Keith Bingham is one of the most legendary cycling journalists of the past 50 years. He wrote about everything, he followed the Tour, described and articulated what bike racing looked, sounded and felt like in the halycon days of the Comic. Since retiring he’s kept a blog. http://freedomcycle-bingers.blogspot.com/
He read my book. He said this:
“I Like Alf” is the untold story of one of the most talented, stylish and enigmatic of cycling champions ever to have dominated UK time trialling, London’s Alf Engers, winner of national titles from 1959 to the late 1970s. This is about “The King”, the man who wanted to win the Tour de France but whose destiny lay elsewhere. Officialdom found him too controversial to their liking, this when time trialling itself was controversial, with its reliance on traffic flow to produce fast times!
There were allegations of “white lining” – riding too far out in the road and so impeding traffic when he was often going faster than the traffic – of having following cars.Two East London officials in particular did their best to have him suspended from racing for the most spurious reasons and succeeded!
Notwithstanding such problems, Engers would come back and continue to make the headlines with breath-taking performances which saw him win the national 25 title six times and put competition record beyond reach with the first 30mph ride. He could do it all, time trial, road race, the track. He was a big draw at events.
But this book does more than merely recall how Engers came to unleash his undisputed powers on the domestic time trialling scene, taking on class rivals such as Pete Wells, Eddie Adkins, Derek Cottington, Dave Holliday, and Ian Hallam. Engers dominated like no other. It’s funny, too, with amusing stories that reveal his lighter side, with so many anecdotes about the characters among the clubs, frame builders and others of who shared in those heady days.
Chiefly this is about a man who overcame the odds stacked against him. Not the least being he worked full time in a bakery, late into the night. His triumphs on the bike brought him brief solace from his troubled memories of a father who had shown little interest in his son; and the ever present threat of disqualification from officials looking for any excuse to ban a guy who was simply different!
This is a riveting read by author Paul Jones who sensitively seeks out the darker recesses of Enger’s soul. I sensed, too, that Engers clearly found release in sharing his story, especially in revealing the unhappy moments from his youth. That should not disguise a cracking, good fun story, too, which revisits his personal triumphs still talked about today. For though his records have at last fallen, Engers exploits remain unsurpassed.
This is a joy to read. And it begs the question, is Paul Jones a pseudonym? Here is descriptive prose worthy of the late Norman Mailer! It reminds me of noted rock guitarist Jeff Beck’s stunned disbelief upon first hearing the mesmerising guitar riffs of Jimi Hendrix. “Well,” Becks is reported to have said to Eric Clapton, “we might as well pack it in!” Instead, of course, Hendrix’s style galvanised him.
The title of this book “I like Alf” says it all. Although cycling officials, the “Blazers” had it in for him, riders loved this colourful character. So did his rivals who were so often left behind in his wake! So someone produced stickers, proclaiming: “I Like Alf”.
I’ll take it. What a star.