Speedway Fiction

Great stories for speedway fans!

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Speedway Fiction

Great stories for speedway fans!

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MICHAEL HANSEN…

…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-paid sportsmen. Again, in the 1970s, speedway enjoyed a revival in Britain and became what was described at the time as England’s ‘second most popular spectator sport’.

These are the periods in which Michael Hansen’s novels are set - when Britain was the centre of the speedway world.

Michael Hansen’s Blog Blog Home Page SpeedwayFiction Michael Hansen's Blog Home

Earlier articles…

Heavens, the noise!

Cobble Street Speedway Star

Riddle of the Sands

Speedway Beginnings

Speedway Advertisements in 1929

Speedway Myth?

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-track sport, we were told, was watched by more avid fans each week than cricket, rugby (League or Union), hockey, athletics, tennis, golf and horse racing.

In those days, of course, the terraces throbbed to the chants of thousands, bobble-hatted, whirling their rattles and hooting air-horns, cheering and booing, proud and partisan. At Wembley, (yes, Wembley and speedway were not mutually exclusive in those days), crowds of 80,000 would turn out to watch a World Final while, at the other end of the country and the bottom end of the pecking order, 2,000 or more would still roll up every Saturday night to shout for Berwick Bandits at the foot of Division Two.

Nicholas Ball in ‘Hazell Goes To The Dogs’ Thames Television, 1977

WAS IT ONLY A SPEEDWAY MYTH?

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-legged sport that this story was concerned.

As the cameras scan the stadium showing crowds of punters clustered around the on-course bookmakers and dogs being led out to the starting boxes, the voice of James Hazell, (Nicholas Ball), begins his Philip Marlowe-style commentary with the words:

‘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 - or even one - could simply count the paltry few hundred, myself included, who clatter through the turnstiles to enjoy the current uncertain offering. Give or take a dozen or so, the figure is certain to be about right.

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.

Britain’s Second Most Popular Spectator Sport?

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.

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