Dream Team : John Downer
I have been watching speedway since the early 1980's when I used to go with my father to see the Reading Racers most monday evenings. It did not take me long to get hooked on the noise, smell and the mystical powers of the riders. Later in life Universities were selected based on how close to a speedway track they were. I selected London so I could go to Wimbledon. Typically they closed the year my course started! However being at London allowed me to travel back to Reading on mondays as my timetable and lectures were built around speedway. These days I rarely miss a Reading home or away meeting and I am a big fan of the GP series travelling to at least two foreign GP's most seasons and welcome Sky TV's input into the sport. I have been fortunate that most of my favourite riders have all ridden at some point for my local team or have had a close association to it.
When I first started going to speedway he was the master of Smallmead. He had a shy mystery about him, a man of few words but let his riding do his talking for him. Nobody in that era could ride a slick ride like he could. Single handedly kept Swedish speedway alive on an international level for the best part of a decade. A rider who should have won a World title but never really rose to the occasion. He would have loved the GP series.
Saw him grow from a very raw next generation rider who, along with Jimmy Nilsen, Sweden were pinning their hopes on. He did not disappoint. Unlike Andersson he could always rise to the occasion in the world finals and in the early 1990's was simply the best over taker in the game. He was one of the safest and fairest riders whose career was sadly taken from him through no fault of his own. A rider who with the advent of lay downs and the GP series would have gone on and won many more world titles. The emergence of Tony Rickardsson would have been great for speedway as the two of them would have had a fantastic rivalry. Quite rightly he remains the track record holder at Smallmead setting the record of 58.1 in October 1987. He was a privilege to watch.
Came to Reading on the eve of the 1990 season from National League Wimbledon. He was desperate to try his hand in the British League but many promoters would not touch him believing him to be too light weight and only able to gate. How wrong they were. He took the league and world by storm, ending up as 1990 world number 3 and a league and cup winner. He had it all, the style, the looks and the ability. Sadly had this best years taken from him after a clash with Jason Lyons in the Australian final in the early weeks of 1992. He would have gone on to win a world title or two.
From the moment I first saw him around 1990 I knew he would be destined to be world champion, if he could calm down. He raced hard and sensibly learnt his trade through the leagues. His conduct after Jonsson was injured in 1994 was fantastic and is remembered my most Reading fans and is definitely my favourite all time rider never to have signed for Reading.
Like Andersson had that air of mystery about him, probably helped by his black leathers and big full-face helmets. In the mid to late 1980's he was easily the best rider in the world. So professional he took the sport to the next level. Often had the race won by the back straight of the first lap but people forget he could race and overtake alongside the best. Deservedly won multiple world titles. Still holds the Oxford track record.
A master of balance and has the world at his feet. If he can improve his professionalism to the next level it will push him into the world top 3. Some of his passes are reminiscent of the great Per Jonsson and is the most naturally gifted rider of his generation. He can be a little hot headed at times but then so was Crump and that did him no harm in the long term. I first saw him in a under 21 qualifier and instantly knew he was special. It turned out he had only ridden about twenty meetings prior to this in his life. I raved on about him to the Reading promotion and finally they signed him via Trelawny.
Such an understated rising star. When he first arrived at Reading for a cup match against Swindon nobody had ever heard of him and most people still cannot pronounce his name correctly! He went on to thrill the crowd with his skills and a heat 15 hunt and pass of Oliver Allen to win Reading the meeting instantly made him a crowd hero. Like most young Poles he has way too much pressure and expectation on his shoulders but if he can stop getting injured he will be the natural successor to Tomasz Gollob. He is a very professional rider and is always checking out track conditions and looking to learn new things and appears a very nice person off the track and it is a joy to watch him progress like Jonsson twenty years previous.
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This article was first published on 11th January 2007
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