Speedway: If it's Sunday it must be Poland

Norman Fox hears the England captain Chris Louis describe the incredible schedule of a speedway rider
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CHRIS LOUIS is one of the world's top speedway riders. He recently led the England national team, of which he is captain, to a three-match series win over Australia. He is British champion and also captains Ipswich, who are leading the Elite League. Yet in a sport where attendances once rivalled football and the top riders were rich men, he now rides for three clubs in three countries to earn the kind of money that Premiership footballers would consider insulting.

His schedule is as demanding as the racing. He has been known to appear at 13 meetings in 14 days in five different countries. When he hears footballers talking about the pressure of playing two matches a week, he sometimes wonders whether he chose the wrong sport but, he says, "I'm lucky I do something I really enjoy." He has to find his own sponsorship each year and pay for his four bikes at pounds 6,000 each.

His schedule for the period of 10 days around the British Grand Prix, held in Coventry, was "nothing out of the ordinary", he says. It is an extraordinary account:


We'd been at Eastbourne on Saturday night for the Second Test against Australia. It had gone well. I'd got eight points and we won the series. My mechanic drove us back in the van - sometimes we have to sleep in it. I got home to Ipswich at 1am. I try to stay out of the workshop but next morning there were things to do which took a couple of hours. Got back in the van and drove up to King's Lynn for Third Test. I hold the lap record there. Pleased with getting close to that on the fast track and being top scorer, but Mark Loram crashed in his first ride and we lost. As captain, I knew the team had not done a good job. With the grand prix coming up, minds were further ahead than they should have been. Back home early - 9pm.


Intended having a day off. Phone call at midday from David Steen, a South African rider, who said he hadn't asked me to ride in his testimonial at Reading that night because he thought I would be too busy, but someone had dropped out. I couldn't refuse - he's a great guy; came over with only the loose change in his pocket; never had the breaks. Loaded the bikes and was driven down. Good crowd - more than 3,000. One of the bikes needed a test, so it was useful. Had a run-off to win but had a handicap of 30 yards against Dave Mullett and couldn't pass him. Back at 1am.


Day off! Worked on bikes, paperwork and normal family things.


Travelled to Oxford for league match. M25 can be a problem but getting to Belle Vue, Manchester, is worse (once got there an hour late after seven and a half hours driving). Not a good meeting for me or team (lost by four points). Again home at 1am.


Took two vans to Coventry for grand prix practice - my mechanic was taking two bikes on to Poland. Left Freya (younger daughter) with mother-in-law; elder one (Hannah) and wife (Julie) came with us. Don't often do that. It's a job... I don't feel like an entertainer. Coventry's track has been made smaller since I won the British Championship there. We struggled. One bike's set-up wasn't right for the surface. Wasn't in best frame of mind when I went to official hotel.


New grand prix format (series of meetings but no one-off world final any more) is great for spectators and television but the elimination is cut-throat. Sweltering night. First race tough. Fourth place from inside lane. Bad decision to ride bike that had been giving trouble. Second bike better later but too late. Unable to get past eventual overall winner Jason Crump. Eliminated, drowned sorrows with a can of Guinness (never have time for pub). Returned home. Mechanic is on 13-hour drive to Zielona Gora in Poland. I always want my own bikes there.


Washed down and prepared own bikes. Drove to Eastbourne for league match. Intimidating place. The officials wind you up (things like making you park as far away from pits as possible). The machine examiner finds faults beyond call of duty. Some hard riding - our Tomasz Gollob was excluded; that caused ructions in the pits. Crowd (2,000 or so) got heated. Our fans were gloating a bit because it was our fourth win there and ended a run of three away defeats for us. Eastbourne hadn't lost at home for two years before we beat them. Drove to Brentwood Little Chef. Met friend. Drove to London to stay "overnight". Arrived at 1am.


Up at 5.30am (don't know why I went to bed) for Heathrow - 6.50am flight to Copenhagen for connecting flight to Poznan (arrived 11.45am). Picked up by club official. Bikes had arrived at hotel. Racing at 5pm. Club (Zielona Gora) had been struggling to stay in first division. Crowd of nearly 12,000 (nothing unusual - speedway more popular than football in Poland). Got 14 points. There's a lot of pressure as I'm the only foreign rider in the team. Van went back to Calais.


Left at 9.30am to get flight from Poznan to Copenhagen. Connected with flight to Gothenburg. Picked up for two-hour drive to Mariestad to ride for Ornarna. Had taken an engine on the plane in a kit bag. In the evening I relaxed watching the son of team manager in moto-cross (my first love). Early night, at last.


Fitted engine in bike. Team lost, I score only nine points... end of a long week. Stayed with our team manager who wanted to know what went wrong. Up at 3.30am for drive to Gothenburg and 7.10am flight to Heathrow. Friend picked me up for the drive home. Why do I do it? I'm lucky... I love it, but of course I envy footballers who might earn pounds 50,000 a week. A lot of speedway riders would be happy to clear that in a year.