NOW that only one event of note remains during the concluding half of

1990 -- I refer, of course, to tomorrow's Stone Roses be-in on Glasgow

Green -- we should examine something of which there is tons

gallumphing-on in the city of culture.


Millions of it. Orienteering. Cycling. Wrestling. Police v.

padres football matches. Strand-pulling. Synchronised skipping.

Deep-sea stone-skimming.

But can sport be called culture? Sport just happens. You either play

it, or watch it, or talk a bit about it before going out to actually do

something, or you throw things at the telly because of it. Leaving aside

the growing number of excellent and hilarious football fanzines, no-one

really philosophises about sport, do they? Well, not apart from marathon

runners, golfers, and Archie Macpherson and Bob Wilson, and everyone's

agreed they're all imbeciles.

I mean, no-one believes anymore that sport embodies national

aspirations or communicates improving messages or sets out an ideal for

living or articulates common feelings. Think of football, allegedly

Scotland's sport, and remember Ally's

Abject Army in 1978 and scoff at Roy'n'Roxy's Rejects in Italy.

Sport's just a distraction, not a way of life, isn't it?


And no.

Speedway is more than a sport. It's a religion. It's the best smell in

the world. It's for all the family. It's for all the people, everywhere,

all the time. It's got badges you can wear and proper statistics --

shut-outs and goal-difference my arse -- and a programme you have to

work away at with a pen like a maths professor.

Speedway is a metaphor for the human condition: sometimes a laugh,

always serious, sometimes winning, sometimes losing, going round in

circles all the time with the occasional chance to show off and the

perennial chance of a painful fall.

In short, speedway is flipping well brilliant. Get thee down to

Shawfield quick, culture-vulture, or you're only half alive.

A fortnight ago I returned to the red shale and the racket and the

heady perfume of methanol for the first time in 20 years. Now I've

discovered Shawfield, Wednesday nights, is the only place to be, I vow

to be there cheering on Glasgow's Radio Clyde 261 Tigers. Back then,

though, it was Belle Vue Aces at Hyde Road, Manchester. Their trademark

ace of spades will forever be tattoo'd on my heart, next to ''Iggy'' and

''Don van Vliet''.

But while some things can't change, speedway always seems to be

fighting a rearguard action against transience. A heavily-badged Tigers

fan told me in hushed, funereal tones that while the Aces still exist,

they've built houses on the old Hyde Road raceway. The top league is

down from about 20 clubs to nine. West Ham no more. Rochdale no more. I

stared tearily at the metal speedway tombstones on his

lapel: whither Halifax Dukes, Nelson Admirals?

As part of the universal personhood of speedway fans, we commiserated.

Glasgow Tigers have experienced more than their fair share of being

shunted around one step ahead of the

Celestial Clerk of the Course, you see. From the White City to

Hampden, Coatbridge to Blantyre, and now a home at the Ru'glen dog


Long may the Tigers flourish there, for despite post-war speedway

being regularly beset by soulless property developers, there is

something innocently timeless at the heart of the sport. At Shawfield, I

saw fans in barred scarves of the sort long vanished, along with

sporting behaviour, from football terraces. Holy Harry Haddock! There

was even a boy with a ricketty!

At Shawfield there is also meeting presenter Bert Turner, man of a

thousand words, some unnecessary and many of which he invents himself.

Bert Turner. This is a good speedway name. Plain. No nonsense.

Foursquare. Stoically unsexy. In the past there have been solid British

names such as Cyril Maidment. Barry Briggs. Doug Templeton. Charlie

Monk. Bert Harkins.

Even speedway's foreign, mostly Scandinavian riders have had names

that were resolutely down to earth. Not exotic, not distant. Bernt

Persson. Bent Larsson. Tigers' forthcoming new non-Brit, Tommy Dunker,

seems set to carry on the tradition.

Bert revealed that Geoff Powell's testimonial year fund-raising

activities will include a jumble sale. Weep for shame, Kenny Dalglish.

Bert then appealed for kind-hearted Tigerfans to loan a TV and a vid to

Ozzie Jason's Ru'glen lodgings.

In speedway, sport of the people, we are truly all neighbours. Like

properly improper rock'n'roll, it looks rotten on the telly. Like

inspired comedy, you really have to be there to get it.

Shoot, I always wanted to have a go myself. Imagine doing a

one-handed, middle-finger wheelie up life's centre-stand straight. In a

tight leather bodysuit, all chimminy orange and candy apple red up

either leg. Never could handle a bike, mind . . . but speedway means

never having to admit you're neither an ace nor a tiger.

The next speedway meeting at Shawfield takes place a week on Sunday.