Sparkling interviews with Jeff Crump and the Leigh/Lee’s

11th June

Even an Elite League encounter between two of the current top teams can’t be introduced without some prior reference to the GP series or the Cardiff Grand Prix on any Sky broadcast. Jonathan notes with rapier like acuity, “it’s looking good for Cardiff for the overall GP” which I translate to mean no one has yet boringly and predictably run away with things since there are now so many meaningless rounds that it’s really too early to declare anyone a winner just yet. Kelvin grimaces at the camera in a rough approximation of a smile and comes over all happy clappy too, “yes, it’s looking fantastic!” Things must be desperate when KT’s opening bit of hyperbole of the evening has to be so grandiose (and unbelievable) – this will devalue all the future mentions of “triffic” that will undoubtedly litter the remainder of the night when he talks about something innocuous but in need of exaggeration during the Poole versus Swindon clash from Wimborne Road. Luckily Jonathan soon reassures us, “it’s a big match tonight!” and since Poole are featured this season that means that Edward Kennett will appear. The dynamic duo have a cliché for every occasion and so it is with Edward, “we quite literally have seen this kid become a man”. Exactly how Jonathan has seen this I think it’s best we draw a veil over in the interests of privacy!

If there’s one thing they like to talk about on Sky then it’s the state of the track as though this is somehow informative or relevant for the viewers, when the majority of the tracks in this country in the Elite League are slick 99% of the time. On the fifth day of a cricket test match wear and tear might be a key factor but for speedway this is platitudinous. More importantly, the casual viewer that these programmes allegedly so regularly attract (you know, the ones that mysteriously can’t be quantified with exact viewing figures or never turn up at any speedway track round the country to watch live) surely can’t be thrilled by this arcane technical insight? When they race F1 or the Moto GP discussions of the racing surface are minimal to non-existent, yet each week we learn about it in such glorious detail it’s as though they’ve just discovered a cure for cancer. Luckily David Norris is the colour commentator tonight so, at least, he does cover the boring with some wit and élan. When he discovers a slightly rougher surface on his track walk wearing the headphones that make him look like an air traffic controller, “they’re thinking of planting carrots or spuds down by the start line – that’s a real issue for me”. It’s quite an evening for vegetables since he allegedly often likes to eat a large quantity of onions before his commentary duties. At the mention of an “issue” Kelvin’s ears prick up and he can’t help himself and has to immediately have one of his own in order to reinforce his expert status, “my issue is the slick inside line!” This sort of fatuousness allows David’s wit to shine out even further and he (apparently breaking the terms of the standard Sky contract) provides some insight when he replies to Kelvin, “people who’re your age and mine who don’t want to come to the party can pop round the inside”.

Probably with the editor screaming in her headphones to get the suddenly flagging cliché count back on track, Sarra says to a barely interested Lee Richardson, “it could be the most important meeting of the season”. Despite knowing they say this absolutely every week, for a quiet life Lee just plays along with some polite platitudes – at least I think that’s it, although we’ve yet to hear his conversation develop beyond that whenever he’s interviewed. Surrounded by the smell of onions, Tony Millard glances into his book of ready drafted inanities and his eye lights upon, “a speedway hotbed of [insert geographic area]” or “[insert club name] a real hot bed of speedway” – for this trip to Poole he chooses, “the speedway hotbed of the South!” Before the first race starts Floppy returns to his favoured ‘rough’ track theme, “it really is drastic down there” but then Leigh Adams decides to enliven proceedings with an uncharacteristic error, “he didn’t touch the tapes he destroyed them”. Desperately trying to think on the spot, Jonathan’s anxiety that this might prevent the Holy Grail of Sky broadcasts – the fabled ‘last heat decider’ – causes him to say something banal (“the tapes were held for that little bit longer than usual”) until inspiration hits and he enquires of Kelv, “too long?” Short of being made to work with children or animals, Jonathan is clearly already trying Kelv’s limitless patience, “well not too long – Swist rolled” Greenie isn’t going to let the matter drop without wringing the last ounce of stupidity from the situation, “could Leigh Adams argue that the guy next to him felt the same”. Even if we kindly ignore that mind reading is tremendously difficult so we don’t know what the “guy” [does this rider have a name?] next door did or didn’t think, the rule book doesn’t cover letting riders who have broken the tapes back into the race based on the tapes being held too long or because of the similarity of the thoughts of the competing riders. Kelvin can barely contain his exasperation, “the ARGUMENT is that Leigh Adams is UNAWARE” but Jonathan refuses to take the hint and drop the matter, “no – I meant even the guy to the right” he asserts nonsensically. Kelv scowls grumpily at the camera and uses his exasperated talking to morons and children voice, “no – I think Crump was pretty stationary!” I’m really not sure how this is supposed to entertain the viewers, except unintentionally? In fact, throughout the broadcast we’re treated to some classic mistakes-cum-malapropisms by the commentary team. Tony Millard really excels when he calls Jason Crump “Jason Dodd” (the ex-Southampton footballer) and rechristens his Danish teammate “Barney” Pedersen. Floppy breaks off from his next course of onions to casually remark on “Petra” Swist who, I assume, has previously had some canine role on Blue Peter?

