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George Dodds's picture

As the countdown continues to the 2017 season – and if you’re in any doubt check the cool nuclear gizmo on the home page of this website – the eagle-eyed among you may have noticed that British Speedway has undergone a bit of a makeover during the close season.
Those marketing gonks and techno wizards (I believe the terms geeks and nerds are no longer politically correct) huddled and ruled that if the colour purple was good enough to send the career of Whoopi Goldberg into orbit then it was also the answer to the British speedway’s quest for the perfect logo. Along with the new look came the re-naming of two-thirds of the actual leagues.
Since 1968 the Bandits have plied their trade in British League Division II, the New National League, National League, Premier League, British League Division three, British Conference League, British Academy League, British Amateur League and British League Division I.
This year we will be founder members of the SGB Championship –sandwiched neatly between the SGB Premiership and National League.
For most of our history – with the exception of that balmy (barmy?) 1991 season in the top league and a few years keeping the dream alive in the third tier, the Bandits have kept the Borders buzzing in the second division.
Now it is easy to mock, indeed virtually the sole function of web forums and Twitter, but I believe the new titles, logos and ownership at a number of clubs, including our own, and more realistic overview of operating budgets gives the sport a more solid foundation than it has had for a number of years even if the problems encountered at Coventry and Belle Vue show that the best intentions can soon descend into shambles – not always in circumstances where the speedway promoters have much control – but it is a start.
Obviously a new name is not enough but the fact that a number of tracks – our own, Peterborough, Leicester, Ipswich, Rye House and Glasgow immediately spring to mind – have invested heavily in major track and stadium renovations which, along with the emphasis on youth development, will bear fruit – but not fully for another five years or so.
Speedway is not the first – or only – sport to play the name change game. Both domestic codes of rugby – Union also has a Premiership/Championship set-up before dropping into the national leagues; the 13-a-side version agreed to become Super League in return for taking the Murdoch silver – and ice hockey (Elite, British) made the switch from simply numbering their divisions.
But nothing compares with the rebranding and subsequent rebirth of football.
For over a century English football had been easy to follow. If it had four sections they were called the first, second, third and fourth divisions – at least after 1959 when the old regional Third Division North and Third Division South merged.
As is so often the case, trouble began north of the border when, in the mid-1970s, Scottish football replaced Division one and Division two with three new leagues – Premier, one and two.
Over the years they have continued to tinker and reform. I am led to believe that currently the Scottish pyramid is named Celtic League with a number of Not Celtic divisions beneath … but I could be wrong.
Any system that involved a smaller number of clubs earning more money was never going to be ignored by the likes of Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal or Tottenham so, come the early-90s the English Premier League was born.
Confusingly the second tier was initially called Division one but that was eventually sorted by the birth of The Championship and associated lower league renaming.
Few would argue that rebranding English football has not been a success – the profile of the game is at an all-time high and bears little relation to the rather squalid sport that I followed through from the 70s through to the formation of the Premier League in 1992.
The fact that the world’s biggest media organisation had a huge stake in making a success of the competition and in the process selling newspapers and satellite dishes cannot be overlooked.
Some, like me, may mourn football’s loss of soul but whereas my brother and I used to take our place on the crumbling St James’ Park terraces in a crowd of 16,000 on a good day, 30 years later he now sits among 50,000 Newcastle United fans every other week.
Changing a name is not enough but it can be a way of leaving the mistakes of the past behind and moving on.
Indeed perhaps there is one more radical step for speedway’s bosses to make - bearing in mind the criticism they take on the internet for a perceived lack of success at attracting fans though the turnstiles and the rather limited genuine options ever offered by their keyboard detractors. This could have far reaching consequences to the future of web forums – and all they have to do is change one word.
Simply swap promoters for owners.
You have to admit that: “Why, oh why, oh why, oh why don’t our sports roollers get out ov their Rollz Roycas and cum back off theyre Carabeeyan Croozes and get on wiv the job. Its abowt time the so, called British Speedway Owners Associaition duz what they it sez on the tin and starts owning” kinda spikes the critics’ guns!