The Poole Pirates will enter the Speedway Championship in February 2021 for the first time in 30 years. But how do the fans feel about the change…?
The Poole Pirates are England’s most successful speedway team, but they have a new challenge on the horizon. During their 30 years in the English topflight, the Pirates picked up eight Premiership titles between 2003 and 2018, asserting their national dominance and putting Poole on the map.
Earlier this year the Pirates, decided to embark on a new voyage, dropping to the Speedway Championship to conquer unfamiliar foes. Living up to their name, with Neil Middleditch at the helm, the Poole Pirates have defended their citadel (otherwise known as Wimborne Road). For the last two decades, Middleditch and his crew have intimidated all visitors coming to the South Coast. And they will look to continue doing so in their new conference.
Now that the Pirates premiership tenure has come to an end, it seems appropriate to walk down memory lane. The Premiership has given the team some lasting memories. None more than a gripping 2015 final, which saw Poole packed to the rafters as the Pirates overcame the Belle Vue Aces. An unexpected hero, Kacper Gomolski, won the fixture for Poole in the penultimate heat, going at it alone after Dakota North crashed out. After fending off both Aces, Gomolski was hoisted into the air by his Poole teammates as Wimborne Road erupted. Quite the scene to behold. The most memorable moment for many is a 2010 encounter against the Eastbourne Eagles.
Only one point separated the sides (on aggregate) going into the final heat of the tie. But, with their backs to the wall, Chris Holder and Bjarne Pederson sailed to a 5-1 win, steering the Pirates to another title on home soil. Or best yet, in 2018, the Poole Pirates celebrated the club’s 70th anniversary by clinching their last Elite League Title. What better way to draw the curtain on Poole’s premiership supremacy?
Those are just a few memories that come to mind when thinking about the Pirates in the premiership…
The fanbase has also welcomed, witnessed and wowed at a number of world-class riders during their stint in the Premiership. Like Chris Holder, for example. The 2012 World Champion raced nine seasons for the Pirates, reaching the rare and extremely impressive 2,500 point mark. And who can forget Darcy Ward? The young Australian hotshot who took the world by storm. Emerging on the scene at 21 years-old, he immediately made the league sit up and take notice. He scored a maximum on his debut! And finally, Bjarne Pederson. The great Dane won three national titles for the Wimborne Road outfit, and was the figurehead of the team for the early 2000s.
A NEW BEGINNING
So, the question is: Why would a staple team of the Elite League want to move down? In 2019 the Pirates lost their main sponsor, No. 1 Carpet Cleaning Limited as the company declared bankruptcy. This resulted in the Dorset side suffering their worst financial year. This prompted a new focus towards the team standing on its own feet. This new direction saw the Pirates dispense with expensive contracts and losing their most valuable riders to ensure financial stability. In hindsight, this looks to have been the right move. Especially considering the pandemic postponing the premiership.
The dropdown will most likely add more revenue from ticket sales (when supporters are ever allowed back into the stands). Team owner Matt Ford is optimistic about the increased inhouse audience, due to the new lack of television coverage.
The Pirates don’t regard this move as a step down. Rather, a move sideways. They mentioned the excitement of a more regular race night, as opposed to riding once every two or three weeks.
Fans of Poole Speedway had a part to play in determining the future of the team. A survey was conducted where supporters were asked what they were looking for in the upcoming season. The result suggested that the fans would prefer to see more variation in the opposition, with new clubs making appearances.
Hence, the new league. The change will see the Poole Pirates revert back to their traditional Wednesday night fixtures.
In spite of playing in a new division, the Poole fanbase will expect to see the team replicate their winning culture, and most importantly, see some high-level competitive speedway. But, with a new league comes an array of new riders. For the 2021 season, the Poole Pirates roster will include seven new faces: Danny King, Adam Ellis, Steve Worrall, Stefan Nielsen, Ben Cook, Josh MacDonald and Zane Keleher. The one thing that hasn’t changed, however, is the Pirates going to Australia to find their treasure…
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