BLOG: A LETTER TO LEE
Tuesday 15th May 2012
In this open letter, Speedwaygp.com editor Paul Burbidge pays tribute to former Grand Prix star and Team Great Britain favourite Lee Richardson, who lost his life in Wroclaw on Sunday.
Writing tributes of this kind should only be reserved for riders who pass away peacefully, well into retirement and at the end of a long life. So having to bid farewell to you, a 33-year-old still at the height of your powers, is nothing short of tragic.
You only have to log into Twitter or Facebook to see just how hard this has hit everyone from your fellow riders to friends, journalists and fans from all over the globe. It’s not every day a speedway star trends on Twitter – I just wish it had been because of a World Championship win or you leading Team Great Britain to FIM Speedway World Cup gold.
It was while you were wearing Team GB colours that I first met you during the 2004 SWC Final at Poole’s Wimborne Road. I was 17 and taking my first steps as a freelance reporter working for the Bournemouth Daily Echo. We gave the tournament blanket coverage and it was an incredible opportunity for me to get to know the sport’s biggest names.
Even though you and the Lions lost out to Sweden that night by one point, an absolute heartbreaker for everyone involved, you still managed to raise a smile and give me a great interview.
Since then, it has been a pleasure to catch up with you at tracks around the country and discuss everything from the state of British speedway to Russian league racing. Whatever you were talking about, you were always refreshingly open and honest.
No matter how tough or silly the question, you were always there with a smile, an intelligent answer and never took to trotting out run-of-the-mill, meaningless twaddle. You told it how it was.
Your decision to walk away from the Team Great Britain side was a great shame. I was planning a trip to Lakeside only a couple of weeks ago to ask you whether you might have a change of heart for this summer’s SWC – I know thousands would have been delighted to see you in action at King’s Lynn and Malilla.
We’ll never get that chance now, but team manager Neil Middleditch has already promised that the Team GB kevlars will be designed in your honour, so you’ll be involved in 20 rides per meeting instead of five this time around.
Given that you’re still the nation’s highest all-time point-scorer in the SWC on 240, I’m sure no-one would have objected to you taking all 20. Your consistency for the Lions was absolutely fantastic.
In my view, you didn’t get the credit you deserved for how you represented Great Britain on the international stage. Being one of the top Brits is a pretty thankless task, as I’m sure Scott Nicholls, Chris Harris and Tai Woffinden will agree. No matter what you do, it never seems good enough.
But you gave us some real highlights down the years, not least your World Under-21 Championship victory in 1999. I was speaking to your surrogate father and mentor John Davis on Monday. He was telling me just how proud you both were to defy those who said you’d never be good enough with that victory in Vojens.
Given that I didn’t witness the early stages of your speedway career, I can only wonder what on earth those who knocked you were thinking.
You certainly made a believer out of them by winning the GP Challenge at Polish track Pila in August 2002 to become a full-time Grand Prix star for 2003.
I’ll never forget the first Grand Prix I ever attended. It was at Cardiff in 2004 – the night you collected the bronze medal in front of a raucous Millennium Stadium crowd.
But for a faultless ride from Tomasz Gollob, you would have won the Polish Grand Prix at Bydgoszcz in 2005. I can still see you haring after Mr G now, every British fan willing you to get past him, but a silver medal is no mean feat against that man in his own back yard.
It wasn’t just on the world stage where you starred – it was for your clubs in Britain, Sweden and Poland. While many Brits have struggled outside of the UK, your professionalism and skill meant you always flew the Union flag with aplomb in Europe’s toughest leagues.
I’m absolutely gutted you were unable to finish this season with Lakeside as I’m convinced you could have led them to their first ever Elite League title.
I’m sure the Hammers will be hurting right now, but winning the play-off final in your honour would be a fitting tribute to your massive contribution at the Arena-Essex Raceway since you first signed in 2009.
I’ve said enough about speedway, though. As John rightly told me, your greatest achievement was being such a top-class human being.
The outpouring of grief which has followed Sunday’s news from Wroclaw is hardly a surprise. It’s clear riders loved spending time with you on and off the track.
Your colleagues and rivals are all going to miss you tremendously, but no-one will feel your passing more than your wife Emma and sons Josh, Jake and Jenson.
Rest assured, the speedway family, one of the closest-knit sporting communities around, will be there to comfort them, grieve with them and help them get their lives back on track.
I hope the fact you left for the big circuit in the sky while doing something you love is of some comfort to everyone who knew you. It just remains for me to say thank you for entertaining us all for 18 years. It has been an honour to know you and you’ll never be forgotten.