BOGOF – “thanks to Morrisons the supermarket”
The pre-credits strap line for this meeting was billed as “a night fuelled on pure adrenalin”. This, you have to assume, would refer to the action on the track rather than in the interview booth with Jonathan and Kelvin. Part psychic, part sniffer dog Jonathan looks at the crowd and twitches with “a real sense of anticipation, a real buzz” before he concludes “you can really feel it tonight!” Everything is incredibly “triffic” for Kelv – “triffic turnout”, “triffic atmosphere and sense of anticipation”. Later Jonathan only has to glance down at his programme or script to get more even excited, “a night like tonight when you’ve got two very strong teams on paper”. In fact, the prospect of a clash between present Elite League leaders Coventry and the bookies champions elect Swindon is an appealing prospect in itself without need of too much hyperbole. Not that the lads in the presentation booth can help themselves, so deeply ingrained is this habit, Jonathan just knows, “it’s a big night, probably our biggest of the season so far”. Meanwhile Kelv just can’t help harping back to the disappointing fare served up to the viewers this season so far, “we haven’t had so much drama”.
No live speedway broadcast would be complete without some discussion of the weather but this week, luckily, this is kept to a minimum and, when handled by the invariably perceptive Chris Louis, actually adds something to the understanding of the viewer. I’m not sure that this is really allowed in the service standard agreement? After we’ve heard from Chris the almost weekly canard, “track conditions are absolutely perfect” we get some more useful detail about how the low cloud cover during the day has held in moisture into the surface shale but that the track curatorial team have got “water in the base”. Chris then proceeds to articulately bemoan the present fashion in the track preparation world that invariably sees a slick inside line matched with a “ripped up outside” (“it’s a Charlie Gjedde type track – slick on the inside, grip on the outside”). Consequently, Chris is worried that most weeks this approach effectively creates only one real racing line for the riders and, thereby, a lesser spectacle for the fans. Back in the Sky interview booth located adjacent to the pits, Kelvin echoes these concerns albeit more fatuously, “I just wonder whether bike set ups for the Swindon boys is gonna be tricky for them?” I understood that Elite League speedway riders were allegedly professionals and, as half of all their fixtures are away from home and the range of venues so limited, that they might have some vague idea how to prepare elsewhere?
With yet another Grand Prix this Saturday, the appearance tonight of the diminutive and square jawed Chris Harris provides Jonathan with another chance to play the nationalist card and reprise recent (rare) British success, “he has been sensational in his start to the GP campaign.” In reality Nicki Pedersen is the only rider to start his GP campaign sensationally, whereas though Chris very creditably far exceeded expectations in the Polish GP he scored only seven points in the opening round. When Kelvin chats to him, we learn that “superb” is the word used by Kelvin when something is even better than his by now slightly devalued overuse of the word “triffic”.
For once, there is drama from the off – in this case in the first bend of the first race when Mads Korneliussen falls from his bike only to have it follow Leigh Adams, as though he’s magnetic, and its front wheel clatter him on the back of his crash helmet. It surprises Leigh and also Nigel Pearson in the commentary booth who involuntarily provides his own sound effect with an exclamation of something that sounds like “BOFF!” He quickly recovers to marvel at the sight, “you don’t see that happening very often Chris! With a bike collecting another rider”. Chris is a delight to listen to all night for the insights he provides, “lucky the bike still had momentum and didn’t come down heavily on him”. Kelvin gives us more of what we’re used to – idle speculation and spurious comment masquerading as perspicacity – from his ringside position in the pits, “if that had collected round the neck that could have been a lot worse”. It’s all too much for Jonathan who tries to inform but instead asks a question so surreal and woeful it’s as though he’s reading from a spoof script I’ve provided for him, “what’s the rule on front wheels?” Well, I know they have to be round but Kelvin sagely remarks that there isn’t any before he distracts us all with some parsimonious blather about comparative levels of tyre wear between front and back wheels on speedway bikes, “I used to make the front one last all season.” Always from the spoon drawer, Jonathan immediately grasps the enormity of Kelv’s insight, “it’s the back one that’s important?” All this technical stuff bogs Greenie down so he switches back to the more comfortable presentational ground of the relentlessly anodyne, “they are coming here to win!” and “they’re going to be out in a minute cos the two minute warning is on”.
