King’s Lynn Stars’ stalwart Tomas Topinka is deserving of his legendary status
- Credit: Matthew Usher
Tomas Topinka will be rewarded for his magnificent contribution to speedway in King's Lynn at a special meeting this evening. GAVIN CANEY spoke to the Czech Republic star about his time at Saddlebow Road.
The word legend is often an overused term in sport – but it's a deserving one for a man like Tomas Topinka.
He will rightly go down as one of King's Lynn Stars' greatest riders having featured in almost 600 meetings for Norfolk's speedway outfit.
The best bit about it all is he achieved the huge haul without a hint of arrogance. And even now, as he prepares to enjoy a meeting to honour his retirement this evening, the Czech Republic ace still remains as humble as he was during his days flying around the Saddlebow Road shale.
The 38-year-old, when asked how he feels about being called a Lynn legend, replied: 'To be honest, I don't look at it like that. I enjoyed riding for King's Lynn every week but I don't think that I was a great – even if it's nice that people think that way.
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'For lots of speedway riders it's their hobby which pays the bills, so I do feel I've been lucky that my hobby has been my job.'
Topinka, who last rode for the Stars in 2011, laughed and joked his way through a chat about his lengthy stint in East Anglia. It's the sort of characteristic which helped him become such a popular team member, and eventually captain, of several Lynn sides since he made his debut for the club in 1993.
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However, life certainly wasn't always that easy, especially when a fresh-faced Topinka, aged 18, sought an English club and was given a chance by Norfolk Arena head honcho Buster Chapman.
'It was the opportunity to ride in the British league at the time that I took. I was told if you wanted to be any good you had to ride in the UK,' said the two-time Czech champion who competed in World Cup action for his country.
'I'd say that's right because if you look in the past almost all of the world champions, at some time, have ridden in Britain. You get a number of meetings week in, week out, which gives a rider a lot of experience.
'It was definitely difficult to start with. I'd never been on the track, it was significantly smaller than what I was used to, and I didn't speak a word of English. So it wasn't easy for me. But I felt at home pretty quickly. Buster made me feel welcome and I've got on well with him over the years.
'He looked after us pretty well and whenever we wanted to practice he prepared the track for us. There's not much I can say to thank him. He gave me a chance and he's been good to me over the years.'
Brief spells with other clubs in England, like Ipswich, failed to slow Topinka's growing love for his 'home team' Lynn as he closed in on Terry Betts' all-time record of 649 appearances.
Winning the Czech Golden Helmet competition in 1996 may have been his greatest individual triumph but the Stars' stalwart admits most of his fondest memories came when he lifted silverware with Lynn – especially during the Premier League treble campaigns of 2006 and 2009.
'Winning the Czech Golden Helmet was one of the highlights, but so were all the times I represented my country in the World Cup, finishing sixth in the Grand Prix in Prague (2003) and all the trophies we won at King's Lynn,' said the man who rode 578 times for the Stars on his way to becoming the club's second highest appearance holder in history.
'You're not going to win the treble every year so to do it twice was brilliant.
'We did the double a couple of times and it was easier when we dropped down into the Premier League. We always seemed to have a good team and the banter between the riders meant we were together as one. We tried to help each other out.
'The fans made me feel really welcome and they took me as one on their own, as if I was one of the local ones. But I guess that's because I spent many years at Lynn and lived near there, or sometimes in the town.
'I knew Rob (Lyon, Lynn team boss) way before he was my manager in 2005. We're still friends and our partners get on as well so I felt at home at Lynn.'
Topinka's time at the Norfolk Arena came to an abrupt end in 2011 when Stars' chiefs made what they described as a 'horrible decision' to remove him from their Elite League team.
And while the popular rider still admits that decision remains 'really hard' to take, he insists it was just one of those things that happens in sport. Now, as he hangs up his kevlars for the final time, Topinka is looking forward to his next challenge – namely managing a team in his homeland's capital city.
The Stars' great said: 'I'm working with a club in Prague and I'm looking after a couple of younger lads at home. I'll look to bring them over to England for some meetings against National League or Premier League sides but that's down to finances.
'I'm still be around speedway after tonight – just not on a bike any more – because it's always been part of my life.'
Tonight's action sees the 2013 Stars line-up take on a Topinka Select, tem which will include Grand Prix riders Nicki Pedersen, Andreas Jonsson and Tai Woffinden. Topinka himself will not be riding. Racing starts at 7.45pm.
- Read Rob Lyon's thoughts by clicking on the related link on the right-hand side of this page.