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Scotland for the World Cup!
By Bill Elliot

Great Scots

As a Scottish speedway follower of a certain vintage, I can remember the days when luminaries such as Ken McKinlay, Jim McMillan, George Hunter, Bert Harkins and Bobby Beaton performed with distinction for my country and, indeed, for Great Britain (particularly for the Lions in the sunshine of Australia, while we shivered at home in the dark winter months). Indeed, as a Best Pairs force I seem to recall the Scots causing an upset or two over the late 60's/70's, while we were still considered worthy of a spot in these international competitions.

With no disrespect intended to other Scots around at that time, we were usually short of a couple of riders to make up a 6 or 8 man squad (as the formats of the time required), but that never stopped us from granting temporary citizenship to stars such as Australian Charlie Monk and Norwegian Reidar Eide, amongst others, to literally bring us up to speed for the odd tilt at our friends from the wrong side of the border. This practice was no doubt encouraged by the fact that at that time, in spite of there being a plethora of nine point plus English heat leaders at the time such as Terry Betts, Norman Hunter and Ray Wilson, Great Britain could apparently call on the likes of Kiwis Ivan Mauger and Barry Briggs (methinks Aussie Jim Airey maybe even rode in a "British" World Team Cup winning side) to put a pretty formidable 4 man squad on the track. Of course, the Kiwis eventually decided to go it alone and had the cheek to win it for themselves!

The decline of the Scots as a force in world speedway can perhaps be traced back to the time when teams north of the border no longer competed in the highest league in the land, the last of them (Coatbridge) transferring their licence to Hull and, at least until now, there hasn't been a Scottish team in the premier (with a small 'p) league within the sport. Perhaps with the country's top riders all riding for southern based teams, and with the local Scottish teams riding in the second tier league, the incentive and desire for Scottish riders to make it to the very top diminished as time went on, and whereas the riders mentioned above had at the start of their career replaced stars of the 50's and early 60's, there was no conveyor belt of talent coming through to take over in turn from these top riders as they themselves lost out to Father Time-a few, such as James Grieves and Willie Lawson have flirted with the Elite League, but not with the degree of success (at least to date) to suggest they could successfully compete with the best in arguably one of the best leagues in the world.

By the end of the 70's then, Scotland took its place in the archives of world speedway as other countries such as the USA came to the party with superstars such as Penhall, Autrey, Schwartz and all the rest breaking through big time, and the next generation of riders such as Hancock and Hammill ensured a prolonged stay at the top table, so to speak.

Whether you like the current format for the World Individual Championship or not (I don't), what you can't deny is that it has helped take top class speedway to a variety of venues in new countries. Italy is hardly a hotbed for the sport, yet it gets a Grand Prix round every year. So, my question is, why can't the policy of encouraging and developing the sport not be applied to team events? Even in my wildest dreams (and no, I haven't been sampling one of my country's products while penning these words), I'm not suggesting that Scotland has a team capable of competing on the world stage at the televised rounds right now, or even in the immediate future, but at the moment, it appears that it is denied the opportunity to try, through participation is any form of a preliminary qualifying round. To look at a local comparison, Glasgow Tigers' signing, Sandi Conda, performed well for Slovenia in the World Team Cup in the earlier stages in the season just ended, yet his higher averaged team mates in the form of James Grieves and Willie Lawson could not do so for Scotland. You might argue that there aren't enough teams with any chance of winning to justify preliminary rounds, but if you apply that principle across the sporting spectrum then you can probably start with the English FA Cup at the quarter final/last 16 stages each year, because in essence there are maybe only around a dozen teams with a genuine chance of winning it.

To further develop speedway I suggest you need to have a system where even the smallest of minnows have the opportunity to go in against the big fish, and a qualifying system is one way of doing it. Such a methodology would certainly allow countries like Scotland to aspire to developing talent capable of moving onwards and upwards, whereas at the minute it's "same old, same old" when you look at the countries performing in speedway's world cup every year. It might take 5 years, it might take 10, the point is, surely, the platform has to be established and just now it just ain't there-again using the English FA Cup as an example, the wee (translation "small" for those of a non Scottish persuasion) maybe start their qualifying rounds maybe 4 or 5 months before the giants get in, but just occasionally, one of them makes it through to meet the big boys, and when that happens, there is a lot of excitement, a word that these days is perhaps underused in speedway, generated at least for a week or two.

I can remember in the last few years attending a Scotland v England under 21 match at Berwick, (perhaps in itself a reflection of how far Scotland have slipped in world terms), but nevertheless it provided a vehicle for Scotland to be represented at national level, while no doubt allowing their English counterparts to have a look at potential future stars, thereby serving two purposes in one. Surely this is a sample which could be applied across the UK as a starter for 10, not only to serve Scotland's cunning plan to conquer the speedway world in maybe 20 years' time, but also to encourage the growth of developing talent? I have seen details of matches involving England under 21's against Australia under 21's, what is there to stop Scotland's involvement in meetings or series which seek to do something similar? At a time too, when meetings can be ahem, very similar in entertainment value, why not (re) introduce a series of meetings which provide a bit of variation from the standard menu of one home match against most other rivals, a meaningless friendly at the start of the season against your local rivals, a cup run maybe once in a while, and that's about it?

To play the Devil's Advocate again, I know, I know, any Scot has the potential to ride for Great Britain in the World Team Cup, but why don't we just get the fa´┐Żade out of the way by saying the current team racing under the "Great Britain" banner is English, the fans all over the UK regard them in the same light, I doubt if there's anyone out there ever believes the team will ever be any different, so why not just call them "England" and be done with it? (It would also save more than one TV pundit and/or interviewee from getting a red face live on air, when they have referred to the team as "England" when they are still technically "Great Britain"!)

