George Dodds's picture

So what did you do with your Saturday off?
Was it a fun day out to Homebase, dragged into The Barrels by a pair of runaway puppies, hitting the road to Glasgow to see the relaunch of Ashes Speedway, a walk along Spittal prom, completing the two series box set of The Revenants, catching up on Picnic at Hanging Rock, a dinner for two at various Black Bulls, checking out series six of Engrenages?
If you happen to own a speedway club it appears that a speedway free Saturday is spent discussing how to ensure the long-term future of speedway at one of the sport’s iconic venues.
Not surprisingly when it comes to Berwick Bandits the Courtney boys, true to form, came up with something intriguing and somewhat left-field.
On Wednesday night they unveiled the Bandits STARS Project – details of which can be found on the main news page of this website and in the programme for Saturday’s crunch match against Edinburgh.
STARS stands for Stadium Track And Rent Support.
Speaking to Scott and Jamie before the launch they are keen to point out that this isn’t a case of passing around the begging bowl or threatening to pull the plug if money is not forthcoming.
Ideally Shielfield would be packed with thousands of bedecked in Black and Gold roaring King Kev, The Phoenix, Red Hot Summers, El Dragino, MT Gapp, Flying Dutchmen, Main Danes and co to victory.
That’s still the aim and a lot of hard work is going on to make that, or something approaching it, happen.
But it would still cost £25,000 to £30,000 just to run speedway at Shielfield for the season – before the riders are paid a single penny.
That’s the cost of renting the stadium from the Berwick Rangers’ Supporters Trust, buying shale for the track, providing the equipment to lay and maintain the track, maintaining the safety fence, providing medical cover, public liability insurance and the thousand and one other licences, affiliations, permits and the like needed to even open the doors.
And it all comes to between £25,000 and £30,000.
Let’s put that into some sort some of context … the first 2,000 customers passing through the £15 turnstiles at Shielfield do no more than cover the cost of the infrastructure needed to stage speedway in Berwick, a cost that has to be met before a single rider contract is signed, sealed or delivered.
Even that is too simplistic as it doesn’t take into account VAT and the other red tape of running a sports club … but it’s a good indication of what it takes to put the show on the road.
Some will argue that if attendances and sponsorship cannot cover the costs then the business model is wrong. Indeed many claim that as successful businessmen themselves they would not expect outside assistance to balance the books.
But they will, quite rightly, themselves take advantage of business rates relief schemes, council run and financed car parks, weekly markets and other initiatives run by outside parties which bring crowds into the town – people they can then attract into their shops.
It also ignores the fundamental fact that sports clubs are not like businesses and can rarely be run profitably.
Even the monolith that is English football relies on TV income, rugby and cricket from a combination of TV cash and a redistribution of profits from international games while most sports follow the speedway model of relying on the deep pockets of owners and support organisations.
Locally Glasgow’s supporters club paid for Ashfield’s medical cover this season, Edinburgh’s supporters’ trust has already contributed £24,000 to the Monarchs this season – money donated directly to the clubs not to individual riders or to subsidise away travel.
It is hard cash donated by fans whose desire to see speedway continue long-term at Ashfield, Armadale and there are other examples at the likes of Scunthorpe, Sheffield, Poole and Somerset, means that they are happy not to let the full burden fall on the shoulders of their club owners.
Double medical cover is a big expense and one where, conceivably, the Berwick management could trim costs. But it is a route that they will not go down to avoid becoming a track where meetings have to be cut short due to a lack of paramedic or ambulance cover.
Exciting plans for a series of fundraising events to be run directly by the club will be unveiled over the coming weeks but there is also an opportunity for individuals or even existing organisations to contribute.
Buddy the Bandit is likely to be in high demand over the coming months but perhaps he should follow in the footsteps of fellow mascot, Hartlepool’s H’Angus the Monkey and become an elected mayor. Then he can allocate all the council’s budget to speedway.
He’d get my vote.
I suspect that Bob Dugard would have approved of the STARS project.
Bob is the former rider and long-time Eastbourne speedway owner who died this week, aged 76. At one time or another he also promoted the sport at Oxford, White City in London and indoors at Brighton but is probably best known at the helm of the Eagles which, for many years in the 1970s and 80s – and again today – was a production line for young, British speedway talent; not least his own son Martin.
I used to work as a reporter in east London, covering Arena Essex and Hackney Kestrels – both relative derby matches for the Eagles at the time.
Which is how I came to be on the wrong end of one of Bob Dugard’s famous explosions – the sort of hairdryer treatment that Sir Alex Ferguson would make famous in later years.
Time fades the memory but I seem to recall that the cause of his displeasure was a match preview I had penned about Bob’s Sunday afternoon tractor driving at Arlington.
I may even have suggested that essential track grading always seemed to take place just before Martin was due to race and that the dirt line seemed to move in some sort of correlation to the gate position of Dugard Jnr.
I thought it was a light-hearted, indeed rather clever, piece. It would be fair to say that Dugard Snr disagreed and took a few minutes out of his meeting preparations to underline just how stupid anyone would have to be to print such tripe.
About 20 minutes later he came back – I assumed for round two – but instead produced a cup of tea bought from the pits snack bar for me. With a pat on the back he jumped on his tractor and proceeded to pull the dirt from the fence to just off the inside line.
Minutes later Martin appeared in the red helmet, lined up on two, gated well and found unexpectedly excellent drive just off the white line to sweep inside Martin Goodwin and Andrew Silver and race off into the distance.
The Bandits’ ability to make it rain in Suffolk even in the driest of summers means that our trip to Ipswich will be a case of third time lucky, date to be arranged, which means that it’s back-to-back Monarchs for the Berwick boys this weekend – Armadale on Friday and then to Shielfield on Saturday.
Tapes-up 7pm.