Talking Points Galore

2nd June

The lure of another visit to Monmore Green Stadium proves irresistible for the Sky Sports cameras, which tonight sees the visit of Swindon. Though, we’re often rightly told that British speedway would be comprehensively up the Swanee River without the oxygen of publicity provided by the glare of the cameras, the Sky speedway publicity office have repeated shown themselves as incapable of interesting the national print media into coverage of League speedway and, along with BSI or whatever they’re called nowadays, can only just about barely get occasional mentions into print (and then usually just of the Cardiff Grand Prix). What makes this lack of coverage of the Elite League all the more pitiful is that News International companies frequently and institutionally cross promote themselves, particularly when it comes to sports franchises they supposedly regard highly (you only have to think of the manufactured invention of Super Sunday in the soccer to see this is the case). Clearly, the Sky speedway office have failed to impress their counterparts at The Sun and the Sunday Times as every year speedway barely gets a mention in their annual free sporting calendar pull outs. Even worse, the Sun television pages tell us that tonight, and I quote, “Jonathan Green presents from Monmore Green” Obviously, my heart missed a beat at the thought of his immediate return and the chance to thrill to his unique presentational skills once again, let alone see him ride the new window cleaning cage cum sea container studio with attached hydraulic lifting device. At best this must be another miscommunication among sister companies or, at worst, a further worrying sign that something is badly still lacking from the Sky in house speedway publicity team.

On site in Wolverhampton, Kelvin immediately resumes projecting brilliance and perspicacity onto his ‘new’ presentational and commentary partner Nigel Pearson, “yeh, both teams are desperate for points, as you rightly say.” I’d “rightly say” this could get a little wearing if it carries on through the summer. Still, we’re treated to the immediate revelation (hold the front page) from Kelv that speedway teams apparently aren’t so keen on losing, “they’ve lost three times at home already and they wouldn’t want to do that all season!” This is earth-shattering news, indeed.

For once rather than just say it, Nigel can accurately claim, “already after heat number one, we’ve seen some interesting speedway between these two sides”. The interest has been provided by the clash of Fredrick Lindgren – as we now must more formally call him (rather than Freddie) – and Leigh Adams, which the Australian wins with an aggressive swagger when he cuts across his rival as he sweeps from the fourth bend to the finish line to win. Seeing his role to article the evidence of our own eyes, Kelvin notes, “there was a bit of feeling in that!” Nigel is in full accord, “I think he was making a point for sure!” and Kelvin agrees with his agreement, “definitely, no doubt about it.” Sadly for the armchair audience, the drama of the night has been exhausted with this race though that doesn’t stop Nigel proclaiming every race as iconic race of the decade – starting with heat 2, “great speedway early on at Monmore Green stadium…and, again, an interesting speedway race!”

In the pits, the clairvoyant and relentlessly histrionic ex-World Champion and so-called expert interviewer, Sam Ermolenko, starts his first interview of the evening with a high quality unforced double error, “I’m sitting here with Neil, I’m sorry Leigh Adams!” Ignoring how he could mistake Leigh for anyone else, we can all plainly see that Sam is actually stood up for the duration of this exchange. Leigh is sufficiently annoyed to be both sarcastic and even drops too much mention of the ‘royal we’ that increasing litters his descriptions of himself racing. Swindon fans often try to claim that Leigh is so used to thinking highly of his back up team that he inadvertently praises them at every opportunity by linguistically including them as “we” in his every statement. Fredrick has enamoured himself to Leigh who critiques his skills obliquely and entertainingly, “I dunno what was wrong with his bike it just kept turning left! It must be a bent frame or something. But we got revenge in the end…..he made a lot of mistakes and he wasn’t that quick. He should have just concentrated on his own race instead of mine!” Thankfully, no early mention is made of the notorious (soon to be legendary?) team spirit that has been engendered in the Swindon team under the expert tutelage and charismatic leadership of the new improved 2008 version Alun ‘Rosco’ Rossiter. Instead, Leigh shocks us to the core with the revelation that the Robins philosophy is to “just keep racking up the points”.

Elsewhere in the pits, Sarra Elgan focuses her extensive range of questions and full charm onto Fredrick but, if this were a boxing match, fails to land any punches. Rather than get what Sky had hoped – an impassioned denunciation of Leigh Adams – we’re instead treated to some dull mechanical repartee.
[FL] “I’m sluggish with my engine and I’ll have to get it fixed”
[SE, overly anxiously] “Can you get it fixed by the next race?”
[FL, smirks] “For sure, I’ll be doing my best and I think so.”
[SE] “You had a win against Belle Vue last week – that must give you some confidence going into this race?”
[FL gives non-committal reply]
[SE] “A win tonight could see you guys rise, er, two places up the league. That’s an incentive isn’t it?”
Fredrick’s lack of enthusiasm indicates that, er, perhaps it’s not.

