Another Evening of Insight & Thrills

If you weren’t a speedway fan and had accidentally tuned into the Panthers versus Eagles meeting from the East of England Showground, you’d have been treated to an evening where the weather and consistency of the dirt on the track almost garnered as much discussion as the racing. Making him sound like a dog needing his bedtime constitutional walk, Jonathan Green hadn’t quite left Kirkmanshulme Lane where the spectacle of “Jason Crump doing his business with Charlie Gjedde” had, apparently, thrilled him. Kelvin isn’t happy with prospects for the night ahead so briefly pretends that he’s Coach from Hill Street Blues, “conditions are gunna be tricky out there!” he hastens to emphasize that this is an EXPERT opinion, “I walked the track earlier and the track was pretty dry before it started to rain!” The pressure of pretending he ‘enjoys’ working with Jonathan has caused Kelvin to involuntarily develop the hint of a worrying on-screen tourettes-like stutter (albeit without the expletives he’s so clearly really wanting to scream), “the trick, tri-tricky conditions”. Greeny reposts wittily, “that’s easy for you to say!”

After a rocky first week back on screen, in the interim, Kelvin and Jonathan have clearly been sent to the naughty step by the programme producers and asked to improve their notoriously fractious on-screen chemistry. Like many New Years resolutions, it doesn’t last that long but, taking the view that if you smile at the camera repeatedly no one will notice the rancorous tone of your exchanges, they trojan on. Jonathan tries out one of his simple, starter-for-ten questions, “what about Peterborough – how are they going this season?” Suppressing a scream, Kelvin harrumphs and bites back through metaphorically gritted teeth, “well, of course, we haven’t seen them perform this season!” Naturally, as this is speedway on Sky Sports, everything is brilliant, the prospects ahead are wonderful and the racing invariably so amazing that the majority of the commentary verges on the edge of an orgasm, even throughout the dullest race. Before everyone gets too carried away with the inevitable thrills ahead, Jonathan reminds us that Scott Nicholls is missing from the action (apparently Eastbourne have “lost” him). Kelvin affects some sympathy and combines it with some trademark unwarranted detail designed to subtly signify ‘I’m an ex-rider me not like the buffoonish show pony next to me’ as he comments on a replay of the incident. “Yes, such a shame….there you can see him trying to scrub the speed off and crash down he went – unfortunately, he broke bones”.

This season they’ve changed the emphasis (or I’m getting increasingly intolerant in my old age) on Sky to pretend that some blather from Kelvin will have to do for the viewers in the absence of serious analysis of the “brilliant” racing. Kelvin holds out big hopes for the soon-to-flower Danny King, “I expect him to blossom!” Though he adds the caveat, “he’s a confident chap”, thereby making Danny sound like he’s either horribly big headed or awful company in the bar. Luckily, Jonathan is on hand to help such banal pronouncements assume a profound status almost akin to a breakthrough scientific discovery that cures some awful disease. Talk soon then turns to the so-called “new faces” , those poor unfortunates invariably based at the other end of the spectrum occupied by the gloriously anointed ones traditionally known on Sky as “GP riders”. One of those so-called debutants that we’re going get to see tonight slither round the EoES, tonight is someone Jonathan calls, “Klaus Vy-SING” in a ridiculous pantomime German accent (perhaps, he’s already confused Ecclestone with Moseley and is in the throes of preparing some serious brown nosing for his rumoured new position covering Formula 1?). Greeny then effortlessly segues into further effortless idiocy, “Oh, let’s take a look at the English Leighton Eagles!” Surely, the producer has to scream “wtf!!!” in his earpiece as Greeny has one of his legendary ‘moments’ and briefly invents a brand new Elite League team. Fortunately, he can quickly start some further talk about the weather instead to try to hide his nonsense, “well I think, certainly from where I’m standing, it’s starting to clear.” We’ll just have to take his word for it as we cut away to Sam Ermolenko who’s on the track laughing at his own jokes before he’s told them, “but huh huh huh, it’s got a bit of Mother Nature on it.”

