“I have ‘sadly’ finished reading your great book covering the life of Kelly Moran. I made sure I re-read some of the chapters to ensure I didn't miss any of the detail about this flawed genius".
“The research and attention to detail regarding meetings and also the quotes from his numerous friends made it a truly compelling read.
I can't help but feel sad that such a special talent and genuinely nice guy could be taken so young due to the excesses of his lifestyle. I have driven my friends mad telling them about where I was up to in the story.”
Steve Casey (Presentation Manager, Belle Vue Speedway)
"Wow!!! This is far & away the very best speedway book I have ever read!! I have every Brian Burford book & they are all very good, but this is more of a labour of love & gets you totally immersed, so much so that when I finished reading it I had tears in my eyes! It's funny, captivating & emotional in equal doses. If I could rate it higher than 5 Stars? I definitely would!!" Emma Williams
“I enjoyed the book, it is good, it shows the darker side and also his magnificence, generosity and kindness,” Bob Radford, retired speedway journalist & manager
“It has all the ingredients for a good TV drama - money, sex, adventure, triumph over the odds!" Gareth Owen, Pinewood Studios
“A fantastic book, a masterpiece, one of the best speedway books written in my opinion. A benchmark in speedway biographies.”
Andrew Hale, curator, Penhall museum
“Just finished the book, I have to say this is the first book I have read that I could not put down! It was such a great shame it all ended the way it did, I will think of him every time that I want that extra drink!" - Clive Matthews, photographer
Review by John Chaplin
YOU have to admire the late Kelly Moran, and feel a certain amount of envy too, because he was the archetypal supremely blessed maverick, the free spirit who didn’t play by the accepted rules and who, in our secret hearts, we all desire to be.
But when it comes to our speedway heroes, do we want to remember only the best of them: the triumphs and the fond, warm memories? Or is there a duty, an obligation, to record the brutal truth, the hidden dark side and the unpleasant blemishes?
This is a microscopic examination of a unique individual, the possessor of a prodigious talent that many people may believe was in some ways shamefully squandered for the pursuit of hedonism. Burford has brought all his ability – which is considerable – to bear on a subject about which he is painfully passionate.
Moran, of course, was among the advance party of the amazing deluge of American razzmatazz merchants who in the late 1970s dragged the British sport kicking and screaming into a highly glamorous and successful decade and more.
With Moran it was a case of sowing the wind and reaping the whirlwind, of which there should have been ample advance warning when Kelly, then aged 17, discharged a fire extinguisher over the assembled company in a hotel where they had gone for a meal after Press day at Hull . . . ‘Just to ‘liven this up, lads’.
Put it down to youthful exuberance, or juvenile high spirits, but it was a portent of what was to come . . . the booze, the girls, the arrests, the booze, the partying, the wrecked cars, the booze, the hangers-on, the no-shows, the groupies, the booze, the chaotic lifestyle, the anarchical irresponsibility, the booze, the predators, the jackals, the booze, the irresistible temptations of the flesh, in its varying forms, and the fags . . . which eventually did for him.
Graham Drury, Kelly’s Hull team mate, said: ‘To say that he was a character was a bit of an understatement. I wondered what have we got here? I could see that he had a lot of ability. Not ordinary ability.‘
Not ordinary ability indeed. It displayed itself in spite of inferior equipment and the dearth of promised assistance from his captain and recruiter Ivan Mauger, whose position as the Vikings’ number one he very soon began to challenge.
Unlike so many inferior books about the exploits of speedway racing’s more unconventional personalities, which so often fall indolently into a morass of regurgitated point scores from previously published magazine reports, Burford treats Moran’s scores as largely peripheral to an examination of his hero’s character, an examination that is perilously close to excoriation.
Moran, it was said, could charm the knickers off a nun, and did so - metaphorically speaking - on numerous occasions in keeping with his libidinous inclinations. It came naturally to him, as did his astounding ability on a 500cc speedway machine, which was as much a life force to him as breathing.
He could do things on a bike that had friends and foes alike gasping in admiration and disbelief.
Anecdotes illustrating the essential Kelly Moran come thick and fast. He was loved by most people he came into contact with. And hated by some of his Californian contemporaries because of the public adulation that the local media showered upon him.
Though riding came apparently easily to him, his road to international fame was a rocky one. The sparkling ability which had made him so noticed in America encountered considerable ill fortune on this side of the Atlantic. There was the horrendous crash at Hackney when he was struck by two following riders and it was feared that he would never walk again. He did, and still in his hospital gown, hired a cab to get from East London to Hull to appear before the home supporters. Somebody else had to pay the driver.
But ill fortune seldom comes alone. He was being paid a pittance at first and didn’t feel he was getting the rewards his scores deserved. So when he was virtually ordered by Ivan Mauger to practise more he rounded on his captain and said: “Ivan . . . you wanna to give me a motorcycle and give me the money to do it, because right now we’re starving, so f**k you. Everyone thinks the sun shines out of your ass but give me your equipment and iIl beat you all!’