Whatever the inanity of this piffle, the new mantra is that the fact that Leigh Adams broke the tapes somehow is seen as an indication of a sign of his severe “nerves”, apparently brought on by the sheer magnificence and enormity of this encounter between Poole and Swindon. The structural logic of the composition of the 2007 Elite League ensures that these two teams will meet at least four times in this competition, possibly more if they progress to the play offs. Tony Millard is in no doubt about the heightened significance of this encounter, “this really is a top match – Chelsea versus Manchester United I think you’d call it”. Perhaps, Tony is more subtle and critical than I’d imagined since many disgruntled fans of other less fortunate clubs often (unfairly) claim that Matt Fordski at Poole routinely buys success by a combination of paying inflated wages and signing an extensive roster of riders that he doesn’t fully utilise but, thereby, prevents other teams from using against the Pirates. Without Leigh Adams to best, Jason Crump wins the rerun of the first heat but its elsewhere on the circuit that fascinates Tony, “a real battle in second place – that’s what it’s all about!” Floppy briefly casts aside his onion, but retains a food theme as he tries to capture the ‘Worst Pun of the Season’ trophy, “I know he’s got a new name – Swist roll – he’s getting on in years but he still rides with passion, he’s a clever customer”.

Back in the interview booth, Jason boredly bats off the initial talk of the supposed enormity of this encounter with a joking reference to the underperformance of his previous club Belle Vue, “obviously it’s a top of the table clash – been a fair while since I was involved in that for a while”. Kelvin bangs on about “nerves” and Jase seizes the chance to pretend for his sponsors and the fans that this isn’t just another run-of-the-mill, routine encounter that is almost meaningless in the welter of fixtures and travel endured by many of the in demand superstar riders, “I think it shows how much the Elite League means to us all!” It’s a sign of his professionalism that he can say this with a straight face in a tone of voice that appears suitably serious. Anxious to bring his own expertise and insight to bear Jonathan says, “Jeff (!!), bit of an up and down year – how would you sum it up so far?” Kelvin’s glare at the camera as the word “Jeff” [since I can’t think offhand of any riders by that name in British speedway, so it’s nice to know Jonathan is reading the blog and thinking about me] leaves Jonathan’s lips is a picture since managing to get the name of the present world champion completely wrong – particularly wonderful given how much he rants on about the GP series every single week – takes a special skill to carry off. Fortunately, reference to varying performances temporary winds Jase up into a momentary whinge about how Tiger Woods and Michael Schumacher don’t win every time before he catches himself in time and affects the modest caveat “not that I’m saying I’m like them”. Jase departs to glower in the pits and Jonathan says what sounds like, “that’s what I like about him – he wears his arm on his sleeve and tells you how it is!”

