Great stories for speedway fans!
Great stories for speedway fans!
…is the only author writing novels specifically aimed at fans of motorcycle speedway racing.
Sadly, speedway in Britain today is very much a niche sport but it was not always the case. In the years between its introduction in 1928 and the war, crowds at dirt track meetings were huge and speedway riders were some of the highest-
These are the periods in which Michael Hansen’s novels are set -
IN the 1970s, it was frequently claimed that speedway was Britain’s ‘second most popular spectator sport,’ the first being the Glorious Game, the nearest thing Britain has left to a religion.
It may be hard to believe now but the dirt-
In those days, of course, the terraces throbbed to the chants of thousands, bobble-
Nicholas Ball in ‘Hazell Goes To The Dogs’ Thames Television, 1977
In an early episode of the Thames TV detective series Hazell, the action opens at Hackney Stadium, Waterden Road. Speedway lovers will recall ‘The Wick’ as the home of Hackney Hawks and thoughts of the 1970s will inevitably conjure up images of such stylish riders as Garry Middleton, Bengt Jansson, Barry Thomas and Zenon Plech. The stadium was also home to Hackney greyhound track and it was with the four-
As the cameras scan the stadium showing crowds of punters clustered around the on-
‘You wouldn’t think it but this is the second most popular spectator sport in the country.’
The home straight for both speedway and greyhound races
It all seems a world away from the empty stands and windblown terraces of today’s struggling teams whose promoters have become almost paranoid about revealing such highly sensitive commercial information as attendance figures. It’s difficult to see why, given that any supporter with two eyes -
In the Seventies, of course, promoters were not much more forthcoming about their numbers so quite where the assertion to be Britain’s (some said England’s) second most popular spectator sport came from is not easy to judge. Suffice to say, speedway was not the only sport to make that claim.
Waterden Road as it appeared in ‘Hazell’ in 1977
Thames Television was the ITV company that produced the detective series ‘Hazell’.
‘Hazell Goes To The dogs’ was filmed in 1977 and broadcast to the ITV network early the following year.
Nicholas Ball beat John Nettles (Bergerac) to the part of private detective James Hazell.
The third bend at Hackney Wick in 1977
Not speedway? That statement would certainly have come as a shock to fans of our unique sport in the ‘decade that style forgot’ but it would hardly surprise anyone now. Not that greyhound racing itself hasn’t suffered the same catastrophic decline in attendances.
Crowd figures from the Greyhound Board of Great Britain are easier to get hold of than those for speedway racing and they show that the average total attendance at all GBGB tracks fell from 130,000 in 2001 to around 86,000 a decade later. The average attendance per meeting stood at 562 in 2007 and 514 in 2011.
Even horse racing saw a drop in the average daily attendances at British racecourses of almost 1,000 in the decade from 2002 to 2013. One can only assume that the figures for speedway, if anyone is bothering to keep them, are even worse.
The villain meets his match on the centre green at Waterden Road
It is difficult to know, without numbers to compare, whether the claims made in the Seventies on speedway’s behalf were ever true. It may be that, at the beginning of the decade, speedway fans outnumbered devotees of the dog tracks but that, by the early Eighties, the position had reversed.
Now, as the 2015 season splutters out like a damp firework, the sport’s promoters face another annual meeting with an agenda that must be dominated by the question, ‘What on earth do we do now?’
How must they feel, I wonder, battered from every side, deserted by all but the most dedicated of fans and often facing unreasonable demands from stadium landlords and riders who seem to have lost sight of the bigger picture?
Several of them are already on nodding terms with the barman of the Last Chance Saloon. Let’s hope they never become better acquainted.
‘Never seen it before in my life. What is speedway, anyway?’
Just keep watching the racing and whatever you do, don’t look at the cameras.