Published on 16th June 2021
Author Dick Barrie

The news of the withdrawal of Newcastle Gems from the National Development League came as a thunderclap this morning.

This was the team which hadn’t been beaten at home or away, and the match-that-never-was would have gone a fair way to establishing a pecking-order at the top of the standings.

Sadly, this all leaves our table-topping Bullets with over a month to wait before their next chance to take centre-stage at Shielfield – Mildenhall’s Fen Tigers will be up here on Saturday July 24th and admission will again be a flat £10 – unless you’re a season-ticket holder, which will admit you as usual.

It’s to the credit of the Berwick promotion that they have elected to run the Bullets this troubled season, more so that their squad is composed of four local guys, plus three other Northern-based boys from Glasgow, Cumbria and Wearside.

The remaining NDL matches are all against southern teams – Mildenhall will be followed by Kent and Eastbourne, who visit at the end of August – and we will now have to wait awhile to see if our fellow-blogger Sarah’s regularly-stated hope of some kind of trophy awaiting the Bullets when the dust settles comes true.

Of course, the financial travails which have forced Newcastle to put the shutters up at NDL level are just the tip of the iceberg that is threatening speedway’s Titanic. Clubs are currently putting their season on hold until Boris finally allows normal service – if he’d had a better grip on things a while back, it is probable we might not have seen league speedway restarting this summer – but I have an awful feeling of deja-vu………..

When I was but a kiddo, British speedway virtually collapsed within a few weeks and months of the 1954 season beginning.

Buoyed by governmental promises that a swingeing entertainment tax of 48% on all speedway revenues would be reduced to 15% (the rate paid by football, cricket and other live sports) there were hopes that seventeen teams would be contesting Division 2 of the National League as back-up to the ten-strong big league.

Sadly, promises by the (Tory) government proved as unreliable then as they are now. Yarmouth and Stoke saw the writing on the wall and didn’t start the season, while Glasgow (Tigers) and Wolverhampton ran just a few early meetings before finding the financial going too tough and closed before the league began. Worse followed, as Edinburgh’s Monarchs and Plymouth were also forced out of business during the campaign and had their points expunged from the records.

Thus, having hoped to see a seventeen-team Division 2 going forward — and screwed by a government’s false assurances of a reduction of their tax burden — only eleven clubs completed the season.

As a primary schoolboy, I was distraught. Having followed the Tigers since I was six years old, my speedway club was gone. It took ten full years to see the sport restored to my city.

Motherwell was the only northern track to finish the campaign, indeed the only survivor based north of Leicester. The sport was forced into a tailspin, and by the end of 1959 was down to just one professional league of nine clubs.

However, on the brighter side those nine teams exploded again to became twenty in 1960 and by 1970 there were 39 clubs (including your Bandits) racing in two healthy leagues.

So what am I saying? Maybe that there just might always be light at the end of every tunnel…….

Despite what the current crop of politicians are doing to speedway while allowing big crowds into Wembley, Wimbledon, Edgbaston and Royal Ascot, our sport can survive through regrouping – with the emphasis on the grass-roots of teams such as the Bullets – and rise again.

Incidentally, questions were asked in Parliament as the number of clubs dropped away as to why speedway wasn’t given the expected tax reduction, bringing the answer from the Chancellor of the Exchequer – I’m quoting from Hansard — that “the higher rate is imposed on entertainments in which human beings play no direct part”.

Politicians, eh?

Disagree with Dick – as so many do? He is always be happy to hear from interesting people at dick@crystalfm.co.uk

Dick Barrie
Dick Barrie

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