Developing nicely than you

Published on 10th January 2022
Author George Dodds

Things seem to be, pun fully intended, developing nicely in British speedway’s third tier.

Indeed, even the Championship seems by and large fine and dandy – champion even – while the Premiership is … whatever.

Heaven forbid there may even be the semblance of a pyramid taking shape here. If you will a signposted route from mini bikes with training wheels all the way to lifting the GP crown.

OK so this pyramid is more Michael Hyde than Hemiunu Cheops or Maya, nearer Kings’ Valley, Stockport than Valley of the Kings, Giza.

Truth be told, same as Greater Manchester’s purple polygon, it is the Premiership – that small, mis-shapen lump on the top – which lets the show down.

This made for TV money extravaganza is espousing the joys of six once again having failed to regain Poole or attract Glasgow – two clubs whose “world leading” (copyright B Johnson’s Conservative hoorays) fiscal approach – i.e. spaffing cash and criticising those who don’t have pockets deep enough to shoulder such eye-watering losses is very much in keeping with Buster’s big boys – they can only look down on the competitive beast that is the Championship.

Indeed, it seems that they were able to turn their backs on Oxford just to keep their share of the tv money – sorry – maintain the pleasing symmetry of being a sextet

Which leaves the Championship racing on nights that suit, with – by and large – sensible budgets and this season we have five clubs also entering in the National Development League.

Plymouth and Oxford have joined Leicester, Edinburgh, and the Bullets of Berwick alongside champions Mildenhall, a Kent Royals side which heart-warmingly rose from the ashes of ARC’s bid to rid their stadiums of 500cc racing bikes and Belle Vue, the one top tier club which invests directly in up-and-coming British talent.

But for a bout of wanton vandalism and bare-faced thievery on the west coast we could also have seen Workington riding again in 2022 as Northside underwent an incredible transformation and now seems set to join the league next season even possibly hosting some racing this year.

All this and with the potential for the Isle of Wight’s return to the fold at some point in the future it is as bright at the base of the pyramid as it’s Chesterfield steeple-like contorted at the top.

And that is before you factor in the efforts of the Northern Junior League, it’s Midland counterpart, the GHT Academy at Duns, Edinburgh turning their Armadale infield into a young skidders’ delight, amateur meetings at Scunthorpe and Redcar, training days at Leicester and Belle Vue.

So far so good. But this is speedway, especially British speedway, a sport with an ability to paint itself into a corner already legendary among my non-bike racing but general sports’-loving chums.

OK as customers of Newcastle United, Newcastle Falcons and Durham County Cricket you may question their suitability to offer a blueprint to sporting – or fiscal – responsibility and success.

How come, one asked over a liquidish lunch, you have the same guy riding for Berwick and Peterborough in the same week?

Who also rides for another club in Poland, one in Sweden, a Danish one, fits in some French meetings and longtrack and grasstrack?

Well, that’s speedway … it’s complicated.

So, all these lads coming through the Academy at Berwick do they get the chance to ride in Sweden, Denmark, Poland, France?

Some but not on the scale that we nurture the rest of the world.

Why not?

Well, that’s British speedway … it’s complicated.

So surely it makes sense to tell the European and Antipodeans that if they want a berth, it’s in one league or the other and give the British lads the chances they deserve.

Wouldn’t disagree in the slightest.

So why don’t you?

Well, that’s speedway … it’s complicated.

And probably unnecessarily so.

In speedway as in life no-one owes anyone a living so to argue that riders must double up to make ends meet is the epitome of canine extremity idiom at its worst.

While I’m loathe to validate the sofa surfing rose tinted glasses wearers of speedway’s twitterati I have to admit that they have a point in claiming that Britain’s last golden era was powered by a success-driven hierarchy.

In the 1960s and 70s when tentative power slides and solo after-meeting laps translated into winning novice races a reserves’ race-jacket came calling, further points’-piling resulted in a second-string berth and the push towards being a heat leader.

Division two glory begat first division guest appearances and a transfer to the top league with its path into the Great Britain and world championship strata.

Or you could choose to stay at the lower level. Many even tasted life in the top tier found the pickings too paltry and returned to be a big noise in the second tier. But choose they had to.

The world has changed dramatically since then and the opportunity to taste the riches of Poland, Sweden, and Denmark – denied the heroes of the 60s, 70s and 80s – is readily available and mightily lucrative. The fact that riders are self-employed freelancers – along with the choice of being stadium tenants rather than owners made by promoting forefathers which thwarts efforts to solve many of British speedway’s ills – allows them to press “select all” rather than focus on one road.

The rise of GP and SEC means that the need to master technical British tracks has dramatically decreased. It may make you a better all-round technical rider but in truth most of the top individual events are held on big, flat, sweeping tracks better suited to modern rocket ships which pass for speedway bikes. Speed and bravery can overcome the ability to turn tight, even at the highest level.

I’ll let you into a little secret.

My mates have a couple of Saturdays planned for Shielfield in 2022. I told them that the fixture list should be out soon if they want to wait.

“No, we’ll do the Bandits/Bullets double headers. Good value for money and you get to see the young Brits in action”.

Now while Mr Blair may take offence at being described as British, he’ll undoubtedly take the young tag … with bells on, along with Luke Crang.

Over the weekend the Bullets’ starting line-up was confirmed. Six of the seven who finished runners-up to Mildenhall last season and the addition of Ace Pijper – a potential British, Scottish, or Dutch number one, perhaps all three, indeed this being speedway possibly in the same weekend/event – at seven.

One of a handful of 15-year-olds named in NDL squads.

Heart-warmingly most clubs seem to have followed the Berwick approach by retaining the nucleus of last year’s team with a sprinkling of new, young guns.

After all one of the reasons to have a development league is to allow riders to, well, develop.

In the case of the Bullets they all, Kyle Bickley aside, made their first racing visits to a number of tracks last season. It seems only fair to allow them to put what they learned into practice in the blue and black this season. Allow them, so to speak, to develop.

Of course the fact that all seven can add substantially to their starting average must have made the decision to stick with six much easier.

Now there’s just a seven-and-a-widgy-sized hole to fill in the Bandits’ line-up and just two months to do it.

How will the management cope?

George Dodds
George Dodds

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