Monday, 19 August 2013

Wars, Fours, and other things

ITEM: In the June 9th edition of this blog, I wrote that it wouldn't be too long before BSI, organisers of the Grand Prix series, and OneSport, the Polish marketing firm and revampers of the European Championships, went to war over the same pool of riders being used for both events. Lo and behold, respected Polish website Sportowefakty reported on Tuesday that BSI had made overtures to the FIM about preventing "their" riders from taking part in the rival championships. BSI mouthpiece Phil Rising denied such a request had been made but it's hard not to repeat the old maxim, "well he would say that, wouldn't he?"

According to Sportowefakty, the Polish league is fully behind their fellow Poles, and is considering a tactical response, which may include either banning SGP riders from their leagues, or moving their league programme to Saturdays rather than the Sundays it currently sprawls across. This would be disastrous for BSI, with riders forced to choose between riding in the Polish leagues (who still remain the biggest payers in world speedway), with a sideline of the cash-rich SEC, and competing in the Grand Prix series. Miss out on the world championship or earn enough to see you okay after you retire? Its a tough choice. It's all brinkmanship, of course, but a switch to Saturdays for the Polish league would allow British speedway to return to some kind of normality, with the big events once more taking place on a Sunday afternoon. And releasing British speedway from the yoke of BSI would, also, be desirable.

BSI haven't been happy with OneSport and the European Championship ever since it was first announced, and at the Czech Grand Prix things came to a head when Paul Bellamy, BSI's managing director, tried to have Adam Krużyński, from SEC sponsors NICE, thrown out of the paddock, only to find that Krużyński was also a representative of the GKSŻ, Poland's equivalent of the SCB. With BSI looking to expand the series - they announced last week they'll be going to that hotbed of speedway Finland next season - there's only so many weekends available to stage such big events, and a clash is inevitable.

For now, it's a split purely along east/west lines, with Poland and Russia, the economic powerhouses of European speedway, soundly behind OneSport, and the Danes and Swedes backing BSI (Ole Olsen, keen for BSI to use Vojens for the Danish SGP once more) gave an interview to a Danish site expressing disinterest in the SEC). I'm sure as the story develops, the various powerbrokers will switch and change as the situation suits them. If it comes to a straight fight, I'd hope the ACU/BSPA would remain neutral, and let the dust settle before making any kind of decision. There's no point getting involved in this kind of spat - if you lie down with pigs, you get dirty...

ITEM: What do you do with a Sunday afternoon when you fancy a bit of a road trip? Well, if the National League Fours are on at Stoke, what else could you do?

I last went to Loomer Road in 1990. May 5th, to be exact, when - in one of our random trips to anywhere that just having passed your driving test tends to lend to - Pete Ballinger and I drove up the M6 to see the Potters take on Hackney. If I'm honest, the place hasn't changed all that much since that last visit, if at all, although I'd wager that any greyhound looking to chase a hare around the outside of the speedway track wouldn't much fancy the steeplechase-like muddy puddles found on the "dog track" these days! Still, I love these kind of places, and would much rather spend an afternoon in a stadium like Loomer Road than one like Torun, for all its modern conveniences. Speedway is a dirty sport, a little bit naughty at its best, and the surroundings should reflect that.

The Fours was my 30th meeting of the 2013 season, and half of them have been at National League level. Last year I did close to the same amount in total, but only one and a half at NL-level. Its safe to say that the NL has been the saviour of a lacklustre Elite League season, at least for this Bees' fan, and possibly others. And, yeah, the Storm will most likely end up as trophyless as their big brothers, but it's been quite a ride, quite an adventure, and has taken me to glamourous locations like Buxton, the Isle of Wight, and now Stoke. The Storm tracked a very much depleted side in the Fours - numbers 3, 4, 6 and 8 in their averages when others tracked their 1-4s - and ended up bottom of the pile, but it didn't detract from the afternoon as a whole, which is one of the better things about following the NL.

