Heat 9 thrills at Sky speedway broadcast

Mentions of the wonder of HD are strangely kept to a minimum during the Coventry versus Poole meeting televised live on Sky Sports from Brandon Stadium. In terms of exciting racing and/or passing after the first bend (in any race), there were very few moments where viewers would benefit from the additional focus of HD so it’s rapid fall from favourable mention is, perhaps, understandable. After eight processional races, there’s finally some drama in heat 9 when the “spectacular Ben Barker” treats us all to some speedy overtaking. Nigel hails this brief uplift in drama with typical understatement, “and that was one of the most dramatic races you’ll see. That was one of the most dramatic races you’ll see anywhere in the world – Polish league, Swedish league, British league – that’s why we love it!”

What to love is always a good question? Perhaps someone to admire is Rory Schlein, who threatens to overtake Davey Watt on the third bend of the last lap of heat 12 (but doesn’t!). That said, we take our kicks where we can so, contractually you have to suspect, Rory’s valiant effort is professionally appreciated by the Boys in their usual understated ecstatic fashion.
[Kelvin] “Whoa!”
[Nigel] “What a race it is here!”
[Kelvin] “That was one of the races of the night so far!”
If the definition of an exciting race is massively expanded to include processional races that nearly include an overtake then this one is, indeed, truly magnificent! I only wish I could get HD on my laptop. Kelvin knows what he’s just seen “super speedway out in front but the Pirates in control”.

Before the meeting starts, Nigel & Kelvin sensibly ignore the likely foregone conclusion and, instead, vainly try to talk up the possible closeness of the encounter. Though we’re collectively likely to run the usual full range of emotions from Y to Z, Kelv kindly still identifies the key to success, “if Coventry want to win this evening, they need to take advantage of inexperience among some of the Poole riders.” This is flawless logic until you think about it since only the Poole reserves Madsen and Mroczka have no experience at Brandon Stadium. Nigel has no doubts as to the psychological and tactical significance of the reserves race, “you know, you get the feeling – I know it’s a little early – this heat number two could be the defining one of the meeting”. First time out said “defining” race only gets as far as bend one before Madsen falls. Kelvin squeals insightfully in truly bonkers fashion, “just not enough room on his leg – they unsettle him and vroom down he goes” Using his extensive speedway experience, Kelv immediately identifies what HD fails to pick up, “Madsen still not very happy. His steel shoe is off!” Whoops! Kelvin immediately corrects himself, “His chain is off!” A bike powered by steel shoes would, surely, be a sight to see in HD. Luckily, Nigel brings his extensive first hand knowledge of the motorway network to bear to aid our understanding of this example of first bend bunching, “that first bend was as busy as the M6 in rush hour”. Whenever I travel on the M6 – even at the dead of night (let alone the rush hour) – I usually see more than four cars, so lucky Nigel. Even at midnight on the much, much quieter M6 toll road, there are more vehicles than claimed. In the rerun of the notionally ‘inexperienced’ Poole reserves first ever completed competitive race (heat 2) at Coventry defies these particular pundits imaginings when they race comfortably away to an easy 5-1! Sam Ermolenko grabs race winner Leon Madsen for a post race interview way too dull to relate, though Leon does manage to provide the first live swear word (I hear) of the HD speedway era (“my first time was shit!”). Maybe this word isn’t swearing anymore on Sky Sports? Nigel definitely fails to issue his usual fulsome apology to potentially offended members of the Monday night Sky speedway congregation.

To be fair there were also some other overtakes after the first bend in some other races – mainly inadvertently brought on by mechanical failure amongst the Bees riders. On the back straight during the second lap of heat 3, Ben Barker slows dramatically (having failed to turn his fuel on according to Kelv) – in the blink of an eye, Watt and Ward pass either side of him. In the absence of any genuinely dramatic racing, what could have happened frightens the rubbernecker in Kelvin, “good crikey – that could have been a big, big accident”. After four heats with the score at 5-19, the meeting’s well and truly over as a contest. Even Kelv’s cheerful mate Moley would struggle to continue to enjoy it, “there’s Moley – he’s loving it! He’s loving speedway 2010!”

Fortunately, Kelvin’s skill as a forecaster hasn’t deserted him over the close season. After the ‘No Sheet Sherlock’ section where he picks out his key men (Kennett and Holder – what insight!), Kelvin puts on his widely admired profound voice before the first race to tell us, “Harris is nigh on unbeatable around here” thereby guaranteeing Bomber last place. The mental strength Josh Auty demonstrates as he rides to a creditable first heat second place amazes Kelv, “especially when you think of the psychology behind him! Four world class riders chasing round behind him!” Hum. Let’s see: Doyle leads (he’s ahead of Auty), Auty himself is second, Holder is third (world class rider 1), Harris is fourth (world class rider 2 but a teammate so not chasing him). So, all we’re missing are the two other “world class” riders behind Josh? Actually, come to think of it, six rider races – with four of them from Coventry – would definitely entertain and might have enabled the Bees to rack up enough points to make this a closer contest.

