Hooked at last - one reluctant TV viewer
For a variety of reasons, I have rarely watched speedway on television. The golden years of World of Sport and Dave Lanning largely passed me by and, equally, I have not been a regular participator in the Sky revolution.
All that has recently changed, and I have to admit it has been quite an eye-opener. Monday evening Elite League meetings, various Grand Prix events and World Cup occasions have been fitted in to my work schedule and social diary, and sceptical family members and visitors have occasionally been tempted to join me for my shale fix.
My first experience of our sport 'on the box' was so dire that it prejudiced me for most of a lifetime against televised speedway.
The year was 1964, the meeting was a National League championship decider between Wimbledon and Swindon, the programme was the BBC's legendary Sportsview and the commentator was the veteran Peter Dimmock.
The grainy black and white coverage was obsessed with following the leader in each race around Plough Lane, ignoring whatever battles were taking place for the minor race positions. What really turned me off however was the patently obvious fact that Dimmock hadn't a clue what was going on.
During a crucial race, I think involving Barry Briggs, Dimmock spent the whole of the commentary telling viewers how much the speedway 'drivers' were paid. After that, for me it was live speedway or nothing.
In recent years I have been a live spectator on the terraces at Sky-televised meetings, waiting impatiently for the action to start until the programme director gives the nod to the officials that things have gone live. I have also noticed the odd comment about Sky TV coverage on web sites and in letters to the speedway press - often, I noticed, not very complimentary.
So what does this late convert to televised speedway, a died-in-the-wool traditionalist who regrets the disappearance of black leathers and the appearance of advertisements on every inch of rider and machine, think of Sky's coverage?
Quite simply, I like it. Not so much the slightly ridiculous posing of the riders for the trailers etc. The riders themselves have the grace to seem a little bit sheepish about it all. The relentless and slightly false over-enthusiasm that surrounds the entire coverage is also a bit of a turn-off.
When the visitors are being hammered out of sight in a series of processional races in front of a few hundred bored spectators, it might occasionally be more productive to admit that it is not the greatest meeting ever.
But in general I have been greatly impressed. Particularly by the superb camera work, which means that speedway comes across as the incredibly exciting, amazingly skilful, technically complex spectacle that it is when at its best. The courage and endurance of the riders is another aspect that cannot but help to impress the casual viewer.
The graphics are usually superb, and the race results and other information essential for a true speedway fan, are available quickly.
I like the overall presentation, and I disagree with many of the comments I have seen from disgruntled fans. Nigel Pearson is knowledgeable, Kelvin Tatum is articulate, and Sam Ermolenko is a TV natural. I am not so sure about the between-race interviews. Some riders are usually good value for a quote - Leigh Adams and Jason Crump in particular. Other efforts are just not worth the airtime.
Some of the aspects of modern-day speedway that have effectively sprung from the Sky presentation are not wholly my personal cup of tea - the starting gate girls for one thing. But whereas my dislike of this sort of thing in football and cricket is real, I accept it in speedway because razz-a-ma-tazz has always been part and parcel of the sport, way back to the days of Johnnie Hoskins.
Finally, there is one aspect of televised speedway that causes me pain, and a certain amount of embarrassment when watching with people who are strangers to the sport. On more than one occasion I have been asked the question, 'where are the spectators?
One has to suppose that at many tracks, the 'crowd' is watching from behind the plate glass of the grandstand/restaurants that constitute virtually the only surviving spectator facilities. They are certainly not visible anywhere else in the decaying stadia portrayed by the cameras.
How does Elite League speedway survive? Part of the credit, presumably, goes to Sky. Another reason to say 'well-done' to those responsible for the TV coverage.
This article was first published on 21st August 2008
"I really enjoyed reading the article and I found myself nodding at the content. I have also found myself looking forward to Monday night speedway on Sky and the Grand Prix saturdays are an event to savour. I find the knowledgable comments of Kelvin Tatum (or is it Paul Whitehouse) an added bonus."
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