Inside Track 2014: World number three Niels-Kristian Iversen’s weekly look inside the Norfolk Arena
10:24 27 May 2014
Archant © 2014
I’ve ridden in lots of different countries but there’s just one place where the excitement levels about speedway are as if you’re on another planet.
There are different levels of popularity across the world – and to be fair I’ve only ridden outside of Europe in New Zealand so far – but it’s just unreal how big the sport is in Poland. It’s really cool to race in that country as there’s lots of people at the meetings who are just ready to have a good time.
My club is Gorzow and speedway is just huge there. There’s big advertising hoardings, massive crowds, and the other day I saw a picture of myself on the back of a bus. It’s all a bit different and it’s weird being known by more people. I guess you could say us riders are more famous because everyone seems to know who you are.
I can walk around Peterborough, where I live, and even King’s Lynn and only a few people recognise me. But a lot of speedway fans in Poland are so fanatical. It’s such a big deal to them. Gorzow get really big crowds so more people will recognise you. I have a good rapport with a lot of people in and around the area, including staff at the hotel I usually stay at. It’s just so different to how things are in every other country.
You probably all got a glimpse of it with the atmosphere that Zielona Gora created at Lynn in the International Pre-Season Cup. It was really great and I think everyone enjoyed the meeting.
When Zielona and Gorzow meet you get big crowds because the clubs just hate each other. It’s just such a good atmosphere because the fans are screaming and shouting and trying to outsing each other. I remember one time the meeting got delayed because tear gas was being thrown onto the track. It was pretty mental.
The noise does get you more fired-up. You can’t help that. That’s how it is in any sport. If you’re riding in front of five men and his dog it’s not the same as riding in front of 15,000 fans chanting your name and going wild when you win. It’s exciting. When a speedway stadium is full, like at a football match, it’s just unreal.
Every country is different. The tracks are a bit different, so are the stadiums, and the shale. Each have their own unique and positive things. But it’s just such a hugely popular sport in Poland that it’s definitely the home of speedway. I don’t think anyone would disagree with that.
You’ve only got to look at how loved someone like Tomasz Gollob was in his prime. He was just the biggest sportsman in Poland for years. He really lifted the sport in the country at a time when they needed a good rider. He became more than a hero. He was a superstar. He got mobbed nearly everywhere he went. It was amazing to witness. I’ve not seen anything like it before and even now, although riders like Jarek Hampel are popular, Gollob is an icon. That shows just how famous he was back then because he’s still adored now.
Riders like Nicki Pedersen in my own country (Denmark) are most well-known. He’s won world titles. I get more recognised than I used to, especially in my hometown of Esbjerg, where we didn’t have the sport for six or seven years. That’s cool, but it’s always been my hometown so I know a lot of people there from when I grew up like friends and family.
Although I’ll admit it is nice now that a lot of people recognise me as Niels the speedway rider.
‘The highs and lows of social media’
I still love riding in Denmark and the UK – even if the fans are a bit more laid back.
I used to find it strange when people came up to me. It doesn’t really bother me now and you don’t really get it in my own country. They’ll just look, or have a talk, and say good luck for your next meeting, which is always nice to hear. If you get pictures it’s often for or with the kids. You do get more requests for snaps in the UK. But it’s often from the adults over here, or people asking for autographs. I never have a problem with people asking for me to pose with them though. It’s quite a privilege.
Twitter has made it so much easier to interact with supporters. The only real problem is it’s so difficult to keep up with at times. You want to be able to go through every message, especially the nice ones, and read and reply to each one but you just haven’t always got the time.
When you have a bad meeting though you do get some people posting some horrible stuff to you. I suppose you’ve got to take the good with the bad and try not to let it get you down. I’ll be honest – nine times out of 10 it does affect me. When you’re on a downer and people are crucifying you it’s not nice.
But I try to remember than not everyone will like you or be nice. And when they’re being nasty there are always people out there that are still behind you – no matter how good or bad you do.
Niels-Kristian Iversen was talking to Gavin Caney.
* To read Niels’ exclusive weekly column first, and in print – plus an update on Rory Schlein’s ‘Shave the Roo’ charity challenge, buy Wednesday’s paper. Visit www.edp24.co.uk/sport/kings-lynn-stars for an archive of Iversen’s articles.