I’m a natural for head of BS

Published on 11th January 2021
Author George Dodds

There’s not a lot of overlap between Egypt and motorsports; even less so directly with speedway.

Rami Serry has had a few wins in the surprisingly popular branch of car racing known as drifting while Ahmed Hamada has dabbled in supercars and even tested racing bikes for BMW.

Egyptians may be Speedway blind but they know a lot about Pyramids, especially that they are only as strong as their base and those built any other way tend to become rubble quickly.

Think about it. Giza, Unas, Pepe, Menere what do they all have in common? Correct. They are wide at the bottom, tapering to a point at the top. Except, of course, for the Headless Pyramid in Saqqara and the Unfinished Pyramid of North Abusir.

But they still have broad bases even if there’s no point – a bit like being a Sunderland supporter.

When I become British Speedway Dictator – or Head of BS as I believe the position, widely, loudly and often touted by our keyboard intellectuals and twitterati, will be known – I will make it my mission to rebuild British speedway from the foundations upwards.

It’s a good time to be undertaking this sort of restructuring as the work of Neil Vatcher and many others over the past few years has unearthed and developed a pool of talented British youth unseen since the halcyon days of the sport which, depending how old you are, would be either the late 1960s, 70s or eighties. Few are still alive who tasted the post war boom crowds of the 1940s or for that matter the barren years of the 50s and early 60s.

In Tai Woffinden we currently have one Brit near the world speedway pyramid’s peak, Robert Lambert cramponing his way at pace up the slopes and Dan Bewley beginning to cross the Nile, although he remains nearer the departure bank. Admittedly not a breath-taking tally but at least there is a cast of wannabees ready to graduate from the youth sections and junior leagues and ready staff the National League and Championship teams. At last a solid base to the British pyramid.

From a competitors’ perspective one of speedway’s unique selling points is that it allows them to have the best of all worlds. As a footballer, rugby, basketball, ice hockey, netball or curling combatant they would have a choice to make. Pick a team, sign a contract. See it out or agitate for a transfer. One team at a time, one league at a time.

Want to chase the riches of the Premier League or the National Rugby League? Then move to England or Australia.

Cricket’s 20/20 franchises offer a more speedway-like nod towards  sporting mercenaryism. You can circle the world in search of a short spell with the franchise of your bank accounts’ choice.  But it’s still only one team at a time in any given league.

But only speedway offers its riders the chance to sign multiple contracts in multiple countries. Seven nights, seven teams. Can’t make enough money in England? No problem. Sign a Swedish contract, and a Danish one, one in Poland, keep the German Bundesliga up your sleeve for those Wednesdays when you’re twiddling your thumbs. Find some British heritage and you can even race in all three leagues of Europe’s most recently independent country.

At least until this season.

Poland pays the pretty pennies and is beginning to crack the whip over where its riders compete. Whether or not that is the first step on the road to contract exclusivity remains to be seen. I strongly suspect it is. Where the Poles lead the Swedes will surely follow.

But is it a necessarily a bad thing?

Definitely for riders who will bemoan the restriction on earnings but less so for those watching from the terraces who, often with heavy hearts, have to accept interminable guests, doubling-up, late cry-offs and what-not just to be allowed to pay their hard-earned bucks and catch the thrill of four riders turning hard left. When Covid allows that is.

But could it even turn out to be a blessing in disguise, at least everywhere that is not Poland?

For those of us raised in a country where the majority of wealth is zealously guarded by a tiny elite which would rather walk from Land’s End to John O’Groats with a rusty nail in their foot than use it to subsidise entertainment for the lesser classes it is hard to understand the sporting largesse of post-communist oligarchs.

They tend to flaunt their acquired wealth by attracting sports’ stars who would by and large have been unable to find Gdansk, Lublin, Czestochowa or Grudziadz on a map let represent it and kiss the badges of their sporting teams before the cheque books came calling.

With football already sold out to Americans, Russians and Arabians, the newly minted Polish post-fall of the Berlin Wall elite bought into speedway. In his biography Kelvin Tatum repeats the tale of cash earmarked to build a cigarette factory being used as signing-on fees for the local speedway.

Imagine Rochdale FC being bought by an oligarch who proceeded to sign Messi, Maradona, Zidane, Shearer, Beckham and Ronaldo.

So it was with Polish fans who were understandably “nad Księżycem” or whatever their equivalent of over the moon is.

Speedway being the strange beast it is, riders were able to grab the big zlotys and still be allowed to grab the pounds, krone and euros around Europe. They didn’t even have to move east.

The late 1990s drift of footballing wealth towards the Premiership saw England become the destination for many of those who judged worth and ability on the size of contract or transfer fee.

But not all. Most European countries had teams which dominated their domestic leagues – Paris St Germain, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Porto, Bayern Munich – but were focussed on the bigger picture, the Champions’ League, where they routinely whipped the backsides of the English moneybag players and coaches.

Something that speedway cannot replicate because the same small pool of riders currently claim top dollar from the leading teams in every league.

But one that could become a reality as, if Poland pushes exclusivity fewer clubs in England, Sweden and Denmark will be prepared to go head to head for the big names.

And why would they? It is not as if they are stadium fillers anywhere other than the land of a thousand lakes.

But what if those in the next tranche of talent, those who have to qualify for GPs every year and the leading domestic talent raced each other in a Pan-European league?

The top teams of England, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, France meeting on a weekly basis. Promotable, sellable. Variety. International racing on a weekly basis. Lock the gates, it’s a sell-out.

Which would leaving those countries, including England, to concentrate on domestic championships based around their young guns and those prepared to compete at a level of competition where the rewards better reflect the level of attendances they can attract.

In many ways nothing more than a return to how the sport in Britain and Sweden thrived in the mid-20th Century. And that worked quite well.

All this is contained in my application for the job of an independent administrator for British Speedway, a post widely debated and demanded on that font of all knowledge, informed comment and reasoned thinking, the British Speedway Forum.

Once the advert eventually appears in CEO Today – I assume it carries a six-figure salary and minimum three-year contract – I will pop my blueprint in the post, steering the appointment committee to my previous experience of sports’ administration … as commissar of the East Corringham, Orsett and Canvey confederation of bog snorkelling, Dorset Knob throwing and welly wanging.

During my spell at the helm the ECOCCSDKTWW rose from near obscurity to front page news, especially across the south east of England.

Perhaps booking exotic dancers, Depeche Mode and a donkey for the end of season presentation evening was a little ambitious but – as the judge said – hindsight is 2020.

George Dodds
George Dodds

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