Heat 2 gives Tony Millard another chance to demonstrate his delightful ignorance of the rules and regulations of the sport that he’s covered as a so-called ‘authority figure’ for so many years. “The tapes are held again by referee Chris Gay” he complains as though this were illegal having clearly failed to listen to Kelvin earlier (who surprised us by getting the rules right rather than invent his own) who had correctly explained to the viewers that since “no riders should be moving at the tapes” Chris Gay is clearly a referee who waits until the riders are still before he releases the tapes. Watching the replay, David Norris says, “bosh – if I was the ref, I’d put all four back and Troy Batchelor owes me a fiver”. Inevitably Troy wins the rerun race, despite his earlier transgression, and has already used the fiver to invest in a new interview word – “awesome”. He chose this cos Kelvin had already previously bought the exclusive broadcast rights “triffic” and “fantastic”. When Sarra claims, “it’s all about team spirit” Troy proudly blasts out a few mentions of the new word, “it’s awesome, Jason’s awesome, everyone’s awesome!”

Something that isn’t so awesome is Tony Millard’s confidence in his own lack of knowledge and understanding of the sport that he covers for Sky. “The referee is stopping that. He will probably now award that to Swindon. We’ll have to hear from Chris Gay…the ref has the power to award this, so I’m sure Chris Gay will be thinking hard about this!” Having listened to this dog’s dinner of inaccurate supposition, we then hear from the referee in question on his decision regarding heat 4, “yeh, um, I don’t actually have the discretion to award that race because they weren’t on the last lap and, er, because the rider who came off wasn’t at the back and it wasn’t a 5-1! And, so, I have to rerun that race with the exclusion of the rider in blue [Batchelor].” Mister Millard skilfully covers his comprehensive gaffe, “a brilliant explanation from the ref” and Floppy also makes light of the incident, “those youngsters bounce a bit better than the rest of us!” While we’ve been treated to this waffle, elsewhere the Swindon team manager Alun ‘Rosco’ Rossiter has got on the phone to the referee to share his own particular brand of the milk of human kindness with the match official. This being a live Sky speedway broadcast, the mission to explain and transport us behind the scenes only works selectively so, almost inevitably, the camera often cuts away just prior to the crucial incident, ditto the endless replays unless the camera misses it completely (for example, the recent dispute between Gollub and Pedersen at a GP remained mysterious and unexplained to the armchair audience). Or, in this case, focus on blather means the producer misses the opportunity to enlighten the armchair audience by cutting immediately to some key exchange in the pits or on the pits phone. Consequently, we don’t join the Gay/Rosco at the outset but soon pick up the thread that Alun apparently uses the same rulebook as Mister Millard. We arrive just as Chris explains the situation in the moderate and calming tones of a school biology teacher who’s discovered an unruly pupil has deliberately poisoned the class guinea pigs during the lesson, “I know things haven’t gone your way so far, but I don’t have the discretion to award it”. Rosco changes his initial plea into appeal for refereeing consistency, “I don’t believe you can’t award it. Well, you referees need to get it together – when one ref does it on one lap and another does it on the third” Politeness rules but as he stomps away from the pits phone, Alun exasperatedly shouts out to persons unseen in the pits, “he says he can’t award it!”

Rosco is then immediately door stepped by Sarra for an off-the-cuff interview in which she soon (re) establishes Rosco thought it could be awarded, should be awarded and often would be awarded. Jonathan ‘Jason’ Green is bamboozled by the uncertainty of it all, “[a] very strange one in many ways…I’m sure a lot of people are diving for the rulebook”. [Do they own such a thing at Sky?] Now that the education strand of these programmes has been abandoned and Kelvin has been forcibly removed from his shed, perhaps the rulebook could become standard issue for all those with access to any Sky speedway microphone? Like schoolboys always failing to clean behind their ears with their flannel, it appears some detention for extra lessons is required for many of the team. If in doubt, switch the subject to the first thing that comes into your head is a motto that Jason Green lives his broadcast life by. So rather than discuss the track again, he turns to Doctor Tatum whose previous falls and injuries suddenly grants him sufficient status to offer expert medical insight, “how badly will he have hurt that shoulder?” Quick as a flash Kelv retorts, “well, I’m not sure – but certainly he hit the ground really hard and he’ll be feeling second hand!” In the absence of an answer, JG makes an incomprehensible joke before we luckily go to the commercial break, “it’s a case of Batchelor marrying a fence that one!”

