The History of the Romford Bombers
Season Review 1972
West Ham Bombers

With Brooklands no longer able to stage Speedway, the search began again for a home for the Bombers. In the last ever Romford programme, Wally Mawdsley had said, "It is our earnest endeavour to ensure that there is a Romford Speedway in 1972 although it is impossible to say where at the moment". The Bombers' former landlords, Romford Football Club, announced plans early in 1972 to develop a stadium on Crown land close to the A12, near the junction with Mawney Road. Wally Mawdsley had become a director of the football club and would have an input into the plans and negotiations but, however they were to have progressed, it would not provide a solution for the 1972 season. "It is, of course, impossible to build a new stadium in a matter of weeks", continued Mawdsley in his programme notes. "It may be that we have to face a somewhat curtailed season next year. But do not fear, Romford Speedway will live on".

Romford was not the only track to lose its Speedway team at the end of the 1971 season. In East London, the Greyhound Racing Association, owners of the Custom House stadium, had sold the stadium site for redevelopment. The famous West Ham Hammers, for whom Custom House had been home since 1928, rode their last meeting at the end of the 1971 season. Having finished bottom of Division 1, their license was transferred to Ipswich. Custom House was not due for redevelopment immediately, though, with the bulldozers not due to move in until October. It offered the Bombers the possibility of a temporary home and to complete the 1972 season whilst negotiations for a more permanent base could continue.


Ted Howgego - 
new signing

MARCH
So it was that, on 29th March 1972, the Bombers took to the track at Canterbury under the West Ham name, their race jacket proudly displaying the famous crossed hammers superimposed over the RAF roundel. The challenge match ended in a 39-39 draw. The Bombers line-up included one newcomer from the previous season, Ted Howgego signing from Ipswich. Former Hammer Stan Stevens (who had joined Romford the previous season to assist his recovery from injuries received in the mini-bus crash in Lokeren, Belgium, that had cost the lives of five members of a West Ham touring team) was appointed Captain and Howdy Byford, another name synonymous with West Ham, took over the role of Bombers' Team Manager.



Stan Stevens - captain


APRIL

A further challenge match took place at Rayleigh on Easter Monday with the result again close - this time the Bombers losing out by the odd point, 38-39, following a last heat 5-1 from the Rockets. The first League match of the new season took place at a new venue to Division 2, Ellesmere Port, and another close contest saw the result in doubt until the final heat. A 5-1 to the Bombers would have clinched a draw but Kevin Holden was excluded for exceeding a two-minute warning and, bizarrely, the same fate befell his replacement, Charlie Benham. Bombers' only representative in the race, Stan Stevens, duly won the heat but the match ended in a 37-41 defeat for the Bombers. The first home match for the West Ham Bombers came on 11th April - Bombers switching from their usual Thursday race night to the Hammers' old Tuesday night spot. In the second leg of the challenge match against Rayleigh, Bombers ran out comfortable winners by 48-30. Brian Foote recorded a paid maximum and also set the new Div. 2 track record, 75.4 seconds.Mike Sampson scored 11 points from five reserve rides but the evening was marred by a fall by Ted Howgego that resulted in a broken collar bone. 


Vic Cross -
debut

1971 Champions Eastbourne provided the next opposition at their Arlington home and they handed the Bombers a 32-46 defeat. Ian Gills returned to the fold to replace the injured Howgego. The Bombers didn't have to wait long for revenge over the Eagles as, two days later, they came to Custom House and were defeated 45-32. Foote once again showed his liking for the Custom House circuit, being beaten only once by an opponent and reducing his best time to 75.0 secs. Eagles' Bobbie McNeil equalled the new record, as did Stan Stevens, clearly relishing his return to his old stamping ground. The track record was equalled twice more by Foote in Bomber's next match, against Berwick. Kevin Holden also grabbed a share of the record time and scored a paid maximum as Bombers ran out 46-32 winners. Vic Cross made his debut at reserve, signing from Boston to replace Charlie Benham, who had retired as he was finding the cost of competing to be uneconomical. A heat 10 crash for Mike Sampson resulted in broken bones in his foot and he would miss the Bombers' "tour" to the North, which began with the return against Berwick. Mike Lanham, previously at Ipswich and who had appeared in second halves at West Ham, made his debut at Berwick as replacement for the injured Sampson and scored a creditable 6 points but a last heat 5-1 to the Bandits gave them a 42-36 victory. The following evening brought another defeat for the Bombers at Sunderland, 35-42, with Lanham again giving a good account of himself with 5 points.