It was an early example of Kelly standing up for what he believed was right. He measured five-foot-and-not-very-much, but when he’d had a few he would always find the biggest man in the room to pick a fight with.
It was at Birmingham that he began to receive his just monetary rewards. But then his nature was such that if he wasn’t buying pints for his fans, he was giving away his cash to somebody ‘who needed it more than me’.
Such was his ability to make a speedway motorcycle do what he wanted it to do that after he had been in his first World Final at Katowice, in only his second season in world class European racing, his mechanic Pete Rovazzini told me that throughout the meeting Kelly’s bike had been misfiring. They later discovered that he had ridden with a broken valve spring. And he still finished fourth.
Burford’s narrative, is richly colourful, just like Kelly Moran’s life. And, just like Kelly Moran’s life, it is littered with bleak despair.
Yes, it was a hell of a life. Kelly Moran, the endearingly infuriating rascal, is now dead. But, to quote the words of the great journalist Alistair Cooke when he heard that the composer he admired, George Gershwin, had died: ‘I don’t have to believe it if I don’t want to.’
Many, many thanks to Sheffield Speedway and the folk there for making the launch of Kelly Moran - A Hell of a Life such a success at this years Premier League Riders Championship. It was a lot of fun.
I'd like to thank Nigel Pearson and George English for their help, but in particular Neil Machin for setting it up and showing me the accepted protocol route. Without Neil it may not have happened at all.
Finally, if you're thinking of getting a copy, hurry, because they're going very quickly now. Order securely from this site.
Contact Brian Burford - E-mail: 7601Virgil@gmail.com
Re-produced in full, is the book review by Richard Clark, published in Speedway Star magazine October 4th 2014:
It was indeed, by any stretch of imagination, one hell of a life.
That of Kelly Michael Moran. Born September 21, 1960. Died April 4, 2010, 49-years-old.
And as author Brian Burford illustrates, some 49 years…
During which the lovable, impish, rowdy rebellious rogue that was Kelly stunned the speedway world with an enviable natural talent while charming, laughing, thrilling, amazing and, yes, partying his way through it all.
An utterly unique rider, an utterly unique little man.
It’s testament to Brian Burford that he’s given Kelly the book his madcap meanderings deserve.
Warts ‘n’ all? Of course it’s warts and all, otherwise you might as well simply sit and study a bunch of statistics. And, doing that, you won’t get within a hundred decimal places of truly understanding what Kelly Moran was all about.
Read this and you’ll swear the Californian is sharing the sofa with you.
Brian follows Kelly from his days of attempting to be the next Evel Knieval on his pushbike, prompting the first of many, many broken bones, through mini-bike speedway, to hunting World Championship glory on the bigger steeds.
But, from the near summit of that particular mountain, the author doesn’t ignore the much, much darker valleys into which Kelly’s life would plunge.
Along the way, a multitude of family, friends, rivals, relatives and lovers do an admirable job of painting the much bigger picture, Brian’s exhaustive research seemingly leaving no stone unturned.
That, ultimately, is the sense the books leaves you with. You might think you knew Kelly before you pick it up, you’ll definitely know him when you’ve finished.
Yes, he was easily one of the most incredible racers those of us lucky enough to witness him in action have ever seen, but there was a side to Kelly that was equally important.
And, just as it was impossible to comprehend some of the things he could do while perched on a bike, it was equally tough to understand the demons that could drive him when sat on a barstool.
It’s bound to fuel further the long-standing debate on ‘a life/talent wasted or a life/talent lived to the hilt?’
Maybe, just maybe, you couldn’t have one without the other when it came to Kelly Moran.
Burford is admirably unflinching in his pursuit of the rounded portrait, rightly letting those invaluable testaments of people who actually knew Kelly tell much of the story, be it sheer exasperation of some who did their level best to help Kelly, often to no avail, to the warmth and love so many felt towards him despite, well, him!
It’s superbly paced too. Too often the trap is for a speedway tome to read like a humdrum, day-to-day list of meetings, scores, averages with the odd anecdote thrown in. You could almost lose the will to live ploughing through some of the track histories that have been published.
Thankfully, there’s a plan and a craft at work here.
Brian has already laid down his marker with well received books on Sam Ermolenko and Billy Hamill, and helped Chris Morton and Leigh Adams gather their thoughts.
This, though, reads like a labour of love. Quite close to Kelly, they’d planned the book before illness got a grip on the Californian. To his credit, Brian viewed it as unfinished business and, in its strange way, despite the tales of excess, disappointments, tragedy, opportunities wasted, an affection for the conundrum that was Kelly Moran clearly emerges between the covers.
Likewise, from many who knew him best.
He could make you laugh. He could make you smile. Amaze, bewilder and baffle in the space of the same lap. And he could make you angry. Make you lose patience. Make some cry.
