Castles Built on Sand
It�s not nearly as good as going to a meeting but I really enjoy the Monday night meetings on SKY. Great presentation, fantastic camera angles and the chance to see league speedway on a regular basis is only something we could have dreamed about a few years ago. However, the events of the past week have set me thinking and I�m left wondering whether league speedway on SKY is a good thing for the sport as a whole.
What got the cogs whirring was Alun Rossiter�s outburst about the track conditions at Belle Vue. I�m not going to go into the rights and wrongs about what �Rosco� had to say but his later comments published in the Speedway Star were pretty alarming. �Rosco� alleged that if SKY were to pull out, seven or eight Elite League clubs would go bust and that would include Coventry. I suppose that didn�t come as too much of a surprise but it got me wondering how on earth the Elite League promoters had got themselves into this unholy mess.
It never used to be like this, did it? Indeed, the Premier League seems to function fairly well without the SKY money although I�m not na�ve enough to think that all is well amongst the 14 tracks at that level. However, seven or eight tracks to go out of business if SKY were to pull out, including Coventry - the news would make Charles Ochiltree turn in his grave. In the years that SKY have been presenting Elite League speedway I have not seen a single improvement of the infrastructure of the sport. The stadiums (albeit often owned by other parties) are dilapidated, there has been no investment in junior speedway and the tracks are still supposed to be losing money. That must mean that most of the SKY money is going directly into the pockets of the riders.
Now don�t get me wrong, I don�t begrudge the riders a single penny. I tried the sport a few years ago, had a few second halves and scared myself (and my parents) witless in the process and would pay the riders treble what they earn now. But the sport, if it is to continue to exist, simply cannot afford it.
I remember as a child in 1977, Peter Collins arriving at Sheffield for a local derby between his �Aces� and my beloved �Tigers�. He turned up in a Citroen estate with his Weslake strapped to the back, edging into the stadium at a snail�s pace due to the crowd of kids, me included, trying to catch a glimpse of him. That was the reigning World Champion. Now, even the most modest of reserves in the Premier League arrives in a van the size of a small terraced house, with a selection of machinery and sponsors logos emblazoned on the paintwork. P.C. and Chris Morton at Belle Vue, John Louis and Tony Davey at Ipswich, Reg Wilson and Doug Wyer at Sheffield were all local boys with an affinity to their clubs. They made a reasonable wage out of the sport they loved and with the teams they loved. The fans could relate to them and they would have a drink with them in the bar after the meeting. You didn�t find them riding for Wroclaw on a Sunday, Vargarna on a Tuesday and Outrup on a Friday and speedway was better for it.
Somehow, speedway has to take a step back to move forward again. Top flight speedway has become a circus with riders riding all over the Europe each week and that connection between themselves and the fans has been lost.
If the money SKY is putting up is keeping the Elite League clubs afloat and the majority of the Premier League clubs are surviving without the SKY money, it must boil down to the fact that riders in the Elite League are getting paid too much and the sport cannot sustain it. Promoters, realising there is a guaranteed income from SKY have less incentive to go out and physically promote speedway and try to get people in through the turnstiles on a race day. The answers to the problems are not easy to find but I have come to the conclusion that changes have to be made and we cannot afford to pay the Grand Prix boys and the top internationals from overseas on a weekly basis.
An option the promoters ought to explore is running a truncated Elite League programme where the nine clubs run just one week in every four. This could be on a Monday night for the SKY cameras and would give SKY continuity with one meeting every week to be broadcast live. The other three weeks, the nine Elite League clubs would run in the Premier League without their top stars and employing some of the riders frozen out of the sport by the points limit and the best of the National League youngsters. This would give riders like Nicki Pedersen, Greg Hancock and possibly Tomasz Gollob the chance to ride in the UK once a month and would give the fans a rare chance to see the top stars. The novelty factor could well see an increase in gates and the savings made on rider�s wages for the three non Elite weeks would be huge.
To give an example of the idea I will use Ipswich. Once a month, the �Witches� would race at home in the Elite League with their full side including Scott Nicholls, Robert Miskowiak, Danny King and, perhaps, a rider of the standard of Andreas Jonsson. For the other three weeks, the club would race in the Premier League with King and Oliver Allen as heat leaders, thereby saving the club a massive amount in wages in not paying Nicholls, Jonsson and Miskowiak. Lower order riders would be used in their place for three weeks out of four and would give chances at that level to club assets like Joe Jacobs. All clubs could then revert to their traditional race nights, thereby making the situation at Coventry when they had not a single home meeting for several weeks of the summer, a thing of the past.
There would be, therefore, an Elite League of the current nine teams. A Premier League of the current 14 teams, plus nine Elite sides, Leicester, Sittingbourne and possibly, Plymouth. Mildenhall and Isle of Wight could be split into two divisions with promotion and relegation between the two leagues. A National League consisting of the rest of the teams, plus more clubs run on the Dudley model, would give the sport an affordable four tier structure with the top riders in the world taking less money out of the sport.
Possibly some of the British riders would miss out but, of the four obvious candidates only Chris Harris would have my sympathy. Lee Richardson and Scott Nicholls have both favoured giving British speedway a miss in recent years for more profitable foreign leagues (what did happen to the Russian league by the way?) and there are the reported question marks about Tai Woffinden�s true patriotic feelings.
I don�t usually take a great deal of notice when Alun Rossiter �goes off on one�, but his comments this week show that the Elite League cannot continue in its current form and the promoters really need to wake up and take back control of the sport for the people that matter most - you and me, the supporter.
This article was first published on 29th July 2010
"Interesting comments. The suggestion of a truncated Elite League competition with clubs also competing in the Premier League has echoes of the present-day situation in Welsh Rugby. The so-called regional clubs like the Ospreys and the Newport-based Gwent Dragons attract the crowds. The original town-based club sides like Newport, Neath etc still exist but by all accounts attract even smaller crowds that most speedway clubs. "
"Another well written article by Matt Jackson on the future of Speedway. Do you really think the promoters care? Let's get down to the nitty gritty. As long as they are making a buck or pound they could care less about anything else. It's a real shame about just thinking of the money and not the future. He is right Peter Collins and all the other World Class riders would arrive in a vehicle with the bike on the back. There a bunch of pre-madonna's today. You know the old saying 'SHOW ME THE MONEY'"
"It seems a bit unfair to criticise current day riders for bringing their bikes in a van rather than on a trailer or tow-bar mounted bike rack. Running a van doesn't really cost a lot more than a car, you can carry more gear, and you can lock everything away."
"I think the first tier is heading for an almighty fall, this is the culmination of years of neglect mainly through short-termism and no long-term strategy. We live in an age where the buying public are more demanding of their �'s, it's no wonder that people prefer to stay and watch Sky, ultimately it's cheaper, warmer, and you get a better view. I think the comments regarding foreign riders is spot-on and was the prime reason for me spending my good money elsewhere, we (our so-called Promoters) have succeeded in making our national team a division 2 outfit, in my era (70's/early 80's) we weren't dominant, but very competitive with British riders we could be proud of, nowadways we have Chris Harris.....that's it. It's a sad, sad state of affairs that this sport is now wholly dependant on the Murdoch empire, a very precarious position to fins itself. I think the best solution is for a bankrupcy and get back to basics! "
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