Mike Bacon: If darts can do it, speedway can. But here's why the sport's promoters need to listen....
- Credit: Picture: Steve Waller
British Speedway is facing tough times.
The sport in this country was completely wiped out in 2020 because of Covid-19 and now it faces even more challenges as it heads into 2021.
Already this season looks as though it has been put back at least a month - to May. The sport's AGM is now taking place next week, rather than this week.
One of the big worries for promoters in his country is rider availability, with Poland having introduced a new rule in 2021 that riders in their top league, the PGE Ekstraliga, are limited to racing in just one other league, while First and Second Division riders in Poland can compete in up to two.
Already this week, the likes of Robert Lambert and Rohan Tungate have said they won't be racing in Britain in 2021. And there is likely to be more to follow.
Is all this a disaster for the sport? No, I don't think so.
In fact, perhaps the stance taken by Poland gives British speedway the chance to reset.
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For too long the sport in this country has spent too much time infighting and trying to get one over each other, while worrying what others are doing. Clubs need to work together for the best of the sport. A reset, could be just what the sport needs.
Grand Prix star Jason Doyle has already said he's backing Britain this year and sacrificing riding in Sweden and Denmark. He knows what he's doing and while money is the main talker in Poland right now, it doesn't mean the racing in Britain has to be sub-standard - or is under-valued.
Far from it.
Some of the best speedway meetings I've ever watched were when Ipswich Witches were in the National League back in the late 80s - one against Peterborough at the Showground, I still remember to this day.
I've witnessed some cracking ones in the Championship in recent years, especially when Somerset came calling! And as for the excitement of the play-off semi-final at Foxhall in 2019 against Poole! Well. You didn't need 14 GP riders on track that night to have the place rocking.
Speedway in this country needs to believe in itself again.
It needs to understand that fans simply want excitement, entertainment and value for money. It really isn't that complicated. It just needs a real willingness.
Trust me. While riders maybe interested in gearing, tyres and clutches, fans just want racing. They don't care less if the track record is broken. They don't care less how far a rider wins by. They don't care less about the seven-day rule (whatever that has become!), or rider averages, or gearing ratios, or cam settings, whatever they are!
They just want four riders on a well prepared track giving it their all.
And here's the thing. I don't know of any speedway rider who doesn't invariably give their all when they take to the track. Speedway riders are a rare and honest breed of sports stars. What a plus that is to have in a sport.
At it's best speedway meetings can be some of the most heart-stopping, tub-thumping sports events around.
How many times have you come away from a speedway meeting saying 'that was brilliant'? Loads of times. And you didn't always need the world's best riders in the programme to make it that way, either.
Of course most riders will follow the money. That's normal.
But racers are racers. Fans pay to watch racing. They don't just pay to watch the top stars. One of my favourite riders was Mike Lanham, back in the day. He never reached a world final, never threatened in a British Final. But by god, was he exciting, as he swept round the boards - rarely making the gate. He thrilled the Foxhall faithful. He loved racing and we loved him. Look after your racers, financially and in a professional manner.
The fact speedway is a team sport, gives it that added extra edge that can combine sport and local community.
Wolverhampton, Ipswich, Poole, Peterborough, Newcastle, the list is endless.... Big towns and cities that people who live there will follow their teams in - if not in person, certainly through the media.
And talking of the media.
If speedway wants column inches, internet stories, videos, and more publicity, then it needs to get its head out of its own self importance and feed sports desks more useable copy, quotes and stories. Or pick the phone up to sports journos and tell them you have a story.
Stop preaching to the converted on your own websites. Most Step 3 non-league clubs have more twitter followers than speedway clubs. Speedway needs to get out there more.
The sport is far too insula, far too secretive - yet, as I have said, it is one of the most engaging and exciting. Look at the way you can talk to riders, before and after meetings, how approachable they are... that's gold dust, that is!
Fortunately, here at Ipswich, I have Chris Louis to talk to. He's a guy who always has time for the press and as much as he wants his club's website and facebook pages to flourish, won't hesitate to come to me first with a story - because he knows that's where the big numbers are - on local sports websites and FB pages.
So, whatever happens at the AGM. I hope the promoters work for the best for the sport in this country. Because Poland's stance needs to be a wake-up call.
Let's not let the Grand Prix series or other leagues around the world ruin our sport in this country. Speedway in Britain can flourish once more. Okay, so not to the 10,000 crowds of the 80s. But there is nothing to fear if we get it right.
Yet it needs to sharpen up all round, slicken up the presentation, get those tracks purring with quality track care and just let the riders do their thing. Create drama off-track as well. Good cop/bad cop. Use your local media.
And if that costs a bit of money and you have to employ people outside the sport, or professionals who know their stuff to assist, then do it! - Ask darts if they are glad they got Barry Hearn involved? That sport has re-invented itself to become wonderful entertainment and a cracking night out.
There is no time to waste. Excuses are folly.
Here's looking forward to seeing some great racing again.