Speedway star Billy's a living legend at 90
PUBLISHED: 18:17 07 June 2019 | UPDATED: 18:17 07 June 2019
One of the best-loved and most underrated East Anglian sporting heroes celebrated his 90th birthday this week. Derek James pays tribute to Billy Bales
He is a typical Norfolk "boy" preferring to talk of others rather than himself. He is a living legend and one of our greatest speedway riders...the one and only Billy Bales.
The boy Billy has been called the "Mighty Atom" by some, "Mighty Mouse" by others or the "Pocket Rocket."
He was a Yarmouth Bloater, a Norwich Star and a Sheffield Tiger during his career in this rough and tumble sport.
On Thursday friends and relatives gathered at The Crown Point public house in Trowse, run for many years by his daughter Carol and her husband Roger, to toast the birthday boy.
He may have retired from speedway half a century ago but the memories and the stories about Billy are passed down from one generation to the next.
In the days when Norwich speedway attracted top riders from across the world, Billy was the home grown hero lad who lived near the Firs, could compete with the best of them and regarded as one of the most talented riders.
Talk to people about the glory days of speedway in Norwich and Great Yarmouth and the Billy's name soon pops up..
Billy represented his country and rode in the world championship during his career which came to an end at Sheffield in 1969 after a 21 year career on the track.
He grew up in the shadow of the fabulous Firs Stadium in Norwich and he was born to race.
Following the end of the Second World War the riders were idols and the young lads joined the cycle speedway teams which were spread across Norfolk and Suffolk.
They were the skid-kids. There were dozens of teams with exotic names. Cycle speedway wasn't just a pastime it was a way of life for these boys and we had some of the best teams in the country.
Billy was a member of the Hellesdon Harriers and he soon proved he could ride as fast as the wind...in the car park at the Firs.
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After leaving school he got himself a job as an apprentice at Laurence, Scott & Electromotors, the famous Norwich engineering plant.
"I never liked motor-bikes. It was something that just happened," he once told me.
It certainly did. He went along to the training school run by rider Paddy Mills and soon others started to take an interest in the young lad as he flew around the track.
Billy's name is actually Raymond, but speedway boss Dickie Wise couldn't remember it so he called him Billy - the name stuck.
You could say he was Billy the Kid and one night he wanted to pop into the famous old clubhouse for a drink but the doorman wouldn't let him in as he looked under-age. He was 19.
Billy rode for Yarmouth Bloaters in the late 1940s and went on to become the leading points scorer. He was known as "Mr Maximum."
Thousands of people would flock to stadium to watch as Billy and the boys as they went for glory. He had many tumbles and broken bones and had a spectacular way of riding.
He served in the Middle East during National Service with the RAF and trained as an engineer. When he came home he married the love of his life Myra. They were married for more than 60 years and had daughter Carol, and sons Ray (also a speedway rider), Andrew and Philip. Myra sadly died in 2017.
In the 1950s Billy was promoted to the Norwich Stars and he became one of the best-loved riders in the history of The Firs.
His first match in the First Division against Bradford resulted in maximum points. His spectacular style made him a great favourite with the Norwich supporters and he repaid them by remaining one of the National League's leading riders throughout the rest of his career at The Firs.
He represented Norwich in no less than 245 matches, second only to Phil Clarke, scoring a total of 1,580 points.
When the Firs closed in 1964 Sheffield wanted Billy so he went up to Yorkshire where he rode for The Tigers until he retired in 1969. The fans there also took him to their hearts.
Half a century on the people still talk about the pocket rocket - 5ft of raw power and passion - to the fans he was a giant.
Happy birthday Billy.