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Australians at Ipswich - Part One
By Tony Webb

My speedway spiritual home is Ipswich it has been my idea for years to record those early times and list the Australian riders who won the hearts off the faithful Suffolk fans. I think it is appropriate before I start to give my personal background connection to the those wonderful years when speedway was in its golden era

Back in 1949 our family business, J S Alderton Civil engineers of Felsted and Ipswich, they had a yard on Foxhall Road near Waldringfield where former Ipswich and Exeter rider Colin Cook's father was workshop manager, Aldertons won the contract to build a new stadium with a 410 yard shale track based on the Norwich circuit design. The site was a sloping section of sandy heath land on Foxhall Heath some six miles from the city centre.

My relatives were all employed on the construction which had many delays due to post war shortages and connection of power. Some of the buildings were ex-army huts and wartime disposal material. The steel safety fence and lighting came from the defunct Hull Speedway. I believe we had shares in Ipswich Speedway ltd and our company J.S.Alderton ran an advertisement in the first year's programmes.The red shale for the track was stored at the yard behind our house at Felsted and we pinched some of it to sprinkle on our cycle speedway track. The Alderton office was part of our family house that is how I am privy first hand to all this information.

I can recall the opening day on Easter Monday March 28th 1951 when my family were special guests, along with coach loads of our company's workers from Essex. We drove from nearby Waldringfield to the stadium in a snowstorm, the roads were blocked by traffic for miles around the stadium and I witnessed my first meeting rained off, one of many over the next 70 years.

My uncle the late Rod Laudrum worked on the track construction as a D9 operator on the cut and fill work and came to be the first signing, he had spent part of the previous year riding at Shelbourne Park in Ireland and was my lifelong mentor. Rod was a passionate supporter of the Witches and attended almost every meeting, he always said hello to the number one Ipswich supporter 'Grandma Witch'. Our home base was in Essex where I watched speedway at Rayleigh but Ipswich was always my first love.

I devoured all the many speedway magazines and read the fascinating stories of these film star like speedway riders who were coming to England from those faraway places with names like Cowboy Bob Sharp, Bluey Scott, The White Ghost, The Blonde Bombshell, Little Boy Blue etc. of course I believed every story I read and sadly the advance fanfare was too much to live up to for some Australian riders.

In 1951 forty two riders arrived in England from Australia, to be met at the docks by hordes of reporters, photographers, talent scouts and promoters. Seventy years later it has been a constant joy to meet my childhood heroes and relive the times when I chased their autographs and cut their photos from the speedway magazines,

It is against this background that my speedway journey began, first as a fan, a novice rider, would be promoter, spares dealer, sponsor and in my later years historian, author and restorer.

I have seen speedway from both sides of the fence, from the glory days when Ipswich would draw 20,000 for a Third division match to the pitiful attendances of today.

But enough about me, now to Australians at Ipswich where they were often front page features on the Speedway star, Speedway Gazette, Speedway News and Speedway World weeklies.

Sydney sider Vic Sage was the first Australian signing in late 1951. Claiming to be an Airline pilot the burly Sage had failed at Wolverhampton and Edinburgh but was given a chance at Ipswich, he returned to Australia for 1951/1952 season but was back for the Witches in 1952.

He held a team spot for 16 meetings with a respectable first year average of 4.22 until mid-season when injury forced an early return home, he returned again in 1953 after a successful season in Brisbane where he set a track record but he found it hard to regain his team spot. He joined Poole as a track manager. My uncle Rod was not impressed by his illustrious team mate claiming he had more front than Myers, with his colourful stories.

He led a colourful life and passed away on the Gold Coast a few years ago at the age of 90. Vic Sage will go down in the speedway history as the Witches' first Australian.

 

This article was first published on 15th August 2021

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