Turning Japanese

June 23 – Eastbourne v Peterborough

Eagles promoter Jon Cook has kindly given me permission to hand out my leaflets to the fans as they enter Arlington Stadium through the cluster of entrance gates. Unusually this fixture is staged on a Friday – solely because of the clash that the Danish Grand Prix the next night will cause. As a consequence, the fans will be deprived of watching any of the Grand Prix stars ride –notably Nicki Pedersen and the rider of the moment Hans Andersen – nor will any GP riders be secured as guest replacements. One of the experienced staff says, “it’s another rip off the public meeting this week, just like last weeks was against Arena”. In fact Eastbourne have secured Mark Loram as a guest and the absence of the so-called GP stars won’t make any difference to the racing, though it will weaken the title chasing Panthers much more than the Eagles. Peterborough do have Billy Hamill and Todd Wiltshire as guests and now that he longer rides in the GP’s, they already have Ryan Sullivan on hand. So, on consideration, maybe I’m deluding myself that we’re stronger on paper.

While I lurk in the car park until the gates are unlocked, Martin Dadswell from the track shop calls through the fence “we still haven’t sold a single copy of your book yet!” Not the best news or most auspicious update when you consider that I’ve already had a signing session, the book has been announced on the tannoy by Kevin ‘KC’ Coombes and that there has been a mostly praiseworthy article in a recent pink coloured Sports Argus. Martin is taciturn by nature and the trials of running the track shop don’t always fill him with the joys of life, but the lack of sales appears to summon a glimmer of reaction. Though I couldn’t say whether it was joy, schadenfreude or sympathy. After I briefly mention my recent track tour, Martin also goes out of his way to tell me that John Jones at the Belle Vue track shop is “alright” and a “good bloke when you get to know him”. Though apparently he “does instantly take against people and once chased old Sid [Greatley], you know him, round the car park trying to hit him”. The recollection of this approach to customer care definitely brings a smile to Martins face, before he wryly observes “I don’t suppose you got any Belle Vue programmes for me then?” Martin retreats chuckling, “I really must call him about your visit”.

Peterborough had tried to postpone tonight’s fixture without success. The combination of the World Cup, the warm weather, the Friday night staging and the ‘weakened’ teams does have an impact on the size of the crowd. This is a shame as I get to hand out less leaflets than I’d expect at a usual Saturday night fixture but it has the advantage that I can chat a bit more to anyone, if they are so inclined. I have had quite a bit of experience standing round handing out my leaflet by now. You get handed out so much rubbish on any High Street – from pizzas to burgers, to phone companies, credit cards and limited time sales, even about books from the ubiquitous Scientologists who’re keen to advertise the acclaimed life changing Dianetics treatise by Ron L Hubbard – that some people have a tendency to be reluctant or disdainful. Others remain curious.

Unfortunately now that I’ve had the chance to study my leaflet on many occasions I’d have definitely presented the information more clearly than I have. But then that’s hindsight and another lesson to be learnt. I’ve been so active at giving them away that I have nearly exhausted my initial supply of 5000 copies. Hopefully, it has encouraged the elusive WoM (word of mouth) that any book requires to be successful. Judged from an actual demonstrable results perspective I have (so far and maybe there’s a flood of them waiting) only received one order written on this card. In the flesh, people refuse them with varying degrees of politeness but, at least, don’t seize the card and immediately rip it into to lots of pieces as someone did on Monday night. A simple “no” or “no thank you” would suffice and be more greatly appreciated.

Standing around does give me the opportunity to renew my acquaintance with a friendly lady I met at the Eagles Dinner Dance who remembers me and apologises if she appeared a little tipsy that evening. She wasn’t as I recall though I do remember she was keen, travelled quite a way to watch most meetings from the ‘Hailsham Bend’ (the third one) and that her sons were already showing some talent on a speedway bike at the training track here. In fact, her son glances casually at the postcard flier and impressively immediately identifies that the photo was taken at Weymouth, that Dave Mason is being thrown in the air in celebratory fashion and that riders Dan Giffard and James Purchase are some of those doing this. I’m very impressed at his knowledge and observational skills!

