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Welcome Back Wimbledon

This article was first published in 2001

"Wimbledon Dons", one of the sport's great names and a name we'll be seeing a lot more of next year. Plans have been announced to run Conference League speedway at Plough Lane next season.

The men behind the project are David Croucher and Steve Ribbons. Croucher has been heavily involved in the attempts to revive Southampton Saints and is as enthusiastic as they come. Ribbons was one of the supporters who reopened Rye House, giving him experience of a very similar project. As at Rye House the plan is to lay the track each and every week on top of the Stock Car circuit. It's a massive undertaking but one that worked as a short term measure at Rye.

The decision to run at Conference level suggests that a limited programme is planned. This will allow the promoters to assess the crowd potential without committing to a full season of racing. The costs involved in re-establishing the track and renting the stadium are likely to be massive. We all have to hope that these are recouped as the sport can ill-afford a failed venture at such a high-profile stadium.

The club has a long and proud history and ranks alongside Belle Vue and Wembley as the most famous and glamorous clubs the sport has ever seen. The stadium was staging Speedway as long ago as 1928 and always attracted the brightest stars and was home to many big events.

The fifties and sixties were the real golden age of the Dons. The tight Plough Lane circuit was home to Ronnie 'Mirac' Moore and later Barry Briggs. These two Kiwis ensured that the Dons' fans became accustomed to the very highest standards and that the team was always competitive and entertaining.

Another big Wimbledon hero was Tommy Jannson. The young Swede was idolised at Plough Lane and looked destined to become one of the sport's greats. Tragically he was killed in a track accident before his full potential was realised.

The death of Jansson was a hammer blow to the club and it was a shadow of it's former self by the late seventies and early eighties. The seemingly unthinkable happened in 1985 when the mighty Wimbledon Dons dropped down to the National League. This was quite a comedown and it was little consolation that they were not the only club unable to make top flight racing pay. They provided a massive boost to the lower league and were able to renew their rivalry with Hackney who had dropped down the previous season.

The National League era was a happy time for most people associated with Wimbledon. Classy riders like Roger Johns and Mike Ferreria were joined by upcoming youngsters like Jamie Luckhurst, Neville Tatum, Ray Morton and Nathan Simpson. A certain Todd Wiltshire also made his first British appearances as a Wimbledon Don. The team was always strong but the league title evaded them. The promoter at that time was Russell Lanning. The effervescent front man ensured that the Dons were the most talked about club in the land. Who could ever forget seeing Andy Campbell with a topless model on page three of a national newspaper?

The two leagues came together in 1991 and a first and second division were established. Wimbledon, who had been considering a move back up, elected to join the first division and recruited old favourite John Davis and the untried Jesper Olsen to bolster their squad. The move was a financial disaster and the club was in trouble before the season was even a few weeks old. The increased wages and high rent were not covered by the ever declining turnstile income. The club moved to Eastbourne and saw out the season as the Eastbourne Dons.

That seemed to be where the Wimbledon story ended. The stadium owners tarred the Speedway track and despite occasional rumours there seemed little prospect of the Dons ever returning. This new venture will return Speedway to London and is perhaps another real sign that the sport is once again in a healthy state.

 

This article was first published prior to October 2002

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