Speedway, West Ham 66

By Robert Rogers

The Team to Beat - When you have reached the top, the only way is down, but the Hammers did not quite see it that way.

In 1966 we reached the quarter final of the KO cup, losing to Halifax, who ended up as the 1966 Triple Crown Champions, winning the British League, the K/O Cup and the Northern Cup. It is still quite rare for a team to win the triple, and even more rare for a triple crown to be won two seasons in a row by two different teams, must be something to do with the Red, White and Blue race jackets!

Halifax racing Colours were Red and Blue half with a White elephant and their manager was an ex-Hammer, Reg Fearman.

We retained the London Cup.

We finished 7th in the League.

Sverre finished 2nd in the World Championship, narrowly losing it by one point to Barry Briggs.

And finally, Norman Hunter, got renamed `Norm the Storm` as he won the London Riders Championship, as well as being capped for England, where he scored a magnificent 18-point maximum ride against Russia at West Ham in July.

The photo shows the 1966 team with the Triple Crown trophies. The tem left to right are Reg Trott, Ken McKinlay, Norman Hunter, Dave Lanning (Manager), Briam Leonard, Malcolm Simmons, Sverre Harrfeldt and Ted Ede.

There were a few changes in the team line-up; firstly Tommy Price had resigned as Manager to concentrate on his Business in Wembley.

Tommy had done everything there was to do in the Sport, as a Rider he had both ridden for and captained Wembley and England. He rode for Wembley when they won the National League, the National Trophy (the old version of the K/O Cup) and the London Cup. He was also England’s first World Champion in 1949, as well as British Champion in 1946 (there was no World Championship that year).

As a Manager he had won the Triple Crown with West Ham, so well done TOM-TOM (Tommy’s Nickname).

The other change was we had lost Tony Clarke to Oxford; again the Speedway Control Board had forced us to give away a rider we had helped to bring up to a good racing standard.

We were also minus until the end of May, Sverre Harrfeldt, who was recovering from a major operation back in Norway.

Our new manager was Dave Lanning who had been our Press Officer and Publicity Manager in both 64 & 65. He had also acted as Team manager on a couple of occasions when Tommy was not available. Dave was a well-known journalist and in later years was a driving force behind getting Speedway on to the television, sometimes acting as commentator. He was quickly nicknamed `Cynthia` because he was tall and thin, after the well-known British comedian Hilda Baker’s straight man, by the Hackney fans.

The Hammers fans in retaliation gave their boss Len Silver the nickname of the `Bouncy Wicky Gnome`, in respect of his centre green antics when he felt his Hawks was being hard done by. Len was also called, when he was not upsetting the Hammers,` Uncle Len`, speedway fans can have a strange sense of Humour at times!

Both Dave and Len were true `sons` of Speedways greatest Showman, the `Father` of Speedway, Johnny S Hoskins, when it come to putting on a show as well as the racing.

One of the first things Dave did as Manager was to contact Newham Council to try and arrange some sort of Civic Reception or Award for the Hammers for the Fame & the Glory they had brought to Newham in its first year as a London Borough, but sadly nothing came from it.

The first match of the season was on the 5th April against Hackney in an East London Derby, where we beat the Hawks 44-34.

A taste of things to come was Norman Hunters first 12 pt maximum of the season.

As Sverre was `out of action`, we had Bill Andrews of Poole as a `Guest` Rider.

Now `Guest Riders` is a thing, which seems only to apply to Speedway.

If you have a rider absent owing to Injury, or on International duty, you are allowed to have a rider from another team to `guest` in their place.

The rider has to have an equal point average as near as possible to your rider; this is to stop you replacing your No7 reserve with the World Champion!

Another famous face to join the Hammers was the `India Rubber Man`, so called because he had broke every bone in his body, the ex-West Ham rider Phil Bishop. Phil became our Machine Examiner, another of the many people behind the scene that makes a speedway meeting work.

At this point, let’s list the people who most never ever see, but are needed for a Speedway meeting to work.

First we need a Referee, now some Ref`s would quietly arrive, referee the match and unless something very major happened, would quietly go away again. But there were others, who you knew as soon as you read the referee name in the programme that there would be a rumpus before the meeting was over.

