Golden nights of speedway at the Firs in the early Fifties
- Credit: Archant
We continue our story of Norwich speedway by looking back to the start of the 1950s and the arrival of Fred Evans, the former manager of arch rivals Hackney Wick Wolves. And how those London teams looked down on their country cousins.
And the day when thousands of fans poured into The Firs to watch a test match between England and Australia which featured the best riders in the world.
The fabulous Firs was buzzing...
It was the colourful Fred who moulded the experience of Paddy Mills and Ted Bravery with the stars of the future such as Phil Clarke and Billy Bales of Norwich, Fred Rogers, Johnny Davies and the Australian folk hero Bob Leverenz.
In 1950 the Norwich Stars took the speedway second division by storm. Thousands cheered them on, week in and week out, and they celebrated when their beloved Stars became champions and that should have led to promotion to the first division.
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Norwich put in their application and waited, and waited, and waited.... it turned out the big London clubs voted against their promotion because, they claimed, the gates fell when the provincial sides arrived.
The fans, the riders and Fred were furious. He told the Evening News and Eastern Daily Press that if the London clubs would not let the Stars into the first division 'we'll smash our way in.'
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And that's just what they did. They took the division by storm winning the league title in 1951 by ten clear points. The all-action Leverenz was the star of the team. He also qualified for the world championship final where he came 9th.
Even the London clubs couldn't stand in the way of Norwich being promoted this time around. But then it all went wrong.
The Norwich Stars found they couldn't compete with the big boys in the rough-and-tumble world of fast and furious speedway.
In 1952 they finished bottom of the first division with just one victory. Only Leverenz and new signing Bill Gilbert were able to compete with any real success and they both announced they would be leaving Norwich.
Evans was a man with a headache. The fans were down and the following season, 1953, wasn't that much better with Norwich finishing the season with just 12 points from 16 matches.
But the good times were returning. West Ham star Aub Lawson, one of the great riders, arrived from Australia. Cyril Roger came to Norwich from New Cross and in 1954 former world number three Bob Oakley was signed up.
They moved up the table to a respectable fourth place and reached the final of the National Trophy. Local boy Billy Bales, a pocket-rocket, was also a favourite with the fans and a crowd pleaser representing his city and country.
But 1954 turned out to be the most significant year in the history of the history of the club for a very different reason – it heralded the first appearance at the Firs of a young Swede by the name of Ove Fundin.
The unknown Fundin, riding on a bike held together with bits of old wire and string, had impressed Aub when he spotted him riding in Australia. He contacted the new Norwich manager, Gordon Parkins, to sign up this young man from Tranas.
He did. And 60 years ago the man who turned out to be the best speedway rider in the world was on his way to Norwich. To become perhaps the greatest sportsman of all time to have represented Norwich – the city he fell in love with.
Coming up. How the arrival of Fundin gave the fans plenty to cheer about in the 1950s and 60s, and we turn the spotlight on the backroom boys, the likes of Phil Basey and Harry Blanchflower.
All our photographs are from the Mike Kemp Collection.
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It was half a century ago, in 1964, when the fabulous Firs Stadium, Holt Road, Hellesdon, closed forever.
Tomorrow a special exhibition telling the story of Norwich speedway will be staged at the popular Hellesdon Carnival on the Recreation Ground (noon-5.30pm, entrance from Woodview Road).
'We hope to see as many people as possible and also plan to get a couple of bikes there,' said the organiser and speedway author Mike Kemp, who also lives in Hellesdon.
'It is fitting that the exhibition of memorabilia should be held at Hellesdon, so close to the stadium, and we should also mark the fact it is 50 years since its closure,' said Mike.
And if you have any memories of the speedway at the Firs then give Mike a look. He will be pleased to see you.
There is still a special bond of friendship between speedway supporters.
And a word about the team that took the 'Star' from Norwich to King's Lynn. Congratulations. What a team you are proving to be this season. We are all proud of you...