Shale Britannia

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.

By Jeff Scott: A Sideways Glance at Speedway

The most unusual speedway photography book ever published will feature shots of every track in the country and be available for purchase from the start of June. The book will tell the story of a typical meeting starting with empty stadiums, it will cover all aspects of the build up before moving onto an exciting finale.

It’s a unique document that will probably amuse, baffle and delight in equal measure but also provide a window on the fascinating world that makes up the particular culture of modern British speedway. Those who’ve already seen it have praised the picture quality, the selection of photographs and impressiveness of the book itself, while they tried to guess the various locations! How many will you know or recognise?

Jeff Scott’s candid digital photographs offer us an intriguing glimpse of Speedway in the early 21st Century. Scott has travelled to tracks around the country, standing on terraces with the fans and in the pits with the riders and mechanics, as he pursues an interest that borders on the obsessive.The 245 photographs here reveal but a small sample of the collection that chokes his computer.

Scott’s pictures bear little relation to the images of sport photographers. He doesn’t stalk his subjects with a telephoto lens, and the rather matter of fact archival quality of his images lend his photographs an authentic appeal – more of the family photo album than the sports media’s managed icons.

Through Scott’s work, which inhabits the area of documentary, we can start to examine the working-class culture of this local community sport. From riders and start-line girls to mechanics and fans, he captures the personality and character of the tracks, as well as portraying the fans’ relationships with their teams, in the context of the relentless decline of British regional identity. Speedway tracks and their surrounds may lack the sort of crowds that the corporate media values, but they are nonetheless densely peopled with the ghosts of a proud history. With these images, Scott reveals with tender melancholy a community as it struggles to recapture the glories of its past.

With his books Showered in ShaleWhen Eagles Dared and Shifting Shale, Jeff Scott’s appreciation and wonder of this dangerous sport and his ability to describe and narrate the minutiae and entirety of the Speedway experience deservedly won him plaudits far beyond the specialist media. This is his first book of photographs.

Rachael Adams is a designer, fine artist and teacher. She is the creator of the ahead of its time and wonderfully designed Film Map for Scrutineers.


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Press Quotes

“A brilliantly quirky book”
Big Issue

“A marvellously evocative book”
John Inverdale, Daily Telegraph

“Superbly produced. I found it absolutely fascinating”
Peter Oakes, Speedway Star

“A treasure trove of pictorial information”
John Hyam, South London Press

“Jeff Scott – the man who produces the quirkiest love-‘em-or hate-‘em books I’ve ever seen about our sport”
Dick Barrie

“Both Sophie Blake and George English appear so a wide variety of tastes are catered for”
Allan Melville, Speedwayplus

“What a special and unusual book this really is”
Nick Ward, Speedwayworld

“The photos are colour but not as colourful as the characters in it”
Julie Martin, photographer

“There is plenty for the speedway fan to enjoy here and lots to smile at”
Brian Owen, Brighton Argus

“Mr Scott is a brilliant photographer. His ‘sideways glance at speedway’ Shale Britannia, is a gorgeously melancholic study of everything that is great about the sport”
Billy Jenkins, Musician

Press Reviews

The Telegraph, ‘Trouble ahead if speedway fails to turn corner’, John Inverdale, 18th July 2007

Why do sports fall in and out of fashion? Will billiards ever make a comeback? What about tenpin bowling? Well, on the basis that you should always expect the unexpected, I shouldn’t have been surprised by the response to what I mistakenly took to be three rather innocuous paragraphs in this column a couple of weeks ago, about declining public interest in speedway.

The volume of post illustrates just how passionate, and possibly despairing, many fans are about the sport and its prospects, despite Chris ‘Bomber’ Harris’s outstanding recent victory at the British Grand Prix, which interestingly attracted a quarter of a million television viewers.

‘It’s the media what’s to blame’ was the overall basis for people’s complaints – the argument being that for every paragraph written and frame shown of Harris’s triumph in Cardiff, there were thousands of Lewis Hamilton not winning at Silverstone. Which is a bit like saying non-League football deserves the same coverage as the Premiership.

The fact that so many letters centred on memories of days long gone – including a lovely heartfelt one from Robert Phillips in Taunton, about how watching the Bristol Bulldogs in the 1940s was a city-wide relief from the heavy bombing during the war – illustrates the sport’s plight.

Jeff Scott, from Brighton, sent me a copy of his marvellously evocative book Shale Britannia – a pictorial record of speedway through the ages – making the point that in our current hankering for the 1970s through programmes like Life on Mars, the spirit and values of that age are, in a sporting context, still alive and kicking on the speedway tracks of Britain – except that back then, attendances at league matches often reached 20,000.

Philip Dalling, from Devon, was one of many who wrote about the sport needing to accept that it is facing a crisis before it will be able to escape from its trough. The Oxford Cheetahs have just withdrawn from the Elite League with anecdotal evidence of attendances as low as 200, and Reading have just been saved from extinction.

