“Joe Screen, what a paaass!!! Joe Screen, madness. Screen is Czestochowa’s hero!”
Remember? I was shouting like a man possessed, commentating this match deciding manoeuvre by the ginger Brit for Polsat, who were just getting their teeth cut in showing speedway. This was a match against Stal Gorzow and the total outcome was to be decided in the last race.
After 14 heats the home side was in the lead 42,5 to 41,5. At the tapes in the last heat were Gorzow’s leaders and youngster Ulamek and the local idol screen for Czestochowa. For three laps Joe was teasing the Gorzow duo of Swist and Hamill by faking an outside move, only to switch to the inside on the first bend of lap 4 slotting in just outside of “Twisty” Piotr Swist ,cut the bend short like never before, tucked his elbows in full gas and… went in between Stal’s riders.
Speedway bike’s handlebars are around 70 to 90 cm wide. I reckon the gap between the away riders wasn’t more than 40, but somehow this brave Brit made it happen! He passed his rivals without any contact. He then went on, flat out entering the last bend, I was certain he will crash out, I was lost for words for the split second, as I was waiting for the worst to happen. Screen then manipulated the throttle in such way, he did not let the bike to stall at the apex of the bend, he almost stood still for a second but managed to stay upright. He retained composure and smoothly won that race for his Czestochowa club which gave them a draw in the heat and a narrow one point win in the match. One point, because in Screen’s earlier race against Swist, Maciej Spychala, match referee, could not split the pair up and because at that time rules allowed referees to give half points, he awarded a dead heat.
The last race though left no doubts who the winner was. Screen won comfortable showing finesse, masterclass and incredible bravado and determination, or in other words complete madness. He made the impossible possible for which they adored him, everywhere he raced.
Screen Machine was not your perfect athlete example. Healthy lifestyle was not his top priority, so he wasn’t a great role model in that respect. I little bit on the heavy side, of a big build, just like Chris Bomber Harris in his earlier days, he liked to eat well and a drink or two. Those were not your energy or isotonic drinks from today’s riders menu, there were stories to go along and legends to be told about Joe away from the track. On the track though… You could not love him enough. He resembled his Team GB buddy Mark Loram with his fearless swoops round the boards. He was never a great gater so usually he was out of the start last, but then the chase would follow. He was ambitious, a little crazy with the guts and imagination. He did not accept defeat lightly, there was no lost causes for him ha would always go for it to the line. He made it stick a lot of the times often in great style, he was the one to watch.
Fans were mad about him. Privately he was a bit like Henrik Gustafsson, laid back, liked a joke, cool and a great party character. Maybe if he’d change his easygoing lifestyle and fun loving approach he’d be more successful internationally? But then would we still be talking about him in such high esteem and remember him so well? Fantastic on the bike and a great personality. Like in an old military tune where I hail from about “balls of steel”, Joe had “cojones” otherwise he would not been able to do such risky moves and miracles such as in that memorable race. He had to work hard for some of his palmares.
Born on November the 27th in 1972 in Chersterfield he debuted in the ’89 season for Belle Vue Aces. His first success was just a year after, win in the U21 British Championship. Just 3 years after the domestic crown, he became the World Junior Champion. On August the 14th 1993 in Pardubice, Czech Republic he beat Mikael Karlsson in the run off, after they both scored 14 points. Bronze medal went to Rune Holta from Norway who beat Piotr Baron in the run off for 3rd after they tied on 10 points (Baron had an engine failure in one of his races). The later champ lost to Tomas Topinka unexpectedly in the 3rd round of races, who was the home crowd’s favourite, Karlsson got beaten by Screen in their first race and then once again in that run off for the title.
That World title was Joe’s main achievement on the global scene. He did go on to race in the Grand Prix between 1996 and 2002 but in his best season he only managed a 6th in the overall standings. In 2001 he was a GP rider but missed the season due to injury that put him out for the whole season. Twice he won medals in the World Cup, Silver in 2000 at Coventry, scoring 12 points and a bronze 8 years prior in 1992 at Kumla, Sweden scoring just 2 points. He was also British Champion in senior category in 1996 and 2004.
With his talent, skills and ambitions and technical abilities it could be lots more. Like I said above though, his lifestyle did not help, he could have been a little bit more professional. However, Joe Screen Machine is a colourful character and will remain in our hearts as a great fighter with a chilled out attitude to sport, very humble, friendly and always with a great smile on his face. He was a cowboy. Not from the States, but from Britain.