The rerun is won by Scott Nicholls though Nigel informs us that Leigh Adams nonetheless remains big news in Wiltshire, “Leigh Adams – who is a legend of Swindon”. Before the inevitable vacuity of the post race interview, Chris Louis embarrasses many others who’ve previously done his job of co-commentator by actually saying something of value and worth during the replay. Many others interpret their job as the right hand ‘colour’ man as a stream of consciousness retelling of the very replay pictures we all see at home (and that we’ve already just seen moments beforehand). Instead, Chris tells us that Scott prefers to use a “stiff clutch” and draws our attention to his pumping of the clutch in the vital first few yards of the race, “to do that with a broken thumb is a sterling effort!” Back on ‘Planet Banal’ as the interview booth could sometimes be christened, Scott is pressed on one of the immutable laws of speedway – even though it didn’t apply in this case and might not actually exist – namely the propensity of reruns to discriminate against the rider who lead the original running of the race. Scott is media savvy enough not to swear on air and thereby saves the viewers of any sight of the face that Kevin traditionally reserves for these occasions – his chewing a wasp face – when he laughs and guardedly comments, “they call it ‘something’ law.”
For once both teams have fielded seven riders and the heat 2 reserves provokes Nigel to observe, “the reserves have a vital part to play here Chris”. Again though Nigel is ‘out-insighted’ by Mr Louis, who is able to meaningfully add further useful detail to the evidence of our own eyes, “Chrzanowski has a lot of straight line speed”. I’m sure that lesser people on Sky will hijack this phrase (“straight line speed”) and soon render it meaningless through frequent and/or inappropriate application but, for now, I’m impressed with its descriptive powers. Nigel is left to flounder in his metaphorical wake but, in this slipstream, still massively outperforms the booth boys, “Ollie Allen closes the door – that was important!” Before the handover Mr Pearson slips more into tried and tested phrase territory with, “it just shows sometimes as a speedway rider [and fly?] you need eyes in the back of your head”. This allows Mr Green to segue effortlessly in with, “yeh, you need eyes in the back of your head”. It would be fun if moments before the handover Nigel would recite a nursery rhyme, spoonerism or the like (“red lorry, yellow lorry”) to test my mindless echo theory! The ever-investigative Kelv puts the victorious Ollie Allen on the spot with the real zinger, “tonight you’re looking for a win”. This provokes Ollie to reply, “yeh, we need to – we know how much this means to the fans”. Talk of the fans sets Nigel off in the commentary box in praise of the BOGOF philosophy, “good to see some promotional work [at Coventry] – buy one, get one free, kids under 15 free” before he appears to lapse into reading a handy nearby press release lifted from a management textbook or grant application, “making it work, trying to attract a new audience to speedway”. I’m not sure if Nigel is allowed to acknowledge the severe deleterious impact on crowds of the arrival of the Sky cameras at any speedway stadium (except play offs) unless, of course, the impact is massaged by entry is somehow or in some senses ‘free’ on the night. Plus, looked at coldly, Nigel implicitly seems to be saying that some promoters don’t really promote their clubs effectively but just fling the gates open Field of Dreams (“build it and they will come”) fashion? It transpires later that this BOGOF initiative is due to a canny link up with the nearest supermarket chain – Morrisons – to Brandon Stadium. Peter Oakes ostentatiously emphasizes this fact later, in lieu of some chatter, prior to the coin toss for gate positions before heat 15 with the phrase, “thanks to Morrisons the supermarket”. Straight after that plug, Scott Nicholls is captured stood in front of a backdrop that features a giant yellow and black Morrisons loyalty card. He looks somewhat self-conscious and has clearly been instructed to linger in the act of putting on his helmet so that precious ‘free’ airtime is provided. I love loyalty cards and have a Morrisons one, though they’re pretty hard to use in many parts of the country since this supermarket still remains a regionally based chain. But fair play to them for their sponsorship.
