So how was it for you?

Published on 1st November 2021
Author George Dodds

I’ve been a Newcastle United fan for over five decades which should mean that nothing surprises me.

Certainly not that one of the least culturally diverse fanbases in European football should wildly celebrate being handed over to owners with a provenance far from their beliefs.

Nor that the new majority shareholder, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, is, at the very least by strong circumstantial evidence, linked to human rights’ abuse and the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Nor those fans – at least those who gurn for the cameras outside St James’s Park – should celebrate the takeover by donning tea towels and makeshift thawb and bisht while necking cans of bozo strength Tennent’s.

Certainly not that such a contentious takeover should sail through football’s “fit and proper persons test”.

Rumour has it the questioning went along the lines of:

“Do you have lots of money?”

“With the exception of Paddy Molloney, Micho Russell or Andrea Corr have you ever been exposed to whistle blowers?

“Have you ever been really, really, really naughty?”

“Are you really loaded?”

Four yesses entitle the applicants to announce their official takeover using the following boilerplate pro-forma press release template (change names as required).

“After due deliberation, while there may be some areas of minor concern, we find no reason that the members of the consortium bidding to take over Sunderland AFC will prove to be fit and proper owners of an English association football club.

“As a result, we today approve the transfer of ownership of this hysterical (sic) club to FDB Investments and welcome General Franco, Herr Hitler, Senor Mussolini, General Pinochet and Juan Peron to English football.

“We are especially reassured that the day-to-day financial running of the club will be overseen by Fred Goodwin and Nick Leeson.

“The transfer of funds has been delayed due to the death of Al Barbari Sugabora in a tragic Nigerian road crash. However, we have assurances from his daughter Miss Honeysuckle Abimbo that the money was deposited in an account in a neighbouring African country hours before the accident and will be made available as soon as we wire her our bank details.

“Furthermore, the league has been promised a ‘thank-you’ payment of $4.6 million for facilitating the transfer of funds which it plans to reinvest in a new pre-season tournament.

“More details of the Scammedbynigerians Cup to follow.”

But that’s football’s problem.

What I can’t decide is whether the 2021 British speedway season was a success or not.

Or if it will ever be completed as Glasgow and Poole battle to come up with more and more obscure ways to ensure that the Play-off Final will not be raced before December.

We are waiting on the league’s self-proclaimed “glamour teams” to wrap it all up.

Which they, to date, haven’t.

I remember Mildenhall clinching a league title on a freezing cold November Sunday morning back in 1979 but that was because Scunthorpe’s newly built AshbyVille Stadium had been closed by the authorities on safety grounds for much of the season.

The dilatory approach to the Championship play-offs took the edge off the feel-good factor generated by the epic Premiership play-off final and Great Britain’s Speedway of Nations win.

Both events are proof that there is life in British speedway and, given a reason to, there are still plenty willing to pay good money to be entertained by our great sport.

Still more who seem to feel an entitlement to pay nowt, watch from their armchair and whinge like buggery about everything but – as the dyslexic, one-eyed Guardian proofreader once told me: Pothing’s nerfect.

British speedway came off its Covid induced life support and spluttered into life in May.

At Berwick we led the way with the new Bullets (more about them later) taking on Armadale home and away in early May – behind closed doors.

A strange atmosphere for many, business as usual for Sunderland or Hearts fans, proof that even when it’s the only speedway meeting available in the world that the audience for a livestream is big enough to just about cover production costs but far from being the financial golden goose so often expounded by the sport’s twitterati.

Then came the fans. Again, the Bandits’ promotion chose to take the bull by the horns and compile its own Covid Compliance Protocol and health and safety assessment which allowed Shielfield to open with a reduced capacity, rumoured to be around 1,200 while others waited for their landlords and local councils to do the work for them.

There had to be compromises. Tickets had to be bought in advance, social distancing meant that to control queues at the tea-bar the club shop had to be sacrificed. Unusual times, unusual requirements. Most coped.

On-track it was a struggle for the Bandits. The number one race jacket became a poisoned chalice for Aaron, Nicolaj and Jye. Spud handed the captaincy to Jye and then announced his plans to retire while the Main Dane eventually had to admit that launching a new business, Covid and Brexit made Euro-trotting impossible.

Birmingham and Glasgow (Cup) won at Shielfield because our three-times rider of the season Etheridge was taken out of the action in his first race. Poole were beaten because Tom Brennan was an inspired guest choice, and the arrival of Kasper Andersen gave some momentum to the end of season charge away from the foot of the table.

Points went begging at Leicester, Edinburgh and Redcar. Results were disappointing, performances often frustrating.

But Leon was immense, making the sort of progress that we secretly dreamed of but realistically thought might have been just too much to expect, taking the switch from reserve to main body in his stride.

Wolves came a-calling which robbed the Bullets of their leader. Luke Crang answered the call and along with Greg Blair rolled back the years. Kyle had a frustrating curate’s egg of a year with the Bandits but led the Bullets well, Kieran Douglas jumped at the opportunity of not having to travel the length of the country for a team place, Mason Watson made huge progress and Ben Rathbone mixed some monumental performances with some big offs.

In the end Mildenhall won the league, deservedly so as in Jason Edwards and Sam Hagon especially they had some top young talent. As did Belle Vue with the McGurk brothers, the Northern Junior League continues to bring on the likes of Ace and Steen Pijper, Dan Gilkes at Kent.

But Eastbourne didn’t finish the season, Birmingham is up for sale, Len’s pulled the plug at Kent, Swindon aren’t coming back next year, Newcastle never seems to be more than the width of a fag paper away from another Gofundme embarrassment, others are hanging by a thread.

But the desire of the majority of supporters for a revamp of the leagues and to severely cut back on doubling up seems set to fall on deaf ears again.

Oh, and the Bandits have signed Bomber Harris for next season. Presumably as number one … although I suppose that depends what league we’re racing in.

As I said at the start, I’m not sure what I think of 2021. What 2022 will bring is even less certain.

However, it’s party night on Saturday (tickets for sale elsewhere in this site, vote for your riders of the season) and all of this and more can be discussed until the cows come home.

We might even have had the first leg of the play-off by then.

George Dodds
George Dodds

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