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Freddie Williams

Double world speedway champion who created a sporting dynasty;

Born: March 12, 1926; Died: January 20, 2013.

Freddie Williams, who has died aged 86, was a former world speedway champion and the first British rider to win the world championship twice. His speedway forays into Scotland included White City in Glasgow, and most notably in 1952 at the Lanarkshire Eagles track in Motherwell when a Scotland v England international attracted 35,000 spectators, the largest crowd ever to attend a speedway match in Scotland. In that highly charged match, Scotland managed to pull off a 56-52 victory in front of a highly partisan home crowd.

A passionate Welshman, Williams nevertheless accepted being capped for England in 1949, having a regular slot with the Auld Enemy from then on. He achieved the world double at the Empire Stadium, Wembley, in 1950 and 1953, and might have completed a hat trick but for being edged into runner-up position in 1952. His world feat by a British ride was emulated only by Englishman Peter Craven a decade later.

Williams spent his entire racing career in London with Wembley Lions between 1947-56, helping the club gain five national league titles. Lantern-jawed under a mop of hair, he personified determination, a gutsy rider at his happiest when he led the field.

When he hung up his helmet after a decade of racing, he continued speedway action from 1970 as team manager for his beloved Wembley Lions. The talent he nurtured included Scottish internationalist Bert Harkins from Glasgow, with Bert going on to become Wembley team captain.

Off the track, he and Harkins were great friends, and on one of the many weekends when Harkins stayed at Williams's country home in Hertfordshire, Harkins met his future wife Edith, then an au pair from Nuremberg.

Highly regarded by his fellow riders, Williams was a popular choice for president of the World Speedway Riders' Association in 1981 and during his time in office was guest of honour when the British Speedway Grand Prix was staged at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff.

His life was built around sport. As a schoolboy in Port Talbot he played rugby with classmate Richard Burton (better known to Williams as Dickie Jenkins). Wartime took him to Portsmouth as an engineer fitter, and it was an army posting as a motorbike despatch rider which nurtured his interest in racing. He turned first to grass tracks, then on to what he termed "real speedway" on dirt tracks.

The sporting dynasty of the Williams family began with brothers Ian and Eric joining Freddie in speedway, and continued in 1952 when Freddie married Olympic ice skater Pat Devries. Daughters Jayne and Sarah followed their mother into the championship world of figure skating, with Jayne moving into equestrian sports and winning the Horse of The Year Show. Son David was a successful professional golfer on the European circuit, and is now tournament director for the PGA.

Freddie Williams died in hospital in Swindon following a stroke, and is survived by his wife Pat and their children.

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