George Dodds's picture

I have mentioned before that I am by nature a positive soul but even I will admit that it’s becoming a bit of a bore watching our opponents take the Bandit-Mobile on its lap of honour.
Redcar were the latest to make hay making it two from two for them at Shielfield this season.
Already without Nick Morris, sidelined after suffering his second big crash of the season at Peterborough – technically in consecutive heats, although they were 12 days apart – we could ill afford any more misfortune.
Obviously it didn’t happen with Jye Etheridge involved in a horrific looking spill with Jonas B Anderson and guest reserve Alfie Bowtell suffering a dose of Bandits’ Bad Karma when a puncture denied him a deserved point having kept Danny Ayres at bay for all bar the last 30 metres of the race.
Some suggested after it was all over that if it wasn’t for bad luck this season we’d have had none.
So what positives can I spin from the sixth home defeat of the season?
Well I’ll give you three.
Firstly reports of the severity of Jye’s injuries turned out to be overly pessimistic; secondly Mr B Anderson proved that while he and/or his bike tend to find big problems when they visit Shielfield he, thankfully, continues to be the India rubber man who can walk away unscathed from the carnage and thirdly – for only the third or fourth time this season we didn’t have to unroll our world famous track covers.
It is probably just as well because one of trusty cover band was just 24 hours shy of competing in her first 10K race – well done by the way Helen – and probably dreaded getting the call as the skies clouded over on Saturday morning.
Now some people think we make too much of our covers but, just as it is a fact that 73.7% of statistics are made up on the spot and one man’s tirelessly researched, well-reasoned argument is another man’s drivel, there can be no argument that we have saved at least five meetings over the past two seasons due to the efforts of the covers and the crew that operates them.
I have neither the wherewithal or patience to research the effect of the great British weather on speedway … but fortunately I don’t have to because someone has already done it!
Tucked away on T’worldwidewebbysphere is a site called Speedway Researcher. It’s heaven on earth for speedway stattos and those of us looking to reconnect with our idyllic past.
Among its thousands of pages is a section which studies rained off meetings between 1946 and 2010.
In that period 56,640 speedway meetings were staged and 4,078 – 7.2% - postponed. This doesn’t include meetings which began but failed to go the distance, only those where a wheel wasn’t turned.
While rain was mostly to blame there was also snow – Hackney and Swindon in 1979 – and frozen tracks – Belle Vue v Sheffield in 2003, a year when 10 of the opening 12 scheduled meetings were postponed.
Within the stats will be an infamous Shielfield Park evening when waterlogged track will hide an over-enthusiastic Billy the Bowsering on a scorching hot summer night as the reason for cancellation.
The stats will also back up the perceived wisdom that there are more postponements now than in days gone by.
The first post-war season saw just three meetings (0.8%) postponed – Wimbledon v Wembley, Birmingham v Middlesbrough and the Newcastle Best Pairs since you ask – 1979 was the first season to suffer over 100 postponements, the highest percentage was 14.6% (160 out of 1,095 in 2004), seven seasons within the noughties saw more than 10% of meetings lost – the exception the balmy summer of 2003 when just 6% were washed out.
However, that is still 65 meetings – many of which would have gone ahead had they been at Shielfield or under our covers.
All tracks have different operating costs but even the most conservative estimate would suggest that cancelling a meeting costs the promotion thousands of pounds.
Let’s play mathematical devil’s advocate and say it cost £3,000 to cancel a meeting. That means in one of the driest seasons in recent history a staggering £195,000 literally went down the drain.
Of course these meetings are restaged, the crowds may be as big as would have attended on the scheduled night, the sponsors may come back. But maybe they won’t.
Still think that covers are a waste of money?
One stat that did surprise me is that rain-offs are almost evenly spread over the summer and not, as you might think, concentrated in the early and late months of any given season.
True July suffers the least (402) but the other months are remarkably even with 582 in April, 574 May, 507 June, 563 August and September and 591 in October.
Back in 1979 Earth Wind and Fire were topping the charts but Rain, Snow, Thunder and Lightening extended the speedway season into November – Mildenhall finally pipping Rye House for the title by a point after winning at Scunthorpe on November 4 – I was there and it made a March night at Shielfield feel like mid-summer in Ibiza.
Safety problems for spectators which led to Scunthorpe’s new stadium at Ashby Ville being closed for four months by the sport’s rulers led to the late finale but Rye’s challenge was even more remarkable because the wet summer saw the neighbouring River Lea break its bank, leaving the stadium under ten feet of water at one point.
Even our covers couldn’t have coped with that.