Part two in the series features a match on Friday September 29, 1978 between the Hackney Hawks vs Kings Lynn Stars in the Gulf Oil British League Division One.
Living in London in 1978 I had access to 4 tracks within what I would call an easy commute. In my first post in this series, also featuring a match from 1978, I wrote about going to Wimbledon. From where I lived in West London, I could get to White City Stadium home of the Rebels, located in Shepherds Bush, by foot. I made it to one meeting not knowing that 1978 was to be the last year of their existence, as the franchise moved to Oxford for the 1979 season. It was also pretty easy to get to Rye House in Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire to watch the Rockets on a Sunday afternoon (via Tube and Train). And lastly I could easily get to Hackney Stadium in East London. I could take one bus (the #38) from my flat all the way across London to the bus terminus which was within 500 yards of the gates of the stadium. That was some bus journey, through the glitzy shopping streets of the west end, through the City of London home to the wealth of the UK financial sector and then into what was then and may still be, the poorest district(s) of England, like Bethnal Green and Hackney. The late bus journey home after a meeting was even more interesting what with drunks and fare dodgers and gangs of dodgy looking youths. And yet, I probably went to Hackney Wick Stadium more times than I ever went to Saddlebow Road, Kings Lynn, being I lived in London for 10 years. I went to Kings Lynn’s stadium from 1973 through to 1978 on a school holiday basis. My travel to Hackney and all the other tracks was exclusively alone. No one I mixed with socially back then were interested in speedway and as Hackney ran on a Friday night, most lads my age were more interested in going down the Pub to chat up the ladies or hang out with their mates (or more usually do both). Let me point out that I didn’t go to Hackney every week because quite simply my social life would have been pretty lousy if I had. Invariably though, if you go to the same tracks on a regular basis and stand in the same spot each week, you end up making friends with the fans who are habitually in the same spot each week like yourself. I can’t recall mixing socially with anyone I met at speedway tracks, outside of the speedway setting, although I did meet a couple of girls who I dated over the years but they actually were never keen on the sport. So getting back to speedway, I made it a point to go see Kings Lynn whenever they were in town, albeit that was a minimum of twice a year at both Hackney and Wimbledon. So two weeks after my first ever meeting at Wimbledon, I went to my first ever meeting at Hackney and once again Kings Lynn were the visitors. As I wrote above, Hackney Wick stadium was not located in one of the swisher neighbourhoods of London. The area around the stadium was full of used car sales lots, car repair shops, a large number of lock ups and large swathes of buildings that appeared to be for light industry but who knows what was going on. The stadium was primarily used for Greyhound racing and also as a flea market on Sundays. And the stadium had a flea market appearance, definitely not somewhere where you might take a young lady out for the evening to impress her. The stadium was, shall we say, ‘showing it’s age’. I used to walk up the Eastway until I reached a closed footpath that cut through between the canal and the stadium. I could always tell if the crowd was going to be small or big by how many cars were already parked up on the footpath. I always came into the stadium at the turnstile at what would be the apex of bends 1 and 2 on the track. My reasoning was that this entrance was closest to the track shop and this was always my first port of call. Here I would rummage through the boxes of programmes from other tracks, looking for the programme from the previous weeks Kings Lynn home meeting. No matter what stadium you went to anywhere in the country you could always lay your hands on programmes from other tracks. That’s how I kept up my Kings Lynn programme collection, as best I could. After a while the track shop owner knew my face – and of course knew I was a Lynn fan, so he would keep particular programmes separate for me. I would spend a good 15 minutes in the track shop looking at the merchandise but rarely buy anything aside from programmes – because I didn’t support Hackney and funds were very tight. If I went to speedway, there would be limited funds for the pub at the weekend. After visiting the track shop on the first bend I would wander over to the main entrance and purchase a copy of the Speedway Mail from Alf. Back then in the 70’s and 80’s, there were two weekly Speedway publications. Speedway Star and the Mail. I picked up my copy of the Star every week at the newsagent but bought the Mail in addition when I went to a meeting. I would save reading the Mail for the long bus journey home.
The picture below is looking at the track from the apex of bends one and two looking back down the main straight towards the pits at the far end of the photo.
