It’s the game of the name

Published on 20th February 2024
Author George Dodds

Truth be told I’m disappointed the NDL’s new joint venture covering south Yorkshire and north Lincolnshire hasn’t called itself Scuntfield. But at least it has revived a couple of the sport’s most famous names.

Those of my vintage raised a glass of Sanatogen to the news that the Scunthorpe portion will race under the Saints banner while Sheffield have resurrected the Prowlers for their prodigy.

Whoever back in the last century sat in the Owlerton speedway office and stated categorically that the Tigers’ young guns would NEVER be called Cubs deserves a hearty pat on the back.

Extra kudos for the Prowlers handle which not only scores exceptionally high on originality but also evokes the sort of brooding menace very much in keeping with life in one of Sheffield’s less salubrious suburbs.

For Scunny it’s the handle that launched them in the 1970s, one of three venues – and nicknames – speedway has raced under in the shadow of the steelworks.

Change has been embraced by residents in the town which once sent Yahoo’s modesty filter into meltdown more readily than you would expect from sports’ fans – many of whom never let rose-tinted specs get in the way of a good nostalgic wallow or online whinge, apropos extraordinarily bugger all.

Reading fans had loved their Racers at two different venues but a noisy minority scaled previously uncharted heights of apoplexy when BSI and Sam Ermolenko rode into town in 2006 and promptly rebranded the place as the Bulldogs. Sadly, or thankfully depending on your point of view, they never went as far as renaming Smallmead as The Kennel, The Doghouse even.

On-track success was in inverse proportion to attendances, not helped by a widely publicised boycott – stoked by the then relatively virgin Badlands of message boards and social media – by a group of Berkshire Ultras who reportedly refused to step foot in Smallmead while the Bulldogs roared.

They got their wish two years later – the Racers restored but sadly only 12 months later the plug was pulled when the stadium owners decided not to renew the lease.

What effect the presence of a group of bolshy nomenclature nit-pickers had on the closure is anyone’s guess – the fingerprints of Pantomime villain Clark Osborne and Gaming International is also all over it – but to this day the site of the former stadium lies abandoned in the shadow of the town’s football stadium. No Racers, no Bulldogs, no speedway at all.

A couple of decades earlier the Halifax promotion’s decision to move operations less than eight miles from the huge, high-speed banking of The Shay to the huge high-speed banking of Odsal managed to unite two fanbases. In outrage.

Dukes were Halogonian or bust went one cry. Agreement came from Woolopolis. We’re Northern through and through, Tudors or Barons at a pinch, occasionally Boomerangs and Panthers but never, ever funky white elephants.

Result? Another track which withered on the vine through low attendances.

Obviously all down to the name. Something to be chosen with care, cherished, and defended at all costs.

And speedway’s rule is “if in doubt alliterate” as we did in these parts. Fortunately, the Taylors chose Bandits, the Courtneys adding Bullets decades later.

Perhaps in a parallel universe the Berwick Badgers, Bananas, Bonsais, or heaven-forbid Bulldogs march out to Back in Black on a Saturday night.

Leicester have been Hunters, but their greatest and continuing success is as Lions, Poole will always be the Wildcats to me, but their aloof fans insist on Pirates, and surely Wimbledon would still be with us had they been Wolves rather than Dons, Lakeside Lions and Newcastle Numpties rather than the non-alliterative Hammers and Diamonds.

Workington also chose to veer unashamedly off-trend and far be it from me to suggest that their chequered history and lengthy gaps on-track would have been smoother had they only chosen to be Wolverines, Widgets, even Wombats rather than Comets.

A bold move but for sheer bravery in the face of applied consensus look no further than the team at Oxford which this year fields not one, not even two but THREE formula-busting nicknames.

When you already have Cheetahs and Chargers where else is there to turn than the grandiloquent prose of Matthew Arnold?

Fair to say that Thyrsis, if not necessarily my favourite Victorian poem, certainly makes it into the top thousand or so, especially now he has in-Spire-d the creation of a Premiership speedway team.

By the time to Comets arrive at Shielfield – 39 days and counting – they will probably have named a seventh rider, we’ll have seen Rory, and the Bandits rock the Black and Gold before gurning for assembled camera crews at press and practice. Then it’s all systems go to bring the Border Trophy home.

It’s been a long winter, but the first signs of spring will soon bring the roar of the 500ccs.

That’s the real name of the game.

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George Dodds
George Dodds

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