In the pits, Trevor Swales sports some eye-catching headgear that appears (in fashion terms) to be somewhere between what Hagar the Horrible or a Cossack would wear into battle. Ever avuncular, he reassures the armchair audience about the meeting ahead, “it’s the same for all seven riders – there’s no point whingeing about it, we’ll just have to get out there and get on with it!” Implicitly, he’s warning us that without the presence of the Sky cameras the meeting would have been written off as a bad lot earlier in the day. This probably also explains Jonathan’s earlier statement-cum-confession to Kelv, “we weren’t hopeful last night, yet we got one of the best meetings we’ve seen!” Given it was only the second televised meeting of the season, obviously, he fails to clarify the time period covered by his wild assertion of best-ness.

Everyone is keen to emphasize the difficulty supposed faced by the Panthers. Chris Louis worries that it’s a “tough first home meeting against a very strong side”, Kelvin claims, “I think the home side are vulnerable” and Sam advises on some revolutionary tactics, “yeh, it sure is [tricky], they’ll just have to make the start”. Sam soon sets a record for the speed of use of inappropriate language on a live television broadcast (easily beating the record held by Steve Johnston) when immediately after Heat 1 he chortles, “Lewis is bummed out he didn’t close the door on him [Anderson]”. The armchair audience don’t get treated to this wonderful description for the rest of the night. However, we do get “bummed out” by the return of Tony Millard to the commentary box. A winter away hasn’t slaked his desire or ability to get fundamental facts wrong, gloriously mispronounce names or sound like he’s trying to inject needless excitement into the reading of a last will and testament. One of his perennial favourites Kenneth Bear makes an immediate appearance in Heat 3 although he does, occasionally, also later become Kenneth Beer. Luckily, when Kenneth BJERRE takes an age to get to the tapes for the start of Heat 3, Sky have hired their usual coterie of experts to commentate and thrill the armchair audience with their perspicacity,
[Millard] “What’s happened there Sam?”
[Ermolenko] “It’s hard to say! He’s, obviously, not happy with something.”

Soon another theme develops, namely the age of Simon Gustafsson. Everyone mentions that he’s 17, though again Millard appears to have some sort of unofficial sponsorship that requires him to mention this ‘fact’ a couple of times every time we see him appear. When Gustafsson’s youth and composure are not amazing us, the Sky staff chatter about that other long standing topic of conversation, the weather. Jonathan squeals, “I’ve noticed it’s started to rain again from the corner of my eye.” Unaware that Sky will force any televised meeting to be run almost irrelevant of the weather conditions, he then turns to Kelvin with an enigmatic look on his face that I imagine is supposed to signify ‘here’s where I ask an investigative question masquerading as a banal platitude’, “you can ride speedway in the rain!” Kelvin glares back and continues the one-upmanship that is the cornerstone of their on screen relationship, “certainly! We don’t want it to rain all night!” Back in the commentary booth, Tony Millard also brushes up his credentials as an amateur weather forecaster, “the sunset is still showing in the West and, maybe, decent weather is to come?” As if to disprove this, when the next race starts the home straight camera struggles with visibility through the sheer volume of moisture on its lens. As the riders slither about and just about race processionally, Tony contradicts the evidence of our eyes, “great, great racing and the weather’s not too great!” A new heat brings a new and breathless update from Greeny, “the rain has stopped again but we’ve had various drizzles” as well as some faux enthusiasm and mystery from Kelv, “as you say, we’ve seen some super racing in difficult, in conditions.”