Team Managers, They were mostly ex-riders, but as in the case of Dave Lanning, not always.

A Machine Examiner, this mans job was to make sure A) The bike was safe to ride and B) To check nobody was cheating by altering the engine size, or any other illegal actions.

A Speedway engine was 500cc, although they were allowed to be 10 cc above or below this.

The majority of Speedway engines were either JAP (J.A.Prestwich) or the JAWA (ESO).

The Newham Recorder who were famous for their errors when reporting speedway at West Ham, once in the early days of Political Correction, described the Bikes as `Japanese`, because they though they would offend by calling them JAPs!

 As well as an engine, the bike needed a frame to mount it in, and these were as important as the engine it’s self, so a spin off of the people required was the specialist Frame & Engine makers (One of the most famous was Alf Hagon from the 1964 team. He produced the world famous Hagon Japs, which were used for both Speedway and Grass track racing), Bike Tuners, Frame makers etc.

He proved how good his bikes were by holding the Flying Kilometre speed record for many years

An ACU Time Keeper, these were needed to time each race, the fastest rider around the track was known as the `Track Record Holder` At this time the Australian Double World Champion Jack Young was still the holder of the fastest time of 70.6 seconds set back in 1954 at West Ham.

A Colour / Starting Marshal, this man was responsible for making sure each rider lined up in his correct grid on the track and did not try to cheat by getting a rolling start (it should be a clutch start, the tapes go up, the clutch is released (Dropped, to give the correct term) and about four seconds later your are entering the first bend at about 60 mph, (remember, no brakes!). He was also responsible for the flags used on the tracks. The Yellow flag with a black cross signified one lap to go, a Chequered flag signified the end of the race, and Red flag signified that the race was being halted because of an emergency, which was normally a fallen rider who could not be moved off the track due to injury. The use of the flag was only on the instructions of the referee who would put the Red Track lights on to signify a race had been halted.

His last duty, again if instructed by the referee to do so, was to put out a Black Flag with a circular disk of the Helmet Colour of a rider the referee had disqualified from the heat for some offence seen.

This would be signified to both him and the crowd by a light showing above the Start/Finish line (The gate) of the colour of the rider concerned.

The fans would normally show their displeasure of this event by some well aimed BOOING!

The Announcer, now this man was responsible for telling you who was in the next race, and the result of the race plus time. He also had to keep you updated with any information, and keep the fans occupied if there was a delay in the meeting.

He would also play music at the start of the meeting, normally the current top tunes in the `Hit` Parade, even today certain tunes remind me of the old days of Speedway.

The Pit Marshall, This man was a cross between a Safety Officer, a Security Officer and Race Organiser. His main job was to check the right rider was going out for the right heat in the right helmet colour and was aware of the right grid he should be in and finally that his bike was ready for his use.

He also was responsible for the security of the pits area to keep out any unwanted elements (but Len Silver and his Hawks still managed to get in!). He would have same assistances; known as `Pusher offers` who would push the bikes to start on their way as no battery start on these machines.

Mechanics, although some riders did their own work on their bikes, many had their own Mechanics, plus there was a Team Mechanic who used to look after the track spare, a bike used in case a riders machine broke down for any reason.

Press and Publicity Officer, to keep both the Local and National press aware of what was happening and due to happen. When Dave became Team Manager, Donald Allen replaced him.

Medical Officer and the St Johns Ambulance Brigade.

The Doctor was there not only for Accidents on the track where he would be summoned by the code `No33 to the Pits`, but also if any fans were taken ill.

The match was not allowed to start if the Track Doctor was not present in the stadium.                     

The St John had members on the track in the centre green, the pits and the stadium.

The Track Staff and Tractor/Grader Driver, these were responsible for the track condition during the match. At West Ham these would be dressed in Red Jackets and Hats.

At the start of the meeting, after a maroon was fired they would march out on to the track to a military march such as `Under the Double Eagle`

The Stadium Electrician, who was responsible for not only the stadium lights, but also the Track Lighting.

Score Board Operator, not all tracks had a scoreboard, but we did for a while at West Ham.