Mike Lanham -
ex-Ipswich

MAY
Peterborough
became the first visiting team to defeat the Bombers at Custom House as they recorded a 41-37 victory. Panthers' John Davis lowered the track record to 74.0 secs. Brian Foote became the Silver Helmet holder as he won the toss with Kevin Holden for the right to challenge holder Richard Greer. The Peterborough man's chain snapped during the match race. Foote's hold on the trophy was short lived, though, as he lost it at the first defence to Birmingham's Pete Bailey in a thrilling race where the lead changed hands several times before Bailey snatched victory on the line. Birmingham inflicted the Bombers' fourth successive League defeat, 36-42 at Perry Barr, despite the visitors being only two points behind at heat 10. 


Charlie Benham - return from retirement

The Bombers went into their next home meeting, against Ellesmere Port, with the news that Speedway at Custom House must end by 26th May. The Greyhound Racing Association were to relinquish ownership of the stadium to the developers and Maurice Morley said in his programme notes, "We can appreciate that you are all anxious to know the effect that this will have on the Bombers . We can give no statement, as boardroom meetings are taking place but we can tell you that we intend to keep the Bombers intact". One piece of good news was that Charlie Benham had returned to the side, having reconsidered his decision to quit. Maximums for Kevin Holden and Brian Foote saw Bombers cruise to a 55-23 victory over the Gunners. Revenge for the defeat at Sunderland came in the next fixture at Custom House, the 45-33 win bringing another maximum for Kevin Holden. In what was to be the Bombers' last ever away fixture, the trip to Crewe ended with a 27-51 thrashing, Bombers providing just two heat winners.

"Tuesday, 23rd May 1972 will be a day long remembered by hundreds of people connected with Speedway", wrote Maurice Morley in his programme notes for the meeting against Hull, "for, at the close of our presentation, the curtain will fall for ever on Custom House". Hopes of an extension to the tenure at Custom House had been foiled. Morley had earlier said in the press that "negotiations with another stadium management were taking place" and that he was "confident that the Bombers would be kept together to fulfill their 1972 programme". However, as the final meeting at Custom House arrived, riders and supporters alike were in the dark as to the team's future. The Bombers led the meeting 33-27 after heat 10 but two successive 5-1's to the Vikings gave them a two point lead going into heat 13. Hull skipper Tony Childs was on a maximum going into the last race and he duly picked up the required 3 points to ensure a final defeat for the Bombers, 38-40. Kevin Holden had the distinction of winning the last ever race at Custom House in the final of the "Farewell Trophy" second-half event.


Bob Coles -
to Barrow

As the Bombers' fans left Custom House for the last time, there were strong suggestions that the Bombers had ridden their last match. Wally Mawdsley told the press that two possible alternative venues were under consideration for the Bombers to race their nine remaining home league matches - these thought to have been Exeter and Crayford - but already rumours were circulating that the Bombers license would be transferred to Barrow, where non-League meetings were already being staged. A meeting of the Division 2 Management Committee held on 30th May 1972 agreed by a "very narrow majority" that, subject to approval by the Speedway Control Board, Barrow would indeed take over the Bombers' remaining fixtures. "I can assure our fans that it has not been for the want of trying that there will be no Speedway in or near Havering for the time being", said Maurice Morley. "There is still hope of Speedway coming back to Havering in the future. Our home is in Havering and we want to stay here". To add insult to injury, the demolition of Custom House Stadium did not start until October, as had been originally planned. 

Bob Coles and Mike Sampson were the first Bombers riders to transfer to Barrow, the two friends travelling together to the north west from their West Country homes for home meetings. Kevin Holden returned to Exeter and Brian Foote was recalled by Division 1 team Leicester, who promptly loaned him out to the Bomber's arch-rivals, Rayleigh! Ian Gills moved up to Div. 1 Newport whilst Charlie Benham signed for Canterbury. Ted Howgego went back to East Anglia to ride for Peterborough, whilst Stan Stevens was linked with a move to Boston, but later linked up with Coles and Sampson at Barrow. Despite the best efforts of the Promoters, the Bombers had taken their final chequered flag.

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