Once we’ve all been aurally assaulted by the GP advert and various other commercials for inferior products that would struggle to gain interest from even the most lobotomised of the armchair audience, Jason Green revives a very, very favourite theme, “this is a very, very important match up”. Kelvin hasn’t played ball all night so far and consequently strays further off message and worryingly close to a comment that hints of vague honesty, “the meeting really hasn’t got going – it’s been stop-start”. Desperately trying to take discussions back to Planet Bland, Jonathan plays his metaphorical joker, “all the heats are important but this one could be very important!” The subject of importance has also fatally gripped Sarra in the pits and she knowingly informs Lee Richardson, “those starts are so important aren’t they?” Temporarily thrown off the scent by this insight, Lee replies, “blah blah blah the starts are so important!” Because he rides well all night, Sarra again soon has Lee trapped in the pits for another interview and this time she tries to blind him with statistical insight, “that’s your thousand and first point for Swindon”. Totally underwhelmed and far from amazed or excited, Lee decides to bluff a reply, “I didn’t know that myself” before he reveals that Jim [Rosco] has apparently fixed it for him to get his deepest, truest wish, “a year of league racing at the top level and no GP!”

After his first heat tapes exclusion, Leigh Adams wins his next three outings and, each time, shows no reaction whatsoever as he crosses the line. Floppy remarks, “we saw how much it meant to him earlier”. Leigh is a delight to listen to whenever interviewed – mostly for his slightly grouchy and put upon honesty and, unless he also has an invisible six foot white rabbit with him called Harvey, his continual references to himself in the third person plural, “we turned back underneath him and we got the run!” Leigh knows who was at fault for the exclusion, “Jason was rolling a bit” and is also happy to explore a theme he will explore again with greater vehemence as the night unfolds, “to be honest, the track’s not ideal!” When Kelvin suggests, “you need to help Charlie Gjedde get going” Leigh evades the question, “well, ah ha, that’s fun and games…” Leigh is interviewed so often at this meeting that they might have to start a frequent interviewer scheme to reward him for his efforts. When he says, “shame about Saturday – we didn’t get the win”, Jonathan quickly hails him as speedway’s first ever philosopher, “interesting words from Leigh Adams”.

Later, trying a variation on a familiar theme, Jonathan bigs up the meeting with, “the intensity out there is huge!” Kelvin suddenly sees himself as the reincarnation of the ‘Galloping Gourmet’ Graham Kerr and so decides to indulge himself in a cooking metaphor, “it’s really beginning to bubble away nicely”. Earlier in the meeting the cameras had lingered in the pits and caught sight of Ginger I and Ginger II (Neil ‘Middlo’ Middleditch and Jason Crump) deep in jovial and animated conversation while they gaze as one out towards the action on the track. This sight of a watchful ‘Middlo’ causes Tony Millard to rhetorically expand his responsibilities, “Poole team manager, England team manager, Britain team manger dare I say”. Interviewed by J&K about the forthcoming “World Team Cup – exclusively shown on Sky”, Middlo states, “we go in [it] to win not to be second – I’ve got to I’m the manager…of course I go in to win – I do every year”. Sadly ambition hasn’t recently translated into results but you have to admire Middlo’s passion for his country. Shortly afterwards and totally unbelievably, we’re treated to an advert for the forthcoming GP that actually has style and the hint of some élan as well as a genuine hip-hop type ‘street’ feel that wouldn’t be out of place as an MTV video. Someone must have sacked the previous creative team and accidentally commissioned some people with an original idea! It’s so shocking I don’t know quite what to say? If this continues, before we know it, John Postlethwaite will have abandoned his ambitions to revolutionise Elite League speedway and discarded his trademark Arthur Daley London geezer raincoat!

