Speedway: has it simply lost its way?

heat 2 Kyle Newman of Poole Pirates leads -Poole Pirates v Kings Lynn Stars - Elite League Speedway

heat 2 Kyle Newman of Poole Pirates leads -Poole Pirates v Kings Lynn Stars - Elite League Speedway match at Poole Stadium, Dorset. Picture: Denis Murphy. - Credit: Denis Murphy

In the late 60s, when most things were done in black and white, my father took me to King's Lynn to watch speedway.

It was a Saturday night, the lights were bright and the blonde locks that waved out of the back of Terry Betts' crash helmet guaranteed immediate hero status.

Autograph hunters besieged the riders between races, the smell of hot dogs, frying onions, fags and steaming hot brews filled the air, mixed in with a dollop of flying shale and the smell of Castrol R. It was terrific.

At about the same time, football was similarly working class: the players earned a bob or two, but were still humble enough to be considered one of us. Grounds were basic, usually wooden; the smell was pipe smoke and pies.

It was good; they were sports for the people.


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Over the years, though, they went in different directions – not that they were ever conjoined twins in anything but a social status; it was more an emotional thing.

Football grew and grew as men with money saw opportunities to exploit the game, which accepted them with open arms until. When the Premier League was formed in 1992 the game changed forever. For better or for worse, people in suits came in and took over; they marketed the game aorund the world and managed to do enough talking to slap some pretty heavy price tags on it. Consequently, the game changed, the supporters changed; new stadiums, posh pies and special boxes.

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Speedway didn't evolve. No one ever managed to sell speedway. In the early 2000s, Sky took a fancy to it, but the commercial spin-off that accompanied football was never there. Sky came, did some pre-meeting stuff, they had a simple formula from which they still rarely digress, and that was it.

Speedway made nothing of it. At a time when the sport most needed it, they failed to ask anyone with any expertise to shake up their sport; sell it, market it and make the clubs money. Had they done so, the best riders would have prioritised Elite League speedway, matches would be raced on set nights, at the right times of the year and the ridiculous guest system would have been used properly.

Clubs would also have had the money to ensure that meetings would not be lost to the weather. The fact it took four attempts for King's Lynn to get their play-off semi-final at Poole raced is a complete and utter embarrassment for the sport. And it has itself to blame.

Completely, entirely, utterly.

Excuses just don't wash

Rugby league players are given a ball. It is an essential part of the game. Without it, rugby league doesn't exist.

The word 'game' is essential here. Whatever the debate after Ben Flower's shocking double punch on opponent Lance Hohaia, which earned him a six-month ban, the irrefutable fact is, it is a game.

Trying to excuse Flower's actions as heat of the moment is ridiculous. Rugby league commentators have drawn the battle lines in defence of their sport, claiming his first punch was understandable, because he was provoked, but the double punch was wrong. Punching is against the laws of the game, no matter how many times you do it, so how can it be excused?

The trouble with rugby – either code – is that punching someone does seem to be far too readily accepted.

It is not part of the game and never should be.

I can't accept any argument that excuses it, trivialises it, or justifies it – and there's been far too much of that this week.

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