George Dodds's picture

These are, to say the least, strange times.
Earlier today (Tuesday) British Speedway bowed to the inevitable and followed the rest of global sport into shutdown.
The decision will be reviewed on April 15. Optimists hope that may be long enough to ride the Covid-19 storm; pessimists have already written the 2020 season off.
We’ve had pandemics before but Ebola, SARS, HIV, Flu (Asian and Spanish) may have had death tolls in a different stratosphere but Coronavirus has achieved what even Hitler and the Luftwaffe couldn’t – silenced speedway at Belle Vue.
As firstly a journalist and then a mid-life loafer previous appearances by the What the Firkin Six Horsemen of the Apocalypse (powered by Bee Elzebub Underfloor Heating) barely caused a ripple in my serene and largely unspectacular life.
Suddenly approaching the second half of its sixth decade I found myself at the centre of the action.
Just a few months ago the gammon nation was standing proud. No Johnny Foreigner would stop us getting Brexit done. We were made of stern stuff (two world wars, one world cup – that obviously only applies to English gammon – rule Britannia, Baden Powell, Queen Victoria, cradle of democracy, sun never sets on the Empire and all that jazz.
Turns out those self-same warriors now, literally, lose their shit when the threat of having to stay at home for seven days is suggested.
Who would have thought that the most dangerous thing I’ve ever done in my life is to drag a palette of Andrex through a baying Monday morning shop floor mob?
Who would have thought that nothing I said or wrote in 25 years as a journalist would provoke the levels of vitriol and verbal abuse sparked by the heinous crime of working in a supermarket which could no longer provide the public with hand sanitiser? This from people who a couple of weeks’ earlier would have been more likely to drink hand sanitiser than liberally apply it – having looked on line for user instructions.
And if the end of the world is nigh why would you prepare for it with fifty quire of toilet rolls, a five kilo bag of Ronzoni, three gross of Carex and a dozen tins of Smart Price baked beans?
Make it a Macallan Double Cask Gold, five pound of cashew nuts (milk chocolate optional), MBI Video’s Steve McDermott Testimonial on DVD and a catering pack of Waggonwheels and I may begin to believe.
When it’s all over we’ll discover whether we’ve survived one of the biggest non-war related threats to civilisation or fallen victim to a media driven frenzy of lemming-like over-reaction.
Mind you when Isis warns would-be Jihadists that the virus makes it too dangerous for them to travel to Europe then an April Friday night in Redcar seems ill-advised. Although most Friday nights I’ve spent in Redcar fall into that category.
Ironically after the trials and tribulations of previous seasons the only speedway to beat the virus so far has been the BEN Fund at Scunthorpe on Saturday.
By all accounts a good crowd saw some excellent early season racing and then dug deep as Mr R Barrie raffled off various race bibs. Well done to those who rode, those who attended and those, like me, who couldn’t (working as a rear gunner on a delivery of macaroni and penne) but still donated the admission fee to the fund.
Hopefully the prophets of doom – egged on by those such as bankers, hedge fund managers and tax-exiled newspaper proprietors who profit from doom – are wrong and, in a month’s time we can concentrate on what British speedway does best: failing to complete its fixtures before the play-off cut-off dates.
St Helens chairman Eamonn McManus has already expressed fears that a prolonged shutdown could have dire consequences for rugby league and called for financial support from the government to help it survive.
Similar calls have been made from the leaders of industry, commerce and other sports, even the mighty behemoth that is association football. Indeed with no hint of irony many of our major entrepreneurs who have spent decades using tax breaks and funnelling business and profits through various off-shore havens to avoid paying their fair share now want the government – and by extension our tax pounds – to bale them out when normality returns to this fair isle.
Speedway throughout Europe was already in a precarious state financially. By and large it is kept afloat by local businessmen and sponsors. We can but hope that they have survived when the tempest finally blows out and that the men and women who subsidise our entertainment are still prepared and able to find the money to keep the show on the road; even before taking into account the hundreds of thousands of workers looking up at the guillotine of capitalism which forces them to face a contagious public when there are profits to be made but has no qualms about laying them off when times are tougher.
Nazis, terrorists, oil oligarchs, striking miners, coked-up stock market manipulators all failed to halt British speedway over 91 years.
In the end it took something with the same metric line as Dexys Midnight Runners (go on try it: Covid-19; Come on Eileen) to make self-isolation a sexy and socially responsible lifestyle choice rather than the fate of window lickers from Cornhill; silencing speedway in its destructive slipstream.
Fingers crossed it is temporary – there’s so much to be done in 2020; track records to be set, Tigers to be tamed, Eagles grounded, Rebels defeated, Diamonds dulled, Scorpions squashed, Kings and Monarchs de-throned, Pirates sunk, Brummies, erm …
And Bears? Well they can go in the woods – there’s no loo rolls to be found this side of Mytholmroyd.