Plymouth Gladiators team manager Garry May says he has genuine fears over the future of speedway in the UK with the fall out of Brexit having a major impact on the quality of racing. This season, many overseas riders have opted against riding in the UK because, now we are out of the European Union, foreign riders require a visa to ride on these shores, which is why so many teams are made up of British riders.
Plymouth do have two Danes in their team – captain Hans Andersen and Michael Palm Toft – but with Eddie Kennett unavailable due to a serious arm injury, the club’s quest to find a suitable long-term replacement has so far drawn a blank and they will again call on a guest for tonight’s trip to Glasgow Tigers.
May says he and promoter Mark Phillips have spoken to countless riders, but no one wants to ride in England – especially overseas riders because of the red tape and cost involved in joining a club, either permanently or for a one-off meeting.
“Me and Mark have been talking to other riders, obviously, but no one wants to come to England at the moment,” May said. “So we are hoping either he comes back, or we keep the facility because me and Mark have spoken to 15 or 16 riders, but they don’t want to come to England.
“The other issue is visas. If you get a foreigner in, it is nothing like the old days where you ring them up on a Saturday and he turns up to ride on a Tuesday – you can’t do that anymore, you have to have a visa.
“The process for a visa can take six weeks and you are also talking a few grand to get the visa. It’s not a case of just bringing someone in, you have other things to think about.
“We have spoken to several riders incase anything happens with the Eddie situation, but they just don’t want to come to England anymore. They go straight to Poland where there are no visas and they have nothing to worry about; they haven’t got to set bikes up over here, or someone’s garage to keep them in, they live in Denmark and drive straight to Poland, drive back home and use the same two bikes. Speedway has to address this situation. Not in November, but now. It’s a serious problem for the sport.”
This season, Plymouth set up a junior team – Plymouth Centurions – which compete on the third tier of British speedway, but many of those riders are not yet ready for the jump up to Championship level. That team was led by Henry Atkins, who left the club this week feeling he needed a new direction in the sport.
“The riders aren’t coming and we aren’t getting the riders coming through from the third division either,” May added. “And you have to make the product attractive so that the public want to come and pay the money, which you have to ask for. If you are charging £18, that covers all the costs, but if you are charging a tenner, then you need double the people to come through the gate to pay for it.
“You still need to make the product good, so it is a very hard situation to know what to do. But my aim is to take Plymouth into the play-offs.”
Tuesday’s fine win certainly suggested the Gladiators might just make those play-offs this year and they head to Glasgow on Friday with another three guest riders due to injury and Atkins’ sudden departure. Chris Harris, who thrilled the crowd at the Coliseum on Tuesday night, again comes in at number one for the injured Edward Kennett, with Dillon Ruml returning to the Gladiators team at reserve, along with Jason Edwards.
The 23-year-old American was a full-time Gladiator in 2021 and is riding for Oxford Cheetahs this summer as the club make its return to the sport after a 14-year absence. Glasgow, meanwhile, bring in Kye Thomson and Paul Starke for tonight’s meeting with Ben Basso and Tom Brennan overseas for a world under-21 qualifier.
Team manager Cami Brown believes his Glasgow side could face their toughest test of the season so far given the strength of the Gladiators’ team. “I think this will be our toughest test yet because they will have a very strong top four,” Brown said.
“It is never ideal to be going into a big meeting without two of our own riders, but the calendar has worked against us. Nevertheless we bring in two good guests. Paul knows Ashfield well and Kye had an excellent meeting for Edinburgh on Sunday, so we know he can get round our track.
“We took a maximum seven points from the weekend’s matches so it is vital we don’t undo our good work by getting a win against Plymouth. Three points would really help us to start establishing ourselves towards the top of the SGB Championship table.”
Glasgow Tigers: Craig Cook, Danyon Hume, Ulrich Ostergaard, Kye Thomson, Paul Starke, Broc Nichol, Connor Bailey.
Plymouth Gladiators: Chris Harris, Alfie Bowtell, Ben Barker, Michael Palm Toft, Hans Andersen, Dillion Ruml, Jason Edwards.
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