Sky cross the water to the Premier League

12th June

It’s a Tuesday night and, most unusually, the Sky cameras have deigned to feature a Premier League encounter – probably the sort of meeting we’ll see them televise a lot more next season. When you listen to Jonathan talk about racing at this level, it’s clear that he sees such trips as a combination of slumming it and an anthropological expedition. He obviously hasn’t attended many meetings at Smallbrook since he claims there is “a great crowd here, as always”, when everyone in the sport knows that the biggest crowds are drawn here during the peak summer holiday months. However, the tenth anniversary celebrations of this unique owned speedway club has swelled attendances beyond the usual hard core of the Islanders support. We learn that apparently the Isle of Wight is separated from the mainland by a stretch of (sea) water – at least this is what Jonathan breathlessly informs us, though it’s a disappointment to learn that the Sky team haven’t swum across since they rather boringly only “sailed across from Portsmouth”. Jonathan is in no doubt that the arrival of the Sky television cameras should be greeted as an event of huge significance in the tiny lives of the people on the island, something akin to the arrival of the railways or electricity that will duly send the resident Islanders into paroxysms of ecstasy. “I’m going through my memory bank” he informs us and we can almost hear the slow grinding of the one gear and its wheel as he desperately tries to recall any team from the Island that has featured in any sports programme ever. After Jonathan thoroughly exhausted his trawl, he then claims, “it’s a special night for the isle of Wight” something with which Kelvin wholeheartedly agrees parrot fashion, “it’s a really special night for the Island!”

Jonathan soon brings his fabled observational skills to bear, “it’s a very big track”. Kelvin agrees, “yes – it’s a very physical track, quite wavy”. Mister Green has been to the pits and is shocked, “what most impressed me was how confident both teams were”. Kelvin has the eye of a pyromaniac about the form of Chris Holder, “got to pick him out – he’s setting the world alight in the Premier League”. Nonetheless he continues, “the quality of show tonight is triffic…I think we will see the best of the Premier League”. In the commentary box, not too far from a very smartly dressed Bryn Williams, Nigel Pearson informs us, “it’s fast, it’s furious on the Isle of Wight” but kindly warns us, “when they go into turns three and four – anything can happen!” Tonight Carl ‘Stoney’ Stonehewer joins Nigel in the booth and during his track walk he identifies that it “looks in mint condition”. Throughout the night his presentational style is more ‘bloke down the pub’ than anything else and he consistently summarises things without pretension.

Tomas Topinka wins the first race and Kelvin tells him, “you must have been chuffed to bits with your start there”. After Tomas has said his piece and answered their questions Jonathan dismisses him with, “okey dokey, Tomas” before he flourishes one of his pre-prepared but rather tortuous comments, “they call them the Stars and Tomas Topinka is one of them without a doubt!” The next race is awarded and James Brundle is excluded but also slightly injured in the fall (“looks in a lot of discomfort”) and Nigel uses a euphemism to inform us, “he’s winded – he’s clutching his stomach”. Kelvin looks on at the incident aghast, “I’m pleased to see him up cos they don’t have air fences in the Premier League” but then reminds us that, luckily, “when you’re a youngster you tend to bounce”. Ever the voyeur, Jonathan wants Kelvin to estimate the speed Brundle was travelling at when he crashed. Kelvin nonchalantly estimates “70, 75” as Jonathan then decides to joke about Brundle’s distinctive hairstyle – even though he’s not noted for his own tonsorial elegance – provoking a knowing laugh from Kelv, “that’s something else when you’re a youngster!”

I notice that Sexy7girls appear to be on start line duty tonight and wonder if Jonathan Chapman now travels with his own start line troupe to every fixture? Nigel only has eyes for the racing and plugs the Sky party line, “THIS will be very unpredictable until the last heat”. The cameraman lingers on some maintenance for Jason Bunyan’s bike and Jonathan is keen to demonstrate his mechanical expertise (“having problems with his CARB-BURR-RATER”) though this insight is slightly spoilt by his rather stilted phonetic pronunciation as though he’s reading from a badly written crib sheet. Kelvin refuses to be usurped on technical matters so provides us all with way too much detail, “normally you get a bit more lubrication on the slide and that sorts it”. Talk of lubrication and the sight of an attractive lady defying the rigid gender roles that J&K obviously live their lives by prompts an outbreak of (unconscious) verbal leering from Kelv, “very pleasant to see and nice on the eye – nice to see!”