Back inside the window cleaning cage that nowadays doubles as their ‘innovative’ commentary-booth-cum-gantry, Nigel makes the talking point the talking point (‘plenty of talking points so far and some good speedway”) even though there has only just about been a solitary one of these, so far. The view from this new commentary position is allegedly magnificently panoramic but, because of poor camerawork, the armchair audience is reduced to Nigel having to draw verbal pictures for us of things we actually don’t get to see. “And the riders having a few chats – Korneliussen chatting with Edward Kennett causing him to shake his head”. Nigel delights in what he’s seen (even if we haven’t always seen it too), “it’s tuff and it’s ruthless, it’s that’s kind of meeting” while he savours Edward Kennett “enjoying life by winning races”. Kelvin frets about Sebastian Alden who “didn’t get to on parade” after he had bike problems in the pits. The ongoing evening class style philosophy lessons that are the post race interviews with Neil/Leigh Adams continue, “Yeh, I made the start which is, obviously, a good beginning to any race!”

The riders in the sixth heat had barely made a complete circuit before Nigel declares they’d indulged with “plenty more talking points in the first lap of that race”. They must have been exciting because not only have these “talking points” completely escaped me but also Nigel instead decides to thrill us with news of something that’s not happening, “and that rain is still not with us, thank goodness!” While we wait excitedly for some precipitation, Sam entertains us with one of his trademark interviews in his distinctive American twang that subliminally cries out ‘let me talk to you excitedly as though I’m trying to sell an obscure but duff product at 3am on a regional hospital radio in the middle of nowhere’. Fredrick gets the full Sam rhetorical closed question treatment, “talk us through this one Freddie [clever signifier to say I used to ride here and know this guy from way back so I can be all pally with him], you made a good start!” Entering into the spirit of things, Fredrick gives a reply of stunning banality, “yeh, I made a start and from there it’s pretty easy and I get in the corner and the bike takes me forward!” (No, you don’t say?) We’re then collectively shocked by the revelation, “you really need to get your back wheel into the edge of the dirt!” If we don’t watch out, next they’ll be filling the fuel tank with methanol and putting tyres on the wheels. Nigel is thrilled with Sam’s investigative powers and exclaims, “it’s always good to hear the views of Sam talking to the riders!”

Given his close connections with the club for Nigel to note that Wolves “have a couple of weak links in the side” things must have reached a pretty pass. To distract attention, the window cleaning cage team flourish the news that the Great Britain speedway team manager (allegedly appointed on a temporary contract without bothering to interview other likely candidates), Jim Lynch, will announce his initial World Cup squad of 12 riders! Though this initial large sized band of patriots will be whittled down to a much smaller number of riders (and, most likely, a totally predictable team) in time for the competition, the sheer size of the squad enables Jim to pick more or less any British rider presently plying their trade in the Elite League. It also allows Nigel and Kelvin to cast around for unlikely candidates competing at the meeting. Kelvin lights on Chris Neath, “I have seen him go round here triffic”. A well made point but not much use in Denmark where the play off and final rounds of the competition will be held this summer. Nigel seizes on the news of this possibility to talk up the excitement no one knew they felt, “well, we’ve got the Great Britain squad announcement and we’ll see if Chris Neath makes it into that!” Though he’s a whole hearted and honest rider, such a selection would definitely tell us something about the state of the sport in this country, if these suggestions were to prove correct.

