"We’ve had a lot of wet rain”

14th May

According to Jonathan, just like the hyperbole, absolutely everything is “huge” this week – we join the “huge crowd as always” at Monmore Green to apparently find “British speedway on a huge high” inspired by Chris ‘Bomber’ Harris. Kelvin is now of the opinion, “he’s young he’s got his future ahead of him”. To think it was only a few short weeks ago that Nigel Pearson predicted, “I think it’s going to be a bit of a tall order for him [at the GP’s]” and Sam noted, “he doesn’t really have the starting skills”. Still they say a race, never mind a meeting, is a long time in speedway.

Rather wonderfully, the track is apparently ideal for racing speedway – Jonathan notes, “absolutely perfect track conditions” and Sam chortles, “Mother Nature has done its part, it’s absolutely perfect in my opinion”. Ever keen to show his technical prowess, Kelvin highlights the “lime stone dust” mixed into the surface. Sam acknowledges but discounts its overall impact, “that’s right – it’ll probably play a part with lesser riders in heats two and eight”. Someone who’s not only not a “lesser rider” but also an intelligent one to boot is the wry and philosophical Peter Karlsson, who quickly discounts the psychological impact of recent defeats on the Wolves team, “tonight’s a new night, we seldom look back to the past”. This claim irks Jonathan – always a stickler for exactitude – who asserts, “I think it is playing on their minds!” before he highlights, “once again those first four heats will be telling the tale”.

Tony Millard is in top form tonight playing with his new mispronunciation of the ref’s name (“ref Davey Waters”) that he soon extends to include those with similar surnames (“Davey Watters”) and a life lesson, “William Lawson trails in last but will have benefited from the situation”. A brief glance at Nicki Pedersen allows Sam to conclude, “it’s all about getting out of the start.” The in form Dane celebrates his victory with a strange wave to the crowd as though he’d expected a ventriloquists dummy on his arm but, finding it not there, decides to improvise. In the pits, having easily held off the challenge of PK, Nicki echoes a character from the Fast Show and gives a flash of his dry humour, “I knew that he was going to stay on the inside and not go round the outside, so that was nice!” Kelvin is appreciative of the sheer success of the man, “he doesn’t spend any time cleaning bikes just driving them.” Cameron Woodward wins the next race (“my best ever score here with that win!”) but modestly claims to Sarra, “I was pretty ordinary” before being inevitably forced into cliché by the questions, “we’re coming here to try to win the meeting”. Stefan Andersson painfully pulls a muscle – later we almost see Eastbourne club physio Jane Wooler applying ice to the general region – and Jonathan helpfully notes, “they need those muscles” before Doctor Kelvin dons his metaphorical white coat to helpfully explain, “it’s the nature of the sport – you twist yourself inside out going round the corner”.

In heat 4, Cameron loses control on the fourth bend and inadvertently spears Freddie Lindgren who then proceeds to go through the fence with enough velocity to decimate it, wreck his bike and wind himself. Never one to leave the obvious unstated if the chance presents itself, Jonathan notes, “the air fence made a big difference there” before Sam up’s the perspicacity and notional on air swear word quotient with, “any hard crash is a bummer for a racer.” Before he sensibly adds, “better the bike damaged than a rider”. The delay to fix the safety furniture is so prolonged that Jonathan has no choice but to ponder life’s big questions namely – what is the psychological impact for a rider the next time they pass the section of fence they’ve just crashed through? Kelv is pointedly matter of fact and doesn’t get hung up with such namby pamby, touchy feely concepts like feelings, “it’s a good question that’s not easy to ansa – it’s your job, your living!” Jonathan struggles to find an explanation for Cameron’s inexplicable loss of control, “the track’s still a bit greasy – we’ve had a lot of wet rain!” Many commercial breaks are taken, the GP revisited ad nauseum and the ongoing repairs just about provide an enthralling spectacle, “well, they’re still mending the fence here at Wolverhampton”. Kelvin fills the time by adding his own unique sound effects to the slow motion replays of the crash, “ram bam bang.” Jonathan tries to help the slower witted armchair viewers conceptualise the experience of such a crash (or become Brian Harvey, the ex-singer of East 17) but fatally misjudges his descriptive powers, “if you’re not sure how that feels, drive in your at 40 mph and jump out”.

