John Jarvis RIP (& affectionately remembered)
Like so many others, I am really very sorry to learn of the sudden death of true speedway fan, speedway historian and lovely man John Jarvis on April 7 aged 71. John was precisely the kind of modest, sincere, slightly obsessive, softly spoken man who typifies the values of what makes the speedway community so special. John deliberately wore his knowledge, experience and expertise lightly and affably. He had a genuine curiosity about all speedway people (whatever their role, responsibility & status or otherwise, preferably otherwise sometimes). I think (in my experience) he could clearly see their strengths, passions, frailties and foibles but always chose to see the best in people as well as offer kind words of encouragement and compassion.
Given his track record and skills as a researcher, historian and elegant writer, John could have quite rightly been precious and dismissive of those who knew less or were struggling to vaguely try to emulate him. Instead, he was true to himself and his love of and passion for the broad church that is British Speedway, by welcoming any and all into the charmed circle of the community. He played nice, kept his curiosity, forgave and shared openly. While knowing much more than he let on, he had no time for cliques. If asked for advice or thoughts, John gave it honestly in that lovely soft accent of his. If John felt advice should be given he offered it casually in passing as if by accident as something to be possibly borne gently in mind but, maybe, not really.
John seemed to turn up everywhere. That was always welcome and, somehow, reassuring. Suddenly he was just there, appearing from nowhere. He was a man you could admire for his understated passion for speedway and the certainty in the world his presence projected. His eyes had warmth and wisdom. Though a hoverer, John was not at all peripheral to the heart of speedway. Now John has left us, his absence will be noticed with a smile of recognition at the happy memories and the sadly missing warm glow of his friendly fellowship.
From Bouquet of Shale
Speedway historian and co-author of the acclaimed Homes of British Speedway, John Jarvis, comes over all wistful when he recalls how many meetings and speedway tracks he used to visit each season. “I used to do 180 a year! This year I’ve only done 50 – most at Newport where I haven’t missed one yet! That’s 38 I think? I’ve been keeping notes to make sure is up to date but nothing much has changed. I help Rob Bamford who does the updating nowadays. There’s probably seven or eight new training tracks to add but nothing much really. It’s too comprehensive really. Some bloke did some research and got in touch to say ‘Luton didn’t run in ’36.’ They did in 1934 and in ’35 as a training track so, probably, that’s wrong but, apart from that, it’s probably too accurate really!”
Co-author of the still indispensable Homes of British Speedway reference book, John Jarvis sits in the shade of the section of the home-straight grandstand that overlooks the first bend. John points to an old age pensioner and asks, “Do you know who that is?” I don’t. Apparently, it’s ex-Newport and Wolverhampton rider Cyril Francis. “They let him in free each week.” John then asks rhetorically, “You’ve come to see the end?” Like many who care about this South Wales speedway club, John has concerns at the size of the crowd. “There can only be 350 here when he [Steve Mallett] needs 800 to break even. You need 300 to make the National League pay. Tomorrow he’ll get 200 maybe 250 if Dudley bring some down. Birmingham brought some last week. They say Tony Mole is looking at it in case Birmingham doesn’t run next year.
“He’s here today.”
[John] “In his Workington top this week, he was in his Birmingham top last! I haven’t been anywhere else this season – not Swindon or Somerset – just here! I haven’t missed a single meeting Premier League or National League. I like to support Steve Mallett because he’s a nice man. His mum is nice too.”
“She’s the one walking the dog.”
[John] “She works in the burger bar at National League meetings. He must be losing money every week. It’s a question of when he stops! They’re all nice, only the son is a prat! It’s amazing how things change. You ask Glyn Shailes – in ‘98 or ’99 when Swindon did the fixture list they’d say ‘Put in Newport first meeting, they’ll bring 600!’ It’s a natural cycle for clubs. They come back and attendances are high and then it falls off.”