Post by thebaldeagle1932 on Jan 28, 2009 23:02:10 GMT
Cecil de la Porte was a South African rider who came to Britain. He arrived in 1935 and signed for Wembley. The following year he represented South Africa in qualifying rounds of the World Championship.
De la Porte had won South Africa’s nomination after beating Stan Collins for the SA Dirt Track Championship in November 1935. De la Porte had second-half rides at Wembley in 1935 and the following year raced for the club’s second team the Wembley Cubs before moving in 1937 to link with fellow countryman Keith Harvey at Birmingham.
Legend has that in his early days at Wembley, de la Porte fell out with the Lions’ distinguished Australian international Lionel van Praag who warned him: “Keep out of my way or I’ll run over you!”
Apparently, in one race de la Porte failed to remember this and Praagie was as good as his word.
Post by tungate on Jan 29, 2009 15:34:02 GMT
Cecil de la Porte was in the Birmingham team against Norwich during 1937. I think this was his only season over here in U K though in league racing in the 2nd division
Post by tungate on Jan 29, 2009 16:10:34 GMT
Wembley was the first London track I went to. The crowd and the noise was unbelievable to me, a seven year=old kid at the time. The meeting was the 1946 British Riders Champinship Final and we had Bert Spencer & Wilf Jay (Reserve) to represent Norwich in it. Bert scored 5 and Wilf only got to ride in the pre-match parade from what I remember. Of course I got to go to many matches at Wembley later in life, but that first night will always remain a fascinating experience.
Post by Administrator on Oct 11, 2009 12:20:24 GMT
THIS article was published in the now defunct Vintage Speedway Magazine in the early 1990s. It was written by the respected journalist John Chaplin.
Wembley - The Last Amen
WEMBLEY Stadium, the scene of so much speedway hope and glory, is being demolished. But it seems to Vintage Speedway Magazine Editor John Chaplin that it is being confined to its last resting place, not with a roar as befits its 52-year association with our sport, but with a whimper. Here is his tribute to Wembley - speedway's spiritual home - and the man who seems to have been largely overlooked as the executioners have moved in, Sir Arthur 'Mr Wembley' Elvin.
(Feature starts here)
SPEEDWAY racing did not die on Saturday, September 5, 1981 - the night that the charismatic American Bruce Penhall won the World Speedway Championship with such style and grace. Speedway died at Wembley 24 years earlier, aboard a cruise liner off the coast of the holiday island of Madeira in the south Atlantic when Sir Arthur James Elvin was buried at sea.
As the crew and passengers of the ship committed his body to the deep, they could not have been aware that as his shroud slipped beneath the waves, they were also sending to Davey Jones's Locker more than a quarter of a century of speedway racing at the mighty Empire Stadium, the greatest sporting arena in the world.
Sir Arthur owned Wembley - albeit for only one solitary, single minute, and how that came about we will come to in due course. More importantly he was a speedway fan. He adored the sport. But as his body was tilted over the rails of the liner that was taking the ailing Sir Arthur towards some receational sunshine, speedway was also mourning the loss of its 'greatest and most powerful friend'.
The words are those of the distinguished and legendary chronicler of the dirt-track art, Basil Storey, as part of an Elvin eulogy in the old Speedway Star & News on February 23, 1957, just a few days after the great man's death.
Those of us long enough in the speedway tooth to recall the glory days of the Wembley Lions will know that meetings there began with the Lions' famous signature tune, The Entry Of The Gladiators. Storey described Sir Arthur as Wembley's 'Gladiator In Chief'.
His power lay in his dynamic drive and a personality that, wrote Storey, 'virtually ruled the sport'.
'Indeed,' went on Basil, ' it is impossible for anyone to even attempt to describe in cold print how much Sir Arthur Elvin meant to speedway. He is completely, tragically, irreplaceable.'
Those words were to come painfully true within weeks. On March 14, a promoters' meeting in London was handed an official statement informing them that Wembley - in the absence of its Gladiator In Chief - had decided to close.
It was the third staggering blow to the sport right at the beginning of one of speedway's unhappiest years. The week before Sir Arthur's death, one of the sport's most colourful characters, Birmingham captain Alan Hunt, had been killed in a racing accident in South Africa.
