SPEEDWAY fan John Murphy looks back at when the sport's World Final took place at Odsal.

THIRTY years ago 16 of the world’s top Speedway riders came to Bradford. Just one would leave as the World Champion!

Denmark’s Erik Gundersen did just that five years earlier, when Odsal was the saviour of an England staged World Speedway Final - replacing Wembley Stadium in hosting the sport's premier event. The backing from Bradford Council was immense and the riders - from Denmark, Hungary, Italy, Czechoslovakia, Australia, USA, Sweden and Great Britain - would prove - unquestionably that the investment was well worth it once again.

Now First Buses are commemorating the 30th anniversary of the Speedway World Final in Odsal with the names of Erik Gundersen, winner of the first World Final at Bradford in 1985, and Per Jonsson, winner in 1990, on the front of buses. First value their close links with the communities they serve and specially the achievements of anyone bringing pride to the area. Thank you to First and Colin Brushwood at the Bradford depot for making this happen.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus:

Bradford's First buses are paying tribute to Speedway champs

Australian star Todd Wiltshire has no doubts about his World Final debut on September 1, 1990: "The meeting in Bradford was very special. It was an absolute achievement to get there, let alone get the result on the night (bronze).

Neil Evitts, a former Bradford rider, was amazing, offering the use of his house and workshop in the Midlands for me to prepare on the way from my base in Kent. He stripped my bikes down completely and then re-built them and was very instrumental in my success that night at Bradford. My biggest on-track regret was taking the race against Per Jonsson and Shawn Moran too ‘lightly’. I did give it my all but coming into the meeting I was confident in overcoming most of the boys - other than Kelvin Tatum and Hans Nielsen. They appeared to be the biggest threat. If I could have won that heat, or got second I had a good chance of winning the title. As things went Hans and Kelvin nearly took each other out in front of me! I managed second behind Hans and thought it a great result - eight points from three rides. I was a bit too relaxed going into my race with Per and Shawn. I loved the Odsal track, could probably say it was my favourite track. I loved the banking and always enjoyed racing there. I actually all but signed with Bradford in 1997 but was denied a visa to enter the UK that year..."

Bradford Telegraph and Argus:

A night scene from the world final at Odsal

Bradford Telegraph and Argus:

Speedway drew large crowds to Odsal

Bradford Telegraph and Argus:

Henrik 'Henka' Gustafsson

Reigning champion Denmark’s Hans Nielsen was out in heat 1, aiming to be the only rider to successfully defend a World Individual title, twice. He left no doubt of his intent - in winning in a time just a second outside his own Odsal track record. But heat 5 would prove disastrous for the Dane, with a third place behind Per Jonsson and new Swedish sensation Henka Gustafsson, who had already seriously dented the hopes of American ace (and co-favourite), Shawn Moran in heat 4.

After two straight wins for Sweden’s Per Jonsson, in heat 11, Rick Miller managed to relegate Per to second place. And with Shawn Moran having found his form with two wins, heat 16 would be key. Moran would take the win after a superb battle with Jonsson. With five rides each completed it would take a run-off to decide the 1990 World Speedway Champion. Per dominated the start and Shawn couldn’t make up the gap..

Bradford Telegraph and Argus:

L-R: Shawn Moran (second), Per Jonsson (winner), Todd Wiltshire (third)

Bradford Telegraph and Argus:

Winner Per Jonsson celebrates

Bradford Telegraph and Argus:

The eyes of the world were on Bradford

Curiously, no Bradford riders had qualified to compete but Jimmy Nilsen and Kelvin Tatum would wear a Dukes race jacket in the years to come. And Martin Dugard, though an Eastbourne rider would actually win a trophy with the Dukes as a guest for an injured Bradford rider. General opinion was that the track was in superb condition - thanks to Graham Trollope, Eric Boothroyd and Tim Swales. Ample proof were the race times over 21 races - the fastest by Per Jonsson of 59 seconds. The ‘slowest’, 60 seconds. Track staff member, Andrew Butler said the surface resembled a beach - so smooth and flat! Andrew said all the track staff were so proud to help make the night so special: "The crowd seemed bigger than in 1985 as the FIM insisted there was no standing allowed behind the terracing top barriers. Everything seemed to be moved nearer to the track.

This World Final would be the last to be held in England. A Grand Prix format would take over in 1995 and Odsal would host the British round in 1997. Odsal 1990 would also be unique as the only World Final ever in England to be broadcast live, in its entirety on public access television - on the Sky platform, by Screensport/Tommy Rander. Part of the production team was Mike Bennett, already familiar to Speedway fans for his video work at various tracks. Mike confirmed that additional camera equipment was hired from Yorkshire Television to ensure the best possible coverage was provided. Commentator Clive Fisher became the ‘voice’ of the Final and revealed the ‘verbal psychology’ between Moran and Jonsson just before their run-off to be World Champion: "Shawn said that at least they would both get a medal!" Immediately after Jonsson had crossed the line to win, Clive could see Per’s father coming down and kissing the track. He also revealed the most nervous person at Odsal that night was his co-commentator, Jan Anderson, who had kept quiet all evening to the fact that he had prepared and tuned the winner's engine.

The legacy of Odsal 1990 lives on, 1,800 km away in northern Poland! Per Jonsson became an iconic member of the Apator Toruń side and was asked to design the new track to be installed at what would become Speedway’s premier stadium, the Marian Rose Arena in Toruń. Per used his ‘favourite’ track as the template for a circuit that would provide the very best for riders - Osal! Toruń is the venue now that crowns the new World Champion and conclude each Grand Prix campaign.

This tribute to Odsal 1990 is dedicated to the memory of Antonin Kasper and Roman Matousek.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus:

Bradford's bus tribute to world champion Per Jonsson