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George Dodds's picture

It is very much a first world problem and more specifically one of the digital era but you have to admire the town in north Lincolnshire which, en masse, offended the morality guardians of the mighty Internet.
I’ve always had a soft spot for Scunthorpe – its weekly newspaper, The Star, offered me (unpaid) work experience after leaving college in the summer of 1983 and my first by-lined speedway match report.
Rather like my hometown it’s a place for grafters rather than fancy Dans or Doreens and those who shun the glamour and just get the job done – although the lack of pollution-belching steel works has always given Berwick a slight edge.
It also had speedway, again a team assembled on a budget to compete rather ruinously assembled to challenge for the shiny baubles. And when lousy landlords chucked them out they found some land and built themselves a speedway stadium in the middle of nowhere (sounds familiar?). Although it would be fair to say that there the similarities between Ashby Ville and Berrington Lough ended. Whereas the Luff was developed into a tidy stadium with good facilities, Scunny never really got past a field with grass banking and a track.
A financial meltdown sent them off into the wilderness but, amazingly, they did it all again a couple of decades later building a second stadium from scratch – this time one with spectator facilities.
But whereas Berwick dined out on the “used to be in Scotland, still at war with Russia” nonsense peddled to gullible newspaper and TV reporters by the local ne’er do wells keen to dip into their expense accounts, Scunthorpe seemed destined to be little more than “former steel town whose football team Ian Botham played for”. Scunthorpe United’s former ground also had the first concrete cantilever stand in British football – but that’s one for the anoraks really.
But then came t’interwebbynetthingy and in particular AOL’s profanity filter which threatened to, at a stroke, wipe the town off the face of the earth – or at least the digital portion of it.
Now just in case you thought that generation snowflake only recently arrived on the scene I invite you to accompany me on a journey back to the 1990s.
Common people like us were just beginning to get access to the Internet – using dial-up modems which led to some eye-watering phone bills – and more specifically to send emails rather than snail mail to our nearest and dearest; occasionally, accidentally, both which led to the first reported episodes of e-divorce.
Now people being people the opportunity to choose their own user-names brought out the schoolkid in otherwise seemingly mature adults.
Not to put too fine a point on it some were risqué, some very rude, others downright obnoxious, homophobic, blasphemous anti-Semitic and just plain wrong.
So AOL (America On Line of course, so fundamentally – pun intended – run by Christian white boys) decided it would use the latest technology to electronically scan all domain, search engine and usernames for strings of text that appeared to have an obscene or otherwise unacceptable meaning.
All fine and dandy but the problem was that, while computers can easily identify strings of text they cannot interpret implied meaning or context. As a result fairly draconian rules on what was, and more importantly wasn’t acceptable were written, meaning that there were an entertaining number of false positives affecting innocent phrases, technical terms, abbreviations and names, especially when “filth” was innocently hidden in a bigger word.
Obviously high on the list banned by AOL was slang names for the sexual organs. So, along with the acronym used by Montreal Urban Council, or as they say in the French-speaking city, Communaute urbaine Montreal, shitake mushrooms, former Lancashire cricketer Iain Cockbain, any attempts to advertise performances of Dick Whittington, Diane Callahan and Dr Herman I Libshitz, Scunthorpe found itself persona non grata – indeed anyone who graduated from the town’s college magne cum laude was dealt a double whammy when trying to post their CVs.
Overnight a swathe of north Lincolnshire was unable to register, use or search for anything involving itself. It became known as The Scunthorpe Problem – or more accurately the S****horpe problem.
Irate Scunny residents shared the pain of the publishers of one of North America’s leading wildlife magazines who decided that, despite an 89-year history it was easier to rename the publication than try to beat the electronic censors.
As a result Canada’s Wildlife replaced The Beaver.
Of course speedway was on the back burner south of the Humber at the time but, perhaps a team which has already had three nicknames during its incarnations missed a trick when it finally returned.
Instead of the Scorpions they should have relaunched as The Asterisks.
Anyway they didn’t and on Saturday night the Scorpions are in town as the Bandits embark on a spell of three very winnable meetings in the space of six days.
Scunny number one (wonder if I’d have got that past the AOL bods back in the day?) Josh Auty has had something of a love/hate relationship with the sport in recent times – and who can blame him when it quite often bites back – but on his day is one of the best racers the Championship has to offer.
He will be joined by a kindred spirit in what could turn out to be an inspired choice of guest as Kyle Howarth, replacing the injured Jason Garritty, is another who doesn’t know the meaning of settling for an easy point.
Jake Allen would have been a Bandit if he hadn’t fallen foul of a Visa clampdown a few seasons ago, Danny Ayres is always value for money, guest David Wallinger will be calling in on his way back to York from Plymouth (he needs the points’ money to buy a new SatNav).
This week’s offer is two adults who get admission and two matchday magazines for £35. Add children and they come in for nowt – as do those flying with solo adults. There’s a good deal on in hospitality too – email Neil on hospitality@berwickbandits.co
Otherwise it’s £17 for adults, £13 concessions, £3 programmes and anyone who tells you otherwise is a rotten lying Jeremy Hunt (or just a plain old Boris Johnson if you’re that way inclined).
Tapes-up 7pm.