The winners - as at the Pairs in June - were Dudley, although they can count themselves lucky that fellow finalists Mildenhall and King's Lynn were missing their number one riders on the day. They were also the recipients of a generous refereeing decision in that final, when only Jim Lawrence (for it was he) and the Heathens fans saw anything wrong with Lewis Rose's blocking of Ashley Morris, resulting in Rose's exclusion and a fight on the track. Yes, a fight! Morris swung an arm at Rose after they'd crossed the line which caused Rose to stop his bike and jump off, ready for action. The two butted helmets as several mechanics/hangers-on sprinted across the centre green to get involved, only for Nigel Crabtree - former Stoke legend now working at the track - to clear house, throwing them this way and that, and preventing a free-for-all. Exciting! And then, to add further fun into the mix, King's Lynn team manager Dale Allitt played pantomime villain to the Dudley fans, some of whom scarcely need provoking (twas always thus), but happily it stayed on the right side of entertaining.

Sadly the same can't be said of the racing, where gating was paramount, and passing at a premium. Still, Paul Starke, James Sarjeant, and Charles Wright managed to getsomething out of the track during the afternoon, and I've witnessed many, many worse meetings this season. If the racing wasn't great, then the programme was even worse, failing to even provide the right spaces to fill in riders' scores, and giving misleading information throughout. It was matched only be the communication on the day, with lengthy delays going unexplained, and while most of us are well used to such crap by now, any newcomers miht have wondered what they'd gotten themselves into.

For myself, though, it was an enjoyable afternoon, in the company of friends, watching young lads (and some sweet-stealing old heads) race for pennies, in a stadium that has seen better days. British speedway in a nutshell, really, and I wouldn't change a thing. Well, maybe I would, but you know what I mean...

ITEM: So I finally got to see the wunderkind of British speedway, Robert Lambert, last week, and the lad's impressive. He took one race to size up the Brandon circuit, when he was narrowly beaten by Joe Jacobs, and then reeled off three straight-forward wins. He missed the gate in heat 15 before stalking Olly Greenwood and slipping through the tiniest gap to join Lewis Kerr for a 5-1. Like I said, impressive.

Riding on the continent every weekend, Lambert is getting an education that other lads of his age (save for Daniel Spiller, another hot prospect) are missing out on - genuine competition at such an early age. It's galling that German crowds are getting to see the lion's share of his early career, but rules are rules, I guess, and that arbitrary line between 14-years old and 15-years old must be adhered to at all times. Far be it from me to suggest that even some 35-year olds are incapable of racing a speedway bike, and that maybe a proficiency test might be a better way of deciding when someones ready to ride in front of a crowd...

Nex season Lambert will be of age to ride in the Premier League but will only be able to double-up between the leagues if there is a change in the rules to allow it. Once again, we look to hamstring our youth rather than encourage them, with Adam Ellis falling foul of that same rule this season. We have a crop of youngsters coming through that need every bit of help we can give them - we should change all the rules we can and discriminate against older and foreign riders if necessary! The best advertising is a successful product, making waves in the media, and - given the chance - these young lads will do that job for us. Here's hoping common sense breaks out at the AGM.

ITEM: Saturday sees the Grand Prix Challenge at Poole, where sixteen of the world's top riders compete for the measly three spots available to form riders for next year's Grand Prix series. The event is held this year at Poole and just about everyone will be hoping for a different winner than the last time it was held in the UK, when an even-then ancient Magnus Zetterstrom triumphed at Coventry and stunk up the GP series for a whole year.

The three home riders in the field - Janowski, Jonasson, and Kasprzak - have to be considered early favourites, although Niels-Kristian Iversen (looking for all the world like he won't need to qualify for next year), Kenneth Bjerre (a maximum man on his last visit to Wimborne Road), and Troy Batchelor (who has covered for Poole's absent number one Chris Holder) may have something to say about that.

It's a solid field with few who stand little-to-no chance of qualifying, which makes it all the more shameful that such a paucity of places are on offer to qualify for the world championship - just 20% of the total places in the series. Perhaps one thing that might come out of the BSI/OneSport war is a more egalitarian world championship series, rewarding current form over historical, and allowing that fairytale title win once more.

At £25 a ticket the best we can hope for is that the racing, at least, will be close and unpredictable, and in good condition Wimborne Road should allow for that. This is the closest we get to the old-style one-off World Final these days - let's hope the meeting lives up to that billing.

1 comment:

  1. That meeting at Stoke in 1990? Pretty certain I was there, too! :-)