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In the Midnight Hour
By Ken Nicholson

I used to avoid going to matches that were televised by Sky. Not because it was cheaper to sit at home in front of the box, but because they used to drag on and on. Two hours was the slot, so two hours they took to allow time for things like interviews and commercials. Then I noticed that all matches seemed to be taking longer. In the end, I found that the proceedings tended to move more promptly in league matches that were shown by Sky - presumably to keep on schedule. But even that has become a problem with a couple of three hour plus matches televised this year. What's more, there seems to have been an increasing number of matches 'abandoned' due to a curfew. This shows the problem with allowing things to drag on.

Speedway has always promoted itself as a family friendly sport. And rightly so. But if things are reaching the point of a curfew, then this means it is probably getting near bedtime for some people. Given that so many meetings are run midweek, there comes a point when kids ought to be in bed when there is school the next day. Now I can't say what time that is, but returning home from a speedway match, after battling out of the car park, at 11.00 or 11.30 pm seems to be on the late side. As it is for the parents who will need to get their offspring to bed, before retiring themselves and then getting up early for work the next day (I am assuming that only working parents can afford speedway these days!).

Sky has slipped a couple of GPs behind the red interactive button recently. The red button means that the benefits of SkyPlus are lost and you can't even record a match unless you happen to be watching it at the same time. But who can blame Sky for doing this if it is likely that an allocated slot is going to be insufficient for no apparent reason. This should be a warning to the Elite League.

I was once a regular at the Kingsmead Stadium in Canterbury. Johnnie Hoskins was in control then and he had a curfew of 9.00 pm. This was to maintain the tranquility of the city rather than it being a bedtime (there were no nightclubs allowed in Canterbury in those days). Old Johnnie knew that 9.00 pm meant just that. And it would be rigorously enforced, since the track was easily within earshot of the Cathedral and there were plenty of people opposed to speedway on grounds of noise. He never went past that deadline. Thirteen Heats and a second half within two hours every Saturday. Curiously, the second half races were run over three laps only, presumably to save time (although it couldn't have been very much!). If time was tight, then old Johnnie (well into his eighties by then) would be out on the centre green ordering the riders to get a move on. It ran like clockwork - which is only what you would expect from the Maestro.

Somewhere along the line, promoters have lost the plot. Today, speedway seems to be considered a family friendly sport, but it is run at prices that are prohibitive to most families, and at times and paces that are largely unacceptable. Just about sums it up really. What we really need are more people who could take a leaf out of Hoskins' book when it comes to promoting. To know what the public wants and can afford, then give it to them. My main gripe though is that the late finishes are presenting a problem for me and the gaps between races are such that the matches seem to lose momentum - remembering of course that my attention span is not what it once was!


This article was first published on 22nd October 2009


  • Derek Watson:

    "Have to agree with Ken Nicholson re matches dragging on. Glasgow regularly take over 2 hours although being on a Sunday afternoon with the track watering can drag meetings out. Referees need to push meetings on as well, some matches could be sped up by better use of the 2 minutes, although I'm no fan of Frank Ebdon style matches that are over in an hour!!! "

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