While British speedway continues to lurch from one crisis to another, Poland relentlessly moves forward, having become the undeniable epicentre of world speedway over the past couple of decades. Perhaps the most visible demonstration of this status is in the extensive redevelopment of existing stadiums and in certain cases the construction of all new arenas. It's difficult not to be slightly envious of our Polish friends when it comes to watching speedway.
While there can often be a certain charm to some of the ramshackle stadiums in the UK, the general public expects much better in this day and age. Football was forced to raise its game following the Hillsborough disaster and the subsequent Taylor report and stadiums throughout the leagues are largely unrecognisable from how they were twenty odd years ago. There are numerous reasons why things are the way they are in speedway, but it basically comes down to a continuous lack of investment and planning over many years and the fact that in general, clubs often rent the stadiums from a landlord and are unwilling to invest in the infrastructure.
The new development in Leicester and the proposed scheme for Belle Vue in Manchester show a way forward, where the speedway track is part of an overall sports and leisure development that can be shown to benefit the local community. This is closer to the Swedish and Danish model, where the speedway teams are usually part of a bigger local motor club, often with a Moto X or karting track as part of the facility. While these schemes are encouraging, they are very modest compared to the developments in Poland.
In a previous post last year we featured the new Moto-Arena in Torun, Poland. This fantastic facility has been purpose built for speedway and as well as being home to the local league team in the domestic Ekstraliga, Torun also hosted its first Grand Prix last year, to universal acclaim.
As it stands, most fans throughout the world would probably think that this is the perfect speedway stadium already, but the plans and visuals from the Architects reveal another element of the design that has yet to be built. The cantilever roof has been cleverly designed so that in the future it can be extended to cover the actual track, thus overcoming one of speedways eternal enemies, the rain. It is not clear when this second stage of the development will take place, but it shows the remarkable ambition behind this stadium and will provide inspiration for future speedway arenas around the world.
Posted by KTL at 01:34
The wise words quoted in the title above are from the legendary Jack Parker and are featured in a new book by Ray Lambert called - wait for it - "Keep Turning Left"... The following review of the book is by renowned speedway writer Jeff Scott.
Not to be confused with the excellent blog with same name (thanks Jeff...), Ray Lambert’s recently published Keep Turning Left is an affectionate romp down memory lane. It’s a bargain priced must for any self-respecting speedway fans’ bookshelf. The book is a compulsively readable treasure trove of facts, photographs, stories, tables, letters, quirky observations, transfer fees, poetry, wisecracks and quotes. Ray knows his speedway onions – having reported on Canterbury and Crayford speedway clubs in the 1970s – and isn’t afraid to ride his hobbyhorses in some style.
The material is presented in bite-sized chunks and covers the span of time from the arrival of speedway in Britain to the present day. Ray selects his words and photographs with care. He invites us to laugh at idiocies and delight in triumphs. Ray clearly has his favourites and many stories transport us to a simpler speedway world that, nonetheless, faced and resolved many of the issues, concerns and problems that beset our own contemporary shale world. Some lessons could be drawn but Ray avoids dogma and biting criticism instead – through his selections – preferring nuance, humour and oblique critique.
Much more rich tapestry than shabby carpet, Keep Turning Left has something to appeal to every type of speedway fan. Whether it’s tales of on-track or off-track daring do, cock ups, sponsorships, records or run ins with the Police. Reading this book, a career in the police force sounds the way you’ll most likely meet off duty speedway riders or have the time to enjoy a career as a speedway referee! Equally, the existence of a speedway trade union indicates a speedway universe keen to disagree but happier to rub along together rather than resort to litigation.
Many black and white photographs break up a text (that doesn’t need breaking up). Ray includes such joys as shots of Dave Jessup at home (what a sideboard) or Dave perched on tyres on his brand new 350cc Bultaco trials bike outside Norman Flurry’s Watling Tyre Services in Gravesend (with great, evocative background signage) as well as a natty jumper worn by Rob Mouncer. So many things about the varied world of speedway shine through in the snippets selected for these pages by Ray Lambert. Some of the things you’ll discover in this book include:
Johnnie Hoskins referred to his new enterprise as “speedway” though the Australian authorities insisted upon “motorcycle racing” and the British “dirt bike racing”
“There are only two kinds of people in speedway – the ones that don’t know the rules and break them and those who do know the rules and bend them.” Johnnie Hoskins
“When I think of all the let downs I’ve encountered and the people I would never like to meet again, I wonder if I have wasted two years out of my life. I refer, of course, to the two years I spent securing funding for the Speedway Museum.” George Barclay
Riding for Belle Vue at New Cross in 1952, Ron Johnson wrecked four bikes in four races. His own and those he borrowed from Denis Parker, Ken Sharples and Jack Parker.
