Angling, Golf, Cricket...Speedway!
Up until relatively recently most good sports writing has come from the pens of aficionados of contemplative sports, where time passes slowly and every nuance can be appreciated and replayed over and over again. Think of angling, golf and cricket - all sports where time appears to fade into the distance and where commentator or ardent fan has the opportunity to develop their thoughts and shed new light upon the action, or lack of it.
Izaak Walton's "The Compleat Angler" (yes, that is the correct spelling), was published in 1653 and no book other than the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer has been more often reprinted. As a graceful and affectionate portrait of rural England its charm is irresistible.
Neville Cardus attracted a wide readership, writing as "Cricketer" in the Manchester Guardian. The great John Arlott said of Cardus: "Before him, cricket was reported ... with him it was for the first time appreciated, felt, and imaginatively described".
Henry Longhurst brought a whole new perspective to the reporting of golf, developing the characters and painting vivid pictures in words of courses and golf swings; triumphs and despair.
But where does speedway feature here, and should it even be mentioned in the same hushed tones as angling, golf and cricket? In the last ten years we have seen a proliferation of good books on our beloved sport. No, I'm not talking about cut and paste jobs from endless race cards, I'm referring to people who have been able to step back from the "crash bang wallop" and show off our sport in a new light. Indeed, one writer recently has broken into the upper echelons of sports' writing and been recognised for his literary efforts. Step forward Jeff Scott.
When "Showered in Shale" first hit the book stalls at tracks up and down the country in 2006 it immediately attracted attention. Building upon the work of writers like Norman Jacobs, "Showered..." has been described as: ... probably the best speedway book ever written .... Part travelogue, part social comment, Scott digs deep into the aspects of speedway that are all too often ignored in the usual autobiographies - the people who keep the sport alive, the communities that speedway tracks exist within and the pure enjoyment that can be found in the spectacle of four men, a dirt track and 4 powerful motorcycles with no brakes. Whether it's a rained off meeting at Sheffield or a chance encounter with a world champion in a supermarket queue Scott conveys the enthusiasm of a fan, the attention to detail of an obsessive and the humour of the terraces. Speedway has been waiting for a book like this for years, embrace it and treasure it!" And thanks to Neil Dyson for that review.
The trials and tribulations of being an Eastbourne fan (well, someone has to be) were covered later in 2006 in "When Eagles Dared". After this Jeff produced the wonderfully evocative "Shale Britannia", employing colour photographs to capture British speedway, warts and all. But it's not just a book of photographs - it captures the atmosphere of the sport and the all important supporters.
The third book in the "Trilogy" was "Shifting Shale", cataloguing Jeff's travels up and down the speedway map of the UK in 2006. It's a book written for when the nights draw in and the tracks fall silent around the country - when speedway fans look to the coming spring and the start of a new season. In his inimitable style (no holds barred here) he takes the reader through the 2006 season in prose and photographs. It's a wonderful journey, full of the characters that he meets and the stories that he hears. This isn't necessarily a book for the speedway fan - it's a fascinating cultural history chronicling life in Britain in 2006. It's just a great read and deserves its place on anyone's bookshelf.
And so we arrive at "Concrete for Breakfast" the fourth book of "a trilogy that went wrong". The title emanates from a comment made by Cory Gathercole when asked how speedway riders could take such a punishment out on the track. There's a lot about Swindon in "Concrete ..." and we were all overjoyed when we heard, over the winter, that the book had been nominated and short listed in the prestigious category of BEST BIOGRAPHY in the 2009 British Sports Book Awards run by the National Sporting Club.
That "Concrete ..." was chosen as one of the 6 books up for the award speaks volumes for its quality in a hugely competitive market. Sadly, it didn't win, but the national coverage was such that for a brief time speedway was up there, mentioned in the same paragraphs as football, F1 motor racing and even the Olympics.
In his brilliantly quirky, "love it or hate it, but you can't ignore it", blog, Jeff wrote: "I was delighted to receive my nomination and believe that I was the only self-published author to attend. This is quite something in itself but I was even more honoured to tacitly represent and showcase British Speedway at such a high profile sports occasion. Hopefully, the members of the press in attendance will give speedway more thought and coverage in future!
Everyone puts a brave face on afterwards if they've not scooped the top prize. As the author I'm delighted but, as the publisher, I'm gutted! And vice versa.
None of my books would ever have happened without the help, encouragement and support of so many people involved in British Speedway. Thank you!"
While researching this piece I noticed that the next Scott epic, "Quantum of Shale" is to be published in time for this year's Grand Prix at Cardiff, and with a birthday coming up in June, it goes straight to the top of my Amazon wish list. No doubt Jeff will be on hand signing copies in the club house alongside the mighty Millennium Stadium.
Jeff Scott's books featured in this article can all be purchased from his Methanol Press website (http://www.methanolpress.com), from Amazon or from track shops. The writings of Walton, Cardus and Longhurst can be purchase from all good book shops.
You can read more from Graham Cooke on the magnificent Blunsdon Blog
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