Glasgow's Red and White Army
If you're like me, the weeks and months of the speedway close season drag on interminably. Maybe you mentally count off the days till the new season, in the way that all the archetypical cop movies have the bad guys putting another chalk mark on their cell wall, until it's time for that glorious special smell that comes with a speedway meeting, and you hear the first rev of a bike warming up before the start of the first match, usually in March. So what do you do for the dark side of the year, when you are denied your usual fix because of the phenomenon known as "Winter"?
If you're a fan, you tend to grasp at any scrap of information available through the usual speedway media outlets, maybe check out the club website and any forum that might have been set up, or wait for the occasional close season function to catch up with your fellow supporters trying to exist on a starvation diet.
Me? In addition to doing all of the above, I grant myself the occasional luxury on a dark winter's night of imagining yours truly as the newest member of the Lottery millionaire club, having bought myself a speedway club to run, and begin to think of what I would need to do to run the perfect speedway meeting���. (Cue dreamlike music and soft lights)
This is easy- get yourself 14 riders (or using last season's example at Glasgow, 13 riders plus the rider replacement facility, such was our luck with injuries) a referee, and what else do you need? Somebody to open up and shut up shop, couple of volunteers, sorted!
But.... maybe not! The more you get into it, the more you begin to realise that possibly the actual meeting itself is the easy bit of all of this, as just how many people do you need to run a speedway meeting, and where are they all coming from? Let me see, maybe a few folk selling programmes, another couple doing a 50/50/raffle, various people to dart around in same coloured overalls so that they can run about on the track or do something in the pits, and do I actually know what jobs actually need done on the day/before/after the match? I know there has to be a machine examiner, there has to be somebody who can string more than a couple of words together and front the show from the centre green with a microphone in their hand, I'll need someone up in the referee's box to play some music (preferably of a variety which doesn't drive the punters away in their droves) and give you the details for filling in your programme�.programme! How do you put one together and how many people are you going to need to write you a piece every week to cut out the blank pages? Who brings the bikes out every week for the pre match presentation? Jeez, this is taking on film epic proportions, how many folk am I taking on, and how many of them will do it for nothing? (I may have just won the lottery, but I can still manage to think like a speedway promoter, and, given my birthplace, a Scottish speedway promoter!-Look after the bawbees, etc)
My mind is beginning to think in platoon or regimental numbers, as by this time I have figured out that I need rakers, at least one tractor driver (and therefore, I suspect, at least one tractor-I'm learning quickly!) We have a bar, so we need bar people to run it, for the teetotallers amongst the support (Yes, we DO have them in Scotland) people to run the tea bar, and perhaps we need some security, just in case the occasional home or away fan becomes a wee bit over enthusiastic. How many people is that we're up to? Jings, crivvens, and help ma boab! (Translation-oh dear!) Does Spielberg have this problem when he's casting for a film? These aren't extras for the show, these are all main players, each with a main job/role to do to ensure the whole thing works! Oh aye, need members of the blue light fraternity there as well just in case someone takes a bad one on the track or, as is the case at Ashfield every week, the excitement reaches fever pitch and spectators need some medical help to calm them down (and if you're reading this, Messrs Dick, Pairman and Dickson, that'll cost you a couple of complimentaries!).
So...in essence, here, by the time you actually add in the riders, the majority of whom will have at least one mechanic with him, I've got about 100 people involved, about the size of a small village. By this stage too, with 14 riders riding, 6 rakers raking, and programme sellers selling, I have to resist the temptation to add a partridge in a pear tree to round it all off! Some tracks DO actually have a drummer drumming!
As this exercise has to be repeated every week from about mid March through to the end of October, I'm beginning to form the opinion that promoters must be certifiable to take on this job in the first place, and they don't even get 4 months off during the winter like the rest of us, and maybe in the case of my team, the Glasgow Tigers, it's just as well we race on a Sunday, as our promoters will only be allowed out of their strait jackets at the weekend. When you add in the kind of numbers I have got to above, certainly in terms of the number of volunteers giving their services for free every week just to help out THEIR favourite speedway team, maybe it's not a small village of people as I referred to above, more an institution to house them all in the one building!
Are these people off their heads? No doubt at all. Crazy? Almost certainly. Could Glasgow Speedway (indeed, any speedway club) run without them? Are YOU out of your mind?? Not a chance!
Now, perhaps I have ever so slightly exaggerated (who, me, surely not?) some of the observations I have made so far. However, I hope that I might at least have set you thinking about the role that so many people play in ensuring that you get your fix of speedway every week during the alleged warmer months of any year, whether you get it more frequently at Weymouth or Eastbourne, relatively closer to the warmer parts of Europe, or at my track, Glasgow, more closely aligned with the Antarctic (and that is no exaggeration, believe me!). Up and down the length and breadth of the country, there are literally thousands of people giving up time every week to do THEIR bit for THEIR club and, yes, maybe some of the parts of the whole are bigger than others, but without each of the parts, remember, there is nothing at all.
