Attack of the Table Smasher
When I arrive early at Monmore Green Stadium, the Dave Rattenberry track shop stall is already erected and almost completely stocked, despite the fact that there are nearly four hours before the tapes rise. As usual, Dave is there along with John Rich – who I immediately apologise to since he’s regrettably been cropped out of one of the photos in my new book ‘Shale Britannia’ that he might otherwise have appeared in. They have a young helper with them today in the form of Kayleigh Jones who tells me, “well, Freddie Lindgren mainly – that’s the only reason I’m here”. John protests, “you’re bloody Wolves”. She’s only been coming along since June 2006 but already has an impressive number of photos that feature Freddie and herself that she proudly shows me. Kayleigh loves the “buzz of the bikes, the speed and the dangerousness” but, most of all, Freddie! Though later she admits, “I’m trying to get up the gear to ride myself”. Apart from lingering round the pits to engage Freddie in conversation or have another photo taken with him, she “helps Rat”. Rat and John appear to treat her with the affection and care of a surrogate daughter, “helps the fat man, aye” says Rat. Dave has already studied my book at Mildenhall, “it’s a good book – it’s unusual” whereas it’s new to John and he’s still leafing through it, “it’s a bit dull isn’t it? Bill isn’t in there either”. At that point a man called Tony – whom I recognise from a similar performance last season – interrupts us in our discussions. His role seems to berate Dave every time I come here for some promised item of merchandise that he expects to be in stock and already awaiting his arrival. “Have you got my mugs?” he demands only to learn from Rat, “Tony – I can promise you – you will get your mugs off me!”
A tall blonde haired man stands by my book display to study the merchandise and I soon learn he’s Paul Harvey who’s “spanning for Magnus Karlsson not Peter Karlsson”. He has his “own business – a removal business – so I’m fortunate cos I can have the time off to do this”. He lives in Hull and it sounds as though enough speedway riders to form a team live in the nearby vicinity. “Opposite my house lives Emil Kramer, the Pickering family are next door, down the road is Emiliano Sanchez, further down the road is Joel Parsons – round the back of him to the East of where I live is Lee Dicken and the Norton’s – Danny and Kai – live in that area too and, of course, Magnus lives at my house when he’s here too! It’s a right little collection of us all in one area – we all beg, borrow and steal off each other.” Paul got into speedway “when I was small” – a significant admission given that he’s now around 2 metres tall – “I was 11, I think, when I first went, I’m 44 no 45 now and it was the Rayleigh Rockets”. Like many people in the speedway community, he feels that the issue of safety needs to be urgently addressed. “There’s got to be some safety done somewhere, it should be compulsory to have air fences. Why do they still have to attach wooden fence boards to metal fence posts beats me? Sod’s Law is a rider never goes between them but hits the post. We come to see racing not accidents. There’s been so many bad accidents this year – Stuart Robson and Garry Stead, he lives over the back from me. It’s come as a real shock, normally he just walks down my garden path and shouts ‘get the kettle on!’ It’s hit me really hard that he won’t walk again – he has a baby daughter too – a strange name I can’t remember – four months old. He has a son from a previous partner, Lewis, who’s five. He’s devastated, he says, ‘life’s over for me’ but I say, ‘life’s just starting again for you’. They know what they do – they know – but forget the risks. Once they’re injured they’re all too easily forgotten it seems though! There’s Carlos Villar – the first time I saw him I thought “that’s a matter of time – there’s the Polish kiddie Cegielski, his girlfriend used to spanner for him and Lawrence Hare, of course. I can’t think of any more off hand but there’s plenty of them whose lives have been changed by speedway- yeh, there’s still some mentions* but mostly they’re just forgotten about!”
After a few moments lost in his own thoughts he changes the subject, “you should chat to some of the riders for your books – they have so many stories. That Emiliano Sanchez has some hilarious ones about when he first came to this country. He came over in a car with just a bike and one telephone number of someone he didn’t know – an Aussie, I forget his name. He could hardly speak English and they stopped him at customs when he arrived and searched everything. The sniffer dog ate his sandwiches too! You should hear him tell them, he’s got some stories but, then, so does everyone. My first job in speedway was on the away side of the pits at Hull. Ian Thomas used to say ‘stand there with a hose for an hour and wait until it’s up to your knees’. When the away riders used to arrive they didn’t know what to think. He used to try all sorts to gain an advantage.”