As the meeting draws to a conclusion, after hugely tiring relentless bonhomie and faux excitement, Nigel lets the cat out of the bag, “To score less than 40 on your home track is pretty damaging!” It finishes 39-54 and that includes a tactical ride (albeit partly induced by a stack of mechanical problems)! Quite who or what is damaged so early in the season isn’t made clear. Is it Coventry’s EL winning credentials? Crowd levels? Team spirit? The Elite League?

Long haired Davey Watt, looking daily more like a ranch hand than a speedway rider – if viewed from behind you wouldn’t know whether (as the saying goes) to fight it or fark it – sums the situation up succinctly. “Yeh, I guess all the people at the start of the year saying we were good [pause] were right!” HD or no HD, Moley’s love of speedway or otherwise, already it seems that the 2010 Elite League has a structural problems at its heart that team averages no longer solve – namely, one team (Poole) presently has exceptional strength. Unless injuries or serendipity intervene, no amount of hyperbole from the Sky commentary team will be able to disguise this brute fact as the season progresses. Even with lashings of HBS, televising huge wins from Wimborne Road is going to make dull (HD) viewing for the neutral, while seeing Poole win away – or nearly do so – in HD most weeks won’t set the pulses racing (though there might be the Sky commentary team holy grail of last heat deciders). Never mind that by mixing things up and, finally, showing teams other than Poole means that we viewers are, effectively, just watching the make-up-the-numbers EL also rans fight amongst themselves for the podium and/or Play-off places.

Possible alternative means of entertainment are on hand! Alun Rossiter could be televised in HD each week (“that man has a yo yo night at every speedway meeting”) from every track instead of – or along with – the speedway. He loves the camera and the camera loves him – well, probably not quite, though the way he plays up to it is fun. Riders move clubs all the time so it wouldn’t be a problem if Alun is also in a different pits each week. Though, that said, it’s always more entertaining to see Alun’s expression and to hear his thoughts when it’s actually his team that underperforms. What still makes it so delightful to watch is that each new setback is treated by Alun as a surprise occurrence unrelated to his possible influence on the situation.

Last night Alun – the man Bomber describes as a “fiery character” – wastes no time in letting Charlie know he’s the sharper knife in the drawer, “unfortunately you don’t have to be a brain surgeon to tell me my bottom end’s too weak!” After acknowledging his weak bottom end, Alun’s apparently in the process of trying to replace his injured number two, Christian Hefenbrock – rather than the reserves you’d assume to be his “bottom end” – with a mystery Polish rider. Though, he’s had first hand experience with unmotivated Poles and the accompanying lack of team spirit they can sometimes bring (in the 2007 EL Play-off final), Alun’s keen to get back in this particular metaphorical saddle and try them again. “We’re trying to do it but I’m banging me against a tree…..everyone knows it’s a Polish rider but, unfortunately, with the President dying he can’t practice and they like to practice before they come. He doesn’t want to come until he feels he’s ready so it’s been a bit of a nightmare, one minute he’s coming and the next he isn’t, and that’s very frustrating for us!” Even when frustrated, Alun smiles the photogenic smile of a man with a temporarily “weak bottom end” or else he gurns away – Kelvin fashion – frequently throwing his head back or holding it in emotional anguish (invariably in the glare of the cameras). It’s either do that or bang his head against that tree.

Even though his team management responsibilities during the meeting should fully occupy him, Alun still manages to hear or gets to know what’s being said about him live on the telly. News of his self-absorption apparently hasn’t got through to Charlie, “you said I was running about like a lunatic and that I’d dropped me head but I never drop me head!” [I bang it against a tree]. Davey Watt might wear an age inappropriate baseball cap with an oversized peak but the always incisive Sam Ermolenko teases out Alun’s preferred (but invisible) headgear of choice.
[Sam] “You’re gonna have your thinking cap on”
[Alun] “I’ve had it on since Lakeside!”
Rosco then fesses up yet again about his “weak at the bottom” problem – why this wasn’t this spotted during his successful close season bedding in months isn’t raised – before he acknowledges he’s “certainly got a lot to do and a lot to think about!”

