It's a Domestic I: Hunter vs Gibson
Although speedway is one of the friendliest sports around, there have been numerous spats over the years. Just occasionally these are played out in the pages of a club's programme where dirty washing is aired in public.
One of the finest examples of the art can be found in the Edinburgh programmes from 30th July and 6th August 1982.
Programme editor (and all round Edinburgh legend) Mike Hunter took local newspaper columnist John Gibson to task for a rather uncomplimentary article in the previous week's match report. Gibson was the speedway correspondent of the Edinburgh Evening News at the time, having previously contributed to Speedway Star magazine under his 'Jock Anderson' nom-de-plume.
Hunter kicked off the contretemps on page 4 of the programme in his "Powderhall Track Chat" column.
"Who thought that John Gibson's News' report last Saturday was fair? Let's consider some of the positive aspects of the evening.
First of all, Brett Saunders gave us another exciting exhibition of full-throttle speedway, and his final race win over Naylor and Mullarkey was one of the best heats of the season here. Young Sean gave an encouraging performance which fully justifies his inclusion in the team.
Very much the same could be said about Mark Fiora, who is learning the tricks of our track very quickly and will be a valued heat leader in the weeks to come.
These points were not made by our local Evening News correspondent, John Gibson, although that will come as no surprise to regular readers of Mr. Gibson's column. When we also consider that Monarchs were unable to track Eric Broadbelt, and that visiting Rye House were in a position to use both Naylor and Mullarkey as tactical substitutes in vital heats, it may be felt that the disparaging article headed 'Night of shame for Monarchs' was more than a little unfair. The wrist injury which kept Ivan Blacka out of the meeting following his highly questionable first-race exclusion was glossed over as were the complexities of the 50 point rule which allowed Rye House to use rider replacement for their missing no. 2 even though our Green Sheet no. 2 was also out through injury.
We were leading by 7 points after ten heats, which is hardly consistent with the observation that 'prospects of yet another home defeat developed early on', and whilst no-one would dream of suggesting that the overall team performance was satisfactory it would be so much more acceptable to read a balanced report in the Evening News.
Presumably John Gibson's critical TV comments don't stop anyone watching the box, so one can only hope that non-one is discouraged from coming to speedway. We feel that the publicity given to us in the local paper is unlikely to attract any new support so we are relying on the supporters to spread the word that there is still no better way of spending a Friday night than at the speedway!"
Mr Gibson's own regular contribution to the programme could be found on page 11 of the match magazine, written under the "News Angle" banner. He kicked off by sparing a thought for Monarchs' promoter Tom "Big T" Cook, at that time recuperating from a very nasty car accident:
"You have to believe me when I say that at nine o'clock last Friday night my sympathies, deep and genuine, went out to somebody lying flat on his back in a hospital down Gala way.
If Tom Cook had had a relapse on hearing the result of an instantly forgettable meeting I wouldn't have been surprised. Something else.. that wouldn't have surprised me ... if we'd seen him leap out of his sick bed and charge into the stadium, waving a crutch or something, and demanding to know what the night's proceedings had been all about.
My own feelings at that time were of ever-deepening depression. Frustration, too. Like you I've got my own particular assessments of specific individuals who go out there wearing blue and gold leathers and when I say that there are times, too many times, when I feel that one, or two or three of them might not be exerting 100 per cent effort you'll be 'way ahead of me.
But what of Tom Cook ? The man's intentions from the outset have been admirable and wholehearted but a car accident at this stage in the season is something he could do without when, as it is, he keeps on getting kicked in the teeth in a manner of speaking.
Monarchs, it's plain to see, are in the mire and if Mr. C extricates them from it and we start to see a whole new ball game at Powderhall we'll have to invent some kind of special award. Something unique. Something worth staging some kind of ceremonial on the centre green."
Reading that continued criticism was clearly too much for Mike Hunter. He felt obliged to respond immediately and added an "Editor's Note" to the bottom of the article. One wonders if this inspired the Viz Letters page, where correspondents reply to reader questions asked earlier on the same page? The note read as follows:
"Whilst agreeing with the sentiments concerning Tom Cook, may I ask Mr. Gibson why last week's meeting was 'instantly forgettable' ? What about Brett Saunders' great win in heat 14, Garrad's brilliance, the exciting efforts of Naylor, Mullarkey, Fiora, Trownson, the promise of Sean Courtney ... .
These things are obvious to the genuine supporter, i.e. most of the fans on the terraces. A jazz concert, or a Hibs football match, would be 'instantly forgettable' to me, because I'm not interested and so I wouldn't presume to report on them. I wish Mr. Gibson would follow my example and hand over to one of the enthusiasts on the News staff. We know there are such people."
John Gibson had to wait until the following week to get his retaliation in, devoting the whole of his column to the matter when the Monarchs entertained Boston:
"The temptation to hit back at Mike Hunter's outrageously vitriolic attack on yours truly in last week's programme (not only was he not content with a half-page denigration, he had to let it spill over on to my own page) is something I can resist because I prefer to believe that this type of outburst, besides being irrational and ridiculously biased, is not really characteristic of the man.
Most times when I see Mike or ring him, he is an agreeable, social and rational person. Mike's recurring problem - and apparently it's something he's never going to get out of his system - is that speedway in general and Monarchs in particular are much too precious to him.
Last week's outburst in these pages in fact was totally predictable and it's too easy to turn this programme into a tit-for-tat slanging match, ripping individuals to shreds and boring everybody in the process.
Just let me say, in good faith Mike, that I'm not one iota repentant over what I said in the "Evening News". Monarchs were bad on the night. And when I've seen a bad football match, or, indeed, a bad concert I've said so in the "News".
Monarchs, despite Mike Hunter's unshakeable allegiance to them, are not sacred and for anybody who feels that their performances this season have not merited at least one slagging I have a mixture of sympathy and disrespect.
What I ask everyone to bear in mind is that while Mike obviously did not agree with my condemnation of Monarchs the day after the Rye House flop, their promoter did. I'm perfectly happy to leave it at that and I consider the correspondance closed."
That did indeed seem to be the end of the matter, with Mike choosing to have a bit of a "go" at Dick Barrie in that week's "Track Chat" instead. But more of Dick next week.....
So, how does Mike reflect on those exchanges some 34 years on?
"I do remember it. John Gibson was a good writer but not really very interested in speedway. He still has a column in the Evening News but is otherwise retired. Really, I got on very well with him."
This article was first published on 9th October 2016
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