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LEGEND: John Berry (top left) with his Ipswich Witches speedway team that won the Division One championship for the second year running in 1976. Team (from the left back row) John Berry (promoter), Mike Lanham, Tony Davey, Billy Sanders, Kevin Jolly, John Louis (captain on bike) Dave Gooderham and Ron Bagl
By Stuart Watson
Friday, August 3, 2012
TRIBUTES have been flooding in for legendary Ipswich Witches speedway promoter John Berry following his sudden death at his home in Perth, Australia.
Berry and partner Joe Thurley brought speedway racing back to Foxhall Stadium in 1969 when they built a new track inside the original speedway circuit, which had been tarmac surfaced for stock car racing in the mid 1960s.
He then set about a one-man mission of passionately recruiting local riders such as John Louis, Tony ‘Shrimp’ Davey and Mike Lanham, his straight-talking approach quickly whipping them into the golden generation which went on to dominate the sport throughout the 70s and early 1980s.
“Without John Berry there wouldn’t be the Ipswich Witches – it’s as simple as that,” said James Easter, the former Great Britain team manager and Peterborough promoter who built a close relationship with Berry.
“He master-minded everything and could create an absolute gem of a rider from nothing.
“His impact on speedway, not just in this town but across the country, cannot be underestimated. He was as big in speedway as Bobby Robson was in football.”
Former England international John Louis, the man who was discovered by Berry and stepped into his shoes as Witches promoter in 1985, said: “No other promoter has or ever will achieve what he did in the sport in my mind.
“He built a team out of largely local boys, turning us into national and world champions. I still remember the day he came into the shop I was working in and virtually begged me to give speedway a go.
“What he did was absolutely phenomenal.”
Berry, who was in his mid-60s, stepped down from his role as Witches promoter in 1985 soon after the tragic early death of Billy Sanders, the fantastic rider he’d proved instrumental in bringing over from Australia aged just 16.
However, despite emigrating to Australia, his non-nonsense approach was still felt on these shores through the publication of a series of books lifting the lid on his time at Witches. And he was never short of a few words to say to this newspaper when he felt his beloved sport was not being run correctly.
– For full tribute see tomorrow’s East Anglian Daily Times.
– Send your tributes to: firstname.lastname@example.org, or write to: Sports desk, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN.