Second Excellent Review of Shale Britannia

Wolverhampton Express & Star
11th June 2007 reviewer: Tim Hamblin

“Hymn of praise to track stalwarts”

If speedway is a religion, it’s one thought to be attracting an ever dwindling congregation to some frankly shabby places of worship.

But “Shale Britannia”, the latest book from author Jeff Scott, is a tribute to the unsung fans who still pay weekly homage to their heroes.

Scott’s “Showered In Shale”, an odyssey to tracks throughout Britain, was the well-received testament in words to the characters in the sport’s background.

“Shale Britannia” is its pictorial equivalent, a book of pictures arranged chronologically to represent the progress of a typical meeting from fans gathering on terraces throughout the country, through preparations in the pits, to on-track action and its aftermath.

It’s both a hymn to the (largely) blue collar speedway community and a lament that its stolid, unfashionable virtues of loyalty, dedication and dry humour so often fail to touch a chord in Britain 2007.

While speedway in the West Midlands is on the up, with long-established and successful circuits at Wolverhampton and Coventry joined resoundingly this year by the relaunch of Birmingham and gradually rising hopes for the return
of Cradley Heath, elsewhere the picture is not so bright.
Oxford recently withdrew from the top-flight Elite League due to financial difficulties while other tracks have to deal with increasing complaints about noise.

More than one image in this book illustrates the way in which speedway circuits increasingly are becoming old-fashioned sporting islands, stubbornly trying to resist an ever encroaching tide of new-build houses.

The genial Scott, who will be selling and signing copies of his works at tonight’s Wolves-Reading match at Monmore, is a notably prolix writer but has reined himself in here to such an extent that, track names apart, the book does not even contain captions. It shouldn’t work, yet it does, the
reader’s mind immediately cleared to concentrate wholly on the 245 pictures within and tease out their messages.

There’s humour here – only at a speedway circuit, with its ever-present air of danger, could an advertising sign such as “Dave Death Motorcycles” not seem incongruous – yet the most startling image arrives unheralded with stunning impact.

Taken from a track terrace it shows a medical team tending to a fallen competitor as a second rider holds aloft an intravenous drip bottle. The injured victim is wholly obscured by the safety fence and so becomes a kind of speedway everyman, standing for all the riders who continue to risk their lives daily in the name of entertainment.

“Shale Britannia” – even the title is determinedly retro – is a handsomely produced sub-A5 volume. Buy a copy, slip it in your pocket on the way to a speedway match and take time out perusing it between heats to comprehend a little better what sport and community is all about.

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