Whereas French deconstructionist philosopher Jacques Derrida cleverly used the various meanings of word ‘difference’ in his language theories [it sounds the same when said aloud but means two completely contrary things when written – to differ or to defer – one describes the temporal and the other the spatial], Tony Millard uses the word “Leigh/Lee” to achieve similar effects. It sounds the same when said but means two contrary things when written – Leigh means professional, world class, tenacious but slightly falls short on the big occasion whereas Lee means well meaning, flatters to deceive and, arguably typifies the decline of contemporary British speedway in one well chosen example. Sadly Tony’s excitement at the sight of these Leigh/Lee’s runs away with his descriptive accuracy, “two riders whirring like a pair almost like two cyclists on a tandem”. This is so post-modern that I half suspect he’s using Jonathan’s cast off scripts, particularly as the Leigh/Lee’s actually ride together in parallel rather than consecutively. Back in the pits the definition of “important” has changed again for Sarra, “great team riding is so important”.

The first lap of heat 13 – where Leigh skilfully passes Jason – is, arguably, a race that easily lives up to the relentless jingoism and hyperbole that traditionally greets even the most pedestrian of races at any televised Sky meeting. Because the careworn language used for even dull races is so exaggerated and inflated to cartoon like proportions, tonight everyone struggles to find appropriate words adequate to describe its brilliance. Tony Millard initially claims, “that was the ride of the season round that bend” until the producer or editor screams in his ear to remind that ONLY Grand Prix races are allowed to be claimed to be so superlative. Sensibly Tony immediately issues a caveat (“perhaps the ride of the season in the Elite League”) just in case viewers decide not to watch the rest of the over hyped and the sometimes boring GP series. Jonathan settles for, “fantastic race of speedway – it just doesn’t get much better than that!” Kelv trills it’s, “just sensational!” However, Leigh is in no mood for congratulation describing the win on a poor track as, “so hard, you’re trying to catch one metre of dirt off the corner – it’s crap really”. Jason reveals the reality of the event – it’s a bread and butter, another-day-at-the-office nature of the fixture and speaks as though he’s performing at the circus, “we’re racing in a league match – we’re not going to do anything stupid and, hopefully, the crowd enjoyed it!”

With only two races to go Jonathan has his mind on the denouement of the fixture, “we could even have a race off for the bonus point” while Tony has his mind elsewhere, “Kennett is tough, Kennett is hard”. Sarra is in no doubt as to the thrill this fixture has given her, “I’ve enjoyed tonight”. Kelvin gets excited by the spectacle of the coin toss, “you could see Neil Middleditch was a sigh of relief [sic] when he won the coin toss there” and Jonathan echoes the glee, “yeh-huh!” before he praises Kelv’s clairvoyance, “well, as you called it – it’s exactly as you expected it to be”. During the coin toss interview, Middlo bemoaned the bad luck of the withdrawal of Troy Batchelor from the meeting, “you’ve got to take advantage of someone’s disadvantage” but, in typical speedway fashion, made light of his injuries, “possible internal bleeding – so nothing too serious on Troy”. Despite his foreboding and caveat about the impact of mid-match injuries, the Poole ‘Big Top Two’ of Crump-Pedersen win the last heat 4-2 to snatch a draw for the home team. It prompts Tony Millard to start a weird campaign to ban fireworks when the speedway action hasn’t justified it, “what a way to finish a meeting – fireworks justified here” and, though he doesn’t mention it, for once the commentators weekly hyperbole about the televised Elite League encounter shown is also justified. Speedway savant Jason Green looks ahead to a trip to the Isle of Wight the next night, “I think it’s going to be interesting too!”

A close contest and a last heat decider has made Jonathan giddily thrilled. He’d reduce the Elite League to just these two teams if he could, “what a season we’ve got ahead with these two teams firing like this!” Kelvin is overwhelmed too in his usual catatonic fashion, “yeh, it’s taken my breath away!”

11th June Poole v Swindon (Elite League) 45-45

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