Mike Bacon: 5 of the best-ever Ipswich Witches sides to grace Foxhall Stadium

Ipswich Witches v Sheffield Tigers
Foxhall Stadium
PICTURE STEVE WALLER 22.4.11
SUN-KISSED:

Huge crowds at Foxhall in 2011. Ipswich Witches have produced some stunning speedway teams over the years. - Credit: Archant

For the first time in more than 50 years there was no roar of speedway bikes at Foxhall Stadium in 2020. Hopefully that will all change this year as MIKE BACON looks back at five of the Witches best-ever sides.

1975 - CHAMPIONS!

Flashback 1975.October. The Ipswich Speedway team won the division one championship with a mainly

Champions, October 1975: With the trophy at Foxhall Stadium are (from the left standing), Billy Sanders, Mick Hines, team boss Ron Bagley, Tony Davey, Ted Howgego and Trevor Jones. Kneeling are (from the left) Mike Lanham, John Louis and Dave Gooderham. Apart from Sanders, all the rest of the team came from Suffolk. - Credit: Archant

Ipswich promoter John Berry had been steadily piecing together a side that could challenge for the ultimate goal of British League champions.

Led by John Louis, Berry worked tirelessly to make sure his Aussie star, Billy Sanders remained at the club in 1975, despite suggestions he may be transferred out of Foxhall, via the dreaded 'rider control'. They were joined by local stars Tony Davey, Mike Lanham, Trevor Jones, Mick Hines, Dave Gooderham and Ted Howgego - a real local team if ever there was one.

The Witches remained unbeaten in the league at Foxhall all season and won their last 10 meetings on the bounce, home and away, after an indifferent start to the campaign. But it wasn't all in their own hands and despite ending the season with home and away wins over Halifax, they needed Exeter to do them a favour and beat Belle Vue at the County Ground - which the Devon side duly did. Ipswich were British League champions for the first time.

On an individual front, the brilliant Louis was crowned British Champion and finished third in the world final at Wembley, in front of nearly 100,000 people.

1976 - IT GETS BETTER STILL

John Berry with Ipswich Witches team that won the division one trophy in 1975 and 1976.Back row fr

Promoter John Berry with Ipswich Witches team that won the double in 1976. Back row from the left: Berry, Mike Lanham, Tony Davey, Billy Sanders, Kevin Jolly, Dave Gooderham, and team manager Ron Bagley. Front row, Ted Howgego, Andy Hines, John Louis (team captain on the bike) and Colin Cook. - Credit: Dave Kindred

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How to follow up 1975 was the question on everyone's lips at Foxhall going into 1976.

The Witches were champions but they had to lose Mick Hines because of rider control. However it didn't stop the Foxhall juggernaut. Ipswich were outstanding. They were again led by the formidable trio of Louis, Sanders and Davey and they won the Spring Gold Cup in July, although there was a shock of huge proportions when the Witches lost to second division Workington in the Inter-League KO Cup, first round!

But the Championship and KO Cup were up for grabs as the Witches remained unbeaten at Foxhall in the league for the second season on the bounce.

Again it was Belle Vue and Ipswich who were vying for the title, but when the Witches produced one of the most outstanding results of the season - winning at Belle Vue - Ipswich were champions again. Yet, it still wasn't over and the KO Cup was easily won after home and away victories over near-neighbours King's Lynn. There was still time for Sanders and Louis to win the British League Pairs - Ipswich were easily the best team in the land.

1984 - DOUBLE GLORY AGAIN

Witches 1984. League and KO Cup double winners

Double joy in '84 after winning the title at Reading. Back row,, left to right: John Berry, Jeremy Doncaster, Chris Shears (promoter) and Billy Sanders. Front row, left to right, John Cook, Kai Niemi, Nigel Flatman, Richard Knight and Carl Blackbird. - Credit: Archant

The Witches went into the 1984 season with the Foxhall faithful not sure of what quite was going on!

