Chris Lakey: Ivan Mauger - a legend in the world of speedway

PUBLISHED: 11:30 20 April 2018 | UPDATED: 11:30 20 April 2018

Riders from King's Lynn and Belle Vue pay tribute to Ivan Mauger. Picture: Ian Burt

Riders from King's Lynn and Belle Vue pay tribute to Ivan Mauger. Picture: Ian Burt

Archant 2018

‘Speedway star Ivan Mauger was New Zealand’s greatest sportsman’ read the website headline as the country mourned his death this week.

Ivan Mauger. Genius.Ivan Mauger. Genius.

That’s a marvellous achievement, being your country’s best ever at something, at anything. But Ivan Mauger was more than that. More than a bit special – and I’ll tell you how I know.

Back in the day when I used to stand enthusiastically with the big people (adults) at Saddlebow Road, I waited and waited for the great man to appear with his team, the Belle Vue Aces.

Mauger and the Aces were awesome. Brilliant.

You know how there are certain sportsmen and women, or teams, you just know are going to win, you just know are going to beat your team? This was Mauger and the Aces.

They were Manchester City (up until a couple of weeks ago), Barcelona, Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls.

There was never any doubt in my mind that Mauger had zero flaws. He was the master, and when he sat on his bike, the race was already run.

In my tender years I cannot remember a single rider I regarded as invincible. Ole Olsen was superb, but beaten on occasion. He was Manchester United of their swashbuckling days. Ipswich’s John Louis was a favourite, but it was more about his enthusiasm than anything else, and in later years it was Michael Lee, the flawed genius whose solitary world title, in 1980, was nowhere near reflective of his skills on a speedway bike. He was Gazza.

Mauger was an intense man, utterly dedicated to his sport, which began when he (like Lee did at King’s Lynn) rode in the second half of meetings at Wimbledon’s Plough lane, when stars of the future were given a chance to shine. Off track he’d help the groundsman.

“I never, ever felt I was going to work for the simple reason that I just loved the atmosphere of being in Wimbledon Stadium,” Mauger said.

“I cleaned the dressing rooms, the toilets, the pits and the workshop. I helped Mac work on the track, I weeded the tulip beds and on Monday afternoons I had to cut the grass out in the centre before the speedway meeting. And not just any old cut would do. It had to be mowed in one direction then the other, just like Wembley Stadium.”

It was at Belle Vue where he found his greatest success, in the 70s, and it was fitting that on Wednesday evening at the Norfolk Arena, King’s Lynn and Belle Vue riders were able to show their appreciation of the man with a minute’s applause.

Sport is changing; it seems there are fewer truly great individuals any more.

Speedway riders get the chance to be part of a team and also to perform as individuals. Mauger shone at both.

He was voted the Greatest Rider of the 20th Century. No one can argue with that.

Well played, City

A lot of things happen in the sporting world that are less than savoury, but John Fashanu’s admission this week that he paid his late brother, Justin, money to keep him from revealing he was gay, dips pretty low.

John admits his behaviour towards older brother Justin was poor and blames it on a lack of education – something he now wants remedied.

“It was a lack of education,” he told ITV’s Good Morning Britain show on Wednesday. “I make it very clear, I was a monster to Justin then. I paid him £75,000 not to say that he was gay.”

Justin took his own life in 1998 after revealing his sexuality, at a time when “revealing” your sexuality was a lot different than it is today.

Yet today, there are no openly gay players in the Premier League. We haven’t come very far have we?

“We have a number of well-known footballers who are gay and they don’t feel comfortable with the environment,” said Fashanu. “They know their empires will be destroyed.”

Read those words again, absorb the meaning and then tell me nothing is wrong.

The anniversary of Justin’s death – May 2 – isn’t far away and will be remembered by many Norwich City fans who were privileged to see him wear the colours of their club. They should also feel privileged that their club is at the forefront in the fight against homophobia. As an example, I ought to remind you of the short, but sweet, twitter exchange after the club’s support of Norwich Pride.

“What the hell has this to do with football?”

“Everything,” replied City.

On Saturday May 5, Proud Canaries, Aviva and Norwich City are hosting an LGBT-friendly tournament at Carrow Road from 4pm-7pm.

The inaugural Proud Canaries Cup will see Proud Canaries FC face a number of other LGBT-inclusive teams in a round-robin tournament: Stonewall FC, London Titans, Charlton Invicta, to name but a few, have all signed up to play.

Amal Fashanu, a niece of Justin and John, will be there while Ryan Atkin, the first openly gay referee in the UK, will also be refereeing the final.

Great work.

Flying Fenmen

The progress of King’s Lynn town under Ian Culverhouse has been terrific to watch.

The Linnets play some quality football and are guaranteed a place in the Southern League play-offs.

Coming from that part of the world (well, just over the border in the very flat lands) as I do, it’s good to see – but a word for his predecessor, Gary Setchell, who has worked a minor miracle at Wisbech Town.

I am obliged to a former colleague, Adrian Lynn, who reminds me that Wisbech have lost only three games in the league since Setchell took over on September 7. That’s 29 games, 21 wins and five draws.

Not bad, eh?

Last weekend they lost 3-1 at home to title rivals Newport Pagnell Town in front of a crowd of 285 at the Elgoods Fenland Stadium. The Fenmen are second, four points behind Yaxley with two games in hand, but inferior goal difference – and there are two other teams on the same points as Wisbech.

Now that is what you call a title race.

Well done, Gary Setchell.

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