On the road with the Monarchs, meeting sports’ friendliest fans - Liam Rudden
In the sport of speedway, you will hear people talk proudly of the 'speedway family', one that comprises not just fans, but riders and promoters too who, unlike in other sports, are all very accessible.
Throughout the decades, speedway has remained very much a family sport. It’s not unusual to find fans mixing with the riders in the pits before the meeting starts, or managers and promoters sharing a pint with those on the terraces in the stadium bar after a match.
Just how welcoming the speedway family is was brought home to me the other week when I embarked upon Edinburgh Monarchs supporters’ annual southern tour, organised by travel guru Anne Dunlop, who put together an exciting five night trip visiting a different track each day while catching the mighty Monarchs and their development team, the Armadale Devils, along the way.
Setting off on the Saturday morning in one of Duddingston Private Hire's (part of Ratho Coaches) executive 29 seaters, we were travelling in style. With just 18 on the tour, there was plenty of space to chill as we made our way south.
First stop that night was Leicester, where the local Lions were racing Birmingham’s Brummies. Leicester has the perfect set up for speedway. On the outskirts of town surrounded by fields, the welcome from locals fans could not have been warmer. Great racing ensued and it was nice to be a neutral for a change, just appreciating the skill of the boys on the bikes without worrying about the final result.
At Mildenhall, the following night, free programmes awaited us. A nice gesture by the club although it was time to be partisan again as the local Fen Tigers were up against the ‘Dale Devils. Twenty-four hours on it was King's Lynn and a chance to watch some Premiership League action as the Stars welcomed Sheffield Tigers.
Again a friendly atmosphere awaited even though the away team won, thanks, in no small part, to the performance of Monarchs’ Josh Pickering who rides for Sheffield in the ‘big’ league. Personally, both leagues seem fairly evenly matched to me and I wouldn't be surprised to see them merge in the future.
Another new track for me followed, Plymouth, where their Gladiators clashed with the Monarchs on arguably the smallest track in the league. It was also the night Luke Crang made his debut for the club, sadly a win wasn't on the cards but Maximus, the Gladiators' mascot, certainly proved a huge hit with the travelling support and the banter with the local track staff was priceless. What a great bunch.
The final night of our trip took us to Poole where Edinburgh managed to rescue a league point. It was like travelling back to the days of Powderhall; a big stadium, large crowd and more great racing. Big shout to the Poole promotion too for reserving us seats in the grandstand to ensure we great view of the action.
Throughout the week, we were welcomed by fans and officials everywhere we went, cementing my belief that speedway is easily the UK's friendliest sport. Even an epic 11 hour journey home couldn't dampen spirits, all thanks to the magic of the speedway family.