Trouble at t’mill towns

Published on 1st August 2020
Author George Dodds

Oldham, Blackburn, Wigan, Bury, Bolton, Darwen, Rochdale. Once thriving Lancashire industrial powerhouses. What London-centric politicians and media would have you believe is “the North”. What we know is barely even north Midlands.

Towns that would have to work hard to qualify even as footnotes to speedway history. Briefly connected when we were still dirt track racing and putting on a meeting involved little more than throwing extra cinders on the track surrounding a local football or rugby pitch, sitting back and seeing who turned up both to ride and spectate.

Rochdale returned briefly in the 1970s, two years during which the Hornets launched the careers of future world champion Peter Collins, Alan Wilkinson – who sadly died last week – and future Bandits Eric Broadbelt and Terry Kelly.

But this week what William Blake surely had in mind when he wrote of dark satanic mill towns inadvertently, and definitely unconcernedly, were fundamental in stymying any chance of regular league speedway in Britain this year.

Plans seemed pretty advanced for a post-Covid National League competition. An announcement seemed imminent. All that was needed for the green light to go seemed to be a successful weekend of trial events where limited numbers of hand-picked and screened spectators were allowed into the world snooker final, horse racing at Goodwood and two county cricket matches.

Which was scuppered by Friday’s announcement that in Greater Manchester along with large chunks of West Yorkshire around Bradford, Huddersfield and Halifax it was again illegal to meet anyone other than those they live with inside their own home or garden. No more than six anywhere else … apart from in shops, at work, on an aeroplane, at the beach, on a political march or in a pub.

Consistency aside, with local lockdown imposed it was politically a step too far to allow the pilot events to go ahead so snooker, horse racing and cricket returned to being held behind closed doors on Saturday.

Along with it went any hope of the National League saving speedway’s day as suddenly the hope of any spectators being allowed into stadia before October diminished once again. Where there’s still hope there’s a way and promoters are working hard to make it happen, despite the hurdles put in front of them on a daily basis.

Friday’s announcement by the BSPL rubber stamped the earlier one which had spelled the end for the 2020 Championship and Premiership.

Tough times for those longing for their fix of live speedway. Even tougher for those longing to whinge without ever planning to part with a penny.

Still the grandees of the speedway forums have risen to the challenge. Wild assumptions, playing fast and loose with facts, huge dollops of xenophobia, outright racism, the odd smattering of misogyny, a nice line in bullying and, if all else fails resorting to bare-faced lies. All through rose-tinted spectacles and from behind pseudonyms. For all I know it could be three blokes  arguing among themselves. Or it could be the SAGE group filling in time before random pronouncements on current Covid advice.

Anyway obviously, the lack of speedway in Britain in 2020 is due to the laziness of promoters who have been sat twiddling their thumbs and nothing to do with barmy Boris’s make it up as you go along lockdown rules.

It transpires that Polish speedway isn’t all it’s cracked up to be either. Seems every race is not a four-way tapes-to-flag pass-fest we’ve been led to believe for all these years.

Even more surprisingly getting rid of Nigel Pearson and Kelvin Tatum wasn’t the universal panacea. In a twitterati volte face it appears that being called Dave or Sam Ermolenko doesn’t cut the mustard. And Eurosport is worse than Premier Sports which is worse than Sky Sports and why doesn’t the BSPA get Polish speedway on the BBC instead of EastEnders anyway?

Even Robert Lambert being crowned SEC Champ couldn’t quell the anger in some– the event spoiled by Ermolenko’s tortured prose – a not unreasonable cause of irritations as it happens – and the playing of the British national anthem rather than an English one, presumably, some dirge such as the aforementioned Blake’s Jerusalem.

Most agreed however, that the decision by Polish fans to hire platform cranes to watch Lublin’s latest home gubbing shows just how crazy those Poles are for their speedway whereas in Britain only geriatrics watch.

You’d have to be a real cynic to try and rain on the parade of something which went viral and put the sport on the pages of the Daily Mail, The Sun, Telegraph and even on screen via BBC World News.

So here goes. I’m sure it is purely coincidental that the Covid-beating platforms were all provided by a company which is an official partner of Motor Lublin. And was there even any need as it didn’t appear that there was anyone being turned away from the 15,000 capacity even with Covid-related capacity restrictions halving that number?

Poland has to be the only country outside of North America where football is not the number one for attendances, financial backing and media coverage. A more relaxed attitude to sporting sponsorship connected to alcohol, gambling and smoking despite the young demographic of the spectators also helps.

Obviously the rest of the speedway world looks on enviously. But to think as many of our keyboard warriors seem to that achieving the answer is to simply replicate its blueprint is naïve to say the least.

True you will never find me offering anything less than wholehearted support for revolution, especially when it involves the forcible removal of royal and hereditary ruling classes. Equally true communist rule will always be a desirable alternative to Conservative government.

We could then only hope that upon the, inevitable, fall of communism, state assets would fall into the hands of a few well connected party members who would use sport in general and speedway in particular, as a conduit for their new-found wealth.

Mayors would use local taxes to upgrade speedway stadiums and attract the top riders in the world on huge contracts. Once there the riders would discover that a significant part of the contract is highly likely to remain unpaid.

In football and most other professional sports that would lead to the immediate withdrawal of labour and inevitable transfer somewhere else in the world. But, glory be, speedway and allows riders to sign for teams in other countries to make up the shortfall.

Still wondering why the Polish moneygarchs like to put their money into speedway rather than the more regulated worlds of football and ice hockey?

If you really want to be picky I’d have to say that when I used to travel from West Berlin into Poland in the late 1970s and early 80s we’d regularly attend domestic Polish meetings which drew 40,000 to 50,000 in Katowice and Chorzow. So if they were “only” getting 10,000 to 15,000 pre-Covid is it really as successful as some paint it?

Discuss.

Finally from Poland the news that the country’s second favourite Franco-Brit Adam Ellis – pipped on the line by Daily Mail owner Lord Rothermere – made a dream debut for Rzeszow, a five-ride maximum in Friday night’s win over Opole.

Next on the scorecharts was one David Stachyra with 11 points from five rides, resembling in name only the man who was briefly a Bandit in 2016.

George Dodds
George Dodds

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