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Tragic West Ham speedway crash remembered on 46th anniversary

PUBLISHED: 15:00 14 July 2016 | UPDATED: 15:05 14 July 2016

Robert Rogers       Picture: Robert Rogers

Robert Rogers Picture: Robert Rogers

Archant

On this day nearly half a century ago, one of the biggest sporting tragedies in the borough’s history occurred.

The slain riders      Picture: Robert RogersThe slain riders Picture: Robert Rogers

While on a tour of the Low Countries, five members of the West Ham Hammers speedway team were killed in Lokeren, Belgium after their minibus hit two lorries, a petrol tanker and a house.

The manager, Phil Bishop, was among the dead, along with riders Martyn Piddock, Peter Bradshaw, Gary Everett and Malcolm Carmichael.

One fan marking the 46th anniversary today is Robert Rogers, who remembers July 14, 1970 with absolute clarity.

“I was walking down Whitechapel road, just outside the famous hospital, when a newspaper vendor barked out, as they did in those days, the news headlines for London,” Robert, who was a Hammers fan from childhood, said.

The memorial programme     Picture: Robert RogersThe memorial programme Picture: Robert Rogers

“He shouted, ‘Local speed aces killed’, and waved a paper at me.”

Robert said his blood ran “cold” when he saw that one of the riders in the paper’s picture had on the distinctive West Ham race jacket.

“I grabbed the paper and read the terrible news,” he added.

He and many other fans instinctively went to the team’s home – West Ham Stadium, in Prince Regent Lane, Custom House – to find out more, and to grieve.

“There was a lot of tears as the facts were confirmed,” Roger, author of Speedway and Me, explained.

During the next match – against Wolverhampton on July 21 – the Last Post was played as both teams wore black armbands.

In 1971, a memorial match was attended by the “good and the great” of speedway, Roger added, as fans and family tried to move on from the disaster.

But the team never did recover, and by 1972 it had closed down completely.


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