How Ove came from Sweden to Norwich to become a local hero
- Credit: Mike Kemp Collection
It was 65 years ago a young man from Sweden arrived in Norwich to become a local hero and the best speedway rider in the world. Derek James continues the story of the Stars
A crowd of 25,000 people from across the country had gathered in Norwich during 1953 for a first official test match between England and Australia...this was speedway at its height.
And there were Stars shining in both teams. Norwich rider Aub Lawson was riding for the Aussies while our very own Mighty Atom, Billy Bales of Hellesdon, was the top scorer for England although he couldn't stop the side losing 62-46.
The fans were treated to a spectacle from some of the best riders around but then Norwich did have some of the fastest and fearless riders in this dangerous sport.
Norfolk's Phil Clarke was a Star attraction. Aub was second in the world rankings and then they were joined by a young unknown rider by the name of Fundin, Ove Fundin.
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Riding a bike held together with bits of old wire and string Aub had spotted the youngster from Sweden riding in Australia... and suggested that the new Norwichmanager Gordon Parkins should sign him up.
He had been to Norwich to ride once before, arriving by train with his bike in the goods wagon, and at the station he was met by Aub, one of the most liked and respected riders in the sport.
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"He brought me and my bike to the stadium - he was very kind and tried to make me feel welcome. I must have been very frightened and nervous," said Ove.
"I did not understand much English, and spoke even less, and yet here I was, at the start of my biggest adventure," he said.
Then during the winter of 1954/55 he was touring Australia and met up again with Aub who asked him if he would be interested in riding for the Norwich Stars. I jumped for joy.
"This was the chance every rider dreamed about, especially me, to ride in the English First Division and at a track I knew and liked.
"So when the boat from Australia docked in England I travelled with Aub to Norwich, the place which was to become my home for the next 11 years: years I loved and enjoyed," said Ove.
With great support from local riders Phil Clarke - the record points scorer at The Firs - and Billy Bales the Stars started to shine. Tragically one Norwich boy, a great favourite, Malcolm Flood, died from his injuries following a crash at Poole in 1956.
By 1959 Norwich was East Anglia's sole surviving speedway team in senor league racing after the withdrawal of Ipswich from the National League while Yarmouth Bloaters were in the Southern Area League.
Ove went on to win the world championship no less than five times. Coach convoys of Stars followers would leave Norfolk to watch him perform at the Wembley Stadium. I was once lucky enough to be one of them.
As the 50s became the 60s young Terry Betts and local boy Trevor Hedge joined the Stars along with the legendary Olle Nygren. Few people could touch Fundin and Nygren. And a great newcomer was Terry Betts.
They were at the top of their game in 1964. The Stars finished third in the league and then came the shock news that The Firs was closing...the speedway dream was over.
The Stars went out at Norwich and later lit up King's Lynn.
Trevor Hedge turned into The Hedgehopper at Wimbledon where the fans loved him - a truly great rider who represented his country. Today he and his wife Pam keep the speedway days alive with annual gatherings at Bawburgh Golf Club for riders and fans.
One guest who flies in from Europe is Ove who made a Freeman of Norwich a few years ago.
"Norwich is my second home. I love the city and I love the people," he says.
The memories live on...