Saturday night speedway will return to Shielfield this weekend when the tapes go up on the 2014 season.
Berwick Bandits blew away some of the winter cobwebs at their annual press and practice session on Saturday, and now the stage is set for the club’s opening home fixture, a challenge against Redcar.
This year the Bandits will contest a 13-strong Premier League alongside Edinburgh, Glasgow, Workington, Newcastle, Redcar, Scunthorpe, Sheffield, Rye House, Ipswich, Peterborough, Somerset, and Plymouth.
League fixtures will be preceded by a a regionalised Premier League Cup competition, with Berwick competing against Glasgow, Edinburgh and Workington. There will also be the Knockout Cup, the Fours, the Pairs and the individual Riders’ Championship during the course of the season, which will run through to September/ October.
Berwick have a new look to their side with only two riders – Australian Matty Wethers and Frenchman David Bellego – returning from last season.
The others – Aussie Kevin Doolan, Danes Claus Vissing and Steen Jensen, the Czech Republic’s Matej Kus and Berwick’s own Liam Carr – are all new, or are returning to the club in 2014, having had spells at Shielfield in the past.
Doolan last rode for Berwick in 2002, but has always been a popular figure in the Borders, and he will start out as the club’s number one.
“There will be a few riders gunning for me, wanting the jacket,” he said. “But I am determined to keep it for as long as I can. I have always liked riding at Berwick and I am really looking forward to meeting up with a few old friends again.”
Vissing, who recently hired a track to practice in Hungary, said: “I just can’t wait for the season to start. I have done a lot of practising, now I just want to get on a bike and race.”
Bellego, who is back for his third successive season with the Bandits, added: “I have kept myself fit during the winter. I have been practicing in France and I also had a meeting for my Polish club last week, so I am ready to go.
“This is a big year for me. I have made some progress over the past couple of years, but I have spent a lot of money on my equipment this season so I want it to be a success.”
Club director George Hepburn, who will double up as part-time team manager, sharing the duties with Ian Rae, said: “I am really excited about our prospects this season.
“I’m not going to go and make any rash predictions, but I think we have a very solid-looking side.
“Most of the riders are capable of winning races, and if we can steer clear of injuries I think we have a good chance of a top six finish and getting into the play-offs.”
Hepburn said 2013 had been a very difficult year for the club.
Highlights had been the BEN Fund meeting and the World U21 Final, but everything had been overshadowed by the injuries sustained by Ricky Ashworth.
“It cast a shadow over us,” he said.
“Naturally everyone here at Berwick wishes Ricky a speedy recovery and all the best for the future, but as a club we have to move on.
“That is why we made so many changes to the side. We wanted a fresh start, and I think everyone is positive about the team and confident about our chances.”