BERWICK gave their fans a welcome Christmas present last week when they announced the sensational signing of former World Cup winner Charlie Gjedde.
And with the Bandits also handing a starting role to one of their own assets, Hungarian Tamas Sike, it means the Shielfield Park outfit now only have one place left to fill before the tapes go up on the new season in March.
The arrival of Danish international Gjedde (pictured) has been described by the club as ‘the biggest in the last 20 years,’ and bearing in mind his pedigree few people would argue with those sentiments.
For the 31 year-old is vastly experienced, having raced the bulk of his career in the British Elite League (with Swindon, Reading and Belle Vue) and also abroad.
He had one brief spell in the Premier League, with Reading back in 2001, and many feel that providing he regains his full match fitness, he should be one of the top riders in the division in 2011.
Gjedde, who is a former Danish U21 champion, has been forced to sit on the sidelines for the past year and a half as he recovered from a shoulder and then a career-threatening knee injury.
But following surgery, and after months of physiotherapy, he has now declared his intention to ride again. His plans are to travel to New Zealand early in the new year and compete in a number of meetings there to regain his fitness.
He was originally announced by Manchester-based Belle Vue to ride in the Elite League next year, but just a week later - on Christmas Eve - he was also confirmed as a Berwick starter.
And there was more good news when it was confirmed that as part of the ‘doubling up’ arrangement between the two clubs, Berwick will have priority over his services, which means that in the event of a clash of fixtures he will turn out for the Borderers.
Berwick promoter John Anderson said the deal was struck after ‘protracted but very professional negotiations’ involving the respective team managers, Bandits’ Ian Rae and Belle Vue’s Chris Morton.
“I remember being stadium manager out at Berrington Lough when Chris was here in 1991,” said Rae, “and I know he has always spoken very well of the way he was made so welcome that year. Now, 20 years on that goodwill has been repaid – and how!”
Gjedde, from Holstebro in Denmark, will fill the number one race jacket vacated by the injured Adrian Rymel, who is taking at least a year out to recover from his career threatening injuries after breaking bones in his neck and damaging his spine.
In an interview on his own website he said: “I need as much practice as possible before the season starts but the only places to do it at this time of the year is in either Australia or New Zealand.
“I’m as fit as I think I need to be to start racing again. There is a chance I could go to New Zealand in January and, if everything can be arranged, there are six or eight meetings I could do out there which is exactly what I think I need at the moment.
“I’ve been out for one and a half seasons and getting back onto a bike would help me put that behind me. Also, the practice would put me in front of the riders who won’t start racing until the start of the season.
“I have worked very hard and the physiotherapist is happy because I am ahead of my schedule. I feel that I am ready to get back on a bike at last.
“It’s not as if you forget how to ride a speedway bike. It’s like driving a car but I still need to get in the practice to make me really sharp again.”
Gjedde will line up alongside Lee Complin, Josef Franc, Kozza Smith and Jade Mudgway, who have already been confirmed as definite starters, and Sike, who will step up into the side for his first full season of PL racing.
The 24 year-old has raced a number of PL meetings in the past, but last season he was forced to ride as an amateur in Berwick’s Northern Junior League, simply to gain experience and he emerged as a clear winner of the Northern Junior Championship which was held at Shielfield.
“After winning the Riders’ Championship last season he showed he was ready to move up,” said Rae, “so we are happy to give him his chance.”
Sike originally came to Britain in 2008 as a mechanic for his fellow countryman and former Bandit Norbert Magosi. He comes in on an assessed five point average as he has not completed enough meetings to gain a true starting figure and Rae added:
“I would just like to remind some critics that this time 12 months ago we also handed a starting place to Jade Mudgway, who had also won a junior meeting here at Berwick, and look what he went on to achieve.”
Berwick now have just one place to fill to complete their starting line-up and co promoter George Hepburn said: “We’re working on that space. We have two or three guys pretty keen on joining us – but we are weighing up their ability to do the job in the style we want, and to be a credit to Berwick Bandits both on and off the track.
“But as John has stated, we do want to continue to move up the table, we do want a team of riders who might well increase their averages as happy Bandits – and our final signing announcement, when it comes, will reflect on this philosophy.”