Belle Vue Ace 1962 - 1975

SOREN SJOSTEN  BELLE VUE 1962-1964 & 1967-1975

Speedway riders seldom have an immediate impact for their chosen club; Soren Sjosten was an exception to this rule. After spending his formative years learning his trade in his native Sweden, this diminutive little racer set Manchester alight one Friday night in 1961. It also alerted the Belle Vue management and British speedway of an emerging talent.

Soren was born in 1938 and took his initial rides at the Folkare track in 1957. After some hair raising, but promising practice displays, he signed for the club in 1958 and made rapid strides. Testimony to his meteoric progress was his success, in winning the 1959 Swedish Junior Championship. In one bizarre race for the Swedish Silver Helmet, Soren became the holder, despite falling twice, his opponent fell three times. It became obvious that Sjosten was capable of racing at a higher sphere, with the Vargarna club capturing his services in 1960. Here he linked up with another Swedish legend, Bjorn Knuttson and ended the year as Vargarna’s top scorer, which was no fluke. And speedway was not the Swede’s only talent; he was an accomplished wrestler, winning various championships during his National Service. Small he may have been, but he was as strong as an Ox.

However, it was in that Great Britain versus Sweden test match on Friday 14th July 1961, that Sjosten burst onto the British scene. In his first race, he defeated no less than ex world champion, Ronnie Moore, who was no mean performer himself and went on to score 9 points, on that rainy Manchester evening. In 1962, Aces manager, Ken Sharples was looking to strengthen the side and remembering the Swede’s outstanding Belle Vue debut in 1961, he approached the rider as to his availability. Soren duly signed, to begin a long and happy stay in Manchester.

His Aces debut too was remarkable, as he blasted to a 15 point maximum against the mighty Wimbledon Dons. Supporters took this pocket battleship of a rider into their hearts immediately; his popularity with the female fans was even more noticeable. It was this never say die attitude to his racing that endeared him to many outside Manchester.

The experience of racing in Britain helped him achieve a milestone, when he reached his maiden world final, scoring 8 points. During the 1962 season, Soren travelled with Peter Craven, which helped him as he struggled to come to terms with strange surroundings and a lack of knowledge of the English language. His spectacular riding style certainly thrilled everyone who witnessed it and he was soon compared with Craven, a spectacular racer himself.

His progress continued in 1963 and was fully expected to win through the world final again. Surprisingly, he bowed out of the competition at the Nordic Final stage, where he struggled for his 5 points. However, his league form was excellent; it was a good rider who beat him around the Hyde Road bowl. Although the National League title returned to Manchester, it mattered little, as the club mourned the death of Peter Craven in September. Craven’s passing left a big void and Sjosten was looked on as the mainstay of the team.

Despite his small stature, Soren quickly found the best way to entertain his public. If it was spectacular racing you wanted to see, then the tiny Swede was the man to provide it. He would literally stalk an opponent for three laps before going for the ‘big one’ by sweeping round his rival, with his rear wheel inches from the safety fence. Legend had it that he was paid extra to pass riders on the last bend; I doubt that it would have made a difference anyway; Sjosten was a natural entertainer and knew how to ‘milk it’. Even at the away tracks, his all action riding endeared him to the opposing fans and he was certainly a most welcome visitor with the Aces.

The 1964 season was a troubled one for the then National League, which was diminishing in numbers. Soren remained at the top of his form in the league, but once again, he failed to reach the world final which was to be held in his native Sweden. Little did we know that this was to be his last season in Manchester for a while, as rumours that an amalgamation between the National and Provincial League’s was imminent?  One of the main points to emerge from this was the Swedish riders being banned and sadly for Soren, he fell into this category.  

Our only sighting of the wee man during the 1965 season was at Wembley, when he again made the final night. On the way to Wembley, he was crowned Nordic champion. He returned to Manchester on 30th July 1966 with the Vargarna touring side and received a hero’s welcome from the crowd. How we all craved to have him back with the club. Sjosten showed he had not forgotten the best way around the vast Belle Vue bowl, as he scorched to a paid maximum, on a track sodden by the Manchester monsoon season. During this two season period, his absence certainly affected the performance of the team; but good news was just around the corner.

