Starke choice with Cook off the menu

Published on 23rd June 2022
Author George Dodds

An international competition – which doesn’t exist – has forced the Bandits into a change of guest for Saturday’s visit of Scunthorpe.

Paul Starke will now ride at number one for the FTS Bandits, powered by Keenwood Karpets after the club was told that a facility which would have allowed Glasgow’s Craig Cook to take the guest booking was not available to them.

At the centre of the switch is the sport’s British bible, the Speedway Control Bureau rulebook. Bandits’ number one Chris Harris is riding in the European Grasstrack Championship semi-final in Holsted, Denmark on Saturday, aiming to qualify for the final of the event, to be held near Folkestone in October.

One for us … Paul Starke

Berwick believed they could replace him using a facility – such as those covering world longtrack and grasstrack events – allowing them to use a guest with an average up to 25% higher than Harris or use rider-replacement.

However, Speedway Control Bureau co-ordinator Neil Vatcher informed the club that their declared seven, including Cook, was unacceptable as in the 2022 SCB rulebook a facility is only available for the FIM European Longtrack Championship.

An exasperated promoter and team manager Gary Flint said on Thursday: “There is no such competition as the FIM European Longtrack Championship – but there is a FIM European Grasstrack Championship which has been held since 1978.

“There’s obviously been an error in the wording surrounding the facility when it was added to the rulebook a couple of years ago. But we are being told that ‘rules are rules’ and we cannot have Craig in the team.”

The only option available to Berwick is a guest 25% lower than Harris and they turned to a former Bandit Starke who is currently without a Championship club following the closure of Newcastle earlier in the week.

“No wonder it’s so hard to keep supporters, owners and supporters informed when some of the rulings are so difficult to fathom,” Flint continued.

“It’s a ridiculous situation in that Chris is riding in an FIM recognised event, one which the ACU is keen to promote because the final is in England, but as far as our rulebook is concerned it doesn’t exist.”

Injuries have forced Scunthorpe into two late line-up changes. Glasgow’s Broc Nichol guests for fractured wrist victim Jake Allen while they operate rider-replacement for Tero Aarnio, missing with a broken finger.

It is the second time that Cook has seen a guest booking for the Bandits disappear . He was due to replace Harris in the Knockout Cup quarter-final second leg against Redcar on 11 June which was cancelled due to the unavailability of key track staff and volunteers.

“It does seem that Craig’s jinxed,” Flint laughed. “He understands our position and is fine with it. To be fair he’s been involved in speedway long enough to not be too surprised by anything.”

There is still plenty for Bandits fans to savour on Saturday with Jye Etheridge returning  from injury and debuts for Dane Jonas Knudsen and Cardiff-born Nathan Stoneman.

Etheridge suffered a fracture to his previously plated collarbone on May 14 and in his absence the Bandits suffered six successive defeats, three at home. Before his crash the popular Aussie had dropped just four points to an opponent in 18 races around the Borders’ circuit.

With a full seven to choose from Berwick tweak the riding order with Theo Pijper switching to number two and Ricky Wells four while Leon Flint captains the side and fills the key number five berth for the first time.

Team manager Flint added: “Leon’s captained the side once before, against Birmingham in his 2019 debut season, but there’s not many Berwick-born lads who have had the chance to captain one of the town’s senior sporting sides.

Bomber’s trip to Halstead has become a pain in the grass: Picture: Taz McDougall

Gary, who was a very successful captain of the town’s Scremerston-based rugby union club added: “It will be a proud moment when he spins the coin with Simon Lambert – as long as he calls right!”

Scunthorpe, led by the twin Australian spearhead of Ryan Douglas and Jake Allen, currently fill the sixth and final play-off position, largely on the strength of impressive home form which has seen them beat the top three – Leicester, Glasgow and Poole – at the Eddie Wright Raceway, although they did suffer a surprise defeat at the hands of Plymouth. Former Bandit Tero Aarnio and skipper Simon Lambert have scored heavily at Shielfield in the past while another of the highly-rated young Brits, Jordan Palin, is currently recovering well after a slow start to the campaign.

Tapes-up at 7pm. Tickets available from berwickspeedway.com/tickets with the popular “kids go free” offer to those buying in advance once again offered. Cash admission is also available on the night but the club does not accept credit or debit card payments.

George Dodds
George Dodds

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