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Not Just Speedway Star, We Need a Speedway Czar
By David Pickles

John Berry and John Louis

The arguments about our wonderful sport go on, as it slowly and inexorably declines into history. Does anyone remember the "crisis" of 1985 when attendances started to drop alarmingly for some unknown reason? This just 4 short years after Wembley was packed to the rafters for what turned out to be the very last World Final - and what a night it was. But, in 1986 the sport had, and missed, its chance in my view, to turn the corner.

Ex-England team manager John Berry, who had successfully resurrected Ipswich saw the writing on the wall, and pulled out of the sport as a promoter, but offered his services to other promotions of the time, as someone with experience to "run and guide" the sport. Sadly, this was unanimously turned down. The rest, is almost history.

Now, one cannot blame individual promoters for wanting to protect their corner and their own interests. Since 1986 there have been some very successful promotions, notably Poole who are probably the envy of everyone else, but overall the sport is in a parlous state. But, there are some positive things that speedway must take advantage of, if it's to survive in its current form.

Firstly, we MUST appoint a "czar" to oversee and run the sport, even if it means from some sort of "dictatorial" level. Berry, of course, would have been perfect, sadly he is no longer with us. One name that springs to mind is "Uncle" Len Silver, if ever there was anyone still within the sport with the knowledge, the craft, and the guile to promote, it's him. But, at 86, and with great respect (thanks for many memories at Hackney by the way Len), would he be interested?

My thoughts often spring to celebrities and personalities. There surely MUST be some very famous people out there who are household names, but at the same time are speedway fans? Football gets more of its fair share of those who profess support for it, so is there anyone out there who follows our sport? If so, they need to be found and approached. Could they lend their name to promote the sport overall, and not just one particular team?

Secondly, we have a parliamentary group that is officially registered as being "An all-parliamentary group for the interests of motorcycle speedway". Now, I had 8 years in local politics (councillor if you must know), and rubbed shoulders with a few MP's, and I know from experience that they in turn, rub shoulders with "higher-ups and people of influence". Why isn't the sport utilising them and their contacts to get speedway more in the public eye?

Thirdly, we need our "czar" to instigate nationwide and local proper promotion. There should be rules set down as to how much each club is allowed to spend, in proportion to their current income on promotion. Some spend none as far as I can see, some spend quite a bit. I've suggested it before, but the youngsters are the lifeblood of our sport going forward. So, each promotion should start in mid-February until the start of the season, visiting every school in the area, with a video, large screen, riders and bikes, to explain the sport, and dish out free tickets for the opener. The tickets, of course, give free admission to the children, provided they are accompanied by a paying adult. To negate bad feedback from regular supporters who take their children, the adult could be admitted for say £10 for that night only. Sheffield did this a couple of seasons ago under their then new promotion, and it was a great success. The feedback from schools was positive, and there was a "YouTube" article on it too. That is the way forward, and Sheffield have deservedly increased their gates by sheer hard work in this respect.

The job of the "czar" would also be to co-ordinate publicity. Fleet St sports editors should be bombarded with letters and e-mails to get speedway results back in the daily press - why have they disappeared? We surely cannot be serious and content in letting speedway go from the 1981 days to what we have now.

Lastly, I repeat my idea of handicap racing. The splendid IOW promotion who recently held a handicap meeting were rewarded with a reasonable crowd and some good racing, according to someone I spoke to who attended.

Handicapping is the life blood of Stock Car Racing, according to the colour of the roof top. Use it according to averages, gate for an average of 0-3, 5 metres for an average of 3.1-6, 10 metres for 6.1-9 and 15 metres for 9.1-12. At least give it a try, even if it's just for challenge and cup matches.

Force the referees to be complicit in running a slick meeting, get the two minutes on as soon as practicable after the completion of a race, and generally make customers feel part of the experience.

Rye House is a sad casualty of the current malaise in speedway. In no way do I blame the management there, I enjoyed my visits there over the past years, but I fear for our future if nothing is done. The "Speedway Star" encapsulated our crisis in a recent edition. The "Speedway Czar" could, and should be our saviour.

 

This article was first published on 18th August 2018

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  • Bill Dutnall:

    "Press coverage is key. So many minority sports get full page reports in the dailies. A swimmer, for example, gets a medal and is given the treatment. Nothing wrong with that but we have World Championship success and hardly a murmur. I wonder if it is because of popular particpation.

    In the days just after the war speedway crowds were comparable with all but the major football clubs, but where I lived there was a cycle speedway track on many plots of waste ground where anyone could have a go. There was popular participation. Not possible these days of course but it is a major change in how the sport is brought into the public awareness.

    As for handicaps, I am not a fan. I don't see how contrived 'racing' would have any credibility. There have been many example of handicaps when a rider is required to start off 15 yards. Even when the penalised rider is a heat leader he just ends up at the back more often than not.

    There is also this obsession that the powers that be have about close scoring matches. There are many examples of one sided scores where the actual individual races have been excellent. And anyway whoever complains when your team gets a 5-1. Theoretically 75-15 could be an very exciting meeting. There is only one other sport where it is considered proper not to win by as much as possible. What next? Shall we give every team that plays Manchester City a two goal start?

    Unfortunately there are problems with our sport. It certainly needs someone at the top to see beyond thier own self interest and 'take one for the team'."  

     

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