Jock Sweet – possibly the first rider to adopt the foot forward racing style (in 1938)
“I won both races but it was tough going up there against Paddy [Mills], particularly as I have never been on the old Firs track before.” Tommy Price
“This will not be my lucky night” Wimbledon rider Ernie Roccio after breaking down on the way to a meeting at West Ham on July 22nd 1952
Guy Allott’s post meeting parade at Owlerton Stadium Sheffield in May 1963 ends painfully when he falls off the tractor and is trapped under the heavy metal grader. Guy sustains a punctured lung, broken arm and facial injuries.
[Rosco] “That’s the worst decision I’ve ever seen [Referee Jim Lawrence] “Well give it time, after all it’s only heat four!” Televised Belle Vue v Swindon meeting in 2008
Vaclav Verner discharged from the Prague police force in 1980 “for scandalous talk against the communist regime”
By the end of the 1978 season, seven riders – Keith Evans, Phil Collins, John Jackson, Kelvin Malarkey, Phil White, Nicky Allot and Bob Garret – jointly held the Quibell Park, Scunthorpe track record of 76.8 seconds.
“Shirra managed to get from the pits to my box. The first thing I knew was hearing the door being kicked in. The door was always locked but the doorframe was smashed and the door flew open. Within a moment I had a great pain in my right ear and I felt myself plunging to the floor off my stool. Shirra had hold of my ear and was shouting obscenities at me and in front of the startled announcer, timekeeper and my wife, who always acted as my scribe, filling in the five programmes I was obliged to complete.” Referee Bill Bowles recalls a post heat 14 incident at Foxhall Heath Ipswich that led to Mitch Shirra fined £10 “for an unauthorised approach to a referee (SR176f) and the maximum £50 for dissent (SR176e)”
“This is one way to get on television” David Gagen is guest of honour at the grand opening of the new premises of Radio Rentals in King’s Lynn
“It’s hard to slow down and keep up your speed” Bjarne Pedersen
Fred Monkford invents the original starting gate in 1932 for use at New Cross. It stays in continuous operation for 46 years when it ends up at Canterbury in 1968.
Tony Svab loses an eye ice racing “when his goggles came off and one of his eyes froze”.
Reading rider Dave Jessup starts the 1977 campaign wearing a brand new set of leathers chosen from “around 60 designs” submitted by the fans.
Tall riders: Graham Miles (6ft 6 inches), Arthur Browning (6ft 4 inches)
Alf Weedon’s green Mercedes has “an equally distinctive number plate ALF *****”. Wonder what ***** stands for?
“The referee is the authority and it would be beneficial if he knows the rules” Jan Staechmann at the 2009 Speedway World Cup race off in Leszno, Poland
[Ronnie Russel] “What’s wrong with you? Don’t you like me?” [Terry Russell] “No, I don’t like people with ginger hair!” Bizarre exchange between Rye House boss and temporary referee
“I didn’t know what nitro was until it was banned” Nigel Boocock
“It seems my two years in Germany were not exactly wasted!” George Barclay
“There are only two corners that matter – the first and the last.” Jack Parker
Keep Turning Left by Ray Lambert. From RAYL Publishing in Paperback at £6.99
110 pages with 18 black & white photographs
Send UK orders with a cheque for £7.99 (includes UK P&P) to RAYL Publishing, 13 Weedswood Road, Chatham, Kent ME5 0QR. Please include your name, address and postcode. For overseas orders, please write to the address above to find out additional overseas postage costs.
Posted by KTL at 21:53
Evocative childhood memories of seeing speedway for the first time, by Andy Daly.
Bike racing commentators:
Andy's excellent blog:
Posted by KTL at 02:43
Over the past eighty or so years, the popularity of speedway racing in the UK has peaked and dipped like a roller-coaster. Obvious high points include the early pioneering pre-war days, where tracks sprang up all over the country, and huge crowds flocked to city centre venues to witness the raw thrill of competitive motorsport. The sport also enjoyed a major boom time throughout the seventies and early eighties, with Dickie Davies on World of Sport regularly bringing the sport into peoples living room on terrestrial TV. The likes of Barry Briggs, Ivan Mauger and Peter Collins were genuine household names. For a long time, speedway was the second best attended sport in the country, behind football.