His side was to ride only nine league matches before the plug was pulled on the Brummies in a row over rider suspensions for appearing on apartheid-riven Union tracks. To compound the sport's misery, Poole closed and Bradford went after only 11 league matches.
Until that time, Elvin's love of speedway had kept the sport alive at his prestigious stadium when financial returns might have dictated otherwise. And yet Wembley was easily the most successful post-war team, with seven league titles and two runners-up places in 11 seasons, plus other residual cup and trophy, team and individual achievements (including three World Championships), too.
The truth was that the sensationally huge post-war boom, that had seen thousands locked out regularly from the 125,000 capacity Wembley of those days, was over. And, according to Storey, 'much drivel has been written, mostly by unwitting provincial pens, concerning the alleged harmful influence of Wembley's power in speedway.
'Drivel, believe me, is the operative word,' he wrote. 'For Wembley has been the beacon of hope to which a near-dying sport has clung these last three years of more.'
Basil was also at pains to point out: 'As a senior speedway reporter (he covered the sport for the Daily Express at the time), I'm prepared to confess right now that, but for Sir Arthur Elvin's continued association with the sport, it would probably have been next to impossible to "sell" speedway to the national Press.
'The national Press has been burying speedway for years. But the fact that Elvin of Wembley, through thick and thin, remained actively connected with the game, stayed the Fleet Street voice from declaring the last Amen.
'You could see it in an editor's eyes - "Elvin's in it . . . it can't be so bad!"'
At the time, tracks had been sinking to the right of us, and tracks had been sinking to the left of us - in London and the provinces - like ships in a storm. But, for the struggling survivors in the speedway lifeboats, there was always the friendly, encouraging gleam of the Wembley beacon piercing the tempest.
While there was Wembley, it was considered that there was hope.
Speedway's 'spiritual home' is how it was described in the advertisements for the recent End Of An Era Banquet Of The Stars. It was a bash thrown by four-times World Champion Barry Briggs and the Veteran Speedway Riders Association to mark the demise of the great City Of Play after 77 years of sporting drama, of triumph and of shattered dreams too.
Those wonderful, magnificent listed world-famous twin towers may well have already crumbled under the onslaught of the heavy duty bulldozers - for it will surely take more than one of the mechanical beasts to do away with the edifices that have, down the years, inspired thousands of sporting heroes, heroines - and yes, villains as well.
The stadium walls, described in its opening programme in 1923 as equalling the circumference of the fabled biblical city of Jericho, have at last come tumbling down. By rights, the 21st century trumpet blast that reduced them to dust should have at least honoured them with a rendering of The Last Post, the traditional lament for all fallen warriors.
And you, who thrill to the present-day speedway Grand Prix tournaments, would do well to pause for a moment and offer a second or two of personal silent tribute to the memory of the grand and glorious arena that has spread its magic worldwide. A tear would not go amiss, either.
I will certainly shed several at the passing of Wembley. We shall, my friends, never see its like again, for be assured that whatever the big, bad, bullying Football Association and the bumbling bean counters of Whitehall choose to have erected in its stead, there is unlikely to be a place for a speedway track.
Yet, had it not been for the dirt-track sport, it is almost certain that the big, bad, bullying Football Association would not have had a Wembley Stadium to commandeer. It was only after the edges of the soccer pitch failed to knit back together one night in a torrential rainstorm that the soccer panjandrums started throwing wobblies about speedway at Wembley. The two sports had co-existed entirely harmoniously since 1929 until then.
As late as May 1988, Wembley's general manager for many years, George Stanton, confessed that speedway had 'kept the wolf from the Wembley Stadium doors in the lean years after World War II'.
Had it not been so, there could have been no 1948 Olympic Games in Britain, for which the speedway Lions graciously stepped aside and gave up their stadium to race most of their season at the hated home of the Wimbledon Dons. There may also never have been an England World Cup soccer triumph in 1966 - which led, of course, to the subsequent metamorphosis of soccer as God.
For the early post-war weekly speedway crowds were vast. Get your laughing gear around this 1946 lot - 65,000 on May 23 for Wembley v New Cross; 76,000 on June 20 against Belle Vue; 67,000 on July 4 v New Cross again; 85,000 on July 11 against West Ham; and at the final meeting of 1946, on October 3, they had to close the stadium gates with 20,000 more fans outside who had the meeting relayed to them by loudspeaker. Even half of Fleet Street's representatives failed to gain admission until shortly before the interval.