Back at the word face, Nigel reveals what he views to be the qualities required to be a ‘superstar rider’, “Rory Schlein has to be a GP rider of the future – he’s got the style, got the class, set up, outlook”. He’s a lucky man to have such a skill set and to ride for Coventry, where “week in and week out – [there’s] a great atmosphere here” and “they love their speedway”, Consequently, I imagine this is why, “riders want to ride for this club!” Nonetheless, this much bandied about ‘wanting’ phrase excites my curiosity since we never hear on Sky or elsewhere, “riders don’t want to ride for this club” when logically the need to highlight this virtue must imply that this isn’t universally always the case? Luckily, speedway’s new messiah, Cornishman Chris Harris, takes to the track – on a path of palm leaves laid from pit lane past the giant advert for the supermarket sponsor that we can never quite read – so Nigel can coo, “man of the moment in speedway, highly popular wherever he goes!” Fortunately the Bees boast quite a few demi-Gods among the mortals, “Rory Schlein – hugely popular…they’ll sell mega mega souvenirs in the shop here I’m sure!” We’re honoured to have them in town tonight because, “the top stars – their schedule is unbelievable” (Chris Louis chimes in at this point with the bitter voice of experience, “it’s the travelling that really gets you down”).
Even Chris Louis gets infected by the highly contagious Sky speedway cliché version of mad cow disease when he comments on Tomasz Chrzanowski, “he really is just going quick” and then Leigh Adams, “normally very fast from the start – so consistent”. However, these are rare blemishes and the Pearson/Louis combination quickly effectively cuts the Green/Tatum partnership adrift on the insight front, though Nigel intermittently finds old habits hard to break, “again some good speedway between these two sides” in a “close contest”. Though, to be fair, this is probably a condition of doing the job or heavily influenced by the instructions he receives via his headphones from the director of the show.
Back in the booth, reporter replacement is in effect for Sarra Elgin, so the lads step in with a great comedy interview (that’s actually much more fun and absorbing to watch than those with riders who have English as a mother tongue) with Tomasz Chrzanowski after one of his race wins, “happy – it’s my good meeting today”. Kelvin tries to clarify things a bit further by employing his usual tactic with foreigners, namely speaking loudly and slowly, “that was an important race, very important” while looking imploringly at Tomasz and nodding helpfully. Tomasz nods as though he sees the logic of this questioning. He even helpfully recognises a struggling interviewer when he’s presented with one – so he quickly wraps it up to a close with a smile and the reassurance, “everything is okay”. Sadly, the master linguist Greenie is unable to control his will to communication, so then steps in to confirm the end of the interview with his own attempt to reach out culturally, “CHIN – QUAY”. Luckily Tomasz has departed the booth and is probably much too relieved and way too polite to return to ask, “what the freak did you just say?” Jonathan appears inordinately satisfied with his brief foray into the key phrases lifted from his Monty Python Polish-English dictionary and only just about resisted trotting out some other key phrases from his stag weekend, “seventeen beers and have one yourself – you have lovely piersi!” Rather satisfied with himself, he smugly tells Kelv, “we need to make an effort to communicate in his language.” This stuff is beyond pastiche and it’s clever of Greenie to slip in such a fine example of post-modern irony. If earlier there had been a mandatory break for this weeks (sadly absent) ‘Kelvin in his Garage’ interlude to clarify some important technical detail (“legs are for walking”), then Jonathan could have mugged up on some other phrases to smooth the interview along in even more surreal fashion, “twoje oczy są jak dwa księżyce”, “jestem szczęśliwie żonaty”, “kurwa mac!” or “nie zrozum mnie źle”. *
The real obsession of the night is the overarching desire from Jonathan, Kelvin and Nigel for a “close contest” as though this were the Holy Grail of any speedway meeting. Even Chris Louis got caught up in this obsession, albeit more thoughtfully, “this score line is all about these points being scrapped for at the back.” Though the scores remain close throughout Jonathan frets and ossicilates from “everything was so close until that moment” to “it’s on a knife edge at the moment”. At this point I must highlight how weird it is that we can have such an entertaining meeting within the much maligned and oh so iniquitous existing 2007 regulations – you know the ones that permit only one tactical rider replacement ride – that the Sky team have banged on about changing all season! Surely, they should now realize that their advocacy of commercial self-interest would be better directed towards equalizing team strengths (the cake) rather than the froth of changing the colour of the icing?
