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Week Ending May 5, 1973

THE most expensive rider transfer deal in Division Two took place this week as Hackney boss Len Silver paid a record £1500.01 for Canterbury’s Barney Kennett. The 1p tagged onto the end of the cheque was to beat the previous record paid by  Oxford to Eastbourne for Barney’s brother Gordon. Despite the expense, the Kennett deal was on a loan-back basis which gave the Crusaders’ boss Johnnie Hoskins first call on the rider’s services for the remainder of the 1973 season at least. The irony was that Hoskins had set the high fee somewhat tongue-in-cheek and was probably as surprised as any when, hardly had he launched into his justification, when Silver jumped in and said, ‘Don’t bother. You can have your grand and a half.’

Week Ending April 28, 1973

VETERAN promoter Johnnie Hoskins put pen to paper this week to launch a defence of Rider Control in the face of some critical comments by columnist Eric Linden. ‘Rider Control works,’ he wrote. ‘It saved speedway from complete failure after Wembley and the big five had outbid everyone for the available class riders.’ Crowds, he argued, would not turn up each week, even if their team was the one winning by vast scores every time. ‘People like to win,’ he recognized. ‘It’s natural, but they also want to see the other fellow in with a chance. Putting Wembley in those days of seven heat-leaders against most teams except Belle Vue was like pitting Muhammad Ali against Len silver, and who’d want to pay to see that? I mean fighting, not talking.’

Week Ending April 21, 1973

READING Council had offered the Directors of Allied Presentations, the promoters of the Racers team, two possible sites where speedway might be staged in the Berkshire town. The current stadium at Tilehurst was due for redevelopment and one of the options, known at the time as Smallmead Tip, seemed the more feasible of the two. Outside Reading, it sat on the Basingstoke Road, close to the M4. The site was flat and large enough to include ample car-parking. Noise would not be a major problem, either, and the view of the Council was that speedway could certainly continue there. The local newspaper, the Reading Chronicle, had already gone to press with a feature titled ‘Smallmead Stadium’ and superimposed an image of four riders in action over a picture of the undeveloped site. Urgent action was required since it seemed unlikely that Tilehurst would be available after the 1973 season.

Week Ending April 14, 1973

THREE items of news made the front page of the Speedway Star this week. First, the Great Britain teams were named for exchange tours with Poland, the senior side comprising Ivan Mauger, Ray Wilson, John Boulger, Terry Betts, Martin Ashby, Eric Boocock, Jimmy McMillan, Garry Middleton and Arnold Haley. The U23 team included such up-and-coming riders as Peter Collins and Dave Jessup. Secondly, Ivan mauger announced that he had abandoned plans to become a racing car driver and was committing his long-tern future to the two-wheeled sport. Thirdly, King’s Lynn had received the bad news that Phil Crump was likely to be out of action for up to four months after breaking bones in his right hand. The injury was not of the racing kind, however. A car jack had collapsed, crushing the Australian’s hand.

Week Ending April 7, 1973

THERE was good news for Hull fans with the announcement that speedway at the Boulevard would continue for at least another two years. The decision had been made at a meeting of Hull Corporation Policy Committee after months of consideration during which supporters had rallied to defend their sport. The Director of the city’s Development Control Committee, Councillor A F Clarke said, ‘We realize there have been a few complaints from residents living nearby but what we had to bear in mind was that speedway gives pleasure to many thousands of people in Hull.’ The Vikings’ co-promoter Ian Thomas responded, ‘To say I am delighted is an understatement. I feel tremendous. It has been a long and uneasy time but now the way is open for us to make plans for the future development of speedway at Hull.’

Week Ending March 31, 1973

THERE was good news for Hull fans with the announcement that speedway at the Boulevard would continue for at least another two years. The decision had been made at a meeting of Hull Corporation Policy Committee after months of consideration during which supporters had rallied to defend their sport. The Director of the city’s Development Control Committee, Councillor A F Clarke said, ‘We realize there have been a few complaints from residents living nearby but what we had to bear in mind was that speedway gives pleasure to many thousands of people in Hull.’ The Vikings’ co-promoter Ian Thomas responded, ‘To say I am delighted is an understatement. I feel tremendous. It has been a long and uneasy time but now the way is open for us to make plans for the future development of speedway at Hull.’

Week Ending March 24, 1973

RUSSIAN superstar Gabrackman Kadirov was crowned World Ice Racing Champion at the two-day Final in Inzel, West Germany, beating his closest rival, fellow countryman Boris Samoradov, by four points. Chris Carter reported that Kadirov dropped only one point in his ten races, clinching his sixth World Title since the Championship gained world status in 1966 and his third successive crown. Three of Britain’s ice racing representatives were among the weekend crowd of 25,000: Doug Wyer, Richard Greer and Joe Hughes while Cyril Jones, Don Godden and Chris Baybutt were among other top grass and speedway personalities at the meeting. The Final was ridden in a temperature of minus 6 degrees Celsius but many of the capacity crowd had taken up their places as much as  five hours before the start.