Hugely successful promoter John Berry had relinquished control of the club to Chris Shears, while Dennis Sigalos and Preben Eriksen had been sold to Wolverhampton. However, Ipswich still put together a strong side. Sanders, Jeremy Doncaster, Nigel Flatman and Andy Hines all remained, although Carl Blackbird took Hines' place after he broke his leg just days before the opening of the season. Richard Knight also proved a pivotel rider.

But it was the signing of Finnish Champion Kai Niemi - who could be a meeting winner on his day - that proved key. As was the return of 'The Cowboy', John Cook, who had fallen out with the club a few seasons earlier. After early-season issues, Cook began to fly as the Witches went 16 unbeaten. They suffered a heavy defeat at Belle Vue, but then had to win at Reading in the final match of the season to win the title. They did it with ease, 46-32.

And it wasn't over. Belle Vue, who had earlier thrashed Ipswich at their huge Hyde Road track in the league, stood in the way of the double, in the KO Cup final. But the Witches produced their best performance of the season, winning in Manchester, before completing the League and Cup double with a second-leg win at Foxhall in front of a huge Foxhall crowd.

1998 - THE TEAM OF THE CENTURY?

Witches 1998. Treble winners. Left to right: Tomasz Gollob, Toni Svab, Tony Rickardsson, Chris Louis

Witches 1998. The best-ever Witches team? Treble winners. Left to right: Tomasz Gollob, Toni Svab, Tony Rickardsson, Chris Louis, Scott Nicholls and Savalas Clouting - Credit: Archant

Was this the best-ever Witches team assembled? Certainly those who have witnessed the Witches over many years would say so. The Witches were led by Tony Rickardsson who went on to win the world title that year. Chris Louis finished fifth in the world, while Scott Nicholls won the British U-21 title.

But it was the signing of Tomasz Gollob who was key in making the Witches a domestic force to be reckoned with. The 'Dark Warrior' was signed on a very comfortable 7.50 average, but went on to shine on British tracks. He also finished third in the world - the Witches had three of the top five in the world in their side.

So, it was no surprise they won everything in 1998 - League, KO Cup and Craven Shield, with Savalas Clouting and Toni Svab making up the side. What a team.

2019 - SO NEAR, SO FAR, BUT SO GOOD

Ipswich Witches 2019 (from the left) Richard Lawson, Krystian Pieszczek, Chris Harris, Danny King, C

Ipswich Witches team that began 2019 (from the left): Richard Lawson, Krystian Pieszczek, Chris Harris, Danny King, Cameron Heeps, Jake Allen and David Bellego. - Credit: Picture: Steve Waller

After an eight-year stay in speedway's 'second division', the Championship, the Witches headed back into the big time in 2019 and returned to the sport's top table, the Premiership.

It had been more than 20 years since the Witches had won that fantastic 1998 treble and, aside from a Fours' event win in 2011, silverware had eluded them - none more so in 2017 when they lost in the Championship play-off final to Sheffield and the KO Cup final to Peterborough. However, that 2017 season had renewed the spirit within the club. The Premiership in 2019 consisted of seven teams, and the Witches were considered by many 'in the know' to be one of the weakest - on paper at least. How wrong they were.

With no obvious No.1 the Suffolk side were an all-round outfit, led by Chris Harris, Danny King and Richard Lawson. They picked up two wins at Peterborough, drew at King's Lynn and Wolves, while picked up numerous bonus points on their travels. They beat every side at home at Foxhall at least once.

They had solid back up from the likes of Cameron Heeps and Jake Allen and when they reached the play-offs they swooped to sign Grand Prix racer Niels-Kristian Iversen. The semi-final against Poole was a classic, the Witches coming back from 10 behind after the first leg to snatch victory from the Pirates with one heat to go.

It meant a Grand Final against Swindon. Yes, the Robins proved too powerful and won home and away.... But it had been a fine campaign by this Witches outfit and the best for many years.

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