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HISTORY: How Oxford Speedway’s eight league titles were clinched

OXFORD SPEEDWAY has won eight league championships in our history. Five of those titles have been won at top-tier level and three at third-tier level.

Here’s how the eight league titles were secured:

September 21, 1950: Cheetahs clinched the National League Division Three championship with a 52-32 victory over Rayleigh Rockets at Cowley. A home 20-point victory over St Austell seven days earlier left Cheetahs one further victory away from glory. On September 16, the champagne stayed on ice after a seven-point defeat at Swindon, but it meant the league championship could be secured at home. Determined Cheetahs charged into a 30-12 lead over Rockets at the halfway stage. It was only a matter of time before the championship was mathematically sealed and that came after Bob McFarlane finished second in Heat 11 – ironically Rayleigh’s only heat advantage of the evening. No 1 Pat Clarke completed a paid maximum for Cheetahs by winning the final race, while Oxford eventually finished five points clear of runners-up Poole in the final Division Three table.

September 17, 1964: Cheetahs clinched the National League championship, the first-time that the club won a top-flight league title, with a hard-fought 45-39 victory over local rivals Swindon at Cowley. Robins – led by newly crowned World Champion Barry Briggs – moved into an early 9-3 lead. Youngster Eddie Reeves was unbeaten in both his rides, as Cheetahs edged ahead. Briggs won both Heats 12 and 13, but Colin Gooddy and Ronnie Genz followed him home in the latter race, to clinch the championship. Coventry won their final two away league matches, so Cheetahs finished just a point clear of Bees. Meanwhile, a week later on September 24, Cheetahs completed the treble with a memorable 85-83 victory over West Ham in the National Trophy final, despite losing the first leg at Custom House by twenty points. Skipper Jack Geran had retired after winning the league title with Cheetahs, but returned to action for the second leg, after he found out how badly Cheetahs had fared without him in the first leg.

October 11, 1985: Cheetahs clinched the British League – their league title for 21 years – with a 45-33 victory over local rivals Swindon at Sandy Lane. Cheetahs entered the evening requiring a draw to secure the championship. A third win from the immaculate Hans Nielsen in Heat 10 meant Cheetahs only needed to provide a finisher in the remaining three races to take the title. The championship was put beyond mathematical doubt when German Klaus Lausch finished second in Heat 11, after Simon Wigg had fallen in the first attempt to stage the race. After Wigg and Jens Rasmussen took a 4-2 in Heat 13, the celebrations began in earnest. To complete a memorable night for Cheetahs’ fans, Nielsen regained the Golden Helmet with a display of wheelies after Bo Petersen touched the tapes, and Pip Lamb took his first steps around Oxford since a broken back at Cowley in 1979 had left him paralysed. Cheetahs ended the season with three trophies, only losing out in the League Cup final at Coventry. The Knockout Cup final against Ipswich was a thriller, and arguably the second leg was the best-ever meeting at Cowley, with Wigg and Troy Butler coming through for a cup-winning 3-3 in the final race.

October 11, 1986: Oxford retained the British League with a massive 56-21 victory AT Swindon – the biggest away league victory in the club’s history. Needing only the aggregate bonus point, the championship was mathematically in the bag after Hans Nielsen and Per Sorensen took a 5-1 from Heat 5. Oxford took the final five heats with four 5-1s and one 5-0, with Nielsen (11+1), Marvyn Cox (11+1), Simon Wigg (10+2) and Sorensen (10+2) all completing maximums. And it was sweet revenge for Sorensen who had been dropped by Swindon earlier in the season. Cheetahs won 18 of their BL matches they completed for a unique 100% top-flight league record. Only rain cost Oxford the Grand Slam of all four team trophies, with the KO and League Cups having to be shared with Cradley Heath after several fruitless attempts to hold the Cowley legs of both competitions. Skipper Nielsen set a record with a BL average of 11.83, including a perfect 12.00 from ten away league matches.

