Friday, 27 July 2012

Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, and Royno Too

ITEM: What must have been the best kept secret in Norfolk broke this week, with the announcement that speedway might return to Norwich, after a gap of almost 50 years, next season.

The proposed stadium, within the confines of the Norfolk Showground, looks decent enough - though, as a fan of sub-300m tracks, the 360m oval seems enormous. Most importantly, built within the confines of the showground, it will have all the necessary infrastructure already in place, making it easy to get to by car or by public transport.

There are, of course, a number of hurdles to negotiate before bikes can take to the track in anger. Firstly, they have to secure planning permission from the local council, a step many a new track has found a bridge too far. There had been some criticism that they announced the project too early - the decision will not be made until October - but I disagree. The three month gap allows local support for the project to grow, and there is nothing like public pressure to make a councillor squirm. Of course, it also allows local opposition to gather forces, though in this case, with the Showground being an established sporting and entertainment venue, it seems only logistical arguments stand in the way.

Secondly, they have to gain BSPA approval, and this is where they may meet a little difficulty. The frontman for the project, though no longer a licensed director of the nascent company, is Steve Ribbons, who seems to have a few enemies at ACU House. He's been in this position before, with varying degrees of success, so knows the pitfalls of the process. I only hope the BSPA weigh up the potential gain of a new track, with solid facilities and a partnership with the Showground, over petty disputes.

Fundamental to their application to the BSPA could be the support - or opposition - of King's Lynn, the nearest established track to Norwich. The newcomers already seem to have staked a claim to the old Stars nickname, which King's Lynn appropriated after Norwich closed, and the Saddlebow Road outfit have already defended their trademark in a press release. The same missive also expressed concern that a good chunk of the King's Lynn fanbase travel from the Norwich area, and that a new track may impact on their crowds. Norwich is outside the "exclusion zone" within which promoters are allowed to protect their track from competition, but the support of the Stars would go a long way with th BSPA. Perhaps the Chapman's should look at the support given to - and competition attracted by - the return of Birmingham.

A new track in 2013 would be a huge bonus to a support which seems to stumble along, living hand to mouth. We lost Newport this year, and the new tracks at Bristol and Sittingbourne have gone very quiet. Whatever nickname they end up with, let's hope Norwich take to the track next spring - even if it is in the middle of nowhere!

ITEM: What is going on at Belle Vue? If you were trying to run a club into the ground you couldn't follow a better formula than Belle Vue's 2012 season: abandoned meetings in fine weather, another underperforming team put together (seemingly) on the cheap, and PR that lurches from admitting things aren't good to claiming everything's great.

This week they sacked their manager. Or he resigned. No-one's quite sure, though the latter seems to be the current story. It's very difficult to get sacked as a speedway manager, in any case (see Peter Adams), so if they had fired Lynch it would be a rare case of Belle Vue actually achieving something.

They also pulled out of hosting the 2013 SWC at their new stadium - a decision that seems to have been made for them by our masters BSI - because, well, there isn't one. The National Speedway Stadium (a blander name you'd struggle to find) was supposed to be ready by the end of this season. A visitor to the site on Monday reported no sign of building, nor any signs announcing building! Just a big expanse of grass. Yet this week's Speedway Star allows Belle Vue to peddle the line that it will be built and it will be great.

The sad thing is that people have paid real money for this fantasy stadium, in the form of pledging for bricks. Ordinary fans paying £50 a brick for something that appears no nearer happening than when it was first announced. I wonder if they'll get a refund?

And, besides the stadium, Belle Vue have some loyal fans that don't deserve what's happening to their great club. All very sad, and I'm not sure I have the answers to this one.

ITEM: Does doubling-up work? And who does it benefit? You could write a 3000 word essay on this one, but I won't detain you that long. I'd just like to put forward a couple of points that have been niggling at me.

Firstly, that - because it is doubling UP - the Premier League track gets first call on the riders' availability. I can see the obvious argument for this: that the double-upper is likely to be one of the PL track's top riders, and thus a drawing card. However, it can be counter-productive for the riders themselves, and certainly doesn't benefit the Elite League clubs. The EL, despite arguments to the contrary from PL fans, is the top league in this country, and should have first call on the best riders. There's no easy answer, though perhaps the rider should be at the disposal of their parent club: thus Adam Roynon would ride for Coventry in the event of a fixture clash with Workington, but Richie Worrall wound turn out for Newcastle if they rode the same day as Lakeside.

The second thought regards British riders. We're in the mire, international competition-wise, and something needs to be done. More rides abroad would certainly help, though logistically and financially this isn't always possible. More rides, full stop, is possible, however, and that can be achieved by allowing ALL British riders to double-up if they want to, and there's a PL club willing to pay them. It's something they do in Sweden, with a degree of success, and it would benefit both riders and clubs.

Lastly, and with a wider application than just doubling-up, is the conversion rate between the league's. This was changed, with some rancour, for the 2011 season and - unlike the "one over 8" rule - remained in place for 2012. It was designed, its architects claimed, to stop clubs cashing in on bargain signings from the lower divisions (those same architects being the ones who had gained most in the seasons leading up to the decision), yet has had an obvious side-effect. Yes, there were always going to be the Woffindens and Wards, who would make a mockery of their converted average, but equally there were the McGowans and Eklofs, who would never get near it. This has led to some double-up riders - and PL guests - being out of their depths, giving us two races in one, or the sight of a line rider trailing far behind the other three on his way to three zeros. A return to the old formula is needed, or the EL will continue to be as watered down as weak lemon drink.

