George Dodds's picture

While British speedway was turned upside down and inside out by Flintgate, just over 100 miles away Glasgow’s owners were secretly plotting a coup.
On the face of it there is little in common between an argument over whether a long retired rider who, by his own admission, was never much good even at his peak, should be allowed to race alongside his teenage son in the National League and the legality or otherwise of a current GP rider joining the Tigers for the rest of the Championship season.
But the arguments that have raged all week on two fronts show up the fundamental problem of British speedway – its rulebook is too big, regulations ill-defined or clumsy and all of it open to differing interpretations.
And it is not just those running the clubs that seem intent on stretching the rubber rules until they get what they want … supporters are no better, their views on the rights and wrongs of this week’s two big disputes largely following the lines of who whether they support the club accused of doing wrong or not.
Two years ago Buster Chapman was elected as chairman of the BSPA amid a promise to ‘rip up the rulebook and make it fit for purpose’.
It wouldn’t be too big or controversial a call to say that he has not been successful.
“Two teams of seven riders, four laps per race, 15 heats per meeting, machines maximum 500cc with no brakes, clutch start, left turns only.”
There we are … a speedway rulebook – saves a fortune on production costs and could even be printed every week in the programme (or available as a free download for those who seem to revel in that sort of thing).
Of course it wouldn’t work.
Much of the current rulebook is filled with dos and donts on track dimensions, safety fences, rider equipment, incident recording – all vital to the safe running of a meeting but dull as dishwater and, by and large, uncontroversial.
It doesn’t take into account team building maximum points limits, guests for missing riders, eligibility of riders coming out of retirement, struggling GP stars looking to boost his confidence/bank balance, or both, by dropping into the second division and the raft of hastily added supplementary rules which often conflict with other sections of the regulations.
This is where the current rulebook often veers into the realms of the surreal with interpretation of those rules open to constant challenge and rarely showing consistency.
Which takes us back to last Sunday morning.
I’ll be honest, I’m not actually sure of the relevant section of the rulebook under which Birmingham, apparently successfully, had our assistant-manager cleared to ride at number seven for the Brummies at Buxton.
This was in response to his fairly light-hearted offer to help them out of a hole caused by a shortage of reserves for their trip to the Peak District. So far so good.
Gary Flint was trending on Twitter – something which hadn’t even been invented last time he threw one of those long legs over a speedway saddle in anger.
Some rather cruelly suggested that his assessed 3.00 average constituted a huge career high but, dusting off the old journalist’s trilby, I couldn’t help thinking of the good publicity the sport could get from dad and hottest-property-in-British-speedway’s-junior-ranks lad racing together at the sport’s most picturesque venue.
By the time I clocked off work on Sunday lunchtime it had all gone somewhat pear shaped.
Buxton had objected to Flint senior’s inclusion in the side and, despite Brummies boss Laurence Rogers’ best Neville Chamberlain impression; claiming to have the piece of paperwork which would allow us to see ‘Flint in our time’, the ride was given to Midland Development League teenager Sheldon Davies, who took his unexpected opportunity with some aplomb.
Flint Junior, who may have thought that reaching a second successive world final, achieving a 9.90 average and a string of double figure scores, all while still just 15 years old, would have made him the centre of attention – especially in his own house – did what he does best, namely took it all in his stride, banged in another top score – 15+1 this time, and probably laughed at the absurdity of it all.
You see Buxton insisted that rules were rules and Gary wasn’t eligible. In turn Gary insisted that if rules really were rules then he was and screen-shotted the relevant page of the rulebook which he felt proved the point.
You see two rules for one eventuality. Contradictory, confusing. Typical speedway rulebook.
The ensuing kerfuffle launched one of the biggest public protest movements since the Tories announced the introduction of the Poll Tax in 1989.
Rumours abound that the #letgazride campaign is printing up t-shirts and staging a protest – probably quite a dirty one considering those involved – before the British GP at Cardiff next weekend.
Perhaps they could, appropriately enough in modern speedway times, double up and have #don’tletcookierideforglasgow on the back.
Before the Buxton dust had fully settled the Tigers announced that, not for the first time in recent years, Mr Cook’s season has not gone quite to plan and he was available for a late season sojourn in the Championship.
This caught many on the hop – especially Richie Worrall – not least because it was widely accepted wisdom that GP riders could not ride in the Championship except for the club they were with when they qualified for the GPs; ergo if Cookie was to return it could only be for Workington.
But while many accepted the wisdom no-one could actually find the rule written down.
Let’s not forget that Mr Cook is only five years younger than Flint Snr and they both have the same chance of being crowned World Champion this year.
It appears that the rulebook, or at least the interpretation of it, allows Glasgow’s move – either bold or bent depending largely on which team you support. Although the move was still to be ratified as I pressed “publish” on this article.
Workington are doing pretty well without their old number one, the Comets’ victory at Shielfield last Saturday coming in addition to even more impressive wins at Peterborough, Glasgow, Edinburgh and Newcastle.
If only they could arrange regular home meetings they would be top of the league.
In contrast we continue to operate at least three out of every four Saturdays with Scunthorpe the visitors this week.
One Worrall is due back, Stevie having recovered from a broken leg sustained on opening night while Josh Auty and Jake Allen have also performed well at Shielfield in the past.
We will be looking to bounce back from losing our unbeaten home Shield/Championship record to the Comets and need full points if we are to hold onto our hopes of reaching the playoffs.
But if you do have a spare moment perhaps you could make a start on rewriting the speedway rulebook for 2019. Here’s a start: “Speedway is two teams of seven riders, four laps per race, 15 heats per meeting, machines maximum 500cc …”
See you at 7pm on Saturday.