Adored by a huge speedway audience in the spotlight, yet, as the final poignant chapter shows, leading a lonely, anonymous, humble existence when the darkness closed in.
A hell of a life?
A hell of a book…
Recent message from Shawn Moran:
Had a great read of Brian Burford's book of Jellyman, A Hell of a Life, and I found it pretty bitchin, gave me a very cool sensation remembering some of the shit he'd get up to, but its more than I ever knew, haha!
Again, you guys would dig it. Some good stories from the boys & gals, so cool & trustworthy of our input, f******* Kelly, you guys had the Jellyman experience, haha, love you for it..
Nice one Brian & Cheers buddy..
“I think it’s exceptionally well done, I doff my cap to Brian. I think it’s very well researched and it’s not just a speedway book, it’s a human interest book, it’s not the conventional fan kind of book at all. It’s very well done.
“I found it unsettling. The tragedy of it, I found it a bit unsettling and it’s disturbing that such a vital life can be cut short in the way it was. The fact is that history is littered with these kinds of characters. If Kelly had been a nuclear physicist he would have been a wild, crazy nuclear physicist wouldn’t he? They always say that the flame burns brightest in the dark and he’s another example of these kinds of characters that seem to be born into a tragic situation. Kelly would have been a crazy character in whatever life he had chosen, he just happened to choose speedway and he left his mark on it. It’s that old Candle in the Wind thing isn’t it? They blow out quite quickly. It’s not just another fans’ book, it transcends that quite frankly.”
Dave Lanning, retired sports TV commentator, journalist, speedway manager and promoter.
John's latest book, Speedway The Greatest Moments is available to purchase on Amazon.
This is the ultimately sad story of one of the sport’s greatest talents. Kelly, despite himself, was three times fourth in the world and if only he had put in just half the work his natural talent deserved, he would undoubtedly have been world champion.
In the end it was the drink that got to him and gradually destroyed his speedway and private lives. But despite all this people just loved the man and he could get away with the most outlandish behaviour with family, friends, promoters and riders alike. An apology and smile normally did the trick!
Kelly Moran ended up penniless and relying on friends for a roof over his head but at times had earned big money. However his behaviour and natural generosity meant he was more often than not very penniless.
This is a long but riveting read which I read in two sessions and it is to his credit that the author was able to get so close to the rider with whom he shared a strong and genuine friendship.
This is a different sort of speedway book but perhaps the best Brian Burford has written.
Phil Rice (Wilts-Gloucester Standard)
The John Somerville Collection represents a unique visual history of speedway.
Attempting to collect & preserve the photographic history of the sport, John has acquired the complete archives of many of the top speedway photographers such as Mike Patrick, Alf Weeden Trevor Meeks & Wright Wood, to name a few.
John is steadily working through the collection, scanning the originals, so that they can be made available through his website. This is a fantastic resource for fans of the sport, with new scans being added every week.
Follow the link below & prepare to be transported back through the decades...
“Whether you are a speedway fan or not, it's impossible not to feel a connection with Kelly Moran after reading this book.
Brian Burford has done an incredible job here, this is not a simple retelling of a life story, I was immersed in Kelly’s world, the highs and lows of a man who certainly lived life to the full!”
Pete Godfrey - vocalist with Blood Red Saints
I admire Brian Burford for taking on the task of putting Kelly's life (and death) into words. The completed work I believe to be superb. I was never lucky enough to meet Kelly, though was close to him a few times. 'A Hell Of A Life' is the perfect opportunity to try make sense of the 'where', 'why', 'when', and 'what if's' that made up his 49 years on this planet.
I have come across quite a few riders who had to have a steady job in addition to speedway, and I would suggest this kept them in the ‘real world?’ With Kelly, speedway (or others?) alone had to sustain him. For a genius this seems inevitable...
In a sense this is a tale of chaos and intrigue and in a book of this nature there is a necessary tone of rebuke from the many. Burford has dealt with this fairly, and with immense skill. Many made their feelings known toward Kelly - in their defence, I would suggest largely from a frustration that he was wasting his talent.
Moran's contribution to speedway will be remarked upon, forever. That he did what he did cannot be changed. In his favour, one is mindful of the words of George Best...'please remember me for the football…’
Enhanced by a wonderful gallery of photographs, this is a brave, exhaustive and must read examination of a rider who wrote his own unique chapter in speedway, on and off the track.
Those who read it will be glad they were lucky to see Kelly ride and others who missed 'The Jelly Man' will realise the little guy was special, warts and all....
John Murphy (Bradford)
"This book is really well written and researched. I thoroughly enjoyed it from start to finish, and highly recommend it. A tremendous character who entertained people around the world with his incredible skills on a 500cc speedway bike. A tragic figure, but well loved by all who knew him. You will not be disappointed."
Scott Autrey, World No. 3, 1978, and former USA team Captain
Illustration by Tim Beaumont