If I Were King
A few weeks ago, Speedway Plus were kind enough to publish my contribution to the "It's all about..." section of the site.
During my ramblings I stated that British speedway needed an independent person to run the sport with the fans in mind and I offered my services for a reasonable wage. I would like to say that I sat by the phone, waiting for the BSPA to ring, but in light of a previous submission of a substantial bundle of letters and e-mails I had collated from fellow supporters several years ago - protesting at the double points rule - that went unanswered, I decided to carry on with life as normal.
However, I think it is only fair that I put my ideas down on paper to be supported or torn apart, whichever people prefer.
The first to go would be the double point tactical rule. I could just about tolerate the double points off the 15-metre handicap - it was something different and worth a try - but when the rule was amended to the current policy of scoring double points merely for the effort of putting on a striped helmet colour, my patience ran out completely. I cannot think of any other professional sport where anything similar applies and, in my opinion, the rule brings the whole sport into disrepute.
In a one-man protest, I decided that I would stop attending meetings as regularly, and one season I did not go at all. However, speedway is a hard habit to shake off and I have concluded that the promoters are not going to listen to me, or hundreds like me, and I have shuffled back onto the terraces, faced with either liking the rule or lumping it.
I am not sure what the promoter's reasons for introducing and keeping the rule are. I suspect pressure from SKY to keep the scores close, or the fact that they did not want to pay the star riders for a tactical substitute ride. Nevertheless, I cannot believe that this rule has attracted one single new fan. All it has done is to annoy the hard-core support who are keeping speedway alive. Come the revolution, this rule would be out on day one, the tactical sub reintroduced and things would be looking up.
On day two, I would abolish the doubling up rule between the leagues. I find it astonishing that some riders are allowed to have two jobs, when others who have done nothing wrong (other than having an 'awkward' average) are left on the scrap heap. Every year it is the same and whilst lucky Corey Gathercole can ride for Somerset and Swindon this year, his old team mate Simon Walker (who I have always enjoyed watching) is left out in the cold. There are numerous other examples of this silly rule but it would be high on my hit list if I were king.
Next to go would be the points limit rule that 'rewards' champions and championship contenders with the prospect of shedding some of their title winning or title competing side. It gives promoters no incentive to train or sign young talent and the sport lurches from one single year plan to another. Riders are just loaned from one parent club to another and I have no idea of which club holds any riders contract at any one time. I think that a points limit is a good idea to keep the sides reasonably close, but my solution to this would be for the limit to be set at the level of the highest average side at the end of the previous season. This would usually be the champions, but not necessarily so, and would mean that no side would be forced into making changes if they didn't want to. This would increase rider's loyalty to their club and vice-versa, and give promoters a reason to develop and foster young talent for the future.
One of speedway's longest standing problems has been the guest rider rule. I realise that speedway is different from all other sports in that the contrast in standard between the top men and the juniors is so vast that one cannot adequately replace the other. However, it is so embarrassing to explain to a newcomer to the sport that one rider can guest for a rival club and help them to win a meeting, thereby damaging his own team's chances in the same competition. I would alleviate the problem by my squad system described below with guests allowed only in the most desperate of circumstances with each case referred for impartial advice by the man in charge i.e. me!
I applaud the promoters for bringing back the white helmet colour this year. It is a small change back to how things were and I would go a bit further and make the yellow helmet into the old yellow and black quarters. I think there was something romantic about the yellow and black helmet colour - maybe something of the underdog about it - that the yellow plain cover has not managed to recapture.
After consigning some rules to the dustbin, I would look to introduce one which I think would add much to the sport. It is the aforementioned squad system.
Basically, the idea is for Elite League teams to name of squad of 12 riders. Seven of these would be the team's starting line-up within the points limit as mentioned already. The remaining five would be either riders from the Premier League, overseas riders racing in their own domestic leagues who could come over to the UK for occasional meetings, or unattached riders. The choice would be up to the clubs themselves.
If a rider or riders were missing from a meeting, the club would be able to call upon a squad member to fill the team place up to the appropriate average. Rider replacement could also be used if the team manager saw fit but guests would be severely limited to be used only if a club were in dire straights.