ITEM: Adam Roynon was interviewed in the Speedway Star this week, about his battles back from a catalogue of injuries, including one which almost cost him his life.

He revealed that, at a time when it looked like he'd never ride again, he contacted former referee Paul Ackroyd, who now runs the Speedway Riders Benevolent Fund, with an eye on becoming a referee.

How refreshing to see a young lad so in love with our sport that, despite the fact it almost cost him his life, he was still willing to play an active part in it. He's not alone, of course - Garry Stead is still very keen to stay involved in the sport despite life-changing injuries (and I think he'd be perfect as co-manager at Coventry) - but for one so young it's amazing.

I love watching Adam race, and his humility and enthusiasm should be an example to young riders - and quite a few older ones!

Friday, 20 July 2012

Rusty, Poole, Mick & The Joker

ITEM: The BSPA banned a rider for 6 months today, the second time in a year they've used that particular sanction. Last year it was Edward Kennett, caught using an illegally-adapted silencer in order to lengthen the shelf-life of his engines. Common sense would tell you he wasn't the only one to have done it, but he was the first to be caught and served his punishment with dignity.

This time the recipient of the ban is Rusty Harrison, a Premier League journeyman, lately of Workington Comets. His crime? Retiring from the sport. Yes, only in speedway could you be banned for retiring.

There's more to the story, of course. Internet whispers claim that Harrison was far from happy with the management at Workington, and simply couldn't work for then any more. As always, it's down to you how much you believe internet rumours but Workington seem to have trouble keeping hold of heat leaders, with Craig Cook and Peter Kildemand just two to have fallen out of favour at Derwent Park.

The BSPA claim that Harrison has done this before, and it's for persistent breaking of a contract that he's been punished. This despite the fact that riders are independent contractors, and thus any issue should really be taken up by his employer. Workington, for their part, claim they made no complaint.

So Harrison, a man who relies on skidding a bike for a living, is banned from doing that, should he reconsider his decision to retire. A decade of service is thus rewarded. Meanwhile, various Poles are allowed to pick and choose their meetings for Elite League teams. Well done, BSPA, well done.

ITEM: Over two weeks after Poole lost their unbeaten record at King's Lynn using a team which many would argue should have been declared illegal (and was, but more of that later), after which the King's Lynn management very publicly had the last laugh, Neil Middleditch and Matt Ford re-opened the feud with some fighting words in their local paper.

They'd already had their say weeks ago, with Middleditch crowing about unprofessional comments, and Ford dismissing the Stars as a "less well-run club" than his own, and the new comments added little of interest. The timing of them, however, is just weird.

Trash-talking your opponents - or building them up to be a credible threat - is a well-worn promotional tactic. Done right, it can sway the fence-sitters into spending their hard-earned cash at your event. It's Promotion 101, and more promoters should take advantage of it, especially for low-interest meetings.

You'd expect, then, that King's Lynn would be visiting Wimborne Road any day now, perhaps next Wednesday, and that these latest comments are merely the beginning of the campaign to build the feud and boost the gate. You'd be wrong. King's Lynn aren't due to visit Poole until 2013, unless they meet in the play-offs.

So you have to consider, then, that the Chapman's have gotten under Matt Ford's skin, and this does not bode well for them. The last people to do that were Coventry's Avtar Sandhu and Allan Trump - their crime was to beat a heavily-fancied Poole team in the 2010 play-off final - and Ford's revenge (in which King's Lynn played a massive role) almost tore the sport apart.

It's hardly been a banner year for Poole. Their number one rider endured a sexual assault trial, and latterly broke his hand, and the rider they stole from Swindon, Adrian Miedzinski, refused to extend his short-term contract once he'd achieved a new average. This was the bone of contention with King's Lynn - that Miedzinski was allowed to remain in Poole's 1-7 after publicly declaring he was finished with the club, as per the terms of that contract. The BSPA MC eventually agreed with King's Lynn's position, declaring Poole to have broken the spirit of the regulations, if not the letter. Poole appealed the to the SCB, s body not wholly indistinguishable from the BSPA MC, who ruled in their favour.

A reasonable man might argue that King's Lynn, in grabbing points from a previously undefeated Poole side bending the rules to breaking point, had every right to celebrate that minor triumph with some choice words, but reasonable men, it seems, live nowhere near Poole these days.

ITEM: Coventry promoter Mick Horton appeared on BIKERfm's speedway show this week and acknowledged he'd made some mistakes early in his tenure at Brandon.

Horton is not everybody's cup of tea. I had misgivings when I heard he'd taken over the Bees, and his early decisions did nothing to settle my nerves. Coming after Avtar Sandhu he was on a hiding to nothing, of course, and many fans - if they hadn't already turned against him - were shuffling nervously, perspiring with concern at what was going on at Brandon.

I believe that things can be turned around from just about any position, and so Horton's volte-face is encouraging. I want speedway at Brandon, and speedway needs the Coventry Bees. Hopefully this is a fresh start and it's onwards and upwards from here.

ITEM: Another Speedway World Cup is in the can and once again controversy reigns supreme. The subject of the debate this year was the aptly-named Joker rule, which delivered a kicking to a rampant Great Britain team in the first semi-final, and then turned the final into a tactical farce.

The simple answer is to get rid of it. Speedway is a simple sport - four riders race, and they are awarded points for their finishing position. That a rider could earn more points for finishing second than first is abhorrent, twisted and makes the sport a laughing stock.

Scrap the Joker, scrap the Tactical Ride in the Elite League, and scrap the double points for Grand Prix finals. Let the riders race and sit back and watch the spectacle. Manufactured competition is no competition at all.