My giant poster advertising my photo book has attracted quite a crowd of onlookers keen to identify the exact whereabouts of each photograph. Dave Rattenberry points to one picture and says, “I know most of these but I dunno where that one is – is it Sittingbourne?” My hilarity quickly gives the game away that it’s his own track shop on the Isle of Wight, “Jesus, I never knew it was mine!” Rat attempts to say it was before his time there but soon learns otherwise, “oh no – it was when I was there!” My delight is short lived when I incorrectly claim that another featured photo that mystifies Rat is Buxton, luckily I soon correct myself (it’s actually Sittingbourne). One lady who effortlessly identifies each image correctly is Wendy Jedrzejakski – “it’s said Jed-RA-Jedski although everyone says Jedi on a jet ski”. She’s so good I’m tempted to ask her to move along but instead try to fox her with more recondite pictures from the book. She studies the cover of the book and says loudly, “I could have been on there – I’ve still got my ‘Miss Long Eaton’ sash, well ‘Miss Fina Invader’ it says really”.
For a track where the fans are so passionate and knowledgeable, I’ve rarely done that well with my book sales trips at Monmore Green and tonight is no exception. Away in the pits there’s some drama when SCB Official Margaret Vardy rules that tonight’s visitors Reading can’t replace the absent Sam Simota with their number 8 rider Phil Morris (as they intended) because he has a higher average than the absent Simota. Instead the Bulldogs have been forced to bring in Ben Barker to ride at reserve. This isn’t good news for their prospects of competitive performance, particularly given that Matej Zagar is already missing from the team and for whom they’ll have to use rider replacement. I think about leaving my display to buy a programme but Bill assures me, “don’t worry they won’t run out, it’s only Redin!” Over the tannoy we learn that “Wolves legend Don Goodman is in the crowd tonight”. He was a well-travelled footballer and one that I know well, since he played for Sunderland. He’s very strongly associated with the area, partly because of his million pound transfer to Wolves and his fighting performances for his various clubs. A glance at his career statistics shows that he scored more goals for West Brom and Sunderland than Wolves but then he played more games for the Baggies. Later I see a man with impressive dreadlocks who escorts and carefully supervises his son in the gents loos in the plush Monmore Green grandstand – I assume it’s Don but don’t ask in case I’m mistaken, particularly since it’s not quite the place or the time.
Tonight is an important night for Chris van Straaten since he has organised a collection for the ‘Promise Dreams’ children’s charity** that is close to his heart at this meeting. The Wolverhampton based charity “raise funds to make dreams come true for terminally and seriously ill children, no matter what their dream might be”. Later I see a smiling CVS stagger past with three collection buckets towards his speedway office. He answers, “they’re heavy too!” when I ask, “have you got enough buckets, Chris?” Later we learn over the tannoy system “well done, you’ve raised over £700”.
Also in the crowd tonight is radio Five Live’s sports reporter, Phil Mackie, who’s come along to the Monmore Green stadium to try to soak up the atmosphere of a ‘typical speedway meeting’ as well as grab some vox pop interviews with riders, staff and fans for an item on the Simon Mayo programme that will look at summer sports you might like to consider visiting. When I listen to the programme they say the crowd was 1,900 people, though with the presence of building works on the main grandstand terraces, it didn’t seem quite as crowded as it normally is here to my untutored eyes. The meeting itself was a long way from exciting as the Bulldogs get up and go – with the exception of Greg Hancock – had apparently gone absent without leave, thereby effectively undermining the meeting from a closeness or entertainment point of view. Plus, there is the unique not found elsewhere factor on race night at Wolverhampton – the almost continuous aural accompaniment throughout of the thoughts and comments of Ian ‘Porky’ Jones who appears to perform under the impression that we’ve all come along to hear/see him rather than the speedway. I’m sure you could get used to him over time but, I’d like to think, that someone kindly tipped Phil Mackie the wink that such a presentational quirk isn’t at all ‘typical’ or the norm within speedway generally.
