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How do we get from this…

IWAS taken to my first speedway meeting sometime in the mid-50s.

Unlike some, I can’t tell you exactly when or even who Liverpool’s opponents were.

But I do know I was caught by the bug early and still have, in my mind, a vision of hanging over the pits fence and desperately seeking one of the riders to give me their throw-away Army surplus gas goggles.

It was probably the first time I had ever interacted with a sporting idol and that was always one of the biggest attractions of speedway, along with the noise, the smell and the sensation of seeing riders flinging themselves around a corner at a speed I probably thought was 100 plus miles an hour.

The music was stirring, the track staff were smartly dressed in their crisp, white overalls and marched out in precision, like a military band on the parade ground.

‘It now seems apparent that modern day speedway, the sport that we all love… is once again at the important crossroads for future survival. Economic decline in Western Europe has led to the smallest attendances at all our venues for some 15 years. It would seem that in order that some, if not all, of us are to survive, then certain things must happen.’ Words that could have been written today, but were in fact attributed to then-Sheffield promoter Ray Glover in this very magazine… some 37 years ago in March, 1981.

As the sport prepares for yet another of its ‘most important ever’ AGMs next week, Speedway Star presents a special edition, seeking out the views of a wide spectrum of the sport’s insiders, outsiders and, of course, you, the fans. We start with a personal view by our long-time columnist PETER OAKES…

our home in Rocky Lane to Prescot Road, where the track was.

It was at one of the supporters’ nights that I met Frank Maclean, a part-time journalist who had filed reports to the morning Daily Post, the evening Liverpool Echo and the Speedway Star.

And where are the young kids, hundreds of them (and I am not exaggerating) leaning over the pits fence and trying to attract the attention of one of their idols?

They have gone and that generation gap has been speedway’s biggest problem, one that hasn’t really been addressed.

I can’t swear what the strident opening music was, possibly Henry Walford Davis’ Royal Air Force March Past or it could have been the March of the Gladiators or even Blaze Away.

Liverpool was one of those clubs that never survived for very long; they pulled out of the National League Second Division at the end of the 1953 season when I would have been nine.

They re-opened with a series of only seven challenge matches in 1957, promoter and rider Reg Duval dropping the popular and familiar Chads nickname for the Eagles.

He had to pull out because of poor attendances but in 1959 midget car driver Mike Parker ran three ‘pirate’ non-sanctioned meetings before entering a team in the inaugural Provincial League season.

By then, they had become the Pirates and I don’t think I missed a meeting that year. I joined the Liverpool Speedway Supporters’ Club and attended their social events at the Cattle Market public house, almost directly opposite the entrance to Stanley Stadium.

It was easy to get to the track, even though I wasn’t old enough to hold a driving licence – the width of Newsham Park divided

For some reason, Frank took me under his wing and when Liverpool closed (for ever) at the end of 1960, I began travelling with him, by train from Liverpool to Manchester where we caught the special speedway bus to Belle Vue.

Within a couple of years, I was writing features for Speedway Star and have done so ever since, with one or two short breaks when my non-speedway journalistic career made it impossible.

I explain my initiation into speedway because it is important and, in many ways, so similar to that of many of today’s ageing fans.

None of us are here for ever and if I am being brutally honest, speedway in some ways is actually worse than it was when I first became a regular.

Not the racing: I don’t think the racing has EVER been better than it can be today. Certainly riders are more professional than they have ever been but there is no disguising the fact that crowds are ebbing away almost annually as the old diehard supporters who would be there come rain or shine are. Naturally, fewer than they have ever been.

As promoters meet for their annual AGM next week, they have to accept the sport is in crisis. I know that’s been claimed for many years now but it was, and still is, true.

Radical steps must be taken and radical decisions must be taken at the AGM. Decisions based on what is good for speedway’s future – not what is good for each individual track’s future. It has gone way beyond that.

The portents aren’t good. There are wellfounded whispers that some tracks (at both the highest and lowest levels) are threatening to go-it-alone. They say they will not accept some of the ideas that are being floated.

I can’t pretend to have the answers but something dramatic has to come out of the conference and we can’t any longer have the usual PR that ‘this AGM was the best ever, everyone is pulling together’ – unless it is really true.

Adjusting team strengths, introducing another tactical substitute, changing starting procedure, and all the others things we hear about every year, aren’t going to bring in more people and that is what has to be addressed.

2 speedway star November 10, 2018

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