TOBY – A PROFILE OF TORBJÖRN HARRYSSON
Newport Wasps lost their first Swedish icon Gote Nordin (a star of the 1966 season) to Poole. They replaced him with another Swede, the man who surprisingly finished ahead of him in the 1966 World Championship Final in Ullevi, Torbjorn Harrysson. Harrysson it is reputed had ridden less than thirty meetings prior to finishing fifth in the Final with 10 points from five rides behind the eventual champion, Barry Briggs.
Harrysson had visited the UK with his Swedish team Vagarna featuring prominently as they recorded victories at Belle Vue and Long Eaton on their seven match tour. As a result he became a major target for British League clubs. Newport were fortunate to capture his signature.
From the outset he took the club by storm with his exciting and attacking style of speedway. Initially he lived with fellow rider Dave Gifford in Manchester. As Gifford recalls in an article on SpeedwayPlus “To put it mildly Harry’s English was not good, but it never stopped him from talking even if he was the only one listening and he laughed a lot which made him good company.”
The records show a slow start. His first match was against Ivan Mauger’s Newcastle Diamonds on Friday March 24. He was last in his first race and recorded four points overall in a 44-34 victory. The following Monday he was in better form, scoring 9 paid 10 against Wolverhampton and recorded his first race win in his final race beating Hasse Holmqvist. In his next meeting at home to Sheffield he recorded a 12 point maximum and a paid maximum in the next against Oxford. In between he scored 10 points at Dudley Wood as Newport recorded a rare away victory, 43-35 against Cradley. The only misfortune for Newport was that Toby as he came to be known had to miss a number of meetings due to Swedish commitments, they lost at home and away in quick succession to Poole early in the season and lost all five of their last fixtures.
But in between Harrysson was beating all before him. On July 7 1967 at Glasgow Harrysson recorded a maximum as Newport slip to a 43-34 defeat . The report of the meeting states “For once, Charlie Monk doesn’t score his customary maximum, when Torbjorn Harrysson leads him home in his first outing, in the only race to be completed below the eighty seconds barrier.” Monk returned the compliment at Somerton Park although Harrysson beat him in the second half race-off.
It was a similar story in 1968 he inflicted a rare defeat on Ivan Mauger in the early season match against Newcastle and beat Briggs in a thrilling heat 14 victory as the Wasps beat Swindon in June. The Speedway Star reported on the July 12 meeting at Somerton Park (Newport 46 Hackney 32) “Torbjorn Harrysson and Bobby Hughes continued to develop their recently-formed partnership and Toby’s team-riding was a JOY to watch. This pairing is the Wasps’ strongest and their Heat 11 dead heat for first place illustrates just how well they work together.”
Harrysson was injured in an individual meeting at the beginning of August 2 (see picture below) and despite a broken toe resumed riding a few weeks later. He was fighting hard to get fit for the World Championship Final. Although not quite at his best (and with a reduced average as a result) he turned in some solid performances in the League not least at Belle Vue in October 1968. A Belle Vue Aces fan of fifty years Frank Cook recalls Harrysson at that meeting “If you ever saw Soren Sjosten at his best he needed some beating. I always remember when Newport came to Hyde Road, he fought wheel to wheel for four laps with Torbjorn Harrysson. Toby was a brilliant rider ..I loved his style of riding. His battles with Soren Sjosten at Hyde Road were brilliant.”
Two other snippets regarding Harrysson’s prowess….1968 World Final report from the Speedway Star “But Barry won the best race of the night when he fought a titanic duel with the spectacular Torbjorn Harrysson in Heat 10. Wee Toby had emerged as the darling of the crowd with some incredible riding that brought him 6 points from his opening two rides. But, after leading Briggs for over three laps, Barry put everything into a last-bend effort and stunningly switched from outside to inside to snatch victory.” He finished sixth on 10 points and also had the consolation of being World Pairs Champion alongside Ove Fundin.
British League Riders Championship – Speedway Star report – October 25 1968 – Ivan Mauger suffered another setback in Heat 14, a race that more than underlined Briggs’ championship class. Briggs trailed the field in a poor start, but in successive laps overtook Bernie Persson and Torbjorn Harrysson before turning into a spectacular swoop from the pits bend to overhaul Mauger in the last few yards. And in such a race something had to give. This time it was Harrysson who crashed into the fence for the only fall of the night. SCORERS B. Briggs 14, E. Boocock 14, 1. Mauger 13, T. Harrysson 11. Eric Linden wrote “Tor’s style, so reminiscent of Peter Craven, that will catch the eye and bring the cheers.”
Newport were hit in 1969 by a Speedway Control Board decision to ban commuting Swedish riders, the exceptions to which were Soren Sjosten and Ole Nygren, both of whom were married to British women. Harrysson was out. He was back at Newport in the summer with the Swedish international side. They were beaten 70-38 but Harrysson was top scorer with 13 points from six rides (he had one engine failure). He managed to beat the imperious Barry Briggs in Heat 10 recalling one or two victories over the great New Zealander in 1967 and 1968.
Harrysson reached the 1969 World Final but the night ended in tragedy as he suffered a badly broken leg in his third ride after a crash with the Polish star Edward Jancarz. The injury was so complicated that he was in plaster for almost two years and his career was effectively over. He finally made it back onto the track in 1972 and was expected to return to Newport, but another injury – this time a broken thigh – finally finished him. http://www.britishpathe.com/video/world-speedway-championships/query/Briggs
He became a successful trainer and mentor to the new generation of Swedish speedway stars.
He died in 2010 but will always be remembered as one of the most exciting sportsmen ever to grace Newport.