Book Review: Saving Speedway - The Provincial League & The Southern Area League
Speedway is very fortunate to have a well-documented history, courtesy of the collective efforts of many professional and amateur researchers. One further gap has been plugged by a new publication from Philip Dalling and John Somerville - "Saving Speedway - The Provincial League and The Southern Area League". Dalling has provided the words and Somerville has dipped into his incredible collection of photographs to illustrate the book.
The period under review (mid-fifties to mid-sixties) is an interesting one, the sport was struggling, thanks in large part to the crippling entertainment tax that forced many promoters out of the game. The virtual collapse of the sport is examined, particularly in the areas furthest away from the bright lights of the big London tracks.
While top level speedway crumbled, the grass roots enthusiasts continued to run speedway in the Southern Area League (SAL) at places like Aldershot, Ringwood and Brafield. The SAL was rough and ready speedway, with a flexible league structure that allowed teams to drop in and out over the years. If numbers got too low then the nomadic Southern Rovers side were introduced to add some variety to the fixture list. The Sunday afternoon meetings allowed spectators to get their speedway fix and young riders to develop their skills. One such prospect was Ivan Mauger who turned out for Rye House in 1957.
The history of the SAL is covered in a fair level of detail, tracking the comings and goings in the league, along with a review of the results and insights into some of the characters involved in both sides of the fence.
While the SAL was a pukka organised competition, in other parts of the country there were numerous others attempts to launch or revive speedway tracks. The book covers these efforts, no matter how short-lived the venture was.
The level of research is impressive, with even venues like Ainsdale Sands featuring. Dalling's love of speedway shines through, this book falls firmly into the 'labour of love' category and has clearly been many years in the making.
The sport didn't really start to get back onto its feet until the entertainment tax ended in 1957. Without that burden, it became economically viable to run a speedway once more. Mike Parker was one of the first to spot the potential that a racing revival offered, famously staging some pirate meetings which eventually led to the formation of a new Provincial League in 1960.
The PL is still fondly remembered by those old enough to have experienced its charms. Two of those heavily involved in those days provide the foreword and postscript in the book - Len Silver and Reg Fearman, both still going strong more than 60 years on.
The book covers all five of the Provincial League seasons, including the 1964 season when the league ran outside officialdom due to a dispute with the National League management. It's interesting to see how the league developed, with a number of the member clubs becoming well-established tracks that have kept the sport going over the subsequent decades.
As we've come to expect from the range of speedway books published by Halsgrove, the production values are high. This is a quality hardback, with glossy pages throughout that show the pictures to best advantage. The pictures are of equal value to the text, virtually every page includes a photograph, accompanied by a caption offering additional information or context.
It's a very readable book, telling a story rather than recounting facts and figures. Many will be familiar to some extent with both the SAL and the PL, but this book is guaranteed to expand and enhance your knowledge of this interesting era.
You can order your copy from halsgrove.com.
This article was first published on 10th December 2020
"Philip and John's book is a great read and well worth the plaudits of the reviewer. It is especially good to see an overview of the Southern Area League and I hope it might encourage readers to have a look at what we have on The Speedway Researcher web site by way of meeting details. Suffice it to say there are a few gaps in the records and if anyone can provide missing details I would be delighted. I started watchng speedway in 1961 and the book's overview of the Provincial League is enjoyable as it transported me back to the happy days of the 1960s. If you are looking for a Christmas treat for a speedway fan, the book will fit the bill for sure.."
"Tremendous book- I agree wholeheartedly with Jim Henry's comments. BTW -a tip of the hat to you Jim Henry, Philip mentioned to me that only you and I picked out Stan Bradbury in the Motherwell photo. I also agree with your comments re the the SAL- up the Monarchs!!"
"The book is a really great read, brings back great memories of the sixties at Old Meadowbank and the stars of the era for me."
"Having recently purchased the new 'Saving Speedway' book by Philip Dalling, I can confirm that it is a quality and very well researched book. I started spectating in the PL years and it was an exceptional time for the sport. A very, very small mistake I spotted - Colin McKee was riding for the short lived Sunderland Saints team at Wolverhampton, see the body colour. The man in overalls in the Wolves team photo, is Mike Lawrence, track curator and former rider. Highly recommended book for fans of that era."
"Thanks for your corrections. Always happy to learn about errors, no matter how small. Will attempt to correct them if book is reprinted."
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