Ove Fundin reveals his success in Norwich Stars Speedway
- Credit: Archant
It was 60 years ago when a young unknown and shy Swedish speedway rider made his way to Norwich by train, pushing his bike, held together with bits of old wire and string, between stations.
Where on earth had he come to? A strange place in strange country. One he would fall in love with.
He was met at the station and taken up to The Firs stadium where he went on to score 13 points in the Norwich round of the World Championship in 1954 to finish as runner-up to Firs favourite Aussie Aub Lawson.
There was something about this quietly-spoken flame-headed Swede which impressed Aub, a class act on and off the track. He was special.
Later the pair of them met up again in Australia and it didn't take long before Aub got in touch with the new Norwich manager Gordon Parkins to say they should sign this young whippersnapper... before anyone else did.
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Go ahead said Gordon and Aub Lawson took him on one side and asked him if he would like to ride in England.
'I said it would be my dream,' replied Ove Fundin.
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'If you are interested, I will help you to come and race with me at Norwich,' said Aub... and he did just that. The following year Norwich had a new manager Fundin arrived – and set about lighting up The Norwich Stars.
And so it came to be that the greatest speedway rider in the world came to The Firs in the Fine City and brought colour into what was still a black and white world following the Second World War.
It was also the start of a love affair between Norwich and Ove which, after all these years, is as strong as ever.
Yes, the Norfolk folk loved their football and of course Ove was here for the famous '59 cup run, but there was something very special about him. Ove gave his all and thousands would cheer him on as he flew round The Firs.
He inspired the rest of the team including locals such as Billy Bales, Phil Clarke, Trevor Hedge, Terry Betts and the rest.
For ten glorious years, until the time the Firs closed in 1964, Ove was the probably the greatest sportsman ever to have represented Norwich. Five times world champion, four times with Norwich, on his day nobody could get near him.
The fans loved him. Other speedway riders feared him. He rode to win and woe betide anyone who got in his way.
On the track, you were in trouble if you got in his way, off the track he was a quietly spoken gentleman, a modest man who always had time for his fans. 'I love Norwich and its people. It is my second home. It played such a big part in my life,' said Ove, who was so proud to be made a Freeman of the city in more recent times.
As we mark the 50th anniversary of the closure of the fabulous Firs it is time to honour the Flying Fox himself, who came to Norwich thanks to the man who became his mentor 'Gentleman' Aub Lawson.
Coachloads of Norwich supporters, men women and children, would head off to watch Ove take on the best riders around at the World Championships at Wembley in front of 100,000 fans... and beat them.
He was the Flying Fox, the Swede with Norwich stamped across his heart.
Hurtling around an enclosed speedway circuit on powerful bikes with no brakes. It was formidable. It was frightening. It was fantastic. It was Fundin at his best.
He and Aub proved a winning double act in Norwich and by 1958 Ove, a complex and volatile personality in his heyday, had staked his claim to be the best rider in the world.
Now living in the South of France, Ove, aged 81, continues to travel the world. Sometimes on his motorcycle, visiting family or friends, or raising money for good causes. He loves Norwich and Norfolk with a rare passion... and we still love him.
In 2006 he returned to be made a Freeman of the City of Norwich following a campaign spearheaded by former Lord Mayor Roy Blower and the late Roy Waller, of Radio Norfolk. 'This is such a proud day for me,' he told a packed City Hall.
Coming up. Your memories of the glory days at The Firs and a look back to October of 1964, and the day the speedway died in Norwich. • If you have any stories to share of Norwich speedway drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or write to me at Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich NR1 1RE.