They tell me speedway’s in trouble. On its knees. Up shit creek.
Well, maybe. But there have been far, far worse times in the past and the bikes have managed to battle back.
Let’s take a look at the peaks and troughs of our great sport since the war.
(That’s World War II I mean. I’m sure you know about it, it was in all the papers).
When hostilities were over, Britain was hungry for sporting entertainment and with no television to keep them at home the people thronged to football, cricket, boxing, ice hockey and speedway. As well as to the dance-halls, cinemas and theatres.
It was boom-time for speedway and in 1951 there were no less than 37 tracks spread over three leagues.
Six years later, there was ‘one big league’ of eleven teams! Note that – from 37 to eleven. Clearly the sport was terminally ill.
But no, the patient survived, there was a grass-roots resurgence and by 1964 we had 21 teams again, although they were in two leagues which weren’t speaking to one another!
That little problem was sorted by Lord Shawcross knocking heads together and the sport entered a fairly long and steady enlargement, which by 1969 saw us back to 35 tracks – including our Banditos, who first saw the light of day in 1968.
Sadly, by the ‘nineties, things were down-turning again. 1996 had ‘one big league’ of nineteen teams, plus an Academy/Conference of half-a-dozen tracks who had the total good sense not to become involved in that one.
So from 1996’s 25 tracks where are we now, twenty-something years on?
Well, there are currently 26 tracks in operation, spread over the three leagues – this not including ‘cuckoo clubs’ like Cradley and Coventry, who piggy-back fixtures at other tracks.
In short, the sport might have taken a few hits and the legs might be wobbling, but it isn’t down and out just yet.
Right now, speedway in Britain is in a far better situation than the eleven-track horror show of 1957. Right now, if the powers-that-be can avoid the concept of ‘one big league’ next year – it didn’t work in the ‘fifties, it didn’t work in the ‘nineties, why should it work this time? – we can build a better future.
Why can’t we can stabilise, re-seed the green shoots and rise again?
Replacement and regeneration.
It is the same with spectators. There will always be natural wastage. People who have followed speedway for years drift away for any number of reasons, good or bad. For promoters the task isn’t to waste too much time and money trying to get these same people back, but to attract new, probably younger supporters.
Which is why I’ve been impressed over recent seasons here by our club. They are regenerating our audience, and there are more young people attending our meetings – probably a higher proportion of our crowds than at any other track in the land!
Why? Well, let me think……..
Kids coming in free, fully five years before the rest of the clubs caught on. The first foam-fence in the league. Covers to prevent wet days turning into speedwayless nights. Riders meet’n’greeting fans in the stand after a match. A training track. Social media a country mile ahead of other clubs. Even blogs like this on the club website.
I suppose the only aspect of maintaining and improving our club’s health which hasn’t yet been explored might be the setting up of some form of Fans Trust, as has been so impressively established up the road at Armadale.
That would truly be the final brick in a very stout wall.
Want to disagree with Dick (as so many do?). He is always happy to hear from interesting people at firstname.lastname@example.org