Back in the 1980s Australian Rugby League was looking for a pithy slogan to publicise its new competition.
State of Origin has gone on to become one of the world’s great sporting showdowns as teams of Queensland-born players biff six shades out of those hatched in New South Wales.
The twist being that those same players would be team-mates on any normal game weekend.
Hence the memorable catchline: “Mate v mate, state v state”.
While speedway doesn’t have state of origin it is certainly in something of a state – especially in Sussex.
Eastbourne should have been the visitors to Shielfield on Saturday – Eagles and Seagulls winging in for a much-anticipated double header. But they’re not. It will be at least 2022 before either or both fly again.
Some will find it difficult to understand where it all went wrong. After all Eastbourne had a spankingly spiffing website, produced an e-newsletter during lockdown, had an online clothing range which would have made Floryday blush and just a few short months ago were being held up as a bastion of everything good about running a speedway club by the usual caps-lockers, whingers and eeyores of the sport’s twitterati.
“Why can’t more clubs be like Eastbourne, remember they are called promoters, GET OUT AND PROMOTE,” they thundered.
Turns out one of the ways to pay for the Lionel Blair of websites and the Vivienne Westwood of merchandise is … not to, allegedly.
Who’d have thought that splashing out on three big average heat leaders would turn out to be a financial car crash?
Surely – and I’ve read it so often that it must be true – all you have to do to accumulate as a speedway promoter is speculate. Well that and printing some flyers and letting everyone in for two-and-six like they did back in the glory days of Slider McSporran, Big Jamie Junkers, the Ruddy Red Baron and Mad Davie Desmond when crowds of 150,000 regularly watched New Cross and Heckmondwike on a Tuesday afternoon at the Slaithwaite Raceway.
Yet again it turns out all that is accumulated is debt.
So the Berwick management was left with an Eastbourne-sized hole in the fixture list.
There were options.
Option one: do nothing, have Saturday off. Plusses? no cost (no loss). Minusses? breaks continuity of fixture list, second Saturday in a row without racing following the Kent rain-off; dire TV schedule for those forced to stay at home.
Option two: A challenge match/individual meeting. Plusses? Theoretically competitive racing, easily identified formula for fans, chance to see the modern-day equivalent of Slider. Minuses? Traditionally poor attendances for such meetings, often mundane racing, lack of worthwhile opponents. All expenses fall on promotion – both sides in a challenge, all 16 riders in an individual. Short notice stunts ability to attract sponsorship and PROMOTE.
Option three: Bring the owners out of retirement, fit the co-promoter and team manager for a set of kevlars et voila Courtney v Flint match races. Even better stick them on one of JA Prestwich’s finest, a Weslake or grasstrack sidecar. Plusses? Opportunity to be feted on speedway messageboards as “innovative and forward thinking” “showing the BSPA(sic) mafia up for the useless (insert random series of insults) they are” “it’s 2.30am Friday and my Speedway Star hasn’t arrived”. Minusses: crowd fatigue as one of the four is likely to dominate results which, despite Sharon’s ability to pull a sick wheelie while simultaneously red saucing an Anderson’s pie and adding two sugars to a tea, would quickly lose its novelty value.
Option four: Test an innovative new racing schedule encouraging tactical management and unpredictability using contracted Berwick riders. Plusses? Something genuinely different and innovative. Two well balanced sides. Opportunity for Bandits and Bullets riders to earn points’ money, fans to have their night out trackside, Bullets to bag Bandits’ scalps. Potential for Max Boyce “I was there” moment when this becomes speedway’s new norm. Minusses? Hard to find – but grudging respect to those who have worked their little cotton socks off, turning themselves inside out, upside down and all other ways trying to do so. You truly are heroes of your fellow keyboard warriors – use your free hand to pat yourself on the back.
Obviously the Bandits’ bosses chose option four. Try something different, something innovative, something that hasn’t been done before.
So six-man teams (note to conspiracy theorists: still 90 points to be paid for therefore not “nothing but a money saving exercise”) over 15 heats. Six regular races for team managers to pick their best man for the moment. Finale remains heat 15 for the top four in-form men. Usual tactical substitute and reserve replacement opportunities.
A genuine attempt to show that when the teams are balanced and the bosses can shuffle their resources then it is possible to provide entertaining and interesting speedway racing.
Longer term the Berwick management’s desire is to persuade fellow bosses that the future of team building is to move away from individual averages to a grading system with the opportunity to reinstate the fundamental differential between what would be a two league structure with limits of who can double up/down between. Sensible teams, sensible tactics, sensible wage structure. So much sensible that Captain Sensible could take on the role that Tina Turner famously played in promoting Aussie rugby league’s defining moment.
That’s for the future. First up Bandits v Bullets, Flint v Courtney, Mates v Mates and, judging by the popularity of the two quid a drink promotion in the bars, States v States.
All starts at 7pm, season passes valid, tickets available from this site. Be there because the alternative is a night in watching Casualty (spoiler alert, there’ll be a bad accident, someone will look like they’re dying and Charlie will get exasperated).
There, no excuse for staying in now.