The Premier League would operate a similar system with a smaller squad of say, ten riders. The squad would be made up of any unattached riders and riders from the National League in a manner identical to those rules in place in the Elite League.
The National League would also have a squad of up to ten riders with a rule introduced banning both sides from using rider replacement in the same meeting.
One thing I would love to introduce is a return of international series. I used to love watching the classic England v USA battles and a system similar to cricket where we host the top nations on a rotational basis with Poland, Denmark, Sweden and Australia coming once every four years would keep the interest fresh. My international side would be England and I would push for Scottish inclusion in the World Cup as a separate nation.
I would keep the league structure the same and think that promotion and relegation would be a non-starter. Clubs should have the right to apply for whatever league suits them best and it would be silly for a team like Buxton to win the National League if they had to take up a financially crippling step up to Premier League level.
I would also encourage the formation of more clubs that do not have current stadiums, using Dudley as a model. A National League club in Scotland, the north east, Yorkshire and other areas run on a track share basis would be beneficial to juniors from all these regions and I would like to see some of the SKY money diverted to help clubs set up rather than it all disappearing into the pockets of a few major stars.
One thing I would not endeavour to change is the basics of the sport itself. I think the sport has loads to offer and is the perfect family entertainment. The simplicity of four riders per race, representing their teams and scoring points to win matches for their teams is perfect. Add to this the showmanship that has developed over the past few years and we have a great product.
If the SCB or BSPA are interested in passing over the baton to me for a couple of years just to see how it goes, Speedway Plus have my e-mail address but I'll not hold my breath and I'll just carry on dreaming.
This article was first published on 8th April 2010
"Loved Matt Jackson's article "If I Were King", even if I didn't necessarily agree with all the suggestions. The comments about riders' averages is a case in point-if riders like Joe Screen might be ruled out of speedway because of a daft and patently unrealistic rule, when there are clubs wanting to include them, then the rule should be changed or dumped. The article has far too much commonsense in it to have any chance of being heeded by the people in charge of our sport-sometimes think BSPA stands for Ban Sensible People's Advice. The rules of the sport have to be simple so as to attract new supporters and retain (rather than *&$@ off) an ever decreasing base of loyal fans. Can only suggest that in the interests of self preservation Matt doesn't hold his breath waiting for the phone to ring, otherwise the band of loyal speedway supporters will have been reduced yet again. Speedway continues to survive (just) in spite of the rules, rather than because of them. "
"What a well written article. You should be Prime Minister. But will they listen? I don't think so it sounds too simple."
"FANTASTIC'BRILLIANT IDEAS. But they will be totally IGNORED by the POWERS THAT BE. Because of the MONEY THAT SKY puts into the Sport, they will DICTATE to the B.S.P.A and the B.S.P.A haven't the BACKBONE to say NO!! and FINALLY when this wonderful sport of OURS is DEAD AND BURIED, the likes of SKY will move on, and all we'll be left with is MEMORIES. Dear old Roaring Johnnie Hoskin's must be looking down, and wondering "Why, have they allowed this to happen?" SPEEDWAY,R.I.P?"
"I must say I agree in principle with Matt's comments. His idea of a squad system does on the face of it sound reasonable and would certainly have avoided the embarrassment recently of Belle Vue tuning up at Coventry with only 3 of their own riders. However, isn't this only an extension of the double up rule he wants of abolish? Would these squad riders only be used in the event of injury or could the squad be rotated?...if so the riders dropped would be frozen out in exactly the same way as today. As for the retention of the previous years points limit. That seems to have some merit too, but as we have seen over the last few seasons actually attracting enough quality riders to the league has been difficult and raising the lower placed clubs to some kind of parity might be unachievable. Certainly worthy of debate though that's for sure."
"Oh how I agree with Matt Jackson especially with the 'doubling up' rules and the double point tactical rule. Racers like Si Walker getting left out in the cold while other riders have two teams or the management bring in foreigners. As for the B/W tactical rule it undermines the work of the team who have got themselves a decent lead and it could be wiped out with one ride all because some riders of the opposing team are not doing so well. Let's get back to the days when two teams raced equally and happiness was 40-38."
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