During the winter recess, Dent Oliver had taken over the reigns of team manager and looked to strengthen the side and viewed Soren as a rider he would like to have back. Now there would be no obstacle preventing him riding in Britain, as he had married a Salford girl, Yvonne Waugh. As he was supporting an English citizen, he was therefore allowed to resume his racing at Hyde Road. With the addition of ex Halifax rider Tommy Roper, the Aces had the makings of a strong outfit. However, fate decreed that Sjosten’s return was to be a short one. In May, he collided with the Newport safety fence and sustained a broken leg; that was the end of his season.

He was back in harness for the following season and showed no ill effects from the injury. It seemed at this time that he had reached the peak of his form, but how wrong could we have been. The arrival of Ivan Mauger in 1969 seemed to spur the tiny Swede on to greater heights; his riding improved significantly, with the challenge of Mauger, who took the number one mantle. In the Wembley final, he secured a rostrum placing, with Mauger retaining his title. There is little doubt that Mauger and Sjosten had a great bearing on the three great championship teams of 1970-71-72. Together, they formed a potent spearhead, which was ably backed by the next generation, who improved beyond expectation.  Another title that came Sjosten’s way was the Nordic-British Final, held at Coventry in 1970.

Even after Ivan had moved to Exeter, Soren remained the figurehead of the team. However, it was the emerging talent of Peter Collins that posed the latest threat to Soren. He was in the side on that unforgettable October evening, when Belle Vue won the KO Cup against Reading in 1973. This however, was not the end of his trophy gathering.

His riding in 1974 was sensational, at a time when many thought that he was past his best. He made them eat their words by achieving a third placing in the Gothenburg World Final. In the test series with England, he stood alone, scoring 71 points from a possible 90, as the Lions pummelled Sweden. Proof, that on his day, he could still give the best a severe testing. Despite winning numerous medals with Sweden in the World Team Cup, individual success eluded him. However, he was crowned as a World Pairs Champion, when the event was held at Hyde Road in 1974. His partner on the day was Anders Michanek.

All good things have to come to an end and in 1975, it was to be Soren’s last season with the club. Belle Vue did reward his loyalty, when granting him a testimonial meeting; this was held on another soggy Manchester afternoon. His time with the club ended with two more trophies, as the Aces won the KO Cup and Inter League KO Cup. It was a sad occasion for us all when Soren departed from Belle Vue, but times were changing, with younger riders coming to the fore. He did continue to race in Britain for three more seasons at Birmingham, Wolverhampton and finally Bristol.

It is fair to say that life was not kind to Soren after his riding days ended. His marriage to Yvonne broke up and he also suffered the tragic loss of his younger brother, Christer, who lost his life after a track crash in Brisbane, Australia in 1979. Eventually, he was repatriated to his native country, but little else is known about him during this period.

Those of us who saw him race, will forever remember him for his cavalier style of riding, although Sjosten did have a very strong loyalty towards his team mates. If ever an opposing rider attempted an underhand move on a junior member, who was it who stepped in? Soren. Australian,Jim Airey once felt the Swedes wrath and it took several minutes to restore diplomatic relations in the pit area. Poor Tommy Roper was pillored for shifting the Swede out wide towards the fence during a last heat dust up in 1969 and he was on the same side! He also looked after his own machinery, which was always kept in immaculate condition 

Soren also possessed a great sense of humour and showed this on one of the Aces trips to race in Leningrad. Fishing was one of his ways of relaxing, so the team stopped for a spot of fishing, despite what appeared to be warning signs. It was during the onward journey that Sjosten revealed that the sign forbade fishing and anyone caught would be liable for the equivalent of a £30 fine. 

Soren Sjosten passed away in April 1999, aged 61, at his home in Avesta, Sweden, his funeral being held on the 24th April. He had been that rare breed of racer who was dependant on balance as well as the abundant skill he had.

Thank you Soren for the happy times you gave us, if anyone constructed a Belle Vue top twenty, you would most certainly figure amongst that number.

by Trevor James