Anyone interested in Speedway and its history will know the name Split Waterman; some will also know his name thanks to his business activities after his career on the shale was over. In fact, it was probably the later activities that resulted in obituaries appearing in the Times and the Daily Telegraph who rarely mention Speedway. Ian Kerr MBE reviews Life on the Edge.
Like many others, Squire Francis Waterman – soon to become known as ‘Split’ – had watched Speedway before the outbreak of the Second World War. During his time in the army that — due to injury in action — he got a posting to Naples with the Royal Electrical Mechanical Engineering (REME), which saw him develop his speedway talent and gain his moniker Split.
After the War, many Armed Forces motorcyclists sought fame and fortune in Speedway, and Split was one of the most successful in a period when the sport was at its height. It should be remembered that the crowds far exceeded any football match then and now, and the potential earnings eclipsed those of a professional football player in that period.
Apart from his outstanding success on the track, he was blessed with film-star good looks and a charismatic personality which made him a household name in the national press – think Barry Sheene in the ’70s, but this was the late ’40s and early ’50s.
Riding for the famous Wembley Lions — amongst other big-name teams — where he began his 15-year career after leaving the army, he regularly represented England. In the early 1950s, he was twice runner-up in the World Championship before retiring in 1962.
In this soft-back authorised biography by well-known Speedway journalist Trevor Davies and published by London League Publications, you get a real insight into Split Waterman, on-and-off the track. It includes contributions from other riders, speedway officials and supporters, and outlines the facts on his brushes with the law.
It seems that even when riding, he had several legitimate business interests — as well as a few other activities — and in 1968, he was convicted of trying to smuggle gold bullion out of the UK that had come from a bullion robbery and firearms. Although never charged, his name was also mentioned in several cases concerning weapons and the Krays. Later, in the seventies, he again served jail time in Italy for currency counterfeiting.
Waterman moved to Spain at the beginning of the seventies, where the warmer weather helped his significant Speedway injury (a broken kneecap), running an estate agency amongst other business activities. He kept in touch with Speedway through the TV and some of his old friends in reunions and during the odd visit before his demise in October 2019.
In many ways, the book gives insight into the man and the history of Speedway and is something of a glimpse of social history being well illustrated with period black and white images. Davies has written other Speedway titles and knows how to write; I found myself reading the 130 pages from start to finish, totally absorbed. A really good read on all fronts and well-worth the modest £14.95 for a quality publication.
Available from all good bookshops or direct from London League Publications www.llpshop.co.uk
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