The World Final That Never Was
By JOHN CHAPLIN with more than a little help from MAURICE RAMSAY, who puts a (Newcastle) diamond before and after his name.
DOWN all the speedway years there has remained one magical mystery to do with the sport's supreme and most coveted prize.
The World Championship of 1939.
It is possibly the greatest imponderable in dirt-track history. The frustrating missing piece in the cinders sport jigsaw.
Speedway is about to reach another important milestone this year. In 2011 it will celebrate the 65th staging of its official individual World Championship. That is if anyone bothers to do a bit of counting and considers it an event worthy enough for some sort of special commemoration.
I am pointing a finger here at Benfield Sports/IMG the International entertainment organisations responsible for transmogrifying the competition from the old and infinitely exciting one-off World Finals to the present, and not to be decried, Grand Prix system.
Which, I venture to suppose, is progress.
Be that as it may, it has always given me a considerable amount of pleasurable glee to contemplate that speedway anoraks - excuse me, ladies and gentlemen, of course I mean . . . statisticians - might be being driven barmy because in among the 64 World Championships since 1936 and the 32 title holders, there is a gigantic chasm in their serried columns of figures, the sudden closure of which may possibly result in the speedway equivalent of a Tsunami in which many of them could conceivably vanish without trace.
Well, gather round, my friends. Because today, thanks to my revered and long-standing very good friend Maurice Ramsay, a staunch and died-in-the-wool Newcastle Diamonds fan since before the war - he remembers Goerge Pepper, Fred 'Kid' Curtis, the Stobarts, Maurice and Rol, possibly The Cyclone himself, Billy Lamont, Jeff Lloyd and Doug McLachlan even - that giant, yawning chasm is, before your very eyes, about to be filled in.
Maurice not only devised a means - a table-top dice game - by which we can all enjoy the one World Final which won't cost an arm and a leg for a seat, he has provided a heat-by-heat report worthy of the finest journalistic expertise, a match programme, a score sheet, final result and even the grab-you-by-the-throat headlines as well.
Which are . . .
But, no. I won't spoil it for you. You wouldn't want to be told who is the new World Champion before you have witnessed the racing, would you?
OK. So how did this all come about? Well, what makes it so remarkable to me, apart from the fact that anyone has had the sheer enthusiasm and love of the sport to devise such an enterprise, is the fact that Maurice worked it all out as a boy of twelve-and-three-quarters.
But let him explain.
Maurice says: 'I first saw speedway in 1945, having been brought up on magical tales of the 1938-39 era, and the idea of the unfinished World Final always intrigued me.
'I acquired a copy of Speedway News with the ominous date of Saturday, September 2, 1939. It had a preview of the 'Final that never was', plus a complete heat-by-heat draw and the bonus points of each competitor (of which more in a moment: JC). So my staging of the Final was authentic. My riders were biased according to contemporary 1939 form, and the dice did the rest.
'I hope you won't put me down as a complete loony . . . I enclose the programme and match report of the 1939 World Championship Final for your amusement and entertainment.'
To say that Maurice's 'loony' idea fired my imagination is putting it mildly. For years I'd also had the 'if only' feeling about that Hitler-blighted World Final. And talking of loonies, it was so obvious at the time that a global conflict was imminent and, as everyone in speedway was gearing up for their star-spangled night out at Wembley, it should not have been beyond the wit of the sport's panjandrums to have got in ahead of Adolf and staged the 1939 Final the previous week, on August 31, a Thursday and Wembley's race night.
But then, speedway's bigwigs have never been noted for being in the Ove Fundin class when it comes to dropping clutches, and the Fuhrer put the kibosh on it all by forcing British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain's hand. War was declared on Sunday, September 3, four days before the scheduled Final, and everything stopped.
But, thanks to Maurice, we now have the unique opportunity to create our own piece of speedway history . . . so, let's set the scene.
The sport's leading publication at the time, Speedway News, carried a preview under the heading: 'The Fight For The Title', with a subdeck that said: 'Riders' Chances Considered In Cold Blood'. The News's sub-editors had a less than subtle way with them in those days.
Anyway, the journal reported: 'Here are the sixteen finalists, emphasising the eight who, because of their bonus marks, stand a chance of pocketing the �350 cheque or taking one of the other useful prizes.'