When I first started to expand this idea I started to ask a few folk just what the volunteers and others do in their various jobs at the track, given that up until now I had only the very vaguest of notions as to what exactly a track curator does, for example, or how much time they spend doing what they do. I suspect my lack of knowledge on the subject of support staff might not be untypical, and, after over 40 years of following the sport, nor will be my usual taking for granted of these essential tasks and duties, by most supporters.
So, I think, perhaps to salve my conscience with regard to the hundreds of supporting cast who have in my opinion helped Glasgow Speedway survive for all these years, I'll mention just a few of them by name, people such as Danny Gibb, track curator, who in addition to getting to the track sometimes at 8am on a Sunday morning (for a 4pm start), once had a tractor tyre burst on him 4 hours before the start of a meeting-do YOU know how to get a tractor on its backside to a garage on a Sunday, and ensure there is a working model available by start time? Me neither, but he did it. How about John Jack, Machine Examiner since the days when Johnnie Hoskins first came to the country to promote the sport (only kidding, John, it just seems a while!), or Frapper Paton, mechanic for just about everybody at Glasgow over a long period, it seems, oh yeah, and how about Glasgow having a female electrician in their team, maybe the only one throughout the speedway fraternity, and all the various other tradesmen like joiners who patch up the fence when someone tests its flexibility? And, finally, (I'm whispering this) we have someone who works for the Dark Side along the M8 on a Friday (he even closes his shop early to be sure of getting there) before doing his bit at Ashfield on a Sunday-a sort of Darth Vader meets Obi Wan Kanobi. I could go on, but I think you're getting the message by now.
One little story, of many which could be told to illustrate the value of the supporting cast, concerns a Sunday afternoon at Ashfield when after an early malfunction of the starting gate, the track electricians relocated the misbehaving article to an area underneath the stand to commence life saving surgery. Now, while it was hardly an episode out of "Casualty", the work did take a wee while, during which time the meeting was continuing via the copious use of elastic bands and Origami skills. After another 6 heats had gone by, an unnamed promoter rushed in to ask "will you have it ready soon guys, they (the visitors) are beating us out of the gate and we're miles behind!" No pressure there, then (!), but it highlights the absolute need for able volunteers and others to support the promotion of every track at every meeting (and if you're a Glasgow fan, the story does have a happy ending, as with a suitably repaired starting gate the Tigers roared back for a famous victory!).
Not only does Glasgow Speedway have its team of unsung heroes, it's the same for every single track from here in the North, to the deepest south, and can you identify your particular Local Heroes with the categories I've mentioned above? Yeah, easy, thought so.
I'll finish this little tribute to all of those who help their local speedway team on one way or another with one final word of caution-in the case of Glasgow Speedway, Derek Smith started life like you or I, a basic "follow your team" supporter. He had an idea, to form a group of fans (STARs-Supporting Tigers Aim for Regeneration) which then began raising money and awareness locally to help the Tigers. He (and his fellow renegades) got so good at it that he has recently been appointed a director of the club (at the same time as Craig McKirdy, another activist within the club), and has therefore basically climbed most of the rungs on the speedway ladder from supporter through to help run the club. Beware, be VERY ware, where your support can take you!
To the ladies and gentlemen across the speedway world who fall into any of the categories above, I therefore doff my titfer to you, and long may you continue to do what you do!
This article was first published on 28th January 2010
"What a scream, well written and surely the voice of most supporters, certainly mine. I reckon you could help fill these blank pages you speak of -please- Got me remembering an occasion when Tigers were at Coatbridge, many years ago (not being more specific) the metal pulley from the starting gate broke and required a welding repair. This happened about two hours before the meeting started. Jimmy Beaton, the promoter was doing 'handstands', Jimmy was well known for his antics, Alun Rossiter has no chance when compared to Jimmy and referees. Anyway I digress, I volunteered (as in the Army) to take the pulley to a friend, some ten miles away in Glasgow who had the necessary welding gear. I was driving a Morris minor (remember them!) at what then was breakneck speed. The reason that I can remember the incident so well was because during my return with repaired item the brakes on my car failed. No time for RAC, AA or any type of repair, so I drove to the stadium for about six miles traffic lights and all, using only the handbrake. Nothing else mattered. The meeting started on time leaving me with a lifelong experience of how speedway riders feel when grasping for non existing brakes. I now travel some 200 miles round trip to support 'The Tigers' hopefully in a car with working brakes. "
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