I speak with Kevin ‘KC’ Coombes as he makes his way into the stadium. He rather worryingly tells me “until I started reading it I had no idea what it was really about”. I make a mental note to try to describe it to everyone much better, but especially announcers!

I make my way inside just before the tapes go up and Martin again calls out from the track shop “no-one’s bought one still and there have been loads of leaflets thrown away over there”[he gestures towards the home straight]. I had already intended to circle the stadium after the meeting to bin discarded rogue leaflets – partly so as not to devalue people’s impression of the book, when they start to see it as litter, and partly to save the OAP who cleans the stadium any additional grief. A brief glance in the nearby litterbins confirms that some people have saved me the trouble. At least they have been tidy.

In his always thoughtful programme notes, Jon Cook sympathises with Arena’s Ronnie Russell and his ongoing difficulties in his attempt to secure a full team, in this case for last week’s meeting. “Ronnie must have tried 20 riders all of whom for various reasons could not or did not want to come to Arlington and it is a situation that has to be addressed over the winter as the dynamics of world speedway have changed to such a degree that rider availability is now probably the biggest problem we face in this country”. Given that all riders are self-employed, understandably they will always try to maximise their earnings. For the top stars, the only game in town is the BSI run GP series, which provides valuable airtime for their many lucrative sponsors and will, therefore, always remain a priority (and it is best to not even consider how UK club assets can appear without payment in the GP series, never mind that these assets can get injured). The potential level of earnings for riders in Poland are reputedly huge and far in excess of that in this country. Added to that, Sweden also represents a more attractive proposition than the UK. It would appear that we definitely face a problem when it comes to hard cash before we factor in the strenuous demands of our British season and the associated travel. More problems definitely lie ahead for the sport in this country, particularly at the Elite League level, where the financial and commercial considerations of the Sky Sports contract also exerts a huge and distorting influence upon priorities of the riders and English clubs.

This season the group I stand with has undergone a crisis of confidence, well viewing position. Quite how this has happened I don’t know. This week we all stand at the exit of the fourth bend. Notable by their absence from our group (and pictured on page 318 of my book), we all still miss Dave and his wife Margaret, while he recovers from an operation to remove an aneurism. They are a lovely couple and when Dave woke from his operation he immediately checked that it all wasn’t a dream and asked his wife “Am I alive?” He then immediately caught up with that week’s edition of the Speedway Star and specifically asked Margaret to tell me that he liked my advert for my book. What a gent! This week, I notice that on her programme scorecard Karen, who stands by me, has written, “Mum still misses Margaret”.

Eastbourne win the meeting easily 55-35 but the fixture is enlivened by a bad rut on bend four (most unusual given Bob Dugard’s superb and fastidious preparation of the track) and also in Heat 10 when David Norris takes Ryan Sullivan into the fence though the referee rules this to be first bend bunching. During the interval, Mark Loram voices what everyone knows, namely that Reading “is not really a World Cup track”. You would like to think that these things were chosen on merit and the facilities offered rather than the ever-tightening circles of influence and commercial complexity. If I were running Poole Speedway Club, I’d feel aggrieved that after last year’s great atmosphere, crowd size at the same event – never mind their much better facilities – that they were dropped in favour of the new kid on the block, in this case John Postlethwaite’s presently rather dilapidated Bulldogs stadium in Reading.

Much entertainment is always provided by KC, the man on the mike with the always unique turn of phrase, choice of question or observations about speedway, life or, another important ongoing reference point, himself. Tonight’s gems include:
“Is there anyone here from Ecuador?” [we struggle to get them to come from other parts of England, even when their team is here]
“I’ve been short listed to appear on the television show ‘The Weakest Link’ – you know the one – I think I’ll wear my Eastbourne top”
[On Trevor Geer’s birthday the next day] “He’s 53 but he looks 70”

After the meeting I walk around the stadium picking up stray copies of my discarded leaflets. While I do this I’m reminded of a story from the last football World Cup when the Japanese supporters passionately cheered on their team before they then all stayed for another hour afterwards to clean up the grandstand of all the (minimal) mess they’d created. They left it cleaner afterwards than when they arrived. I can’t claim to have done the same but maybe the book is causing me to turn Japanese?


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