Edinburgh Monarchs’ speedway chief Alex Harkess today insisted the impoverished Capital club in no way feel threatened by arch rivals Glasgow Tigers.
They are set to become one of the richest teams in the country following their high-profile takeover by club sponsors, Allied Vehicles Ltd, last week.
The company, run by long-time fans Michael and Gerry Facenna, purchased the Tigers’ Ashfield Stadium outright as part of the deal and have already started work on the first stage of a three-year phase to transform the Hawthorn Street venue into a glitzy new arena.
With investment set to reach the million pound mark upon completion, it’s been claimed the Tigers will become the “Manchester City of speedway”.
But Harkess, who is also chairman of the British Speedway Promoters’ Association, warned that rules are in place to prevent the Tigers trying to buy their way to glory.
In an exclusive interview with the Evening News, he said: “We don’t feel threatened, and I wish them good luck and hope they will finish second best to Edinburgh in every competition – that will do me nicely.
“If Glasgow turn out to have a better team this season than they’ve had in the past, it could benefit both clubs. We have lost a lot of the Glasgow crowd to Armadale in recent years but, hopefully, in the wake of recent developments, we might see them return in bigger numbers.”
Glasgow’s new owners have made it clear they want to break the cycle of success Edinburgh have enjoyed against them – and now have the financial muscle to make it happen.
“By making a statement that they could be the Manchester City of speedway indicates they have big plans, because Manchester City is all about cheque-book football, in my opinion,” said Harkess. “I don’t know if Glasgow are intent on the same thing.
“Fortunately, within our sport we have team averages which would make it difficult. It can’t happen in British speedway – and that’s a good thing.”
Without question, the Tigers are now in a position to attract top-line stars to Ashfield in the future in a bid to capture the Premier League crown and perhaps consign Edinburgh to the shadows.
Tigers fans have made no secret of being irritated by Edinburgh’s dominance and with the purse strings well and truly loosened, a sea change in terms of who rules the roost north of the border could be imminent – and that’s the only thing that matters to many of their fans.
Harkess, who rebuffed stories that Tigers had expressed interest in No.1 Craig Cook and Sam Masters over the winter, said: “I hope it doesn’t mean that the cheque book will dominate speedway. It has not been the case in the past, and I hope it won’t be the case now. Somebody has taken a big risk, but Glasgow’s new owners have obviously weighed everything up and are happy with what they have got and time will tell.
“But they can only buy seven riders, so it should not upset the overall balance of speedway. I don’t think Glasgow just want to beat Edinburgh – I think they want to win everything.”
Harkess added: “I hope Glasgow will view their season in a broad sense instead of just focusing on defeating Edinburgh. It would be mad if that turned out to be their sole ambition.”
It has been long argued that for speedway to thrive in Scotland, Glasgow and Edinburgh need each other. And Glasgow’s inability to keep pace with Edinburgh on the track has done nobody any favours.
“The ideal scenario would be Edinburgh versus Glasgow in every trophy final,” said Harkess. “We’d fill the stadium if that was the case.”
Glasgow say they are aiming to attract crowds of 2000 each week under their new regime, which seems highly optimistic, bearing in mind they operated at attendances below the 500 mark on several occasions last season.
Asked if he thinks it will be difficult to achieve such a steep rise at the turnstiles, Harkess observed: “I hope Glasgow are right, but providing people with what they want in nice surroundings is a good way to start.
“Whether the fans will buy into it, I’m not sure. We have tried to increase attendances at Armadale over the last couple of years without success. Glasgow have obviously done their homework, and if they can pull it off all the better, because we could get a rub-off and that would be hugely beneficial for all concerned.”
After plunging into the red in 2014, despite securing a history-making trophy treble, are Edinburgh just a tad envious at how Glasgow have landed on their feet? “Not at all. I believe our team for this season is just as strong as theirs,” said Harkess – and 42.05 is the team-building limit for everyone, no matter how much money you have got.”
Supporters of both clubs will be salivating at the prospect of the derby skirmishes in 2015. There is a lot at stake for varying reasons.
But who will blink first?