The Prospects for 2005
As every loyal speedway enthusiast patiently awaits the opening of the new campaign, let us assess British speedways prospects in 2005.
It seems as each year looms promoter's whole-heartedly, genuinely, intend to become more professional, perhaps innovative in regard to presentation and club representation. Yet all too frequently as the season reaches its half way mark the already insecure speedway community begins to tremble as it becomes plagued with suggestions, often threats, of club closure, low crowd figures and financial downfalls. If fortunate the enigma that is British Speedway manages to limp, wounded yet defiant, to the conclusion of its season.
Last years dreadful, supposedly summer weather tested the character, resilience of our beloved sport. It would be refreshing to assume it is supple enough to escape unscathed, yet inwardly we are all vividly aware that each drop of pounding rain that fell on our sacred shale induced more commotion on an already firmly established mud bath. The weather won't change, perhaps in future years it will be more forgiving than last, but its nagging presence must be tackled head on in practical, affordable ways. Belle Vue have publicly stated that they intend to deal with the dilemma, invest in drainage, trial new types of shale and whilst recognising the weathers menacing character have enthusiastically informed their supporters that no meeting will be postponed if it doesn't rain after 5pm on a match day. Progress.
The hugely successful Poole Pirates. Brand me naive, dismiss my youthful exuberance and if you wish label me overly enthusiastic but in reality this club surely symbolises what every other should aspire to be. It isn't necessary to rant or indeed list why they are so successful both on and off the track but the sooner fellow promoters and supporters alike accept the Dorset club is thriving, swallow that bulging lump of pride that appears to clog their throats, the better.
Yet the one criticism that must be directed towards this hugely successful outfit is the lack of involvement within the youth scene. Surely such a forward thinking promotion that's boasts the team GB manager must recognise, indeed be blindingly aware of, the desperate need for development, nurturing of British speedway's youth. It would be satisfying to see Poole embark on a financial risk and offer to host a round of the under 15 championship this coming year or indeed take a step towards a youth initiative.
I was recently asked 'Will speedway always be a minority sport?' the individual who posed the question grinned and nodded at me in a gormless trance, evidently pleased they had breached a subject I feel so ridiculously passionate about. Yet as I delved deep for an answer I concluded the question somehow felt rhetorical, how can we constructively provide an answer to this, tangled persistent conundrum? Naturally this got my speedway infected mind functioning on over drive. Is it principally because are sport isn't sufficient entertainment that it fails to gain major recognition amongst the sporting world and capture audiences? No. But for a sport to prosper it needs stability, a routine and furthermore simplistic regular rules. It must be viewed with respect and additionally seek to be admired, not mocked or disregarded by those who show no interest in its survival.
Speedway must construct sensible, audience friendly regulations and adhere to them. It seems all too easy for the BSPA to introduce and manipulate existing rules for a quick solution, they must avoid the tendency to introduce regulations in the hope of creating a surge through the turnstiles. Instead we must breed familiarity and induce supporter clarity.
The question has to be raised, can British Speedway logically afford to be hurling around large lumps of money to transfer riders? The £55,000 that Ipswich are demanding from the Coventry promotion for Scott Nicholls is, in an ideal world for a rider of his ability, justifiable. Yet when considering the wider picture and mulling over how productively that cash could be applied in bringing new fans to the sport through advertising campaigns, school initiatives and forming bonds with the local communities. Whilst comprehensively understanding Ipswich's request I can't help but wonder, is this sudden flurry of transfer action laying the path for a volatile future where only the financially acute clubs can realistically compete?
Sky Sports will yet again provide coverage of the Elite League in 2005. Anyone who believes their involvement has been negative I simply fail to understand. If you withdraw their influence where does that leave us? Many elite league sponsors are attracted to the sport solely for television exposure, extract these financial backers and promoter's economic worries would intensify. Sky are professionals, every week throughout the season they beam live pictures of our treasured sport into the homes of millions and consequently on masses of occasions we have all heard people mention how television coverage has encouraged them to attend meetings, tempted them back to the sport.
However let us look forward. Is it time Sky provided the speedway fan with a weekly highlights show, a half hour slot with presenter and pundit simply discussing the weeks speedway? Also in the closed season it seems all to easy for Sky to disregard the speedway community, whilst the two-hour review they produce is classy and informative it is a minimal offering to a fans who are itching to see some action in the winter months. Again possibly a monthly offering discussing team building would whet appetites and increase anticipation for the upcoming campaign.
The New Year Classic at Newport is annually an enjoyable meeting. However this year the presence of the under 15 riders really brought to attention how refreshingly good these youngsters really are and the exciting futures they can look forward too. Not that I ever doubted their talent but seeing really is believing. In fact I felt slightly guilty I hadn't previously made the effort to attend an under 15 championship round. Peter Oakes and training tracks throughout the country are doing a terrific job in the nurturing of young talent. It's uplifting that British Speedway as a community has finally recognised the need for action.