I have read elsewhere that maybe Scottish speedway's greatest ambassador, one Bert Harkins esquire, has been banging on to the FIM about allowing Scotland's re-entry to the World Team event, only to be met with the response of the country not having an FIM approved venue. Once again, rather than provide criteria to be met before something COULD happen, there is the feeling that a singularly unhelpful response has been issued by a ruling body. OK, what have we not got that we need to gain FIM approval?-Is it an air fence, is it a certain level of off track facility? Is it proximity to airports for international riders/officials. Clear enough? I once more suggest that pre recent Grand Prix series there is every chance that certain tracks were not FIM approved, indeed Cardiff was not FIM approved before the decision was made to move a temporary track in, and I suspect there were others. What I'm saying here is, don't tell us we can't get in because we don't have A, B or C, tell us the criteria which have to be met to allow us to get out to play with the other kids again, even if it means starting in the lowest class and working our way up. It might not be possible, but who's to say, for example, that if the likes of Cardiff and some track in Italy which your average speedway punter had never heard of before the Grand Prix, can get it, then Scotland can't? Speedway was held at Hampden Park, the national football stadium, in my lifetime, and maybe even Murrayfield could provide a venue-maybe that's pie in the sky, maybe not, what I'm saying is if 15 years ago someone had said that the premier speedway event in Britain each year would be held at Cardiff, they would have had been invited to don the regulation white jacket and get assistance to tie the straps. Tell us what we need to do, and then let us get on with it-don't tell a Scotsman that something isn't possible, he'll only take considerable pleasure in proving you totally wrong!

Finally, having written enough of a partly political broadcast on behalf of the Scottish World Cup Party, can I just say that in addition to achieving what no other party could do, in amalgamating Glasgow Tigers and Edinburgh Monarchs fans under the one, united, SCOTTISH banner, we give an absolute guarantee that after overcoming all of the odds and defeating England, Australia and Denmark in the 2029 World Cup Final, we will not rip up the track or dismantle the safety fence in celebration!

 

This article was first published on 12th November 2009


 

  • Ian Muir Martin:

    "I agree totally with the sentiments expressed in this well constructed piece. I would love to see Scotland back on the International stage. I seem to remember many years ago (too many) watching an England .v. Scotland International at Sunderland. England were I believe captained by Russ Dent and Scotland by Dougie Templeton. It was a super occasion and a very hard fought Match as I recall. I know that this was at the old Second Division level but could something like this not be resurrected today at Premier League level. Even possibly involvement in an International Four Team Tournament. At least it would be start, as Bill Elliot puts it, towards 2029. "

  • Chris Wilcox:

    "Thanks for a great article Bill. I too have memories of Jimmy and Bill MacMillan and all the rest at Glasgow and Bertola etc at Old Meadowbank, Edinburgh. As to getting the Tigers and Monarchs to amalgamate it could be like grasping fog! Alas I'm exiled in England but keep a close eye on the Scots. Roll on 2029!!!!"

  • Ross Dow:

    "I'm just devastated to find out, after all these years, that Charlie Monk and Reidar Eide aren't Scottish!! I'm away to burn my flag!!! I cannot believe that Ian Hoskins would have tried to pull the wool - maybe he did not know."

  • Bert Harkins:

    "Great article, Bill, It's good to see such support for Scotland to return to World events but, as you say, we are not yet good enough to take on the major nations but we should be given a chance to fight it out against the "minnows" of World Speedway until we find our feet again. Yes, we had some great home-grown world class riders back in the '70s who rode in FIM events and with a bit of luck and dedication, we could reach those heights again. We even reached the World Best Pairs Final in Malmo, Sweden, so we couldn't have been too bad!

    As much as I love Scotland, I believe that once a rider reaches a certain standard in Scotland, if he wants to progress in his career, he has to move south and ride for an English team and live south of the border. The advantages are many. Less time on the road driving to away matches, so more time can be spent in the garage or the gym. Easier to go along and watch the top riders at other tracks when you have a night off and pick up hints and tips in the pits and by talking to other riders. More opportunities to get guest and open bookings as why should a promoter pay travelling expenses to bring a rider down from Scotland when he can book a more local rider and save some hard-earned cash?

    The Scotland v England Under 21 Series we had a few years ago, which you mentioned was, I thought, the beginning of our long road back to International recognition but although in my eyes, the meetings were a success, the Series was not continued the following year. I am sure that Speedway fans north of the border would love to see Scotland back in action and, as you say, it creates the impossible,.......Glasgow and Edinburgh fans united in wanting the same team to win! I know that from a rider's point of view, that when you buckle on that St.Andrew's Cross body colour, you feel like Superman coming out of the telephone box, (!) and every Scot rides even harder if that is possible.

    I also agree that "Team GB", i.e., Great Britain, should be called, "England" as the riders are all English and no Scot, Welshman or Irishman is good enough to break into that team at the moment, so why not give England some praise for their exploits and let the other countries of the U.K. try to match them. Once again, it seems to be an FIM decision and another reason why Scotland are no longer recognized as a nation by the FIM. Anyway, we will keep plugging away and try to get some bookings for Scotland. I mean, surely a Scottish team would be more preferable to have in an Open Meeting than Joe Bloggs Seven vs Charley Farley's Angels? Perhaps Glasgow, Edinburgh & Berwick could stage a series along with say, Newcastle & Workington? Fingers crossed and let's see what 2010 holds for us! "

  • Bob Ferry:

    "I agree with my pal Ian Martin, it would be nice to see Scotland represented at international level once more. I well remember the two England v Scotland meetings at Sunderland in 1973 and 1974. Scotland were indeed captained by Doug Templeton, but the England captain was our old friend Bruce Forrester, not Russ Dent as Ian stated."

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