Inevitably, this blog is usually about stroke-awareness. After all, stroke-awareness is why I started Ask The Warrior, stroke-awareness work is a large part of my life and if you have to live with the after-effects of a stroke, it can be all-consuming.
I remember a very good friend once telling me not to be defined by my stroke. She was saying (I think) that I’m so much more than just my stroke and that I should be well-known for all the other things I do.
She was right in that I’m so much more than just my stroke but I’ve always thought that she was wrong because by saying that, she was trying to downplay the effect the stroke has had on me - and that is impossible.
All of which is a roundabout way of saying that this post is not about stroke. Anyone who knows anything about me will know that I’m an all-round sports fan. I worked in sports journalism for 19 years, I have a season-ticket for Tamworth FC and I’ve watched everything from American Football in a crowd of 80,000 at Wembley to rugby union before a crowd of, well, maybe a dozen in a local park. There aren’t many sports I don’t like.
I usually make an exception for motorsports, however. I just don’t see the attraction of Formula One and most motor-cycling leaves me cold. Why stand in the same place to watch a group of men on machines whizz past very quickly for maybe ten seconds, then stand looking at a screen for maybe two minutes before seeing them again?
Speedway, though, is different. I’ve been a fan ever since the mid-1970s when a neighbour (I even remember his name - John Foley - and the fact that he owned a butcher’s shop in Kidderminster) used to enthuse about Cradley Heathens. I remember going to a few meetings at the old Dudley Wood track with his family, but the call of other things meant my interest was carried on from afar until I became self-employed in 2010, started going to business networking meetings and was introduced to Mark Northall.
To say Mark is a speedway fan (along with his wife Diane) is to say that Gary Lineker is quite well-paid for giving his views on football. Mark does talks educating people on speedway, he is active in god-knows how-many social media groups about it, he can probably tell you the name of every team in every European league and the Northalls seem to spend most summer weekends flying off to watch the Grand Prix series in cities all over Europe - oh and he’s a proper Black Country character who was brought up on Cradley speedway.
His infectious enthusiasm has rubbed off on me and for the last several years I have wanted to attend the British leg of the GP series in Cardiff. The trouble was, for the last few years, it has clashed with our wedding anniversary. I’ve got away with a few things on anniversaries before (Bruce Springsteen at the Ricoh Arena in Coventry in 2016 just happened to be on Mrs Warrior’s birthday, for instance), but speedway? Probably not.
Until this year, when the British GP was moved to September. Last Saturday, to be precise, at the Millennium Stadium. Mrs Warrior got in free as my carer, the ticket prices weren’t too unreasonable - and one thing stroke tells you is that life’s too short not to make memories when you can.
Reader, we loved it. Four men on 70mph bikes with no brakes flying around a 400m track is spectacular enough outdoors. In an indoor 80,000-seat arena with the roof closed, it was one of the most entertaining sporting events I’ve ever seen.
More experienced speedway-watchers tell me it wasn’t that good from a racing viewpoint. The track wasn’t prepared in a way which allowed for overtaking, some of the referee’s decisions were poor (no VAR, LOL….) but to a relative newcomer, it was a great spectacle.
We’ll definitely be going next year and I want to taste domestic speedway again, as well (after all, Mrs Warrior was enthused and she doesn’t do sport). If you’re looking for a new sporting experience next summer, don’t get dragged into cricket’s manufactured reinvent-the-wheel all-about-new-audiences The Hundred competition, try something authentic. Try speedway, if only because it smells like nothing else on earth (in a good way - you have to be there to understand).