Chokka clubhouse greets New Dawn

26th January

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from the Eastbourne fans forum in the bar at Arlington Stadium on a January winter’s night. I knew that the new promotional team of Bob Dugard and Martin Hagon would be present along with the key post-season signings – the diminutive Lee Richardson and the affable British Number one, Scott Nicholls. Arriving just before the scheduled start time of 7pm I expected to be able to pick and choose my parking spot. Instead I was greeted by a line of cars (two or three deep in parts) that stretched all the way from the entrance gate to the edge of the junior track safety fence. There weren’t this many cars for some of the late season fixtures where you could actually see some speedway racing rather than just hear about it! Despite the surprise of this volume of parked motors – one of the reasons the environment isn’t what it was is because almost everyone is a solo driver nowadays – I fully expected to be able to waltz into the annexe of the bar to listen to the speeches and questions. Some hope! The bar itself was rammed and the doorway into the annexe was totally chokka. This being speedway, there wasn’t the usual pushing and shoving you’d usually associate with any big crowd facing the minor inconvenience of other people getting in the way. In fact, it was much more a case of ‘after you, no after you’ that left all late arrivals stuck either in or by the doorway. This wouldn’t have been too bad if you could have heard what was being said by anyone but, despite the amplification of the loudspeakers, the partition wall and the sea of bodies completely muffled the words of wisdom from Martin Hagon [MH], Bob Dugard [BD], main team sponsor Dennis Isaac [DI], team manager Trevor Geer [TG] and new signing Lee Richardson [LR]. Luckily I wasn’t missing anything Scott [SN] said because he had yet to arrive and, if he came down the A27, he’d probably have been as surprised by the volume of traffic heading in the direction of Eastbourne as I was.

By the time I’d squeezed into a space at the back, I’d missed the opening exchanges. Because of the volume of people inside the room, you’d have to say judged by the general enthusiasm to turn out to an event like this then the future for the club with its new (double underlined) British flavour team is bright. From my vantage, I couldn’t see anyone but Dennis Isaac who – the compere with the mostest, the inimitable Eagles M.C. Kevin Coombes [KC] – later accused of nodding off. I could also see a bright yellow and blue item of clothing hung on the back wall – what I believe we now have to refer to as ‘race suits’ rather than kevlars (or leathers). It was emblazoned with more mentions of the word Hagon than you’d have imagined possible on a garment of that size. I couldn’t see any of the speakers but, sometimes mumbled questions from the audience aside, I could mostly hear what everyone said. It was rather like listening to the radio or watching a television programme with a picture fault where all you can see is the test card (or, in this case, the opposite of subliminal advertising by a Hagon organisation proud to have taken on responsibilities at the Eastbourne club). A wide-ranging and frank discussion ensued and the following is based on the contemporaneous but inevitably selective (since I don’t have shorthand) notes I took at the event. Hopefully these are always attributed to the correct person even though I couldn’t see them and couldn’t always hear because of the talk around me (or the inaudible questions).

[LR] “There’s a family tradition of racing for Eastbourne… I’m looking forward to the new challenge!”

[BD] “It’s something I said I’d never do again but circumstances have forced it on me.”

[Fan] “Question for Trevor – how do you motivate the team apart from a kick up the backside?”
[TG] “Actually they don’t need that – they’re all different characters and need motivating differently….If you lot all turn up for the first meeting, the crowds’ll be up anyway – to see a good British team”

[MH] “Dennis [Isaac] has been asked by us the management committee to get a supporters club going”

[BD in reply to lengthy question from a fan – who called himself a ‘foot soldier’ – concerned about the exact mechanics of the supporters club] “I’d like to see a supporters club get off the ground in a decent way – good to know you’re a foot soldier, we need more of them
[Foot soldier] “the supporters club just used to put on disco’s”
[MH interrupts] “That’s not a bad thing is it?”
[DI] “I’ve got two young ladies who want to help”
Scott arrives in the room to loud cheers and ironic cries of “mornin”
[Fan] “This is the most exciting British speedway team I’ve witnessed and Scott, you are the most exciting rider in this country by far!’
[MH] “Any more questions? We’re getting warmed up now!” [as same fan tries to ask another] “Another one! Hold on, are they allowed more than one?” [fan tries to continue] “I’m gonna turn his mike off!’ {question on GP’s and impact on Eastbourne fixtures} “I personally hate the GP but can’t say that with Scott here! The fixture list is a nightmare – Martin and I have spent three weeks on that fixture list now – {GP} is here and here to stay, so we’re gonna have to work round it. When it comes to alternatives, Friday night is no good, Sunday night is Poland – we’ve got to be considerate of the riders and the public. We’ve 23 fixtures definite, possibly 26, if we progress to the Play-offs or in the cups. So a season ticket represents brilliant value and the forms are available. We will probably include a couple of fixtures against Premier League teams but we don’t know the details yet.” {same fan tries to ask about Pl teams} “ You’re only allowed two questions!”