Week Ending March 17, 1973

IN his weekly column, Peter Oakes reported that London Weekend Television was ready to put together a major deal that would give speedway its biggest-ever TV boost. The proposal was that LWT would pay for the rights to all Division One matches throughout the 1973 season as well as several big internationals. It would mean speedway commanding more air time on World of Sport and on Sunday afternoons than any other sport apart from horse racing and wrestling. Top-level talks were being held at the South Bank Television Centre and had already produced a blueprint for at least one speedway meeting every month and, during the height of the upcoming World League tournament, viewers would be treated to weekly broadcasts. Oakes described it as speedway’s ‘biggest breakthrough in modern times.’

Week Ending March 10, 1973

THE news that Ivan Mauger was to stay at Belle Vue was followed by uproar at the announcement from Rider control that the Aces’ longest-serving rider, Soren Sjosten should be moved to Glasgow Coatbridge. The Hyde Road management lodged a strong protest and Dent Oliver told a reporter, ‘Every rider at Belle Vue has been brought to his present standard through hard work at training sessions. Soren Sjosten was developed at Hyde Road and I feel it’s about time other tracks found a way of locating new riders instead of supporting this annual grab at Belle Vue.’ The Speedway Star understood that the Manchester outfit was thinking of scrapping future winter training schools and that promoter Jack Fearnley was considering resigning his seat on the management committee in protest.

Week Ending February 24, 1973

THE first Test between New Zealand and Britain took place at Western Springs and resulted in a narrow win for the tourists by 56 points to 53. The Kiwi side included such stalwarts as Ronnie Moore and Graeme Stapleton, together with Roger Wright, Bob Andrews, Gary Peterson Bryce Subritzky and John Goodall. The British Lions, missing a number of faces that might have been expected to appear in a national side, included Bob Kilby, Arnold Haley, Chris Pusey, George Hunter, Eric Broadbelt, Nigel Boocock and Barry Thomas. The match was close throughout and a 5-1 in the final heat would have earned the home side a draw. In the event, Hunter made the gate after one false start and held onto his lead. Wright took second place after an epic tussle with Peterson who just held out Pusey.

Week Ending March 3, 1973

THERE was news of two controversial characters this week. Kiwi star Jack Millen had signed for Reading after success in the Second Division with Crewe and Sunderland. However, he had expressed a desire to ride for one more season in the lower division which meant that he would be eligible to ride only six times for the Racers to replace an injured or off-form rider.

Over at Cradley Heath, outspoken but highly talented Australian Garry Middleton was turning his hand to running a training school. The 16 successful applicants would be taught via a programme that included theory, technical lectures and physical training between March 5 and 10. On the final day of the school, the students would compete in a special meeting with over £100 in prizes to be shared between the top six riders.

Week Ending February 17, 1973

ONE of speedway’s best-known figures, Sheffield promoter FRANK VAREY, was forced to retire on health grounds, ending a 45-year association with the sport. Originally a rider for Belle Vue in 1928, Varey had become world-famous during his 18 seasons with the Aces, racing in almost every speedway country in the world. In South America, he had been known as the Red Devil because of his red leathers, red-painted bike and his daredevil tactics. He had been the promoter at Sheffield since 1960. Varey told the Speedway Star, ‘I have been pressed several times by my doctor to call it a day but I did not want to let the side down. However, it has now come to a point when I have finally had to accept the advice.’ He hoped to continue as president of the Tigers Supporters’ Club and chairman of the Patrons’ Association.

Week Ending February 10, 1973

‘I suppose there’s only one question you need answering this week,’ wrote IVAN MAUGER in his weekly Speedway Star column, ‘Will I be leaving Belle Vue?’ A move to Wimbledon had been ordered by Rider Control to the fury of Hyde Road chiefs and Mauger himself who only knew of the suggestion when he read it in an Australian newspaper. He clearly had no desire to leave the Manchester club. ‘They have the best workshop in the country,’ the World Champion said ‘and, as a family man, I cannot forget that on a Saturday night, I can leave home at five or six o’clock and be back in time to watch the ten o’clock news.’ He was careful not to rule out any move at all and added, ‘As a professional rider, if I felt that another club could offer me overall terms better than Belle Vue, then obviously I would consider the move.’

Week Ending February 3, 1973

HARRY BASTABLE, new team manager at Cradley Heath, told reporter Bill Cooper that his side were aiming for a new image in 1973. ‘For starters,’ he said, ‘we have a new team jacket and colours: green, white and red.’ The side’s name would also change from the Heathens to Cradley United. The new race jacket was designed by supporter Steven Hipkiss in a competition run by the club. His success earned him £5.

Up the road at Barrow, the team was set to enter its second season in the British League under new management. Wally Mawdsley had relinquished the reins and taking over was Workington Town Rugby League Club director George Graham. Not entirely a newcomer to the sport, Graham had worked closely with Ian Thomas at Derwent Park in previous seasons.

