Edinburgh Monarchs’ Dutch speedway master Theo Pijper has added a dash of colour to the sport north of the border since touching down in the UK in 2002.
As he prepares to celebrate a well-earned testimonial meeting at Armadale Stadium the 35-year-old racer admitted: “I had no clue what a testimonial was when I first arrived here!”
Pijper continued: “My first thought when I arrived was to remain in the Premier League as long as possible. I did not have a clue what a testimonial was but I’m chuffed I’m having one now.”
Like a lot of riders who arrive from abroad to dip their toes in the competitive waters of the British racing scene for the first time, Pijper was entering the unknown. He recalls: “I had no idea what to expect, I hadn’t even heard of the Premier League because I came from a Longtrack and Grasstrack background. I had only done two speedway meetings a year in Holland.”
A chance meeting with Scottish ace Blair Scott and his dad Ally while riding for the Under-21s at Peterborough was the gateway which led to Pijper signing for Monarchs. “They mentioned my name to Monarchs promoter John Campbell,” said Pijper. “And that’s how I ended up getting my big break with Edinburgh.”
And within just a year Pijper struck gold when he bagged a championship winner’s medal after Monarchs lifted the British Premier League title for the first time in their history in what proved a memorable 2003 campaign.
“That was so special when the team won the league because it was Monarchs’ first title in over 50 years,” he said. “It was absolutely brilliant and I had a fantastic time that year. Not many people had tipped us to win the league and everything was still pretty new to me. Myself and Rory Schlein even got a medal for being the two best reserves in the league. The side just gelled and of course Frede Schott and Peter Carr were our top guns back then.”
Skipper Schott trounced all others to win the Evening News Sports Personality of the Year Award which capped off the year in style and Pijper is full of praise for the Dane who guided his side to glory against all the odds. Pijper said: “Frede was definitely a very laid back captain and always liked to have some fun after the meeting. In stark contrast Peter was a lot more serious but that was the way to do it and things balanced out nicely for everyone involved at the club.
“Peter and Frede were fantastic together and you could almost bet your house on them winning heat 15 every week, great times.”
After six seasons’ with Monarchs Pijper moved on and rode for Swindon Robins and Mildenhall in 2008. Not a year he remembers with any great relish. “I had a bad accident while riding for Swindon and that set me back because I came back far too early from my crash, after just two weeks I was back on my bike, I should have been far more cautious and allowed my injury to heal properly. I ended up at Mildenhall after that to see out the season.
“But in truth I should have called a halt to my season after the Swindon fall to allow myself to be fully fit for the following year. It didn’t do my average any good either.” In the event Pijper turned his back on the Premier League for two years before coming back to sign for arch rivals Glasgow Tigers in 2011. And what a timely return that proved to be as Pijper remarkably scooped a second championship medal as the Tigers swept to glory in the Premier League.
“What can I say,” said Pijper. “I’m the only one to have two medals with both Scottish clubs and I’m really chuffed about that. Glasgow had seven very good individuals that year and we just took it from there.”
Pijper then gravitated back to Monarchs in 2012 and 2013 before heading west to Ashfield last season where the Tigers could only look on with envy as Monarchs dominated all the local derby clashes.
Pijper said: “Personally I had a good season and scored well both home and away. But I think the rest of the team struggled, whether it was the Ashfield track or other problems, I don’t know. But in the end it was all about league racing and you have to look after yourself.”
Few will begrudge Pijper his testimonial salute for his industrious efforts on the track over the years and he said: “I think it is a just reward for everything I’ve done. I try to do my best and I always give 100 per cent for whichever club I ride for and it’s an honour to receive a testimonial.”
It is fitting that Armadale is hosting Pijper’s event. It’s where he first started out. He said: “I’m grateful to Monarchs for giving me my first chance in this country and also to all the Monarchs supporters who are a great bunch of people. I don’t think they have ever booed me. I always talk to the fans like a normal guy. We are just the same as the people who come to watch us every week.”