Meet the speedway gipsy!

AS SPEEDWAY buffs go, they don't come much bigger than Kesgrave's Nigel 'Noddy' Fordham.For the last 38 years, he has hitchhiked the length and breadth of Europe, shelling out thousands of pounds to follow the sport he fell in love with as a teenager.

AS SPEEDWAY buffs go, they don't come much bigger than Kesgrave's Nigel 'Noddy' Fordham.

For the last 38 years, he has hitchhiked the length and breadth of Europe, shelling out thousands of pounds to follow the sport he fell in love with as a teenager. JOSH WARWICK reports.

RUSSIA, Sweden, Denmark, Poland, Czech Republic, Italy, Germany…Noddy Fordham's multi-stamped passport reads like a European travel brochure.

But every single trip, no matter how far flung the destination, has one thing in common - speedway.

For nearly four decades, this 53-year-old has devoted his life to his one great passion, travelling hundreds of thousands of miles to enjoy race meetings in some of the most remote parts of the continent.

Every match watched and mile travelled, home and abroad, is painstakingly recorded in a log book, which dates back to the start of his obsession in the late 1960s.

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Noddy's adventures are all the more remarkable because he can't drive. Instead he hitch hikes his way across Europe, thumbing lifts along motorways and autobahns, over borders and across mountain ranges.

The jaw-dropping statistics speak for themselves. Today , Noddy will be watching his 4,500th meeting when he takes his place at Foxhall Stadium to watch Ipswich Evening Star Witches take on the Reading Bulldogs.

He has travelled a total of 905,432 miles (nearly the equivalent of the moon and back twice), been to 117 different tracks and taken in an average of 118 meetings per annum for the last 38 years.

Noddy, of Edmonton Road, Ipswich joked: “I would be a millionaire by now if I hadn't got involved in speedway.

“It takes up all my time and it has cost me a fortune, but I still love it - I love the smell of the Castrol oil and I love hitch hiking too. I suppose I'm the speedway gypsy. On average, I make three foreign trips a year, normally to the Czech Republic, although my last trip was to Poland in May.

“I have every programme from every meeting I have ever been to. I think I will probably die on the road or at a speedway track, and my ashes will be flung on the first bend.”

As he reminisces over the countless anecdotes and memories harvested from his years following speedway, Noddy's enthusiasm for the sport burns as brightly as ever.

Sitting in Kesgrave Kitchen, Noddy's favourite haunt, he recalls far-away locations and distant dates as if he has been rehearsing them for weeks.

“In 1983, I attended 210 meetings in one year,” he said. “When I hitched to Russia in 1990 it took me 61 hours. I have made 1,084 visits to Foxhall Stadium.”

And littered among the never-ending figures are some great stories. Noddy remembered: “In September 1979, I was going to Landshut in Germany to watch Ipswich in a team match.

“There was a coach going from Felixstowe which I got on and told everyone that I was going to beat them to the track by hitch hiking the rest of the way. We all got off the coach at the same time and went our separate ways. I got to the first destination and had to wait for them to arrive. Then I got to the next stop, and I was waiting for them again.

“In the end, I got to the hotel two hours before they did and when they arrived, I was sitting there eating chicken and chips.

“And in 1989, I was going to a match in Italy for the world under-21 final and I got there before (promoter) John Louis - and he was flying!”

Of all the countries Noddy has visited, the Czech Republic stands out as his favourite.

He said: “I like the Czech Republic a lot. They are still well behind over there but they are lovely people and the speedway is good. It's also pretty cheap. My favourite venue is Pardubici in the Czech Republic. I've been there 33 times now.

“I remember being at a meeting in Koprivnice in the Czech Republic, which is in the middle of nowhere, and they didn't have a time-keeper so the referee asked me if I wanted to do it.

“We were in the middle of heat eight when a parachutist flew down and landed in the middle of the track. He packed up his parachute, waited for the race to finish and walked over the track and out of the stadium without saying a word to anyone.”

For Noddy, hitching is as much a part of the fun of his fanaticism as the motor racing is.

He said: “I still hitch occasionally and I can nearly always get a lift if I need one. In 1998, when Ipswich won the league, Anglia News sent a crew to come and interview me. They told me to stand by the side of the road and pretend to hitch.

“I was told they would drive along and pick me up, filming it all as they did so.

“So I held my thumb out as they said, but by the time they had driven to where I was I had already been picked up by someone else!”

He added: “In all the years I've followed speedway, I have never failed to get to a meeting I have set out for.

“The lorry companies will arrange to meet me at Dover and take me over to wherever I'm going. I'll always offer to buy them a meal. There's strong following in speedway, there's a community of people from all over Europe.

“It's not like football - there's no hooliganism and no need for police to be there. You have your friends at different tracks and it helps to create a family atmosphere.”

Weblink: www.ipswich-witches.com

Noddy Fordham: An obsession with speedway

905,432 - miles travelled

117 - European tracks visited

38 - Years following speedway

1,084 - Visits to Foxhall Stadium

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