WHAT A WEEK!

Published on 3rd September 2021
Author Dick Barrie

Speedway has provided the best and worst of times in the past seven days.

On the good side, we had a really happy night last Saturday with the Bandits v Bullets. Good weather, relaxed atmosphere, close racing and an attendance well ahead of expectation for a lower-key meeting.

One brilliant shaft of light I saw last week was Mason Watson’s manoevre on the second turn of Heat 12 – taking him smoothly and efficiently from last to second.

If ever there was doubt of the worth of having the facility at Duns, the Academy side at NJL level and the Bullets, Mason blew any misgivings away. The least-experienced rider on parade, yet a move that shows a clear way ahead for future trainees to follow.

The next day at Redcar — well it could hardly have been more entertaining!

That we had to surrender what would have been a well-earned and fully-deserved victory on the final turn of the final heat made the draw feel like a defeat – yet it was a superb performance by the entire FTS Bandits squad and there hasn’t been a single criticism that I’ve seen which suggests Leon deserves anything but the highest praise for his efforts.

After all, as I’ve been known to say – if you fall off because you’re trying too hard, what’s wrong with that?

At the other end of Sunday’s team, how about Greg Blair? Three points from three starts, and each of them ahead of an opponent.

If ever there was evidence of the wisdom of our having created the Bullets, that was it……

Indeed, if ever there was evidence of his great-grandparents’ wisdom in having created speedway at Berwick…….……

But it wasn’t all sunshine and lollipops in the past week.

Eastbourne confirmed their withdrawal from Championship and NDL racing. This came as a bit of shock – they had appeared on the surface to be a pretty vibrant and go-ahead club when we visited in 2019, and during the pandemic had been issuing a well-produced website newsletter, keeping subscribers abreast of the club’s plans and other announcements.

Despite some awful suggestions on social media, their relationship with the stadium-owners was OK, and at the point of closure only two week’s rent – about £2k – was in arrears.

What caused the pulling of the plug was an over-commitment to their riders, three of whom were on hefty guarantees and all of whom were apparently heavy-lifting pay-packets well above the norm for Championship racing.

With sponsorship dramatically down on expectations (not so many companies can afford to hand over dough in the midst of a coronavirus crisis, even if they’d promised it the previous year) and crowds running below their hopes and expectations after a bright start to their season, the Eagles found that cash wasn’t flowing as estimated or anticipated, and the decision had to be taken now, rather than to pile debt upon debt upon debt.

Which is so sad, but perhaps leaves the way clear for a new promotion to start afresh at Arlington in future with a more-prudent budget. I most certainly hope so, speedway needs those flapping Eagles, and indeed their NDL Seagulls too.

Closer to home, the desperately-unlucky Rob Grant has announced he will walk away from promoting speedway at Newcastle after two years at Brough Park.

Having been handed a pig in a poke by the outgoing ownership, Rob’s troubles were multiplied by the pandemic preventing an operation of any kind in 2020, nor even a normal start to this season.

His landlords, and perhaps his local council, seemed reluctant to ease Covid-inspired restrictions as quickly or as generously as in other locations, and as a result Rob has found himself stuck behind the curve throughout this traumatic season.

That he has soldiered on to complete the season is to his credit, and while we have no way of knowing if there will be anyone willing and able to pick up the baton and keep speedway alive on Tyneside, we must sincerely hope and pray that there will.

I’ve seen it suggested that the attempted operation of the Gems at NDL level was a major cause of Rob’s problems – well, that’s just rubbish. It’s been obvious here at Berwick, and at places like Edinburgh, Belle Vue, Kent and Leicester that it is perfectly feasible to run two teams in different leagues – if everything else in your operation is running properly.

Newcastle were scrambling from the start this year, losing money hand over fist because of restricted attendances – Rob had to cut every corner of his cloth that he could just to keep his boat afloat, so the Gems (and Claus Vissing) were chucked overboard as he appealed for Go-Fund assistance and made public appeals for support. Down at Eastbourne, the Seagulls – who were going along quite nicely — have been grounded solely because the Eagles ceased to fly.

All of which makes me pleased about our own show.

We won’t win the Championship and indeed may well end up with the old wooden spoon – but we will again have delivered the best, if modest, speedway show we can on Saturday nights, in a spacious, well-kept stadium.

Our attendances are holding up and our riders remain part of the local speedway family. They don’t earn huge guarantees or big-league points-money, but they earn their corn and get paid every week.

Due to diligent recruitment we are backed by sound local sponsorship, our supporters pile in their 5-1 contributions each month and so much of the running of the speedway operation is provided on a volunteer basis.

In short, we continue to function in much the way we have done for most of the past 54 years. Modestly, yet — while not turning a profit – we continue to be a vital part of a Saturday night on Tweedside for just enough people to keep the ink black.

We’ll be doing it again tomorrow night – two matches for not much more than the price of one, two highly-impressive visitors.

We’ll see seven-time British Champion Scott Nicholls and another former GP finalist and indeed a past Australian Champion in Troy Batchelor.

Tapes up at half-past six – what’s not to like?

Let’s go skidding! .

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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