Just filling the unexpected time is an issue. Nicki Pedersen comes over all weights and measures when interviewed, “each GP is 9% so we’ve done 18%” before he alludes to the secret of his recent success (“it was the 8 kilos I lost over the winter”) in the form of a close season of strenuous exercise and an unexplained wonder diet. When quizzed on Bomber he says, “he’s not got that fear – he doesn’t think he’s in the GP!”

The weird inversion of values that the need to rush on with the meeting collectively causes for the Sky presentation team means that they spend far more time talking about the damage to the fence and Lindgren’s bike than they do about the stricken Cameron Woodward (who withdraws from the meeting with his best ever score with a suspected broken collarbone and possibly chipped ankle). The fence is repaired so slowly and so fastidiously that either it will rival the Pyramids as a feat of engineering ingenuity or it’s gamesmanship. Even Jonathan begins to harbour darker suspicions, “rumour has it that the fence with be ready when Lindgren’s bike is ready”. Luckily Kelvin’s ears are on red alert, “I think we can hear it now!” “Oooh we are cynical!” laughs Jonathan without apparent guilt. Talk moves onto Edward Kennett and quickly Kelv gets all wistful, “he’s suddenly matured, he was just a little kid” which causes Jonathan to echo in Chancy Gardner fashion, “he’s grown up with speedway, he’s been around as long as I have been around”. I’m not exactly sure how long Jonathan has “been around” but this is either an exaggeration or reveals that, despite years of interest, he’s successfully remained comparatively unencumbered with facts and insights. We’re then treated to what Jonathan this week renames, “Kelvin’s tidbits”. This features an ‘analysis’ of “the frame” – apparently the geometrically shaped thing made with tubular metal that they attach the wheels, big silver shiny things to (the engine?), the brightly coloured mudguards with the optional glitter effect to and the saddle. Filmed in his shed-cum-garage, Kelvin throws off his usual severely put upon air and appears happy enough on film to be slightly more spontaneous, “if it’s too soft, you’ll be going like a banana!” Afterwards even Jonathan can’t help but scoff, “ridden a few bananas in your life?” In the piece itself, Kelv ploughs on regardless making judicious attention to the frame sound like the speedway equivalent of Viagra, “it IS a fine line between making it too stiff and too soft”.

With both of their reserves indisposed, the contest is effectively ended for Eastbourne as the Eagles can only put out one rider in six of the remaining races. Nonetheless, it mystifies PK and, through his comment, you gather that small talk might not be a vital ingredient in the home side of the Monmore Green pits, “I don’t know what happened to the fourth guy…no info or anything”. Jonathan vainly tries to add drama through his ornate descriptions of the psychological anxiety he believes the crash scene will cause for the more impressionable riders. Lewis suffers a slight loss of control on the fourth bend that, when shown on the replay, causes Greenie to claim, “you could see it in his eyes”. Billy Hamill subsequently betrays his North American roots with some spontaneous management speak about the surface, “the track’s pretty difficult with some soft spots – creates opportunities”.

