Great nights at Foxhall Stadium with the Ipswich Witches

Stephen Foster Ipswich Witches

Foz pictured with the Witches team of 2014 - Credit: Steve Waller

In his latest On Air in Suffolk column, broadcaster Stephen Foster tells how he became the 'voice of Suffolk speedway'

No brakes, no fear. That pretty much sums up one of my favourite sports - speedway.

We’re incredibly lucky here in Suffolk to have two fantastic clubs - the Ipswich Witches and the Mildenhall Fen Tigers. I have been fortunate enough to cover both for BBC Radio Suffolk, often combining that role with announcing duties at Foxhall and West Row.

My love of speedway goes back to the mid-1970s when my good friend Robert Pearson and I used to ride our not-so-funky mopeds up to Foxhall on a Thursday night to watch the likes of John Louis, Tony ‘Shrimp’ Davey and Billy Sanders make it all look so easy which, of course, it is not.

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The place was packed and the atmosphere electric. Little did I know then that a few decades later I’d follow in the footsteps of the greatest speedway announcer of them all - John Earrey.

I must stress at this point I wasn’t up to his standards but I always did my best and hopefully made my mark in what can be a difficult role. To hit the spot with supporters an announcer needs to show passion and knowledge. Poor homework and yelling into the microphone is certainly not going to win you too many fans.

After a couple of seasons of 1970s-style speedway my life changed. Wine, women and song came calling although not necessarily in that order.

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It was to be more than a quarter of a century later before I‘d rediscover the speedway bug which meant I missed seeing the all- conquering Witches side of 1998. That’s something I do regret.

My return to the Foxhall terraces in 2006 coincided with Suffolk-based Mark Loram’s second spell at Foxhall.

The former world champion soon became my favourite rider and I was devastated when on the opening night of the 2007 season he sustained horrific injuries in a crash which ended his glorious career.

I freely admit to shedding a few tears as I made my way home that night. I just knew the game was up for a man who graced every single track he raced on.

Over the next ten years Foxhall felt like a second home. I enjoyed good working relationships with riders and officials alike. Team managers Pete Simmons, Chris Louis, Phil Hilton, Brian Messenger and Ritchie Hawkins could all have been forgiven for growing tired of their weekly interviews with me but they were all happy to talk through good times and bad.

Stephen Foster John Louis Ipswich Witches

Stephen Foster with Ipswich Witches legend John Louis in 2015 - Credit: Stephen Foster

I became known as ‘the voice of Suffolk speedway’ and always enjoyed a great rapport with the Foxhall regulars. One of the annual highlights was the trip to Cardiff for the British Grand Prix via the Pairs meeting at Somerset.

I was there in 2015 when Danny King and Rohan Tungate lifted the trophy, a rare piece of success for Witches fans to savour in the 21st century.

Those excursions to the Millennium Stadium in the Welsh capital were organised by Chris Ellis and Witches announcer Kevin Long. I’m sure those weekends will return post-pandemic and in the meantime both Chris and Kevin will be relishing the return of domestic racing this summer. Speedway’s in their blood and it’s people like them that help keep the wheels turning.

Looking at the bigger picture my frustrations continue over the way British speedway is run.

The sport desperately needs an overlord. That person’s concern should be the sport itself not any club(s) they happen to be affiliated to.

The shale sport still enjoys the support of many in the media but should never take that interest for granted. In recent years there’s been far too much tweaking of the rule book. Speedway deserves better.

Next week I’ll be focusing on my strong links down the years with Mildenhall speedway, another club I hold very dear to my heart.

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