The other helpers included Programme Sellers, Turnstile operators even the Hot Dog Sellers.  West Ham was famous for their `Dozen Doggies`, a foot long hot dog!

And finally to support the Riders and the Supporters, the Supporters Club Committee!

Sorry if I missed anybody or any of the various Stadium Staff who did their bit.

The 2nd Match of the season saw the first bit of Silverware on the table, when we beat Wimbledon 42-36 in the second leg of the Supporters Challenge Trophy.

We won with aggregate score of 80-76, again another closely fought match against the Dons.

Our Guest for this match was Belle Vue’s Cyril Maidmant.

The old enemy of Speedway, rain, won match 3 on the 19th against Oxford.

In fact according to the programme notes in the following weeks programme, it had not stopped raining since the previous Sunday!

The last match (4) in April was on the 26th when we beat Glasgow ‘Tigers` 43-35, our guest on that night was Coventry Captain Ron Mountfield, scoring 11 out of a possible 12.

Into May and on the 3rd match 6 were against Cradley Heath.

Jim Lightfoot also of Coventry was our Guest and we won 48-29.

On the Saturday the 7th at Edinburgh, the old enemies clashed, Scotland vs England match which saw two Hammers in opposition.

Ken McKinlay led the Scottish squad to a victory by 63-45, with Norman Hunter riding for England.                                      On the subject of Internationals, amongst our junior riders we had an Austrian, who was a naturalised Australian, Joe Wiechibuer and the only known Aboriginal rider Bart Walker. Bart never made the big time but was always trying, most times too hard; he knew every inch of the West Ham safety fence as he had hit most of it at one time or another!

Joe later went on to ride for both Cradley and Reading.

Another junior who went on to make a team place was Don Smith.

Although new to Speedway, Don was an expert trails rider and was the European Trails Champion.

Other juniors included Neville Slee of Australia who went on to race at Rye House, Canterbury and Ipswich, Ray Wickett, Mike Stevenitt, and the Curtis Brothers, Brain and Keith who were more successful at Grass Track racing. A lot of riders also took part in Grass track racing which as it suggest is racing Speedway style on a grass track, these were much larger and wider that a Speedway track.

Kent was the `Capital` of Grass track Racing

Finally `Stoney`, Terry Stone who in his career has ridden for a good few teams, although only rode in the main team at West Ham for a few matches. 

Match 6 on the 10th May; saw Belle Vue ‘Aces` in action.

Our guest for this was the `one that got away`, Terry Betts.

The management at West Ham had tried many times to get this popular Kings Lynn and England rider into Hammers colours with-out success, but at least we got him as a guest. The Aces lost 44-34.

May 17th saw the Hawks come calling again, and again they lost!

Match 8 saw another 43-35 victory of the Hammers.

Taking a break from the Home League Campaign, we will catch up with my speedway travels.

On Easter Monday we had a little trip south of the River to Plough Lane, home of the Wimbledon Dons, for the 1st leg of the Supporters Trophy.

Wimbledon is a lovely stadium, although the track is much smaller than West Ham at only 355 yards.

Their Manager is one of the most famous in the Sport, Ronnie Green MBE.

Ron was awarded an MBE of his work with the Auxiliary Fire Service during World War II.

We led for most of the match, and with one heat to go were two points in the lead.

The final saw Jimmy Gooch of Oxford, our Guest for Sverre, who had raced many times at Wimbledon when it acted as Home for the Wembley Lions when they were unable to use their own track.          

The reason for this was because of other sports being held at the Empire Stadium, mainly in 1948, when a certain Olympic Games were held in London.

Our other Hammer in the heat was Malcolm Simmons, lining up against Olly Nygren and Reg Luckhurst.

The Dons scored a 5-1 against us, which was only fair, as we had spoilt their plans many times in the previous season.

We managed to spoil it again by winning the 2nd leg at home and taking the Trophy!

30th April saw us back up at Cradley for a League Match. 


Not so many coaches went this time, plus we did not get lost on the way.

Another victory, although not quite as important as the last one!

We won 44-34, but the match was nearly cancelled owing to a lot of rain, not helped by a cloudburst just as we arrived, so another wet journey home.

