Whilst 1953 was to be a great season for it Exeter, it all began in the most tragic of circumstances when Roy Ether came over from Australia and jumped at the opportunity of a trial at the County Ground before the season had started. In his first outing he snapped a chain and suffered concusion in the resulting fall. He recovered a couple of weeks later and turned up for a private practice session. Sadly, he was involved in a spill on turn two and recieved injuries to his head from which he died the same afternoon.
Pictured Left, Roy Eather before his trip to England and the County Ground.
The Falcons line up was much the same as the previous season, with the addition of another Australian Rob Meyer who had tried his hand in England some time before. Eric Minall also joined from Long Eaton and Jack Hart was fully recovered from his broken leg that he had sustained at the start of the 1952 season.
Exeter got their league challenge underway with a 56-28 win over St Austell and then an away win at Rayleigh which was to be overturned by the controlling body over a complaint over the use of Jack Geran. Geran, Hoskin and Barnett all scored maximums in Exeter's home meeting with Ipswich as they romped to a 69-15 win.
Ron Barrett then left to join First Division Birmingham and was seen as a blow to Exeter's Championship challenge, but wins at Ipswich and top of the table Swindon proved just how strong in depth the Exeter side was.
Charlie May then joined the Exeter team, but tragedy was to strike again when Morris Barnett was involved in a bad pile up that resulted in serious head injuries and was to end his riding days. With Barrett and Barnet out of the line up, Exeter looked a much weaker side, but the Falcons had other ideas, A home win against Swindon began an amazing run of wins for the Exeter team. Apart from a defeat at Oxford by 46-38, they went 10 matches undefeated.
Even a spell of injuries that included Meyer, Minall, Hart and then Geran couldn't deter the Falcons and Goog Hoskin set a new track record of 72.0 secs. During the spate of injuries, several local newcomers were given chances of claiming team placements including Francis Cann.
By the close of the season, more contraversy developed with Rayleigh who Exeter had beat to win the Southern league Title. Rulings regarding Rayleigh's protest were upheld, then overturned and finally ended in an on going wrangle that was never finalised. Though never an official fact, most felt that Exeter's claim to the title was more than justified.
Elsewhere in 1953
The optimism for the sport that grew in the previous two years had come to an abrupt halt and 1953 was not a good year for speedway. In fact, it was pretty disastrous. Crowds reached a dangerously low level and there were plenty of signals to indicate that the sport was in for a fairly torrid time in the decade ahead. There were several reasons why 1953 was a poor year for speedway. The Coronationn affected crowds adversely, as did the almost continuous wet weather that brought, up till then, a record number of rain affected matches and abandon meetings.
One real body blow came midway through the season when the New Cross promotion was forced to close down. There had been rumours that the London club were in some danger even before the season started, but everyone hoped that this famous team would weather the storm. Alas, it was not to be. New Cross, like other clubs at that time, was increasingly hit by the bad weather, the controversial entertainment tax, the rising challenge of television and the increase in transport charges. But, for New Cross, the final blow came when the Minister of Labour refused to grant an extension of Olle Nygren's one month work permit.
But despite the gloom, a speedway season, especially in Britain, has always revolved around its league programme. 1953 was certainly no exception. However, it was not without its fair share of controversy. As it was Coronation Year it was decided that the first half of the season would be given over to the Coronation Cup which was to be based on the league format. From July onwards the usual NL would go into operation, but with only half the usual number of matches.
In retrospect it was not a good idea. The record books will show that Harringay won the Coronation Cup and that Wembley won the National League. Obviously the NL result is the one that is remembered and Harringay cannot be blamed for feeling that they were robbed of a slice of real glory. They dominated the Coronation Cup and were leaders in the NL until an end of season injury-run pegged them back and allowed Wembley to sneak home by a solitary point. This was Wembley's seventh post-war league title but certainly not one of their best. Had the league started in its normal way - right from the start of the season, then Harringay would have had an overall aggregate win by five points. This would have been fair on the season's results. Wembley can consider themselves very lucky with the eventual outcome, especially considering their poor showing in the Coronation Cup. The famous Lions had relied extensively on their veteran riders while even the near panic signing of teenage sensation Brian Crutcher from Poole midway through the season failed to give sparkle to the team. But, at least, the Harringay squad, packed full of characters like Split Waterman and Jack Biggs, did see out the season and avoided the fate of London neighbours New Cross who were lying second in the Coronation Cup at the time of their shutdown. This closure was destined to bring a very strange sequence of events for the temporarily out of work New Cross riders.
Obviously a team lying second in the table must have plenty of ability, so there was no shortage of takers when it came to transferring the riders. After some deliberation, the ex Rangers were dispersed as follows. Cyril Roger (to Norwich), Eric French (to Wembley), Bert Roger (to West Ham), Bob Roger and Frank Lawrence (both to Birmingham) and Bill Longley (to Bradford and then Wimbledon). It was strange but not one of these riders managed to reproduce anything like his true form.
On the individual front there wasn't a lot of activity outside the world championship and this cleared the way for the Golden Helmet match race competition to grab a few headlines. Jack Young beat Fred Williams in May and then defeated Split Waterman in June. Young then relinquished the title. The new holder was Ronnie Moore who beat Alan Hunt in a July eliminator for the vacant crown. Ronnie went on to lower the colours of both Arthur Forrest and Jack Biggs to see the season out.
But Young was still very much the individual kingpin and he was the man they all had to beat on world final night. Could he get that hat-trick? Gating had seldom been his strong point and this proved to be his downfall on the night. He failed to gain a rostrum place even though he was undoubtedly the season's overall top performer. The world title went to Freddie Williams (for the second time) who scored 14pts from Split Waterman (13) and Geoff Mardon (12).
In the Test match arena, England dealt with Australia and New Zealand while National League clubs had a narrow 3-2 win over a Swedish international squad led by Nygren, Sune Karlsson and Rune Sormander. But the most significant international events were happening in Second Division tracks - although this was not known at the time. A young Swedish touring team called Filbyterna were giving a very good account of themselves and their top man seemed destined to make it to the top, surely. His name? ... Ove Fundin!