SPEEDWAY – it’s the punk rock of the 21st century.
No really, it is. Bear with me while I explain my theory.
As a young whippersnapper, a certain Mr Rotten and his mob made an instant impression on me when they appeared on the Bill Grundy Show back in 1976. For a snotty-nosed teenage kid looking to annoy his parents, it couldn’t have been better.
Out went the tank tops, flares and platform-soled shoes – in came the Sex Pistols T-shirt, ripped jeans and Doc Martens. Me and all the other kids in downtown Wickford too.
Some years later, however, as the angry youth of the mid-70s became respectable citizens with partners, good jobs and a taste for cafe latte, punk was officially declared dead.
Aah, but it wasn’t you see. You’ll still find many of the original punk pioneers doing their stuff in front of a pogoing posse of die-hards and, what’s more, there’s been a whole of bands come on the scene in the last few years too.
The purists would say it’s not the same – and they’re right. It never could be.
And that leads us neatly onto the subject of speedway. When I was a kid (before I dyed my hair green and started wearing bondage trousers) my dad would recount tales of watching West Ham when 50-odd thousand used to pack into Custom House, of watching World Finals at Wembley with 100,000 other screaming shalesport nuts and of how he could go to a meeting every night of the week without leaving London (probably buying fish ‘n’ chips, a packet of fags and a pint and still get change from a farthing too).
Speedway, like punk, has been accused by those who don’t know better of being dirty, smelly and not wanted in the NIMBYs’ back yard. And – like punk – it’s been given its last rites on more than one occasion. Oxford shut in the winter, the bikes are silent and Newport and, it would appear, Reading could be the next track to close later this year.
But we’ve been here before haven’t we? Crowds are a fraction of what they were when my old dad used to jump on his Harley and head to New Cross, Harringay etc, the basic stadia most of us get our methanol fix in are a far cry from vast and imposing structures like Wembley Stadium or Custom House.
But ever since I grew out of my Clash jeans and started watching speedway regularly again in the 1980s, the doom-bringers have been banging on about how our sport’s on its last legs.
No, we’ll never fill Wembley for a league match again and speedway today has a whole different look and feel to it than in Neal Snr’s day. But we’re still here aren’t we?