Just before the commercials we’re told, “it’s too close to call, 22-20 Wolves lead Swindon.” I’d have thought “too close to call” meant the teams were tied? On our return, Nigel and Kelvin have been scratching their heads and casting round for something tendentious to praise or big up to the armchair audience as a “talking point”. The recent decision to design and commission a hydraulically adjustable window cleaner cage to serve as the commentary booth clearly needs the immediate application of some special full on Sky Sports speedway hyperbole to describe/justify its usefulness. Deciding against highlighting how he can see migrating birds flying past or deliveries at other buildings on the surrounding industrial estate, Nigel throws himself into the task with a somewhat tortuous set up for his partner. “Plenty of talking points and Kelvin, here on our studio overlooking the first and second turn, we’ve got a great view of the track and you’ve made an observation about what you’ve hearing in terms of the engines as they roar past!” This opportunity to apply his expertise as an ex-rider and describe some arcane technical matters to an uninterested but small audience of dedicated fans delights Kelvin, who raises himself to his full height on his Sky perch and fixes the camera with what, in the world of magic, would pass for a hypnotic gaze. “Sure, you know the gearing on the bike is crucial to a speedway bike and, of course, here tonight with the extra grip on the track, they really need to [I temporarily lose the will to live at this point and miss a few words – I imagine about the need to ride quickly or such like]…you can hear the bikes aren’t revving enough and that’s creating an extra problem with the engines power band and they’re struggling! I for one would have come back from my first ride and I would have instructed my mechanic to put on a much bigger sprocket which would enable me to accelerate harder through this grip!” Ignoring what a delight it must have been to be Kelvin’s mechanic when he came back into the pits and “instructed” you, this apparent mission-to-explain-things-you-didn’t-know-you-wanted-to-know-about appears to have got completely out of hand. Soon we’ll have Nigel and Kelvin bringing in instruction manuals from home and reading them live in a serious sounding voice to less than rapt viewers. Maybe this is a new initiative dreamt up by the Sky Sports Speedway publicity people to attract the fickle, hard to reach iPod generation aged 12 to 30 that speedway struggles to connect with nowadays. If I were they, I’d thrill at a description of engine noise that manages to mix the effects and interest levels of physics detention with the thrill of a sermon from your dad on the perils of underage and/or unprotected sex.

An endlessly enthralling aspect of the allegedly commanding views the commentary partnership enjoys from on high is the ability to “see” things. Ignoring, we all thought that they could do this before, the mere use of their eyes from an elevated position is an endless wonder to them both if judged by how often they talk about it. That said, it’s mentioned so often you can’t but wonder if there is a charity fundraiser based around its frequent mentions? Or, perhaps, some Sky bigwig hasn’t quite bought into the beauty and brilliance of the window cleaner cage so needs continuous on air reminders of the sheer wondrousness of the thing? Nigel gasps, “and I can just catch him from the corner of my eye from our high position here” while Kelvin continues the team chortling with some irrelevant technical guff, “I can see from the commentary position, it has really moved the dirt”. Another aspect of being perched on high like our very own speedway equivalent of Statler and Waldorf are the technical issues it causes the production team. Previously, a cameraman could stand on the ground and film the boys in the booth but now they’re a couple of feet up in the air the viewers could, heaven forefend, be treated to endless upwards camera shots of Nigel and Kelvin’s groins. Instead, nowadays for some shots a remotely controlled camera is suspended from above them in the metal work of the cage. Consequently, we’re treated to the sight of frequent glances upwards to speak to the camera, thereby creating the impression that in previous lives both presenters were particularly narcissistic budgies fascinated with their dangling mirror!

When in doubt (or if things get dull), then the team invariably turn to the hardy perennial of that wonderful combination of track conditions and the weather. Nigel is of the opinion, “and conditions are not that bad” because Leigh Adams was “going close to the track record in his second ride”. Leaving aside that the quality of the race is often poor when a track record is set, Kelvin is super quick to echo the validity of his partners’ insight, “a rider of his class could get close”. Nigel’s eyes occasionally deceive him into the belief we’re witnessing a “fantastic race” (something that Kelvin invariably echoes and gurgles enthusiastically along with too) when we’re not, but with a time of 54.55 seconds his surmise is proved correct. “In fact, we’re getting confirmation that he did break the track record”. Until they moved to the “best view in the house” of the window cleaner’s cage, Nigel would have been sat higher up and in close proximity to the referee and timekeeper so this news would have been much more instantaneous. Kelvin is delighted too and quickly marvels at his own perspicacity, “oh well, there you go…er no, as I say, a rider of his ability can utilise the conditions to give him plenty of riding speed!” This apparently is truly marvellous entertainment, particularly when Nigel is quick to remind us, “they said it was going to rain by 8 o’clock.”

For the next few heats, Nigel gets stuck with the linguistic trope of riders “giving everything”. So, we learn, “quite clearly Edward Kennett is giving everything as a guest” only for him to then find “James Wright – the young man from Cheshire [a variation on “from down the road in Stockport” mantra we hear when he rides at Belle Vue] – will give everything!” The Great Britain World Team Cup team selection under the diminutive Jim Lynch isn’t fixed in stone (yet). On principle, Nigel explains the tortuous process in an animated and excited voice (“the preliminary WTC squad of 12 is whittled down to eight and then five for the World Cup”) before he thinks aloud, albeit somewhat rhetorically, “I wonder if James Wright will be in that GB squad?” Taking his cue from this querulous question, in the pits Sam quizzes James who isn’t initially playing WTC ball, “yeh, I’m pretty peed off, I just didn’t have the legs from the corner.” Sam switches to speculating about future prospects for James (“even Jim Lynch is keeping an eye on you and you must be hoping to be in that squad”) and, so, is rewarded with a “yeh”.

