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Let's Promote and Push Speedway
By David Pickles

Packed terraces in the Sixties

It's hard to know where to start as this is probably quite a long-winded diatribe, but I feel we are at a crossroads with our beloved sport, and there must be a different way to promote and push it forward as we head to the 90th year of it's running in the UK.

Common sense tells us that we will never ever again see the original "golden years" of the sport, from 1946-1950 when annual attendances rivalled those of football, and speedway was the number one summer sport, nor maybe the "second revival" from 1965-1975, but surely now we have reached a bottom when the combined weekly attendances from all the clubs in all three leagues doesn't even match that of one week at Wembley back in the late 1940's.

I have always had a strong belief in life that people usually accept what they are given without realising it. By that I mean, when we think of sport, the BBC for a prime example only show and talk about the sports they want US to acknowledge. Witness their daily sports reports, which concentrate only on football, cricket, rugby, golf, cycling and other sports they want us to follow.

I mention the BBC for two reasons. Firstly because they are the prime perpetrators and secondly because I personally got the British Grand Prix at Cardiff at mention on the Saturday of the meeting, simply by e-mailing them. Watching their Breakfast show, I was so angry that once again speedway wasn't even included in their sports review, on the day of our biggest meeting, that I e-mailed them and simply asked that Mike Bushell mentioned the Cardiff meeting on the next report, which was due at 9.15am. To my astonishment it was mentioned with a quick reference to Tai's then 5th place in the standings.

I have argued long and hard with other fans and friends that speedway could be many times bigger if it were presented differently, and have stated many times that it isn't that difficult to put our sport to the fore. For instance, if the evening results were included on the BBC and ITV respective ten o'clock news programmes that would introduce the word "speedway" to the nation, and more importantly, those especially of the younger generation who aren't aware of it.

Secondly if the national press were to include match reports, primarily from the top division with the odd action photo, that would again stimulate interest.

There are countless other examples of how speedway could be promoted at possibly very little cost. The one glaring omission to me is Coronation Street. A simple phone call to ITV reveals that paid for advertising, known in the trade as "Brand Recognition" is a massive loss for Belle Vue in particular. For those on au fait with "Corrie", there is a café run by a character called Roy, which has a "local noticeboard". For potentially little outlay in the big scheme of things (and this could be funded by the whole speedway community, not just the Belle Vue management) why isn't there a notice on this board advertising Belle Vue Speedway? Millions of people tune in to this soap each week, speedway is part of our lives, and should be part of everyday soap operas.

Why aren't local schools in every catchment area of a track contacted at the beginning of each season, with a co-ordinated roadshow featuring a short DVD showing of the history of the sport, what it is, and the offer of free tickets for the whole school, provided each pupil attends with a paying adult? A simple and relatively inexpensive thing to do, in fact it could be done with volunteers.

This would stimulate massive interest at the beginning of each season and increase gates probably two or three fold in the early stages, with at least a percentage of those children wanting to come back, especially if they see some superb action. Moreover, their parents and grandparents would have possibly been those "missing" people that used to attend speedway and now no longer do, because their track may have closed, or for whatever reason they just lost touch with the sport.

That takes me back to my original gripe. They lost touch with it, because the mainstream TV and national press no longer acknowledge it. So it's up to the speedway community to take the promotion of it in their own hands. But, as I wind up this article, isn't there something the sport's authorities themselves can do?

Every sport has its governing body, in our case it's the FIM. For some reason, only known to them, over the years they have introduced some rather weird rules, none more so than the current starting rules, and the bizarre introduction of the "warning" label in the Grands Prix.

Now, I'm of an age (sadly) that I can remember the dramatic and goose-bumping days of the "rollers". That's right, I'm talking of the Ivan Maugers of this world, who at the start of each race would try and gain the odd inch or two just to get to the first bend with an advantage. In this clinical and cynical world we live in, equality seems to be the overriding thing, so everyone must start "equal" at the gate. This may seem to be laudable to many, but takes away the dramatic and fever pitch starts that many of us remember from the 1960's and 1970's when part of the build up to each race was "Would Mauger beat the ref or would the ref let the tapes up just as he rolled back?" Other "rollers are available by the way, just not to upset Ivan's fans.