Kindly and observant security man, Ian Price, who came up and said to me, “your table has been broken – I was just coming up towards it and I watched him jump on it”, interrupted my enjoyment of the meeting. Though not expensive, it’s pretty important to have something to display books on when I travel to speedway tracks to sell my books. Luckily, after I’d confirmed the wrecked nature of my table, Ian was able to take me to elsewhere in the stadium to chat with the young man who’d so thoughtlessly behaved and poorly treated my property. I found when I was younger that adults who reacted calmly when I’d transgressed got their message across much more effectively. Ian stood silently by when I spoke with the youngster in question. He was with his granddad, though this man appeared to have abdicated any supervisory responsibilities in favour of just sitting on his chair for the night. The young man (with green iced lolly in hand) was tearful and decided the best approach was to have his granddad repeat a totally false and barely believable story, flatly contradicted by the reality of events seen by Ian. The story was that he’d been “chased by bullies and when trying to get away the table had been accidentally broken”. It would be something that would elicit sympathy if true but, though totally unconvinced, I decided to suggest that if he was bullied anywhere in future then he should always try to confide in a nearby adult, whether or not he actually knew them. There was a mumbled “sorry” and I think I honestly expected his granddad to waddle over from his seat and come to inspect the damage himself or, as I believe most people would in this situation, offer some form of restitution. Instead he steadfastly took the view, “he was being chased by bullies and he’s said sorry – what more do you want?” Better brought up children or grandchildren would be fortunate to enjoy the company of supervising adults with greater levels of social responsibility and some understanding of the concept of leadership by example. Unfortunately, this young man appears to have been rewarded with refreshments for lying and treated insouciantly for deliberately damaging the property of others. It’s a sad reflection on the values of his adult carer at the speedway and doesn’t bode well for his future development. I definitely blame the parents and the grandparents.
When I return to my table, John Rich is already in the process of finding strips of wood to temporarily bind and fix the table back together for the night (“I remembered I had a Phillips screwdriver in the car”). Security man Ian also then gets involved and, after a few minutes of impressive craftsmanship, they have restored the table to something approaching its former glory so I can use it again tonight. “It’s better than it was now!” says John before he adds, “and you missed the chance to take a photograph”. John and Ian brush off my protestations of gratitude, while Graham (who also helps Rat on race night at Wolverhampton) remains amazed that no offer of help or compensation was made to rectify the damage. Interestingly when the meeting finishes, granddad lollops by while studiously ignoring me, though I do pointedly call out “goodbye” and “remember what I said about bullies” to his grandson Pinocchio.
With the result of the meeting already beyond all doubt, the Wolves team manager, Peter Adams, chooses to reward David Howe for his four ride paid maximum with a deserved place in the nominated heat 15 alongside Freddie Lindgren. The Reading partnership of Hancock-McGowan then choose that race to finally show some concerted determination and the race effectively ends as a contest when they gated and rode Lindgren hard to the fence, thereby causing him to stutter to retirement. David Howe chased manfully but McGowan eventually blunted his challenge on the second bend of the last lap with a blocking manoeuvre that led Howe to shut off. The difficulties of satisfying your fans, even when you win easily, was typified by the presumption and reaction of the man next to me, “[Howe is] bloody hopeless in heat 15 – it’s the sort of freaking decision that’ll cost us the bonus point and, possibly, a freaking place in the play offs!”
11th June – Wolverhampton v Reading (ELA) 54-39
*Ironically the Speedway Star a fortnight later (June 23 2007) included a hard-hitting and provocative article from Lawrence Hare that is required reading for all interested in considering safety standards within speedway.
There is also a sponsored two-day, 165 mile sponsored bike ride for Krzysztof Cegielski organised by Poole Pirates fans Robert Hawkins and Rob Green. Log on to pmya/bikeride.com or send cheques payable to ‘Cegielski Bike Ride Fund’ to PMYA, Cegielski Bike Ride, Salterns Marina, Lilliput, Dorset BH14 8JR.
Steve Johnson will join the same bile rode to raise funds for Garry Stead send cheques payable to ‘Garry Stead Bike Ride’ to Yorkshire Bank, 14 High Street, Alfreton, Derbyshire DE55 7BB.
** To contact Promise Dreams call 01902 378595 or email firstname.lastname@example.org