Things are so processional in the EoES sludge, Sam is reduced to idle daydreams about the Chris Harris/Kenneth Bear match up before it arrives in Heat 5, “a battle in the first corner I can’t wait to see!” We don’t have long to wait before the tapes rise and Tony Millard excitedly tells us, “Referee Mick Bates releases the buzz.” After the race, Sam confirms his expertise with the observation, “right now they’re at level points coming into Heat 6.” In the real world, the score is actually 14-16. Maybe they’ll level in the same way the racing is “great, great”? Sam then bigs up the clash of Hans Andersen with Edward Kennett. He knows Hans can “pull it off” on a track he knows well only to then approach ecstasy when he sees Edward temporarily take the lead, “I tell you, nothing gives me more excitement.” [!!] Tony is on top note too and informs us all how amazed we should be, “a fabulous meeting – exciting in commentary and, perhaps, exciting to you [at home]…real excitement at the East of England Showground – tremendous racing by tremendous riders!” Jonathan is in no doubt, “forget conditions, have Peterborough impressed you?” Kelvin is so thrilled he can barely speak, “well, er…” With Heat 7 nearly upon us, there’s still time for Greeny to trot out his fake German accent again for “Klaus Vize-sing”. Meanwhile Tony M employs his kettle analogies, “this meeting is really boiling up” The next race is so wonderful Kelvin gets confused about who is actually riding, “is that Henrik Moller [he wasn’t in the race], Klaus Vissing, Henrik Moller….oh, I do apologise, Morten Risager!”

Everyone with a microphone perpetually verges on sustained delight. Tony says, “there are five heats to come – I’m looking forward to each and every one of them”. The cycle of excitement and self-congratulation is broken by an interview that has Klaus Vissing towering like a giant over Chris Harris and talking like a character from the Addams Family. Not to be outdone in the fatuous stakes, Jonathan throws around more mysterious comments, “I’m pleased as a TV company, we allow them to do some research”. Still apparently on full strength anti-depressants, Tony waxes lyrical, “I tell you what if we’re gonna see racing of this standard, it’s gonna be worth watching!” Heat 12 is so bad as a spectacle that even the great Millard is forced to admit, “this race is a shade processional”. Jonathan thinks he knows why, “these conditions aren’t perfect.” Clairvoyant Sam Ermolenko reads the runes before Heat 13, “Chris Harris won’t be able to raise his game to beat Hans Andersen” and one lap later with the diminutive Bomber in the lead has to admit, [I’d better] eat my words!” Tony Millard is on hand to smooth things over with some trademark blather, “what we’re watching here tonight, it is fantastic speedway” that convinces no one with eyes in their head or previous experience of the sport. That said, Tony is never afraid to get things totally and utterly wrong. After Heat 14, Peterborough have an unassailable 45-39 lead on the night, so Tony excitedly tries to get us collectively on the edge of our seats by stating before the last race, “they [Peterborough] need to get a rider in the top two to win!”

To hide this snafu and temporarily cease the fallacious praise of the spectacle, we cut away to the real purpose of every televised Sky Sports meeting – the adverts! The one for Advance Hair Studio (“if you’re starting to thin or are balding”) catches my eye and, you have to imagine, is carefully targeted with exact knowledge of the demographic of the watching speedway audience (the hair loss generation). Once back to the meeting there is the thrill of the coin toss to witness where we’re introduced to the two team managers and “also Ben Wilson from Muscle Finesse” who turns out to be desperate for the oxygen of publicity provoked by the use of his coin and valued sponsorship of Peterborough speedway. Though meaningless, the last race will feature Lee Richardson who Kelvin informs us has “been slightly on fire”. The race does actually feature the spectacle of Hans Anderson bouncing off/riding on the safety fence. Tony nearly has a cardiac arrest (“what flair, what style, what speed”) before he pronounces, “Peterborough are won the meeting!” All that’s left from the hyperbole factory is a final interview with Hans Anderson who manages to sound like David Beckham would if he had the hint of a Danish accent. Another fantastic speedway night from Sky Sports.

8th April Peterborough v Eastbourne (Elite League) 48-42

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