Heat 7 is notable for the fact that Dave Watters refuses to rerun the race when replays clearly show that Lindgren’s footrest stripped the chain from Davey Watt’s bike when he slewed across before the first corner. It was an incident that the referee – until television evidence showed otherwise – understandably mistook as it happened as an engine failure. However, afterwards on the phone to Trevor Geer, Dave Watters is adamant that he won’t/can’t rerun the race as it had finished. You have to wonder if this firm stance is for the benefit of the cameras or an attempt to stamp his authority on proceedings when ‘natural justice’ would have dictated a rerun? Interestingly, it demonstrates that he is completely inconsistent in his decision making since the SAME REFEREE reran heat 6 at Brandon Stadium (also featuring Davey Watt) after it had finished because of a gate malfunction he was only told about (by Peter Oakes) – but didn’t see. This appalling decision changed the course of that meeting and, with Dave Watters at the controls, it appears he only reruns completed races for incidents he only hears about but then doesn’t for incidents where he has actual visual evidence. Also, if we accept his ruling that races should never be rerun after they’ve concluded, then surely his decision at Coventry is null and void, so the meeting should be rerun? Perhaps, since he’s been involved in both incidents and appeals, Trevor Geer’s natural calm and politeness is taken for granted by Dave Watters. Who knows? Davey Watt manages to restrain himself (when interviewed by Sarra) on air as he watches clear evidence of foul play on the replay, “I’m not going to say the word I wanted to say there!”

There are further delays to the already protracted running of this meeting when the starting gate develops problems (“the electrics have failed”). In the absence of a second gate mechanism or reserve equipment, it’s a situation eventually solved with the use of an old fashioned technology, namely a piece of elastic. This is held and then released by a referee that expert Tony Millard confidently identifies as “Paul Ackroyd”, though in fact the person in question looks remarkably like Chris Durno. With a severely reduced line up (only four available riders) the resultant home win is predictable but, strangely, the Eagles eschew the full range of tactical options available to them when Trevor decides not to use a tactical substitute (off 15 metres) in heat 14. Afterwards, a taciturn Peter Adams pointedly notes, “I expected to see Nicki Pedersen off a handicap and I was pleased he weren’t”. Nicki also doesn’t appear in the nominated final heat either and we’re informed by Trevor Geer, “Nicki’s not happy with the start procedure so he’s not coming out in the last”.

Rather ominously, Jonathan suddenly remembers he’s supposed to engage his critical faculties when he works as a journalist, “could we not have asked more of British speedway tonight?” It’s arguably a very pertinent question and, as though it was pre-planned, one that Kelvin seizes upon with great alacrity when he lists problems with the “start gate”, the lengthy “repair of the fence” and that “the elastic didn’t look good on TV”. Though, obviously, Jonathan and Kelvin have vested interests since they are both paid by Sky Sports, they only ever really seem to exercise the opportunity to criticise upon issues that directly relate to the commercial interests of their employers (eg, grumbles about the revised 2007 tactical ride rules or his own bete noir the need for “close meetings”) and suddenly become mute on other ‘serious’ issues (e.g. the meeting at Birmingham two nights later would never have run, let alone finished, without the presence of the Sky cameras – since they’re effectively ensuring the riders compete in ‘dangerous conditions’ J&K repeatedly praise the riders rather than demand an abandonment). Nonetheless, if you discount their clearly vested interests, it would appear that there is some dissatisfaction with the product that the contract holding broadcasters are getting served up with on a weekly basis from the sport. Personally, I’d say that it’s a case of ‘buyer beware’ situation and that the rough comes with the smooth, plus they’re not exactly blameless themselves since Sky influenced tinkering with the regulations of the sport has had some unforeseen consequences. Plus it’s the inevitable logic of the standard Sky presentational style predicated upon their apparent editorial policy to indulge in gratuitous hyperbolic exaggeration of the drama, crashes and controversy (even, often, when they don’t exist). Despite all this, speedway presently needs to ensure Sky Sports are interested in and content with what they’re getting given to show. The Elite League results and table this season does show a huge gulf in existence between the successful clubs and the vast majority also rans – there are almost echoes of the dominance of Celtic and Rangers in the Scottish Premier League – which, on some levels, affects the entertainment levels offered on television and live at the meetings themselves. This is a serious problem for the sport that will require hard (and probably flawed/bodged if past performance is any judge) decisions over the winter at the BSPA annual conference. These are possible changes that it appears Sky Sports are trying to get their tuppenceworth worth and retaliation in on first.

14th May Wolves v Eastbourne (ELA) 52-41

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