At this point I would like to point out that the coach would drop us at Plaistow Station which was about a mile and a half from home, and in the middle of the night, and no buses, so a long walk home, especially early in the season when the nights were cold, and you were still in wet cloths from the rain.

The streets always seemed quite, but it is something I certainly would not do today!

On the May 14th, we were off to Manchester for a match at Belle Vue.

Boy, we were slaughtered, going down 52-28, the Hammers worst defeat all season.

Back to Hackney for a British League match which for a change was ridden on a Wednesday night.

We drew against the Hawks, and again Jimmy Gooch, who was in his third decade of racing after riding for the all-conquering Wembley Lions in the 1940’s & 50’s, was our Guest rider.

Back home and it is World Championship Qualifying Rounds.

West Ham’s round was won by Barry “Briggo” Briggs with a faultless 15 points, Norman Hunter was 2nd with 12, and in joint 3rd were Malcolm Simmons and Ken McKinlay with 11 points each.

Ken when on to win the Qualifying round at Wolverhampton also with a clear 15 pt maximum.

After the match, an unnamed rider, all in black, was seen practicing on the track, he did not need to be named, we all recognised the style and knew our Sverre was back!

The end of May saw us in action against Swindon, that man Briggs got another 12 point Maximum, no wonder he was often quoted as saying West Ham track was the best raceway in the world.

Sverre was back in action; his 8 points gave us a narrow 41-37 victory over the Robins.

We were now sitting in 8th place in the league.

Now a slight mystery, which to this day has never been answered, what was Briggo up to at the end of the meeting?  He was seen practicing on an unmarked speedway bike, but what was it?

The rumours were, it was a new model, a new type of engine, new form of fuel injector system, we never did found out!

Barry Briggs was the British Dealer for the JAWA ESO Bikes at his Motorcycle business in Southampton.

Match 10, and the Falcons from Exeter came looking for revenge in the K /O match after last year, but they never stood a chance against the double barrels of Harrfeldt and Hunter. 

Both riders were on top form with 14 points each and the Hammers stormed home 60-36.

This was not our only 60 points this season; we hit Wolverhampton a few weeks later with 61 points, but saved the big one for Hackney with the biggest win ever over them 63-33 in August.

Match 11 and it had to happen; a very off-form West Ham meet a very on-form Wimbledon, whose manager by now was another ex-hammer, Vic Gooden.

The result was our first home defeat of the season, 36-42.

Wimbledon’s Trevor Hedge hit a 12-point maximum, Olle Nygren with 11 and our old Hammer, Reg Luckhurst with 10. The best we could do was a 9 from Ken Mckinlay.

Meeting 12 and we have another home defeat, this time by Halifax, when we go down 37-41.                                                        

The second half of the meeting was the Dave Wills Memorial Trophy, in memory of the fact he was killed one year ago this week.

Despite all three of our heat leaders in the final, Halifax captain, Eric Boocock, won the trophy.

(Eric went on to become England Manager when he retired from racing)

Meeting 12, last match of June, saw us back to wining, beating Newport Wasps 48-30.

The match against Poole Pirates showed another victory to the rain.

Now into July, Meeting 14 against Coventry Bees, and we go down again, 36-42.

These three home defeats in a row, plus away defeats, plus the poor `against` score at Belle Vue, saw the Hammers plunge to 13th position in the League.

Some of the fans were not very happy, and Dave Lanning was left with no doubt of their feelings!

Back to my travels around speedway, Saturday 18th June saw us riding at Kings Lynn in Norfolk.

Now in those days the `Lynn` was very basic, not the Norfolk Arena of today.  Kings Lynn had taken the place of Norwich, which closed at the end of 1964.

The trip was always exiting because the Supporters Club coach would leave early on a Saturday morning and make its way to Great Yarmouth, the major Norfolk seaside resort.                     

We would have a day at the seaside before leaving about 17-00 hours for the match.

Yarmouth used to have a Speedway team in the 1950’s called the `Bloaters`.

The stadium was a track with a corrugated fence around the supporter’s area, in the middle of a Sugar beat field. The pits were open, the referee’s box was a garden shed on stilts, the grandstand was a large wooden lean-to with a Fish & Chips stall on one side and a Sweet stall on the other, I loved it!

