The origins of Cycle Speedway have been lost in the mists of time. There is no doubt that youngsters indulged themselves in a primitive form of racing as early as the Twenties and Thirties. But it was not until the immediate post-war years that Cycle Speedway became the organized sport we know today.
1945 is widely recognized as the year of its birth.
It started amongst the debris world war had left, bomb sites became stadiums and craters became tracks coinciding with the boom in popularity of motorized speedway.
London, with more bomb sites than any other city, set the ball rolling in 1945 and within a year or so Cycle Speedway flourished in virtually every provincial city and town in the country.
Outside of London, the Birmingham and District League was launched, boasting 22 teams contesting the first season.
Coventry, Leicester, Wolverhampton and Cradley Heath quickly followed with their own league competitions and in 1946 test matches against Manchester, London and Bristol took place, all of which created great local interest and enormous attendance’s Some of the early problems were the lack of national competition and variation in rules in different towns; some teams preferring to adopt those used in motorized speedway.
By 1950 the formation of the sports first governing body was assisted by two great national institutions, the Mars Confectionery Company, pioneer sponsors of many of Cycle Speedway’s major individual events, and the News Chronicle morning newspaper.
Hundreds of teams from all over England, Scotland and Wales joined the new National Amateur Cycle Speedway Association (NACSA), entering their teams and riders into the sports first truly national competitions, the national team championships and national individual.
Makeshift tracks tended to be on cleared street corners littered with rubble.The grassed surface marked out using white lime, even loose house bricks and varied tremendously in size even on the same site from day today. Most established tracks were more permanent with ‘dug in’ house bricks used as kerb stones with either a soil, clay, ash, gravel, stone, cinder or brick dust surface and the starting gate a length of elastic stretched across the track. Major clubs such as Birmingham boasted floodlighting, safety fence and public address system and regularly attracted crowds of 2,000 plus.
10,000 spectators watched the first international match between England and Holland at London’s Empress Hall on 26th October 1950 as the sport peaked, but inevitably clubs started to disband at an alarming rate due to a combination of National Service, the Governments house building program which swallowed up a great number of bomb sites, and particularly the advent of television.
Hard times followed, Cycle Speedway remained very low key with little or no publicity. Most racing was localised to keep costs down and many clubs closed down, reformed and disbanded again with regular frequency. Only the more ambitious clubs continued to take part in the national competitions.
In 1958 Standards in professionalism and presentation were raised knowing how attractive the sport could be to the spectator and the organization of a ‘World Championship’, which included competitors from Holland, Sweden and Poland.
Hard feeling between two rival factions during this competition resulted in a split of control between two rival national associations, but after rivalry intensified pressure grew for the two to become one and so in 1971 it was at last agreed that the parties should merge together to form the British Cycle Speedway Council (BCSC).
Added information 2010: In 1979 Rod Witham (England) contact Mick Harley (Australia) to see if the sport was still operating. Contact was made and the first visit to Australia by a Great Britain Team finally took place in February 1981. Australia sent a team to England in 1983 and the two Nations have been involved in the Internationals ever since.
*This information courtesy of the BCSC 1997 publication ’50 Years of Cycle Speedway’