EDINBURGH MONARCHS will become British Premier League champions should they defeat Somerset Rebels in the Play-Off Grand Final this weekend – a remarkable achievement for a squad many felt lacked enough scoring firepower to mount a serious challenge.
With the League Cup and Knockout Cup already secured, Monarchs are within touching distance of a glorious treble.
Yet, as each new signing was drip fed to supporters during last winter, there was an air of concern that the team might not be good enough to even make the play-offs.
Monarchs co-promoter John Campbell, however, was convinced he had another blueprint for success on his hands and said today: “Some supporters may have expressed doubts over the capabilities of the team but I did not pay any attention to them.
“I wasn’t irritated by it, but it would be wrong to say from the moment I signed this team that I knew they would become something special.
“You always take a chance when you bring four new faces into the side because it is impossible to know how things will work out and I wasn’t sure it would. I hadn’t spoken to Aaron Fox in my life before, nor had I spoken to Sam Masters or Justin Sedgmen. I had spoken to Stevie Worrall briefly, but I had no knowledge of these riders and you just have to go on your instincts.”
Worrall in particular was a key component of the side. His installation at reserve on an average of below three would kick-start Monarchs’ season in a manner few could dare have dreamed. Campbell said: “Signing Steve was a no-brainer and I had hoped he would start scoring by the time things got crucial for us and he is now a very confident home rider and also capable of picking up a point or two away from, that’s all we needed.”
Asked if he had any inkling to signpost that Monarchs would embark on a 24-match unbeaten run that virtually sealed their play-off qualification spot with weeks to spare, Campbell replied: “As soon as Stevie started scoring all those points from reserve, it became very easy for us all from there on. The concern once he moved into the team proper was that he might find points harder to come by because the balance of the team changed.
“But really his efforts at reserve made me realise I had a special team on my hands. Nobody thought Stevie would do what he did,.I don’t think even he believed it himself.”
Campbell continued: “We’ve had a number of riders who have ridden at reserve on three-point averages and didn’t score three! Stevie filled the whole team with confidence from the beginning.”
The strands that bind any team together cannot be underestimated and Campbell revealed one of the reasons why Monarchs bonded like glue, saying: “All the riders speak English and that always helps. When guys can understand immediately what is being said it’s a big advantage. They speak English as their native language and they get on so well together despite being different in personality.”
Campbell says having a trio of Australians in the pits produces lighter moments to offset some of the strain which manifests itself on race nights. “Sam likes to have fun because it helps him.
“Justin used to be a worrier if he had a bad race, but he has been helped by Sam whose attitude is to get on with the next thing on the agenda and forget about what has gone before and Justin has picked up on that now.
“Max [Fricke] is the quieter of our Australians and is focused on what he is doing and where he is going and does his job.”
Monarchs success since moving to Armadale in 1997 has helped smash the myth that teams north of the Border always had to prove themselves. “I don’t think we have to prove anything now,” said Campbell. “It was a struggle for us in the past but after we won our first league title in 2003 we have done a pretty good job because we have a winning mentality now within the club and that makes a difference. There are some teams who don’t care and let their riders disappear to the continent and race.
“We are battling all the time to make sure our riders turn up where they are required to be and we get very upset when that doesn’t happen, that’s not our game.”
Monarchs have attracted criticism this year on some forums but Campbell insists: “That is because we are so successful and we are in the public eye, we publicise ourselves heavily to get people to come and watch us. It also makes people jealous that we manage to pick out riders from nowhere and work on them to make them better. And that’s what I think other teams don’t do.”
The biggest acid test still awaits Monarchs as they attempt to deny Somerset a second-successive league crown. As Campbell gees his men up for Friday’s first leg of the Grand Final at the Oak Tree Arena, he said: “I think Somerset will be more concerned at coming to our track Armadale on Saturday than us going to theirs because they don’t have anybody who is a master at our circuit.”
But when reminded that Monarchs were soundly beaten 57-35 in the league at Somerset, their poorest away performance of the year, Campbell went on: “We were blown away in the second half of that match. At the time we were at our lowest ebb, we were losing matches and the riders believed our season was over. It turned out though, to be just a blip.
“We had lost at Berwick on TV the night before and our boys thought they weren’t as good as they thought they were – we had a lack of confidence.
“We are going to Somerset on Friday to win but realistically it is going to be a difficult match. One of the problems we had that evening was that Sam was out to prove a point after Somerset had let him go in 2012.
“That worked against him but he no longer thinks about how big a mistake Somerset made. Sam wants to win the league and is absolutely focused on that happening this week.
“However, while it has been great to have been a great team this season, we will only be remembered if we win the league.
“If we fail people will say Monarchs did all right.”