Dream Team : Geoff Langley
I spent the first 8 years of my life growing up in a house in Otley Road, West Ham which led straight down to the main gate of West Ham Stadium. No prizes for guessing which club is closest to my heart!
I have vague memories of being taken the Speedway in the early 1950's but my fondest memories were of going when first Hackney, then West Ham reopened in my teenage years. Hackney was good but in my opinion there has never been anywhere like West Ham. A wonderfully atmospheric stadium with probably the best track in the country. When the track eventually closed it was almost physically painfully to me.
I maintained interest at Hackney for a while but it was never the same and eventually I became an armchair fan, watching on TV only. I started going once again to Lakeside when Stuart Douglas and Jon Cook took over it was just like old times. My love for the sport had been rekindled, and shabby though the stadium was, I had some of my happiest times there. So my dream team is my favourite riders from West Ham and Lakeside.
A great rider and perhaps more importantly a great team rider. Leigh Lannham put about a point on his average when riding at No 2 with AJ at No 1. Later, when he was paired with Kim Nilsson who rode at No 5 you could almost write 5-1 in the programme before tapes went up. A consummate professional with his machinery preparation.
Quite simply the greatest exponent of track craft I have ever seen, coupled with a great racing brain. Could ride any part of the track. Imaculate machinery and always totally in control of his bike. He joined the Hammers at the start of the 1965 season and it was mid June before he dropped a point at home. Like AJ a great team rider.
Another great stylist. I could watch him riding round on his own and be entertained, his style and control was so outstanding. Totally unflappable and totally dependable he steadied the team through many difficult matches. I remember one meeting against Birmingham when the Brummies had the upper hand. By the start of heat thirteen, Lakeside had only recorded three race wins, all them by PK. The Hammers went on to win the Match, with PK on a Maximum.
Probably my all time favourite rider, I watched his progress from No4 to No 1 at Hackney in the Provincial League then from second string to Heatleader at West Ham, then seeing him beating the great Ove Fundin in an international meeting before sustaining the hand injury which curtailed his progress. I am sure he could have reached genuine world class had it not been for the injury.
What can one say about "the Heart Throb"? Absolutely spectacular, he just didn't know when to shut the throttle and it was that never-say-die attitude that led to the crash and severe iinjury when the World Championship was almost in touching distance. After that he was only a shadow of his former self. I saw him recently at the celebration of Speedway at Paradise Park. He still looks well for his age and look every bit the part warming up a JAP that someone had restored.
Every Hammers side since Bluey Wilkinson has needed an Aussie. Watty gets the place because he is a great force in the pits encouraging everyone. It's often said that when you have someone like Watty in the pits it's like having three or four points on the board before the meeting starts.
A bit of a home track specialist, and not so good away but always gives total commitment. Just gets on and does his job with no fuss, and a thoroughly nice guy. You need people like that in a team.
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This article was first published on 15th January 2023
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