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The National Speedway Museum

Stamford Bridge the pensioners?

By John Chaplin

So just what is going on here? It looks as though someone is being put under a bit of a handicap. Well, the place is Stamford Bridge. That’s right, the same Stamford Bridge now lorded over by overpaid soccer stars. This quaint scenario is going back a few years, though, to about 1930, when speedway was a serious rival to football as the main attraction at The Bridge.

The little crowd of onlookers on what used to be called The Shed end can be forgiven perhaps, for appearing to be rather bemused by the strange pageant unfolding before their very eyes. The rider in the foreground being shackled by the gent in splendid headgear and overcoat to that remarkable flivver is Gus ‘Father’ Kuhn, who was captain of Stamford Bridge at the time. Gus, born in the last but one century, in 1898, had not only skippered the side to the first Southern League Championship in 1929 but had been a member of the England team in that historic first official Test against Australia in 1930.

Those of you who are of a more mature disposition will recall that in the Sixties there was handicapping. The Big Five: Peter Craven, Ronnie Moore, Barry Briggs, Bjorn Knutsson and Ove Fundin, because they were so outstanding, were made to start 20 yards back ‘to make racing more interesting’. It died a death after a couple of seasons but as you can see, there’s nothing new in speedway.

But seriously….what exactly was the object of tethering old Gus in such a bizarre manner?  Apart from the fact that they’d do anything for publicity in those days, what they were really up to was testing out a new starting technique. It was in the days of the push start – some time before the invention of the taped starting gate – and it was alleged by visiting riders that the heavyweight ‘pushers-off’ at Stamford Bridge were really holding back members of the opposition and thereby giving the home team an unfair advantage.

The idea here was to give all riders a bit of a boost with a mechanical send-off at the starting line and so eliminate such unsporting accusations. As in the sixties, you will not be surprised to learn, it died an extremely rapid death.

Heavyweight Gus went to Wimbledon when The Bridge closed to speedway after the 1932 season. He once caused a sensation by crashing a few yards from the chequered flag and rolling over the line for the win, but the steward ruled he should have had his bike with him.

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Courtesy John Chaplin