The �350 cheque? Chicken feed, you might think when there are reports these days of riders walking away with more than �1,000 a point.
Here we need to explain that the pre-war World Championship system was much criticised because riders took with them to the Final a percentage of the points they had scored in the qualifying rounds. Unlike Ivan Mauger's later oft quoted remark about qualifying being the name of the game, because 'we all start level on the night'. In 1939 some riders had a few points 'start' on the others. Yes. Really!
And, according to the official value of the pound index, �350 is equivalent to �10,920 in today's money - so it is easy to understand why the boys had pound signs in their eyes and were not too concerned about acquiring the title of World Champion. Besides, other than cash, I wonder what other 'useful prizes' could have been offered?
The News continued with the run-down on the leading contenders and their bonus points: Cordy Milne (USA and Southampton) 8; Eric Langton (England & Belle Vue) 7; Wilbur Lamoreaux (USA & Wimbledon) 7; Bill Kitchen (England & Belle Vue) 7; Vic Duggan (Australia & Wimbledon) 6; Lionel Van Praag (Australia & Wembley) 6; Arthur Atkinson (England & West Ham) 6; Jack Milne (USA & New Cross) 6.
'The remaining eight, whose chief mission at Wembley would appear to be that of weightmakers (what a wally of a way to promote the most important speedway meeting of the year - implying that half of the competitors are out of the running before it even starts: JC), though we suspect that one or two of them will spring occasional surprises. They are: Alec Statham (England & Harringay) 5; Jack Parker (England & Harringay) 5; Benny Kaufman (USA & Southampton) 5; Ron Johnson (Australia & New Cross) 5; Eric Chitty (Canada & West Ham) 5; Frank Varey (England & Belle Vue) 4; Eric Collins (Australia & Wimbledon) 4; Aub lawson (Australia & Wembley) 4.'
Here, Parker and Johnson were the biggest guns, and it is a surprise to find them so low down. Parker particularly because he was one of the sport's most prominent personalities and had won the Star Championship at Wembley in 1934, a competition equivalent at the time to a World Championship.
The potential of the great Vic Duggan was beginning to make itself felt. He was a comparative newcomer and was well in with a chance. But the sensation of the season was young Aub Lawson, an Australian virtual novice in his first English season who had been loaned out to Second Division Middlesbrough and then swiftly recalled by his parent club Wembley.
Missing from the previous year were Tommy Price (England & Wembley), Tommy Croombs (England & West Ham), Geoff Pymar (England & Wimbledon), the spectacular George Newton (England & New Cross) and reigning Champion Bluey Wilkinson (Australia) who had quit West Ham to promote at Sheffield.
Speedway News was tipping Cordy Milne. 'He has shown great consistency . . . We know that his heart is set on taking the title. He rides Wembley quite well. But more important is that one point bonus over Langton, Lamoreaux and Kitchen.
'Next in our order of "fancies" comes Wilbur Lamoreaux. Lammy seems more likely to pull back that point advantage with which Cordy goes to Wembley. He always has good motors and is never temperamental. And a close rival to both lies in Lionel Van Praag who has the great advantage of knowing Wembley better than any of them.'
And so he should have done, he was the Wembley captain and had already won the title in 1936 - at Wembley.
What of Jack Milne, the 1937 Champion? 'Jack seems to have lost a little of his old confidence and speed.'
That, said the News, was their survey. 'Maybe something will happen between this and September 7th to alter all our ideas.' Was that an ironic comment, or what? Or did the News have a portent of impending doom?
Of England's Arthur Atkinson there is nary a mention. Strange, because Akko was reported all over as being in devastating form for West Ham that year. In fact, Bluey Wilkinson, in a newspaper article, while tipping Jack Milne to take the title, gave Atkinson 'a good chance', even though he was two bonus points down on Cordy Milne.
Now this is where our Maurice comes in. 'Let me explain the "secrets" of my boyhood game,' he says. 'My track had 90 divisions (this was arbitrary). Three dice were used and all races were over one lap (otherwise I would still be playing the games I started in the 1940s). I never had a satisfactory way of introducing falls or engine failures, so these did not happen.
'For realistic results the system of the Ramsay Starting Bonus (RSB) added to the throw of the dice was an essential feature. Each rider carried a RSB allotted to his 1939 form. Thus the chance of, say, Benny Kaufman beating Eric Langton was remote.
