When Ray Harris died aged 85 years in April, 2005, it brought back a couple of non-speedway memories about a rider who had such strong links with the sport at Stoke. He spent 11 seasons wit the club and made a record 285 league appearances for the Potters.
I first saw him in action at Eastbourne in 1947 when Stoke visited Arlington for a Division Three. I was a schoolboy taken to the Sussex track as a special treat - and to see Wimbledon loanees like Dennis Grey, Harry Saunders and Jimmy Coy in action for the Eagles.
But it was Harris who caught my attention. He was a stocky little man, unlike the slimmer riders turning out for both sides. But in action, he was hard riding and courageous. I can now understand why he was to become so well-loved by fans at the old long-demolished Sun Street Stadium. And also how, because of his stocky appearance, he became lovingly known as the ‘Portly Potter.”
It was 10 years later that I next saw him - at London’s Liverpool Street Station. I was then a negotiator organising trips to Holland (in slight conjunction with Phil Bishop), and to Germany, Denmark and France.
In May 1957, I had arranged for three riders to compete at Bremen and Oldenburg in Germany. Two of them were Colin Gooddy and Pat Flanagan. The other was Ray Harris.
We smiled when Ray turned up - resplendent in sandals, baggy grey flannels, a blazer and open-neck white shirt. We also smirked knowingly when we saw his bike - it had a rear suspension unit fitted. Inwardly we all thought - ‘what sort of speedway rider is this?’
When we got to Germany we found out. Flanagan and Gooddy raced conventional bikes on the two bumpy German tracks. They struggled for points. Harris revelled in the conditions and took top place behind the Polish star Marian Kaiser at both meetings. Only the home-bred German favourite Hans Jager could live with Kaiser and Harris and his rear suspension on track. Harris’ hard-riding no-nonsense style gained from the tougher grounding of British league racing saw us nick-name him ‘Bomber’ for his brave style of riding.
He had a fine sense of humour - as did his companions. With some shame I now recall an incident late at night in a hotel corridor. I found an old tin bath, persuaded Harris to sit in it, then with Gooddy and Flanagan pushed him up and down the corridor making sounds we though were like speedway bikes revving up. The other residents - very understandably were annoyed. Suffice to stay, we moved on to a new hotel the next day.
Off-track, Harris had a love for ‘scrumpy’ cider. He told us what a marvellous drink it was. One time Wimbledon team boss Dingle Brown recalled: “When I was a 1960s junior at Stoke, Ray always used to bring me some ‘scrumpy’ which he fermented in a barrel at his home. It was potent stuff”.