Dream Team : Keith Butler
I first started watching speedway as a kid in the 50's before becoming an avid fan during my teens at round about the time the British League replaced the National & Provincial leagues. I then followed the sport, and Coventry in particular, for about 15 years or so before my enthusiasm waned (around the time I got married). Personally I think Speedway lost its way during the 80's & 90's and still has fundamental problems which it has never addressed successfully.
However throughout this period I maintained a passing interest and still visited Brandon, albeit infrequently, until a few years back when I started to take my teenage kids there. My interest has regrown steadily, culminating in what was a brilliant 2005 season for the Bees and Speedway in general.
Over the years I have seen all the great riders, from Jack Young, Peter Craven, Barry Briggs, Ove Fundin, Ivan Mauger, Ole Olsen, Bruce Penhall, Eric Gundersen, Hans Neilsen to Tony Rickardsson today, to name but a few.
My personal favourites have tended to be riders who have given that little extra for the team, possibly at some expense on an individual basis and because I've followed the Bees over the years my dream team generally reflects this.
Would be my first choice any time. He always gave 100% for Coventry and England. He could mix it with the very best and appeared fearless. He turned out for Coventry despite carrying numerous injuries. He even fractured his skull in a racing accident, but was back leading a Lions tour in Australia some 6 weeks later. Booey deserved more success individually and I remember one World Championship Final at Wembley (he & Howard Cole were the only Englishmen riding) when it seemed like the entire 80,000 crowd was cheering him on. But my personal best memory of him was from a Midland Riders Championship race with Barry Briggs where they were head to toe with each other, passing each other time and again until Booey nicked it on the line. This even had my normally reserved father out of his seat applauding, something I never saw him do before or after. And finally, who can forget his wonderful testimonial meeting, Brandon was literally packed with fans from all over the country acknowledging his career.
Subjective I know, but I think Ole was probably the best rider ever. I first remember him appearing at Brandon with Ivan Mauger's "Newcastle Diamonds" and for someone who had never ridden the track before he seemed so at ease and phased by no one. By the time he rode for Coventry he was at his peak and had given Wolverhampton fine service. Although he won 3 world titles, with a little less bad luck he would have had at least 2 more. In Sweden, racing in a torrential downpour, in his last race he only had to follow John Boulger home to be crowned champion. But Boulger fell & Ole had to lay down. The referee allowed next to no time for him to regroup and Ivan Mauger beat him in the rerun to take the title. Then one year, at Wembley, in his first race he came from last to second & then fell trying to overtake Christer Loftquist for the lead. He then reeled off 4 straight wins but Mauger again took the title with 13 points. A fond memory I have is when a Polish side visited Brandon, Ole was about to have his photo taken with surprise world champion Jerzy Szczakiel and I was leaning over the pit fence also trying to get a picture. He saw me and turned himself & Jerzy towards me so I could get my picture before the press photographer was allowed his.
Probably at his best before I started following Coventry avidly. but Ron was always a trier who could be relied upon to get stuck in. He was my mother's favourite rider, both at Birmingham & Coventry. I think Ron suffered the worst crash I've seen at Brandon (and I've seen a few) when he exited the Coventry bend, his machine locked up and he was catapulted over the handlebars and bounced down the track while his bike cleared both safety fences and landed in the terracing. That crash finished his season and he was never quite the same rider again. During his layoff he returned to Brandon and I can still see him near the pits leaning on his crutches with his leg in plaster, obviously in some discomfort, signing autographs for everyone who asked him.
The impact Scott had on the Coventry side as they won the Elite league title in 2005 was immense. Having seen him ride for Ipswich I knew how good a rider he was, but the way he led the team after Andreas Jonsson quit was truly magnificent. Coventry had no right to be in with a chance, he was our only real heat leader, but he inspired the others in the team to up their game and the rest is history as they say. Scott's style and never say die attitude remind me so much of Nigel Boocock and if he gives Coventry a fraction of the service Booey gave then the Bees are on a winner. I just hope he goes on to get the individual success he deserves in the Grand Prix.
Obviously I never saw Tom Farndon ride, but from what I've read about him he was someone who epitomised the spirit of Speedway and part of me wishes I could have been around to witness what were the pioneering days of the sport. I know it was early days but here was someone who held the track record on all the National league tracks. After Coventry closed in the early 30's, he moved to London & eventually ended up riding for New Cross. He had a will to win attitude to racing which with his talent would surely have won a world title in later years. Sadly fate intervened and cruelly took his life at just 24 years of age following a racing accident. I used to live a 15 minute walk from where he is buried and I've seen his gravestone, a motorcyclist in black marble, and he must have been a bit special for something like this to have been commissioned to mark his life.
My first World final at Wembley was to see Peter Craven win his 2nd title, in 1962. I was only 9 and, although he was a Belle Vue rider, his style and riding captivated me at the time. To the extent that, the following season, I nagged my parents to take me to Brandon to see him. Here I was with my yellow & black scarf, rosettes and "star" badges of Coventry riders queuing for the man who sold keepsakes around the track, in order to buy Peter Craven memorabilia. I spent all my pocket money on photo's, rosette & badge of him, much to the chagrin of my dad. But the badge went on my scarf (Ove Fundin was my only other non Coventry badge) proudly. Later that year Peter died in a crash, it was my first experience of a "hero" dying. I think that's one of the reasons Coventry - Belle Vue meetings became a little bit more special to me.
The actual year escapes me, but I remember Tommy having his first ride around Brandon in the second half of a meeting when he was just 16. I distinctly remember turning to my mates and saying he was going to become some rider. Over the years he proved that and gave Coventry terrific service. How he never became World Champion amazes me even now. The world final at Wembley where Bruce Penhall won those 2 incredible races (against Tommy & also Ole Olsen) was probably his best chance. Tommy was a star rider when I entered my "sabbatical" and still a star as I started to come out of it in the 90's.
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This article was first published on 10th March 2006
Just caught up with this; no idea when it was written but felt I had to respond as I, too, attended the '62 World Final won by Peter Craven. That man could do things on a machine, especially at corners (and especially during the following year's Final), that I've never seen before or since.
In '62 I was stood near a posse of Belle Vue supporters, families of 3 generations, many of 'em. I distinctly recall in his last ride in the lead whilst the kids yelled in encouragement one granny sat there eyes tightly shut until she heard the roar of celebration. Happy days..."
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