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 The final roar 1957 to 1985

Wembley Lions

Something looked very odd about the start of the 1957 season, no Lions.

For the first time since Speedway leagues had begun in 1929, there was no Wembley. The track was still there, although the bends had to be relayed after Football`s FA cup Final, a problem that had plagued Wembley for many years.

It was still used for big events like the World Championship final, although even this was not just held at Wembley. In 1961 for the first time since 1936, the final moved out of England and went to Malmo in Sweden. Because the Swedish riders had been doing to well in recent finals, it was agreed they could hold the event.

After that Wembley became just one of the final venues, although it did hold other prestige events.

In 1964 Wembley entered the record books yet again, when the first test match was held between Great Britain and Soviet Russia. On the 4th July the Great Russian Bear took to the track, which for many years had been the home of the Lions. The match was a victory for Great Britain, but an even bigger victory for sport. Although the Russian had lost 73-35, and in heat 11 the Russian rider Vitaly Shilo had been serious injured after crashing, the fans loved the Russian style of riding.

At the end of the racing, the fans refused to leave the stadium, but instead begun chanting "We want the Russians!". A slightly puzzled Russian team then had to do a Lap of Honour, to great cheers and clapping from the Fans. The Wembley track was a little small for the Russian style of riding, but once let on the larger tracks like West Ham, their ESO/JAWA bikes showed just what they could do.

Wembley continued to hold big events, and then in 1970 the Lions roared again.

Managed by twice World Champion and ex Lion Freddie Williams, with ex-lion Trevor Readman, `the flying Kiwi`, as a part of the Promoters, the Lions raced their first match on the 30th May against Hackney. There was another ex-lion connection, one of the Hackney team was Jimmy Gooch who had been signed up directly from the Army in the late 40`s and had ridden for Wembley up till 1956. The Lions were led by arguable the greatest Speedway rider ever, Ove Fundin, who had won his first World Championship at Wembley in 1956. Although the racing was good, the Lions only managed to come 15th out of 20, their worst showing ever.

1971 saw an improved Wembley, which at one stage looked like a second West Ham, with ex-hammers, Sverre Harrfeldt, Tony Clarke, Brain Leonard and Dave Jessup. The Lions came 9th in the British league Division One.

There should have been a 1972 season, but the Wembley Stadium management pulled the plug on the Lions, so along with West Ham, these two great teams disappeared from the Sport of Speedway, never to return.

Wembley continued to hold the odd large event.

It is now 1985, and the World final is back home at Wembley,

America's Bruce Penhall won the final, 48 years after the first American Jack Milne won it. That year was one of the rare finals when 1,2 & 3 all came from the same Country, with Wilbur Lamoreaux coming 2nd and Jack`s brother Cordy coming third. Little did the fans at that final realise they were watching the last ever speedway meeting at Wembley.

Before we finally lower the chequered flag on the Lions, they have one more for the record book. A few hundred yards for the Empire stadium is the Empire Pool.

In 1979, the first indoor speedway match was held. Ivan Mauger won it, another multiple World Champion.

A few more matches were held there, the last was being in 1983.

Wembley stadium like the Lions is now gone, and the New Wembley,  have no plans to allow Speedway back. But you never know, there might be a little Lion cub somewhere who has a plan that one day he may lead the pack back to the Home of the Wembley Lions!

Up the Lions (and the Hammers)

Robert Rogers.


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