The car park contained 2,000 vehicles, and many people who arrived in motor coaches didn't even bother to get out. They stayed put and listened. Extra police were rushed in to control the thousands locked out.
That night Wembley beat Wimbledon 58 - 38 in an ACU Cup match, but an additional reason for the hysteria could well have been the fact that a dotty professor by the name of A.M. Low had persuaded speedway manager Alec Jackson it would be a good idea of Wembley skipper Bill Kitchen demonstrated a rocket-assisted speedway machine.
The editor of the Speedway News, the sport's leading magazine of the time, reported: 'You will probably agree with me that the phenomenon of the night was not so much Professor Low's rocket-assisted motorcycle, as the fact that well over 100,000 enthusiasts endeavoured to get in . . . Wembley's figures have been remarkable; I await their publication with the expectancy that they will reach an average of 55,000 . . .'
That's a meeting, of course. In the event the average was 52,000 that year, or a total of more than 1,250,000.
But, in the beginning, the customers weren't exactly fighting to get into Wembley. When Sir Arthur first introduced speedway to the Empire Stadium in May 1929, he was boycotted by the other tracks who refused to allow the top riders, most of whom were under the control of International Speedways, to appear for their hated rival.
The one exception was the pioneer star Cyclone Billy Lamont, known the speedway world over as The Man With A Month To Live because no one with such a reckless track technique as his could possibly survive longer. He told the bosses to whom he was contracted that they could do what they liked - he was going to ride at Wembley's opening meeting.
He did so because Sir Arthur had called in the leading speedway spin doctor of the day, Johnnie S. Hoskins, the man who had invented the sport six years earlier in West Maitland, New South Wales, and 'Roarin' John' it was who had given Billy his first rides.
Elvin gave Johnnie the task of putting him together a Lions team that would not only be up and running, but up and winning.
Hoskins scoured the North for likely talent - and uncovered a gold mine. Jack Ormston, Harry Whitfield, Arthur Atkinson, Gordon Byers, H.R. 'Ginger' Lees, Frank Charles. They became some of England's greatest track stars.
And so began the mighty cavalcade of other famous Lions: Buster Frogley, Colin Watson, George Greenwood, speedway's first official World Champion Lionel Van Praag, Tommy Price, Bill Kitchen, the Williams brothers, Fred and Eric, Split Waterman, Bruce Abernethy, Bill Gilbert, Brian Crutcher . . . and in the brief revival of 1970-71, Ove Fundin, Dave Jessup, Gote Nordin, Sverre Harrfeldt, not forgetting Bert Harkins and lots, lots more.
Hoskins, in a few years, moved on and the legendary Alec Jackson - also a northerner - took his place. Alec was certainly the finest speedway manager Wembley has ever known, and arguably the finest in the history of the sport.
The pain of the very early days began to ease for Sir Arthur when he introduced a soccer-style supporters club. In the 1940s and 1950s the Wembley Speedway Supporters Club was the biggest in the world, with a membership of 65,000 - ten times that of the Manchester United football club supporters association of the same era.
Sir Arthur, a former match seller and proprietor of a tobacco kiosk at the 1924 Empire Exhibition, had bought Wembley for £122,500 at 6.30 in the evening of August 17, 1927. At 6.31pm he sold it to the then Wembley Company for £150,000. He took his profit in shares and was appointed managing director.
There have been numerous changes of ownership since then, and in truth their attitude to speedway has been dismissively shabby. In anything to do with the stadium, speedway racing has been largely ignored. On a visit to the stadium exhibition I was appalled by the paucity of speedway representation, and donated historic pictures which would have demonstrated to people on the stadium tours speedway's proper place in the Wembley story. They never appeared.
The tour guides who led us round on the End Of An Era Banquet day displayed a shameful lack of speedway knowledge - ours did not even know the dates Wembley had staged speedway. But until they started to demolish the place, Barry Briggs did persuade the Wembley authorities to mount a minor show of a speedway presence - a couple of bikes from the old Donington museum and some pictures. If you were to ask me, though, I would say it was too little too late.