From the main entrance I would walk down the front of the main grandstand towards turn four and the pit gate. This is where I would be watching the meeting from. At Wimbledon and Rye House I preferred standing on turns one and two. At Lynn and Hackney it was always turn four and in later years, I would be standing close the pit gate fence on turn four when American Denny Pyeatt would lose his life, hitting a floodlight standard on the apex of three and four. Before the meetings got underway it was possible to mosey around the pits as the riders prepped their bikes. When Lynn were in town I would be wearing my Stars scarf and badges (buttons) so Lynn riders were more open to chatting, seeing you were on their side. In the early 80’s I started a sideline hobby/business selling speedway photos stickers and posters. These were real photos (the sticky photos were 2″x3″) with peel away backing that fans could stick on anything. To get the photos I would sneak my camera into the stadium and snap the riders in the pits. All of this was not allowed by management but they didn’t know. I sold the photos almost all by word of mouth on the home straight although I did stand on the terraces with merchandise in eye view of passing punters. If the track shop knew what was going on, I would have been ejected at the least. I didn’t make a lot of money, enough to cover costs, but I did get to chat to lots of teenage and older girls who wanted pictures of their favourite riders – and for a lot of them, these riders were not just riding for Hackney so the club shop didn’t always stock the photos. In going through my programme collection I do come across scrawled first names and telephone numbers.. My spot on turn four was very close to a mum and two daughters from North London. Julie was the eldest, around 17 yrs old. I spent two years trying to get a date but her mum didn’t take a shine to me. I do have her number in a programme though.
The 1977 Hackney Hawks were a pretty crap team and in pre-season 1978 the Hawks were written up as potential cup winners and outsiders for the title, given the upgrades to the team. They looked to have strength in-depth, with no major 10 point out-and-out match winner but with at least 5 riders who could end up averaging between 8 and 7 points. For 1978 out went heat leader Dave Morton to Wolves with Dane Finn Thomsen coming over to Hackney from Wolves. The Hawks also included two other Danes at the start of the season, Bent Rasmussen and Bo Petersen. Rasmussen wouldn’t last the season at the Wick – although if you have read the comments on my last post – you can see where he ended up. Bo Petersen however, would have a long career with Hackney and in England and he turned into a fine heat leader, although he was never going to win the World Championship, he was a class rider. Hackney had also signed two young up and comers. Vic Harding made the move full-time to the BL having spent the 77 season at Weymouth and Crayford in the (lower level) National League with reserve appearances at Hackney. At the end of the 78 season, Harding was averaging 7 points at home and was moving into heatleader status. He was tragically killed in a track accident at Hackney in June 1979. The other new signee was Bobby McNeil, a Young England international of whom big things were expected. His 1978 season was a bit of a disaster with a major injury in June keeping him out until August and then on his return from injury he was involved in a nasty crash at Hackney with American teenage sensation Kelly Moran, who was riding for Hull Vikings. Moran broke his thigh and missed the rest of the season and McNeil lost a lot of confidence after the crash and his scores dropped off the planet in September. As it turned out the 1978 season for Hackney was worse than their poor showing in 1977 and they finished up with the wooden spoon.
So onto the meeting. After the bitter loss to the Wimbledon Dons a couple of weeks earlier, here’s a meeting won by the Stars 41-37 on the road.
As you look down the team line ups, you will spot Bent Rasmussen at # 7 for the Stars. Rasmussen started the 78 season at Hackney but in June, Hackney and Kings Lynn swapped under performing riders, with Bent coming to Lynn and ‘Londoner’ Billy Spiers going in the opposite direction. In fact, the night before the trade happened Spiers rode his last match for Lynn against Hackney and the day after, rode for Hackney against Belle Vue. Spiers career at Hackney lasted all of 8 matches and he was out of speedway by late July. My ‘cyber’ mate Steve Ruskin, who commented on my last blog post on the Wimbledon meeting, was mechanic for Bent Rasmussen. It’s a small world eh ! Rickard Hellsen was now on his hot streak for the season (see the earlier blog) and was now in the team proper at number 2 and it was his role here that won the meeting. Hackney was one of Michael Lee’s favourite tracks and over the years I saw him ‘guest’ on many occasion for an opposing team because he was so fast around Waterden Road. I am certain that Lee’s Engine Failure (EF) in heat 5 was when he was in the lead and the Stars were on a 5-1. Lee would have ended the night with a slick 12 point maximum. However, with that EF this was a close meeting, with no team ever more than 4 points ahead of the other and heading into heat 11 the score was tied. Heat 11 featured Hawks skipper Barry Thomas and their heatleader in reserve, Vic Harding against the Stars duo of Lee and Hellsen. Barry Thomas was an enigma – the home fans loved him for his loyalty to the Hawks but more often than not he was likely to have stinker of a meeting and ‘let the side down’. This was one of those nights. I don’t recall the race in question and didn’t comment in the programme (surprisingly) but the Stars pulled out a 5-1 heat win which all but won them the meeting. The Stars were weak at reserve but Hackney were weak at the top and it cost them this meeting (and their season). I didn’t see Kings Lynn win many times in London – but it made the ride home all the better when it happened. Of course, it was always just me quietly celebrating all the way home.