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George Dodds's picture

Winter has always been a tough time for speedway fans suffering from October – assuming you’ve made the playoffs – through to March without any live action to follow.

Nowadays a browse through Youtube, Vimeo, Daily Motion or Metacafe will be rewarded by multi-camera, high definition coverage of speedway from around the world in addition to the more basic offering from what some would call “history” but I prefer to refer to as “when I was younger”.

It is not uncommon to invoke eye-rolling, sighs of “here we go again” and outbreaks of heavy sarcasm among some of my colleagues as I head back to the future again but it really was a different world way back when.
We’d just about come to terms with homes having a telephone in it when winters took a huge turn for the better – around 1983 in my case – as video cassette recorders (junior members ask their grandparents to explain) became affordable for the masses – or at least those with £300 or so to spare.

Blow the expense I said because this is a state of the art machine and can be programmed to record up to three programmes. But even better than making sure I didn’t miss out on young Kylie in Neighbours – morning and lunchtime only on BBC1 at the time – while at work, the VCR opened up the world of speedway videos.

It sat alongside the half brick sized Cellnet mobile phone which, on a good day, held enough charge to allow me to file football reports from pitchside as long as they were within the M25. Anywhere outside tended to suffer from intermittent signal reception. Indeed on one occasion as an FA Vase semi-final at Warrington went into extra time the phone’s only valid purpose was as a defensive weapon when the locals didn’t take kindly to Halesowen Town’s victory.

Speedway soon realised that there was a market out there for recordings of meetings and every track soon had a guy with a video camera whose offerings were on sale in club shops.

Compared to modern offerings the quality of some of the offerings was rudimentary to say to least, not helped by the fact that lighting at many venues seemed to rely on 40 watt bulbs, sparingly placed around the fence.

But every week the Speedway Star Video Club offered the chance to buy the offerings of the likes of KM Video, MBI, JSD, LTV, Aces on Video and Pollen Productions – at a cost. Because in the late 1980s, early 90s it would set you back up to £20 to buy a single meeting video, paying by cheque or postal order (great-grandma can help).

Whereas nowadays for half the cost you will get a slickly edited, graphics-laden extravaganza with added extras high quality disc what arrived in the post in those far off days was a clunky video cassette which often began with the parade and just kept on rolling until the final chequered flag was waved.

Commentary tended to be added long after the event which meant that if you bought one of the MBI efforts from Wimbledon you could see Mike Bennett prowling the centre green with his radio mike while simultaneously providing supposedly “live” commentary on the video.

I even tried to force my way into the new-fangled world of video, doing a couple of screentests in a bid to become a legendary presenter/commentator.
“Completely unintelligible” “Great face for radio” “All the charisma of an ironing board” were some of the kinder reviews.

I stuck to the written word.

Buying from away tracks was a bit of a lottery – go north and you often got the excellent Mike Hunter, down south they seemed to be employed solely on their ability to do a passable Harry Enfield “Loadsamoney” impression. (Me bitter because of flunked screen tests? … too right!)

End of season reviews were hugely popular and allowed you to gorge on the classic heats from a season and ignore the rest.

There were also the specials – I’m sure many reading this, like me, bought the three-hour epic which was the 1989 KO Cup Final video, featuring every heat of our against the odds victory over Poole.

And then there was the classic crashes and cock-ups compilations which were a staple Christmas present and – assuming the appropriate royalty fees were paid – must have gone a long way towards making a millionaire of Elvis Costello as it seemed to be illegal in video-land to show a series of falls unless accompanied by “I can’t stand up for falling down”.

Nostalgia was the next big thing for the videographers as it became financially viable to transfer old cine film onto videos – the silver jubilee of the Bandits being one of the best offerings on the market along with Roy Nichol’s offerings which brought Belle Vue’s Hyde Road back to life.

But no matter how good the video or dvd, how fancy the graphics, how big the screen and how up to date the sound system there is nothing like the real thing when it comes to speedway.

The days are counting down to March 18 … now where did I put that remote control.