Speedway legend remembers his late superstar Swedish team mate
- Credit: Mike Kemp Collection
They were the ‘big O’s’ of the speedway world – two of the greatest riders of all time. Derek James talks to Ove Fundin about his dear friend Olle Nygren who died last month
They were speed kings from Sweden and how they entertained the people of Norfolk and Suffolk.
Few riders could beat them and they were heroes both on and off the track.
And back in Sweden there were special stamps featuring them.
Olle Nygren died at the age of 91 in Ipswich in February after an extraordinary and rollercoaster life during which he rode across the world but which will remembered so fondly for his days at Norwich, Ipswich and King’s Lynn.
And when he finally retired, he taught others how to ride, and made his home at Felixstowe.
Now five-times world champion and Norwich legend Ove, speaking to me from his home in Sweden, has paid a personal tribute to his much loved friend.
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Ove, a Freeman of Norwich which he calls his second home, said: “My dear friend Olle Nygren has left us. To all Swedish people he was known as Varg-Olle.
“In the 1950s he was a huge star, as David Beckham later became in the UK. Everybody in Sweden knew about him. He was always in the newspapers and magazines,” said Ove.
While Ove was the quiet one, Olle was more flamboyant.
“He was good looking with lots of charm, there was always something going on his life, non-stop. There was never a dull moment,” said Ove.He recalled how Olle was
“Number One” when he first started his own speedway career.
“I could not even dream that one day I would be as good a rider as Varg-Olle.”
The former motor cycle road and ice racer had competed in the Isle of Man TT races and went on to race cars.
“Well, as far as winning races, with time, I passed Olle but, even if I had won 10 world titles, I could never have been so popular as he was,” said Ove.
He recalled that way back in 1953 he was on the same boat as famous Olle travelling from Gothenburg to London. On board were the two Swedish speedway teams, One A and the other B.
“I was too shy to talk much to Olle and the other members of the A team. Being a new young rider I was in the B team but on our return journey Olle came to me and wanted to talk as I was the one with the best success on our tour,” said Ove.
From then on they became good friends and often travelled together when riding for the Swedish national team and on tours across the world.
Read More: Ove Fundin on his love affair with Norwich
“We also enjoyed one season racing together in South Africa,” he added.
Ove headed over to England to ride for the popular Norwich Stars becoming the best racer in the whole world. Few caught The Flying Fox of the Firs and his reign lasted for ten glorious years.
“When Norwich was looking for a new rider I suggest Olle. He was well known in England but had not ridden in the UK for some time,” said Ove.
Popular Olle first rode for Norwich as a replacement for Ove when he was injured in 1962.
Manager Gordon Parkins was so impressed with him that he signed him up as a member of the team the following year – and how the fans loved him.
He breathed new life into the Stars as 1963 proved to be their best-year ever winning the National trophy and finishing runners-up in the National League.
Following the shock closure of The Firs the following year Olle moved to Wimbledon and continued to attract the crowds. By 1972 was riding for Ipswich Witches, it was the start of a love affair with Suffolk and the people.
He went on to ride for King’s Lynn Stars and when he finally retired from racing in 1979 he established a speedway school to train the next generation of racers and then settled down at Felixstowe where he lived for the rest of his life.
“Later in life,” said Ove, “after we both quit speedway we did some long motorbike trips together. In 2010 we rode our bikes from South Korea through Siberia, Mongolia, Russia and Finland back to Stockholm.”
They loved visiting each other in England, Sweden and France and they enjoyed the annual lunches organised by Pam Hedge and former rider Trevor “The Hedgehopper” Hedge at Bawburgh Golf Club in Norfolk where speedway riders from across the land gather together.
They were wonderful occasions and it was a privilege to share a table with Ove and Olle in years gone by – and listen to their stories. Such genuine and modest people
“Last November Olle celebrated his 91st birthday with my wife Ioana and I at our Swedish home and during his stay we planned a visit to our friend Rolf Tibblin (the former world motor cross champion, who lives in Sri Lanka.
“Olle never lived in the past. He was always looking to the future…RIP my dear friend,” said Ove.