Remembering speedway at West Ham Stadium 50 years on

The old stadium's main gates (now Young Road). Picture: Robert Rogers

The old stadium's main gates - Credit: Bob Rogers

Fifty years on from the last speedway meeting at the 100,000 capacity West Ham Stadium in Custom House, one fan has recalled his childhood memories of watching races there.

The ground, situated near the site of what is now Prince Regent DLR station, closed in 1972 and was demolished.

Roads near the site take the names of speedway stars such as Aub Lawson (Lawson Close) and Croombs Road (Tommy Croombs).

West Ham speedway team had formed in 1929 and enjoyed success, such as winning a league championship in 1937.

Bob Rogers fell in love with the sport after first visiting the stadium with his parents as a ten-year-old in 1964.

It was the first match West Ham competed in since the team initially disbanded in 1955.

Bob still remembers his first visit and told the Recorder: "What an experience that was.

Robert as a youngster and now, with his speedway scarf

Bob Rogers has been a big speedway fan since first going to West Ham as a child in 1964 - Credit: Bob Rogers

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"When you look back and think of east London in the 1960s, it was dull, it was industrial.

"You go to speedway racing and it was the lights, the action, even the smell of the bikes and the colourful race jackets.

"That's why I became a mad speedway fan."

Part of that team included Bjorn Knutsson, who Bob described as his first sporting hero, before other international stars such as Norway's Sverre Harrfeldt joined.

The Hammers won the inaugural British League in 1965 as well as the London Cup and the KO Cup, in what Bob said was the team's greatest year.

"Even all these years later, there are not many clubs who have taken the triple crown."

Success followed again in 1966 with another London Cup triumph but by 1971, the team had stopped competing.

Romford raced at the stadium in 1972 as the West Ham Bombers but their meeting with Hull on May 23 1972 proved to be the last held there.

Bob described the demise of speedway at the stadium and its closure as a shock.

"At the time when the sport finished, it was a bit of a let-down to say the least.

"Speedway was considered a family sport so in one sense it was like losing a member of the family."

A programme for the final speedway match at West Ham in 1972

A programme for the final speedway match at West Ham in 1972 - Credit: Bob Rogers

Bob lived with his family in Canning Town, about a 20-minute walk away, and was a regular visitor until 1972.

He described going to the speedway as "like a religious event".

"You had to go to speedway," Bob said. "One meeting I couldn't go because I had chickenpox and it was like a death sentence."

The stadium first opened in 1928 and hosted other sports, including greyhound racing.

Speedway first came to the country in the same year and Bob said the sport boomed before the Second World War, which brought it to a halt.

Malcolm Craven (West Ham), left, and Alec Statham (Bradford), fighting for position on the first ben

Malcolm Craven (West Ham), left, and Alec Statham (Bradford), fight for position in a race at West Ham Stadium in 1947 - Credit: PA

This included a test match between England and Australia in 1933, which Bob said was attended by around 85,000 fans.

A commemorative event was organised to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the final speedway meeting at the stadium last weekend.

It was attended by more than 200 guests and ex-riders such as Harrfeldt at Paradise Wildlife Park, the home of the National Speedway Museum, in Hertfordshire.

A memorial was also unveiled to four riders and team manager Phil Bishop who died in a road crash in Belgium in 1970.

West Ham speedway will be discussed during a talk on the stadium's history being hosted by broadcaster Marieta Evans as part of Newham Heritage Month.

She will be joined by author Dr Brian Belton at the Royal Docks Learning and Activity Centre in Albert Road.

He will be speaking on all of the various sports that took place at the stadium, according to the centre's director Joy-Caron Canter.

She said it is also hoped to have a former rider at the event.

It will take place on June 21 from 6.30pm and is being presented by the Royal Docks History Club, which also has its next meeting on Wednesday (May 25).

Joy-Caron said: "Marieta's main interest point is that it is a lost piece of history.

"Most people weren't really aware it had even existed. It's a shame to lose that heritage, for it to fade away and people not know about it."

For more information on the event and to register, visit newhamheritagemonth.org/events/lost-stadiums-the-west-ham-speedway.

For more on the history club, visit facebook.com/RoyalDocksHistoryClub.