There is a real danger that Berwick Bandits will not be around next season.
Their plea for fresh investment to help stave off closure has, so far, fallen on deaf ears and consequently their arrival at Armadale last night for their Premier League clash with Edinburgh Monarchs almost felt like a wake.
If this was their swansong then unfortunately they made their exit from the speedway stage with the spotlight dimmed as Monarchs, who have sympathy with their plight, still had a job to do and did so in their usual professional manner.
Monarchs’ comprehensive 61-32 victory counted for little, having already booked their spot in the Play-Off semi-finals a few weeks ago.
Berwick were unable to track their own team and used three guest replacements plus the rider replacement facility to cover for their absentees. This situation has been almost endemic in 2015 and has sucked the life out of speedway as fans, fed-up at not seeing full teams in action, have stayed away in droves at certain tracks in a show of frustration.
And Monarchs themselves have caught a financial chill, unable to attract sufficient numbers through the gates which beggars belief given that the Capital outfit are on the brink of a second successive trophy treble and had to wait more than 50 years for their first league crown back in 2003.
And predictably it was a sparse crowd who turned out to watch Monarchs complete their league programme. But the opening race did not go to plan, skipper Craig Cook took the chequered flag with ease from the gate for the home side but partner Justin Sedgmen hit a rut on the third bend of the first lap and was pushed to the back in a 3-3 share of the spoils.
However, Monarchs’ reserve duo of Rob Branford and Max Clegg romped to a 5-1 against Danny Phillips and Coty Garcia in the second heat to open up an 8-4 lead and in doing so the Monarchs pair passed 00 points scored since joining.
And Monarchs extended their advantage even further in heat three when Kevin Wolbert and Branford grabbed maximum points against Anders Mellgren and Ashley Morris and a dominant pattern was already emerging as Monarchs leapt into a 13-5 lead.
The Bandits extracted a 4-2 in the following race through Kenneth Hansen and Mellgren to shave their arrears down to eight points, 19-11. But Berwick’s joy was short lived as Cook and Sedgmen rammed in a 5-1 in the very next heat relegating Berwick captain Kevin Doolan to third place.
Mellgren then surprisingly headed home Monarchs’ Aussie ace Sam Masters in the seventh race and, with Morris tucked in for third, the Bandits secured their second 4-2 of the first half but were still struggling 26-16 behind.
The Bandits then stunned the Monarchs support in heat eight when Hansen won a double-points tactical outing and with team-mate Garcia picking up a splendid second place, the visitors grabbed a massive 8-1 advantage to cut Monarchs’ lead to just three points, 27-24 with Branford and Sedgmen were nowhere to be seen.
The meeting suddenly got interesting but if Monarchs were wobbling Wolbert and Clegg steadied the ship with a 5-1 in heat nine to lead 32-25, and a 4-2 from Cook and Sedgmen in heat ten pointed Monarchs in the direction of the winning post as they opened up a nine point gap, 36-27. Monarchs then moved on to easy street in heat eleven with a further 5-1 from Clegg and Masters.
With Monarchs taking 5-1 advantages from the last four races, they completely overwhelmed Berwick in the end.
Cook was Monarchs’ top scorer with a 14 point paid maximum, though reserves Clegg and Branford had a bumper evening as well scoring nine points each.
Monarchs team boss Alex Harkess said: “Although this was a meaningless fixture they still have to be won. Our boys wanted to do well and that’s what they did. Now we can look forward to the Play-Offs and two cup finals.”
Berwick, alas, can only look forward to a period of great uncertainty.
Monarchs: Cook 14, Masters 12, Wolbert 11, Branford 9, Clegg 9, Sedgmen 6.
Berwick: Hansen 13,Mellgren 8, Doolan 5,Garcia 4, Morris 1, Phillips 1.