Standing up for Jack....by Bob Ferry
Both Speedwayplus and the Berwick Unofficial web site have carried separate interviews with Dave Gifford. While both interviews are interesting, there is one thing that upsets me, his nasty remarks about the late Jack Millen. As Jack is no longer with us I'd like to speak up on behalf of "Crazy Jack".
In the Speedway Plus interview he states "Jack died in a blazing car wreck" he goes on to comment "A precursor to his next destination some might say". A totally uncalled for comment I would in say in my opinion. In the name of decency and respect he went too far!
On the Berwick web site Dave comments "I refused to ride with him under any circumstances". He then goes on to make the most damning statement of all, "He is the only person I have ever known with no redeeming features whatsoever"
I have spoken to many of his fellow riders and family members during the course of writing of my two books on Jack Millen, and almost without exception they say, "Ah! Jack Millen, now there was a character". But it's about the way that they talk about him, in an endearing sort of way, even after all these years since he was tragically killed in that blazing car crash.
Dave of course is entitled to his opinions of Jack Millen but lets have some perspective of the man! Jack was a charismatic leader of his speedway team, he created excitement where ever he rode. As for him having no redeeming features whatsoever, well let's have a quote from his ex Sunderland skipper Russ Dent, he recalls needing some work done on his engine, "I'll do it for you" said Jack, no hesitation about it. And Jack wouldn't take a penny piece for his troubles. To quote Russ, "he had his good points, he wasn't all bad as some folk made out". That remark is backed up by most of his Sunderland team mates and the Thomas family with whom he often stayed with overnight in Sunderland.
On the speedway track and off it, Jack Millen took the knocks as well as dishing them out, but he didn't moan about it, a pity Dave Gifford can't be the same. Let us remember them both for the memories the left us with.
If anyone wants to know more about "Crazy Jack" they can read my two books on him.
This article was first published on 21st May 2005
"In reply to Bob Ferry's comments on Jack Millen, having been team mates with both at Berwick, Dave was a gentleman and great guy, Jack I got to know quite well before he was killed, he was a wild guy but he had two sides to him. He was always helpful to the younger guys starting off in speedway, but his reputation went before him. He liked to entertain the crowds and speedway could do with guys like him now."
"After reading Bob Ferry's comments on the late 'Crazy Jack Millen' I have to agree with him. Yes he was a very hard speedway rider, I raced against him quite a few times, but he did have another side. I can remember a time when Bob McNeil and myself travelled from Ellesmere Port to watch a meeting at Bradford the next day, enroute to Oxford the following night. We ended up taking Jimmy Wells back to Jack's place on the Thursday morning, only for Jack to insist that we stayed for breakfast, which we duly did, to be served up blue steak with bread and butter! I must admit it was one of the best breakfasts I'd had until then. Jack was really hospitable, long may he rest in peace, he gave a great deal of enjoyment to a great number of people."
"A pity Dave Gifford leaves such comments about a fellow sportsman, by the way who was Dave Gifford? Was he a track raker? Nuff said!"
"Have read the comments about my late uncle Jack and obviously this guy Dave Gifford didnt know my uncle at all!...true he was a hard man and hard rider but he also had a heart of gold and this has been backed up by people that knew him! Shame on you Dave for slagging a dead man who is not here to defend himself..if he were here today he would probably show you what a good right hook is...go back to raking the track....thank you Bob for sticking up for my uncle!"
"What a shame Dave Gifford never spent the time to get to know the man, because for those that did, they certainly knew CRAZY JACK quite differently. Jack was a man with many faces but there were no hidden agendas, he was always in control, a man that would do anything to help others, a man once met never forgotten, a man that touched the heart of so many, a man that talked a lot of sense, a man that with his death broke a lot of hearts, especially mine, I have never got over the loss of my brother, my world will never be the same. SO, for you Dave, I feel sorry for you and your narrow mind. To others, let us remember the man for what he was - a great guy!"
