Relieve the sights, sounds and smells of West Ham Speedway
09:00 11 May 2012
Many people who know my close association with West Ham United might be surprised that my first sporting love was the other Hammers – the speedway team that rode at Custom House Stadium, writes Steve Bacon.
I started watching them when they re-launched in 1964, and became hooked on the sounds and smells of Tuesday nights at the huge stadium just off the A13.
Indeed it was there that I took my first steps into a long career in sports photography and also led me to several seasons travelling the country as mechanic to top rider Roger Johns.
It’s 40 years this month since West Ham Speedway closed for the last time and now there is a special new double-disc DVD to rekindle the magic of those Tuesday nights at the Custom House track, where now, sadly, a housing development stands on the site of one of London’s most famous sporting arenas.
Roads around Prince Regent Lane in E16 were named after several Hammers greats – Bluey Wilkinson, Aub Lawson, Tommy Croombs, Arthur Atkinson, Jack Young and promoter Johnnie Hoskins.
But there is no trace of the stadium where 500cc speedway bikes roared on the cinders and shale from 1928 until that last-ever meeting on May 23, 1972.
That’s why the new DVD, Memories of West Ham Speedway, will be so warmly welcomed by those who supported the club that became the first champions of the British League in 1965.
Retro Speedway record the history of the Hammers through brief clips of racing, but mainly thanks to a series of interviews with former riders, including Norman Hunter and Malcolm Simmons, Swedish stars Bengt Jansson and Olle Nygren, plus Tony Clarke, Reg Fearman, Len Silver and Terry Stone.
It’s a rollercoaster story of highs and lows. Among the many insights revealed are the circumstances surrounding the deaths of four riders killed on the fast Custom House track, while a considerable section of disc two of this mammoth four-hour production is devoted to the Lokeren tragedy of 1970, when five members of a West Ham touring team died in a minibus crash.
Team manager Phil Bishop was among the dead and his son, Tony, recalls the moment where he heard the news of his father’s fate on the radio.
Two of the lucky survivors, Stan Stevens and Colin Pratt, re-live the horror of speedway’s equivalent of the Munich Disaster by visiting the scene of the accident in Belgium. You can order the Memories of West Ham Speedway DVD direct from Retro Speedway for £16 (post-free in the UK). Phone the Credit/Debit Card Hotline on 01708 734 502. Go online at www.retro-speedway.com.
Or post a cheque (payable to Retro Speedway) to: Retro Speedway, 103 Douglas Road, Hornchurch, RM11 1AW.