NZ in the 1973 World League - Part 7
Belle Vue, July 11. Semi-Final. New Zealand V England. And the programme had the following line-ups;
With both teams at full strength, well Barry Briggs was still in pain after his run-in with Russian Roulette, this had the makings of an epic thriller. Do or die for a Grand Final place under Wembley's twin towers.
What happened? Well, what happened was, Ray Wilson beat Ivan Mauger in heat 1. With Martin Ashby pegging Graeme Stapleton back in last place, a 4-2 was a great start for the home team.
Kiwi hearts jumped when Gary Peterson made the gate in heat 2 from Malcolm Simmons and his 'Belle Vue Ace' partner Alan Wilkinson. But when the Poms punched passed, a 5-1 saw those Kiwi hearts sink. But in heat 3, 'The Mighty Briggo' powered back with a win over 'Tiger Boy' Louis in a 4-2 for NZ. Then a 'Belle Vue ' 5-1 in heat 4 saw the Kiwi's house of cards capitulate. A disasterous duck from Ronnie Moore was the last thing on his mastermind!
Here is how Philip Rising wrote it up for Speedway Star;
'England emphatically trounced NZ to reach the Final. The Kiwis were off to a bad start when English skipper Ray Wilson led home Ivan Mauger, and the tremendous all-round strength of the home side - personified by the eight [paid 11] of reserve Alan Wilkinson - carried the day. Mauger had one tremendous duel with young Peter Collins and although the verdict went to the Belle Vue rider, I would have given it the other way, Mauger beat Collins in the final heat, but he couldn't do it alone. Barry Briggs, nursing injuries, beat John Louis in his first race, came third next time out and then handed Ray Wilson his only defeat of the evening. [ Briggo pulled out of his last ride . ] Ronnie Moore got better as the meeting progressed but NZ never looked like getting the better of a team that had their tails up from the word go.'
Heat 1. Wilson, Mauger, Ashby, Stapleton.
New Zealand 30.
Yes, the Lions were well fed and they looked forward to meeting Sweden in the Grand Final. At the Coventry Semi on the same day, Sweden had 'Kangaroo Stew' with a score of 51-27. But there was tragedy for the Swedes as Bengt Jansson got smashed up. Howard Jacobi wrote for Speedway Star,
'There was an alarming crash in heat 9 when Garry Middleton locked up right in front of Bengt Jansson and partner Geoff Curtis. Jansson came off worst and was rocketed over Middleton's machine, not to appear again'.
And this horror crash meant Bengt Jansson would miss the Grand Final three nights later.
That was it for New Zealand. There would be no 3rd Place decider. Now that was a shame. It would have pulled a crowd for sure. For that matter, the Grand Final could have been the venue. It would not have to have been a 13 heat match. Three riders from each side could have been selected, one as reserve, with just 4 heats deciding the places. Preceding Grand Final heats 1, 4, 8 & 12. Imagine if NZ had put up Mauger, Briggs and Moore! 'Briggo returns to Wembley!' 'At Wembley, Ronnie Moore rides again!' Oh man that's THUNDERBIRDS ARE GO!!! And the Aussies with John Boulger, Jim Airey and Bob Valentine. What a wonderful show that could have been.
Instead, after the Grand Final, there was a naff England V Rest of the World. Yes, that way the punters got see some of the stars of the series, Mauger, Ole Olsen, Zenon Plech etc. But what a waste of an opportunity! Ah well never mind ...
As for the Grand Final? Ian MacDonald typed this for Speedway Star,
'Were the Swedes robbed of victory? From the Press Box it looked as though they probably were. On television the next day, it looked less likely but still left considerable room for doubt. In any event, the exclusion of Anders Michanek in the run-off was a most unsatisfactory ending to what had been a closely fought match.'
My favourite heat was 11. Watch Christer Lofqvist never giving up and taking Terry Betts in a photo finish, equal to anything Bruce Penhall did at Wembley 8 years later. And remember it was Lofqvist's win in heat 13 that set up that infamous Gold Medal, Peter Collins V Anders Michanek run-off in the first place!
Michanek said, "It wasn't a very hard push I gave him. He tried to come back on the inside. I was so bloody upset. I think I scared him more so he fell off." Barry Briggs sided with the referee, Arthur Humphrey. So did Len Silver, "Michanek made his own gap and then hit Collins. That constitutes boring and the referee had to exclude him." Collins would later say, "I heard him coming on the inside as I set myself up for the pits bend. The next thing I knew, I was going towards the fence and I had to lay the bike down. I am quite happy in my own mind that the referee was right to exclude Michanek."
I will finish this series with quotes from two Kiwis. First, Ronnie Moore, "As I saw it, Collins made an error by leaving a gap on the inside. Michanek was already halfway through when he attempted to close it. Had he not done so, Mich would never have clipped his front wheel. It takes two to tango and I feel sure that both riders contributed to the incident. A further re-run would have been a fairer solution."
Last word to Ivan Mauger on Michanek's exclusion, "I know how I would have felt if it had happened to me against a Swedish rider from a Swedish team, on a Swedish track with a Swedish referee!"
This article was first published on 21st August 2019
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