Having pulled back from the brink of closure six months ago after low attendances and the weather almost pushed them into the financial abyss, Edinburgh Scotwaste Monarchs enter the 2013 speedway season on a far more sound footing, their long-term future assured after supporters’ and a clutch of individuals dug deep into their pockets to keep the bikes revving at Armadale Stadium.
Monarchs are now sitting on a considerable war chest, which has allowed them to relax some past constraints and assemble a freshened-up squad, the last addition being Dane Claus Vissing, to drive forward for a fourth Premier League championship crown in eleven years.
Monarchs have shown no little imagination and boldness in formulating their revamp, and by far the most interesting new face belongs to fresh-faced Australian 16-year-old Max Fricke, who many believe has the “max factor” to become a true star in the Premier League in time.
Monarchs were astonished to secure the teenager’s signature without having to beat off other clubs – it’s only since Fricke captured the Aussie Under-21 title in January that his profile has soared, much to the chagrin of some of Monarchs’ rivals.
Monarchs have made it crystal clear that Fricke will not be subjected to any forensic scrutiny, emphasising that he must be given time to settle in for what will be a rigorous and testing programme of racing, that hitherto he has never experienced before.
Fricke is a calm young man who knows what he wants to achieve in his debut UK season, but also realises he has much to learn which won’t be absorbed overnight.
He said: “This is definitely a big step for me in my career, because everything is going to be new to me and it will take time for me to get used to it all, especially the type of racing I will be doing and also riding with teammates. I know Edinburgh are placing no pressure on me, but I would definitely like to make an impact. You have to be realistic as well, guys like Craig Cook are doing well doubling-up in the Elite League. I know both leagues are fairly close in terms of standard, but it can be fairly tough, and I’ll be taking it step by step.”
Fricke has spent time in Britain over the last two years riding in second-half events, but it was his promising showing in Matthew Wethers Testimonial last year which convinced Monarchs bosses he was a rider they could nurture into somebody with genuine ability and flair.
“I have seen a few Premier League tracks, perhaps half,” said Fricke.” However, it will take me a bit of time to get used to the ones I have not seen before. I have been to most of the northern tracks, though, it’s all about learning as you go.”
Fricke stayed with new Glasgow Tigers team manager Sean Courtney last year, but this did not influence his decision to join Monarchs, as Fricke revealed: “Sean is a good friend but had no expectations of me racing for Glasgow.”
His Aussie Under-21 triumph may have created a rod for his own back, but Fricke insists it would be wrong to get carried away. “I guess some people’s expectations of me have gone up because of it, and they may be disappointed if I don’t ride well from the off, but I can’t hurry things. I need to take my time.”
Armadale has been described as a “technical” circuit by those who can’t master it, but it holds no fears for Fricke, who revealed: “I have a similar sized track not far from my home back in Australia which I enjoy riding, it’s going to be a learning curve for me this season, and I will try to learn as much as I can.”
With no leagues or team racing in Australia, does Fricke think this could be a disadvantage for him? “Not really, everybody who arrives from Australia goes straight into the Premier League and progress pretty well, the ultimate goal being to get into the Elite League and also riding in Poland and Sweden.
“Because we have no league racing back home doesn’t hold you back – if you are good enough you’ll get on.”
Monarchs are safely at the tapes and while some observers have rated their title chances pretty poorly, the optimism within the camp is high and a top six play-off spot for the second season running is not unrealistic. Reserve Jozsef Tabaka could really be a key performer. If the Hungarian’s machinery is top notch – and he says it is – then he could fly and reap big dividends from the tail-end. Enjoy the ride.
PREMIER LEAGUE 2013/14: the lowdown on teams
BERWICK BANDITS: Berwick have one of the most cosmopolitan squads in the country and believe if they are spared the terrible run of injuries they endured last season, can go places this time. No. 1 Ricky Ashworth and teammates Alex Edberg and Kozza Smith are all coming back and could be a key trio if the Bandits are to shoot for a top six play-off spot. Their trump card, however, could be former Monarchs skipper Matthew Wethers. If the Aussie rides to anything like his true potential, he will make a mockery of the low average Berwick snapped him up on.
GLASGOW TIGERS: The Tigers are under new ownership this season, but haven’t splashed the cash to make any signature signings, and look likely to depend heavily again on their evergreen duo Joe Screen and James Grieves. A lot rests on how well their untried Aussie pair Harley Horwood and Joey Ringwood cope with life in the Premier League and if they struggle, the Ashfield side could be in real trouble.