Week Ending January 27, 1973

JOHN LOUIS was presented with the trophy for the Speedway Star Personality of the Year by ITV’s Dickie Davies at the Seymour Hall in London. Louis, who had captured the public’s imagination with his fourth place in the World Final and an outstanding performance in the World Team Cup, thanked everyone who had voted for him. Davies, the host of World of Sport, disclosed that there was to be even more speedway on television in 1973. Other presentations made at the event included Mr London (Ronnie Moore), Most Improved London Rider (Dave Jessup), Most Spectacular Visitor to London (Terry Betts), Best London Team Rider (Dave Kennett) and Best London Junior Rider (Allen Emmett).

Week Ending January 20, 1973

THIS week brought the sad news that Ronnie Moore, New Zealand’s first magnitude star of the Wimbledon team, would not be returning to England for the new season. The ever-popular former World Champion, with 15 world final appearances behind him, cited a number of reasons for his decision. One was Britain’s entry into the Common Market. ‘I don’t fancy being treated as an alien in England,’ he wrote, ‘and, in some ways, that was the straw that broke the camel’s back.’ Ronnie had also been offered a deal by Kawasaki which would secure his future and was more and more reluctant to spend long periods away from his wife and four daughters. If he did return to England on business, he made clear that Plough Lane would certainly be one port of call. He concluded: ‘It is, after all, my second home.’

Week Ending January 13, 1973

MALCOLM SIMMONS, star of the King’s Lynn side had just left for Australia to get himself fit for the start of the new season. He had chosen not to join the Lions team for the winter test matches Down Under but wrote to the promoters at Claremont Speedway, Perth, asking about the possibility of a freelance engagement there the following winter. Within days, co-promoter Colin Migro had written back to say: ‘Never mind about next season … come now!’

Meanwhile, the Lions had just suffered a heavy defeat by Australia in the fifth test match at Brisbane. The home side won by 73 points to 36. The defeat for the tourists meant that they went 4-1 down on aggregate, making it impossible for them to win the series.

Week Ending May 12, 1973

THE news from Wroclaw was of heavy defeats for Britain’s senior and Under-23 squads. The scoreline from the senior match was a humiliating 76-31 and meant that Britain still waited for its first international success in Poland since 1958. There was at least some justification for the lack-lustre performances, the riders having left London at first-light after some had competed the previous night. They then faced a 150-mile car dash from Poznan to Wroclaw and took to the track without Ivan Mauger. On a wet and bumpy surface, gating was at a premium and Mauger’s expertise in that department might have proved invaluable. The riders tried hard but, exhausted as they were, they didn’t have the concentration at the tapes to match their hosts. Ray Wilson summed it up when he returned to the pits after his first ride and asked, ‘Wwhere’s the green light?’ Presumably the Poles knew!

Week Ending May 19, 1973

The news from Rybnik this week was that Britain had broken a fifteen year jinx when it's senior international side recorded a memorable victory on Polish soil for the first time since 1958. The team, captained by Ray Wilson, and including John Louis, Jim McMillan, John Boulger, Terry Betts, Pete Smith and Reg Wilson won by 55 points to 53. The Poles needed a 5-1 in the final heat to win the match and they looked set to gain just that as Mucha and Marcinowski sped from the gate. On the second lap, however, Reg Wilson rounded team-mate Boulger and both of the Poles in a tremendous burst of speed which stunned the 25,000 crowd. Wilson had originally been a non-riding reserve drawn from the under-23 team. Meanwhile, in Czestochowa, Britain's U-23s had put up a brave fight before going down 63-45 in an exciting junior international.

Week Ending May 26, 1973

There was surprise in some quarters this week at the news that Ipswich star John Louis had not been selected to represent England in the World Best Pairs semi-final. Witches' boss John Berry said, "Louis has worked so hard in the last year or more to establish himself as England's outstanding rider and I believe he should have been in. Current form says he had to be included. I know the selectors felt that Ray Wilson and Terry Betts, as winners of the title, would be the obvious choices again, but let's look at it another way - it was England who won the title, and it is England who will be defending it. And as things are at the moment Louis, England's best rider, simply couldn't be left out." On Bryan Seery's statistics page in the same week, Louis recorded an average of 9.88 from four matches, Wilson was scoring 9.58 from twelve matches and Betts had reached 9.41 from seven matches.

Week Ending June 2, 1973

Criticism followed the defeat of Ray Wilson and Terry Betts in the Western Zone Semi-Final of the World Pairs Championship at Poole, which meant that England lost the only world championship she currently held. Many had advocated that in-form John Louis ought to have been selected but not all agreed. Peter Oakes argued, rather sentimentally, ‘Surely the Betts-Wilson duo deserved the chance to defend their hard-won title. And could another pairing have done any better?’ ‘Yes’ would have been the answer from Ipswich boss John Berry and a large number of supporters, too. In his own column, Ray Wilson blamed an element of bad luck, writing: ‘In our race against the Norwegians, Bettsy was leading with no trouble when his chain snapped and what should have been a 4-2 to England turned into a 4-2 for Reidar Eide and Dag Lovaas.’

