Lovely Review by Peter Oakes of ‘Quantum of Shale’ in the Speedway Star
If Jeff Scott wrote regularly about football, cricket, horseracing or rugby union, he would almost certainly be a household name.
He might even grab a spot on Strictly Come Dancing and would certainly be a regular guest on the sofa of the proliferation of chat shows that litter the TV schedules.
But Jeff’s chosen sport is speedway (although he has published a mainly pictorial reflection of his personal support for Sunderland FC) and that makes him little more than a peripheral literary figure, although one of his previous offerings was so well received outside the shale inner circle that it was nominated for Sports Book of the Year.
Anyone who has read any of Jeff’s previous offerings – Showered in Shale, When Eagles Dared, Shifting Shale and Concrete for Breakfast, among them – will know exactly what they are getting for their £20. A lengthy, prosaic tour of the country as he drops into most tracks and spends his time chatting mainly to those unsung figures from behind the scenes.
The first few sentences of Quantum of Shale set the pace and accurately précis what you will find in the remaining 318 pages. Let me quote: “With the new speedway season only four weeks away, the chance to get back into the swing of things arrives in the Midlands. Well, to be exact, at the Coventry Sports Connexion Centre in Ryton-on-Dunsmore. Usually the sports centre on the outskirts of Coventry is the regular weekend home for dog shows, car boot sales and is also famous as the Coventry City FC ‘Sky Blues’ training ground, conceived and implemented by Jimmy Hill. However, this particular Saturday – after the long dark winter nights of the close season – it leaves speedway fans spoilt for choice with two different events taking place simultaneously at the same location.
“Inside a spacious sports hall is the 2008 Speedway and Grass Track Show that, the pre-show advertising in the Speedway Star boasts, will enable you to casually mingle with riders – albeit only ones from Coventry – as well as have your photo taken with the Eazy Oils Racer girls. The advert in the Star foregrounds the lure of these girls dressed in tightly fitted clothes and claims that fans should ‘come along and start your 2008 season!’.” This, then, is where Jeff’s 2008 season began – and it ends at what could yet turn out to be Reading’s last ever meeting, their End of an Era event on October 19.
In between the two calendar extremes, Jeff’s ports of call include 46 other events, as diverse as High Beech, Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium, Sheffield (four times), Sittingbourne (on three occasions, probably for no better reason that it is relatively close to Jeff’s South Coast base) and Kidlington. Kidlington? Perhaps you had better buy and read the book to discover this unlikely location which is hardly pinpointed on the majority of speedway fans’ itinerary! Almost every page – and there are a total of 336 of them taking into account the colourful cover, end pages, content, acknowledgements and afterword – takes you on a different journey, a powerful mix of whimsy, the lyrical, and chocolate coated barbs.
Scott has a happy knack of getting people to open up in their conversations, possibly because they know their words will simply be part of a lengthy narrative rather than plucked from obscurity and hardened into headline grabbing intros.
His is definitely from the prosaic Sunday Times school of journalism than the hard knock style favoured by The Sun and Daily Star. He does unearth some gems, however, with discreet revelations from several promoters and once you have ploughed through every word you will know far more about what happens behind the scenes than you did.
If you want to know what Sheffield’s Neil Machin really thinks about some of the BSPA decisions; how much Lakeside charge for advertising and sponsorship; which rider leaves tomatoes on the side of his plate; and who does, or perhaps doesn’t, wear red knickers, this is the book for you.
A brilliant, compulsive read.
[presently the book is £19 and postage free for UK customers on Amazon]