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A proud history and a proud club - Ipswich Witches: a timeline

PUBLISHED: 11:35 22 March 2017 | UPDATED: 13:07 22 March 2017

Ipswich Speedway 1962 (from the left standing) Vic Gooden (co-promoter), Colin Goody, Peter Moore, Sandy McGillivray, Maurice Littlchild (team manager), Bengt Brannefors, Leif Larsson, Les McGillivary). Team captain Split Waterman is on the bike.

Ipswich Speedway 1962 (from the left standing) Vic Gooden (co-promoter), Colin Goody, Peter Moore, Sandy McGillivray, Maurice Littlchild (team manager), Bengt Brannefors, Leif Larsson, Les McGillivary). Team captain Split Waterman is on the bike.

For almost 50 consecutive seasons, Foxhall Stadium has roared to the sound of speedway bikes during the summer months, and this weekend they will be back on track once more as the 2017 season gets underway.

A new era: Four years after the very last meeting at Foxhall in 1965, a new promotion team of Joe Thurley and John Berry took charge at Foxhall in 1969. It was the start of a continious run of 48 years which continues today. The team in 1969, left to right was: Bernie Aldridge, Joe Thurley, Neville Slee, Ron Bagley, Pete Bailey, Mike Coomber, John Harhy, Steve Chilman and Howdy Byford. A new era: Four years after the very last meeting at Foxhall in 1965, a new promotion team of Joe Thurley and John Berry took charge at Foxhall in 1969. It was the start of a continious run of 48 years which continues today. The team in 1969, left to right was: Bernie Aldridge, Joe Thurley, Neville Slee, Ron Bagley, Pete Bailey, Mike Coomber, John Harhy, Steve Chilman and Howdy Byford.

Ipswich Witches fans have become accustomed to having a speedway club in the town and while many clubs nationwide have come and gone, the Witches continue to thrill, excite and put Ipswich on the map – a proud club with a proud tradition.

On Saturday night, against Sheffield Tigers, the Witches commence their 48th consecutive season of racing and while the crowds are not as big as they used to be, the excitement has never stopped.

John Louis in action for the Witches against Romford back in 1969. Ipswich-born Louis became a world star over the next decade under the guise of promoter John Berry, as the Witches became one of the best teams in the country. John Louis in action for the Witches against Romford back in 1969. Ipswich-born Louis became a world star over the next decade under the guise of promoter John Berry, as the Witches became one of the best teams in the country.

Foxhall Stadium was purpose-built for speedway in 1950, and meetings were held there from 1951 to 1965 when the track was resurfaced for stock car racing.

The only fatality there has ever been in a speedway meeting at Foxhall occurred in 1962 when, on April 13, Jack Unstead was killed while riding for the Witches.

Ipswich riders Billy Sanders (left) and Tony Davey in the pits at Foxhall before the start of the first match between Ipswich and Hackney in March 1972. Both riders played a huge part in the success of the team, especially throughout the '70s.  Picture: DAVID KINDRED Ipswich riders Billy Sanders (left) and Tony Davey in the pits at Foxhall before the start of the first match between Ipswich and Hackney in March 1972. Both riders played a huge part in the success of the team, especially throughout the '70s. Picture: DAVID KINDRED

It happened during a National League match with Southampton when Unstead lost control and crashed into a lamp standard. He died instantly.

Attendances approached 20,000 in the ‘50s and made stars of riders such as Syd Clarke, Junior Bainbridge, Tich Read and Peter Moore. But the sport closed at Foxhall Heath in 1965 as crowd levels dipped.

Boss John Berry (left) with John Loius at Foxhall Staduim in the 1970s. A dream team. Picture: DAVID KINDRED Boss John Berry (left) with John Loius at Foxhall Staduim in the 1970s. A dream team. Picture: DAVID KINDRED

After a four-year absence - in 1969, John Berry and Joe Thurley helped build a new, smaller track inside the stock car circuit at Foxhall and re-opened the club with a team which included the current boss John Louis – speedway has been staged at Foxhall continuously since.