Week Ending June 9, 1973

Previously overlooked in terms of national recognition, speedway stepped out of the shadows this week when Barry Briggs was awarded the MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List for ‘services to speedway’. Briggs learned of the award on his return from winning a long track meeting in Germany. He wrote in his Speedway Star column: ‘… news filtered through from a Fleet Street friend that my name appeared in the list. The Press receive the names the day before they are officially announced although there is a strict embargo against publication before a certain time. Suddenly I felt overwhelmed. It is a tremendous honour and one I am very thankful for.’ In his own column, Ivan Mauger added, ‘It’s the first time anyone from the sport has been recognised through their services and no-one could have earned it more than Briggo.’

Week Ending June 16, 1973

The Swedish pairing of Anders Michanek and Tommy Jansson won the World Pairs Final in Boras, Sweden, with 24 points. Denmark were second, despite a flawless 18-point maximum from Ole Olsen, and Poland finished in third place. New Zealand ended in last place with only 10 points and Ivan Mauger listed the catalogue of disasters that had befallen him in his Speedway Star column. They involved a rescheduled flight and lost luggage, including all his racing gear. He was far from happy, too, with the standard of the refereeing. ‘There was a lot of trouble with the starting - the referee was the same as last year’s World Final - as the tapes were going up as soon as the green light came on. In fact, I’ll swear that in one race the tapes went BEFORE the green light! Three times a Swedish rider broke the tapes but wasn’t excluded and but for that then Ole and partner (Kurt Bogh) must have won the meeting.’

Week Ending June 23, 1973

Britain’s test squads returned home following heavy defeats in the recent test matches against Poland. The senior team were swamped 75-33 in the final and deciding test at Gorzow while the Under-23s went down 70-37 at Gdienz. In the senior match, Poland’s Zenon Plech raced to a flawless 18-point maximum while, for Britain, the only heat winners were John Louis and Terry Betts. Top scorer was Ivan Mauger with 9 points but even he was twice beaten from the back by Plech.. For the juniors, John Titman and Doug Wyer top-scored with 10 each but the news was worsened when Chris Pusey was hit by Andrzej Tkocz in the seventh heat and suffered a broken arm. An ambulance was waiting at Heathrow to take him to a nearby hospital for an operation but the likelihood was that he would be out of action for at least six weeks, missing the British Final as a result.

Week Ending June 30, 1973

Shock news this week was that New Zealand might seek direct affiliation with the FIM rather than going through the British  A-CU as they had done for the past 50 years. This was the result of the British authorities’ refusal to permit four times World Champion Barry Briggs to  enter the 1973 qualifying rounds. Ronnie Moore expressed the view that there would be advantages and disadvantages to such a move. ‘It could be a bad move for the New Zealand lads in Britain,’ he warned but added, ‘We are a country after all. I think we are big and ugly enough to stand on our own two feet.’ Correspondent Rod Dew wrote in the Speedway Star, ‘The current New Zealand championship would  then have to become a qualifying round for the World Championship. This would not necessarily prevent New Zealand riders from racing in Britain … but those with world championship aspirations would no longer be forced to ride in the British League.’

Week Ending July 7, 1973

The Soviet Union assured themselves of at least three World Final places when they filled the top eight positions in the Continental Final at Leningrad. Valeri Gordeev, younger of the famous Soviet brothers, was crowned Continental Champion with a score of 13 points from his five rides. The other qualifiers for the European Final were Grigori Chlinovsky (12), Vladimir Zaplechny (12), Vladimir Gordeev (11½), Victor Trofimov (11½), Alexander Pavlov (11), Anatoli Kuzmin (10) and Vladimir Paznikov (10). These eight would meet the top scorers from the Nordic-British Final  on August 19 at Abensberg, West Germany. The only Czech to worry the Russians was former World finalist Jiri Stancl, who scored eight points and would be the European Final reserve. Other well-known non-qualifiers form the Continental event  included Vaclav Verner and his brother Miroslav of Czechoslovakia and West Germany’s Josef Angermüller.

Week Ending Aug 4, 1973

Former rider and, at the time, Hull Speedway manager Colin Tucker became the latest Commonwealth rider to fall foul of the new immigration and residence rules introduced as a consequence of Britain’s recent membership of the European Economic Community - precursor of today’s EU. A New Zealander, Tucker had first come to England in 1968 and had ridden for Rayleigh, Crewe, Long Eaton and Hull before joining the administrative staff at The Boulevard. Although married to an English girl, he had been told by the immigration authorities that he would not be re-admitted to the country in 1974. He said, ‘If I had parents or grandparents who were born in England it would be all right, but it was my great-grandparents who went out to New Zealand. So that’s a no-go.’

