Photo Gallery: Derek James looks back on the history of speedway in Norwich
15:04 26 July 2012
The memories, happy and sad, are as vivid as ever. And for some that smell from the engines still lingers in the air!
Men, women and children were heartbroken at the sudden and controversial closure of what was considered to be one of the best speedway tracks in the land.
Week in and week out thousands of people from across the city and county flocked to the stadium to enjoy the thrills and spills of speedway.
And then, out of the blue, came the shock announcement towards the end of 1964 that the Cromer Road stadium was closing, and the land was to be re-developed.
The fans were angry. They felt betrayed. The Firs, along with Carrow Road, played a leading role in so many lives – now it was going. For some it was almost their second home.
Norwich is known for having some of the best football fans in the land but there was a time when it also had the most loyal and devoted speedway supporters.
A dream Saturday in old Norwich comprised football in the afternoon, speedway at night and fish and chips at Valori’s on the way home.
Grass track racing started in Norwich in the late 1920s. The first genuine meeting took place in 1931 when a Norwich team took on Staines.
In those days riders often had a cigarette in their mouth as they raced around and the commentator did his announcing from a bus – and then drove home in it.
During the 1930s proper speedway was introduced by “Mad” Max Grosskreutz from Australia who transformed The Firs and entered the Norwich Stars in a new league.
“The crowd shall have their money’s worth. They want thrills: I shall see that they get them,” declared Max.
The Norwich Stars were shining with bumper crowds turning out to watch the likes of Bert Spencer and Dick Wise in full flow.
After the war Wise took over control and this heralded the start of a glory era for speedway with average gates of around 20,000. The riders came from around the world and they were local heroes who always had time for the fans.
By the end of the 1940s The Firs was extended to hold 26,000 and it attracted some of the best riders around – along with Aussies Bert Spencer and Bob Leverenz there were local lads such as Phil Clarke and the mighty atom himself Billy Bales – still living a stone’s throw from the old stadium,
In the mid-50s Norwich staged an England v Australia test match and 28,000 fans turned out to watch.
Then a young man from Sweden arrived who would attract a whole new generation to enjoy the delights of speedway.
His name was Ove Fundin and he went on to be the best speedway rider in the world. For 10 glorious years he wore the Norwich Star with pride. Most riders only saw his back during the race – as The Flying Fox flew past them.
Fearless, ruthless. In Norwich he was an idol. There was no-one else quite like him. He was perhaps the most talented sportsman ever to have represented the city. On his day no-one could touch him.
He was later made a Freeman of Norwich. A rare honour.
In the early 1960s the crowds were still flocking to the Firs to watch the likes of Fundin and Olle Nygren, along with rising stars such as young Trevor Hedge – and the social club was also thriving, holding some of the best dances around.
The team was finishing near the top of the table, picking up trophies and honours, and then in October 1964 it suddenly closed.
It was the end of an era. A deal had been done and the Firs was finished.