The Pre-War Lions
1929, the sport of Dirt Track Racing had arrived in Great Britain in 1928, and had taken the country by storm. Sir Arthur Elvin " Mr Wembley Stadium" decided it was time for the `Lions to Roar`, and brought the sport to the Empire Stadium.
From the start he wanted the best, and there could be no better man for the job that the `father` of Speedway, Johnnie Hoskins.
John became Team Manager, but not everything started well. Other teams had already taken a lot of the top riders, but that did not stop Johnnie.
The Lions, captained by Buster Frogley, rode in red & white race jackets. The rest of the team were, Vic Deale, Len Reeves, Nobby Key, Crawley Rouse, Bert Fairweather, Alf Chick and Jack Jackson.
The expect surge of fans did not happen, but Johnnie Hoskins using all the tricks he had learnt as a Showman in Australia, soon came up with an idea, A Supporters Club!
With all this involved, plus some non-speedway events during the meetings, it soon had the fan arriving.
The Lions finished fifth in the Southern League, which was won by Stamford Bridge.
1930 and the Lions found a league position they liked, the top! They won the Southern League. They also won the First London Cup. This year also saw the first London Riders Championship, which was held at Crystal Palace and won by Jack Ormston of Wembley.
1931 and the Lions did it again, Southern league Champions. They were also National Trophy Winners, beating Stamford Bridge.
1932 saw the Southern & Northern League being replaced by the National League. A lot of the Northern teams dropped out, so there was also a National League Championship. Wembley came second in the National League to Stamford Bridge, but won the National League Championship. Wembley again won the National Trophy, beating Belle Vue. They also won the London Cup again. (Some books only show the one National League, and that is the Championship one).
1933 was Wembley's worst ever season (with the exception of 1970 & 71), when they came 6th. They were runner up in the National Trophy to Belle Vue. It was not all bad as they won the London Cup for the 3rd time out of four.
1934 saw a lot of the top National League teams putting out second teams in the National League Division II as well as teams in Division I. Wembley came second in both Divisions. Belle Vue won Division One and West Ham won Division Two. Again they won the London Cup.
1935 saw a National League that was more like a `London League` with Belle Vue who won it being the only non-London team.
The final table was;
Wembley still managed to enter the records book, when they pay the first ever £1000 transfer fee for Frank Charles from Belle Vue
1936 and Wembley came second to Belle Vue, but still went in to the record books by staging the first ever World Speedway Championship, which of course had to be won by a Wembley Lion, the Australian captain of Wembley, Lionel Van Pragg. Lionel went on to win an even greater award when he was awarded the George Medal for Bravery in World War Two.
1937 Saw the Lions second again, this time to West Ham.
1938 League Champions were the New Cross Rangers, second were West Ham and with equal Match Points were Wembley, who ended third by just 7.5 race points.
1939 Saw the Lions on the hunt for another National League Title. Lying third, one point behind Wimbledon and two behind Belle Vue, the League came to a sudden halt owing to somebody's plans to win a greater League, domination of the World!
By the time Speedway returned in 1946 it would be a different world, one that the Lions would take full advantage of.
This article was first published on 30th April 2009
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