Shame we lost 35-43.

2nd July saw us head to the west of the country, to the home of Swindon and the great Barry Briggs, plus one of my favourite riders, Mike Broadbanks, the `Red Devil`.

We went down 32-46, hit by a double maximum in the shape of the Swindon Robins duo of Briggs and Broadbanks.

Now this is the measure of the great man Barry Briggs, seeing the West Ham fans in the tea bar before the match, he helped to carry-over the cups of tea and cakes, now not many can say the World Champion had served them tea!

When we could afford it during the summer, we would make our way by train on a Sunday from Stratford Station, down to Rye House in Hertfordshire. Rye House was a training track, which had held `open` speedway matches since before World War II.  It sat on the backs of the River Lea, which in that part of the county looked far nicer than the Lea that flowed in to the Thames at Canning Town.

We would often go early, have a picnic on the River Bank, then stroll a few yards from the waterside into the pits area and watch the preparation for the match. Rye House has a special place in my heart; it was my one and only ride on a speedway bike. I coasted through the pits area on Neville Slee’s bike, which was enough; I knew what side of the Safety Fence I preferred! I also got in on the act once at Rye House. While researching for information for this item, I found an old photograph of me presenting Maury Littlechild, the manager of Kings Lynn, with a trophy.                                                                          After forty years I have no idea why and what it was for!

On the 3rd July (My Dad must have worked some overtime to be able to afford two matches in two days); a West Ham B team took on the Rye House `Red Devils` in a Challenge match.

The Hammers team was Reg Trott as captain, with Brian Leonard and Ted Ede from the senior team with juniors Ray Wicket, Terry Stone and Mike Stevinett and our Number 7 was a Rye House Junior who went on the ride for the Romford `Bombers`, Frank Wendon.

We lost 34-40, the odd scored being cause by a 3-2 victory in Heat 3 and a 3-0 victory in Heat 5 (remember it was a training track, and young riders do fall-off, regularly!).

Today, Rye House is a Premier league team riding as the Rye House Rockets, with a 2nd squad in the Conference League called the Sprockets, their promoter, Uncle Len himself, Len Silver.

12th July and we are back to action at West Ham, a visit by the USSR for a match against England.

Norm `the Storm` Hunter scored an 18 pt Maximum for England. England won 71-37, but the result does not do justice to the Russian team, who blasted their way around the outside of the big West Ham track. Heat 15 saw a rare `dead heat`, England Riders, Nigel Boocock (Coventry) and Colin Pratt (Hackney) were both given first place. Malcolm Simmons rode at the reserve position for England and scored four points from his two rides, both in second place to Norman, giving England 5-1 heat victories. As they normally rode as a pair for West Ham each week, they were used to each other’s style of riding.

Match 17 saw the re-run of the rained off meeting against Poole `Pirates`. We won 43-35, with Sverre getting a 15-point, and Norman getting a 12-point maximum. Still minus Ken, Norman was made captain in respect of his 18 points the previous week.

Match 18, July 26th, the Hammers went mad! In a K/O cup match against the Wolverhampton` Wolves` from the Midlands, we piled up 61 points against the Wolves 35, even with James Bond riding for them (no, not THE 007!)  Norman and Sverre both got 15 pt maximums, Malcolm scored 10, and Captain Ken with 9 points.

We cannot let July go by without mentioning England’s glorious World Cup Football Victory, which was won mainly by the Football Hammers, with a little help from the rest of England!

The next match saw our old friends from Vargana, Sweden, and like the Wolves of the previous week, these also got mauled.

Norman got another 12 pt maximum, and backed up by 10 each from Ken and Sverre, we won 45-33. The only real opposition was from their captain, our old Hammer, Bjorn Knutsson with 13 pts.

On the 9th August, we got a visit from Edinburgh `Monarchs`, and they brought with them a secret weapon in the shape of a certain John S Hoskins.  John’s son Ian was the promoter at Edinburgh, but he though if anybody can get one over the Hammers, Johnny could.

He was wrong, this was the first of our run of 50 point plus victories, the Monarchs went down 50-28, and all John got was another Burnt Hat!

