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Where the crowds

ONE hundred and twenty thousand people – that sounds like an attendance for an outdoor rock festival, doesn’t it? Or a football match in one of those South American countries where health and safety has yet to penetrate.

It is, however, the widely-reported figure for the 1976 World Final in Poland (pictured above), one of the largest in history – certainly none of today’s Grands Prix have come close to that.

Crowd figures are often a subject of conjecture as traditionally speedway doesn’t publish its attendances. It’s claimed there were 90,000 at Wembley in 1981, others have suggested 70,000 was closer to the truth. All these tidy amounts indicate they’ve been adjusted to the nearest round number, or inflated for a bit of spin.

It’s also alleged that entertainment and sporting events have deliberately underestimated crowd levels to avoid penalties from local authorities for exceeding their licensed limit or to evade extra tax levies – the latter seems more likely.

Since the introduction of all-seater stadiums, health and safety, and other restrictions imposed for the greater good, or by the ‘fun police’, such audiences are not common. It will be interesting to see how people react to the return of ‘safe have gone... Crowds the modern-day promoter can only dream of – that’s the past. But what of the future? BRIAN BURFORD investigates...

standing areas’ being trialled by football clubs like Chelsea, the two Manchesters and Tottenham, especially as Borussia Dortmund’s ground is famed for their ‘Yellow Wall’ of 24,000 waspish standing support.

From John Somerville’s Collection, we’ve dug out a picture of Bradford’s Odsal stadium from the celebrated post-war boom period which, as you can see, is wellattended. Following the war, Britain wasn’t without hardship – rationing didn’t end until 1954 – and inevitably there was a phase of austerity. After six years of conflict, blackouts and restrictions, when the stages were lit again the public demonstrated a desire for fun. Perhaps we’re going to experience a similar effect after the ‘closed’ signs have been put up at many places over the last two years?

However, will such gates be a thing of the past? There is a feeling that, initially at least, people will be more cautious where big crowds gather. Lockdown lunacy and the fear factory pumping out doommongering predictions of the virus waiting around every corner, has seemingly infected all parts of society. Enter a new geeky acronym, FOGO, Fear of Going Out, which may cause some sniggering among you, until you realise that speedway’s demographic is at the older end of the spectrum. It’s understandable they’re concerned about an incurable virus which could have fatal consequences – this makes the BSPL’s Championship streaming initiative very appealing.

The hermit philosophy is having farreaching effects, though, some of it very negative for business, the economy and overall well-being. Covid-19 isn’t going away and with a world population continuing to grow, will pandemics become more frequent? This raises the question of whether masses at sporting events will become background, sort of extras for

6 speedway star May 7, 2022

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