Berry proved to be the Ipswich Witches equivalent of Bobby Robson at Ipswich Town Football Club, just down the road from Foxhall.

Ipswich Witches won the League championship for the second year running in 1976.  The team was (from the left back row) John Berry promoter, Mike Lanham, Tony Davey, Billy Sanders, Kevin Jolly, John Louis (captain on bike) Dave Gooderham and Ron Bagley the team manager. At the front, (from the left), Ted Howgego, Andy Hines, and Colin Cook.  The Witches also won the KO Cup that year. Ipswich Witches won the League championship for the second year running in 1976. The team was (from the left back row) John Berry promoter, Mike Lanham, Tony Davey, Billy Sanders, Kevin Jolly, John Louis (captain on bike) Dave Gooderham and Ron Bagley the team manager. At the front, (from the left), Ted Howgego, Andy Hines, and Colin Cook. The Witches also won the KO Cup that year.

Both men patiently built sports teams in the town that became the envy of the country.

Proud of promoting local riders and footballers, Berry and Robson brought untold success to Ipswich and Suffolk - success that has never been surpassed.

Ipswich promoter John Berry issuing instructions ahead of the 1980 Star of Anglia at Foxhall. Berry was a wonderful promoter of the sport in the town. Ipswich promoter John Berry issuing instructions ahead of the 1980 Star of Anglia at Foxhall. Berry was a wonderful promoter of the sport in the town.

Almost 50 years ago the Witches were soon picking up silverware.

In 1970 they won the British League Division II Knock-Out Cup twice, before the club took the decision to apply for membership of Division I in 1972.

The Witches won the League and Cup double for the second time in their history in 1984. Back row, left to right: John Berry (promoter), Jeremy Doncaster, Chris Shears (team manager), Billy Sanders.
Front row, left to right: John Cook, Kai Niemi, Nigel Flatman, Richard Knight and Carl Blackbird The Witches won the League and Cup double for the second time in their history in 1984. Back row, left to right: John Berry (promoter), Jeremy Doncaster, Chris Shears (team manager), Billy Sanders. Front row, left to right: John Cook, Kai Niemi, Nigel Flatman, Richard Knight and Carl Blackbird

What followed was a golden era of speedway in the town as the Witches became one of the best and most successful teams in the country.

They won back-to-back League championships in 1975 and 1976, while doing the ‘double’ in the long, hot summer of ‘76, as they won the KO Cup too.

Ipswich Witches 1998 won the treble of League, Cup and Craven Shield as they took the speedway world by storm. It was a sensationally-talented side and without doubt the best-ever Witches line-up in the club's history. Left to right: Tomasz Gollob, Toni Svab, Tony Rickardsson, Chris Louis, Savalas Clouting and Scott Nicholls Ipswich Witches 1998 won the treble of League, Cup and Craven Shield as they took the speedway world by storm. It was a sensationally-talented side and without doubt the best-ever Witches line-up in the club's history. Left to right: Tomasz Gollob, Toni Svab, Tony Rickardsson, Chris Louis, Savalas Clouting and Scott Nicholls

Things cooled off a bit as the decade finished and when Berry announced his top two stars, John Louis and Billy Sanders, who had been pivotal in the team’s decade of success, were to be moved on, it caused fan fury.

But Berry knew his stuff.

The Witches of 2002: Left to right: Jeremy Doncaster, Scott Nicholls, Leigh Lanham, Danny Bird, Joonas Kylmakorpi, Carl Baldwin, Craig Boyce. On bike, skipper Chris Louis. The Witches of 2002: Left to right: Jeremy Doncaster, Scott Nicholls, Leigh Lanham, Danny Bird, Joonas Kylmakorpi, Carl Baldwin, Craig Boyce. On bike, skipper Chris Louis.

It was time to shake it up and he did that in no uncertain terms at the start of the 1980s, bringing American superstar Dennis Sigalos and fellow American John Cook to Foxhall.

After a settling-in period, the American duo became huge fan favourites with their all-action style, as the Witches rose back to the top of the speedway pyramid – the crowds returned in numbers.

