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Speedway's Black Hole
By David Pickles

Redundant Eagle - Eddie Kennett

Following the sad demise of Eastbourne, it sure is time for the whole structure of our sport to be overhauled before next season. Of course, I'm not privy to the financial situation at Arlington but am somewhat surprised at the news, as my last visits there in 2019 were in the company of reasonable crowds. People at the helm such as Lee Kilby, with great experience of the sport, not least through his late father, the great Bob Kilby, have to be applauded for seeing things through thus far. So, is it Eastbourne to blame or speedway as a whole?

It is firstly time to call a halt to "fixed" race-days (primarily to accommodate the likes of Poland for riders who ride in their league, and secondly GP riders, of whom very little now bother to ride in the UK), and give tracks carte blanche to choose their own race night. Personal experience of the Rye House race night change a few years back killed them stone dead and cut their crowds by 50%.

Secondly, the leagues now must amalgamate to give fans a proper season as there used to be. Maybe the days of March 15th to October 31st are gone forever, but with a joined-up league, early April to Sept 30th is possible. It would give current "Premier" league clubs a race night of their choosing with a season of around 20 weeks to accommodate different teams instead of 2 or 3 times at home or away as now, and give fans something different to look forward to. The "Championship" clubs would get a go at the bigger clubs and their fixture list would be more appealing.

Thirdly a new pay structure in line with the amalgamation then has to be agreed, taking into account current attendances and the ending of the "doubling-up" of riders between leagues. I fully appreciate this is probably the one way that some riders can earn a decent crust but it does the sport's credibility no good whatsoever.

I can't quite work out what is worse, the "doubling-up" or the "guest" system (which has plagued speedway for over 50 years). I have to hark back to conversations I had with the late John Berry in the 1980's where we discussed the possibility of the sport being run along the lines of football with the FA rather than separate promotions. A tricky one that, obviously some clubs are doing well and are more than viable, but if there were some sort of independent control of the sport (forget the SCB in its current guise), the smaller clubs who constantly struggle could maybe have access to a pool of funds to keep the sport on an even keel.

We also urgently need some sort of publicity agent for the sport, and a national sponsor for the amalgamated league. It cannot be beyond the wit of some big guns and names in speedway to come up with this. There is more financial sponsorship in one Premier League football club than there is in the whole of speedway including every club and every league. If we want to get back to any semblance of being a credible sport, this has to change.

The current state of our beloved sport is parlous, and the viewing figures for Premier League matches on TV is the equivalent of 2,000 for each club in the three leagues, i.e. around 45,000 every time a Premier League meeting is shown. TV money is propping up the sport, and probably without it we'd be left with a handful of clubs, so we have to work hand in hand with the TV companies to promote speedway better. A major national sponsor would be the first step towards this.

All the above is not perfect I grant you, but we cannot and must not hobble on as we are from one crisis to another. In the end the only outcome to it all will be total oblivion.

 

This article was first published on 29th August 2021

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  • Steve Haire:

    "Speedway's Black Hole? Dave's article reiterates what all us seasoned speedway goers have pointed out over the years, all we wanted was a team to support, weekly meetings and no rider control, so why is it the speedway authorities can't achieve this, Sweden and Poland have.

    The nearest track to me is Sittingbourne and having just hit the big 70 I don't plan on renewing my driving licence, so why would I want to fork out £50 odd to watch 45 minutes of racing with a bunch of veteran racing on a poor racing circuit when I can subscribe for just £9.95 a month to watch top flight excellent live speedway on Premier Sports from the comfort of my armchair being able to pause and cut out th e boring bits with their weekly Polish and twice weekly Swedish top flight leagues and watch the highlights of Eurosports British Premiership on Quest when they deem to show a match. Even the GP's I'm happy to just watch the finals on you-tube.

    We've now lost Eastbourne and reading the question and answer interview given by the management you can understand why they're packing up. If rumours are correct it seems Newcastle and some others may go the same way. Only good bit of news seem to be there is a possibility that Oxford may reopen. The new Belle Vue track is excellent and Wolverhampton still throws up good racing.

    I hope British Speedway can get back to it's great days but I fear we've lost too many stadiums for that to happen and with the promoters only having their own interests at heart, nothing's going to change. As Dave points out we need one league, race nights to suit promotions and perhaps second half junior racing to bring on new talent. "

  • Ian Davey:

    "A sad day indeed David and with Newcastle and Birmingham bemoaning poor attendances there could be more closures on the way. You've made some constructive proposals. I'll comment on just one and that is the idea of a league merger.

    In 1965 the British League of 18 teams was formed as the powers that be at the time realised the continuation of a National League with just 6 teams was not viable.They made their peace with the Provincial League and British Speedway thrived from that point onwards.

    In 2021 there are many other pressures on the sport but David is absolutely right that the current Premier League is just not viable. Virtually all its riders are doubling up in the Championship so there is no real difference in standard between the two leagues. Understandably riders want to ride for two teams to earn enough money but if one league of 18 teams was formed each team would have many more fixtures as David suggests and in turn fans would get greater variety.

    As it is Premier League fans see each team at least twice during a short season and then more of the same for those going through to the play-offs. Action needs to be taken and fast as David suggests, otherwise the spiral of decline will never be halted."

  • Dave Twine:

    "I agree with David's views on the whole. Pay structure first and foremost. Riders in 2 leagues a no no!. Halt to fixed race days. Don't pander to Polish Speedway, riders ride here or not. Amalgamate leagues, pay scale as to experience.

    My look on how I think it should be. 3 Area leagues, Northern, Midlands and Southern. 6/7 teams in each. Fixtures through April May June. One fixture per week 1H then 1A - some fans cannot afford home meets every week.

    Try 6 man teams covering usual 15 heat format, riders to cover R/R position. for more tactical opportunities. Injured Rider Replacement to remain. Guests only to come from other area leagues. Area Cup competitions.

    From July, top 2 from each league form Premier Comp. next 2 Championship Comp. Last 2 or 3 form last comp to be arranged.* *(Fans have commented that 3 team matches gain more visiting fans)

    Overall teams could get approx. 10 / 12 Area league matches, at least 2 cup matches, 10 Prem/Champ/Other matches. Total 11 home and 11 away matches approx. Play offs if needed. (never like playoffs myself). "

  • Glen:

    "Speedway in the U.K. has been held back by being at the whim of private landlords. Community owned stadia such as in Poland, Sweden and Denmark you see a totally different approach to the sport which is there for the benefit of all. Our boom times were never transferred into property ownership as promoters were happy to take money out of the sport and could operate meetings with little investment. Maybe it gave us here a false sense of quite how big the sport was back in the 70's but as times changed so did people's expectations and sadly those that ran the sport didn't or couldn't adapt."

  • David Pickles:

    "Glen - spot on re landlords and the lack of foresight by promoters back in the days. I worked in the City for a good many years, and well remember in 1975 at the bottom of the market then after over two years of decline, that shares in the GRA could be purchased for just 16p each. They owned not only Wembley, but Harringay and White City, and a few other provincial stadia.

    Speedway was booming at that time, and it wasn't beyond the realms of reality that the most successful promoters, or indeed the BSPA as an entity, could have got their heads together and started buying stakes in certain stadiums, as it was property investments that collapsed the most between 1972 and 1975. All hindsight now of course, but what a firmer footing it would have put the sport on."  

     

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