malcom Simmons very well all of which raced against me on the grass track during the 1960's, Bjorn Knuttson was also a very competitive racer in his time, exciting times were had on two wheels with very fond memories of some smashing guys who either raced or supported various speedway venues around the country, some I am pleased to call my friends."

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