LETTERS: “Stars in crisis and the sport as well?”

Shaun Hudson has shared his views on the sad news that Sheffield are unlikely to compete in North and Scotland League Division One next season, adding to a long list of clubs that are finding first team racing untenable.

They join Northumbria and Heckmondwike in the North, who would now be down to 5 teams, Swindon and Southampton in the South, along with Newport who are rumoured to be focussing on a club rebuild instead of Division One racing next season, which would leave just 3 first division sides in South West and Wales.

Here’s Shaun’s take on it all:

As the 2018 season draws to a close the Sheffield Club find themselves at crisis point with the future of first team racing. The team have had by far their worst season for many a year finishing bottom of the Northern League Division 1 and barring a miracle will reluctantly withdraw from the league at the Northern region’s AGM later in the year. Plans are already in place to race and compete in next year’s Division 2 however that will be little comfort to the first team members and the club’s management.

On an individual basis the club’s riders have not had a bad season, all members have improved and won various titles along the way, however as a team it’s just not happened on the track. This could be viewed as a minor hiccup but with heat leader Niall Morton leaving Sheffield to attend University in Edinburgh, this has had a knock-on effect with brother Ed looking to race elsewhere as well. Adam Watson is also on the move, as having reached his first British Final this year and represented Gt Britain & England he needs to continue to race at the highest level to continue his progression in the sport.

It’s hard to believe the club finds itself in this position when only five years ago Sheffield were a top three club in the Elite League and over the last fifteen years have attracted some of the greatest riders in the sport to its ranks. Who can forget the likes of Martin Gamble, Jono Birks, Ashley Birks, Marcin Symanski, Bobby Mcmillan, Mitch Spear, Andy Angell, Gavin Parr, Myke Grimes, Pawel Kozloswki, Radek Sieradski, Matt & Lee Smith,Darius Pilas, Radek Handke and home-grown Juniors like Simon Gamble, Ryan Hoyland, Pete Pearson, Rob Hudson, Aiden Owen, Kyle Holland, Rich Hudson, Vicky Brown & Jamie Brown, the list goes on.

Fundamentally the sport is flawed, when riders hit those teenage years the rider retention is simply awful. Why is this, is the sport destined to become the pastime of the under 14’s? A children’s sport to while away those childhood years before a growing realisation sets in that your giving up your weekend for less than five minutes competitive action. Travelling when you’re a child can be fun, especially if there is a group of you, but when Mum & Dad stop paying for the fuel it suddenly becomes a major burden on young riders who have just got their first job and not that much disposable income to travel 300-400 miles on a Sunday.
Likewise, Sunday morning follows Saturday night and let’s face who doesn’t want to go out on Saturday and take part in life’s adventures, we have all done it, so why should todays youngsters want to miss out? The lack of money in the sport is a major problem, British Cycling do what they can, but they are stretched over that many cycling disciplines that the reality is no real money will ever come the way of Cycle Speedway. It doesn’t win Gold Medals at the Olympics, it doesn’t get on prime time TV!

I believe the sport has to market itself and get a major sponsor on board, the likes of Red Bull & Monster Energy. Slim down to perhaps ten top flight clubs and pay the riders, this could be prize money but ideally a wage. Other clubs can continue until they are in a postion to join the top flight or not depending on what their members want. Look at how Rugby Union has reinvented itself, from a grass roots sport to professional players, the Rugby Football Union pour money into clubs to help them develop not just the players, but the infrastructure as well, club houses get built, training facilities, licensed bars & food, the sport is booming.

If you look at Cycle Speedway as a whole, the number of clubs that are struggling to keep going is on a dangerous upwards trend, many clubs just have a team, if somebody is injured or working, on holiday, then suddenly you only have five riders available or a first team that’s filled out with a couple of U10’s to make up the numbers, racing becomes a farce, no benefit to anyone.

As I see it, the sport is clinging on by its fingernails, the volunteers are getting wearier by the day and the only glimmer of light comes from the youngsters the 8-12yr olds and the Veterans who have the disposable income now, to travel all over the country.

Every club has its indispensable helpers and volunteers, Robert Mawhood is the beating heart of the Sheffield Club, as Andy Schofield is at Hull, these people go the extra mile all the time just to keep the wheels turning. The reality is though people need to work and earn a living and volunteers are only human and become jaded and tired, it’s a fact of life. This week Rob is entertaining the local Scout troop down at Cookson and putting them through their paces, the same as many other clubs up & down the country, will the club recruit any new riders for the team, it’s doubtful but he will keep going because that’s the person he is. However, until we get the product right that’s how things will remain.

My involvement in the sport started in 1994 until 2016, I had some great times, too many to mention, spent a fortune, travelled all over the country, met some great people, discovered that Dinosaurs are in fact alive & kicking and would not have missed it for the world. It saddens me now to see the state of things and I really believe that unless change comes soon that all we will have left is our memories.

The above is my own personal thoughts and should not be taken as any kind of official viewpoint of Sheffield Cycle Speedway Club, I whole heartily believe that everyone involved in the club from riders to management, volunteers etc has the best interests of the club at heart, I don’t in anyway have any criticism at all of their efforts or actions. They have all rose to the challenge and given 110%, the fact remains the club has ended up in a far from satisfactory situation, further proof the product is now not fit for purpose. Only time will tell if it’s fatally flawed, I hope not.

Shaun Hudson, September 2018.