'I also introduced the idea of "form on the night" which could easily have led to a shock result from, say, Alec Statham.'
Well, I don't know, Maurice, I was a bit of an Alec Statham fan and quite fancy the idea of him coming up trumps. However, we shall see.
'I find it almost surreal,' mused Maurice, 'to be writing all this down about a game I played around 1948, and even more weird that when I was shaking the dice again I actually found myself starting to recapture a hint of the old excitement. They say that growing old is inevitable, but growing up is optional.'
Well, yes. And I prefer to put off growing up for as long as possible. So, you can all get out your coloured scarves, team and national flags and bobble hats - I almost wrote 'your rattles as well', but of course the old wartime version of making a noise has now been replaced by the air horn horror.
The big build-up is over. Wembley is full to its 106,000 capacity - yes, I did say 106,000. The riders are lined up at the pit gates. To give the event real authenticity we should imagine the uniformed Wembley bugler on the centre green heralding Heat One. On the start line, Empire Stadium boss Arthur Elvin is engrossed in his programme and his homburg hat is set at its usual jaunty angle.
There will be no race times. Well, you can't expect everything.
Heat 1: The riders approaching the tapes are Arthur Atkinson in red, Alec Statham in blue, Frank Varey in white and Eric Collins in yellow (no yellow and black in those days). And it's a fine ride by Statham to win the first race of the night from Atkinson, Collins and Varey. Result: Statham, Atkinson, Collins, Varey.
Heat 2: Splendid stuff. Jack Milne makes a poor start, but rides from last to first, passing Jack Parker and Ron Johnson. And with a superb effort, he takes Lamoreaux on the last bend. Result: J. Milne, Lamoreaux, Johnson, Parker.
Heat 3: Fresh from their recent Test success against Australia, the Belle Vue pair, Bill Kitchen and Eric Langton, are locked together in a race for individual supremacy, relegating Lionel Van Praag into third place, with Chitty bringing up the rear. Result: Langton, Kitchen, Van Praag, Chitty.
Heat 4: The favourite Cordy Milne is out of the start first and never in danger, building up a commanding lead. Hard riding Duggan follows him home with Lawson, refusing to be overawed by the star company, passing Kaufman for third. Result: C. Milne, Duggan, Lawson, Kaufman.
Heat 5: Kaufman is given a breather because he is out again. This time he fares no better with Kitchen leading from start to finish ahead of Statham and a disappointing Parker in third. Result: Kitchen, Statham, Parker, Kaufman.
Heat 6: An important clash for Cordy Milne and Lamoreaux who go to the tapes knowing that neither can afford to drop a point. It develops into an early laps duel between them before Cordy pulls away. Lamoreaux seems to flag and is caught on the line by Atkinson with Chitty again failing to score. Result: C. Milne, Atkinson, Lamoreaux, Chitty.
Heat 7: The young pretender Duggan faces veteran Langton, but it's Duggan's race with Langton having to battle to stay ahead of Ron Johnson with Frank Varey - who is known to dislike the Wembley track - still to claim a point. Result: Duggan, Langton, Johnson, Varey.
Heat 8: The Wembley supporters - and there are plenty in the capacity crowd - are willing on their captain Van Praag as he goes to the tapes with Jack Milne. Two former World Champions on the grid. But Praagy puts in a vintage ride, showing what a master he is of the Wembley circuit, to beat Milne comfortably. And this time Lawson is outclassed. Result: Van Praag, J. Milne, Collins, Lawson.
After two rides each, Cordy Milne is unbeaten, but there are five who have dropped only one point, Kitchen, Duggan, Langton, Jack Milne and outsider Statham.
Heat 9: Undeterred by his meagre three points from two rides, Lamoreaux storms back into the running with a great win over contender Langton, but Statham blots his copybook by coming in third with Lawson again last. Result: Lamoreaux, Langton, Statham, Lawson.
Heat 10: Van Praag appears to have found his form and nets another three points, Duggan following him home with the fancied Atkinson way back in third, and Parker is right out of the running now with another last place. Result: Van Praag, Duggan, Atkinson, Parker.
Heat 11: Out again, Van Praag can't keep up the pace. But Cordy Milne continues his unbeaten run with a fine win from Statham with Johnson tailed off. Result: C. Milne, Statham, Van Praag, Johnson.
