Speedway — not only is it a bloody good song by Big Moz, but it’s also a sport, a team sport where competitors race motorbikes with no brakes and only one gear. To be honest it’s completely mental, but aren’t all the best sports? Living only a fifteen minute bike ride from the home of the Belle Vue Aces, it was only natural that I was drawn towards Manchester’s premier speedway track one fateful Monday evening…
After parking up the trusty Team Banana and forking out for my ticket, I headed inside the greyhound stadium the Aces call home. As someone who’s seen a few banger races in their time, I thought I’d be more than prepared, but to be honest I had no idea what was going on here. A Grease mega-mix-medley echoed from the Tannoy system, local lasses clasped bright-coloured umbrellas on the start line and a gang of Storm-Troopers wandered around getting their photographs taken with the fans. I did manage to get a good portion of chips though, and like a large, fried chunk of potato sponging up the generous lashings of vinegar that surrounded it, I slowly began to soak up what was going on around me.
From what I could gather, a race consists of two riders from two teams (that’s four riders overall) drifting three laps around an oval track in an anti-clockwise direction. Riders get points depending on their position and the team with the most points after 15 heats wins the ‘meet’. Keeping up with the score is a nightmare, and unless you want to stand around scrawling points into the programme you bought on your way in, then your best bet for knowing what’s going on is listening to the helpful voice on the speakers. With no team allegiances, I decided to sack off caring about the score and just watch the racing for what it was — four people caning it round a dusty old track in Gorton.
On the rare occasions that there wasn’t a false start, the racing was pretty captivating stuff. People still die racing speedway, and it’s not that hard to see why. The bikes go 70mph without brakes, there’s barely anything in the way of protection on the barriers and the track is made up of dirt and loosely packed shale. To the children who’d been dragged to watch the races by their dads, the only thing that kept it remotely interesting was the prospect of a crash but, to be honest, watching the crashes wasn’t much fun. Whilst you might think seeing someone smack full speed into a fence is a good watch, seeing them get carried off after ten minutes of not moving is hardly a barrel of laughs. Everyone was fine though, so let’s not get too emotional.
Perhaps more interesting than the actual races, were the fans who went to watch them. I’m not saying this in a ‘look at these weirdoes’ sort of way — I was skulking around in an ketchup-stained camouflage jacket with a sneaky little Bart Simpson spy camera, so I’m in no place to call anyone a weirdo. I’m just saying there was a few relatively interesting people about. Saying that, there might have been loads of bores there too, but I somehow managed to avoid talking to them.
It was particularly easy to spot the keen speedway fans, as they were generally dressed in speedway-themed attire. One had decided to pin all his speedway-related badges to his baseball cap, one wore a custom speedway bucket-hat and one sheltered from the cool evening breeze in a wool jumper knitted by his mum in the 70s. This wasn’t just any old jumper either — not only did it have a massive motorbike knitted on the front and the back, but near enough every inch of it was covered in Aces-themed sew-on patches. He even had the jacket to match.
These fans were more than happy to answer my scoring queries, and also threw in a few choice bonus nuggets as well — speedway used to be bigger than football, the old track on Hyde Road was much better and their collections of Speedway Star magazine stored in their attic had NOT increased in value. Despite all these gripes, the fans were still there, and whilst the sport may have seen better days, the car park was full.
At the end of the heats it transpired that Belle Vue had more points. Not only did this meant that they had won, but it meant that the riders had the pleasure of being paraded around the track on the back of a pick-up with a bevy of local beauties — a worthy prize for a night of high-octane motorcycle riding. As the pick-up finished its lap the crowd slowly dwindled until only the die-hard fans remained, waiting patiently to have their photograph taken with their idols. By this point I’d overstayed my welcome.
I returned to my bike to discover I’d earned a rear puncture. The ride back wasn’t smooth.