[MH asked about testimonials for Dean & David] “We’re looking at one for Dean – he’s got more severe and serious injuries – career ending – he still talks about riding, he still talks about it but he would be crazy to do it in my opinion. Dean’s testimonial has been applied for and would be the first meeting of the season, if granted. David’s would have to be another year – you’re only allowed one a year – but we’ll apply for David too.”

[MH] “The captain will be Lee Richardson!” {gasps and applause}
[Fan] “Lee how does it feel to be captain and how will you encourage the youngsters?”
[LR] “I didn’t know that, so thanx! I’ve never been captain before!”
[MH] “You get paid less as well!”
[LR slightly nervously] “Ha! Ha! Well I’m older and wiser and I’ll pass on as much experience as I can to the guys. I think I learnt off one of the best team riders in the world Leigh Adams. That guy is worth two or three points a meeting just through his riding.”

[MH] “Scott’s come a long way tonight, let’s hear him speak.”
[SN] “I’m always excited about a new season and I’m looking forward to the new challenge at Eastbourne. I have great success at Coventry and I’m looking forward to carrying that one here. Obviously I was a bit late, which is unusual for me {laughter}. It was great to see a huge number of cars in the car park, which is part of the excitement and a lot of that comes from having a team of British riders. I’m excited to be here and looking forward to winning a few championships. Eastbourne has always been a close-knit club and I can’t wait to be part of that! I’ve got the World Championship as my individual sport but, unlike some other riders, I don’t just want to be part of the numbers but be part of a team. There’s nothing better than riding with my partner beside me.”

[MH asked about the junior track] “it’s something we believe in – they’ll be kids bikes…it’s something England needs! In the bar we have one of the bikes on display – a lot of thought and effort has gone into them – we’ll be building five of those bikes for the kids!”

[BD] “The tourist board have contacted us, obviously they have no money but they want to help. It’s something that’s been very lax for many years – ever since I started – we’re gonna get some fixture lists done for hotels, shops and that and possibly some vouchers. Also some posters – Martin has them designed – they’ll be attractive. Posters are for shops not for bedrooms, everyone takes them but you don’t see them. We want them to be where people can see them not bedrooms – they’re expensive, I know that sounds mean, but they’ve got to do a job

[BD on suggestion that junior races are at 6 before the main meeting] “I don’t think we’ll do that and I have to make sure that the track is right for different riders in different races – people accuse us of cheating but you’ve gotta take advantage of the facilities, oh, that is cheating. It’s gonna be pleasant this year cos I won’t have Nicki telling me how to prepare it all the time for him. This year it’s gonna be the same week in and week out so if they can’t ride it, it won’t be the tracks fault, it’ll be the riders!” [explains the track would be too high spec for the juniors before a blue line has been worn on the inside by 15 heats of senior action]
[LR] “I’m just happy Bob’s on my side cos he’s tried to run me over with the tractor a couple of times!”

[Kevin Coombes to BD] “There’s the enigma that is Lewis Bridger, oh and, people feel Lewis Bridger and Edward Kennett might not work on the track?”
[BD] “It’s only a generation thing, here’s been lots of others like that….Gordon Kennett and Malcolm Ballard used to be at knives drawn ……it’s a thing you live with and its good to have competition among themselves, brings them along. You just live with it – I’m not bothered, the competition will bring them on…Lewis Bridger is a brilliant motorcyclist – a rare talent – a bit of a nutter in other ways!”

[SN asked about why the Eagles] “I had a choice of a few but I weighed things up. I like the people, I like the track – there were a few factors involved – the location is good, Sophie has relatives down here and it’s easier for the airports.”