This year's competition is clearly stronger and consequently the general consensus from supporters is increased enthusiasm in comparison with previous years. British speedway will welcome back class acts of Billy Hamill, Peter Karlsson, Pepe Protasewiz with open arms whilst looking forward to monitoring the progress of exciting young prospects Daniel King, Ricky Ashworth, Edward Kennett, Chris Harris, Paul Lee and many more.
The season ahead has all the signs of being constructive. Promoters over the past few seasons have learnt to conduct themselves in a manner, which their name suggests 'promote'. The following events have been well documented and indicate the recognition for professionalism and increased publicity.
Promoters must provide consistency; offer fans value for money and most importantly supply a huge wad of entertainment that entices the paying customer to regularly return. Today's society is overflowing with attractions that seek to entertain; speedway must fight its way to the top of the pile and provide a package that rivals/competes with all others.
The British Grand Prix
The jewel in the crown. It is slightly disappointing that last year's attendance was a fraction over 35,0000, especially when it was widely documented the crowd had reached the dizzy heights of 40,000. Never the less you can be convinced the forward thinking minds of John Posslewaite and his team have plans to increase that figure significantly by the time their contract expires in 2021. The new format is unproven yet on paper it appears very stimulating and its introduction adds a new level of complexity to the Grand Prix. That particular Saturday in June is always a memorable one, the congregation of high-spirited Speedway enthusiasts in Cardiff's city centre is a breath of fresh air. A British winner would aid the event in its attempt to prosper further and possibly obtain the significant media recognition it deserves.
It is encouraging a fund has become available for Neil Middleditch to attend G.Ps with Scotty and Lee, again illustrating the arrival of enthusiastic new legislation under the late Van Straten/early Togood era. It induces the vision of British speedway convening as a unit, the recognition that the performances of our riders in the GP's affects the sports well being on home soil. The Poole promoter Matt Ford played a major part in the introduction of the fund, a young man whose enthusiasm has a lot to offer our sport. It will prove interesting if Middlos presence really does act as a productive influence, there is no doubting his motivational skills and I'm sure the Brits will appreciate his father figure, familiar approach. But in the depths of such a high class, heavily contested arena the question must be posed will Middlo's presence provide that extra force required for our boys to compete with the King pins? Time will tell.
Benfield Sports International receive more than a fair share of criticism, primarily from the traditionalist Speedway fan who prefers to dwell in the past and surrounded in an air of nostalgia choose to recall the glory days of the one off World Final rather than acknowledging the necessity for a grand prix system. Benfield openly admit they have the primary intention of making money, but so do the majority of promotional organisations. A minority of short sighted supposed 'fans' seem to be urging them to fail in their attempts to transport speedway to the top of the motor sport scene,. Those who choose to concentrate on the disadvantages of the involvement of Benfield also tend to ignore the positives their association has achieved. They must be praised for the manner in which their professional approach has helped raise Speedway's profile.
Team GB, World Cup Qualifier
Still gathering my breath from last years breath taking climax so perhaps it's a blessing for all our blood pressure that Britain has only been allocated a single round in 2005! Swindon or Coventry look to be the likely hosts. America will be present after their well-documented absence, the charisma they exude will help add flare and further pride to a week that continues to develop in significance throughout the speedway world.
The upcoming world cup will really test Middlo's ability as a manager. Few would disagree he conducted himself superbly last year and furthermore was able to re-enforce the significance of the event into the whole team. But as individual's careers begin to march on he must begin to explore other avenues when concentrating on squad selection. Richardson, Nicholls, Loram and on last seasons form Norris are obvious inclusions yet that illusive fifth spot could prove a hard gap to bridge. Depending on his progress in the elite league Simon Stead would be a natural consideration, if David Howe can sustain an 8+ average and gain consistency away from Monmore Green this may warrant his inclusion. Barker, Screen, Havelock, Louis, Wilson, Stonehewer could probably offer a mediocre contribution but with due respect these individuals have had their chances and at this late stage in their careers their inclusion simply cannot be justified.
Internet forums continually become contaminated with absurd stories concerning the Russell empire. It is quite astonishing that a man who has invested so heavily in our sport is criticised in such an unjust way. The elite league has two new teams because of Terry Russell and the most important factor to bear in mind is this wealthy individual is an enthusiastic speedway fan, passionate about the progression of the sport.
The speedway community firstly must start to ponder whether there is in reality an adequate market for the conference league in today's market and secondly is the progression of young British riders currently sufficient? Nobody doubts the need for a development league but with Carmarthen voicing doubts about their future, Swindon and Newcastle withdrawing their teams it appears clubs who have to pay larger rent fees cannot financially justify conference racing.
Positives are the re-emergence of Sittingbourne, the new Scunthorpe track and the relatively recently formed Weymouth outfit. Also the continuing struggle for Boston to obtain planning permission continues whilst rumours circulate about the possibility of a Workington team in 2006.
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