Chris Lakey: King's Lynn Stars just two steps from sporting heaven
PUBLISHED: 17:11 05 October 2018 | UPDATED: 17:11 05 October 2018
It was back in 1965 when the speedway stadium at King's Lynn came into being, with a 400-yard shale track constructed as the Stars took on the mantle of Norfolk's only speedway team from the defunct Norwich Stars.
Giants of the sport have ridden around every yard of what is generally viewed as one of the best racing tracks in the country.
Back in the day I saw the likes of Ivan Mauger, Ole Olsen, Barry Briggs and home riders like Terry Betts and Michael Lee strut their stuff around Saddlebow. There were many, many more - but some just stick in your mind...
I saw the Stars become the Knights and the Silver Machine, I’ve seen the yellow and green team colours changed to black and then to yellow and blue, the same as the colours of the town’s crest and its football club.
I’ve seen the brilliant Edwin Overland go from making his own commentary cassettes from the centre green to one of, if not THE, best speedway MC you will find.
And I have made new friends among an always loyal supporter base that has shared the ups and down of life in west Norfolk.
But none of us has ever seen King’s Lynn Stars crowned the country’s speedway champions, which seems absurd.
A team that has, since 1965, missed just one season of competing, have never won the title. They have won the second tier, but the ultimate prize has eluded them.
It may be a geographical thing: the top riders jet around Europe earning their living. Some have given up riding here, some are available to the highest bidder, some might consider Lynn out on a limb when it comes to their planes, trains and automobiles life, It’s probably clutching at straws. Maybe they were simply always destined to miss out.
It may well happen this season, despite the fact that they have already done the job once by finishing at the top of the Premiership table after the regular league season. Those who read this column (and it doesn’t even have to be regularly) will know that, to me, play-offs in any sport are about as welcome as Theresa May at an Abba tribute gig.
The play-off semi-finals saw Lynn beat Belle Vue over two legs and Poole overcome Somerset. Just to extend the ‘play-offs are ridiculous’ theme, only three Premiership teams - Swindon, Wolverhampton and Leicester – did NOT qualify for the play-offs. That’s it. Seven teams. And still they have the play-offs.
So Lynn now have to overcome Poole over two legs – next Monday in the west country and then the season finale on what will be a mahoosive night at King’s Lynn next Wednesday.
It will be one of the biggest sporting nights in Norfolk this year: off the top of my head the only other to match it was a couple of miles across town at The Walks when the Linnets played Slough Town in a Southern League Premier play-off final. Lynn finished second at the end of the regular season, in which only the champions (Hereford) were guaranteed promotion. Lynn lost - one of the few times that brilliant season they didn’t ‘turn up’ for a game.
King’s Lynn sports fans – and there are many who follow the fortunes of both the Linnets and the Stars – don’t deserve another huge disappointment.
Fortunately, the man (just) who many will look to next week is a local. Robert Lambert is a 20-year-old from north Norfolk, although his demeanour suggests he has much more mature head on his shoulders. Lambert is a rider of great quality, but in the last year or so his career has taken off in the way his front wheel does as he does another celebratory wheelie. A two-time British Under-21 champion, and this year the full British champion, captain of the team that finished top of the table and, if you have watched him on the TV, someone who speaks well, acts well and keeps his head while all around him are tempted to lose theirs.
Lambert has been riding Saddlebow for five years now and been mastering two wheels and an engine for much longer. Such a good prospect was he that Lynn’s fixtures early in the 2013 season were delayed so that he would be 16 years of age and, therefore, able to race in them.
Norfolk born and bred, Lambert will know as well as anyone what winning this title means to King’s Lynn Stars, to its supporters, to people like the owner Buster Chapman, who has been part of the scene for more years than most can remember.
Best wishes to them all. History is in the making (even if in my mind you’ve made it already).
British boxing is in as good health as it has ever been.
We have champions coming out of our ears, and domestic shows are regarded as being up there with the best in the world.
We can fill enormous stadiums and we can make sporting superstars of the best the sport can offer. And we can just as easily give it a self-inflicted bloody nose. A wake-up call if you like.
A couple of things that have happened this week have illustrated the weaknesses, the little gaps which really shouldn’t be there.
One involves Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder and one involves someone closer to home, Norfolk’s Ryan Walsh.
Let’s get rid of Fury and Wilder first: these are two men who are in danger of giving the Floyd Mayweather-Conor McGregor farce a good name. Wilder and Fury have been conducting a series of media interviews at which they feign anger and fisticuffs. Truth is, one face off for the cameras is enough: the rest is boring.
While they are in danger of bringing boxing into unofficial disrepute, I believe Isaac Lowe has already done that. Lowe was due to take on Walsh for the local man’s British featherweight belt in a November rematch of their draw in February. Lowe has decided, instead, to fight on the undercard of Fury-Wilder in Los Angeles on December 1.
“I just want to say I’m very sorry to the fans and the Walsh team for pulling out of this fight,” Lowe wrote on Twitter. “I really did want to beat Ryan and put the draw right and get that British belt, but I had a chance to fulfil a lifelong dream to box in America on the world’s biggest heavyweight fight.” Lowe goes on to say he hopes to get the chance to meet Walsh again.
What the British Boxing Board of Control needs is a system whereby a boxer who pulls out of a fight in this manner has to pay compensation to the opponent who is left high and dry. Walsh doesn’t skimp on his preparations and it does not come cheaply. If a replacement fight isn’t made he will be left twiddling his thumbs and out of pocket. And while you are at it, put a red line through Lowe’s name for future title fights. He has disrespected Walsh as well as the British belt.