Week Ending July 28, 1973

John Louis expressed his anger, bitter disappointment and disenchantment after he was excluded from the Great Britain team which took on the Rest of the World at Wembley. Team manager Len Silver’s decision to omit the Ipswich star from the line-up also infuriated Foxhall Heath boss John Berry, whose top man had originally been selected but was dropped at the last moment. Louis told Speedway star’s Martin Rogers: ‘I was second-top scorer behind Ivan Mauger in the World Team Cup in Olching, top scorer for Great Britain in Poland and second behind Ray Wilson in the International Tournament. If that’s not good enough for Len Silver then I don’t know what is.’

Week Ending July 21, 1973

Controversy reigned over the exclusion of Anders Michanek for bringing down Peter Collins in the match race to decide the result of an England v Sweden international at Wembley. Sweden team manager Christer Bergstrom described it as ‘the worst refereeing decision I have ever seen,’ and there was pandemonium in the pits after the incident. Commentaors Barry Briggs and Dave Lanning felt the TV replay vindicated referee Arthur Humphrey who said, ‘Regulation 214 is quite clear on the point. If one rider causes another to fall, he is disqualified.’ England manager Len Silver said, ‘Michanek made his own gap but then he hit Collins. That’s boring and the referee had to exclude him.’ In a quiet corner of the pits, a disheartened Michanek could only ask, ‘What is one to do with speedway? It is getting to the stage where they have to hold out a flag to indicate that somebody is going to pass another rider.’  

Week Ending January 6, 1973

THE New Year broke with news that Ellesmere Port had applied to take over the First Division licence held at the time by Wembley. Within hours of the confirmation that there would be no league racing at the Empire Stadium in 1973, the Gunners’ co-promoters Ian Thomas and Wally Mawdsley had submitted letters of application to the BSPA and the Speedway Control Board. It had been hoped that speedway would return to Wembley that year since 1973 marked the stadium’s 50th anniversary but promoter Trevor Redmond had been unable to persuade the stadium authorities to permit the Lions to run for a further year. Wembley had been unable to enter the League in 1972 but a place in Division One had been held open for them in the hope that the side would return after its one-year absence.

Week Ending Aug 11, 1973

Following a controversial Nordic-British Final at Coventry, Barry Briggs revealed some of the drama that went on behind the scenes at Brandon. He blamed the troubles on the inexperienced refereeing of Finland’s Veikko Halme and claimed that there were no referees in Finland with the necessary skill to handle such a major meeting. In one incident, Eric Boocock broke the tapes but Mr Halme excluded Sweden’s Bernt Persson. Briggs claimed that, after the referee looked over his shoulder at a TV monitor, (Barry was acting as co-commentator for London Weekend Television), he saw his error from the slow-motion replay and changed his decision. It was not the only poor decision in a meeting in which the starts were the main cause of controversy. Briggs wrote, ‘The referee was not good enough and was the cause of the bad starts.’

Week Ending July 14, 1973

In the wake of the successful Daily Mirror International Speedway Tournament, held on tracks in Britain, came the news that the Poles were considering a similar competition on their own turf. In an interview with Dave Stevens on the Speedway Star’s front page, Polish team manager Zbigniew Puzio said, ‘To race against Poland on our tracks I think that Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Great Britain (to include Australia, England, New Zealand and Scotland riders), Sweden and the USSR will provide us with the best opposition… There are still differences between British and Polish tracks. British team visits to Poland earlier this year… emphasise the point. We tried in Poland to place the six British matches at tracks best suited to your riders. I don’t feel the same consideration has been given to us in England… I am sorry if perhaps we have not done as well as might have been expected of us but there will be future opportunities.’

Week Ending Sep 8, 1973

In the West, he may never have been given the credit he deserved, but Jerzy Szczakiel was the 1973 World Champion - Poland’s first ever - and he certainly deserved his crown. A modest and self-effacing man who, according to Zbigniew Puzio, chief of the Polish Motor Federation, ‘Nobody in Poland thought would win,’ he accepted the trophy with calm assurance. His only other World Final appearance had been in Gothenburg, Sweden, in 1971 when he had scored not a single point. ‘Then, I just scraped around the fence,’ he told the Speedway Star. ‘All right for some tracks in Poland but not in Gothenburg. After that Final, I realized I must learn to ride closer to the line.’ The key to his success at Chorzow’s Slaski Stadium, according to this quietly-spoken young man, was gating. He said, ‘I knew on this track I must not miss a start.’

Week Ending Sep 1, 1973

This week the Speedway Star published its World Championship preview edition ahead of the Final in Chorzow, Poland on Sunday, September 2. Pundits gave their thoughts, as usual, but Dave Stevens came up with some interesting facts about the staging of the meeting itself - one in which the Poles were hoping to crown their first ever World Champion. Certainly, it promised to produce the biggest live audience ever for a World Final. All 130,000 tickets had already been sold or allocated and the racing was set to be beamed live into Polish homes. Other East European countries would also take the live feed and film of the event was to be made available for worldwide distribution. Most of the profit from the staging was to be ploughed back by the Polish Motor Federation into new equipment. They hoped to buy at least 60 new Jawa-ESO machines for their junior riders.