(It was always a tradition of setting Johns hat on fire, after removing it first of course. I think the reason for doing this is now lost in time).

This victory was led by another 12 point maximum from Sverre.

Despite this high score, our second strings were still a bit weak.  Dave Lanning was trying hard to get Tony Clark back (I think if Tony had been aloud to stay we could have been champions again this year)

The London Cup season had begun, Match 21 saw us take on and beat Wimbledon 53-43, despite a very unwell Norman Hunter scoring only four points.

The next meeting was our other Home London Cup match, and we took sweet revenge on Hackney.

With every Hammer in full flight, we slaughtered them 62-33; the highest ever score against them, and one of the highest scores ever achieved by the Hammers.

Again our dynamic duo, the two H’s, Hunter and Harrfeldt scored 15 pt maximums each.

This meeting saw a collection for the St Johns Ambulance Brigade, and with the Hammers fans in such a great mood it must have been one of their best collections ever!

The Hammers were on song and in the next six home matches we never scored less than 50 points.

Match 23, 52-26 against Long Eaton

Match 24 against Newcastle was cancelled owing to rain

Match 25, 51-27 against Kings Lynn

Match 26, 54-24 against Sheffield

A second half event at this match saw a special challenge race on old style Dirt Track Bikes, when old leg trailers Phil Bishop and another ex Hammer Benny King, staged a match race. Considering the age of both the Riders and the Bikes, they did well and were only just 10 seconds outside the track Record.

Match 27, 50-23 against Exeter

Match 28, 53-25against Wolverhampton

Match 29, 51-27 against Oxford

From these matches we saw Norman with 3 Maximums, two 11 pts and a 14 against Oxford.

Four maximums for Sverre, and even Malcolm got in on the act with a maximum against Oxford.

Solid scoring from Captain Ken backed all this up.

Two away victories at Oxford and Wolverhampton saw the Hammers rocket back up the League, but too late to mount a challenge for the League Title.

The Hammers ended up in 7th place out of 18, and as we had been knocked out of the K/O, we set about retaining the London Cup.

We won by 53-43 at Hackney, and narrowly lost by two points at Wimbledon, the London cup was ours again.

The last match was on the 11th October; a British League clash against the Newcastle Diamonds was again another high scoring victory 48-30. It was also another 15 pt maximum for Sverre, and a 12 points for acting captain Norman Hunter as Ken had returned to Australia.

Norman also had by now won the London Riders Championship at Hackney. The LRC was a tough match, Colin Pratt of Hackney was expected to win, but it ended as a two-man run off, as both Norman and Wimbledon’s Olle Nygren had scored 13 points. It was nearly a four man run off, Sverre had scored 10 points and was in the lead in his second heat when his engine failed, and Roy Trigg had 10 after failing in his first race, a very unusual thing for Roy at Hackney. Brian Leonard was 3rd with 12.

Norman also won the Jack Unstead Memorial Trophy at Exeter, he set the fasted time at West Ham on the 4th August with 73.0 seconds, and he was West Ham representative at Belle Vue for the British League Riders Final, coming 3rd.

On the World Final front, our man Sverre was one of the favourites to win the Title in Sweden at the Ullevi stadium in Gothenburg.  The Final was really decided in heat 9, when Barry Briggs, Sverre, Antoni Woryna and Andrzej Pogorzeski both of Poland clashed. Barry, Sverre and Antoni were unbeaten up to that point, and finishing in this order, they remained unbeaten for their remaining heats and finished 1st, 2nd & 3rd.

In his final Programme notes, Dave Lanning said that “Of Course, we had tremendous reputations to live up too, and it was almost inevitable that the season would end up as an Anti-climax”.

For any other team this would have been considered a good year.

The meeting ended with another spectacular fireworks display, but the season had been cut short by one meeting to allow major alterations to the stadium.

Our last match should have been the 2nd Leg of the` Pride of the East End Trophy` on the 18th October, but instead it was a one-leg match at Hackney. The result was a very fare 39-39 draw, with our Sverre claiming his last maximum of the season.

What was 1967 going to bring, would we still be the `Team to beat`?

Speedway, West Ham 66