[Fan] “Are the toilets gonna be painted this year?”
[MH] “You don’t wanna know – are there any sensible questions?”
[BD] “We’ve got a load of brushes!”
[MH] “If you wanna paint it – it can be any colour you want!”

[LR] I had an operation in December – I had some tendons removed from me leg that had been bothering me. It’s well on the mend…I AM gonna qualify to get back in the GP, in the next few years, that’s my aim and I’m gonna give it a real go over the next couple of years as I’d like to do it again! If it doesn’t happen in that time, then I’ll call it a day and concentrate on league racing.”

[MH] “Any ideas on our number eight! We’re still sorting out number seven first!”

Prices for 2008 announced: £15 Adults £13 Concessions £6 Child 8 & over Free Child under 8

[MH] “You can’t all have come just to ask 12 questions – come on don’t be shy!”

[TG on pairings] “We’ll look at how they go in practice though, obviously, we have some ideas. We’ve got two riders who can ride the big tracks so we might get a few more away wins – they’re worth three points next season, so that’s something!”

[KC] “The bookies have us as third favourites”
[MH] “I don’t wanna talk about it really! {pause} I still think we’ve got a winning team, honestly.”

[BD] “People talk about the Dugard family and Eastbourne – I’d just like to point out that Martin [Hagon] is my son-in-law so that qualifies him….Martin is the better administrator and I’m much more of a hands on person. Martin will be the front man dealing with the BSPA, SCB and that – my reputation is not good with them anyway. It’s the first time ever I really have a partner who will put his nose to the grindstone!”{Confirms has absolutely no plans to relinquish tractor} “I will be surprised if we don’t do really well, I can’t see us losing!”

[BD on new EL points limit of 38.85] “I can’t see it going any lower. It did cos there were a number of clubs out there who’ve one or two hundred thousand pounds! Maybe we needed to lose one or two of the expensive riders out of speedway? Don’t forget that there’s still 90 points a meeting. I was amazed when the average came down as much as it was and it certainly worked to our purposes. With Nicki’s high average – Nicki wasn’t gonna be here even before we knew cos high average’s like that are hard to work with, Scott’s is only a little bit less but those points make all the difference – it was never gonna work. I’m sure it’ll go up again and this is lowest. Now we have promotion and relegation this season – it’s a terrifying thought, may be the tension speedway needs, if it works for football it should work for us to keep the interest going.”

[BD asked about Davey Watt] “Also the Davey situation, we wanted Edward back. We own his contract and Poole own Davey’s. Davey was a good servant for us! It’s a sad side of speedway that you have to break the team up.”
[MH] “Any questions for the riders? Cos Bob’s doing all the answers!”

[BD asked why not two Brit’s at reserve] “Easy answer cos there ain’t enough of them out there! That’s why we have a five year programme with the junior track and the second halves to help ourselves and to help British speedway.”

[Fan] “I have two questions in one…{lengthy observation}”
[MH] “That’s three!”

[MH] “Is that it then? You’re happy with all yer ansa’s?”

[Fan] “One or two of the riders don’t take any interest in the young lads, is that something that’s gonna change this season?”
[MH] “Well we’re gonna try but you have to look at it from all sides – being a Saturday night track the riders have to get away for their flights and that, so it’s not always possible.”

[KC] “Dennis, this is obviously your second time with Eastbourne [as a sponsor]”
[DI] “My third time!”
[KC] “What are you looking for as a return on your investment?”
[DI] “I used to come here with my daughters and hang over the fence. Later in life I’m lucky enough to be financially well off, so I’m putting my money where my mouth is and all I wanna do on that track is take a winning team round [on their victory parade in the Meridian Marquees truck afterwards].”
[BD describes the enthusiastic meeting to discuss 2008 sponsorship agreement] “I think he feels more confident now than he has in the past and we’ll promote his company name more!”

{Fan} “Martin, I love the new kevlars – but there’s a couple of blue bits on the sleeves you could have put ‘Hagon Shocks’ on!”

[BD] “We need more people through the gate this year really – it adds to the profitability of the club but is also needed for the long term future of the club. Tonight we’ve got three times the number of people as we expected and we’d like to see you regularly on a Saturday night!”

[MH] “Shout it out mate cos I’m never gonna get over there {question about Sky] Last year on Sky you only really saw Coventry, Swindon and Poole – the sides that we were winning all the time or at the top of the League. This year it’ll be more even and, with relegation, they’re gonna want to cover meetings they wouldn’t have before.”