Heat 12: One of those races where no one is in with a chance, so it's academic that Collins at last gets the chequered flag with Johnson a respectable second with Kaufman at last getting on the score sheet, but Chitty failing the West Ham fans once again. Result: Collins, Johnson, Kaufman, Chitty.
After three rides Cordy Milne is the front runner. He is still unbeaten, with Langton, Van Praag, Milne and Duggan two race points each adrift. Kitchen, Statham and Lamoreaux are just in the running.
Heat 13: First race after the interval and one which could decide the title. The spectacular line-up reads the two Milnes, Kitchen and Frank Varey, who would not appear to be a threat to anyone. If Kitchen can get the better of the Milnes, the championship will be thrown wide open again. But Cordy is off into the distance and Jack in second. Kitchen presses him hard for the entire four laps but can find no way past the American. Barring a disaster, the prize must surely be Cordy's. Result: C. Milne, J. Milne, Kitchen, Varey.
Heat 14: A second ride on the trot for Jack Milne, who can virtually make the championship safe for his brother by taking points from Langton - providing Atkinson and Kaufman don't decide to spoil the party. It's a tough call, Jack Milne only just managing to cross the line ahead of Langton. Result: J. Milne, Langton, Atkinson, Kaufman.
Heat 15: Another 'no hopers'' race. But this time Chitty finds some steam and romps home ahead of Parker with Lawson taking the single point ahead of the luckless Varey. Result: Chitty, Parker, Lawson, Varey.
Heat 16: It's Lamoreaux staking his claim for at least a rostrum place by beating Kitchen. But Duggan does his chances no good at all by finishing behind both of them with Collins at the back. Result: Lamoreaux, Kitchen, Duggan, Collins.
Whatever happens in the next four races, Cordy Milne is the new World Champion with an unbeaten 12 points on the night and 8 bonus points. The question is, who will join him on the rostrum - his brother Jack on 10 or Langton and Lammy on 9 each?
Heat 17: It's Chitty's turn for a second successive ride and he confounds the crowd by passing both Duggan and Jack Milne to take a shock second win. Milne loses ground and surrenders second spot to Duggan and - another shock - the early promise of Statham finally fades when the Harringay man limps in last. Result: Chitty, Duggan, J. Milne, Statham.
Heat 18: Kitchen finishes with a flourish, a fine win to put him on 11 points (18 overall). Atkinson survives a hard challenge from Johnson. The spectacular leg-trailing Lawson, though in last place, is not disgraced in a first World Final. He will go on to outlast them all at Wembley. Result: Kitchen, Atkinson, Johnson, Lawson.
Heat 19: Interest centres on Lamoreaux and Van Praag in the two middle starting lanes, with Varey on the inside and Kaufman on the outside. But it's an easy win for Lammy with Van Praag struggling to keep both Kaufman and Varey at bay. Result: Lamoreaux, Van Praag, Kaufman, Varey.
Heat 20: And 106,000 voices acclaim the new Champion. Cordy Milne starts on the outside with the wily and vastly experienced Langton next to him in grid three, Parker on two and Collins on the inside. Even if Cordy finishes stone last, falls off or has engine failure, he can't be beaten. But with Langton away first, Cordy refuses to settle for a quiet second place, and the pair dice for the whole four laps, passing and repassing, before Langton finally draws away for the win. Result: Langton, C. Milne, Parker, Collins.
With Cordy being given the traditional bumps by his vanquished rivals and the American acknowledging the crowd's cheers for his convincing triumph, the track is cleared for the run-off for second place between Langton and Lamoreaux who are tied on 19 points overall.
Heat 21: Langton has been here before. It was in 1936 that he and Van Praag went to the tapes to decide the first official individual speedway World Championship. Eric lost. And this time it's an anti-climax. The race is a virtual walkover for Lamoreaux when Eric starts badly and never makes up the ground to challenge Wilbur. Result: Lamoreaux, Langton.
So there you have it. The 1939 World Final. One of the most exciting - and satisfying - I have ever witnessed. I think the best man won. So if we can wend our way out through this vast Wembley crowd, I might stand you a fish 'n' chip supper on the way home.
PS: Those grab-you-by-the-throat headlines were:
CORDY MILNE SWEEPS THE BOARD!
