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The 1966 World Cup Final

Held in Reserve - Colin Pratt

We've heard a lot this year about the 50th anniversary of England's win in the Football World Cup, less well remembered is the Speedway World Cup final of the same year.

The event took place in Wroclaw with the Polish home side taking on the might of Russia, Great Britain and Sweden. An astonishing 65,000 fans packed the terraces, virtually all supporting the home side in those days where the Iron Curtain made travelling to such far-off lands next to impossible. Indeed even when you were in Poland, making progress on the roads could be difficult as the British contingent found out when it took them over 8 hours to travel from the airport to the track.

Great Britain in those days considered virtually anyone from the commonwealth to be "British" and were therefore able to call upon both Ivan Mauger and Barry Briggs to lead the side. They were joined by three pukka Brits - Nigel Boocock, Terry Betts and Colin Pratt.

It looked a decent side on paper, with Pratt selected as reserve in the five man side, not guaranteed a ride, but available should one of the others be out of form.

Sadly, too many of his colleagues proved to be out of form and the meeting turned out to be one of the biggest embarrassments in the history of the national side.

The meeting got off to a bad start for the Brits when the experienced Boocock fell on the first turn, the race continued without him and the Poles won the heat to open up a lead they were never to lose.

Barry Briggs picked up a third place in heat two, benefiting from an engine failure for Ove Fundin. Incredibly the next point the team got wasn't until heat 7 when 'Booey' picked up another third place. After eight heats and two rides each, the Brits had only managed those two points between them. The hosts had already accumulated 20 and were out of sight. Even then they thought it was all over.

Over the course of the remaining 8 heats, things picked up very slightly, including second places for Ivan Mauger and Boocock. Colin Pratt was introduced in heat 10 to replace Terry Betts, but he too was unable to trouble the scorers and Betts was reinstated for his last race.

After the 16th and final race, the scores on the doors were:

 

Poland 40 [ Pogorzeslki 8; Wyglenda 11; Woryna 11; Rose 10; Migos dnr ]

Russia 26 [ Trofimov 6; Plechanov 6; Samarodov 10; Szajnurov 5; Chekranov dnr ]

Sweden 22 [ Knuttson 11; Fundin 2; Nordin 3; Enecrona 4; Larsson 2]

Great Britain 8 [ Briggs 1; Betts 0; Boocock 4; Mauger 3; Pratt 0 ]

 

So, what went wrong?

A contemporary news report suggested the Brits got their style totally wrong:

"The Polish and Russians adopted a technique almost akin to road racing and the British and Swedish contingents, employing their usual styles, could never match them for power and pace"

Colin Pratt put it partly down to bad luck:

"I'm not just saying this because he's a mate of mine, but Terry Betts had three great rides for no points. He was going as hard as he ever had done and had no luck"

 

Great Britain manager Charles Knott gave a full and frank account of events to Speedway Star magazine (23/9/1966 edition):

"The festivals of ancient Rome when the Christians were thrown to the lions for the sport of the populace must have been merciful compared to the mauling that the British and Swedish riders-with the sole exception of brilliant Bjorn Knutsson-received from the Poles and Russia in the World Team Cup Final.

Wroclaw Stadium was the scene of a Polish festival. In beautiful sunshine 65,000 madly excited Poles filled the stadium to overflowing and their countrymen did not disappoint them. The crowd witnessed some fine racing and such was the Polish supremacy that they won 11 of the 16 heats, Bjorn Knutsson winning three for Sweden and Boris Samorodov two for Russia.

The track admirably suited the Polish style; they and the Russians drove round as if road racing while the British and 1966 British League members of the Swedish team (namely, Fundin, Nordin and Enecrona) slid their machines into the bends in the accepted British speedway style.

Nigel Boocock's fall on the first bend of the first race after a good start was a bitter blow to the British confidence and when an unfit Barry Briggs could not get the expected response from his machine in Heat 2, anxiety spread in the British pits.

Ivan Mauger changed his machine for one loaned by Marian Kaiser in his second ride only to be halted by fuel starvation after taking a lot of dirt, and Barry mounted the Kaiser ESO for his second ride but then went back to his own bike. Mauger, however, used Terry Betts' machine for his last two rides.

To what extent the troubles were temperamental rather than factual is debatable. Confidence is so vital in any sport.

A disastrous first half was slightly redeemed later by gallant and determined riding by Nigel and Ivan. But for the occasions when Knutsson spoiled their fun, however, it was a battle between the Poles and the Russians with the Poles on top. All four Poles rode magnificently and it is hard to say who was the best. Woryna's victory over Knutsson earns him the Oscar for the star turn of the meeting.

One could not fail to feel sorry for Pogorzelski when the entire crowd gave him the "whistle" when his machine failed in Heat 15. The score at that stage was 37-22 over the nearest challengers and the cup was well and truly won!

Such a shattering defeat needs explanation to the British speedway public. Let me say at once that our boys and the Swedes too for that matter were, if anything, trying too hard and became unsettled in the face of such superb organisation of the Iron Curtain teams. At practice on the Saturday we were given every opportunity to get the feel of the track and all the team felt happy with the trial runs and their machines.

Even then, however, it was clear that the Poles, with 12 men practising, and mountains of tyres and spares, were the best equipped. On the day of the final the pits of the Poles and Russians teemed with mechanics, spare wheels with new tyres for changing every race and at least one new spare ESO for each member of the side-a vivid comparison with the two volunteer mechanics of the British side and such few spares as the homesters could afford. But for the magnificent gesture of Marian Kaiser who lent his machine and his untiring efforts as mechanic we would have been even worse off. It was poor consolation that the Swedes were no better equipped.

It is easy to see that the home team can provide the necessary support and also the Russians who merely had to cross the border-but to transport and provide such facilities for the British lads would have cost a sum which only British speedway as a whole could possibly have borne. One lesson from Wroclaw is that Briggs, Mauger, Boocock, Fundin, Nordin and company must be adequately backed and financed if future World Team Cup finals are not to be a repeat of this debacle. British speedway needs to apply the methods of English football and no longer rely on the brilliance of individuals.

Given the equipment and practice on these tracks we could again be champions of the world. Nevertheless emphasis must be placed on the fact that the lesson was taught by great riders, wonderfully supported both by their national clubs and the fans. The Poles on the day were fantastic, the Russians almost as good and Knutsson was splendid, but the rest were gallant triers who were not in the picture. The Polish crowd was pro-British and gave us every encouragement. The organisation and presentation was worthy of Wembley and the hospitality extended could have not been bettered. Still, this was the Poles' great day-for their riders, officials and the Sparta club who organised the event. "

 

This article was first published on 2nd October 2016

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  • Tracy Holmes:

    "Brilliant work, cheers! Does anyone have a snap of Poland with the trophy?"  

     

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