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George Dodds's picture

If you have a few moments to spare when you’ve finished reading The Dirt Xtra! tonight I thoroughly recommend logging onto Facebook, navigating to a site called Forgotten Berwick and typing the name “Ivan Mauger” into the search box.
Your reward will be a magnificent picture, posted a couple of years ago by Norman Clark, of the Flying Kiwi lining up in front of a packed paddock at Shielfield Park in 1975.
Coaches of fans came from Newcastle and Glasgow that July evening as a crowd estimated at over 6,000 welcomed Ivan, golden bike and all, for three match races against Jimmy McMillan – a stunning curtain-raiser to that year’s Bordernapolis.
I was shoehorned into the throng in the old wing paddock, behind the old start line, that night as Ivan characteristically streaked from the gate in each of the three rides before posing on the centre green for pictures and signing autographs by the hundred.
It was no surprise that McMillan who would become a Bandit a decade or so later and was at the time, a 9+ average man himself in Division one, was left trailing by Ivan … just about everyone was in those days.
Ivan was in his prime when the Taylor family pulled off the huge coup of luring him north, slap bang in the middle of a decade when, first for Newcastle, then Belle Vue and Exeter, he averaged over 11 points a meeting in each season.
During that period Mauger raced 340 league meetings and recorded 171 full and 26 paid maximums.
In 1969 he dropped just 13 points in 37 matches.
Just think about that for a moment – in almost half the meetings he raced over a decade, Ivan Mauger was unbeaten by an opponent.
Throw into the mix six World titles from 14 final appearances – three times in a row, including nine consecutive race wins – runner-up three times and on the podium on a further occasion and you can see that no-one before, or since, has dominated the sport in a way Ivan did – all in an era when some of the sport’s best-ever – Briggs, Olsen, Michanek, Collins, Sjosten, Boocock, Simmons, Jessup provided opposition on a weekly basis.
While you’re on the Internet I also recommend a search of Youtube for a 1977 Westward TV documentary called, somewhat unimaginatively “The Flying Kiwi” which shows the driven rider and smart businessman that Ivan became.
In 1975 speedway was still pretty much a sport for the men in black leathers but Ivan managed to have a different set for each of his races – the green and white Exeter pair in Norman’s picture being the forerunner to current team suits.
He was very much a man decades ahead of his time with a portfolio of sponsors who he advertised with custom-made bodycolours and, in the case of Pernod, with a promotion team giving out free samples wherever he rode.
In an era when a bobble hat and a fag was still de rigeur, Ivan trained with Manchester City.
In 1973 Ivan finished fourth in the BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards – ahead of Jackie Stewart and England cricket captain Ray Illingworth – and through Dave Lanning and the World of Sport team was a familiar name to sports fans and not just us speedway nuts.
That is why, over 30 years after he retired, his death is being mourned around the world.
I had moved to Yorkshire by the time that Ian Thomas paid the World record fee of £20,000 to sign him for Hull in 1978 – a signing which I watched live on the Yorkshire regional news, such was its impact.
And it was as a Viking that Ivan made his second Shielfield appearance in 1980 when the Bandits faced Halifax – led by Kenny Carter, Sheffield and Hull in leg three of the Inter-League Four Team Tournament.
Raced on a sunny Sunday afternoon, again the Shielfield turnstiles were sent spinning as Ivan led a Hull quartet which also included Denis Sigalos, Joe Owen and Bobby Beaton to victory on their way to reaching the final of a tournament they had won the previous year.
It wasn’t a great afternoon for Ivan – making a rare Sunday appearance in Britain on a day which normally saw him racing on the lucrative European longtrack circuits – as uncharacteristic engine troubles restricted him to just six points from four rides.
Carter raced to a 12-point maximum that day and just two years later Ivan was in the pits as his manager when the Yorkshireman controversially clashed with Bruce Penhall in the Los Angeles World Final – co-promoted by Mauger, Barry Briggs and Harry Oxley.
Briggs and Mauger took speedway around the world with their World Champions Troupe – including inside the Houston Astrodome – and he successfully promoted longtrack in New Zealand and Australia after retirement.
Living in south Yorkshire during the late 70s meant that I was able to see Ivan become the master of The Boulevard before finally retiring after a bizarre 1984 season when he rode only home meetings for Exeter, who were allowed to use guests away from The County Ground.
British speedway was afraid to lose the drawing power of Mauger and twisted the rules to allow him one last hurrah. Really you couldn’t blame them.
His son Kym was briefly a Bandit a year after dad called time on his career but it cannot have been much fun carrying such a legendary surname into the sport.
It’s perhaps fitting that the first Shielfield meeting after his death on Monday will see Newcastle, whose colours he sported at the beginning of his domination of the sport, as the visitors.
There will never be a rider like Ivan – on or off the track – and I feel privileged to say that when he drew huge crowds to Berwick … I was there.