Week Ending Aug 25, 1973

Anders Michanek won the European Final on a hot afternoon in Abensberg, West Germany, with a fine 15-point maximum but the meeting was overshadowed by the disqualification of Britain’s John Louis. The Ipswich star was banned by the FIM for failing a fuel test and, despite a petition signed by all the British riders plus Barry Briggs passing a vote of no confidence in the Speedway Control Board, the SCB withdrew the rider from the meeting. Louis had been the subject of a random dope test at the Nordic-British Final in Coventry two weeks earlier when the additive propylene oxide had been discovered in his fuel. The Briton claimed that the fuel was part of a 10-gallon consignment and that he had no knowledge of the additive. He threatened not to ride again for the remainder of the season if the ban went ahead.

Week Ending Aug 18, 1973

By mid-August, Reading Racers had moved to the top of Division One following a 47-31 home win over Newport. A look at Bryan Seery’s Statistics page in the Speedway Star would reveal part of the reason for the Berkshire club’s success. Two of their riders appeared in the top six of the riders’ averages with double-figure scores. Anders Michanek was clocking up 11.64 after 18 meetings and, with one match more under his belt, Dag Lovaas had a CMA of 10.34. Needless to say, both men had scored maximums against the unfortunate Wasps. The highest-scoring man in the Division One averages, however, was Exeter’s Ivan Mauger who, after 12 meetings, had barely dropped a point and was averaging an amazing 11.92.

Week Ending Sep 15, 1973

There was a shock this week ahead of the World Team Cup Final at Wembley when Ivan Mauger, four times World Champion and runner-up at Chorzow the previous week, was dropped from the Great Britain team. The squad would comprise Ray Wilson, Peter Collins, Terry Betts and Malcolm Simmons, with Dave Jessup at reserve. In a statement, the British League said, ‘Ivan Mauger was excluded from consideration as he was in dispute with the Speedway Control Board and the Promoters’ Association over starting procedure. After the selections had been made, Mauger telephoned and “unreservedly withdrew” his withdrawal of services, advising of his willingness to ride in the Great Britain squad but the General Council of the BSPA overwhelmingly re-affirmed their nominations.’

Week Ending Sep 22, 1973

On a wet night at Wembley, Britain were victors in the World Team Cup and secured permanent possession of the trophy by making it three wins in a row. The low attendance of 30,000 (what would a British promoter give for 30,000 today?) was the only disappointing side to the night, if you discount the stinging rain and distant thunder. The British selectors chose to field an all-English quartet - Peter Collins, Ray Wilson, Terry Betts and Malcolm Simmons, with Dave Jessup at reserve - since Australia and New Zealand were seeking separate affiliation to the FIM and a new format for the competition seemed certain for 1974. Britain scored 37 points, including a maximum for Peter Collins, Sweden were runners-up with 31 and the USSR came third with 20. Surprise of the night were the Poles who could only muster eight points between them, with Zenon Plech top-scoring on five.

Week Ending Sep 29, 1973

There was controversy this week at the Swedish Final, held at the Ullevi Stadium in Gothenburg. Tommy Johansson became the new Swedish Champion but not before a dramatic heat 12 in which the meeting was largely decided. The previously unbeaten trio of Anders Michanek, Bernt Persson and Bo Wirebrand clashed, with Persson making the gate from Wirebrand and Michanek. Michanek took Wirebrand but, attempting to cut inside Persson, pushed the Cradley rider into the fence. Persson broke an arm and the referee excluded Michanek who walked out of the meeting. With the top two contenders gone and with Christer Lofqvist and Bengt Jansson out through injury, Sweden was clearly going to have a surprise champion. Johansson’s total of 14 points was enough to carry off the title from Wirebrand on 13  and Tommy Jansson on 11. Göte Nordin, in his farewell meeting, came fourth.

Week Ending Oct 6, 1973

Workington star Lou Samsom, top of the Division 2 averages by a country mile and eagerly sought by First division clubs for the 1974 season, announced that he was returning to Adelaide with his wife and son at the end of the season and was unlikely to return. Speedway, he said, was not a paying game. Despite piling up the points, winning the Silver Helmet and being odds-on favourite for the Riders’ Championship in October, he told Martin Rogers, ‘When I came over to England four years ago, I had £1,200 in the bank. Now it’s down to £200. Nobody seems too bothered about helping out with any extra so I can’t see myself coming back unless there was a real good deal somewhere.’ Lou’s plan was to  set up in his trade as a motor mechanic and to build a worthwhile business for himself back home. Wrote Rogers, ‘Clearly, all is not well when the top man in the Second Division has become so disillusioned with the game.’

Week Ending Oct 13, 1973

Speedway riders took to the Decca recording studios this week to tape a single which would be unleashed on the record-buying public in time for the start of the 1974 season. Under the guidance of producer Karl Blore and with help from Radio 1 DJs Ed Stewart and David Hamilton, one rider from each First Division track was due to participate. Speedway being what it is, however, they couldn’t manage without a guest rider - or, in this case, singer. There being no-one available to represent Sheffield, (can you believe that), the steel town’s colours were flown by guest Bert Harkins who had ridden for the Tigers in 1972. The group was named ‘The Rivals’ for the purposes of the record label and the song on the A-side was titled simply ‘Speedway’. On the flip side, as the DJs used to say, was the now-forgotten song ‘Hoskins Still Rides’. A short extract from the Record will appear on the Speedway Fiction website before long.

Week Ending Oct 20, 1973

After a waterlogged track in Manchester saw the postponement of their second leg clash with Belle Vue for the Speedway Star Cup, Reading, already 16 points up from the first leg, had to content themselves with showing off their Division One Champions’ trophy on the last night of their season and final meeting ever their Tilehurst base. The winning Racers’ team comprised: Anders Michanek, Richard May, Mick Bell, Bobby McNeil, Bernie Leigh, Dag Lovaas and Geoff Curtis. Between them, they notched up an impressive 51 league points out of a possible 68. In case you don’t recognize him, the celebrity covered in flour after the last-night high jinks is Radio 1 DJ David Hamilton.

Week Ending Oct 27, 1973

The Manchester rain dealt another bitter blow to speedway’s end-of-season celebrations when the Division One Riders’ Championship was called off by the referee, Jack Whittaker. It was a difficult decision for the Yorkshireman with 25,000 supporters from every First Division track waiting at the turnstiles, television crews at the ready following a week of preparation and the 18 riders wound up and ready to go for one of the biggest prizes of the season. The postponement was announced shortly after six o’clock when another downpour rendered the track too difficult to ride. The Belle Vue general manager Jack Fearnley put it to the riders: ‘Can you finish the meeting once it is under way?’ And they were unable to give a definitive ‘yes’. The re-staging was to be on November 3 but many fans would be unable to return.

Week Ending Nov 3, 1973

On the same night as the re-staged Division One Riders’ Championship was due to go ahead in Manchester, at the other end of England, Canterbury were putting on a celebration of speedway’s 50th anniversary. The format was a four-team tournament between quartets from Birmingham, Rayleigh, Ipswich and the Crusaders themselves. The top scorer from each team would then contest a special ‘Pioneers’ Cup’ which had been donated by Frank Varey. Apart from the sport itself, the chief toast of the evening would be Canterbury promoter Johnnie Hoskins himself, the man who created speedway racing in Australia, in 1923, simply as a stunt for the annual show of the West Maitland Agricultural Society. The sport’s first 50 years had been one of very mixed fortunes but, in 1970s Britain, it was very much alive and well, and that was undoubtedly a cause for plenty of celebration.

Week Ending Nov 10, 1973

Big news this week was that John Louis could still face disciplinary action after being found guilty of using an illegal fuel additive in this year’s British Final at Coventry. At their recent conference in Madrid, the FIM decided that they were not satisfied with the way the British Auto-Cycle Union had handled the case and ordered it to reconsider the matter. In effect, it meant that the Speedway Control Board had misinterpreted the FIM rules. The Board were also criticised for their handling of the Eric Boocock affair at the same meeting, when the Yorkshireman was cleared of ungentlemanly conduct and of leaving the pits. The FIM found him guilty and handed down an official reprimand. At the same meeting, the FIM agreed that American riders should be allowed to compete in the 1974 World Championship. They would not compete in the British rounds but one rider would be seeded from a series of meetings in the USA.

Week Ending Nov 17, 1973

With the British Lions touring side due to take on the Australians, beginning at Perth’s massive 641-yard Claremont circuit on November 24, tough-talking skipper Nigel Boocock promised his team would be going all-out to win the series. He told the Speedway Star, ‘I believe in giving 20 shillings to the pound. The lads I’ve got coming with me to Australia this time believe the same. You see, we’ll do a lot better than the knockers give us credit for.’ There had earlier been much criticism of the proposed touring party which included established hands such as Peter Collins, George Hunter and Eric Broadbelt as well as newcomers Doug Wyer and Reg Wilson. Team manager for the series would be Reg Fearman. Boocock insisted that all his riders would work well together. ‘I’m confident that it is a team - not a load of individuals and cry-babies. The lads all want to do well. They’re keen to go. For me, that’s 90 per cent of the battle.’

Week Ending Nov 24, 1973

Surprise news this week was the announcement that French promoters had asked Hackney boss Len Silver to bring speedway right to the heart of Paris. Twenty British League riders would be recruited to take part in six meetings over five days at the Palais de Sports. Silver said, ‘It will be the first real indoor speedway in the world. We will be laying a track - red shale or granite dust, depending on availability - inside the Palais de Sports.’ The venue, home of the Paris Motor Show, was big enough to accommodate a track of between 185 and 200 yards in length. The chief problem would be to introduce speedway to a nation largely unfamiliar with the sport. Mr Silver added, ‘We will be undertaking a tremendous publicity drive in France and Paris in particular and I am trying to work out a new formula which can be compared with cycling’s six-day event. The week-long spectacular would take place between December 13 and 17.

