Craig Cook today fired a broadside at critics who say his decision to remain in the Premier League with Edinburgh Monarchs in 2014 shows a lack of ambition and is a backward step as he strives to get to the top in the sport.
But the 26-year-old Englishman, who agreed terms this week to return to Armadale next season, hit out, claiming some people were trying to kick him out of speedway’s second tier without knowing the full story behind his decision not to move up into the Elite League on a permanent basis.
He said: “It is very frustrating that there are people out there who say I should have got out of the Premier League if I want to further my career. But I have only been riding speedway for five years, how can I be too good for the Premier League?
“I’m a British rider trying to go forward and people are trying to kick me out of that division. I think it is quite disgusting, to be honest. I do want to progress, but I can only do that when I’m ready and when I have the money.
“These people who are criticising me, if they knew the full story, they would perhaps change their tune. Until they do, they should keep their mouths shut.”
At one point it did seem certain that Cook would take the step into the top flight which could have acted as a gateway to the lucrative Polish market. However, Poland is not quite the cash cow it once was for British stars who ply some of their trade there and Cook revealed he would have to take out a bank loan to fund such plans. However, he also indicated that Poland remains a feasible dream, which he hopes to fulfil in 2015.
“I tried to get a deal there last season but it didn’t happen because the average conversion made it difficult for me. And for me to spend £25,000 on equipment and the like simply did not make it viable.
“You are not even guaranteed matches on a regular basis. Unless I have got money behind me and I can afford to go, I cannot consider it at this moment in time. It is slightly annoying because I do want to go across knowing that the experience is something that will allow me to progress.
“But hopefully I will have the funds and get the opportunity to try out the Polish market in two years’ time. I think I’m well capable of doing it and it’s all about being prepared.
“But if you are serious about riding in Poland you have got to be 100 per cent professional. I wouldn’t want to be half-hearted about it.”
Cook’s maintains his decision to stay with the Monarchs and live within his means is the sensible choice. He has already agreed to double-up with Manchester’s Belle Vue Aces again in the Elite League and with expanded league programmes in both divisions, riding abroad, next year at any rate, would have been impractical.
Cook’s main concern now is ensuring Monarchs have a more consistent feel about them next year and, while the majority of his team-mates won’t be known until possibly January, it’s no secret that the Monarchs management are planning to release some of their 2013 squad.
Said Cook: “We definitely need to find more consistency among our top five and also need to have two strong reserves in place. Hopefully, next season some of the pressure will be taken off me. I was relied upon most of the time to win the heat 15 top scorers’ race every week and that was quite stressful – it got to me quite a lot.
“Yet this will probably be expected of me again. Last year I started off with an eight-and-a-half point average, so I should have received more back up. I increased my average to over ten over the season and that could be a challenge to maintain that figure – to be honest, I’m looking to improve it.”
It’s likely that the points-scoring burden will be eased on Cook with Monarchs set to announce that Australian racer Sam Masters will join him at the top end of the team.
Masters missed out over a visa wrangle last season and Cook welcomes the Australian’s signing, saying: “I know how talented Sam is and how hard it was hard on him to sit out last season. But that should not affect him too much and he’ll get right back in the swing of things.
“Hopefully, he will arrive at Armadale full of confidence. He is on a decent seven-point average and should do a good job for the team. “Claus (Vissing), who replaced Sam, struggled last season, especially round some of the smaller tracks in the league. I know how good Sam is on a bike and he looks very confident. He can turn his bike no matter what circuit he is on.
“I believe Sam will be a good addition to the Edinburgh team and hopefully will give me the back up I need, especially if he rides at number five, which presumably he will.”
Cook is already putting things in place for next March and will spend £10,000 on new machinery. It’s just little things like mudguards. I’ll still have the yellow wheels – I can’t change them, I’m sort of stuck with them now, they have become a trademark. But my bike will have a different colour scheme, a bit more blue in it, which I hope supporters will like.”
Cook knows the only colour that matters is championship gold and, having missed out narrowly to Somerset Rebels in the play-off Grand Final, he is doubly determined Monarchs won’t be second best in 2014.
Monarchs last night unveiled 22-year-old Steve Worrall as one of their two new reserve riders. Worrall guested for Ipswich Witches at Armadale last season and scored 12 points which prompted Cook to recommend signing him.
Worral said: “I’m looking forward to joining Monarchs, I like the track at Armadale, it has nice grippy starts and is smooth.”