Saturday 8th August 2020 ko 14.00
OLD WINDSOR 4 (Farnan 12 25 49, May 80)
CHALVEY DEVELOPMENT 0
Att 33 at Old Windsor Park
Sunday 9th August 2020 17.00
Speedway British Youth Championship
500cc 1st Jordan Palin
250cc 1st Max James
125cc (Group A) William Cairns
125cc (Group B) Billy Budd
Att 441 at Scunthorpe Speedway
Entry & Programme £6.50
Last weekend the UK saw what could easily be the only speedway meeting staged this year. It was the Scunthorpe Scorpions promotion that managed to get both guidelines and permission to stage what in the normal scheme of things would be a fairly low-key meeting. The 3 speedway leagues have had their 2020 seasons cancelled due to the Coronavirus outbreak so short of a few challenge matches this could easily be it for British speedway this year. With 2 sports events in 2 days to watch there was the added bonus of comparing how the events were staged, under what restrictions and for non league football the chance to assess a possible safety blueprint should supporters be allowed back into non league grounds from National League down to feeder league level.
As it stands Old Windsor in the off-pyramid East Berkshire League is about as high a level as I’m allowed to watch. They’re in the top division, and since some hoppers use the Groundhopper/Futbology App as a guide as to what they’re prepared to watch I can confirm that Old Windsor Park is now on there, after a little negotiation. Thanks to all at Old Windsor for their help with that!
It was something of a mini meeting of the groundhopping clans with the likes of ace photographer Bob Lilliman, equally ace blogger Peter Miles and FA Cup Factfile curator Phil Annets in attendance. I look forward to their creations in due course! Old Windsor won, mainly due to Harry Farnan’s hat trick, although Henry May’s late thunderbolt was goal of the day.
Of course any reaction to Coronavirus isn’t about eliminating all risk- its about reducing it to an acceptable level. Football is unique in sporting terms in having a massive disparity in the crowds it attracts from top to bottom, be it 90,000 at the FA Cup Final or a few dozen at the likes of Meridian VP. Now I understand the issue is as much getting people to and from the game as much as it is about what those people do at the game but is does seem odd that for football the Covid restrictions are the same for those two polar opposites and everything in between. When you add to the fact that sports such as cricket seem able to host small crowds at their equivalent of non-league level the whole situation clearly needs a more nuanced approach.
I have no interest in turning this blog into a means of slagging off the government, the Scottish Parliament, the Senedd, FA or anyone else. My hope is this speedway meeting may just offer a pathway forward, and so I’ll report it how I saw it.
For one thing don’t think speedway has managed to avoid Covid restrictions- far from it. There are 3 leagues in the UK of which the top two are deemed Elite sport by DCMS and as such are banned. Just the bottom tier National League- very much a development league is permitted. The speedway season is roughly Easter to the end of October so even the National League has been cancelled as by the time restrictions were lifted enough there wasn’t enough time to complete even a cut-back season. This year they’ll only be one-off meetings, and only if the local authorities allow it on a case-by-case basis. In essence only the lower end of non-league speedway is allowed, and even then only by special permission.
Scunthorpe Scorpions’ home, the Eddie Wright Raceway is situated on the edge of town. I’m sure some walk there, but I’m equally sure that the vast majority drive here, and there is ample parking at the stadium. The stadium’s capacity was reduced from around 2,000 to 500 to allow for plenty of social distancing, and the event was strictly all-ticket. Tickets were bought via the Scunthorpe Scorpions’ website with the printed out Paypal receipt acting as a ticket. That took care of “Track and Trace” requirement, and if you weren’t on the list you weren’t allowed in.
Elsewhere, the riders, all 34 of them were allowed access to the pits with one mechanic each only. In the stadium itself some seats were taped off, the bar was purchases only- no sitting down allowed there. The toilets were closed every 30 minutes for cleaning and everywhere there could be a queue there was 2 metre markings. It took everyone to cooperate and use common sense, but they did and that’s why the next event of the series is scheduled for Belle Vue on August 27th.
Now one thing that is more of less essential at a speedway meeting, is a programme as it contains the scorechart that allows you to follow the meeting. So if anyone from the Northern League is reading this a printed 4 page programme was free with admission. I’m pleased to report that that so far a paper-based Scunthorpe-originated second spike of Covid-19 hasn’t happened. Perhaps my friends my friends in the north will rethink their online only programme policy.
Could this blueprint be used for non league football? I reckon so, a crowd of 400 or so would cover everything from Step 3 and downwards, with a caveat of some grounds maybe needing drastically reduced capacities. But it would be a start wouldn’t it? I’d expect entry prices to be more expensive as clubs would need to cover their additional cleaning and sanitizing costs from lower attendances. I will watch very closely those hoppers who tend to be creative at the turnstiles- now is not the time.
I’m bound to say that the way Scunthorpe Scorpions approached their meeting in much the same way that Hitchin Town’s published proposals would suggest to give it a try. Yes, there is risk, but I feel the that benefits outweigh those. I may be happy enough watching off-pyramid football for time being but while I’m doing that Droylsden have folded, and more will follow. It’s time to let the fans in.