It would never have been allowed in Sir Arthur's day. He was a star in his own right, and such was his reputation among his employees that his car's personalised number plate, AJE 1, was reputed to stand for 'After Jesus, Elvin'.
He treated some of his speedway riders as underlings. According to England's first World Champion Tommy Price, Elvin always addressed him by his surname until he won the title in 1949, and thereafter would call him Tommy.
Wally Green of West Ham was wanted by Wembley, and he tells the story of being interviewed in a vast office in one of the towers, with Sir Arthur - Howard Hughes-like - clasping a handkerchief to the Elvin mouth. 'He was a weirdo,' says Wally. 'He didn't like mixing with those terrible speedway riders. And I got a fearful telling off once for riding across his hallowed turf.'
Suggestions that there was a room off his office rumoured to have contained a 'casting couch' where Sir Arthur liked to 'audition' the girls who appeared in the ice shows across the way at the Empire Pool are denied by one of his greatest edmirers, Freddie Williams who rode to two world titles while with Wembley and later managed the Lions during the 1970s revival.
'He did like the company of glamorous girls,' says Freddie. 'Gloria Nord, the roller skating star, was one of them, but I never heard anything scandalous about his private life.
'He was a wonderful man, and the speedway boys used to have great get-togethers. He was very keen on the London Riders Championship and kept that going when other London tracks started to close. He would send his boys away for a couple of days before important matches - but to unlikely seaside places such as Cromer .
'And if it hadn't been for him there would have been no Olympics in London in 1948 - Wembley did it all.'
Sir Arthur had been an observer in the Royal Flying Corps in World War I at the age of 17. Shot down behind enemy lines and captured, he made several failed attempts to escape.
It was one of the few things at which Sir Arthur was unsuccessful. His entrepreneurial skills brought him a knighthood in 1946, the icing on the cake of being the owner of the world's most famous sporting arena.
He called Wembley 'The Ascot Of The Speedways', and just like that other Ascot, speedway at Wembley attracted the aristocracy, society personalities, showbiz celebrities and prominent politicians right up to royalty.
Prime Minister Clement Attlee's wife handed over the Sunday Dispatch World Championship trophy to Tommy Price in 1949. A year earlier the Queen's husband, Prince Philip, had presented Vic Duggan with his Speedway Riders Championship cup.
But Sir Arthur was reluctant, so the story goes, to allow his fellow speedway promoters to stage the first official world championship final at Wembley in 1936. Eventually, of course, he was persuaded. It was a rapturous success, and speedway has forever been grateful. There are, even now, people who think that Wembley staged only speedway world championship finals. They have no idea that a speedway team called the Wembley Lions raced there for 22 seasons.
And now it is all over. In the intervening years since Wembley's final speedway flourish, that magnificent 1981 World Final, there have been several attempts to get the bikes to roar again in that superlative arena. All have come to nought.
As we now witness the lid being nailed down on the coffin of wonderful Wembley, and watch it being confined to its final resting place, by rights it should be going with a roar - the famous Lions' Roar that used to raise the roof every Thursday night. Instead, in speedway terms, it's going with a whimper.
'As long as there was Wembley, there was hope,' wrote Basil Storey all those years ago. 'and Wembley was Sir Arthur Elvin, the sport's greatest champion.'
I wonder what he would say if he were here to see it.
Post by tungate on Oct 11, 2009 18:57:55 GMT
Sir Arthur was a "Norfolker" and as such he knew what was good for everyone. He gave the Lions of Wembley to Speedway and they were the number one team for many years. When I first remember the Lions coming to the Firs Stadium at Norwich for Division One points in the 1952 season the crowd was enormous and when Norwich got a win over the Lions in the National Trophy Final later in the 50s it was a real cause for Celebration. Under the fooyball pitch at Wembley there is a train as I was told that when Wembley was first built the materials to do the work with was all brought in by railway trucks. When the last stuff was in they pulled up the rails behind the delivery train .... hence no way to take the train away. The train and trucks were just buried under the pitch as it was laid & levelled out. When the F A did the rebuild spending excessive money and being late finishing I never did hear anything if they found the remains of the train or anything under the football pitch