Tony Hurren had a 30 year association with Hackney Speedway as one of the club's backroom team. Tony pays his own tribute to Zenon Plech
The passing of Zenon Plech came as a terrible shock to everyone involved in speedway racing, be it on the inside or outside of the safety fence. Having said that, I believe Zenon had been in poor health for quite some time.
I am no statistician (how I wish Professor Barnard was still with us) but looking at some old Hackney programmes I noticed that Zenon was in action at Waterden Road on July 6th, 1973 when Hackney staged the England v Poland Daily Mirror International Speedway Tournament.
It was something of a sensational debut because, in a match that England won 45 – 32, Zenon scored 11 paid 12 from five rides, having fallen in his fourth outing.
Zenon was always a crowd favourite at The Wick and was one of those much sought after riders who put bums on seats. When he was due out, it was race on.
He rode for Hackney in 1975 and 1976 and again in 1979, 1980 and 1981. He appeared for Sheffield in a handful of meetings the following year, which was his last season in Britain. He had a magnificent career in his native Poland, riding for Stal Gorzow from 1970 to 1976, then for Gdansk from 1977 to 1987.
On the individual front his finest hour was when he finished runner-up in the Speedway Championship of the Word in 1979. He was third in 1973 and made a total of eight World Final appearances. He was the Polish champion on five occasions and was twice crowned Continental Champion. He was a member of the Gdansk team that won the Polish League in 1985.
Arguably Zenon's most memorable meeting for Hackney did not take place at The Wick, but at Halifax. The Hawks were at The Shay for a British League match on August 9th, 1980 when after Heat 8, the home side were winning by 31 points to 16.
Amazingly, the next four races resulted in 5-1 scores for Hackney with Heat 13 drawn 3-3 giving The Hawks an astonishing victory by 39 points to 38.
The statistics from that meeting will I'm sure, again bring a smile to the face of all Hackney fans including Professor Barnard although, as I said previously, he is no longer with us. Zenon scored 14 paid 15 from five rides; Finn Thomsen scored 11; Bo Petersen 8 paid 10 and Roman Jankowski 6 paid 8. No other Hackney rider scored a point and The Hawks were on the receiving end of a 5-0 in Heat 4.
Below is how Hackney programme writer Hawkeye summed it up.
Zenon was 'responsible' (note the quotation marks) for Hackney promoter Len Silver being banned for a month from all aspects of speedway racing in 1976. In a British League match at Swindon on May 15th, 1976 Zenon was harshly excluded for unfair riding in Heat 13.
Len was both astonished and furious at the decision. He quickly headed for the referee's box and accosted the official. He was subsequently charged by the Speedway Control Board with ungentlemanly conduct. Word has it that Len's actions made him a bit of a hero with Zenon and his teammates, who believed they saw the funny side of the incident.
Zenon was at Hackney during the days of the old Eastern bloc which meant it was not easy to get in and out of Poland and a visa to do so was like gold dust. There were numerous occasions when Zenon had to return to his homeland to fulfil domestic fixtures and it was always fingers crossed that the Polish authorities would allow him to return. Fortunately, they did.
I ran the souvenir shops at Hackney for Len Silver and when Zenon had to return home, Len would ask me to hand Zenon some badges, ballpoint pens and key rings so that he could use them as a 'sweetener' if necessary at border crossing points.
Zenon was a truly wonderful man, being fast, fair and fully committed on the track. When he wasn't riding he always had time for the fans; would sign countless autographs; loved to talk about speedway; and he will be sadly missed. RIP Zenon – it was a pleasure to have known you.
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