[Fan] “Why don’t you have the second halves earlier – say at six o’clock before the meeting?”
[MH] “I think that’ll mess Bob up so I know the answer to that!”
[BD] The track’s prepared for the senior riders – for real hard attacking speedway – and later on it’s safer for them to ride cos the blue line has been worn on the inside. And I don’t want the distraction from getting the track right for the racing.”

[MH explains that Ricky Wells is the Eagles target to bring in to fill the 3.12 points that remain. Situation is complicated by Ricky’s application for a US passport} “if he comes in as a New Zealander he’s got an assessed average of three points but if he comes in on a US passport it’s four! Obviously we’re trying to persuade Ricky to stay on a New Zealand one for a while. He has all the credentials but the rules is stupidity on some people’s part but we’re putting our point of view. There’s the added complication that if he’s coming in on a New Zealand passport he needs to be a New Zealand champion but that’s raced over two legs and the second leg is after our season starts so I don’t see how that can happen.”

[MH] “Any questions for Scott cos he’s driven a long way?”
[SN asked about what was said after the GP qualification run off incident with Bomber in Germany] “It was more sign language really! Obviously some people weren’t happy about it….but that’s speedway and I have no regrets. What would anyone else have done in that position?”
[MH] “Any questions for Lee as he’s come all the way from Hastings and that by-pass can be murder?”

[MH to Scott] “Obviously the sponsors you had at Coventry aren’t too keen to carry on?”
[SN] “We’ve all got overheads like any job and every little helps.”
[BD] “I’ve seen one or two old sponsors here I haven’t seen for a while turn up here tonight – he’s a very generous man and when I saw him roll up, I thought ‘I’ll have a word with him!’”
[MH] “if we can’t get sponsors for this, it ain’t gonna happen!”

[SN] “What are my ambitions for the GP? Well, it speaks for itself. I just wanna stay injury free. The finances of it are – well, very expensive – and such that you need a sponsor. I’ve still not reached my peak and I have a lot to learn!”
[BD] “Speedway is very much a confidence sport and if he can get his confidence as high as Nicki’s. Scott is much more naturally talented than Nicki and I’m amazed, to be honest, he hasn’t gone further. The problem is he’s too much of a racer and goes where angels fear to tread – I know it worked for Nicki but he’s a bit of a nutter. [reminisces about when he first ever saw Scott race “did you get 16 or 17? And I saw him beating Donkey”]

[BD on World Cup] “This is very much a seasonal place and the World Cup falls right in our best attendance time so, well…we’re very proud {asked why not hold WTC at Arlington for the home side advantage it would give} That would make sense so that means it won’t happen. Scott says that would only happen in Poland, it seems to me that the powers that be do anything they can to stop a successful British team!”

[BD on track] No, our track is totally fair….I wouldn’t give them [visiting riders] anytime to practice…we’re in it to win it. We haven’t lost our home advantage. To be honest, there’s so many bloody good riders out there – even some of the reserves – the only real advantage is size. If it’s a good fair track – it’s entertainment – you don’t wanna win by 30 points do you?”

[MH] “I don’t want any more questions on Nicki Pedersen.”
[BD] “Yes you can! Cos whatever you say about Nicki Pedersen he was a fantastic servant of the club. He used to scare the hell out of me some of the things he did out there – he’s a born winner!”
[MH] “I was only joking, Bob.”
[SN] “Nicki’s a born racer and very determined – we’ve had our run ins – you’ve got to respect him. I’m sure he’ll be just as competitive this season.”

[BD] “The standard of refs has gone up but whenever it goes wrong, it always hurts you. If you just accept they’re all pretty useless.”

A brief interval was called and, afterwards, I didn’t return but lingered chatting in the bar. There was a real buzz and hubbub about the place and the overwhelming response to the fans forum was extremely positive. It was good to see many familiar faces including David Norris who briefly shared a few typically pithy thoughts with me about the Eagles as he left the clubhouse. When I left a few minutes later, a keen as mustard Dennis Isaac was excitedly leading Trevor Geer into the pitch darkness of the home side of the pits saying, “I have a few ideas about how the signs could be!”

For more information on the Eagles team and forthcoming fixtures visit the new website by clicking here

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