When Tiger Louis first roared

IPSWICH Witches speedway promoter John Louis celebrates 40 years at Foxhall Stadium this year. Apart from a brief time riding for Halifax and Lynn and co-promoting at Hackney he has served the club and the town with distinction.

Elvin King

IPSWICH Witches speedway promoter John Louis celebrates 40 years at Foxhall Stadium this year. Apart from a brief time riding for Halifax and Lynn and co-promoting at Hackney he has served the club and the town with distinction.

On the eve of the 2009 campaign the Evening Star publishes the first of a series of tributes.

This comes from former promoter JOHN BERRY, who was in charge of the Witches from the late sixties until 1994 and says that his former skipper deserves official recognition for his service to his chosen sport - and to Ipswich.


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He tells Elvin King from his current home in Perth, western Australia of his 'Tiger' memories.

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I CAN still see in my mind the yellow football jersey covering fairly tatty brown two-piece leathers as father of two, storeman at Dave Bicker's motorcycle shop in Woodbridge Road and weekend scrambler, John Louis had his first tentative rides at Foxhall on Ron Bagley's speedway bike.

He looked a natural straight away - a natural scrambler having a go at a different sport that is!

But scrambling had taught him how to nip in front at the start of a race, and with only three opponents to worry about; he was able to take the lead early.

From there on, he used an assortment of manoeuvres to stay in front of more experienced junior riders, demonstrating the determination to succeed against all odds that has remained his strength over the next 40 years.

Former rider and Witches team manager Ron Bagley and my co-promoter in those days Joe Thurley were the two who finally persuaded the scrambler to have a go at speedway.

But it was Howdy Byford, the ex- speedway rider assigned to help the novice Ipswich promotion on its way that came up with the 'Tiger' nickname.

Howdy was also the first to recognise 'Tiger Louis' would have a big future in the sport, and even suggested back in 1969 that the Witches would reach the top with a home grown side.

During that winter John went to as many training schools as he could and equipped himself with brand new bike, leathers and full kit.

This kind of dedication and professionalism was almost unheard of in the Second Division back then, but proved, once the decision to race had been made, he was going to be a force to be reckoned with.

The new sensation was 28 years old when he first started speedway, but he looked much younger - so we never broadcast his age.

He was a promoter's dream, old enough to be sensible and professional but with the verve and personality of a youngster.

It was no surprise he became a huge crowd favourite overnight.

His results were outstanding, but it wasn't just race wins that set him apart.

He was a true personality and rapidly became the flag-bearer for the entire promotion.

He loved the limelight and never saw any public relations work as a chore but as fun.

John's success and that of Ipswich Speedway were intertwined and the one fed off the other.

He proved to be a natural captain, fully understanding all of the responsibilities that went with the kudos and together John Louis and Ipswich Speedway went through the golden years of the seventies.

It had always been my intention that John would become a part of the Ipswich promotion when he hung up his leathers, but such was his ability, his level of fitness and his refusal to accept age as a barrier that planning and timings went awry.

Looking back, it was a sensible and hard-nosed business decision when I replaced John as a rider at Ipswich. It was also heartless and not something of which I am proud.

Fortunately, bridges were mended and I am proud to have been the one who got him into speedway management back at Ipswich as I withdrew from the sport and John finally hung up his leathers.

From then on I have watched from afar, enjoying the success of father and son who have worked so hard, not just for Ipswich Speedway, their love and their business, but for their town, their county, and their country.

John Louis continues to defy age. He remains lively and enthusiastic in overall control of the speedway that has given so many people so much pleasure over the years.

It seems incredible to me, with the saturation coverage football received locally even when John was riding, and with the success Ipswich Town enjoyed under Bobby Robson and with such star names as Mick Mills, Kevin Beattie and so many more, John would consistently outvote them all in the Evening Star sporting personality awards.

Should John have been recognised with some kind of national honour by now?

Certainly I think his claim would be more justified than many who have had honours bestowed, inside and outside of speedway.

Anyone can nominate someone for honours. Maybe the Evening Star should mount a campaign?

Meantime, I believe Suffolk in general and Ipswich in particular have in John Louis the best sporting ambassador ever, the biggest local personality of his generation, and someone who has brought nothing but prestige and honour to the area over the 40 years of his speedway and his scrambling years before that.

John, Thanks for the memories.

JOHN BERRY

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LOUIS FACTFILE

Born: June 14 1941.

Honours

Third in individual world final in 1975.

Part of England's world cup winning teams in 1972, 1974 and 1975.

World pairs champion (with Malcolm Simmons) in 1976.

British champion in 1975.

British League riders' champion in 1979.

National League riders' champion in 1971.

Helped Ipswich win Division One title in 1975 and1976.

Part of Ipswich team that won Division One Cup in 1976, 1978 and 1981 and Division Two Cup in 1970 and 1971.

Promoter when Ipswich won unique treble in 1998.

Also former team manager of Team Great Britain.

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