Chris Louis, left, and Mark Loram. Now director of speedway at Foxhall, Louis rode for 20 years for the Suffolk side and was a multiple British champion, while Loram went on to be World champion in 2000. Both riders' careers ended after track crashes. Picture: SIMON PARKER Chris Louis, left, and Mark Loram. Now director of speedway at Foxhall, Louis rode for 20 years for the Suffolk side and was a multiple British champion, while Loram went on to be World champion in 2000. Both riders' careers ended after track crashes. Picture: SIMON PARKER

The team won their third League championship in 1984 and a second ‘double’ with a KO cup win to add icing on the cake.

Billy Sanders had returned and all in the garden seemed rosy at Foxhall once more.

The 2007 Ipswich Witches: Left to right: 
Mark Loram, Robert Miskowiak, Chris Schramm, Zibi Suchecki, Chris Louis, Tobi Kroner, Marcin Rampala, Kim Janson and Mascot Brendon Warvill
. This proved to be Loram's last team line-up. In heat one of the opening night at Foxhall that year, against Reading, he crashed alongside opponent Sam Simota, breaking his thigh - never racing again. The 2007 Ipswich Witches: Left to right: Mark Loram, Robert Miskowiak, Chris Schramm, Zibi Suchecki, Chris Louis, Tobi Kroner, Marcin Rampala, Kim Janson and Mascot Brendon Warvill . This proved to be Loram's last team line-up. In heat one of the opening night at Foxhall that year, against Reading, he crashed alongside opponent Sam Simota, breaking his thigh - never racing again.

However, dark days were just around the corner.

When Sanders took his own life at Nacton in 1985, it ripped the heart not just out of the team, who were flying in the league and looking favourites to win the title again, but more importantly it hit Berry hard.

The 2008 Ipswich Witches: left to right: Jarek Hampel,  Chris Schramm (kneeling) Piotr Swiderski, team manager Pete Simmons, Robert Miskowiak, Chris Louis, Tobi Kroner and Steve Johnston The 2008 Ipswich Witches: left to right: Jarek Hampel, Chris Schramm (kneeling) Piotr Swiderski, team manager Pete Simmons, Robert Miskowiak, Chris Louis, Tobi Kroner and Steve Johnston

The man who turned Ipswich Witches from country cousins to one of the most respected teams in the land later quit and the club struggled to find its feet again.

Eventually, in 1988, a new consortium, led by former Witches favourite John Louis breathed life back into the club and although they dropped down a league to the National League, a new, young, exciting team, including John’s son Chris and future world champion, Mark Loram, moved from Hackney Hawks to Foxhall.

The Witches dropped into the Premier League in 2011, with a young new team: Back row, left to right: Morten Risager, Chris Mills, Jerran Hart, Chris Schramm. Front row, Lasse Bjerre and Taylor Poole. On bike, captain Kevin Doolan The Witches dropped into the Premier League in 2011, with a young new team: Back row, left to right: Morten Risager, Chris Mills, Jerran Hart, Chris Schramm. Front row, Lasse Bjerre and Taylor Poole. On bike, captain Kevin Doolan

Two happy years in the National League followed, with new tracks visited, new friends made and new teams gracing Foxhall.

But it was top-flight racing the Foxhall fans craved – although as the mid-90s arrived, those cravings looked bleak – very bleak.

Premier League Fours winners 2011: Left to right: Mat Tresarrieu, Kevin Doolan, Lasse Bjerre, Morten Risager and Taylor Poole. At the back: manager Pete Simmons Premier League Fours winners 2011: Left to right: Mat Tresarrieu, Kevin Doolan, Lasse Bjerre, Morten Risager and Taylor Poole. At the back: manager Pete Simmons

The club was suffering financial issues and in the winter of 1995-96, it looked as if the proud tradition of speedway in the town was coming to an end.

The Witches were threatened with eviction from Foxhall Stadium until a campaign prompted by The Ipswich Star newspaper (then Evening Star) and spearheaded by local MP Jamie Cann, attracted support and gathered momentum – money was raised and the sport in the town was saved in January 1996.

