ALL roads lead to Berwick this weekend as the Bandits host the highest profile meeting in their 44-year history.
The club is staging a World Grand Prix qualifying round at Shielfield tonight, and this will be the first time that an FIM approved event will have been put on at the Border track.
The meeting, which starts at 7pm, will feature 16 riders from around the world, all hoping to make progress to the next stage of the GP Series, which in effect is the world championships of the sport. It is a major coup for the club.
This will be the only GP qualifier staged in Britain this year, and is testament to all the hard work put in by the promotional team since they took over the running of the club almost four years ago.
“This is the pinnacle of all our hard work,” said promoter John Anderson. “When we first took over from Peter Waite we always said that we wanted to stabilise the club and secure its future before moving forward.
“Over the years speedway has been littered with clubs who tried to run before they could walk and are no longer in existence. We didn’t want that to happen at Berwick.
“One of the first things I ever said to the fans was that we were in it for the long haul and in many respects we think we are doing that. It’s still work in progress, but we are getting there and this meeting will certainly raise our profile.”
Before the end of last season Berwick decided to take the revolutionary step of installing a new polyfoam safety fence at Shielfield – prompted in part by the horrific injuries sustained by Bandit Alex Edberg in a high speed crash.
“It was the first of its kind in the Premier League,” said Anderson, “and as such it generated a lot of interest and publicity.
“As a result of our lead I now think one or two other clubs in the Premier League are looking at installing similar types of fencing.
“Once the barrier was in place we knew we had the facilities to hold such a high profile event as a Grand Prix qualifier and that was why we put in for it.
“The decision to award us the meeting might have raised a few eyebrows, but we feel we are ready and able to stage such a meeting and naturally we are delighted to have been given the green light.
“The fence was only part of it, we had to do an awful lot of work around the stadium to bring it up to scratch, but now that the meeting is only a few days away we are looking forward to it immensely.”
The meeting is expected to attract a bumper crowd, with fans travelling from throughout the country to watch. Earlier in the day, between 11.30am and 1.30pm, the riders will be offered practice facilities at the track, which is usual with all FIM meetings of this calibre. This required a change in the club’s planning regulations for use of the stadium and was only granted by Northumberland County Council last week.
The practice will be open to the public – entrance by a minimum £2 donation – and all proceeds will go to the Lee Richardson Memorial Fund.
“Lee’s recent tragic accident in Poland shows just how dangerous a sport speedway can be,” said Anderson. “Lee was a really nice guy and I know his death struck everyone connected with the sport. We think it is only fitting we should make some sort of contribution to his fund so I hope everyone gives generously.”
The 16 riders on show will battle it out for eight qualifying places and competition will be tough.
Berwick will have local interest in the meeting with two of their riders official reserves. Skipper Lee Complin was named a fortnight ago, but with Tai Woffinden withdrawing through injury and Danny King being elevated to the line-up it left one place to fill, which was handed to Ricky Ashworth at the weekend.
“Lee and Ricky are both proven performers around Shielfield,” said Anderson, “and if they get a chance to ride in the meeting I am sure they will give it a go.”
Included in the line-up is a former GP star in the shape of Chris Harris, whilst competition will come from the likes of Australians Davey Watt and Sam Masters, track expert Ryan Fisher, Germany’s Christian Heffenbrock, Krysztof Buczkowski of Poland, who is currently riding in the Elite League, Linus Sundstrom (Sweden) and Matej Kus from the Czech Republic.
Others in the line-up include Argentinian Emiliano Sanchez, former Bandits Gino Franchitti (Italy) and Tero Aarnio (Finland), and Danny King, brother of Bandit Jason, who has been called up as a replacement for Woffinden.
“It’s a real mixture of riders from around the world,” said Anderson, “and as such I think it promises to be a really good meeting.
“Of course, the likes of Harris, Fisher and Watt will be amongst the favourites to go through, but there will also be some competition from some of the lesser riders which should make it interesting.
“Our very own Lee Complin is hoping to play some part in the meeting. He was named as one of the two reserves a fortnight ago and was looking forward to being involved, but then he picked up a hand injury at Workington last weekend and so there is a question mark over whether or not he will be fit enough, although he was hoping to ride in the Bandits’ two away meetings at the weekend.”
The meeting is being sponsored by New Holland Agriculture, and following the racing a ceilidh will be held in the Black and Gold.