So what is to be done? Swindon are top of the league, but they haven’t been champions since 1967, the year the town’s football club beat Arsenal to win the League Cup. Don Rogers, their hero that day, is now a regular follower of speedway (and yes, he still has a moustache).

Swindon’s attendance has doubled in the past couple of years but manager Alun Rossiter knows that his sport needs to be more pro-active in attracting support.

“There’s too much moaning and negativity within the sport following Oxford’s collapse,” he said. “It’s so easy to sit there and do nothing. People need to get off their arses and work together to capitalise on what Chris achieved in Cardiff.”

His solutions include all meetings taking place on the same night of the week, and the best riders being spread out evenly among the clubs – “Speedway can’t afford to have a Chelsea or Manchester United.”

Even from a position of strength, he accepts that he is reluctant to invite corporate guests to the stadium because the facilities are inadequate. “It doesn’t all come down to ladies toilets, but they like something better than a plastic seat.” At least for him, that problem will be solved with a new arena on the way.

But how does speedway become “corporately” acceptable, so that a night at the local track is an alternative to other options such as horse racing? Until you’ve been, it’s hard to appreciate how the smell, the noise and the excitement create one of the most vibrant atmospheres in all sport, but empty stands and delapidated stadiums have trouble matching a nice marquee at Haydock. I’m not suggesting that speedway is on a level with paintballing, but perhaps it needs to be more imaginative in the way it targets work-related parties who want to go out for a good time.

Terry Russell, the president of the Speedway Promoters’ Association, made the point that if the country could get excited about curling, it should be more than capable of getting very excited about speedway. “What we need is a world champion again, the Great Britain team to be world champions [they made the finals on Monday] and we’ll be getting on the right road,” he said.

For the moment though, and despite his victory in Cardiff, the question “Who is Chris Harris?” is still likely to elicit the response, “Isn’t he on Radio 2?” or “Is he related to Rolf?” That’s the reality. When it shouldn’t be.

Incidentally… what has happened to billiards?

Wolverhampton Express & Star, Tim Hamblin

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.

Daily Telegraph, Andrew Baker

It is not an easy leap from Italian football to British speedway, but it has to be made to pay appropriate attention to Shale Britannia: A Sideways Glance at Speedway (Methanol Press, £15). The title barely does the work justice, for it is not so much a glance as a full-on stare. It is an almost entirely pictorial record of the quixotic sport, compiled by Jeff Scott, who is splendidly privileged to be Writer in Residence at Eastbourne Stadium.

There is more than a hint of the great, sly realist Martin Parr in Scott’s photographs, which capture a scene that has barely changed in many respects since the Seventies. It is a very attractive volume, neatly designed by Rachael Adams, and anyone who has ever caught the whiff of Castrol R on the evening air will love it.

South London Press, John Hyam

THE book contains 245 colour photos taken at every track during 2005 and 2006. That allows the now-closed Wimbledon club to be featured. It has four photos – the outside of the stadium before a meeting (page 55), the empty entrance to the pits (page 56), and a general view of the track with a lone worker busy raking (page 70). The fourth photo on page 252 baffles me. It shows a plaque reading ‘Reg Potter stood here.’ I would love to know its location in the stadium.

This photo saga is a documentary-style look at ground level speedway. There are no photos of star riders, but plenty of stadium entrances, terraces, tractors, tyres and the fans. It is speedway photography in the raw, showing the sport’s warts. I regard it as a treasure trove of pictorial information, a much-needed addition to speedway literature.

To compile this unique book, Scott attended more than 200 meetings and travelled 40,000 miles. He said: “This is the story of a speedway meeting on any night or day at any track across the country.”

“It follows the same sequence: the first arrivals – spectators, riders and staff, the terraces filling, the activity in the pits, the bars and trackshop.”

“There are the races watched by breathless fans, the accidents, the victories and the loss. I’ve tried to capture speedway’s full glory, spectacle and atmosphere – the things that draw us all back endlessly to watch a speedway meeting.”

Scott has done just that.  I shall constantly browse through my copy, as I do the family albums. This book is a must for all who love the grass roots appeal of speedway.

It’s a delightful documentation of a sport now entering its 80th season.

STRAIGHT TALKING, Berwick programme, Dick Barrie

Someone else who will be here next Saturday is speedway’s most individualistic author Jeff Scott – the man who produces the quirkiest, most-fascinating, love-‘em-or-hate-‘em books I’ve ever seen about our sport. Jeff has just released a new volume called “Shale Britannia – A Sideways Look At Speedway”, and he’ll be here to sign copies during our big night.

The new book comprises purely pictures – over 250 of them – but although they are from every British circuit they by no means offer on-track action.    Indeed, I don’t think there’s a rider on a bike in any of them. This is a collection of backstage snaps taken by Jeff on his wanderings, probably when he was going around the circuits to gather material for his earlier work “Showered In Shale” and you’ll either become absorbed by it or find it incomprehensible – no middle road. Don’t make too speedy a judgement when you pick it up next week, however. Read Jeff’s two-page introduction (just about the only written passage in the whole book) and get inside his head.

