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We Should Listen to Alun
By Dudley Jones

This article is a response to Castles Built on Sand

Alun Rossiter

I think that we should take note of Alun's comments.

These are difficult times, and we should be concerned when somebody 'on the inside' questions the viability of the top league.

The formation of the Elite League worried me when it happened, and nothing much has changed.

When I discovered the sport in 1962 it had its own 'Elite League', the then National League. Just seven strong and heavily (but not as much as today) dependent upon foreign riders, the whole thing looked a little vulnerable.

When Southampton closed for redevelopment only the somewhat artificial reopening of West ham saved the competition.

The main difference from today was on the terraces. Norwich, where my love affair with Speedway began, had terraces filled to the brim with supporters, which is more than today's Elite League teams can claim. They didn't rely upon Sky, the support was there.

It seemed to me, as a newcomer in 1962, that the Provincial League was much better placed for the future. No foreigners meant that British and Commonwealth boys developed, costs were contained and that had to be good for British speedway.

The Provincial League saved speedway in the 1960s, and led to the stability that has meant that many of our clubs have existed, more or less continuously, for 40 seasons or more.

Today support on the terraces is almost nominal, and that should worry us all.

Speedway is a great sport. The atmosphere can be its greatest appeal, but how do you generate it with just a hundred or two supporters in the stadium?

How does the Supporter 'bond' with a team most of whose names he cannot pronounce, who race Monday this week, Wednesday next week and who knows when the week after?

How does the supporter identify with a club who call themselves the Harpic Toilet Cleaner bees, but can't find room for even a small bee on their racejackets (just an example Coventry, sorry)?

How does a team with 600 regular supporters finance 6 foreign international riders, their huge camper vans and kit?

Ladies and gentlemen, let us get real.

It's not about amenities at the stadium, it's about entertainment, and business sense.

Let us take stock, before it is too late.

Let us build teams consisting largely of local boys 'giving it a go'. The lad from down the road will be more committed to his team and the fans to him - simples!

Does it matter if we shed the international stars, and build from the bottom with local whiz kids - no it does not.

When I lived within reach of Ipswich the team were largely local boys. This gave more commitment to the team, more identification with the team on the terraces and ultimately more cups in the trophy room. It also made supporters want to turn up each week, to see their local boys make good.

Ipswich, for example, would be better off being a major force in the Premier League, rather than also-rans in the Elite.

Good clubs - which the sport needs - will wither and die as things stand.

The Elite was always a foolish idea. We need 2 leagues, Premier and National.

The Premier should consist of the Elite teams and the best of the present Premier.

The National should consist of the remainder of the present Premier League, plus the National League 'real' teams (Buxton, Weymouth, Plymouth, etc). Promotion and relegation should apply.

If you look at the present Elite League, the current teams are largely not the big name of the '50s.

Lakeside. Peterborough and Ipswich did not exist in 1950. Eastbourne were a training track and Poole, Coventry and Swindon were Third Division sides.

The strengths of speedway include its supporters, and its ability to re-generate itself.

Now is the time to make changes that strengthen the sport. Build a new format, better able to cater for present conditions. Let us move forward to the next level - but with our finances better able to recognise the new opportunity that can arise even in poor times.


 

  • Michael Edwards:

    "I'd agree with a lot of what Alun and Dudley Jones have said in the last couple of weeks, when I started going to speedway in around 1972, Peterborough had a useful team who were about mid table and crowds were good enough to make finding four seats together in the grandstand difficult if you were a little late. Being in Division 2 the team was all British with the occasional Aussie thrown in (Glyn Taylor, John Stayte) and Richard Greer lived around the corner from me. The same eight riders rode for you all season and it was unusual if at least six of them were not back the following year. This season Peterborough have changed their line up at least three times already and last year it was worse.

    I used to be able to name most of the top seven from each track in the country, what night each team raced on. How many people can do that now. I stopped going to speedway in the late eighties and only started to attend when my kids were old enough and we now go to Peterborough about four or five times a season. Thats mainly because we live forty miles away, regular race night is a Thursday (to accommodate the GP's) and therefore a school night. Monday's for Sky only adds to the problem.

    The lack of teams in the Elite league is an issue, in one season the nights we were able to go meant out of four visits we saw Coventry three times and it's difficult to explain to a new fan that there are so few teams that can afford to be in the Elite league, racing the same opposition a minimum of four times a season is no good for anyone.

    I think that any speedway on TV has to be a good thing and remember eagerly awaiting big meetings being shown on World of Sport, but it can't help tracks when as has happened twice recently Peterborough had a Friday home meeting against Belle Vue, then Monday against Lakeside. Two or three weeks later they then had Friday, Monday and I think Thursday home meetings. It cost's me around �70 per meeting including fuel, programme and food for four, how many people can afford that three times in a week?

    The point I'm trying to make I guess is that there's no balance anymore, Peterborough have seven overseas riders and many more on loan or "rented" out to other tracks. The Premier League is full of overseas riders and thats blocking places for british youngsters to come through, overseas meetings seem to take priority for many of these riders and it's very difficult to explain to a youngster why a programme sometimes has three or four guests or changes.

    Look at the National league and how many riders over thirty or forty are there in what's essentially a training league. The really scary thing for me is that many of the British riders around now were around when I stopped attending in the first place, Gary Havelock etc. While thats a testament to their commitment and longevity they should be being ousted by good youngsters by now. I don't have the answer but the product is there, the set up and marketing isn't and that may be the problem. Speedway has, like football come to rely on Sky money and Promoters possibly don't have to work quite as hard to keep themselves afloat with one shining example, Len Silver at Rye House.

    Having said all that, styles, bikes, promoters and riders might change but theres still something about speedway on a well prepared track under lights that draws you in. I might be in my 50's and only an occasional fan these days but I still get excited when we set out from home for a meeting and in what other sport would I have got to sit next to and spoken to my favourite rider (Briggo) recently.

    By the way can anyone explain why we got rid of the old tactical substitute rules that potentially gave each of the oppositions three heat leaders an extra ride to keep a match close and went with the current double points version which only gives you one chance to close the gap? "

  • Steve Ridgway:

    "Very interesting to read your comments on the 'Elite' League. It seemed to me that the 'powers that be' who coined that name were trying to come up with something grander than football's primadonnaship, sorry 'Premiership'. You don't have to be a football fan to realise that's just not going to happen in this country. What was wrong with the 'British League' anyway? "

  • Bill Elliot:

    "I'm completely in agreement with Roscoe - whether you like him or not there's no doubting his passion for the sport and he's seen it all as a rider and a promoter. I don't think the Skysports deal will run for ever and I remember only too well the disastrous effect on football on both sides of the border when major tv deals collapsed. The clubs are still recovering years later. It's all very well to say that the tv money helps compensate clubs for missing spectators but does that then mean the ultimate scenario will be televised speedway with no spectators? I don't think so.

    I think that already the coverage of speedway is getting distinctly "samey" in which event there is a definitive sell by date for televised coverage. There may be the occasional visit to PL tracks, for example, but the basic diet is one of visiting a maximum of 9 venues (some more often that others), a Grand Prix event every couple of weeks featuring basically the same riders, and that's about it. When punters start to get fed up with that formula (I already have), they switch off, and if promoters don't start working on getting their missing crowds back now, they will be dead in the water when the tv cameras are eventually switched off. Ironically, the much vaunted tv coverage might well be a major contributory factor in the demise of many clubs somewhere in the future."

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