For the past 30 years though, the sport has been on a gradual overall downward spiral in terms of popularity and mainstream appeal, with the odd short lived up-turn along the way. Speedway still has a dedicated and loyal following, but a scan of the terraces at most meetings reveals that it is largely an aging demographic.
It has been widely reported that only one club out of nine in this years Sky Sports Elite League didn't run at a loss and several of these reported losses have been well into six figures. The whole league structure is plainly unsustainable in its present form for the majority of clubs and a clear, long term strategy is desperately needed so that the sport as a whole can firstly survive and then hopefully grow in the future. As the country comes to terms with the tough reality of the economic situation, we could have been forgiven for thinking that the club promoters would try to tackle some of the key issues at their recent annual conference and set a clear course, to take domestic speedway into the next decade and beyond.
Immediately after the conference, a quickly drafted press release seemed to paint a positive picture, with Birmingham moving up to the top division replacing Ipswich, who had been widely expected to drop a level, for financial reasons. What the press release didn't mention however was that two of the strongest teams, Peterborough and league champions Coventry, had apparently walked out of the conference, unhappy with new rules which were being rushed in for next year.
The British Speedway Promoters Association (BSPA) are well known for continuously tinkering with the already complicated rule book every year. Although at first glance team speedway is a simple sport (two riders from each team race each other, going around in circles over a certain number of heats...) it has a ridiculously complicated set of rules, which are in theory meant to equalise team strengths by calculating each riders "average" score over a season and putting a cap on the total rider averages for each whole team. This would prevent a team signing the top seven riders in the country, as their overall points average would far exceed the points limit.
Because of this, teams will try to find loopholes to exploit the system to their advantage, such as signing a young foreign rider on a low "assessed" average or signing a rider from a lower league, again on an assessed average. So extra rules are sometimes brought in to try and prevent these loopholes. If this all sound like a big mess, thats because it is. The crux of the problem is that all of these rulings are suggested and subsequently voted on by each promotion themselves and they will often vote for changes which will favour their own team in the short term, rather than what is in the long term interests of the sport as a whole. The situation is further complicated by certain promoters having a seat on the management committee, who are meant to steer the whole process in a fair and non-partisan manor.
Now normally all of this is sorted out behind closed doors, the problems are swept under the carpet and the public at large is generally none the wiser as to what has actually gone on. But the fall out from this years conference has the potential to do very serious damage to the sport and what little mainstream credibility it still has. There appears to have been a major breakdown in relations with Coventry and Peterborough pursuing legal action against the BSPA.
Instead of trying to mediate and find a suitable compromise, the BSPA have issued a number of provocative and clumsy press releases stating that Coventry and Peterborough won't be competing in the league next year and that Kings Lynn will be moving up to the Elite League to bring the numbers up to the eight teams that are required to fulfill the Sky Sports TV contract. The fact that Birmingham and Kings Lynn both took cost cutting measures recently while they were operating in the lower league and had not declared any intention of moving up to the Elite League before the conference, seems to suggest that they are being "supported" to make what appears to be a very risky jump up to the top division, presumably to keep Sky on board and have enough teams in the competition, although eight teams is barely credible...
So instead of speedways administrators tackling the real issues, such as trying to attract a new generation of supporter, encouraging youngsters to take up the sport, improving media awareness, attracting major sponsors, improving track preparation standards, improving safety at tracks and attempting to reduce the cost of equipment for competitors, they have had a major falling out arguing about tedious rulings that the vast majority of fans couldn't care less about. Any long term damage that is done will have been entirely self inflicted, at a time when the sport needs inspirational leadership and a collective sense of purpose if it is to survive at all, let alone reclaim some of its former popularity.
What is needed in the immediate short term is a large portion of humble pie all round, followed by a suitable compromise between the parties in the best interests of the sport. Bearing in mind some of the ego's on both sides of the fence and the apparent bitterness that has been allowed to develop, I don't hold out much hope. Perhaps the people best placed to bang a few heads together are Sky Sports, who can not have been at all impressed with how these issues have been handled. How are they going to explain to their viewers that last years league champions are not competing? Surely the obvious short term answer is to keep the rules that were used in 2010, as far as it is possible.
In the longer term, it is clear that the sport desperately needs a truly independent panel of experts who will govern in a transparent and non partisan way, and set in place a long term plan to revive speedway in this country. To save British speedway - from itself. Rant over.
Posted by KTL at 00:13