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Speedway Headlines 1973

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Week Ending Dec 29, 1973

The year ended with the news from South Africa that the government had banned all motorsports in an effort to conserve fuel. The measure, announced by Minister of Sport Piet Koornhof, was a direct consequence of the worldwide oil crisis. Other restrictions, wrote Dick Barrie, included the lowering of the speed limit on public roads to a snail-like 30 mph, strict reductions on flying including a total ban on flying for pleasure and a ban on all power-boating. Public rationing of fuel, however, was not being considered so, unlike the situation in Britain, no petrol coupons had been issued. At first it had been thought that the ban would not include speedway since the bikes use methanol fuel and are lubricated with vegetable oils but this was not the case.

Week Ending Dec 22, 1973

Christmas week brought the tragic news of three deaths in the world of speedway. Dent Oliver, Belle Vue’s manager during the Aces Championship winning seasons, died at his home in Disley. He had suffered a heart attack the previous winter. The Manchester club’s grief was compounded with the news that track announcer Keith Knight had died suddenly at his home. He had taken over the announcing job after Bernard Tennant was killed in a car crash. From Australia came the dreadful news that Reading heat-leader Geoff Curtis had been killed in a track crash at Sydney. Geoff had achieved immediate success with Second Division Crewe on arriving in England and had gone on to ride for Newcastle. When the Diamonds’ assets were moved south to Reading, Curtis moved with them.

Week Ending Dec 15, 1973

Barry Briggs confirmed that he was to return to British League racing in 1974, with Wimbledon Dons. The four-times World Champion had begun his career at Plough Lane in 1952 and was now seen as the man to lead the Dons back to the top of the speedway tree. The contract, to run for two years, was due to be put before a British Speedway General Council meeting the following week. Briggs was not in the country when the announcement was made, having left for a three-week trip to America from where he would fly on to New Zealand. (The deal actually took some time to be ratified as news of it had been leaked to the press before the General Council meeting. Swindon, in particular, were thought to be less than pleased with the way the signing had been handled).

Week Ending Dec 8, 1973

Another Arab-Israeli war in the Middle East had caused a critical shortage of fuel across the world and Britain was as badly hit as any country. Airlines had levied hefty surcharges leaving at least one speedway rider, Canterbury’s Peter Murray stranded and unable to afford the new fare to transport him and his equipment to New Zealand for the winter. Petrol rationing coupons had been issued (but would never actually be used) and, despite using methanol fuel, speedway needed to lay plans for the 1974 season since a huge amount of petrol was used in transporting riders and officials to and from meetings over the course of a season. Speedway Star advised the authorities to lay plans now, despite hopes that the crisis might have blown over by the Spring.

Week Ending Dec 1, 1973

Late News from Perth just managed to sneak into the bottom of page four, beneath an article previewing the First Test between Australia and the British Lions. It reported an exciting win for the tourists by 55 points to 53, which was described as a compact team effort in which Peter Collins top-scored around the huge Claremont bowl with 15 points. Nigel Boocock and Ray Wilson each contributed 10. The home side were handicapped somewhat by the absence of John Boulger, described as ‘mentally exhausted’ after seven years of non-stop riding. The following evening, the Lions went on to beat a South Australia team by 52 points to 26.

Week Ending Nov 24, 1973

Surprise news this week was the announcement that French promoters had asked Hackney boss Len Silver to bring speedway right to the heart of Paris. Twenty British League riders would be recruited to take part in six meetings over five days at the Palais de Sports. Silver said, ‘It will be the first real indoor speedway in the world. We will be laying a track - red shale or granite dust, depending on availability - inside the Palais de Sports.’ The venue, home of the Paris Motor Show, was big enough to accommodate a track of between 185 and 200 yards in length. The chief problem would be to introduce speedway to a nation largely unfamiliar with the sport. Mr Silver added, ‘We will be undertaking a tremendous publicity drive in France and Paris in particular and I am trying to work out a new formula which can be compared with cycling’s six-day event. The week-long spectacular would take place between December 13 and 17.

These were the top stories from England’s second most popular spectator sport in the year 1973

The weeks are in reverse order      Scroll down to view earlier weeks      Click on each picture to see a larger version

It was the year in which Britain entered the EEC, (now the EU). In March, two IRA bombs exploded in London, killing one person and injuring 250 others. These would be followed by other bombings in London later in the year. The Queen opened the new London Bridge, Pink Floyd released The Dark Side of the Moon and women were admitted to the Stock Exchange for the first time. A worldwide oil crisis threatened fuel supplies, The TV comedy series Last of the Summer Wine was first broadcast and the James Bond film Live and Let Die was released in cinemas. Read on to see what was happening in British speedway…

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