Throughout, Nigel and Chris work interestingly together. One minute they pursue their own individual but complimentary word patterns on a particular theme – for example for Nigel Scott Nicholls “will grab a handful of dirt” whereas for Chris, “yeh, Scott just charged into the dirt and turned himself inside out”. At other times they disagree with the careworn familiarity of a couple in a long term but sometimes fractious relationship:
[NP] “Will there be a bit of pride at stake between Richardson and Harris?”
[CL] “I don’t think so!”
Otherwise, they pursue their own hobbyhorses. Consequently Nigel explains, yet again, “remember the bikes have no brakes, it’s all about throttle control” and harps on about what appears to be the equivalent of a speedway erogenous zone for him, “particularly the way he was looking over his shoulder, right shoulder, left shoulder”. He just can’t get enough of the “topsy turvy battle”, and remark “what a night” often enough or delight in the crowd reaction, “it’s no wonder they love their speedway these days at Coventry – look at the fans clap and show their approval” Finally the armchair audience witnesses a race – or more specifically the first lap of heat 13 – that easily justifies the season long use of high flown exaggerated praise, so Nigel’s “wow! What a race it doesn’t get much better than this!” is totally apposite and Chris marvels, more soberly, “all three of them riding abreast down the straight”. Tonight, all this to and fro in the commentary booth works well as a telly programme since, not only is the spectacle of the meeting exciting fare in itself, but also because together Pearson/Louis manage to Drop the Dead Donkey (or at least obscure it) of the millstone that is often the laboured contributions of the booth boys.
Jonathan has been reduced to making up pronunciations “Rory SchLEAN” or praising Leigh Adams as a “brave fella”, while Kelvin imposes his authority, “as I’ve said, and I’ll say it again, he has proved enormously important”. When they put their heads together to look ahead and marvel at the prospective line-ups in later heats Jonathan notes, “13 could be as big as this one!” Greenie even tries to generate one of his ‘we will fight them on the beaches’ riffs where we think we know what he’s trying to say but aren’t quite sure based on what we actually hear, “these are nights come September and looking back, these nights blah blah blah [loses train of thought] well, it could be massive!”
Kelv decides to look nonplussed in a helpful manner to ease the anxiety of the situation. Nonetheless Jonathan has his default setting of ‘grouchily moany’ temporarily changed to ‘delighted’ this evening, “we’ve been waiting all season for a last heat decider” and, when Swindon win the meeting with an unexpected 5-1, everyone except the Coventry fans (who don’t quite love their speedway that much) celebrates. For Chris, “its ‘Roy of the Rovers’ stuff” while rather ironically Nigel implies the Swindon lot are going slightly over the top, “the way they’re celebrating, you’d have thought they’d won the title”. “Yes, hugs all round” is Jonathan’s take on the unbridled joy that surrounds him. There’s still enough time to interview Leigh Adams so he can crack his trademark jokes and smile broadly. Actually, he’s a bit under the weather with cumulative injuries aggravated by the bike that bonked him on the head in heat 1, so actually has some justification for his taciturn, slightly put upon not-quite-Mr-Charisma demeanour. Nonetheless, it’s always a delight to hear him talk about himself in the third person and his use of the ‘Royal we’ always charms, “we just get on with it!” Even despite these quirks, he’s a sage observer and no nonsense interviewee who we could do with in the commentary booth when his career finally stalls, “we’ve been looking at Coventry’s results and we thought they’d been a bit lucky”. In the presence of greatness Kelvin tries to flourish his insight and entertain the viewers with a rather recondite ‘what if’ retrospective debate about the various possible results scenarios that different choice of gate positions in heat 15 might have produced. As the race is over and the meeting is won, Leigh quite rightly has no truck with such posturing and time wasting irrelevances, “you know – it really doesn’t matter – we’ve got the points in the bag!” With Leigh gone and the credits about to roll, all that’s left is to look ahead:
[JG] “Belle Vue versus Wolves – could that be a last heat decider?”
[KT] “I think so!”
21st May Coventry v Swindon 44-46
* “your eyes are like the moon”, “I’m happily married”, “for freaks sake” or “don’t get me wrong”. Sadly I couldn’t find the infamous, “my nipples are exploding with passion!” “there’s a real sense of anticipation” or “both sides really want to win this one!”