Published on 23rd June 2022
Author Dick Barrie

Much I could write about this time, but the biggest thing, the darkest cloud, has to be the sudden – if not totally unexpected – shutting up of the Newcastle speedway shop. Our near, dear neighbours are no more.

It’s happened before. Brough Park shut down in 1951 for ten years, again in 1970 for five seasons, missed the 1985 and 1987 seasons and was again posted missing in 1995/96.

It is an traditional venue for speedway, but by no means consistent. The Geordies seem to like supporting a winning team above all else.

I feel for Rob Grant.

From the get-go, his bid to take on, and run, speedway on the Fossway suffered setback after setback.

Firstly, it appears to me as an outsider in the process, that when he bought the club it was not disclosed that VAT payments in excess of £160K were in arrears, and became his responsibility. Which is shocking. There are those who have called this a despicable deceit – I couldn’t possibly comment.

Thus, having to find the funds to pay off the taxman – remember George Harrison’s lyrics? – must have put a gigantic hole in Rob’s budget even before he could get his business off the ground.

Then came Covid like a tidal wave out of nowhere, blighting the new-look Diamonds’ hopes of getting their show on the road for the 2020 season.

Had there been no pandemic, I might not be having to write this eulogy.

Rob’s Newcastle were originally intending to track an exciting team which included Claus Vissing, Nick Skorja from Hungary and Czech young gun Ondrej Smetana.

This looked a tasty line-up, but we’ll never got a mouthful. By the time 2021 arrived, so had Brexit – exit untried EU riders from Britain. No Nick, no Ondrej.

Rob was sensible — having suffered around eighteen months of financial outgoings and getting his bum tweaked by the Brough landlords for a heap of rental increases, I’m told – he cut his cloth accordingly, even releasing Claus Vissing from his originally-declared line-up, explaining honestly that, for the club to move forward even one commuting foreign rider was too many.

Next, as Britain struggled out of Covid restrictions, and speedway tried to find its feet again — remember closed-door matches, severely-restricted attendances and all the hoops a promotion had to jump through to host even a severely-restricted audience? – the Diamonds began shakily (eventually finishing bottom of the table, although they did win more home matches than they lost) and it was clear the severe crowd restrictions were preventing a paying attendance.

Any money that might have been available for such rainy days had presumably been sucked up by the VAT-man, and things weren’t looking good, even a year ago…….

Thanks to a bit of crowd-funding and a couple of decent late-season attendances, the Diamonds limped to the end of last term – and from there, after a winter during which breath could be caught, some new sponsorship was offered and the situation reviewed, it was decided to continue the operation into 2022.

Until this week, when Rob declared “enough is enough” and – despite fellow-promoters and sponsors apparently wanting to run the operation until the end of term – announced the immediate closure of speedway at Newcastle.

Rob has said he has made the decision “before it becomes too late for any prospective new people, who might want to look at taking the club forward into 2023”.

Are there such interested parties around?

If there are, they’ll need to work very hard to restore public faith in our sport on Tyneside, and – and as we’ve seen this year – invest in a competitive squad (at whatever level they choose to race) to attract that fickle Geordie support.

But at least, they’ll know the VAT’s been paid up to date………………


Want to disagree with Dick (as so many do)? He is always happy to hear from interesting people on dick@crystalfm.co.uk

Dick Barrie
Dick Barrie

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