Back in the window cleaning booth, a spill for Edward Kennett while “giving everything” has Doctor Kelvin again draw himself up to his full height to pronounce, “it didn’t hurt him too bad – but it did unbalance him”. Balance isn’t something the Sky editorial and production team want too much of if it can be helped at all, so a bit of incident has Nigel metaphorically rubbing his hands, “we love great racing and we love controversy!” Sadly for the armchair viewers there is little of either to really see though, obviously enough, every race is talked about as though it’s close to the most amazing speedway race ever. Kelvin at one point recalls the adverts of his youth and confuses the riders with Tonka Toys, “these boys are tough, these boys are strong, they ride in different leagues around the world but every race they go into they do so with passion and commitment!” Clearly, this latest claim would even stretch the credulity of any simple minded but trusting persons, since many of the more well travelled multi-destination riders often appear to only go through the motions as though they’re dialling in their rides (oh, it’s Monday, it must be Wolverhampton). Fortunately, Leigh Adams is around to entertain and, when interviewed afterwards, cuttingly dismisses his erstwhile rivals abilities in a quick sound bite, “yeh, I knew David [Howe] would be round the inside – that’s all he does here!” It’s fortunate he can be so articulate and bitchy as the level of the question quality from Sarra isn’t from the top drawer, “were you slowing down?” “Yeh, big time” is followed by the non-revelation set up observation, “you set a new track record in your second ride.” Rather like a politician faced with an awkward constituent, Leigh answers a completely different question, “to be fair to him, the track is tricky – there’s too much grip on the inside.”

Though, even the riders are now mentioning the track, the racing remains dull like the sky so, for added excitement between the races, the commentary team only really have eyes for the weather. The aura of the window cleaning cage must have subliminally infected Nigel – rain equals no work for window cleaners and speedway riders – who notes the “decent crowd watching the racing and the rain has held off as well!” Distractingly enough, Nigel has to commentate on the odd race between his ongoing weather reports about the lack of precipitation. News that it’s “good to see Edward Kennett enjoying riding a speedway bike and doing it superbly” quickly segues into further meteorological delight, “the rain has held off!” Referee Paul Carrington rushes through the heats, which suits the Sky scheduling and, as Nigel explains, “it’s a quick old meeting tonight ‘cause rain was threatened but it’s stayed away!” When the promised rain does eventually arrive and, even at home, during heat 14 it is very visibly raining – no mention is made of it until just prior to heat 15 when Kelvin offhandedly notes, “it has been drizzling.” (We have to take our understatement where we can on Sky speedway).

This lack of ongoing rain updates is probably because another conversational trope has hove into view – namely the fascination with the need for last heat deciders. Before heat 14 with the scores tied at 39 each, Nigel ponders, “will this take us to a last heat decider?” and Kelvin maturely restrains himself, “well, it could easily happen, Nigel!” In reality, he should have said ‘unless there’s a 5-0 in this race then of course there bloody well will be!’ An advert break reveals that some speedway event is about to take place in Cardiff later in the month. One that, we’re breathlessly told, will feature “Belinda Carlisle, a free style motorcycle display, fireworks and much, much more!” It would be exciting if all these were combined together but, doubtless, they’ll be run individually. Strangely no mention is made of the major part the traditional execrable track plays in bringing danger into the equation and adding to the atmosphere of the night.

Back at Monmore Green Stadium, the coin toss provides some further much needed excitement and Sarra has created the cognitive environment that can treat a chat about the lack of phone activity by Swindon into something approaching an intense philosophical debate. The question “and no phone usage here this evening?” enables the 2008 version of the reformed Alun ‘Rosco’ Rossiter some much needed and valuable camera time as well as chance to display a modicum of wit to go along with his on screen display of his teeth. “That’s right, we don’t do phones this season!” Sarra’s chat with Peter Adams thankfully has returned to its monosyllabic norm, though earlier he had complained, “the opposition turn up with a view to winning and that confidence is a difficult thing to handle.” Desperate for the illusion of a close contest to remain, despite the Swindon lead, the pending appearance of Leigh Adams and justice dictating that a Robins win will most likely be the predictable outcome, Nigel gamely talks up the excitement felt in the pits by the Wolves riders at the Wolverhampton management choice of gate positions. “The word will have got back they’ve got gate 1!” Even more improbably, Kelvin gets carried away on the quickly rising tide of hyperbole about the determination of the Wolves riders, “and ride like their lives depended on it!” Based on this display, there will be no need for a memorial service.

2nd June Wolverhampton v Swindon (Elite League) 42-48

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