My point is there are still many people who can remember those days, and the tension at each start. We need to scrap this stupid tape-touching rule and revert back to the tape-breaking rule for exclusions.

That's another thing. Why is a rider "disqualified" and not "excluded". Have we bowed to the politically correct mob where "exclusion" is a dirty word? No. Let's get control back of our sport.

Speedway is serving up the same product now that it did in 1928 when it took the country by storm. It's serving up the same excitement, drama, noise and colour now that it did between 1946-1950 when hundreds of thousands flocked to their local tracks. It's a healthy combative contact sport, made up of people who not only love racing, but put their lives on the line to entertain us, and it gets very short shrift from the terrestrial television channels and the national press, disgracefully so.

All of us who attend meetings week in and week out, are a pressure group. We can call on our local papers, our national press, and most importantly our TV channels to give us our fair dues. After all, if Women's cricket can feature in the national sports headlines (and what is there cumulative attendance over a season compared to speedway), then surely we deserve our percentage of coverage?

So, let's all rise up, and push the word for our beloved sport. We watch it because we love it. We watch it because we admire the courage of those who ride for our local teams, and our country. We watch it because it's part of our lives. But, it we don't do something, we won't have it to watch anymore.

 

This article was first published on 6th August 2017

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  • Steve Haire:

    "I am guessing I'm of a similar age to Mr.Pickles so have seen it all over the years. The reason for the declining crowds and lack of media coverage is down to the way speedway authorities run British Speedway. The promoters by their very title are supposed to promote speedway not the supporter.

    As Mr.Pickles points out, the product hasn't changed, it's still exciting but when you have a sport that's run by promoters who restrict competition (maximum team averages) then speedway supporters, myself included are not going to bother. No other team sport penalises teams for doing well. They've always held the belief that if you have too stronger teams with large score lines supporters are going to stop going. It's never occurred in other sports, your Manchester Uniteds, Michael Schumakers, Serena Williams's, didn't have people not going to watch them just because they kept winning, in fact with football, some premiership ship clubs will charge more for tickets when they're in town.

    Back in the early seventies Belle Vue won everything, when they were in town crowds went up. Like all supporters of any sport they will support their team through thick and thin. When you have riders signed for several teams it makes speedway a joke (Chris Harris the best example), this is why media won't give it the time of day with coverage.

    Polish, Swedish, Danish and Russian leagues have seven riders that would all be heat leaders in this country. Why is it that Tai Woffinden doesn't want to ride over here or represent his country, yes, British speedway promoters. Until British promoters get their act together and let each team put out the team they can afford you'll just have your die hards going, no new supporters.

    Another example of their incompetence is they will sign riders but the other leagues they ride in get first call on their services such as the case in the fours when Peterborough's Jack Holder was given permission to ride in a Polish fixture. When you have somebody being sued for something really stupid the saying is "only in America", now if a stupid decision happens in sport the saying goes "only in Speedway".

    Promoters need to wise up, promote the sport, you have to invest to make make money and be successful, another relevant expression is "if you pay peanuts, you'll get monkeys."

  • Anthony Williamson:

    "Love above read. For many a year I watched Wimbledon, Hackney. That was entertainment. Last few years of Wimbledon, £15 entrance fee for 15 races. Poor speedway. Don't watch too much speedway now. A race takes 1 minute. Mucking about at the starting gates takes for ever. What speedway needs is a Barry Hearnes type. Once again good read David. Is so sad the way our sport is going."

  • Jim Henry:

    "I agree that the spot needs young blood to survive but without parents to take them you are a bit stuck. What about family tickets for the cost of (say) one adult so mums can go too. What about a good journalist doing a glossy style article for airline in flight mags, company staff mags and, maybe,those other specialist mags for younger men and younger women. What about articles for biker mags too? "  

     

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