"Great article that bought back memories of watching Jack ride for Sunderland when they visited Rayleigh in the early 70s . Most of the Rayleigh riders kept clear of Jack on the track, except Brian Foote. They would just bang elbows for 4 laps..!! Met Jack in the bar at Rayleigh once when I was aged 8yrs (1972). He'd just broken his ankle in the meeting, but was sitting at the bar with several pints lined up and happily signed my autograph book. This fits with other comments about there being another very different side to him than the one we saw on the track - we were very catious about asking him for his autrograph thinking he'd be the bad guy, but he wasn't like that at all."
"The narrow minded tripe uttered by Mr Gifford smacks of simple jealousy. Jack Millen was a hard riding speedway showman who played to the crowd! Oh to see his likeness in these boring days of our once so loveable sport. He was exciting to watch, had a heart as big as a house and a sense of humour to match. My home track was Middlesbrough, and I once asked him to come ride for us. He laughed and said he was "Mrs Murphy's cat."(Rough translation from kiwi, I think, means he'd go anywhere if there was good enough incentive!) If rider control sent him to us, he'd do his best for us. To Gill - pay no attention to the likes of Mr Gifford. He was never any good himself, so Jack would have been grateful if he refused to ride with him. Means that all the pressure wouldn't be on him to win, because he had a plonker as a partner. I know what it's like to lose a brother. I'm sorry for your loss, but must say, it broke MY heart too,when Jack died. Still have his photo! God bless yer!"
"I read this article on Jack Millen with a lump in my throat.Along with my late husband we lived adjacent to Crewe speedway.(c1972/4) Jack and his friends were regular visitors to our home.True, he could drink most of us under the table but his sense of fun, compassion and generosity and talent was second to none.There was also another young man, Phil? I think he was their mechanic. He kept in touch when we moved North.I have a horrible feeling that he sadly died too. SHAME on you Gifford, Jack was a breath of fresh air!"
"I was a "pusher" then colour marshall at Sunderland in Jack's early days. While his on track image was macho and agressive, back in the pits he was a guy with a great sense of humour and generosity. I remember him riding at Teesside (Middlesborough) appearing wearing a viking style helmet and black cape in the introductions. He insisted on speaking on the mike while he was being introduced and confidently announced that he was "too good for this place", to a chorus of loud booing from the home fans and cheering from us visitors. He went on to score a 12 point maximum. What a character!"
"As a youngster I remember Millen the Villain at Powderhall in the Monarchs race jacket and he brought such great entertainment to the fans. Unfortunately I didn't know him personally but felt a bit angry and sad for Dave Gifford for making such awful comments. I regularly travel the road where Jack left us in that terrible accident and always have a smile when I pass the exact spot. Crazy Jack brought so much fun to the sport and is warmly remembered by the Monarchs fans."
"Jack Millen rode for Stoke for two seasons, 1975 and 1976. I met him once when he was running a training school at the track and asked him how I should start in speedway. I was only 15 years old at the time and, sadly, it never happened but I found him very enthusiastic and articulate about his sport. Forty years on, he is still a cult hero of mine."
"As an old Leicester Lions supporter I think I only saw Jack Millen twice on the track, once riding as a reserve I believe for Reading at Leicester but I did experience probably the best ( memorable ) speedway meeting of my life so far when I visited Alwalton to see Peterborough v Stoke in I think 1976. My only recollections of the meeting are of Les Collins riding at no. 1 and the black leather clad ' Crazy Jack Millen ' as the second heat leader. I can still picture the scene now when Jack approached the tapes the crowd roaring and Jack diving into the first bend. What a sight and what a character! Sure i have seen riders booed since but not as pure entertainers! Sadly sadly missed and we will never see his like again. RIP ' Crazy Jack'."
"I was only about 11 when he raced for us at Powderhall, always had time to sign autographs at the gate at the pits and no one will ever forget him smashing the exclusion light when he didn't agree with the ref. One of my first speedway heroes. A wonderful rider. "
"I remember a little about Jack racing at Western Springs NZ with his sister as pusher. I still remember last time I seen Jack he was on top of a steel beam welding at shopping centre in Otara South Auckland. How did I know him? I was in his class at Penrose High School. RIP Jack"
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