Although he’s on the Island, Nigel Pearson can’t resist some of his favourite workaday tropes (“engines roar – the tapes rise”) and then also gives us a brief lesson in the ownership structure of the club, “[the] most unique club in British speedway cos the shareholders back their team year in and year out.” The riding prospect everyone is keen to see and talk about is Chris ‘Noddy’ Holder. Stoney likes what he sees in heat 6 when the young Aussie leads by a considerable distance, “he’s only playing at it – he’s not being pushed”, in fact Stoney believes he should ply his trade in the Elite League, “he’s ready for the step up now”. Nigel already thinks he’ll go even further, “one day he’ll be a GP rider” and when Kelv interviews Holder he also soon gushes, “looks like you’re having fun – riding an inch from the fence!”

As ever the advert breaks come thick and fast, so Nigel decides to tease the armchair audience as the pictures fade for the latest break, “you get the feeling this one could go the distance”. When we return it’s clear that Dave Croucher has ventured onto the track to douse it with his trusty hose and, thereby, has outraged speedway track ‘expert’ Jonathan, “we just saw them watering the track and we both looked a little bit surprised!” This complaint is rich in irony given that any speedway meeting televised by Sky means that they will dictate the schedule of the running of the heats and, because of this, they will also dictate the curatorial teams ability to grade and maintain the track throughout the meeting. This would prove significant in heat 10 for Chris Holder since the normal rhythm of track grades had been abrupted by the dictates of Sky and their need for regular adverts, and so an accumulation of shale had built up by the safety that otherwise would have been cleared for a more run of the mill meeting. Penalised 15 metres at the start for a tapes offence, Holder zooms flat out to try to get back in contention. His desire to rapidly succeed in his chase of the Lynn riders unfortunately means that he nearly upends his team mate Cory Gathercole, “the Islanders are getting in each others way – that’s not good! He just ran him so wide – he probably didn’t intend to,” remarks Stoney mildly. Almost immediately, worse is to follow when Holder clatters into the fence heavily and lies prostrate. Gathercole pootles round to inspect the damage, “let’s hope his team mate is saying ‘are you alright?’ rather than trying to scrap him” notes Stoney sagely, apparently speaking from bitter personal experience of such matters.

Kelvin reviews the slow motion endlessly and, instead of insight or interpretation, he prefers to rehash what we’ve all just seen with our own eyes albeit with his own unique rhetorical flourish, “he knocked his own team mate off and then threw himself into the fence.” In response, Jonathan blurts, “Holder is out”. Sensibly Kelvin has learnt to distrust these tourettes-like outbursts from Jonathan so he sensibly tries to check the veracity of the facts, “he is? Is that confirmed?”

I must say that the approach of the broadcast is slightly less po-faced this week – I suspect it’s because this is the ‘less important’ Premier League – so moments of warmth and humour slip through along with the casual sexism. Kelvin briefly sounds genuinely witty when he remarks to Isle of Wight co-promoter Martin ‘Mad Dog’ Newnham, who sports a pair of dark glasses that wouldn’t disgrace a Florida based OAP, after his rather partisan (and wildly inaccurate) account of race proceedings, “perhaps you might have to change those glasses Martin”. When Jason Bunyan is interviewed by the ever-observant J & K combination, the camera cuts back to the pits where a lady is evidently hard at work on his bike. The surprise that the gentler sex might be sufficiently skilled to assist in such matters immediately provokes chortles about this incongruity from ‘the boys’ and Jason notes, “that’s me girlfriend Rose – she keeps me perked up!”

An evening of entertaining racing draws to a close and there is, indeed, one of those fabled last heat deciders that, in this instance, ensures King’s Lynn retain the lead they generated after the unfortunate injury to the Islander’s Chris Holder. The cameras manage to catch the spontaneous celebration of Lynn team manager Rob Lyon as he clasps a whooping Jonathan Chapman into his arms. Thankfully Tomas Topinka finishes third in the last heat decider so we avoid any repeat of the earlier awful and tortuous prepared quote (the broadcast equivalent of an inferior ready meal), “they had the TT racing on the Isle of Man last week and this week there’s a TT racer on the Isle of Wight now!”

12th June Isle of Wight v King’s Lynn (Premier League) 42-47

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