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One Eye on the Ball
by Chris Seaward....02/04/2005

Imagine a slightly modified game of Cluedo in which the murder victim is an individual named Minority Sport. It wasn't a quick death, the autopsy revealed years of torture and the Coroner was quick to acknowledge the remarkable bravery of Mr M. Sport. The games participants hunt the murderer and are intent on unearthing the truth, who did it? Who is guilty of relegating the victim to their stumpy status? After a few throws of the dice and the consequent elimination of varying scenarios the answer begins to become blindingly apparent. True to form the murderer is ultimately exposed. Who: The capitalist, where: on the football pitch, with: the round lump of expensive leather. The successful detective grins, settles back into his/her chair evidently contented and satisfied they have exposed the dangerous, brutal murderer. Yet the obvious problem with Cluedo is the murderer is never punished, measures aren't taken to prevent the individual causing more problems, committing further crime. Instead the players of Cluedo place their cards on the table and pack away the box. The killer is free.

The above notion albeit extremely crude implies football is slowly strangling minority sports. Maybe these ideas have emerged through jealously because as a speedway fan I simply fail to comprehend and furthermore provide an answer to the question, how does football do it? It continually manages to manoeuvre itself into an extraordinarily lucrative, influential position and it seems there is no limit to its astonishing power. The sport has grown to be grotesquely vain, self indulgent. It seems as its inflated ego further expands so does its fan base. Player's wages are ridiculous; likewise admissions prices and unless you are able to detach yourself, view the wider picture it is hard to appreciate how absurd and financially foolish aspects of this simplistic game have become.

Yet despite the aforementioned Football is still consistently able to hi jack the sporting spotlight and choke other smaller sports but how and why is this? So called fans, and yes I admit it is a small minority, are apparently so obsessed with success they deem it perfectly acceptable to hurl coins, mobile phones and anything they assume appropriate towards the opposition. Aggressive conduct reverts back to the most primitive of human instinct, defence, these hooligans try their utmost to establish superiority with the use of hand gestures and it seems everyday, usually docile objects.

I started to ponder whether this lack of aggressively conveyed passion, mob culture and subsequently juvenile, hostile atmosphere discourages certain individuals from attending speedway. Fans are generally aware the speedway community has always prided itself on being a family sport, a well-mannered affair, friendly atmospheres, and occasional slight tension levels. Opposition fans can roam wherever they please without feeling intimidated and there are rarely forceful, intense rivalries. Taking this into consideration is it reasonable or indeed fitting to alter the phrase 'nice guys finish last' to a seemingly more appropriate 'nice sports finish last?' Would British league speedway attract more spectators if it adopted a slightly rougher, unpredictable, aggressive edge?

Now, I realise this is a controversial notion and fights against the sports stereotype. However it is surely reasonable to suggest the absence of passionate rivalries and a must win; conquer all approach fuse together to shelter speedway, consequently clamping restrictions on its power.

The sport has become socially insignificant, stuck in a vicious circle where many regard its influence as irrelevant and consequently have no urge, feel no desire to attend matches. Speedway for many people doesn't provide an adequate opportunity to release frustration or create a sufficient escape. There is not a large enough community spirit for fans to succumb to its power; they are not engulfed by the sport. Who cares in the canteen at work if your speedway team won last night?

Sport is very much centred on representation; fans support their clubs because they feel a sense of pride. Teams have the ability to elevate the profile of a town, city, increase awareness of a location and induce a sense of satisfaction. This notion helps explain the healthy crowds Poole regularly enjoy. The success of the Pirates increases media and social awareness of the area, as this begins to swell so do crowd figures, all the factors of success require one another to operate.

When I visited Poole last season it became clear not all of the fans in attendance were placid, easy going Speedway fanatics. Magnus Zetterstrom was out of form; his first two rides saw him languishing in fourth. He was replaced for his programmed third ride, a rowdy cheer from the Pirates fans greeted the announcement, this got me thinking. Has the team's success enticed customers to Wimborne road that have a minor interest in speedway but are principally in attendance to be part of a silver plated bandwagon?

Whilst I whole-heartedly respect the danger element of the sport and the necessity for riders to place confidence in one another, does the acknowledgement, whether it be a handshake, or a nod, at the end of a race subliminally induce a destructive harmony on the terraces? If the riders themselves fail to demonstrate rivalry then it becomes difficult for it to be felt where it really matters, the stands.

The root of this problem is surely riders participating in various leagues throughout Europe. Instead of demonstrating passion and commitment to just one club riders must concentrate on two/three teams, naturally this dilutes enthusiasm levels.

Secondly the nature of the sport generally means riders don't ride in one place for a sufficient amount of time to build up a constructive rapport with the fans.

Even if my above ideas are correct I'm hesitant to force the notion British speedway would really welcome supporter hostility and aggression. Instead it is more realistic and healthy for promoters to try and attract the group of people who aren't particularly interested in speedway but instead are concerned with being entertained for an evening. The emphasis must be placed on professionally presented entertainment; if this is sufficient then individuals will grow fond of speedway and subsequently feel the necessity to return.

 

This article was first published on 2nd April 2005


 

  • Scott White:

    "A brilliant article. I have thought the same for years. I have always thought that there is a distinct lack of effort from promoters to actively go out and promote speedway, there is a huge amount of people out there who 'used to go to speedway' I don't think it would be that hard to get them back in.

    They need to be shown information before they can act upon it, the success of football is down to the high level of media coverage, yet nobody is campaigning to get more coverage for speedway.

    The attitude taken by most promoters is just to plod on, it's a very short sighted option and I feel that one day speedway will end up with just one league, a sky sports league, which is a shame."

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