Remember the Tricky days at the Firs?
PUBLISHED: 13:32 08 November 2010
Derek James looks back at the early days of speedway in Norfolk
Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce you to the one and only Tricky Newman – not forgetting his Lady Partner – the star of the show in Norwich of almost 80 years ago.
These rare and glorious pictures belong to Sue Edwards and it was her grandfather, Don Hannent, who was one of the men who first brought speedway to Norfolk back in the 1930s.
They give a real taste of what it was like in those pioneering days, when thousands of people would gather to watch the early racers.
The recent death of the much-loved former Norwich Stars hero Phil Clarke prompted more memories of the fabulous Firs in the 1930s, where Phil and other local lads grew up watching the early riders and were inspired to take up the sport.
The first meeting, in the summer of 1930, was organised by Don Hannent on behalf of the Eastern Speedways Motor Club.
Crowds of about 5,000 gathered for the first meetings and Don, always a man who knew how to put on a show full of thrills and spills which attracted the people, also staged novelty acts between races.
One of the most popular was the ace daredevil himself Tricky Newman and his Lady Partner – the crowds loved him and his great stunts, all carried out at a hefty lick!
They first appeared in Norwich in June 1931, giving what was described as a breathtaking exhibition of their daredevil motor skills and acrobatics, which was said to have aroused much enthusiasm and applause.
The first act, performed just before the interval, saw Tricky and his partner taking a dangerous bend, standing on the machine.
“Imagine yourself,” said a report at the time, “ sitting on a pillion of a motorcycle and being transformed gradually to the front mudguard, facing the driver – that was the experience that Tricky’s lady partner had.”
On another occasion she remained seated on the pillion while Tricky guided the machine sitting on the front mudguard, facing the opposite direction to which he was travelling.
But one trick of Tricky’s, which really got the crowd going, he did on his own. He sat on the front mudguard facing the direction in which he was travelling, with his legs bent back on the foot rest and his hands behind his back guiding the machine!
“And how would you like to travel round the track as a pillion passenger standing on your head? Not a comfortable position,” added the report of the display.
As the crowd cheered, clapped and shouted their approval, Tricky and his lady friend performed a range of bizarre feats... sitting on the mudguard and standing on his head on the pillion went down particularly well.
The applause at the end of his act was described as “thunderous.”
And when Tricky and his Lady Partner – it’s a shame we don’t know her name – finished their act, the tough old speedway boys of the day were back in the action.
Some raced wearing jacket and tie with a cigarette between their lips.
They were real tough nuts.
They were the likes of “Speedy” Jack Newlands, Aussie Jack Symthe, and crowd-pleaser big Bert Gerrish, a 16-stone London lad who was a good friend of race organiser Don Hannent and a star act.
Many of these men also performed under different names – Bert was Johnny Bull. Then there was Arthur Reynolds, the former captain who also rode as Fred Leavis and Bert Peters was in fact Bill Butler. Or was it the other way round?!
These rough and tumble riders were the first stars of speedway and it was thanks to them the sport became so popular.
By 1933 The Firs was a licensed floodlit track attracting some of the best riders in the land.
One of the first big meetings was a special Australian Riders v The Rest challenge match and then a proper stadium was built in Norwich.
It fizzled out for a few years and then came back with a bang in 1937 under the leadership of a colourful Australian by the name of “Mad” Max Grosskreutz.
If you know more about Tricky and his “Lady Partner” drop me a line at Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich NR1 1RE, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org