The Witches have not won the League since 1998, but the action at Foxhall continues to come thick and fast. Pictured here are British Champion Danny King, left and Nico Covatti. Both very exciting riders and both lining-up in the 2017 team. Picture: STEVE WALLER The Witches have not won the League since 1998, but the action at Foxhall continues to come thick and fast. Pictured here are British Champion Danny King, left and Nico Covatti. Both very exciting riders and both lining-up in the 2017 team. Picture: STEVE WALLER

Incredibly, just two years later the Witches were on top of the speedway world once again.

In 1998 they put together one of the strongest British league teams ever to take to the track.

Tony Rickardsson, Tomasz Gollob, Chris Louis, Scott Nicholls, Savalas Clouting and Toni Svab swept all before them in an historic season that saw the Witches win the treble - including a fourth League Championship, a fifth KO Cup and the Craven Shield.

Teams were put to the sword across the country.

Such was the power of that team, Rickardson won the world title, Louis the British title, Nicholls the British U21 title. Gollob finished third in the world title race.

It was a team of power that has never been seen on British soil since.

The Witches have never reached those heights since, and indeed since 1998 the only meaningful trophy to sit in the Foxhall cabinet was the Premier League Fours, which the team won in 2011, having dropped into the Premier League that year.

Since then, while the entertainment at Foxhall has continued to be of a high standard, Witches teams have failed to get over the line in pursuit of trophy glory.

Last season they reached the Premier League play-offs after a stirring finale to the season, but were beaten by Somerset Rebels in the semi-finals.

Tipped as one of the favourites in the revamped and newly-named Championship, this year the Witches, led off-track by former rider Chris Louis, include British champion Danny King as their No.1.

Nationally, and through thick and thin, speedway has managed to retain a traditional and happy family image, while the accessibility to the riders and thrills on the track are as good as any sport on the planet.

Some fans call speedway one of the country’s best sporting secrets.

Maybe that’s so.

Certainly, while there is concern over the continuation of the sport in hotbeds like Coventry right now - and while many tracks over the past 50 years have closed down - Ipswich Witches are in a good place.

Long may it continue.

IPSWICH WITCHES HONOUR BOARD

Division One Champions 1975, 1976, 1984, 1998

Division One KO Cup Winners 1976, 1978, 1981, 1984, 1998

Division Two KO Cup Winners 1970, 1971

Craven Shield Winners 1998

Spring Gold Cup Winners 1976

Inter-League KO Cup Winners 1977

Four-Team Champions, Division Two 2015

Pairs Champions, Division One 1976, 1977

Pairs Champions, Division Two 2015

Ipswich Town host Sheffield Wednesday in a televised Championship clash (Sky Sports) tomorrow night.

Sheffield Wednesday head coach Carlos Carvalhal has called for the club’s supporters to get behind his players ahead of tomorrow night’s televised Championship match at Ipswich Town.

Episode One: Stuart Watson and Andy Warren discuss Ipswich Town’s draw at Hull City, hear from Mick McCarthy and Jordan Spence and make the first pitches for football’s Room 101.

Jordan Spence has been telling his Ipswich Town team-mates just how much of a threat he is in front of goal - and the defender is delighted to be proving his point on the field.

Suffolk FA Women’s Cup Second Round

Ipswich Athletic 0

Ipswich Town Ladies Development side 14

Ipswich Town Ladies Development side progressed to the next round of the Suffolk FA Cup with a massive 14-0 thumping of Suffolk league side Ipswich Athletic, writes Liam Young.

Focus on the strengths, recognise the weaknesses and enjoy the ride.

“We might not be the best, but we keep going. It’s an endearing quality we have.”

Watch match highlights of Ipswich Town’s 2-2 draw at Hull City on Saturday.

A point at Hull City should not be seen as anything other than a good result ordinarily and the fact that we gained that point with a late equaliser certainly felt better than a loss. But were they not there for the taking on the day?

It was certainly an eventful day for David McGoldrick.

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