Favourite is new World Champion
Lamoreaux beats Langton in decider for second place
This article was first published on 3rd February 2011
"I Love this!! Brilliant and very well t hought out. The discription of each heat, gives the article a realistic and professional look and wouldn't have looked out of place in the Speedway news. The only thing missing is old Haggis Harkins colume (Sorry Bert) However Maurice, just a little niggle. It's a shame you couldn't work out a way to introduce falls and engine failures, as they are part and parcel of the sport and during this meeting, one of the STAR Men may have suffered, ( as Lammy did in the 1949 final when he was leading eventual Champion Tommy Price, when his engine failed, I think I read somewhere it was a oiled plug?) And who will ever forget 1973, when Ivan made a fatal mistake and fell in the runoff against Jerzy Szczakiel? If something like that could have been incorporated into YOUR FINAL WOW!! But dispite that, Maurice MANY MANY CONGRATULATIONS on an amazing piece of work."
"Magic people! Just magic! Is there anyone out there who could conjure up a podium picture to go with this???"
"Now this has to be the Fantasy Speedway match to beat all fantasy matches. It was great to read, especially as the older fans at West Ham who knew Arthur Atkinson said they felt he was in with a very good chance of winning and becoming the First English World Champion. We had to wait till 49 for Tommy Price of Wembley to do that. Wikipedia can now be corrected! "
"Is it possible to have the other riders helmet colours OR numbers Heat 1: Arthur Atkinson in red, Alec Statham in blue, Frank Varey in white Eric Collins in yellow. Heat 2: J. Milne, Lamoreaux, Johnson, Parker. Heat 3: Langton, Kitchen, Van Praag, Chitty. Heat 4: C. Milne, Duggan, Lawson, Kaufman. Thanks Andy"
"I don't think we can do heat helmet colours on the 1939 World Final, unless someone has a 1939 World Final programme - and we understand that they were all pulped but would be worth a king's ransom today. Also, though I had considerable help with the idea from Maurice Ramsay, it was me wot rote the artikle. Another one coming up - watch this space. Rit orl by me this time (Thanks, Ginger - or don't you no hoo Ginger Twiggles is?)."
"Great "Match Report" but I always thought that the 1939 World Championship was won by Adolph Hitler as he stopped everyone else from riding! (He would have been the first AUSTRIAN World Champion). And Chris, there was no "Haggis Column" in this "programme" because it was even long before MY time in the sport. (and even before my time in Scotland)."
"Regarding Haggis' claim that a certain Adolf Hitler would have been the first Austrian World Champ in 1939.I always thought that Martin Schneeweiss held the claim by a couple of years. Didn't he win the 1937 title in the French version won previously by Huxley, Lamont and Bluey Wilkinson?"
"Fascinating to read the 'fantasy' details of the World Final That Never Was(1939), 72 years on. What a pity an 'original' programme from the 1939 Final hasn't surfaced after all this time. It must have been compiled and, probably, printed before War was declared and even if they were alll pulped, someone somewhere must have a 'proof' copy hidden or stashed away, don't you think? At least one of the original 1939 World Final tickets has survived, which was reported in VINTAGE SPEEDWAY Vol.10 No.1 Spring 2002 (pages 32/33). I wonder if any others have found their way into collections during the past 10 years? If you have got one of the original 1939 programes - or know of somebody who has - let us all know, please! "
"I have two tickets for Sept 7th 1939 for the South Grandstand priced 2/6 "
"Great fun and I immediately remembered my young years. Also with dice and bonus points for a real value of riders I played parallel a fantasy world championship with all possible qualifying rounds. Here unfotunatelly I noticed a little bug: Lionel Van Praag couldn‘t ride both in heats 10 and 11. Overall a great idea!"
"Mariusz Dubielewicz on The World Final That Never Was: Said that Van Praag could be not be in heat 10 and 11. The World Finals in those years were NOT set up as we know them today, For instance Jack Milne in 1938 rode in heats 3,8,10,11 and 19. Van Praag rode is heats 1,5,9,11 and 17."
"Re The Final That Never Was I assume the 1939 final would have used same format as 1938 - see Wembley 1938 file on Speedway Researcher web site - and some of the riders did have 2 races in a row in that event."
"Thanks for your explanation. Now I have just analyzed the big night 1938."
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