SPEEDWAY: Nielsen regret at Oxford

First published in Sport

HANS Nielsen is a sporting legend.

His name is synonymous with the Oxford Cheetahs - even though it is 16 years since the Dane last rode for the club.

But his feelings for the club have not - and will never - wane. And he admits he still cannot believe that there is no speedway at Oxford.

During his nine years at Cowley, which spanned 1984-1992, the Cheetahs were the most successful speedway team in the land.

They won the British League title three times in 1985, 1986 and 1989.

It was also a period that saw Nielsen pick up three of his four individual world titles.

In one incredible season in 1986, Oxford won every British League match they competed in, both home and away. It's an extraordinary record unlikely ever to be equalled.

That year Nielsen registered a record league average of 11.83.

And his away average for that season was a perfect 12.00 - in other words, he scored ten maximums in the ten away league matches.

It's little wonder that thousands flocked into Oxford Stadium every week to see Nielsen, the sport's ultimate professional, in action.

He was both a points-scoring machine and an expert at the art of team-riding.

And yet, at the same time, he always found time for the supporters. He would often been found down the pits signing autographs long after the racing had finished.

Of course, it was always going to be a problem for the Cheetahs once Nielsen moved on.

How do you replace the irreplaceable?

Most of the 15 seasons after his departure proved to be difficult, with a succession of different promoters and struggling teams.

And now there is no league speedway at Sandy Lane after 59 consecutive seasons of action.

Nielsen, who moved back to his native Denmark in 1995, is deeply saddened by the loss of Oxford Speedway.

He said: "Riding for Oxford formed a big part of my career. It's very sad that racing there has come to an end. It's a good stadium, with good fans.

"I hope the speedway is back very soon, hopefully in 2009. The longer it's away, the harder it is to get it back."

Nielsen added: "I have so many good memories of riding for the Cheetahs.

"It was the pinnacle of my career - on both an individual and team front.

"Winning the British League for the first time with Oxford is a memory that really sticks in my mind.

"To celebrate, we went through Oxford on a big double decker bus and met the mayor in the Town Hall. It was very special, with all the fans in the middle of town."

He joined Oxford in 1984. Stadium owners Northern Sports had big plans and set aside a budget of £100,000 to sign riders on the club's return to the sport's top flight.

Nielsen was signed for a world record fee of £30,000, while other signings included bubbly Englishman Simon Wigg (£25,000), hot-shot youngster Marvyn Cox (£15,000) and Nielsen's fellow Dane Jens Rasmussen (£15,000).

A further signing followed in 1985 - former British champion Andy Grahame (£20,000).

Nielsen says: "It was great to ride for a successful team. Before Oxford, I had seven years at Wolverhampton and Birmingham and never won a thing with either of them.

"But at Oxford, it all fell into place. Everything was right.

"It was a strong team, with good team spirit. We were all fairly young as well - most of us were in our early 20s. And there was enough capital to buy good riders.

"We had excellent promoters in John Payne and Bernard Crapper, and they had good support from the money men behind them.

"And then we got a newly-refurbished stadium complex. There weren't too many stadiums like that at that time."

It was a dream time to be an Oxford supporter, and the trophy cabinet was soon bursting.

In additional to the league titles, Cheetahs won the Knockout Cup, the Midland Cup (twice), the Gold Cup and four successive British Open Pairs Championships.

And the quality of racing at Cowley was also excellent - thanks, largely, to Nielsen.

He explained: "I rode in an inter-league challenge meeting at Oxford in 1983, the year before I joined, and although I thought it was a good surface, I felt the track was a bit too square.

"So I asked the track guys, Barry Strange and John White, to take a bit off the corners and they did.

"They always prepared a super track, and it really suited my style of racing.

"We had lots of grip on the outside. If I missed the gate, which didn't happen that often to be honest, I could still pass."

Nielsen is now 48, but looks at least ten years younger.

He's still in perfect physical shape - and if he climbed back onto a speedway bike, you feel he'd still have the beating of most the young whipper-snappers.

But nowadays he has another concerns - including the budding golf careers of his two children.

Nielsen took up golf during his riding days, as a way to relax. He once bought wife Suzanne a Rolls Royce after she shot a hole-in-one, in a story that made the front page of the Oxford Mail.

The proud father says: "Both my kids are doing very well at golf, and want professional careers.

"Daniel, aged 12, has a handicap of 4.5 - which is as good as me.

"And my daughter Daisy, 13, now has a handicap of 1.7 - so she's a lot better than I am.

She finished second in the Amateur Ladies Matchplay Championship in Denmark last year. That's the senior competition - not the junior competition.

"Daisy wants to be a professional golfer by the time she's 18.

"I want her to also continue her school work. But, she points out at the age of 17, I had given up school and was riding speedway in England with Wolverhampton!

"If that's want she wants to do, we won't stop her. She's extremely good, and has a good chance of making it.

"Daniel is also talented. He's 18 months younger than Daisy and the competition amongst the boys is much greater. But he's the first or second best in Denmark at his age.

"Over the last year, we've been to France, Norway, Wales and Sweden. We now travel around Europe with the golf instead of the speedway!

"The excitement is just as great with the kids now as it was with my own speedway career."

Nielsen also supports wife Suzanne in running a ladies clothing shop and he also has some property that he rents out.

He's a busy man and admits: "I don't get to watch much speedway these days.

"I watch the Grand Prix rounds on television and I go to the Danish Grand Prix. I see some local league matches at Brovst, but otherwise that's about it.

"I still follow what's going on, though, and I hope Oxford is back soon."

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