IPSWICH WITCHES: Huge pressure on the Witches to finish in the top six this season after missing out on the play-offs by just one place in 2012. This is the third year the Suffolk side will be operating in the Premier League and have still to cut it in the lower division having dropped down from the Elite League three years ago. Their big winter acquisition was Ben Barker from Plymouth Devils, but much will depend on the support he gets further down the roster. Ipswich have made no secret of their desire to return to the top flight, but until they cast a spell at Premier level, this could be a distant wish.
LEICESTER LIONS: The highly fancied Lions were the ‘nearly men’ of 2012 reaching the play-offs after winning all 12 of their home meetings and also narrowly missing out on victory in the Premier League Fours. Their away form could have been better and they have sought to address this by signing Kevin Doolan and Adam Roynon to supplement the return of their top man, Kauko Nieminen. They have modified their track to improve the standard of racing. Leicester are ambitious and still a bit peeved that their application to join the Elite League this season was knocked back. Monarchs meet them in the KO Cup – not an easy draw.
DIAMONDS: Newcastle boast the highest quota of British riders’ in their team. They consistently knock at the door for silverware and only bad luck has prevented them from being a more decorated team. Finished top of the pile last season, but they failed in the dreaded play-offs which denied them from wearing the championship winner’s tag, and it’s something which still rankles with them. Snapped up Andrew Tully on loan from Monarchs and they believe he will relish this fresh challenge.
PLYMOUTH DEVILS: A strong Aussie influence for the new-look Devils, with Corey Gathercole and Todd Kurtz returning for the 2013 campaign. They have brought in a quartet of new faces, led by experienced Mark Lemon, who joins forces with Ty Proctor, Ricky Kling, and Chris Schramm. The Devils were under threat of not making it to the tapes this season. Dark horses to make the play-offs, but they need to secure more wins on the road.
REDCAR BEARS: The Bears have retained the nucleus of last season’s squad, but have added Hugh Skidmore and former Monarch Micky Dyer to their line-up. You look at Redcar’s team every year and on paper, it never looks at all bad, yet they shoot themselves in the foot through their frustrating inconsistency. Even at home they were hard to read. Given their line-up is much the same as last year, it’s hard to see them competing at the right end of the league.
ROCKETS: One of the youngest sides in the country, but have still found room for their experienced campaigner Jason Bunyan and overall they have a balanced look about them. They enjoyed a horrendous 2012 campaign when they lost skipper Chris Neath to injury but have retained five of their victorious Premier Challenge Trophy winning side. Their big winter swoop was for former Elite league rider Olly Allen who comes in on a high nine point plus average which is a tough mark to live up to. Don’t look play-off material.
SCORPIONS: The title holders have managed to keep hold of five of their league winning septet, which is something of an achievement in itself. The only blow they suffered was reserve Gary irving’s decision to quit speedway and they have turned to youngster Josh Bates to fill that void, which is something of a gamble. Ryan Douglas is the only other new face and he teams up with Bates at the tail-end and how this duo develops may well be pivotal if the Scorpions are to replicate their success of 12 months ago.
SHEFFIELD TIGERS: The Tigers are another outfit who have under performed in recent years and their supporters are fast running out of patience. In a bid to end their trophy doubt, the Tigers have drafted in Simon Stead to front their push for the league. Argentine Facundo Albin is a brave signing, but a lot of question marks still hang over the Tigers.
SOMERSET REBELS: The Rebels have been installed as favourites to be crowned champions after losing out by an agonising single point on aggregate to Scunthorpe in last year’s
play-off final. Without doubt the Rebels go into the campaign with a powerful top three Aussie spearhead of Jason Doyle, and new signings Nick Morris and Josh Grajczonek and drafting in Stefan Nielsen could be a shrewd move given that the Dane was a top performer in the National League in 2012.
COMETS: It is pretty much as you were for the Comets, with former Glasgow rider Mason Campton joining the fold at Derwent Park, which is now under the auspices of
new owner Laura Morgan. Campton could be a heavy hitter at reserve and in Rusty Harrison, Rene Bach and
Richard Lawson, the Comets have a steely heat leader trio who won’t yield points easily
at home, and their second strings aren’t too shabby either. Workington’s track
certainly favours their own side. This is a handy advantage they hold over other teams, despite it lending to