Exclusive: Edinburgh Monarchs legend and 2003 league winner Peter Carr shares his memories as club bids farewell to Armadale
This weekend's Scottish Open has been billed 'Farewell to Armadale' with speedway racing set to cease after 26 seasons.
Edinburgh Monarchs supporters from as far as Australia have shared their devastation that the doors will shut shortly after tomorrow night's individual championship with the stadium due to be sold later this year.
A quarter of a century has passed since old foes the Glasgow Tigers rolled into town in April 1997 for an Easter Trophy encounter, a meeting the visitors edged 47-43. The new era at Armadale might not have got off on the right foot, but silverware was plentiful in the years ahead as Monarchs racked up five league titles, not to mention winning both the KO Cup and Premier Trophy three times.
The club's first league triumph, in 2003, saw formidable duo Frede Schott and Peter Carr carve up the opposition both home and away as the Capital side won 26 of 34 matches to finish nine points ahead of nearest challengers Sheffield Tigers. For the latter, it turned out to be his penultimate and seventh season as a Monarch having signed on the dotted line a month into the Armadale reign, a move the now 59-year-old told the Evening News he had reservations about.
"Edinburgh actually tried to sign me a couple of weeks before but I'd turned them down as I wasn't really that bothered," said Carr, who went on to make 378 appearances scoring 4,227 points in the Blue and Gold. "But they persisted and when the call came again a few weeks later, things had changed at work with the job I was doing so I said, 'okay let's give it a go.'
"I wasn't very good on the smaller tracks and when I turned up to the first meeting at Armadale, not to mention the drive up from Preston, I did start to wonder what I'd got myself into. But I enjoyed myself that much with the atmosphere about the place and most importantly I felt wanted. I did think about things on the drive home after and even though when I first turned up I didn't get the best feeling about the place, there was just something that drew me in."
Having come to grief in his first two races, Carr would go on to reel off three straight victories to finish on nine points as the Monarchs defeated Sheffield 55-35 in the Knockout Cup. And although by his own admission his preference was to ride the bigger tracks dotted around the UK, Carr quickly mastered Armadale's tight-knit bends where so many visiting riders over the years have failed.
"I didn't have a great season in 1998, maybe because I was getting slightly older and more unfit, so I decided to do a bit of training and be a bit more professional," he explained. "We didn't win too much, the Knockout Cup a couple of times, but we were always a decent team. And when we did finally win the league in 2003, that was terrific.
"Frede was the main man that season - he was phenomenal. We also had some good youngsters too where everyone chipped in. I know they have mixed things up with the play-offs now which does make it more exciting for the fans and on TV, but the team that finishes top at the end of the season should be crowned champions. That's my opinion.
"I'll never forget the rivalry with Glasgow. You always knew you had to step up and when we did win it was always great - it felt like you'd won the world final! It was always a meeting you didn't want to lose and there were probably times when it did get a bit out of control with a few riders getting knocked off and that."
Failure to acquire land in Livingston for a new stadium has left the Monarchs in a precarious position. As it stands, the Capital outfit will not come to the tapes in 2023.
And Carr, who will make his first trip to Armadale this weekend since former captain Derek Sneddon's testimonial in 2013, says it will be a travesty should the lights go out on one of British speedway's most iconic clubs.
"Edinburgh have had a lot of success at Armadale which makes it really sad, so I just hope something can be sorted out," Carr said. "It really would be terrible if this is to be the end of the Monarchs. The Edinburgh fans really are the best in speedway and I'm not just saying that because I was there for eight seasons.
"They cheer you on wherever the club are racing so you want to win for them. You got to know a lot of them when you were on an away tour as it brought everyone together, so it will be great to see everyone again as it's been such a long time.
"I haven't been to speedway too much in the last few years. I still speak with Frede and Kenny (McKinna) or when Rory (Schlein) was at Belle Vue I'd go and watch him. I've been to Sheffield once this year that's about it, but I'm really looking forward to this weekend."
Tomorrow night's Scottish open will be the 697th meeting at Armadale. Six of the 2022 Monarchs riders will feature with Paco Castagna absent due to his Italian Championship commitments. However, there is a host of ex-Monarchs in the 16-man line-up with Grand Prix star Dan Bewley returning to the track where it all started for the Cumbrian in 2016. He is hot-favourite to land the coveted Jack Young Trophy, but Australian duo Sam Masters and Josh Pickering, as well as two-time league winner Craig Cook, now of Glasgow, will all fancy their chances. An emotional night on and off the track awaits.