November 1, 1989: Cheetahs won their third British League title in five years, after a 48-42 victory over injury-hit Cradley Heathens in the first-half of a double-header at Sandy Lane. This double-header, also involving Coventry, was held one day outside the official close of the season, after the original staging five days earlier had been called off due to track conditions, after one abortive attempt to hold Heat 1, during which Troy Butler was injured. Oxford needed to win one of the two meetings to win the league, while Marvyn Cox declared himself fit to ride, despite a recent leg injury. Cheetahs took early control with 5-1s in Heats 2 and 3. However, their lead was cut to 31-29 after 10 races. Martin Dugard and guest Gary Hicks took a vital 5-1 for Cheetahs in Heat 11, then a 4-2 in Heat 12 from Hans Nielsen and Cox increased Oxford’s advantage to eight points. A 5-1 in Heat 13 from Simon Wigg and Dugard, who raced from behind, clinched the championship. Oxford also defeated Coventry by 49-41 in the second half to finish six points clear of runners-up Wolverhampton. Nielsen, Wigg, Cox and Andy Grahame were all involved in all three championship-winning sides of the eighties.

October 9, 2001: Cheetahs clinched the Elite League with a thrilling 45-45 draw in their penultimate league match at Ipswich. Reserve Ales Dryml was in superb form, scoring paid sixteen from six rides. A 5-1 from Steve Johnston and Dryml in Heat 14 brought the scores level at 42-42, while Leigh Adams (10) and Todd Wiltshire (8+1) clinched the title by taking a 3-3 from Heat 15, with Wiltshire allowing Scott Nicholls to take the lead and the Oxford pair concentrating on keeping Chris Louis at the back. Cheetahs relaxed and lost their following home meeting to Coventry, and therefore finished just a single point ahead of runners-up Poole in the final table.

October 6, 2005: A patched-up Oxford Academy – minus the injured Ben Barker, John Branney and Kyle Hughes – clinched the Conference League title, with a 54-39 victory over Newport Mavericks in the second half of a double-header at Sandy Lane. Hughes was injured while playing a starring role in the preceding 51-45 victory over fellow contenders Weymouth Wildcats. Against Mavericks, both skipper Craig Branney (15) and Chris Mills (13+2) scored both maximums. Current Oxford promoter Jamie Courtney scored 9+1, losing out on a paid maximum when a snapped clutch cable sent him careering through the tapes in Heat 9. The title was secured when Scott Courtney and Sam Martin (both 8+1) took a 5-1 in Heat 14. Academy finished one point ahead of Wimbledon in the final Conference League table.

October 31, 2023: Memories are still very fresh, regarding WSRA Oxford Chargers’ 34-32 victory over Leicester Lion Cubs in what proved a one-legged National League Grand Final at Oxford Stadium, after the Leicester leg was called off on three separate occasions. Ryan Kinsley was top-scorer on 8+1, while the decisive moment proved to be when Henry Atkins (7+1) fended off Dan Thompson in what turned out to be the final race in Heat 11. Skipper Jordan Jenkins (6) produced a wonder ride to win Heat 6 – going from last to first in less than a lap off a 15-metre handicap – Jody Scott (5) and Luke Killeen (3+1) took a hugely important 5-1 in Heat 3, in terms of the momentum of the meeting, while reserves Jacob Clouting (3) and Jason Garrad (2) also chipped in vital points. The track staff, led by promoter Jamie Courtney, did an amazing job to get the meeting on, following rain not only on preceding days but also the day of the meeting itself, while the heavy rain stayed away for long enough for a meeting result. No-one wanted to see a curtailed meeting, but the arrival of the rain was inevitable following the delay after the accident to Leicester’s Max Perry on the first turn of Heat 12. Perry’s accident was not caused by conditions, but rather than by four committed riders on the first turn. It was a relief when his injuries turned out not to be quite as bad as first feared – he was released from the John Radcliffe Hospital on Friday with a broken wrist and a broken ankle and is now recuperating at home. Speedy recovery Max!

Compiled by Rob Peasley

PHOTO: Simon Wigg receives the bumps after being involved in the ride where Oxford Cheetahs clinched the British League title in 1989 (PIC: JOHN GAISFORD)