1 October 2023
The Dirt Xtra
The more things change, the more they stay the same, or so…
They used to be as rare as a working class Tory, ethical banker or a well- adjusted Sunderland supporter.
For the grizzled and scarred racer a chance to bank a handy tax-free lump sum in the twilight of a career, for the fan an opportunity to throw a few quid into the pot for a rider whose career was ended by bad injury.
And on more than one occasion the opportunity for a promoter to snaffle the proceeds for himself.
Quite often it was a thank-you for the loyalty of a sportsman who probably could have earned a few bob more by jumping ship at some point over a decade or so but chose to stay loyal.
Because that’s what it used to take. Ten years before you got even a sniff of a testimonial.
And that would be ten years with the same club. Occasional exceptions but, especially in speedway, the promoters were pretty hard-hearted when it came to offering one of their own a day in the sun – those Rolls Royces didn’t buy themselves in speedway’s golden era.
Some great servants of the sport missed out completely on one last – in some cases one and only – big pay day by the very nature of their role as vital but low-order workmanlike riders.
Here today, gone tomorrow, always in demand, rarely truly appreciated.
One of Scotland’s finest, Willie Templeton had to wait 25 years before he was given a testimonial – although even that incredible Sunday afternoon at Shielfield may have, through fading memory, been classed as a celebration of longevity rather than an actual testimonial.
Graham Jones, Rob Grant, Steve McDermott, David Meldrum, Michal Makovsky and Kevin Doolan have all earned testimonials while with Berwick with our Czech star of the noughties the last of an arguably dying breed.
Ten years, one club, record points scorer. Testimonial? Hell yeah.
Now the thing about a testimonial meeting is that attendance or support is purely voluntary. There’s no “my team” element demanding loyalty and subsequently no implied guilt by choosing not to get involved.
Stuart Robson’s epic battle against the odds – despite all the delays and cancellations I bet he’s still glad he took Redcar’s offer to be a home from home rather than become embroiled in Newcastle’s Monty Python of a new promotion – can’t really argue with.
Good servant, largely to British speedway. Certainly suffered for his sport over the years.
To a degree Paul Starke is one of those who probably hasn’t too much to bank from a sport which has been cruel to his at times but at 32 he still has a good number of years ahead if he chooses so.
But where it becomes greyer and greyer is with the likes of Sam Masters and Stevie Worrall.
Surely where riders are doubling up and racing in Poland for good measure the criteria for testimonials should be strictly applied – if, indeed they exist at all within the War and Peace-like tome that is British speedway’s standard operating procedure, the SCB’s Speedway Regulations.
Because Stevie Worrall holding a testimonial at Poole involving his other club, Belle Vue, defies all testimonial credibility. He has been at neither club for anything approaching a decade.
And how come one twin qualifies and the other doesn’t?
Because the danger is that an over-proliferation of these types of events lessens the support for those who can genuinely say they have put in a shift for the good of British speedway. And even worse deflects attention from the Ben Bonanza at the start of the season.
Perhaps it’s coincidence that just as an effort is made to regulate signing-on fees there has been a proliferation of baffling testimonial awards.
Perhaps the long winter is taking its toll and needs some Saturday night action to soften the hard edges of my cynicism.
Which will happen in just over five weeks’ time. By a rough reckoning it will be around my 30th press and practice. Others have done many more.
They probably deserve a testimonial.