Though it failed a few seasons back when they experimented in the shed they alleged was his workshop, Kelvin could be called upon to enliven any dull HD speedway broadcast with some of his favourite topics! These include: technical detail (that no one knows they should care about); track conditions; the always available what-I-claim-they-did-in-my-day segments; miscellaneous name checks of his career; discussions of the ambient temperature or general metereological conditions pertaining to the meeting (or journey there); crowd/rider/team manager psychology as well as, of course, refereeing decision prediction and analysis. All these are seamlessly included in the broadcast from Brandon so, elsewhere, only really need to be slightly expanded to fill the time and provide yet more cutting edge entertainment for the armchair audience. Kelv covered most of these topics with trademark effortless élan: –
Rosco explains what’s behind Edward Kennett’s mechanical difficulties (“we just found out it’s the magic eye – we’ve fixed it”): “it’s not the first time I’ve heard about electronic ignitions playing up”
Chris “looks quite passive” Holder explains his slow start and his measured approach to the track/meeting (“the track was heavy and I didn’t want to try to kill meself, know what I mean?…it’s a long season, I’m not going to kill myself”): “I’m slightly confused by his criticism of the track early on…..the best way to deal with track conditions is to attack it but he decided differently!”
“You can see the uncertainty in Davey Watt – he was digging around by gate three, now he’s digging about by the safety fence!”
On Rosco not being Swindon through and through, “he has a connection to Coventry, of course, he rode here when I was here!”
“It’s chilly up here”
“If they do go down fighting to the Poole Pirates, I don’t think their fans will be too unhappy!”
“He’s half a lap behind which isn’t what his team manager wants – he wants him half a lap ahead”
Kelvin identifies Edward as Coventry’s key rider “Edward Kennett has got to kick on!” Two EK races later, Nigel notes, “that man is having an absolute nightmare – no points from two rides”
[replay 1] “I’d be very surprised if it wasn’t all four back” [replay 2] “If anything Sitera is the one causing the problem” Ref decides all four back, “Yeh, not surprisingly really”

The really trump entertainment card whenever Kelvin commentates is, of course, the way live broadcast work often detaches his words from reality or what he meant to say. As always, this famously leads to malapropisms and redundancies aplenty. But, in the same way they claim on Monty Python that an infinite number of monkeys in front of an infinite number of typewriters might type out the complete works of Shakespeare, the odd insight does sometimes sneak out of Kelvin’s mouth! It’s only fair we should acknowledge them:-
“Unfortunately for Sitera, he was the sacrificial lamb on the outside”
“Alun Rossiter, once again, riding the rollercoaster of speedway!”

Keen to defy the evidence of our own eyes, Nigel insists mid-meeting, “it’s been an incredible night in many ways” Sadly, its all been too incredible for him to bother to classify! By the end, even Nigel can’t shine the object any longer (“there’s been the odd bit of decent racing”) so, instead, looks to the future and the start of the SGP next weekend in Leszno. According to Sky – skilfully ignoring that only three different riders (Rickardsson, Crump, Pedersen) have won the thing during the last nine years or, even, that most seasons the winner is obvious to all way before the end of the series – this 2010 series will, apparently, magnificently rise above the dull as ditchwater norm. Mostly because of the incroyable excitement generated by newbie’s Chris H and Tai W along with the racing zest provided relative newbie Emil S (“the young guns are in the GP this year – I can’t wait!”). N&K gleefully bang on about these “young guns” completely forgetting only five minutes beforehand Nigel said, “sometimes we expect too much of our young riders”. Helpfully, to get us in the mood, those lovely Sky speedway people kindly prepared a package of ‘highlights’ to thrill us with. Admittedly this version looks streets better than the horror film inspired frequently shown BSI/IMG SGP Cardiff commercial but, nonetheless, this clip still verges on sabotage rather than promotion. Over some random, poorly chosen images the Sky team overlay some key phrases – apparently chosen for their banality, clichedness or inaccuracy rather than mystery or excitement.
OLD GUARD
NEW GUARD
If this were a game and you had to complete or extend the series, this would then be:
MUD GUARD
Or possibly
RIGHT GUARD [recognised brand name sponsorship opportunity alert!]
Maybe to reflect the age of the ‘superstars’ of the series
HOME GUARD
We’re then told
STARS WILL RISE
Actually don’t moons and suns rise? Surely stars are just there? They’re definitely born.
SUNS WILL SET would have been more astronomically correct
GET READY FOR IT
This must be a reference to the prodigious drinking Nigel and Kelvin will do as they’re released from their usual Saturday night purgatory of the Sky studio in Isleworth in favour of a piss up in Leszno (“no doubt about it – we’re both going out there, so it’s going to be a good weekend, Kelv!”)
WHO WILL PREVAIL
Shouldn’t this have a question mark after it? Ignoring this is a series so only a rider’s cumulative score really matters, I’m guessing not Chris, Tai or Emil. Then again, this might be another drinking in Leszno reference?

The SGP is so tremendously important to Sky that they’ve relegated it to Sky Sports 4! Whatever is that? As the name suggests, it turns out to be the fourth of the Sky sports channels and, most significantly, this amazing event WON’T be broadcast in HD (Moley, probably, won’t be there either)! However, despite this disappointment, the really big question is not who will win in Leszno but how early will it be this season before a GP disappears “behind the red button” in 2010? Hard to believe, I know, but even on satellite telly there are obscurer channels than Sky Sports 4! The dreaded phrase ‘behind the red button’ effectively consigns the programme in question to the satellite equivalent of banishment into Siberian exile (and, surely, is a clear signal to advertisers that they’re only going to reach an even smaller segment of this audience of obsessives). Even if the racing doesn’t live up to the grandiose expectations of the commentary team, at least, in the absence of HD, it will be broadcast with mandatory lashings of HBS.

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