A look back at Norwich’s speedway stadium - 50 years after the gates closed
- Credit: Archant
The speedway stadium may have closed half a century ago but the memories of the thrills, spills and the special bond of friendship between the fans and the riders are as vivid as ever.
More than 600 people entered our competition to win a copy of the double DVD, signed by Ove Fundin and produced by Retro Speedway, to mark the 50th anniversary since the gates closed at the Hellesdon track for the last time – leaving thousands of men, women and children without a second home.
The stadium was one of the best in the land and the supporters – just like Canary followers today – were loyal and devoted to The Stars, following them at home and away – making friends with many of the riders. Tough men who risked life and limb on the shale.
The story of the Firs and Stars is told in the new DVD which features interviews with many of the Stars including the one and only Ove Fundin, The Flying Fox from Sweden, who speaks of his love for Norwich and Norfolk. He was five times world champion – on his day no-one could touch him.
Over the next few weeks we will be telling more about the story of Norwich speedway over the years and sharing some of your memories you were generous enough to share with us.
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But let's start at the beginning by travelling back to the early 1930s when Tricky Newman and his Lady Partner wowed the crowds at the first meetings with their dangerous motorcycling stunts.
Sue Edwards' grandfather Don Hannent was one of the men who introduced speedway to Norfolk.
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He organised the first meeting, in the summer of 1930 on behalf of the Eastern Speedways Motor Club. Several thousand people turned up to watch the riders and the novelty acts. Don knew how to put on a good show.
Tricky and his Lady Partner first appeared in 1931. 'Imagine,' said a report at the time, 'sitting on a pillion of a motorcycle and being transformed gradually to the front mudguard, facing the driver – that was the experience that Tricky's lady partner had.'
Tricky and his partner performed a dazzling array of bizarre feats which the crowd loved. And no crash helmets for them.
The applause at the end of their show was described as 'thunderous.'
Then it was the turn of the riders. Another tough lot. Some wearing tweed jackets with a cigarette in their mouths. The likes of 'Speedy' Jack Newlands, 'Aussie' Jack Symthe and big (16st) Bert Gerrish - a real crowd pleaser. Some of the men also performed under different names. Bert was 'Johnny Bull', Arthur Reynolds, a former captain, was also 'Fred Leavis' while Bert Peters was 'Bill Butler'.
These rough and tumble riders were among the first Stars and thanks to them, by 1933 The Firs was a floodlight track attracting some of the best riders in the land, including early favourite Don Dimes, the subject of our main picture today.
• Coming up: The story of how The Firs closed and then opened again... thanks to the arrival of a colourful Aussie by the name of Max Grosskreutz.