BON APPETIT!

Published on 24th September 2021
Author Dick Barrie

History shows that no sport lasts forever.

Civilisations die – and with them their sports.

The ancient Olympics lasted a millennium — 776 BC to 393 AD — before Greece fell out of the world order, and all the barbaric Roman sports at the Colosseum died as the Roman Empire turned to Christianity.

In Britain, cockfighting was one of the major sports until it was banned in 1835, and other ‘sporting’ activities of the fairly recent past – hare-coursing and fox-hunting are examples — are now deemed inappropriate.

As with all things, sports are born, develop, thrive and die. This is inevitable, and it is ridiculously arrogant to think that sports such as our football codes, cricket – and speedway – will be any different.

Organised soccer, rugby and cricket have been major attractions for just a couple of centuries, and speedway for half that time. They might have a few hundred years left in them, but – while hardly likely to affect you or I – their ending won’t be a surprise, just an inescapable future fact…….

However, while we have speedway, let’s appreciate this amazing pastime.

As I mentioned above, the sport has been going for nigh on a hundred years – since the more-or-less-accepted beginning at West Maitland in Australia in 1923.

The sport in Britain was only 21 years old (fifteen,with time off to sort out Hitler!) when I watched my first spell-binding, oil-sniffing, cinder-spraying meeting in 1949.

The game began in Berwick less than twenty years after that.

Think on this – speedway in Berwick has been a fact of all our lives for more than half the lifetime of the sport worldwide.

An inherently unstable and dangerous profession, only slightly more predictable than lion-taming, as random as bull-fighting and less fair than whaling.

Has much changed in these fifty-odd seasons since 1968?

Yes and no.

The concept is so simple, and stands the test of time. Four riders, standing start, four laps.

If a spectator at Shielfield in 1968 walked into the stadium – itself hardly changed – at one of this past season’s matches, he or she would know exactly what was going on.

To be truthful, the riders would be faster, closer together and more-colourful. If you watch some of the vintage footage available from the early years, you’ll quickly realise that races really weren’t better in “the good old days”.

What’s changed for those of us old enough to compare now with then isn’t the speedway, it’s us!

As we become older, we become world-weary and cynical. We have selective memories of days gone by – the sun-filled summers, the excited anticipation of each upcoming meeting and all the fun of the speedway fair.

We have carefully, even automatically, filtered out and erased all the rained-off matches, the grey nights of lacklustre on-track action and the many, many on- and off-track disappointments.

The bikes have improved in speed and – importantly – reliability. Back in the ‘60s, breakdowns were a factor at virtually every meeting.

Check back – every second race could have at least one non-finisher, while nowadays a stoppage is the exception, and usually the result of a “professional breakdown” of a rider pulling up on the last lap of a race when he’s well-tailed-off.

Although the machinery has evolved since the mainly-JAP-powered beginnings of our Bandits, the engines are still 500cc single-cylindered four-strokes, and while now silenced and much safer in terms of chain-guarding and other features, they remain powerful beasts, capable of vicious acceleration and mighty speeds, despite occasional efforts to slow them down.

The recent attempts to introduce rev-limiting to British speedway has been put on hold — at a meeting of the SCB this summer it was agreed that in the light of the recent pandemic and riders missing a year’s racing in 2020 and having a shortened season in 2021, the extra cost of making rev limiters compulsory for the 2022 season was not viable.

Therefore, a decision has been made for rev limiters not to be made compulsory for the 2022 season and further updates regards the 2023 season will made in due course.

Just thought I’d let you know about that bit, which doesn’t seem to be general knowledge.

So, at the end of our 54th term of trading, we must settle down for a long cold winter and await news of what 2022 might bring……..

These blogs will continue, and as always I’ll welcome your input, bizarre though some remarks might appear.

A recent statement on here was greeted by an angry e-mail which ended: ““I would rather eat dog shit than read another of your blogs”.
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Bon appetit!
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Disagree with Dick – as so many do? He is always be happy to hear from interesting people at dick@crystalfm.co.uk

Dick Barrie
Dick Barrie

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