Requiem for a Speedway Team
1972 finally saw the end of Speedway at West Ham, and it was a sad end.
Although the First Division Hammers were no more and their racing Licence had been sold off to Ipswich, speedway had one last fling.
Second Division Romford had long running problems with complaints from the local residents about the noise of the racing (which was not helped by the fact that their Brooklands Stadium was in the middle of a Housing estate. A final court action had forced them out of the stadium, and they were looking for a new home.
The stadium at Custom House had a stay of execution, although the stadium was not looking its best because of the planned closed down and it was showing its 40 plus years of age, Romford moved in, becoming the `West Ham Bombers`, after their Romford team name. The track also was in poor condition; Stock car racing was doing a lot of damaged to the one time superior raceway.
West Ham track was renowned for being good, and no less a man the New Zealand's four times World Speedway Champion (so he must know what he is talking about), Barry Briggs had said that it was Britain's outstanding racing track, fast and wide with plenty of room to overtake.
Although it was speedway, it was not what we were used to, the only face we really knew was Hammers old favourite Stan Stevens, who was team Captain, plus a couple of juniors who had raced the odd second half in the past.
Only the real out and out fans went, and even I had missed a few matches.
I was now in the third year of my Apprenticeship and had problems fitting the matches in, some times getting home to late to go, and to be honest the interest had waned.
The team carried on till May, then after 44 years, it was all over, the rumoured closure finally happened, and the last match was on the 23rd of May against Hull, which saw a lot of the old supporters come to show their respects, but the match was more of a Wake as Speedway was finally laid to rest.
It was not helped by the fact in the first heat both West Ham riders' engines failed, giving a 5-1 to Hull, which was nearly a 5-0, but for Kevin Holden pushing his bike for over half a lap.
The Hammers lost 38-40, which really summed up the last year of the sport.
The second half saw the Alf Weedon Farewell Trophy. The late Kevin Holden became the last man to win a Race and a Trophy at West Ham.
West Ham had one more match as a team, which was an away match at Workington, but just to finalise it all, the match was rained off, our biggest enemy had the final victory! The team then moved off to Barrow.
In the end there was yet another delay in the demolition of the Stadium and it turned out they could have completed the season there. The following Tuesday saw the remains of West Ham Speedway sold off to the highest bidder, Speedway had finally died.
This article was first published on 26th August 2010
"There is a very interesting recording of the last Hammers meeting at Custom House which can be viewed on the British Pathe News website. If you enter "West Ham Speedway" in the search box, you will be able to view the 5 min rec. I had actually forgotten that the track had reopened again. By the way, a good few other historical recordings can be found on the site."
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