One thing I can tell you about Jeff Scott. He likes us! In about a dozen interviews for radio and other media following publication of his first book, Jeff was invariably asked which track he had enjoyed visiting most, and his answer was always the same: “Berwick!  For the stadium, the presentation, the fun and friendship – and going up to the Grove afterwards!”

Guess we’d better put on a good show for him next week, as well as checking if we like his book!

World Speedway

Renowned speedway author Jeff Scott, of ‘Showered in Shale’ fame has published his third book through Methanol Press. The new book entitled ‘Shale Britannia – A Sideways Glance at Speedway’ comes in the guise of a picture book this time around. But fear not as just like Scott’s previous work this is no normal speedway book and is once again full of this charismatic author’s wit and wisdom but this time without the words.

However, if you are looking for a book that contains photographs of your favourite rider in some sort of stunning action shot you have got the wrong book. You are more likely to get a picture of your clubs tractor driver than your favoured clubs number 1 in ‘Shale Britannia’.

The glamour of speedway is a million miles away from that of premiership football and other high profile sports in this country, but that is what we love about our sport and this book too. There are no multi million pound stadiums, club superstores or trophy rooms here. This is British Speedway at every level where trophies are kept in carrier bags, club shops are old cargo containers and comfort is bringing your own garden furniture to sit on.

Shale Britannia is described by Scott as an entire speedway meeting in pictures. It highlights the sights that we all get through the course of a meeting, from pulling up in the car park to leaving through the turnstiles at the end. They are sights that the hardened regular speedway follower takes for granted, the gritty, dirtier, unpretentious side of our beloved sport that is speedway.

The book may take more than one brief glance through to be fully appreciated, however I urge you to do that and look through it again and then watch as a smile comes to your face as the visions and memories come leaping back in their thousands. Suddenly it will all make sense and you will realise what a special and unusual book this really is.

Finally the front cover in our opinion at sums up the sport and this book perfectly and perhaps it’s not always what we see automatically but what is on the inside that really counts.

Argus, Brian Owen, 13th June 2007

Speedway author and Eastbourne Eagles fan Jeff Scott has not just gone on a different racing line with his latest book. He has performed a publishing equivalent of turning his bike around and doing four laps in a clockwise direction.

Brighton-based Scott has followed up two in-depth looks at British, and Eastbourne, speedway with a light and easy pictorial companion, Shale Britannia. Featuring 245 colour photos, Shale Britannia (£15, Methanol Press) captures the ambiance, from the humorous to the humdrum, of the nation’s speedway tracks.

Scott drives the length and breadth of the country watching an array of meetings and reckons the book is “more of the family photo album than the sports media’s managed icons”. And it’s true. You don’t see many icons at places like Buxton, Rye House or Scunthorpe. But you see some real sights and some genuine enthusiasts.

Like the Fen Tigers supporter in full tiger outfit at Mildenhall. Or the Berwick enthusiasts carrying a full-size cardboard cut out of their favourite rider. They are two of the outstanding shots in the book.

As with many photo collections, what takes your fancy is a matter of personal taste. I think we might all agree the electricity pylons at Sittingbourne get a bit more exposure than they deserve. But there is plenty for the speedway fan to enjoy here and lots to smile at.

Scott’s two previous offerings have been hugely popular around speedway. This one, which is edited by Rachael Adams, could well get to the same chequered flag – just going the other way around.

Scott will be at Arlington before Eagles’ home meeting with Peterborough on Saturday to sign copies of his various books. All can also be ordered via

Weymouth programme, ‘A Review of Shale Britannia – A photo book by Jeff Scott, Speedway Fanatic’, Julie Martin

I have only ‘read’ two speedway books since I witnessed my first speedway meeting in 2004.  The first one was a Mike Patrick (speedways premier photographer) book so technically, I guess I didn’t actually read it and the other one was Jeff’s Showered in Shale. I am no expert on speedway literature or history by any stretch of the imagination so am a little reticent on writing a review about one!  However, even if you have never stepped foot into a speedway meeting you will enjoy this voyeuristic journey through life as a speedway track.

Jeff’s book is a behind the scenes chronicle of speedway in 2000’s.   The photos are colour but not as colourful as the characters in it, people you meet at any speedway track anywhere in the country and at any level.  There’s no rules of thirds or concerns about depths of field, lighting or composition in this book, which only adds to the impression of thrown togetherness you experience at most of the tracks up and down the country.

You won’t find any racing photos in this book.  It’s more of an undercover surveillance with the odd willing model here and there, which manages to capture not only the atmosphere but the character of sport and the people who love it so much.It takes you from the start, through the middle and to the end of speedway meetings, introducing you to the people and places that make the sport what it is, a sport loved by many and sadly forgotten by many others.

Speedway Star