As previously mentioned in passing, I used to be a fan of the speedway team based in Middlesbrough. The name varied over the years; they were the Middlesbrough Tigers when I first knew them, but more usually they were the Middlesbrough Bears. (From 1968 to 1972, they were even the Teesside Teessiders, which is almost impossibly lame.) Speedway races consist of four riders on brakeless motorcycles racing around an oval track made of hardened mud chips, power-sliding around the corners. Speedway matches consist of two teams of seven riders each contributing two racers to each of fifteen races, with points scored according to the riders' finishing positions in each race. The sport has waxed and waned in popularity throughout the developed world over the years, but Eastern Europe and Scandinavia are traditionally very keen.
Speedway had a history in Middlesbrough of continuous operation from 1968 to 1996 and can be traced back to 1928. Most speedway stadiums shared, or share, infrastructure with greyhound racing tracks, the motorcycle track typically being laid inside the dog track, with a wire fence separating the two. The school next to Middlesbrough's greyhound track made an offer to the track owners for the land that they could not refuse, so they sold up and the track was demolished. There have been occasional mentions of ventures to return speedway to the area, but I thought none would ever come to fruition. Speedway combines the thrill of domestic inter-town competition with motorsport action, with the added bonus that you can easily follow all the action from your seat. You can't really imagine the equivalent of football leagues for racing cars!
Looking back at the definitive history site and piecing back the team lists I can remember, I must have been to see a couple of matches in 1985 and followed the team heavily in 1986, less heavily in 1987. I think Dad was keen to encourage my interest in a team sport, but was glad that I avoided the excesses of football crowds drunk on a Saturday. Certainly the grounds always felt safe for even an 11-year-old kid running around (a little!) on his own; there was a bar selling beer, but the fact that the Thursday evening meetings were on a school night, plus the crowds were only around a thousand, kept things friendly. I enjoyed following the team but school pressures meant I had no time to attend matches after that. However, I did attend the team's final match in 1996.
Anyway, there were occasional rumours of a return over the years, but I never thought anything would come to fruition. A new track is being built at a local motor sports park where I once spent a day go-karting. The area east of Middlesbrough is rather a sprawling industrial conurbation; the new location's postal address says it's in South Bank, Middlesbrough, but in fact the centre is next to council buildings owned by the
The new team is built around one Gary Havelock, who was a hot new prospect bursting onto the scene when I first attended. In 1992 he won the world championship; his career has been on a gentle coast ever since then. He will be racing at a level far inferior to what he's been comfortable with for the past 15 years or so and will clearly be the single best rider in the division; however, not having to travel hundreds of miles (or thousands - he has ridden for Swedish and Polish teams in the past, too!) to get to the home venue must be a large part of the appeal. It also helps that his father Brian (himself a rider in the '70s) is managing the team this year. Extremely promising!
The first meeting will be on April 13th - two days after Meg reaches Middlesbrough, so unless she has a hidden passion for motorbikes of which I am completely unaware, I'll have far better things to do - as spectacular as the races can be, it's not something I would drag Meg out to on an off-chance. There is a projected capacity of 2,900, but it's all standing for the time being; crowd facilities are set to follow. (There's a car park for 500 vehicles in the motor sports centre, too.) Admission fees are set to be £11. When I was a kid I think I had to pay around £2.80, with adult fees being more like £4.50; as a rule of thumb, prices in the UK have roughly doubled since 20 years ago, so £11 isn't too bad. Compare how much football match admission fees have gone up over the same time.
(Incidentally, other rules of thumb are that UK prices have roughly gone up 50% since 15 years ago and by a factor of five compared to 30 years ago. We've had really good control of inflation recently.)
You can see this season's fixtures on the official Gary Havelock site; the official site will probably eventually be here, but this looks like a pretty good forum already. Unfortunately, like the web forum for the 2004 World Puzzle Championships, it seems enthusiastic at changing even slightly phallic words to "thingy", which is problematic when two of Middlesbrough's finest ever riders were Steve Wilcock and Martin "Dicko" Dixon. Solutions renaming them Wilc0ck and D1cko are a rare practical use for 1337sp34k.
As I'll be missing the first match, it'll be interesting to see whether I take an interest or not, but it looks like a distinct possibility for free Thursday evenings - perhaps I could go to the big home derby against local rivals Newcastle Diamonds on May 4th? Watch this space!
Unrelatedly, male-ish British-ish Harry Potter fannish types should check out this casting call for Fiction Alley's proposed radio play production of copperbadge's fanfic, with further stories to follow down the line. Auditions are open to all via the medium of the answerphone recorded message, but I could probably cast the entire, though admittedly small, cast just from my Friends list. OK, so I know a lot of people with natural advantages in the accent department, being British, male and approximately the correct age for the fic in question; the main problem is that you're all so very nicely spoken!
Anyway, I've spoken my piece down the line and hope to hear one way or the other in a couple of weeks, even if only from some fandom equivalent of Simon Cowell. (Not a dig; I don't know who the audition judges are!) I did the obvious things (practice, stand while you're auditioning, try to keep it loud and slow, then practice some more) and I reckon it came out OK. That said, when I wasn't reading the set text, the rest of my voicemail was subject to answerphone-habitual stupidmessageitis. Oh well. If I get even a small role, it should be fun!