IT was an emotionally-charged night at Shielfield on Saturday as Adrian Rymel staged his much-deserved testimonial.
Rymel, after ten years as a Berwick asset, was forced to announce his retirement from the sport during the winter after suffering horrific injuries in a track crash at Edinburgh last September.
At first there were fears he might never walk again when it was discovered he had broken a bone in his neck and suffered damage to his spinal cord.
But after several operations, and months of physiotherapy and recuperation, he is now well on the road to recovery.
It was therefore no surprise that he should receive a standing ovation from the bumper crowd - estimated at around 1,500 - when he was paraded, and then walked out to be introduced to the supporters and the riders who had turned out to pay tribute to a man who without doubt has become recognised as one of the most popular Bandits of all time.
Friends and family had travelled across from the Czech Republic, bus-loads of supporters made the journey from Workington - where Rymel rode on loan in 2009 - and there were also a host of familiar faces in the pits, including former promoters, team managers and ex-riders, all of whom were there to help the night go with a swing.
Ex-boss Peter Waite, the former Bandits owner who was responsible for bringing Rymel, along with fellow countrymen Michal Makovsky and Josef Franc, to Britain in 2001, was amongst those present.
“I first saw Adrian ride when he came to Britain as part of a Czech touring side,” Waite recalled. “He raced at Exeter and Edinburgh, and it was after that I went out to the Czech Republic to sign him up. There was a lot of criticism when the Czechs first arrived, but I knew they had potential. They had the possibility of being future number ones, and four or five years down the line I was proved right.
“It’s been a privilege to see Adrian develop his career during his time with Berwick. It was like a roller-coaster at times, but one of the highs was definitely when we won the Premier League Fours at Coventry in 2002.
“But he has not only been a colleague, he’s been a friend, and I know he has developed a very strong bond with a lot of people in this country, particularly around Berwick.
“I am now living in Poland, but I got a text to tell me about his accident. I then followed the story through the internet and the Speedway Press. It was very sad, but unfortunately these things happen in speedway.
“Thankfully, Adrian is now starting to make a recovery - he is walking without a stick - and it’s great to see him back at Shielfield, although it would have been better if it hadn’t have been under these circumstances.”
Rymel himself admitted to having a lump in his throat as he took to the track for his big night.
“A lot of work has gone into making this meeting happen,” he said. “I have a lot of good memories here and it was only right that my testimonial should be here.”
Rymel, who actually managed to drive across from the Czech Republic with his daughter Rachel, added: “I would like to thank everyone for their support since my accident. There are so many people I cannot name them all, but ‘thank you’ anyway.”
The meeting took the form of a four-team tournament event with riders representing Britain, Denmark, Australia and of course the Czech Republic.
In the end it turned into a two-horse race between eventual winners Australia (Kevin Doolan, Kozza Smith, Mark Lamon and Josh Grajczonek) and the Brits (Edward Kennett, Lee Complin, Joe Screen and Craig Cook), whilst the Danes (Kenni Larsen, Mads Korneliussen, Rene Bach and Peter Kildemand) put in a strong finish after getting off to a slow start.
The Czechs (Tom Topinka, Michal Makovsky, Josef Franc and Hynek Stichauer) only produced one race winner on the night and never really threatened, although they had the satisfaction of seeing Topinka win the top scorers race ahead of Larsen, Lemon and Kennett.
The quality of racing might not have been the best, but the riders, who gave their services for expenses only, are to be congratulated for their efforts.
Current Berwick promoter John Anderson said afterwards: “It’s been a great night and it’s just fantastic to see so many people here to pay tribute to Adrian, it just goes to show how popular a rider and a man he is.
“I have had the honour of knowing Adrian for the past few years now and I have to say he has been a delight to work with. I can only hope he makes a full recovery from his injuries and that he has a good life in the future.”